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Defensive Handgun Instruction at Front Sight

November 28, 2012

or Instructors and Students and Handguns, oh my!

I took another defensive handgun course at Front Sight in Pahrump, Nevada.  This was their two day defensive handgun skill builder.  I took the class with 32 other students.  All of us had taken the class before.  It is easy to take the class, but it isn’t easy to score well enough to advance to the more difficult classes.  I had an excellent range master, great coaches and great fellow students.  I underlined that for a reason.

On Their Range

It takes skill to shepherd and instruct 32 students on a live fire range.  If you have not been on a range with an instructor, let me tell you that they own the range when you’re out there on the gravel.  They have to.  Sure, you can joke with them.. while you’re doing your best to do exactly what they asked as quickly as possible.  The teaching staff balanced professional instruction with motivation and humor.  The sense of humor is important.  As a student, you will make mistakes as you push yourself.  We had to stay safe and also laugh at our mistakes in order to make progress.  Now I appreciate that careful balance of obedience and humor.

Instructor: You know, what were trying to do here.. it really is the simplest thing in the world.  Of course it takes about 5 pages to explain how to do it right and you have to do it in a second or less.

Student: You can read print that small at your age?  Man, I hate you!

I practiced at home but was not ready for the skills test.  I did improve during the two day course.  I did not improve enough to meet my expectations.  Also, they have improved the course over time.  These are the differences that really helped me.

  • They emphasized trapping the trigger every single time you fire.  This skill is so important that I doubt you could pass the test if you are still slapping the trigger.  That is something to practice at home.
  • We practiced presentation with our eyes closed by queuing on the sound of the turning targets.  That helped us focus on getting the gun out quickly.  I’ve added this to my dry practice.
  • We went through the skills test with a dry-practice run just before we went live.  That calmed the pre-test jitters.

Those are good teaching techniques, but there is something else you need to know.  My fellow students were a great addition to the course and I wish I could thank them.   We encouraged each other.  Sometimes you will demonstrate all the skills at once.  Other times it feels like a house of cards when your skills collapse just when you need them.  We shared our ups and downs through the two days.  It was their performance and their great attitude that kept me going.  I saw other students improve in the moments when I was stuck and that inspired me.  We pushed ourselves to perform.

Pointed in on the target

The skills test is a timed test against turning targets.  The time is as short as 1.8 seconds for two shots from a concealed holster.  The distance is up to 15 yards, though you get more time at that distance.  All of us had taken the skills test before and each of us failed to score 90% or better to advance.  Most of the students had an, “As many times as it takes.” attitude.

I will practice as many times as it takes until I always get it right.  I will take the test as many times as it takes to show I’ve mastered the material.

That attitude was contagious and effective. Four of us advanced as Distinguished Graduates.  Now that is pretty good!

I probably would have considered the course a failure if I only looked at my mistakes.  I’d have quit and concluded that I was incapable of ever meeting the test standards if I only looked at my score.  Look at it another way.  We scored in the 75 to 90 percent range.  That means we have the capability to do it right but we lack the consistency needed to advance.  We passed every aspect of the test but only got it right 9 out of 10 times rather than 10 out of 10 times.  We are three or four mistakes away from a perfect score.  All we have to do is eliminate those mistakes.

We celebrated with the students who passed and became Distinguished Graduates.  They were not perfect, but they were consistently better by a small fraction.  My mistakes add fractions of an inch at the target and slow me down by fractions of a second.  Those small errors are all that stand between me and a perfect score.  That perspective is the most important thing I took away from the class.

I don’t need to develop new skills.  I have everything I need.  What I need to do is refine the skills I already have.  I might have missed that important perspective if I only had private training or had different classmates.  You see, shaving fractions of an inch and fractions of a second is doable.  Any of us can develop that smooth consistency you see in professionals.  It simply takes regular practice and attention to the fundamentals.  Suddenly a perfect score is only a matter of effort and perseverance.  That leaves me back working at perfect practice.

That I can do.  Guess I’ll be back.. as many times as it takes.

Thank you, Doctor James, who shared the ride and coached me through the class.


Rob the imperfect

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