Training, especially where firearms are concerned, is a process more than it is anything else—a continually changing paradigm that must undergo constant evaluation and revision if it is to stay relevant. There is a reason, beyond the changes they engender in the people participating, that training scenarios in the military and law enforcement fields are often referred to as “evolutions”. One such evolution may differ drastically between classes or academies conducted only months apart, even though it uses the same designation and is engineered to impart the same knowledge or teach the same skill set. Once instructors garner feedback and revise their curricula based on new experiential knowledge, a “defensive handgun” course taught in September of 2014 may bear little resemblance to a “defensive handgun” course taught by the same instructors, using the same facilities and equipment, in September of 2013.
Obviously, there is a reason for this: knowledge gained in the field (and too regularly paid for with blood) often trumps theoretical knowledge. When special operators conducting building clearing operations in Iraq in the last decade observed an unacceptably high number of casualties resulting from hits taken in the side (the weak point where their armor plates converge), they modified their tactics by adopting what is now commonly known as the isosceles stance: feet shoulder-width apart, balanced but leaning forward, directly facing the threat, so that if hits are taken, they are taken in the plates protecting the front of the thoracic cavity, rather than in the weak points on the flank, beneath the arms. Similarly, most professional gunfighters and competitive shooters have moved away from the isometric-tension -based grip popularized years ago by the Jeff Cooper school of thought, and instead utilize an almost white-knuckle grip that extends the support hand wrist towards the muzzle, because (at least for most) this grip offers a much greater degree of control over recoil and muzzle flip.
Most people reading this are, like myself, probably unlikely to do any room-clearing or serve high-risk warrants in the immediately foreseeable future. So, what does all this mean to the defensive-minded civilian or CHL holder? To answer this question, let’s take a look at some ideas you are likely to see in civilian-based training programs.
Most professional firearms instructors will do their best to instill the mantra “Train like you fight” in their students, and with good reason. What does this mean? At the end of the day, it means train hard, train often, and train with consistency, so that if you find yourself in a potentially life threatening situation, your skill set will be so ingrained in your muscle memory that it comes naturally and (hopefully) carries you through safely. If your best failure drill was shot in 2.93 seconds, then train hard to make sure that the next one is at least that fast, and preferably faster. If, when you attend training classes or dedicate time on the range to practice, you shoot Glocks exclusively, it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to use a Smith & Wesson 642 as your main carry gun. Yes, the Smith is lighter, more comfortable, and more easily concealed, but imagine your dread when a threat reveals itself, you deploy your pistol, and it fails to go bang when you apply five and a half pounds of pressure (a la the Glock) to the Smith’s eight pound trigger. This dread, of course, will only be compounded when you find your gun empty after only five rounds, you having only trained with guns that have ten, fifteen, or seventeen round capacities. Forget about trying to reload quickly and smoothly.
Train with the same pistols, holsters, and mag carriers that you intend to carry. Consistency is key; consistency is your friend. However, don’t allow trying to be consistent to cause your training to plateau. If your best failure drill is 2.93 seconds, shoot failure drills every week until you can cleanly perform them in 2.5 or 2.6 every time. A famous quote attributed to Bruce Lee says something like “There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there. You must go beyond them. A man must constantly exceed his level.” How do we keep ourselves from plateauing?
Another mantra often instilled by firearms instructors is “When the s*** hits the fan, people don’t rise to the occasion, they sink to the level of their training.” If your training has been inconsistent and/or sporadic, you’re probably not going to fare well in a life-or-death defensive encounter. But is maintaining a high level of consistent, industry-vetted training enough? Something as simple as the way we are used to living our lives can have a tendency to get in the way of our carefully regimented training programs.
My own day-to-day is a perfect example of this. On a typical day at work at Calibers, I wear a button-down shirt, tucked in. Conversely, on my own time, I usually wear a t-shirt, tucked in, and a looser-fitting button down or polo, untucked, as concealment garb. During the colder months, this is often covered by a jacket or sweatshirt. What does this mean to me as a gun store employee/concealed carrier? A couple of things:
1. If something were to occur while at work, I could conceivably waste valuable seconds trying to clear a concealment garb that isn’t there, since my shirt is tucked in under my IWB holster.
2. If something were to occur while out and about during the colder months, I will probably have two garments to clear, rather than one.
3. Depending on how I practice clearing my concealment garb, I can find myself in a world of hurt, depending on the situation. If I practice drawing my pistol with my shirt unbuttoned, sweeping the bottom right flap to the side to access the firearm, I’m not going to have the correct muscle memory to reach across my body with my support hand to lift up the concealment garment, as I would need to if my shirt is buttoned up or I’m wearing a polo. LEOs can run into the same types of problems, even if they use the same model for on- and off-duty carry. Most cops I know carry inside the waistband, their gun covered by a concealment garment of one type or another, while off duty; quickly and smoothly drawing a firearm from this set up is a whole different animal from drawing one from a level-3 holster openly carried on a duty belt.
So to answer our question, “What does this mean for us as CHL holders?”—well, there isn’t one single good answer. If you “train like you fight” with all of the above points in mind, you’re going to have to bring a whole wardrobe to the range every time you practice and your carefully maintained consistency is going to go out the window.
The point here is that no amount of training can prepare you for the truly unpredictable. There is no way to know what scenario will unfold if you run into that one-in-a-million situation we all hope we never encounter. Yes, you can and should prepare yourself as best you can: get your concealed carry license, buy a pistol and accessories that make sense for you, get yourself trained up, and practice, practice, practice. Stay on top of current techniques, because they are constantly evolving. But let’s all be honest with ourselves: we are probably not going to completely change our mode of dress and other daily habits to accommodate the fact that we now carry a firearm. I’m not going to freeze my butt off in mid-December just so I don’t have to worry about clearing two concealment garments rather than one. Cops aren’t going to wear their duty belts with their firearms in full view when they go to family barbeques. You should train consistently with the same gear during your normal practice sessions, but you should also get outside your comfort zone from time to time. This is how you keep yourself from plateauing. Put on a heavy jacket over your normal concealment shirt every now and again, and practice drawing your pistol. Blow the dust off that old Colt Python Uncle Bill left you for the nightstand, and put some rounds through it once in a while; you never know when you might be faced with a situation where the Glock 17 you’ve spent so many hours training with is inaccessible and the wheel gun is all you’ve got.
Jeff Cooper’s mechanical techniques might be somewhat outdated, but we still owe him and his contemporaries a great debt, for two reasons: if he had not developed the techniques he did, we would have no starting platform from which to develop the newer, ostensibly better techniques that are widely used today. But more importantly, Cooper gave us a concise, easy way to internalize the most important tool in our tool bag: situational awareness. Having a good defensive mindset is a far greater asset than the latest and greatest $1000 pistol, or even the most up to date technical training. Some contemporary instructors may consider Cooper something of a dinosaur, but he wrote the book on personal defense (literally—and you should read it) and the color code he expounded within has informed the “gun guy” consciousness ever since.
Carrying a gun does not make you a badass—even if you can deploy a pistol from concealment and shoot a FAST drill in five seconds every time—and the end-goal of every defensive minded civilian should be to avoid those situations where these skills are necessary. The only gunfight you are guaranteed to win is the one you avoid.