Jeff Gonzales: Practice vs. Training for Armed Self-Defense

I see so many folks come through our doors to practice the same drills over and over. Many of these drills are “tests” at various schools. Some even have clever names and titles. I enjoy shooting some of these drills, but the amount of time, energy and resources is irrelevant to my overall goals.

My goal is to create generalists. People who are well-rounded, capable of adapting their abilities and strategies to many different types of dangerous situations. Can you improve your general performance by practicing a specific skill set over and over? Or does it do more harm than good for general preparedness?

No prizes for guessing my answer.

The issue I have centers around the time spent on the firing line practicing rather than training. Practicing is performing a known skill or activity regularly to improve or sustain performance. Training is the action of learning a new skill.

The hard part for many: resisting the desire to get good at one thing. One skill. Most shooters consider mastery of a single skill — such as quickly shooting a tight group at combat distance — a good thing. And it is…until you do so at the cost of the rest of your skills. Developing your overall self-defense skills requires you to acknowledge, accept and improve both your strengths and weaknesses. In short, to train.

There is a cost to addressing your weaknesses rather than reveling in your strengths. To me, effective practice requires about ten two-hour range trips a year, firing approximately 100 rounds per trip. If all you have is 1,000 rounds per year to shoot, how many rounds do you want to invest in practicing things that are difficult rather than things that are easy?

If you’re spending 70 to 80 percent of your time and ammunition budget practicing rather than training, you need to think about how you’re expending your resources. It’s better to spend 20 to 30 percent of your time practicing existing competencies and the rest training to do something that challenges you (e.g., shooting one-handed).

Having said that, I still want folks to have fun shooting. For many of us, challenging ourselves by working on things we find difficult — even when failure and frustration are more common than success and gains — is fun. If that’s not you, maybe it should be. Maybe your life will depend on it.

 

Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. earn more about his passion and what he does at therangeuastin.com.

comments

  1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    ‘No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.’ – Helmut von Moltke

    I do agree that most of us should shoot single handed (strong and weak) more though.

  2. avatar strych9 says:

    The overall premise of spending time on things you’re not good at isn’t just good advice for guns, it’s good advise for pretty much everything in life.

  3. avatar Tile floor says:

    Just out of curiosity-

    How many total hours of training have you non MIL or LE readers on the site taken?

    Again, it’s just curiosity, not insinuating or comparing or contrasting anything. I know training is expensive and I just am wondering as to how many folks on here have taken some. And if so, what were your thoughts on the quality of instruction you received?

    1. avatar Robb says:

      About 8 hrs (two classes) after my CHL class, which was about 4 years ago.

      I enjoyed it greatly, thought the quality was very good.

      Both classes were focused on defensive use; close up drills, moving off the X, etc.

      I do recognize I need to shoot more and take more classes. As well as unarmed defensive classes. Have I done either? Nope. No excuses. Simply haven’t made them a priority.

      I feel somewhat well prepared to defend myself and family but I recognize I’m not Joe Operator. Nor do I intend to be. I’m old enough to avoid stupid people doing stupid things at stupid time. I also recognize the probability of a DGU is pretty low which further lowers my risk. On the converse, I know shit happens. So, I took the classes.

    2. avatar strych9 says:

      You’ve raised some curiosity in me.

      I also am serious and don’t mean this to sound condescending or anything.

      What do you mean by “training”?

      Do you include CCW classes, martial arts, self defense, long range shooting and other stuff or do you just mean like CQC tactical James Yeager or FoF type training? Do you include medical or fitness in that definition?

      1. avatar Tile floor says:

        I was referring mostly to any firearms formal instruction, though you’ve raised a great point about overall defense readiness including physical fitness

    3. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Since retiring 6 years ago, I’ve had about 70 hours of firearms training.
      When I was active dut, I had over 3,000 documented hours. Course that was over the span of about 27 years. And that doesn’t count almost 10 years competing every weekend.

    4. avatar Kommieforniastan Deplorable says:

      8 hrs basic, 30 min of which was learning how not to shoot myself when drawing, after that, range hot.
      8 hrs intermediate tactical.
      5 hrs night time, low light, pitch dark night using flashlights, shooting colored paper, then a 100 yard steel illuminated by a led pen light.

      I used a Xd9 5″ barrel.

    5. avatar LKB says:

      If you are talking formal live-fire training classes, probably about 120 hours (15 days) over the last few years. Mostly one and two day tactical/combat pistol shooting classes.

    6. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

      I’ve had zero hours of formal pay for it firearms self defense training.

      On the other hand, I did learn to shoot from a guy whose job it was to teach people to shoot in the army. I’ve never spent time with a gun guy who wasn’t happy to pass on what he new to someone who expressed an interest in it. I do spend a lot of time with people whose job it is to maybe kill someone (the LE/military you refer to in the initial question).

      I’d like to get as much formal pay for it firearms self defense training as I can, but as with everything, it is hard to find the time and money to do it, especially locally.

      EDIT: I don’t count the state mandated CHL class as training because it isn’t.

    7. avatar Mark says:

      I take a formal two or three day course at Firearms Academy of Seattle every month they are open (11 months of the year). In between I practice/train once per week typically (sometimes I have to skip a week due to work obligations). The training never ends ever.

  4. avatar The Duke says:

    I think there might be some instructor bias here. Practice the basics so they become second nature and train for a wide range of scenarios.

    Given his qualifications I think he is forgetting that certain things don’t come naturally to people, like body position and sight acquisition

    After years of training I’m sure those are second nature to him, some of us do need to worry about whether our limited brain capacity in a defense situation will be consumed and our effectiveness will drop to potentially fatal levels.

    But I do agree don’t waste time on one aspect always train for every possible situation or complication and be well rounded

  5. avatar tjlarson2k says:

    People train to their level of confidence and comfort. Most people don’t think past the run of the mill criminal threat they feel they have a minuscule chance of ever encountering. And in their defense, being able to hit center mass is all they will need for most average single criminal encounters as is reported by dozens of DGUs by grandmothers, teens, and average Joes and Janes with minimal training.

    However, things get more complicated when you start introducing the idea of multiple threats. Or more determined threats that aren’t just after your money or a quick score. With mass shooters, crazies, and aloha snackbar threats developing into a growing trend, our training has to evolve with the threat level.

    The era of the misguided youth criminal that with a pocket knife and a weak resolve are over. Nowadays there is no room for hesitation or misplaced feelings about criminal intent. The stakes are too high and the criminals / crazies are much more lethal than they used to be.

  6. avatar Joe R. says:

    Don’t let the first sound of your weapon discharging be your DGU. Always work to reduce that initial feeling to zero. Keep / put your weapon in your hand(s) every chance you get, dry fire, field strip and assemble, obtain a sight picture.
    All perishable skills, do whatever you can at the time. Work it like a POW. This is what you can accomplish right now, this is what you can accomplish today. And . . . GO.

  7. avatar Specialist38 says:

    I agree.

    I will also say that different shooting activities with a variety of guns…yes even for fun …is good training.

    I can shoot with just about any type of firearm and do pretty well. I and so try to do something different each time I shoot.

    The other thing I like to do is have someone else dictate the drill and then shoot it cold. Gets it pumping and tests what your good and lost and what needs work.

  8. avatar Docduracoat says:

    I have zero training
    I have been shooting for 20 years and daily concealed carry for 5 years
    My local ranges do not allow drawing from the holster, rapid fire, or movement
    I am lucky that I have a secret Shooting Spot in the Everglades where I can practice all of the above things
    We also shoot at moving targets, multiple targets a different ranges, and even dog targets !
    Because your attacker might not even be human

  9. avatar LarryinTX says:

    The first 30+ years I was involved with firearms, other than military training I was not aware there was such a thing. That would be up until about 1990. Since then I’ve probably had around 60-70 hours, most of that either CHL required or long-range. Before 1990, I had also spent 25 years handloading, without a single minute of training for that, either. Experience, yes, I blew up Mommy’s revolver at one point. But training, no.

  10. avatar Howdy1 says:

    Don’t the vast majority of successful defensive gun uses come from people with little to no training at all? RF does have a link somewhere…

    1. avatar Mark says:

      That would make sense as those of lower socioeconomic class are more at risk of needing their gun and ironically less able to afford training.

  11. avatar Lhstr says:

    At 76, I have defensive shooting every month, self defense twice a year, some knife instruction. Range every other week. And still learning, not dumb, but each year you loose a little power and there is always a up grade or two to learn ( i’m retired so I have the time). Oh and learn to operate different weapons just in case. I do the lessons to stay sharp. Be safe out there and be ready

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