Interesting article by Dave Spaulding. Like some in the industry, Spaulding defines “training” to mean taking a class, and “practice” as activity done on your own to build and reinforce skill. Yes, we’re quibbling over semantics and various dictionaries do us a disservice by sometimes interchanging meanings. This leads to stupid assessments that “competition isn’t training” despite this being a literal dictionary definition of the word.

The important point here is that taking more and more instruction (what Spaulding calls training) is useless, possibly detrimental, if the student never reinforces what they were taught by building skill on their own. Most of that skill building is best done by the student on their own and/or with a local peer group. That is why regular attendance at local shooting events is so useful. It is better to receive an overview of pertinent ideas and then build skill rather than rush off to a bunch of classes and forever remain a low-skilled novice.

Training is not Practice!
by Dave Spaulding

Practice is required to reinforce lessons learned in training. The rimfire analog, ammo, a shot timer and target can be used for demand drills to reinforce trigger control and follow-through skills.

Do not let the title fool you…I am a HUGE advocate of training. Hell, I own and operate a training company and have been a certified firearms instructor since 1983. I have trained, literally, tens of thousands of people (mostly cops at the basic, in-service and advanced levels) and have been contacted by 127 former students who have been involved in armed conflict, 12 of which were on video. I have been a life-long student of the “art” of armed conflict, having interviewed over 300 people over the last three decades (Go to the HANDGUNS Magazine web site and perform a search for “What Really Happens in a Gunfight”) who have been in armed conflict, thus, I understand the importance of quality training, but it is important to keep in mind training is not practice! Practice is a component of training that many folks seem to neglect.

During one of my recent courses, I had a private conversation with a student who felt compelled to tell me about all of the classes and instructors he had attended in the last year. While these people can be quite trying I have to admit I was impressed as the list was vast. As I began to inquire about what he was able to learn, practice and therefore anchor into his skills sets, it became quite apparent he had anchored nothing. As a matter of fact, his performance during live-fire training was actually lackluster. He seemed confused as to which skills went with which school/instructor and ended up being an absolute mess. What became readily apparent was he was certainly a student of weaponcraft, but he was not a practitioner as he had done nothing to select particular skills learned and anchor them into a useful set of tools to draw upon when needed. All he had done was collect a lot of information with which he had done nothing.

Please understand I think the best way to build a proper skill set is to attend a variety of instructors to see what will work best for you. Following the same instructor does little to add diversity to skills and let’s face it; no one knows what they don’t know. Training should be a journey of discovery. If all you do is follow the same person around, you are not a student of personal security; you are a fan boy (or girl) or what rock bands used to call groupies. While I go out of my way to maintain a low profile on the training circuit, not being controversial or confrontational, I cannot help but notice a sizeable amount of firearms training has become “flash and panache” marketing with much of it directed at “kill them all, let God sort it out” battlefield mayhem that is not appropriate for American citizens. The military mentality, which is certainly appropriate for the battlefield, will have difficulty standing up to our system of jurisprudence where what we do must be “reasonable “under the circumstances at hand. 100 yard pistol shots down the center aisle of the discount store or lumber yard, even if “your family is down there” will be really tough to justify if the wrong person is hit — like maybe a small child . . . if it is your family, maybe YOUR child. If you or your instructor cannot take the stand and justify a tactic or technique as reasonable, then don’t do it. Be very selective of those tactics and techniques you do decide to anchor.

Adult learning theory is well established and trained instructors understand the process. A skill must be explained, demonstrated and then practiced with a solid instructor/teacher correcting same as the student performs it. This is why I seek simplicity in my tactics and techniques. After all, simple is easier to teach, but it is also easier to learn, master and anchor into one’s skill sets with limited time and ammunition. History has also shown that simple is the best way to fight when pandemonium is going on all around you as you fight to save your own life. I disagree with some of my fellow trainers in that it is impossible to “dumb down” training . . . simplicity is the key to a high level of performance when the bullets are in-bound.

During a two or three day course of instruction there will never be enough time or repetition to truly anchor the skill into one’s skill sets, so regular, realistic, organized practice is essential. What am I referring to when I say “anchor”? I am talking about being able to call upon the NEEDED skill in a split second and use it without conscious thought to save your life or the life of a loved one or friend . . . what some trainers call unconscious competence. It is a tall order and can only be achieved through practice and let’s face it, training school alone is NOT practice. By all means, seek out training opportunities but understand that once the training is over, you must leave with a solid understanding of what was taught, learned and take it back and practice it until it becomes second nature.