I often scratch my head at the current state of combative firearms training in the United States. In times past, fixed-location schools and traveling instructors were former military or law enforcement professionals or successful competitive shooters who wanted to share hard-earned experience to help good guys and gals prevail in armed conflict. Sure, they wanted to make some money doing it, but for most it was love of the craft that drove them.
There were instructors who focused on competition and stated that up front, which was much appreciated because you knew there was nothing in the lesson plan about fighting. You were expected to adapt what was taught, and we have known since the days of the Spartans that it is the combatant who adapts the quickest to a rapidly evolving situation who will win the fight. After all, a fight (regardless of whether it is fist, knife or gun) is a series of rapid decisions based on what an opponent does.
Today, firearms training seems to come from the Internet more than any place else. And while I would like to say this phenomenon does not affect the law enforcement community, my experience says otherwise. I am continually grilled by young law enforcement officers who tell me what I am teaching does not jibe with what they see on the Internet: “You teach ‘old school.’ I was watching a video on YouTube, and XXX says you should do this.”
When I check out the source of this new information, I am met with an individual covered with tattoos (nothing wrong with tattoos, folks, just reporting what I see), wearing a beard and wraparound sunglasses, dressed in what I would call “contractor casual” clothing, spouting some diatribe that is based on nothing.
Sometimes it’s a young woman in tight short-shorts and a low-cut top or a bikini shooting a gun while the camera pans up and down her body. Hey, I like girls as much as the next guy, but if this is where you are getting your personal security information, you are being shortchanged.
It seems the firearms training industry is driven more by celebrity than it is by substance. “Old school” you say? How about referring to them as techniques that have been proven in conflict over many years, things that are known to work. They just may not look flashy.
I am not alone in this observation. Recently, I was on the Modern Service Weapon website, a site I feel offers substantive information about combative firearms, and read an article by Hilton Yam, a current federal agent with substantial real-world experience. He was reviewing a firearms training course he had recently attended, one taught by a well-known instructor with a special operations background.
Hilton wrote, “Mike is a consummate professional, and you will not be shown flashy YouTube ninja techniques in any of his classes, nor will you be bombarded with catchy buzz phrases or nonsensical jargon just so you feel like you’re doing something.”
Bingo! He captured exactly what I think is much of what’s wrong with today’s firearms training. I am a believer in being verbally and visually descriptive in my classes, to explain things in such a way so the students can get a picture in their heads of what is required. I then demonstrate all of my techniques so the students will gain confidence that they, too, can do it.
Humans learn a new skill best if it is explained to them, demonstrated and then practiced under the watchful eye of a skilled instructor. The more confusing the skill is, the harder it is to learn, master and anchor in one’s skills set, and while fancy jargon might sound cool, it makes the task of skill building all the more difficult.
For a number of years, I have used the phrase “physiological efficiency” when I talk about performing physical skills, but the phrase is not mine. I took it from a well-known track and field coach. I went to college on a track scholarship as a long jumper, and while attending a symposium on motivation taught by this coach, I asked him about one of his long jumpers, who had had success using an in-flight technique that was different from what others used.
Quickly, without trying to bore you, most jumpers at that time “ran” in the air, what is called a “hitch kick” technique. His jumper used a “hang,” where he arched his back and waited until right before he landed to jack-knife his legs forward, gaining as much distance as possible.
When I asked the coach about it, he said: “Well, young man, it’s about physiological efficiency. Which technique do you think requires the most practice?” I said the hitch kick. He agreed and went on to say that while both techniques work, his jumper could spend less time working on leg extension and focus on other, more complicated, aspects of the jump. “By being simple, it is easier to learn, master and anchor into one’s skills, thus it is more physiologically efficient,” he said.
I realized early that physiological efficiency would also work when trying to teach someone how to shoot. By making the skills simple, they would be easier to learn, master and anchor so they could be called upon and used without conscious thought.
I have continued to use the term physiological efficiency, but I have seen others start to use terms such as “kinesiology smoothness,” “biomechanical efficiency,” “motion efficiency” and similar terms—and by their terminology and their explanations, they actually complicate the theory rather than simplify it. Making things simple and easy to do is not “dumbing down” training; it’s making it easier to do when crisis, pandemonium and fear of injury or death will rob you of skill.
But cool-sounding jargon and flashy technique are what sells these days—even though both make the process of preparing to fight more difficult.
One phrase I heard an instructor on YouTube use was “non-diagnostic linear stoppage manipulation.” What was he talking about? The simple “tap-rack” technique of clearing a malfunction, the action to undertake anytime the pistol fails to fire. “Tap-rack” is verbally and visually descriptive of what is required, and nothing is served by making it more confusing.
Today’s new shooters have the right to obtain their information any way they choose, and if cool sounding/looking stuff is their choice, then so be it. I just hate to see a subject such as one’s personal security become more of a fashion trend than the serious topic it should be.