I was reading the forum of a local firearms training company yesterday, and something about the discussion there sent me into a rant. I’ve had these thoughts before about this company, but I really got warmed up after yesterday’s browsing. Note that I’ve attended several classes put on by this company – they’re pretty much the only game in town if you want to do anything other than basic firearms training around here, but I really wish there was an alternative. What follows is all over the place, so try to stay with me:

The first problem I have with the students of this company is that they inevitably say, “after this class, I realized how little I know and how much I still have to learn!” After leaving a college class, nobody says, “man the main thing I learned is that I don’t know anything! I have so much to learn! Thank you o great professor for enlightening my ignorance!” If you did, you would ask for your money back – either the teacher sucks or you’re a retard. Yet, disciples of this school repeat this phrase after every class! It’s hogwash! It’s also obvious – of course learning illuminates further areas of study; that goes without saying. But inculcating an attitude of perpetual ignorance does no one any good. One objective of weapons training is to build confidence – confidence in the weapon and confidence in the shooter. If you come out of every class thinking you’re an ignoramus, how will that reflect in your performance – both on the square range as well as in the real world?

Furthermore, the statement should really be about practice, not learning (“wow! I have so much to practice now!”) The fact is, the mechanics of shooting are retarded-simple. You have four basics (whether we’re talking about handguns or rifles or shotguns): stance, grip, trigger squeeze, and sight alignment. There are other skills and techniques, like reloading, shooting on the move, and the like, but those four basic skills are the key to everything else. None of those skills are complex, and none require lengthy elucidation by some all-knowing master. A day or two of training is enough to impart the concepts; after that, it’s up to the individual to practice and study on his own. There’s no mysterious technique, no complex kata to learn – any person with average dexterity and intelligence can master those basics. If you can’t master the concepts (not necessarily the execution) of trigger control and the like after taking the handgun class five or six times, maybe you should take up bonsai.

While the four basic skills mentioned above are the foundation of shooting technique, these adherents elevate the structured (i.e. paying money to do it) practice of those skills to a primary, almost religious tenet. The proprietor says one should take his introductory handgun class “as many times as possible,” because no one can have too much practice with the fundamentals. He goes on to complain that the intro handgun class has been canceled on several occasions because of lack of students, yet people clamor for the “high-speed, low-drag” classes on urban tactics, fighting from vehicles, and the like. He decries this behavior as being counterproductive, because he believes that whatever your level of training, practice of fundamental skills (in an structured and paid-for setting) are most important.

Of course fundamentals are important in shooting, as they are in any other activity, but it seems self-serving to suggest that everyone repeat the intro handgun course (to the tune of $200) many times, just to master stance, grip, trigger squeeze, and sight alignment. As I wrote above, these skills can be practice alone, or with other like-minded shooters; critiquing these techniques requires little special knowledge and feedback is immediately available, in the form of the holes in the target.

As for decrying the desire for “high-speed, low-drag” training, this inevitably comes from the fact that people desire training that is progressive in nature: as the military puts it, it’s “crawl, walk, run.” Once fundamental skills have been learned and internalized, one is ready to move on to another level of complexity – you don’t spend all of your time at the ground floor, drilling constantly on the basics.

Furthermore, nobody seems to conduct organized training outside of the context of these classes, despite the example set by members on other forums, who do so frequently and often in complex scenarios that would be the envy of many formal training organizations. It’s almost as if they’re afraid that they’re unable to train these skills because of their lesser comprehension of the great mysteries compared to the master. Instead, they take the same classes over and over again, at considerable expense.

The overall attitude is that of a bunch of sycophants, a group of simpering students groveling at the feet of the wise sensei, clamoring like baby birds, waiting for him to drop the next morsel of “secret” knowledge into their waiting mouths. Any disagreement with sensei‘s teachings is met by a group attack, and an insistence that one can only be enlightened if one attends the class – otherwise the techniques and knowledge are not just proprietary but fundamentally unknowable. Even the company’s AR-15s are subject to the “secret sauce” treatment – a rifle built completely of off-the-shelf components is hailed as the next great revolution in fighting weapons that is only possible with the mysterious knowledge of their armorers.

It’s interesting to compare the behavior of this group to another group of firearms students, trained by a prominent school in another site. Like this one, the other school was founded by one man and has a loyal following of students who discuss things on a members-only internet forum. The topics are the same: gunfighting with pistols, rifles, and shotguns, both alone and with a team. But these other students are markedly more open-minded, articulate, and diverse than this local crew – while also being much harder, serious men in general. That forum’s membership certainly has its problems – I’m not a standard bearer for them by any means – but the attitude and level of discussion is much better.

Mrs. Melobi had an insightful comment, basically saying that it sounded like our local master-at-arms wants to be the sensei of a dojo, rather than a firearms instructor – which seems right on the mark. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong attitude for a modern gunfighting instructor – Japanese-style ritual obsequiousness doesn’t have much place on the modern battlefield or in the street.