Context and Training Methodology

During my 2 day Combat Focus Shooting class this past weekend in Kempner, Texas, I had a great question from a student that developed into a solid discussion about training methodology. He asked me why I teach kinesthetic alignment and unsighted fire prior to discussing sight alignment and sight picture during the class. His contention was that sighted fire “always works” and that it would therefore make more sense to introduce that before unsighted fire or even in lieu of it. As someone who has taken plenty of classes that follow this way of thinking by teaching some version of “front sight, press”, I can sympathize; but the methodology fails to take into account a huge problem: context.

My student’s comment about sights “always working” is true to a certain extent, especially on the square range, and that’s the problem. I can take any given handgun with any given traditional notch and blade sights and under the standard, controlled conditions of the square range; I can get hits as long as I can achieve a good sight alignment and sight picture. I could take the firearm, hold it upside down in my weak hand and press the trigger with my pinky and as long as I can hold the sights on target, I can get a hit.

With this being the case, it becomes an issue when students are able to get the hits that they need in spite of a shooting posture that is incongruent with the context of a fight. How many times have you seen a new shooter at the range who is scoring “bullseyes” with a grip, stance, and extension that is totally off balance, inefficient, and counter-intuitive? I see it all the time at my local range. If the goal is simply to get hits, I can afford to ignore all sorts of other physical and conceptual issues and call it good. But that isn’t what people are paying me for when they sign up to learn defensive shooting.

My goal for my students is to get their hits as intuitively, efficiently, and consistently as possible in the context of a fight. We take the effectiveness of a technique for granted in CFS because there are plenty of ways that I can achieve the goal of putting holes in the paper that have no bearing on the reality of a defensive encounter. If I teach students to focus on the front sight when they don’t need to, they will start doing it in lieu of getting into a proper defensive shooting stance, and the sights will cease to be precision instruments and will transform into a crutch. I don’t want students relying on sights when proper alignment will solve the same problem in a much more efficient manner.

For instance, another shooter on my line this past weekend had clearly learned to shoot in a Weaver stance. He was hitting the target just fine in that stance initially, and if I had taken that as an indication that he was good to go, I would have failed him in preparing him for a fight. Despite his getting hits, his stance was inefficient, counter-intuitive and incongruent with fighting. This idea can be confirmed by watching police officers who spent their whole lives training in Weaver stance only to improvise a fully extended posture in the fights that we see on dash cams and surveillance videos.

When you are training for a defensive shooting, context is going to provide your litmus test for evaluating a given technique or training methodology. Just because something works well on the range doesn’t mean that it will work well in a fight. I am not trying to build target shooters who will win bullseye competitions; I am training people to be as efficient as possible in a fight. Everything that I teach is aimed at that goal and if a technique or methodology doesn’t work towards that goal, effective though it may be in punching holes in paper, I’m not going to teach it.

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