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Be honest with yourself: how good are you on demand?

Be honest with yourself: how good are you on demand?

In college I minored in music performance. Being just out of high school (read: thoroughly stupid) I thought I was a hot musician, harboring dreams of becoming a professional trumpet player. Like so many other aspiring performers I really had no idea what the world of a professional musician actually entailed, but I was absolutely sure I had what it took.

One of my professors, an accomplished professional trombonist, made it his job to bring us post-adolescents into the real world. Shortly into my freshman term, he was talking with a few of the members of the trumpet section after class. The talk turned to the requirements of a “pro”, and all of us were convinced we had the Right Stuff. Our prof had heard this kind of chatter before, and bet our first chair player that he didn’t yet possess the bare minimum skills necessary for the job.

Trumpet players are usually narcissistic personalities, the kind who don’t back down from a fight, and the kid said “you’re on!”

The prof sighed and said simply “get out your horn. I want you to blow a perfect half-note G above the staff” (trumpet players in the audience will understand.) The kid smirked, dropped his case to the floor and pulled out his horn. “Wait a minute”, said our teacher. “I said a perfect G. No warmup. Just one perfect note; in tune from start to end, solid attack, no slop or waviness, crisp decay. You have one and only one shot. Go.”

I shouldn’t have to tell you the kid failed – miserably. Then again, none of the rest of us would have done any better. We were clueless: none of us yet knew enough to understand how much we didn’t yet know.

Fast forward a few decades, and the shooting range serves up the same lesson. Georges Rahbani, “The Best Rifle Instructor You’ve Never Heard Of” , has a way of impressing on his students how they should assess their own abilities:

“You are only as good as you are, on demand.”

What you can do right now, without warm up or sighting shots, without excuses or alibis, is the true measure of how good you are.

This is different from how most people gauge their ability. Most folks would take their rifle to the range on a nice sunny day, settle in comfortably at the bench, fire a bunch of rounds, then shoot a 1″ group. They’re so proud of that group they take the target home and hang it in their garage or office. “I’m hot stuff!”, they’ll think – after all, they have the target to prove it!

The next day at the range it’s raining, they’ve had a fight with their spouse, can’t get comfortable on the cold bench, and now their best group doesn’t even break 3″. “That’s not me”, they’ll say to themselves, “I shoot one-inch groups!” The alibis flow like PBR at a fraternity house, and serve to obscure the fact that the 3″ group wasn’t the anomaly – the 1″ group was. The larger one is, in fact, the true indicator of their skill.

It’s not what someone can do when everything is going their way that shows ability; it’s what they can do under suboptimal conditions that does. If a person can’t shoot until getting into just the right stance, with perfect foot placement and textbook body positioning, then that person still has a lot of work to do to master the fundamentals. (I’ve seen people who can shoot pretty well on a concrete pad, but go all to pieces on a gravel range. Really. They can’t get into their comfort zone.)

This is one thing if we’re talking about plinking, but becomes another thing entirely when the subject turns to self defense. The other guy isn’t going to wait for us to get into the perfect stance we learned from our guru; we need to be able to deliver rapid, multiple, properly placed shots from whatever position the situation dictates, under whatever conditions it hands us. That requires the courage to admit to ourselves that maybe – just maybe – we aren’t quite as good as we think.

Right here, right now, no warmups, no excuses – how good are you?

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On April 8, 2009

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