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Defense and Safety: Look Good or Shoot Good?

What is more important in Self Defense…Looking Great, or Shooting Great?

From a recent article by Dave Spaulding, author of Handgun Combatives;

Spaulding broached a subject that I’d been thinking about: Do most people want to look good, or do they want to shoot good?   This is apparent at most shooting ranges where shooters do the things they are good at and avoid anything that might make them “look bad”, code-speak for “they can’t do it.”  In some courses that Spaulding mentions, participants have all the CDI or “chicks dig it” gear and clothing, while he showed up wearing practical comfortable clothing.  In doing so he was then told that he did not look the part.  Turned out his skills were just fine as was his attitude of open-minded learning.   It is often pointed out by instructors such as Gabe Suarez, Walt Rauch and John Farnam, that blending into one’s environment is better than sticking out by wearing certain clothing items or types of clothing.  Farnam is often quoted, and I have personally heard him say, it is better to “Stay under the Radar” in how we dress and carry concealed in public;  Blending into the environment, rather than attracting attention to ones’ self.   I  was once asked by a young person, of about 12 years of age, what kind of gun I was carrying while dressed in a particular manner.  It brought me up short when I thought, “If this person ‘knows’ I’m carrying, who else does?”  I made a change in carry mode.

Another part of this looking good issue is not doing the thing that’s hard.  The most productive practice sessions involve working on the thing you are not skilled at, be it words that trip you up when speaking or shooting with your non-shooting hand.  In Spaulding’s article “Good Vibrations” in Handguns magazine, he points out the need to make vital area hits on targets.  In the course where he was belittled for not looking good, the instructor did not have a high standard of where shots went on the targets, just that the metal targets were  “somewhere”, and the instructor pointed out he was building his business and wanted his students to feel good at the end of the course so they would come back for his advanced courses.  Spaulding then asks, “Is this what we have come to?  Are we more concerned about looking good or feeling good instead of shooting good?”  He then relates a number of experiences where people got their feelings hurt because they failed to perform in police qualifications, etc. 

In the training I’m involved in, there have been times when someone got their feelings hurt because they were unsafe or failed to complete the course in score or time limits.  One new hire candidate at a business I do training for, after committing a number of serious safety violations including dropping his gun, told the Human Resources person for that company that I “was mean because he had me sit down and think about what I’d done after dropping my gun…etc.”  This person was let go partly due to the failure to qualify, but more due to his attitude (or lack thereof) towards safe gun handling.  At another course, my teaching partner said something the specifics of which  has since been forgotten about the several participants who had perfect scores and “the rest of them…well” .  They all had passed and what was meant in humor hurt somebody’s feelings and we got a call asking what was said because someone complained they felt they were “picked-on”.  Has it come to this, to echo Mr. Spaulding, we cannot point out the need for improvement because someone’s self-esteem is affected when they do not do well?  And this instance was just friendly conversation.  I submit we are learning survival skills that need constant practice and up-to-date training in order to not just survive, but to prevail and WIN.  That requires doing the hard things.  In most of the qualifications I assist in, you will hear several students talking about how “hard it is to…” (fill in the blank.)  As we do a post- training evaluation, the point is stressed: Do the hard things, practice the things you did not do as well on.  The benefit is that your overall skill level increases.  Do keep in mind that shooting skills are perishable and must be practiced at minimum once a month.  More frequent rehearsal is better.  Dry practice will raise your skill level if done regularly and with a goal in mind.

A final consideration, which will link this to previous contributions to the Defense Actions blog:  Just because the instructor looks good, doesn’t mean he/she can shoot good.  In almost every course I’ve attended, the schools I’ve gone to, and seminars participated in, the instructors have demonstrated what they were teaching.  It is very clear that they can do what they are teaching about.  When I started as a Line Coach at Front Sight, the owner, Dr. Piazza did all the demonstrations involving the Uzi sub-machine gun we were teaching the attendees to use.  He did it first, and also showed the problem with Hollywood’s depiction of sub-guns…you can’t spray and pray, you have to use them correctly or all you get is a BUNCH of misses!  The correct method was then demonstrated. He was and is very good with just about anything you can put in his hands.  As I progressed to Defensive Handgun Instructor, I noted at the beginning of each course before the students met the instructors, the instructors would demonstrate the skills to be taught.  The students saw the instructors DO what they, the students, would be learning before they knew the names of their instructors.  That added a large portion of credibility to what was being taught and who was teaching it.  

In the up-dated National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor courses I teach as a Master Training Counselor, each instructor candidate must be able to do what is being taught.  In the Personal Protection courses, the instructor demonstrates each skill being taught.  This serves as a benchmark or as mentoring to the student, who is now aware of what it looks like and how it is done.  In the last year NRA has raised the requirements for new instructors who must first pass a pre-course assessment of skills before instructor instruction even begins.  Credibility backed by verifiable facts: this is the standard we as trainers should meet. 

In conclusion, it is more important to shoot well and accurately than to look good.  If you shoot well and look good (skill at arms), that’s a whole different subject.  Do the hard thing in practice to raise your ability to perform.  It is our responsibility to do it well.  Another responsibility we have as citizens of this great country is to VOTE.  Please educate yourself and do so.  Your country needs you…NOW.

Steve Beckstead

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