Words mean things. For example, the word “training” does not mean the same thing as the word “education.” In the same way, the word “practice” does not mean the same thing as “training”, and neither one is the same as “testing.”
Education, training, practice, and testing are all needed for robust physical skills development. But none of these words means the same thing as any other.
The word “training”, in particular, has so often been abused by shooters that it has all but lost its actual meaning. This is too bad, as it expresses a really important concept.
What is “training”?
Let’s look at the word’s meaning in other domains:
Driver education happens in a classroom. It is followed by driver training. Driver training happens on the road, with a teacher watching carefully from the passenger seat as you perform the skills you discussed in class.
College education also happens in classrooms. It is often followed by on-the-job training, which is supposed to involve a qualified other showing you the practical realities of doing the job you studied in school. The observer should look at the work you do and give you feedback on how you are performing the skills the job requires you to perform.
Firearms education can happen in a classroom. It can and often does also happen by reading books, watching videos, and studying other material either alone or with others. And of course it often also happens on the range during a class as the instructor provides new information for students to absorb before encouraging them to try a new physical skill.
As with other types of training, firearms training happens when a qualified other watches as you perform a skill, and then provides competent feedback about what you did and how you can improve your performance of that skill. Training in this sense happens only when there is a qualified other who watches you perform the skills and also gives you meaningful feedback about how you can improve your performance of those skills.
In the firearms world, training typically (not always) happens during classes on the range. It typically does not happen in casual shooting sessions with friends, although it can do so if your friends are competent shooters and skilled observers who do in actual fact watch you shoot — not just look at your targets, but actually watch you shoot — and who are also willing to give you useful and meaningful feedback about how you can improve. 1
Is practice, training? Is training, practice?
By definition, training never happens in solo practice sessions. Solo practice is not training, because there’s no one around to observe and give feedback. That’s okay; solo sessions are good and necessary too. But they are not training. They are practice.
Practice is where you take the skills you learned (or refined) during training, and make them your own. This is generally a private thing between a shooter and the target, whether or not friends are with you at the range. This is where you perform the skill so many times that it becomes natural for you to do it the way you learned to do it during your education and training.
Education, training, and practice should be followed by testing. How well have you learned to perform the skills you were taught? Are those skills robust enough to hold up under pressure? Are the techniques you learned sturdy enough to outperform other ways people might try to do the same basic things?
In the firearms world, testing typically happens during a competitive game. Such a competition may be built into a class, such as during a man-on-man shoot off or a timed qualification or even a rolling thunder drill performed as a race between two groups of students. It may be informal, such as when you challenge the person next to you to get a smaller group than your own within a set amount of time, or to knock down a number of steel targets in less time than you can. It may be formal, such as sanctioned USPSA or IDPA competitions run by shooting clubs.
Education, training, practice, and competition are all needed for robust skills development in the defensive shooting world. But they are not the same thing.
- This combination of competence and bravery does not happen often; cherish such people! ↩