How Not To Suck At Gun Fighting

Bryan Mennie

Rich Best wrote an article on the differences between training and practice which I strongly recommend each person to read, indeed this essay is a direct result of what he eloquently put down and should be seen as an expansion of his thoughts.

I loved the article. Especially Rich’s perspective of physiological changes which occur during learning. I especially liked his view on the myelination process and I hope this adds cohorts to the movement that will forever remove the term ‘muscle memory’ from any person’s vocabulary.

His explanations inspired me to unpack what was said and juxtaposition that with my perspective, a viewpoint which is mainly congruent yet holds some variances and therewith adding value to the discerning reader.

If I look at the learning method as being fundamentally the same, no matter what skill is being focused on. I might take a more granular approach to that method and reflect it thusly; learning occurs in a flexible cycle and runs through the following phases:

  1. Awareness
  2. Instruction
  3. Training
  4. Practice
  5. Testing
  6. Evaluation & Rectification

Let me unpack this so as to add clarity.

Awareness speaks to the student deciding that they wish to make a fundamental change in their lifestyle and pursue a discipline or skill. Once they have done so they would then typically decide what goal he or she wants achieve with that skillset. Why this is important in the general learning process is actually fairly important, the awareness phase is characterized by unschooled exploration of a skill. It is in this phase that the student will collect information and often be exposed to skill acquisition techniques without the knowledge base or perspective to apply quality control. In fact this is where the vast majority of shooters specifically find themselves and one of the reasons that the explosion of the YouTube instructor has occurred.

As the student progresses through awareness and matures into their development pathway they will seek instruction, in this phase of the learning process, the student will be shown the fundamental elements of achieving that skill, led by a subject matter expert in that skill or discipline and most importantly coached to achieve the required form/technique/process for conducting those fundamental components. From the context of a shooter this should focus on elements such as grip, sight methodology, draw strokes, reloading and trigger interface.

Once the student has moved through the instruction phase of learning, then the training phase is entered. The key element which defines training is that there must be measurable progression. So measurable elements are assigned to the techniques which were learnt during the instruction phase and tracked over time. The training aspect should grow that student through a period of linear progression by a process of incremental steps and a refinement of that technique. This should be done in consultation and occasional coaching but the student should not require constant supervision. Training must always have a measured goal.

The practice phase is entered only once the student has culminated in his or her linear progression and the metrics indicate that the techniques as performed by the student are consistently of very high quality and achieving the desired result. The student then practices those movements in order to prepare for a specific event or test. Practice must always have a purpose for a near term eventuality. Tp put it in the shooting community’s beloved operator parlance. “You train to develop yourself but you practice for a mission”.

Now for testing and this is the period where you need to test your skill development or progression within context. In the shooting environment it may mean a match, a classifier or even a training course at a new level or indeed to use that skill which you have been developing as a springboard to a more complex skill. Testing requires objectivity and the opportunity to evaluate your overall training approach to a defined standard. A successful test should provide you with sufficient feedback to enable an evaluation of the path you have followed relative to the goal you established during your awareness phase.

Now that allows me to segue neatly into the evaluation phase. In this you identify the results of where you are compared to where you want to be. You then identify where those shortcomings need to be addressed and where you need to revert to in your learning process to conduct effective rectification. It is here where you can decided to revisit the instruction phase in certain key or indeed all of the techniques, you may wish to revisit the training phase if you understand that might not have achieved the level of linear progression that you could have or indeed it may be that your practice phase was insufficient or that you may have unwittingly regressed by practicing a bad technique despite the training you had done. The other opportunity you may identify in this phase lies in identifying other areas which could enhance your testing results, however these additional improvement areas should only be added once you have achieved, through instruction, training and practice the required metrics and goals you sought to achieve first.

In summation this entire approach can be précised in one paragraph. Decide what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve and by when you want to achieve it. Identify a high quality instructor or several high quality instructors (have a look at this article from 2016). Conduct training in the fundamental techniques of your skillset until you have obtained objective progression in those techniques. Practice those skilled techniques and test the application thereof in an objective fashion, evaluate the results and rectify where required.


Bryan Mennie is a professional risk and crisis manager. He has taught kidnap avoidance and hostage survival to various international organizations and has managed protective and security operations in over twenty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

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