Are Classes The Best Bang For Your Buck?

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Over the past few years as I delve deeper and deeper into the world of training, I have noticed a pretty obvious trend: attending more classes does not necessarily mean more skill.

Despite this trend I can’t help but to notice how many people seem to hope for the converse. Time and time again I see well-intentioned students of the gun who are in the constant cycle of bouncing from class to class.

On one hand I must applaud these guys for doing what most gun owners don’t have the stones or smarts to do: get training. But on the other hand, I can’t help but to scratch my head when I see these guys fail to improve despite spending thousands on training from top tier instructors.

Classes Does Not Equal Improvement

Quite frankly most trainers can’t make you improve by all that much… at least not in a single day or weekend class. Instead a good class should give you the tools and techniques you need to improve yourself on your own time. Receiving instruction is never a replacement for old fashioned hard work.

When I compare myself to some of these “class junkies,” I can’t help but realize that with only a few classes under my belt, I tend to fare better when it comes to skills. On a good day, I can shoot the F.A.S.T. in 6-7 seconds, and when I shot the IDPA classifier a few weeks ago I was less than 4 seconds outside of SSP Expert (I really bombed stage 3). While neither of those are amazing feats, I find that there are a lot more people who can’t match that performance than there are people that can beat it.

Guess how many classes I went to in order to get to that skill level?

The grand total of my pistol training comes down to several 2 hour blocks taken at a tactical conference a few years ago, several Southnarc Courses (ECQC and VCAST) which contain very little actual shooting time and next to no work on the fundamentals, and the pistol work at the Larry Vickers course I took last year. And quite frankly none of those courses immediately offered huge bumps in improvement at my next range session.

Compare my abilities and quantity of training with some of these guys who go out to Front Sight every year or do multiple shooting classes a year, and you’ll find that the thousands they spend on training doesn’t offer any significant improvement over where I am. So why spend the money?

Money Better Spent On Ammo

Rather than drop $500-1000 a year on classes, spend that money on more ammo. Or even better yet, just dry-fire! Work up a training routine for yourself that includes dry-fire and live-fire, and keep at it. You’ll notice more improvement than you ever would just taking expensive classes.

When you do consider taking a class, keep in mind that a solid class has two purposes. The first is when you have no skill set at all. Learning to safely draw from the holster and learning good technique for running your gun is critical to get your training off to a good start. The second is when you have been at things a while and hit a plateau. If you can’t improve yourself, it’s time to have someone else help you. Let someone else look at your technique and offer alternatives.

Ultimately it takes consistent, focused dedication to the task at hand to improve. There are no easy answers or shortcuts, just effort and time.

What’s the ratio of classes to individual training that you use? Please post a comment!

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  1. The professional student vs not so glamerous dryfire.
    Truth is most classes are recycling the same old techniques. Few instructors teach biomechanics, the benefits of dry fire and do not break everything down to it’s most basic building block. Trigger manipulations while balancing a piece of brass on your front sight and pressing to the sear wall, beaking the shot, having a buddy cycle your slide then replacing the brass while you reset and break another shot is not only a good way to learn about press, sear wall, follow through, reset and prepping again, it will also show you how stable your stance is when they cycle your slide.
    As still as you can hold the sights during that drill, how many people at the range use a ball and dummy drill as a diagnostic tool? Almost every instructor recomends it as a good tool to keep in your bag of tricks, yet many shooters suffer from pushing or flintching. Running the drill isn’t as sexy as moving the target closer and shooting faster.
    Many classes teach you how to work out of a holster as you learn how to shoot. Learning how to shoot first then working your way back to working from a holster is much more effective.
    Do they sign up for another class that will help them and again refuse to work on what the instructor taught? You bet! They can get some range time, put on their fancy gear, display their shoot better gadgets, buy a t shirt and engage in tactical loitering with like minded persons.
    Live fire helps me confirm what I learned or neglected to lean in dry fire. It is the biggest and cheapest way to learn to shoot better, faster, with both eyes open and help me to move my eye first then my gun to the eye. Using a double action non striker fired gun in dry fire helps with learning trigger manipulations and doing double single live fire drill has rounded out my skills so I am comfortable with a long heavy double action pull, a double action striker fired action or single action 1911.
    There are a few great books that will give you a good dry fire routine and you just add the work to improve your skills or you can sign up for another class to get another certificate of acomplishment for your wall of “I love me”.
    Unless I am going to learn a new set of skills I will not take the class. If you refused to learn what they tried to impart onto you last time you are wasting your money by going again.

    • Frank, you make some good points. Dry-fire definitely isn’t as glamorous as attending a class with some high profile teacher. Naturally we all tend to want to practice what we are good at. Unfortunately quite a few are experts at what you call ‘tactical loitering’.

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