By Travis Pike
One of the biggest problems I have as a firearms instructor is figuring out why people can’t grasp the basics of a safe grip. We just did a classroom portion on proper grip, we practiced indoors over and over, and I explained and showed pictures of what happens when you cross thumbs on an automatic. This isn’t front sight focus issue, a flinching issue, or some minor finger grip squeezing issue. This is something designed to keep you safe and is so basic and easy, why don’t they get it? They’re out there crossing thumbs, I correct them and they do it again two shots later. Holy Hell . . .
Well that’s the attitude I used to have. To be fair I never verbalized this to students, I just corrected them over and over. Internally I was having a melt down, but I learned a thing or two about bearing during my time in the military. This wasn’t the only thing that drove me internally crazy, of course. Getting flagged and various other unsafe handling is an issue would do it, but students usually learned that fast. Those damned cross thumbs, though. Anyway I mentioned that was my old attitude. What changed is that I went golfing, and confirmed every negative aspect I ever assigned to that so-called sport.
I’d never golfed before and never had an inkling to do so. It just never appealed to me. However in the name of peer pressure I found myself swinging a stick at a stationary ball one afternoon surrounded by my so-called friends.
I picked up on one thing quickly, different clubs do different things. I could relate to that. Then the scoring made sense, but I was told not to worry too much about that.
Then it came down to grip, and apparently gripping the club like a baseball bat (a real sport) is totally wrong. So then grip was explained to me, and it was explained again, and then someone showed me by physically moving me into the correct position. Even then I had to ask for (or just got a few) corrections a few times. But it didn’t feel ‘right.’
Then we came to stance which wasn’t too hard to grasp, but was uncomfortable because I am a big guy, 6’5″, and I think my borrowed clubs were too short. Then, combined the stance with the so-called proper swing, everything I was doing felt wrong. It didn’t feel natural at all, and I really didn’t like it. The best part about the day was getting a buzz on overpriced, crappy beer.
I realized that I had forgotten what it was like to be new at something. Once I was settled in and felt confident about my abilities to shoot, I had forgotten what it took to get there. I forget that not everyone enjoys shooting firearms right off the bat. And people taking a class may only have a pragmatic reasoning for doing so. It’s not something they enjoy or dislike, just something that logically makes sense for them to learn.
Students aren’t always having fun with it and it doesn’t feel natural to them because they’ve never done it before. Maybe the gun they are using is too big or too small, and it’s uncomfortable so they focus on their discomfort over proper form.
Golf taught me a lot about teaching, mostly because I was a student again. So now, instead of “instructing” people and correcting them, I’ve started asking questions. “Why are your thumbs like that?” “Is that weapon comfortable for you?” “Do you want to take a breather, get some water?” “Can I suggest something that might help?”
Because you know what sucks more than anything? Someone who’s more experienced correcting you over and over, in front of other people. Maybe this is just my problem (maybe my ego’s problem), but I can’t say I enjoyed it when I had a club in my hand. I realized most new shooters probably don’t either. I needed to learn what it was like to learn again.
This lesson isn’t just for firearms trainers. It applies to most shooters. As my old first Sergeant used to always reiterate when we went out we weren’t just Bob, Steve, or Fred, we were Marine Sergeant Steve, or Marine Private Bob, and we were all ambassadors of the Marine corps at all times.
As shooters and 2A supporters we’re also ambassadors for the Second Amendment, and guns in general. When we take a new potential shooter out to the range they may not associate a bad time with just you as a teacher, but with guns and shooting in general. We owe it to our beliefs to be good stewards of the 2A, and a major part of this is training new shooters to be safe, and enjoy the experience of learning to shoot.
So my advice for those looking to teach others how to shoot? Remember what it was like to be a student. And golf sucks…that’s also a point I’m trying to make.