I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone who follows my work a “Happy Independence Day” and talk a little about the amount of work my students just did on their day off.
I spent the last 3 days on the range with 14 other people engaged in training for a worst-case-scenario defensive shooting… in some ways, that is no different that most every other week in the last 3 months. The spring and early summer are always my busiest times in regard to range training, which is why we built the PDN Training Tour around this time of the year. Of course, this week is a “holiday week”… which means that people have a lot of extra distractions. It says something about the students that showed up even before the first shot was fired that they chose to spend 3 days in the middle of this week on the range with each other learning skills that might help them save their own lives, or the lives of others.
The course was a 3 day “combo” course, which puts four days worth of work into 25% less time. We don’t run this version very often, because it is much easier to run it as the full 4 day program, despite the extra cost and ammo. I have said that I think the second day of our 3 day Combat Focus Shooting & Advanced Pistol Handling might be the hardest day of defensive pistol training in the private sector. I say that because I see how hard the students work and I know how hard they are pushed… I run a lot of classes and this one stands out. I’ve been to a lot of classes and not seen anything close in the private sector for self-defense students. We have had students quit on day 2. We have had students need to take a “time out” on day 2. We have had students relieved of their guns for safety reasons on day 2. Day 2 involves a lot of physical work, which sets the baseline for the difficulty. Moving the body from standing to kneeling, to seated, to lying on the back, to seated, to kneeling, to lying on the stomach, to kneeling and back to standing about 60-80 times during “flow drills”, all while holding the gun in the high compressed ready position and waiting for commands to fire at targets of varying difficulty is incredibly taxing. Especially for people who aren’t used to a lot of physical exercise. And, remember, those drills come only after many reps done slowly. I have seen some very fit and coordinated people get worn out pretty quickly during these exercises. One thing we’ve learned over the past couple of years of developing the FitShot Program is that the toll of physical work on the body is significantly increased when you are needing to control (and use) a deadly tool during that workload. Unlike regular “exercise”, you cannot just zone out and get into a groove… there are constant reminders and interruptions that you are doing more than just exercising.
That full-body work represents about 50% of the day. Much of the rest of the day is spent doing intricate manipulations of the firearm…. two handed, one handed and weak handed reloads and learning to run through the Non-Diagnostic Linear Malfunction Drill. The briefing for the day starts with fair warning: “We are going to be inducing malfunctions… purposefully making your gun not work… and then you’ll be fixing the problems without looking and without diagnosing the issues. That will be frustrating.” So, we’ve got a huge physical load, we’ve got fine motor skills and then the icing on the cake: 4 Instructors for 11 students and absolutely none of us care if you are enjoying yourself. The day is about work… it is about work that might pay off in saving a life. So, we push students, we challenge them to articulate questions and reach their potential. Those who have guns that aren’t working, are inefficient or don’t fit their hands well are forced to confront the purchasing errors they’ve made… sometimes including the ‘aftermarket’ modifications that they’ve ruined their perfectly good gun with. We give thorough, and sometimes complex, answers…. there is no simple “it’s just another tool for your toolbox” stuff in this class. Everything is imperative. So, you can throw a big load of mental stress on to the growing pile of work.
And, each student shoots about 500 ends. And, there is no bathroom facility. And, “lunch” is whatever you brought with you during a 40 minute break. And, there are sweat bees. And, it’s hot. And, just for good measure, there is a 30 minute long neuroscience lecture towards the end of the day that further explains why we don’t want students looking at their guns during manipulations…. and then we have students run through three malfunction laden magazines while blindfolded, because they can. It’s a pretty awesome day of training.
One of the things that makes Day 2 so demanding for students, based on many conversations that I’ve had with them over the years, is that somewhere along the way they realize that they are paying to be pushed, critiqued, challenged and exhausted physically and mentally. So, you can add an emotional element to the mix that doesn’t exist when the training is also entertaining or when you are part of a professional team that does this stuff for a living. There is often a real “gut check” moment at some point during the day… sometimes right after I announce that refunds are available for those who thought this was going to be “fun”. I am pretty critical of what I refer to as “fantasy camp” events, where people who are not armed professionals dress up in half the Blackhawk! catalog and do bounding overwatch or evacuate from vehicles with ARs & AKs while pretending to be in a war zone. I have run events like that, but they don’t come with training certificates, they come with souvenir videos and photo ops. Students in a combo CFS/APH course, aren’t having fun… they aren’t high giving… they aren’t getting paid to do a job that comes with honor and glory. They are just working. I’m working too… and so are the other instructors. It would be a lot easier for everyone to just mosey along through some timer drills or qualification courses… but, that’s not what this program is about.
When Day 3 comes, those who haven’t quit (Honestly: We only lose a couple every year…) get to talk about the experience, talk about what is sore, vent a little about the frustration… and then do more work. But, what I’ve found is that by Day 3, most of the students get it. They are mentally over the hump and they understand that defensive training with a firearm may not always be fun…. it may just be important and valuable. Day 3 is a slower paced day, we do more complex things, we keep a close eye of fatigue issues. We spend more time on Day 3 helping students evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, which helps them start to figure out what things they really need to work on practicing in the near future after the class. On this particular Day 3, it was the Fourth of July… and I know that fact had an impact on some of the people there. Lead Instructor Jamie Onion had gotten the started in with the first live fire drill of the morning… and when the student’s headed back over to the table, they found that I had raised a US Flag over out little village of pop-up canopies and folding tables. They could’ve been on the lake or in the back yard with their families… but, they had made the free choice to work hard to get better instead. On Day 1, several of the students had asked if we would get done “early” on the 4th… I pushed the question off with a “we’ll see”. When 4pm hit on Day 3, we opened the range up for questions… which lead to another lecture session, one more live fire session and flowed into a Two Hour Q&A Session Debrief that everyone participated in. No one looked at their watch… no said that they had to leave. Class was dismissed around 7pm… one of the latest range days of the year so far.
However you spend your time this weekend, I hope you get to enjoy some of it with family and friends… but, I also challenge you to use some of your Independence to go do some work this summer to make yourself better. Get Stronger. Get Smarter. Get More Skilled. We have an amazing amount of freedom and opportunity in this country… go take advantage of it. Do Work.
Maybe I’ll see you dirty, sweating, frustrated and even a little confused on the second day of a training course sometime. I promise, it’ll be worth it. And, afterwards… maybe a day or two afterwards… you might even look back and say it was FUN.