Getting it right the first time is easier than fixing it later!

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The world of firearms training used to be pretty simple: everyone taught pretty much the same thing, from the same sources, and whether it had any relation at all to reality was pretty much irrelevant — that was the way it was done. It was sort of like the military: whether it was right or wrong, you did it the way you were taught. Only when you got into battle, so those who have been there have told me, did you discover that what you’d learned was bovine excrement.

This was the sad state of private sector firearms training until a guy named Jeff Cooper came along and messed everything up. See, he had this radical idea that you identified a problem, thought about what you needed to do, experimented to find solutions (be they technique or hardware — Cooper was what we’d call a “serious gearhead”), and then you did it all over again to test your assumptions. Sometimes that even meant that you abandoned some of your pet ideas and adopted something better. Yep, Jeff Cooper in his prime was a rebel, a tinkerer, and an innovator (though you’d never know that from listening to some of his modern day followers.)

Lots of people followed his example and started studying and experimenting. Everyone came to defensive shooting problems with different perspectives and sometimes walked away with slightly differing conclusions, about which they argued incessantly. (It didn’t seem as though they did, however, because the only outlet they had for their disagreements were Letters To The Editor in various gun magazines. It took a long time to have an argument back in those days.)

Then the internet happened.

Everyone with an idea could now find an audience. Sometimes those ideas were taken from one context (say, the experimenters in military special operations) and shoehorned into private sector self defense where they made no sense at all. Some of those ideas were even abandoned by the people who originally came up with them, but because they once had the cachet of military or police (or sometimes competition shooting) service they tended to live on. The result? A lot of students who learned things that maybe weren’t really applicable to what they needed to do to defend their lives against a criminal attacker, and sometimes they had to un-learn those lessons.

The defensive shooting world calls these “training scars”, though I really don’t like the term. (My colleague Joshua Gideon over at the No Soft Targets blog recently wrote a great article about this very topic, and I encourage you to read it.) These are things that people have learned which seem valuable on the surface (“Navy SEALS use this technique!”) but under close scrutiny don’t really fit what we, as private citizens, really need to do when faced with a lethal threat. Sometimes folks find out that what they’ve learned isn’t as valuable as what they thought, and either live with it or decide to change it. It’s the changing which is the problem!

I’d rather get something right the first time than spend time, effort, and money fixing it later. It’s a lot harder, both physically and intellectually, to unlearn something and learn something else to replace it. There is also the very real risk of getting emotionally invested in a bad concept, to the point that even a mountain of contradictory evidence only makes your devotion to the flawed idea stronger. I see a lot of that in the world of concealed carry and self defense training!

Here’s the problem: how does someone who hasn’t studied this for years, who doesn’t really have the background or knowledge to judge, supposed to determine whether what they’re being taught is truly valuable? How does someone avoid those “training scars”?

I’ve come up with a pretty simple litmus test: A) does the teacher understand and can he/she explain the idea of context, that your needs in the private sector might be different than those of a police officer, soldier, hunter or target shooter? B) can the teacher explain to you why the technique or concept is plausible for your life, your context? C) Is the teacher willing to answer your questions without belittling you or simply ignoring the question?

Basically, is he or she open to polite but legitimate challenges of the material?

Anyone who purports to teach you defensive shooting or self defense techniques should be open to this kind of inquiry. You should expect to be able to ask questions, and you should expect to get real, factual, logical answers that don’t include references to SEALS, Green Berets, Force Recon, Special Forces (particularly if they’re foreign Special Forces), famous competition shooters, or any other attempt at associative prestige. Just because it’s old doesn’t automatically mean it’s valid, and just because it’s new doesn’t mean that it is, either.

It’s perfectly fine to experiment, to look “out of the box” for self defense solutions, like Jeff Cooper did. That’s how we progress. Just make sure that what you’re being sold is really applicable to what you do and how you live your life, and that it can be explained in those terms.

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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