The Need to Train First THEN Practice
There is a major issue amongst American handgun owners, including those who carry. We are often quick to throw money at the latest guns, holsters, stacks of ammunition and so on. We may even spend countless hours at the range, plinking away, but we far too often neglect training.
Training is learning and acquiring skills, usually under the guidance of a trainer who already has those skills. Training is usually conducted if not in a formal manner, in some sort of structured way. You take Defensive Pistol 1 before Defensive Pistol 2 for example.
Practicing is repetition to maintain or improve skills learned from training. You can practice some defensive handgun skills at home on your own through dry fire and doing gun manipulations without any ammo. You can practice at the range as well but much of it can be done at home and more frequently.
Can you train on your own? Can you train just reading books or watching YouTube videos? A person certainly could learn some things in such ways. However, what is far more likely to happen is for you to learn the wrong things. If you think you are saving money, by not training with an instructor, you may find yourself having to spend time unlearning things and learning the right way later on.
Why we do not train like we should.
First, we must recognize our need to train and improve. When I first started shooting, I was shooting FAST and thought I was really doing something shooting pie plate size groups at 3 yards. Then, I went to the range with my friend Travis and he was shooting 1” groups at 7 yards, still shooting plenty fast. I was humbled to say the least. It is good to be humbled and to both be honest about our current skill levels and to shoot with those who are more advanced. Shooting with him became training as he taught me some basic drills which I would later start practicing on my own. It also really gave me the motivation to start training and not just practice what seemed right. I wanted to get better after seeing how good he was.
Next, we need access to good training. Depending on where you live, you may have a hard time just finding a decent range, let alone one hosting professional training. While I would like to say “just drive where you have to, to access training” I know that is not feasible often. If you start asking around, you will often find people offering instruction locally. Here is a caveat, not all who claim to be instructors are actually good teachers. There are many folks running around with some certifications and a website who are ready to take your money. Ask around, especially ask those with more advanced skills than you have, with whom you should train. I learned about a quality local, affordable option for training from a co-worker who had taken courses there. If you are not plugged into any networks of gun folks in your area, go to some competitions. I am not saying competition is training, but you will no doubt meet folks there who are serious and always trying to improve and they may be able to point you in the right direction for local training.
Most of us are very busy and find it hard to make time to train. We are parents, employees, church members, neighbors and many other things which pull us in a multitude of directions. I know I often describe my week as a sprint, then the weekend comes and it is a 48 hour stopwatch running until the next sprint. Due to opportunity cost, we can only spend an hour doing one thing. By the time I spend some time with the family, mow the lawn, go grocery shopping and go to church, before I know it, it is time to get ready for the next week and the weekend is gone. I know I am not alone in this. Some of us have more or less free time than others due to differing work or family demands. However, for all of us, time is limited and it is hard to take a few hours, a whole day, or a whole weekend to take a proper training class.
If we can make the time to train, then we have to afford the training. Unfortunately, quality training is usually not cheap, but it is very valuable. I will say you do not have to pay for high dollar big name instructors in order to receive quality training if you live in an area with some options. Paying to take classes from big name industry known instructors is valuable and a different type of experience. It also can help you plug into a network with others who have taken his or her classes. This encourages you to practice, gives you some sounding boards where you can ask questions, and may encourage you to continue to take classes in the future. You may be able to find free or low-cost training though that is still of acceptable quality. So long as the instructor is competent, safe, a good teacher, and you are a good student, then this may be a perfectly valid option, especially if you are looking to get started in defensive pistol training.
Once you have taken a few courses, you will have a roster of drills by which you can practice what you have learned in your courses. You will know the correct things to practice and how to practice them. Dry fire practice is highly underrated and is completely free. Top level competition shooters often dry fire thousands of times for every live round fired. It is also helpful as you can better focus on the finer parts of a task without the distractions being at the range may bring.
My experiences as a student include a handful of classes at this point, all around defensive pistol use. My most recent class was Combative Pistol with Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives. I try to build a training roster each year. I am planning on shooting a low light, Each class, I left with not only new skills but a deeper appreciation of just how necessary it is to train in order to keep improving. When I practice now, it is much more intentional. My time and money at the range are both now spent much more productively.