Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY TACTICAL
Kris Southards

Firearms: Training solo versus training in groups

Firearms training presupposes a purpose or goal when we step out onto the range. While most would agree that training with your firearm is an essential part of improving skills; without a method to track your progress or reassess your goals, training turns quickly into recreation. There is no purpose beyond punching some holes in paper or seeing if that watermelon really does explode as it does on video. We're not saying that it's not fun. It just isn't really training.

There's an old saying, "You don't win nothing for practice. You don't win nothing without it." Grammar aside, we agree. Practice means working on a skill. In any physical endeavor, there is no substitute for putting in reps. The arena of use doesn't matter, be it self-defense, hunting, or competition. The path from competence to proficiency to mastery is one that's sometimes solitary and sometimes shared.

Whether training by yourself, with a partner, or as part of a class each dynamic has benefits and drawbacks. But each has a place in skill developing.



Take a Class

Photos by Jay Canter and Muzzle Flash Media

Taking a course requires a commitment of time and money. Classes offer students a predetermined focus or theme revolving around a specific skill, and there are a multitude of different types of classes available.However, not all courses are created equal.

So you need to do some research to answer some basic questions. Is the individual/company providing the course reputable? Have they been around for a while? Are the reviews for the course good? Is the class size reasonable for the skill(s) being taught?

We recently took a defensive handgun class with Aaron Cowan of Sage Dynamics. Sage Dynamics was founded in 2012, and the reviews for the defensive handgun course were positive. The course had 18 participants, was taught over two days, and the participants were a mix of law enforcement and civilians.

Perhaps the defining element of the class was Cowan's discussion of not just how something is done, but why it's done. Knowing how to do something is important, but knowing why something is done in a certain way is vital when building skills because it defines a skill's application. Real-life situations are not neat. Bad guys don't just stand there, innocents are almost always involved, and only God knows what they're going to do.

There are some drawbacks to training classes. They tend to be costly and don't always fit your schedule. Unless you're lucky enough to live near a training center with open enrollment classes, such as Gunsite or the Sig Academy, or a city where classes are often hosted, you'll have to travel. Now, that means road tripping or booking flights and arranging lodging. Then there's the added hassle of flying with guns and ammunition. Class size has a significant impact on the quality of the instruction. If there are too many participants, the likelihood of getting significant one-on-one time with the instructor goes down.

Or, if your skill level happens to fall in the middle of the ol' bell curve, and you're not outspoken, you may be easily overlooked. There's also the harsh reality that simply taking a class, even with all the time and money invested, will not make you a better a shooter — however, this is one of the most important aspects of taking a class, learning how to improve your abilities on your own or with a buddy. It'll simply give you the tools to pursue being a better shooter.

Photos by Jay Canter and Muzzle Flash Media

Instructor skill set is critical. The ability of the instructor to execute his/her own training philosophy and required skills will make or break the class. We're not saying the instructor must be former military, law enforcement, a national champion, or world-renowned hunter. There are many excellent shooters who are simply not excellent teachers. On the flip side, an instructor must be able to walk their talk. The best firearm instructors have the skills to execute what they teach.

Some group settings come with interesting twists. All students in RECOIL's own Summit in the Sand training event, held in fall of 2017, were provided SIG P320 X5 pistols and ammunition for the class. Students got to run drills with an unfamiliar gun that separated them from the baggage they normally brought to the range with their own pistols. Aside from taking you slightly out of your element, running something strange also gives you a different perspective on your own gear, helping inform future gear purchases.

Using the P320 X5s, students either walked away with a greater appreciation for the guns they normally ran, or left scratching their chin and wondering if maybe it was time to go shopping for a new EDC.

Training with a buddy

Photos by Jay Canter and Muzzle Flash Media

Training with a partner, friend, family member, or mentor is another good way to advance your training agenda. It provides a free(-ish) and flexible alternative to training in a group setting. You've got to provide your own targetry, but paper is cheap and steel lasts a long time, as does a rubber dummy. And going to the range with a partner is less of a scheduling challenge than wrapping your schedule around a class and skips the pain of planning and traveling, or telling the significant other you're going to miss your in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary party.

The variables that loom large are the commitment to your training goals, the skills to practice, to what degree they are practiced, and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) of your partner.

If your partner's KSAs are less than yours, you may wind up in a case of the not knowing what you don't know, which can derail your progress. If your shot group looks like you're using a shotgun while combatting a severe case of hiccups and your buddy looks you in the eye and tells you your group is, "a bit wild," that may be an accurate statement, but it won't help you correct the problem. He or she may dig deep and say something profound like, "It seems your sight alignment is off." That's a slightly more helpful suggestion, but still falls short of correcting the problem. Yet shooting with someone of lesser skills is not without benefit.

You might notice an error in how they shoot and realize it's a common problem. That realization hopefully puts you on the path to correcting the problem. And, if you're at all competitive, training with a partner will motivate you both to a higher level of performance as you practice. Bragging rights do matter, especially if there's a cigar or case of beer on the line when it's all said and done.

While training with a partner of like abilities can be good, it shares some of the same pitfalls as training with someone of lesser ability. Most notably, not knowing what you don't know. This lack of knowledge makes progress on your training goal a hit-or-miss proposition if you find yourself struggling. So when you hit that point of failure neither of you really knows how to solve the problem. The temptation at this point is to simply switch to a drill you're more comfortable with.

Photos by Jay Canter and Muzzle Flash Media

Shooting with someone of like abilities helps in reinforcing good habits, as your buddy is likely to call you out when you get sloppy. Your partner is able to give you more accurate feedback, such as telling you that you're pushing forward on the gun as you pull the trigger. This is helpful, but feedback without instruction doesn't give you the tools to correct the problem.

The third option, training with someone who is significantly better than you, eliminates the most glaring of problems noted above. They'll know what you don't. They'll be able to not only tell you what you are doing wrong, but help you correct the error. They can take you to the point of failure and give you tools to move past it.

They can help you refine your training goal and give you the practice scenarios to aid in achieving the desired outcome. They can teach you how to self-diagnose problems. There is the normally unspoken motivation to shoot as well they do along with the awareness that, in most cases, it is possible.

Flying solo

Photos by Jay Canter and Muzzle Flash Media

Training by yourself is the most flexible way to train. You decide when, where, and what skills you're going to practice and how many rounds you're going to shoot. It can be most relaxing, as you're not comparing yourself to — or being judged by someone. Yet, this requires the most self-discipline. Without it, your practice session can quickly go from a bona fide training day to just blowing up household objects found on the range.

The major failing, again, is not knowing what you don't know. Unless you've reached the level of being able to self-diagnose, it's difficult to move past the point of failure. There is also the common tendency of practicing what we're already good at. Fun? Yes, but fun alone isn't much help in advancing your overall training agenda.

We don't get better by wishing. Wanting something doesn't make it happen. There are many avenues of training and some are inherently better than others. We suggest training with someone whose abilities outmatch your own or paying to learn from bona fide professionals are the most efficient ways to go — and combining the two is even better. That being said, it's not the only way.

Editor's Note: The Best of Both Worlds

An alternate, and highly beneficial form of group training is competition. While matches don't provide much opportunity for one-on-one remedial instruction, they do offer a unique chance to pressure test the skills you've worked so hard to cultivate through the other methods listed by Kris in his article. Shooting unfamiliar courses of fire among a group of shooters all vying for status under time limit adds a whole slew of stressors that are all excellent tools for determining just how deeply you've been able to program your shooting skills.

In RECOIL's Summit in the Sand training event, we gave students one day of formal instruction followed by one-day competition that allowed attendees to check their learning progress against their peers. The P320 X5 gave students a unique tool to gain experience. Even though the P320 was designed from the ground up as a duty pistol, the X5 is a highly refined version of that template optimized for speed and efficiency on the competition circuit, showcasing a cross-pollination of ideal features from both the tactical and competition worlds.

Ammunition for Summit in the Sand was also provided by SIG. In addition to the FMJ range ammo we used, SIG also has the corresponding V-Crown line of defensive hollow point ammo. Being able to train with the same brand of ammo you carry eliminates one more variable between training and carry.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.