Yesterday, I took a one day firearms class that I did not “need.” Don’t get me wrong – it was a good class and I enjoyed it. And I fully intend to take more such classes in the future, because I do, in fact, need them. Let me explain.
Marty Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle taught the class. Marty, of course, is my dear friend and mentor. He was ably assisted by staff instructors Jennie VanTuyl and Brian Hallaq during this six–hour day that focused entirely on accurately shooting a handgun. In fact, that was the name of the class – “Special Interest Seminar: Handgun Accuracy.” It is an excellent class that I can highly recommend as a way to tune up your ability to hit the target at many different distances and with – surprise – good accuracy. If you cannot consistently shoot a one-hole group at 5 yards, or a ragged hole at 7 to 10 yards, you could benefit from this class. If you cannot consistently shoot a fist-sized group at 15 yards, or a hand-sized group at 25 yards, or keep your shots inside a large pie plate at 50 yards… same thing.
There were 11 students in the class, a typical size for classes at FAS. Four of us were women. Roughly half of us were very experienced shooters, and about half of us had already taken multiple classes from professional instructors. A few students were relatively new, and a few were really struggling with the basic skills of pressing the trigger when the day started. By the end of the day, every student in the class was able to hit a 12–inch gong at 50 yards. (That was fun!)
There are two reasons I say I did not need the class. No, three.
First, many people would say that there is no need for accuracy when your primary purpose for using the handgun is to defend yourself against violent crime. As Marty pointed out in his opening remarks, there are schools that completely ignore the skills it takes to hit a target predictably, consistently, and accurately. They do this in part because accuracy is a difficult subject to teach. Developing the ability to its full potential takes more than a single day, or even a weekend. Some instructors are simply not willing to do that work with students that they will only see for one day. The thought is either that students will get it elsewhere or that they don’t need it at all.
Although the thinking is that self defense shootings always happen close and fast, the reality is otherwise. Sometimes defending your family, or even defending yourself, might require you to shoot at a greater distance with more accuracy than the stereotype implies.
Here is one example that came from Tom Givens at Rangemaster. Tom tells the story of one of his students. This woman was upstairs in her home when she heard her husband’s car pull into the driveway. A few minutes later, she heard gunshots and screams from the front of her house. She looked out an upstairs window and saw that her husband had just been shot by two men who were attempting to mug him in the driveway. She had no time to run downstairs. She had no time to retrieve a longer gun. She had only a handgun. To save her husband’s life, she had to make a distant, high–stress shot with her hand gun – and she had to do it without hitting her husband who was only a few feet from the bad guy.
Is this a “typical” story of self defense? Yes and no. No, it does not represent the average gunfight. But yes, it is the type of engagement that can and does happen. Being prepared to cope with an encounter like that requires being able to confidently hit your target at greater distances then the Internet commandos would tell you is necessary. Still, if I listened to the Internet experts, I would never bother learning how to predictably hit my target at any distance greater than three steps. That is one reason I did not “need” this class.
Here is the second reason I did not need this class. To explain it properly, I will need to lapse into just a little bit of sarcasm, so please forgive me. I know it is not a language that is spoken by everyone. Still, here it is. I am channeling a woman that I talked to earlier this year. This is a re–creation of something she actually said. “I don’t need a class like that! I am already a firearms instructor, and that class is intended for people who aren’t firearms instructors. I already have my credential, so there’s no need for me to take a class like that.”
Let me break that idea down a little bit. When I come across an instructor who balks at taking “basic” classes simply because of her instructor status, I know two things about that instructor. The first thing I know is that she is probably quite proud of the work she has done to get where she is. She is (quite rightly) proud of her teaching credential. The second thing I know about her is that she may be afraid, or feel insecure. She might be worried that if others see her in the process of learning from someone else, they will think less of her. They will think that she has not earned her own place at the front of the class when she teaches. That is unfortunate, because the best instructors are always learning from others. But you have to have confidence in yourself and in your right to be where you are before you can go there. Insecurity leads to fear, and fear kills the desire to learn something new.
That brings us to the third reason I did not need this class. It’s because my own skills are already quite well-developed in the area of accuracy. Because of my job, I get a lot of trigger time, and because I have taken so many classes over the years, I already know how to make the best of my practice time. I already know how to coach myself for good performance. So strictly speaking, I did not need this class for skills development. Going into the class, I already shot accurately.
That last reason sounds arrogant, and it is. In fact, I do not know any shooters who cannot benefit from a little tune up here and there. I am no exception – I certainly did learn a few things, and I completed the day with a higher degree of skill then I had going in. Focusing on the fundamentals tends to bring out the best in shooters. This is true no matter what your existing skill level might be. But you have to reject the idea that you already know everything, if you are ever going to learn anything. That, too, goes back to fear and insecurity. If you want to learn, you cannot be afraid that others will see you learning.
Still, why would an already-accurate shooter take a class in shooting accurately? In addition to realizing that there is always room for improvement, I took it because I am a teacher. As a teacher, I have consistently learned the most from other instructors when I take their basic and intermediate classes. When I want to learn more about teaching, I take a class from a teacher I respect. And the class I most prefer to take is a basic to intermediate level program at high-end schools. At those levels, instructors consistently explain their reasons for teaching the techniques they teach. Furthermore, at those levels you see instructors working much more directly with students. You hear them answer questions that just do not come up in the upper level classes. If you want to find good teaching techniques, you can capture them “in the wild” here.
Yesterday, I learned a different way to teach someone where to focus while they are shooting. I was reminded of several accuracy drills that I had long forgotten. I heard several different ways to explain simple techniques, including some articulations I have not heard before that will undoubtedly prove helpful to my future students. I observed how a master instructor organizes his class, and I watched what the assistant instructors prioritized when they needed to make corrections with a student. I listened to a master teacher explain why he teaches the grip and stance he teaches, and I listened to him deal with several specific challenges students had with those techniques. Even if I did not teach those techniques myself (I do teach them), there is still a tremendous value in learning how and why a master chooses the techniques he chooses. There is even more value in learning ways to interact with students who struggle with, or feel skeptical about, the techniques you teach. All those things, I learned by watching.
Here is the bottom line: It is easy to make excuses to avoid learning. Fear, pride, and lack of confidence may whisper that you do not need to learn, or tell you that you are above all that. But those negative emotions have no place when you want to become the best shooter or the best teacher you can be.