Course Review: Larry Vickers Carbine/Pistol I

Photo Credit: Neshooters

A couple weekends ago I attended Larry Vickers’ Three Day Carbine/Pistol I class hosted by NEShooters in Pelham, NH. I have been looking for a class covering the Carbine locally, so when I saw this class become available I jumped on the registration.

To give you a little background about me, I have zero carbine training to date. I have plenty of rifle marksmanship experience, but nothing with running a long-gun in a combative manner. I also have fairly little pistol training. I took a few handgun modules at a summit a few years ago and have a little bit of handgun training from an ECQC perspective, but otherwise I’m self taught with the pistol.

Course Overview

Larry Vickers is definitely a proponent of marksmanship over speed. Look at his slogan if you need proof: speed is fine – accuracy is final. That pretty much sums up the theme of the class. This class wasn’t a bunch of slow shooting by any means, but the emphasis was definitely on not going faster than you could make mostly good hits.

This three day class followed a fairly simple format: day one was all about shooting the pistol, day two was mostly about the carbine, and day three was a 50/50 split. The trend throughout all three days was to cover a subject, shoot a variety of drills designed to practice and test that skill, followed by a competitive team drill or two.

The class consisted of 18 shooters who were broken into 3 teams of 6. For all of the team and individual shooting drills, Larry likes to use a scoring system that isn’t all that different from what is used in IDPA. Shots in the black are -0, on the paper but out of the black -1, on the target backer -3 and shots not taken or off the backer are -5.

One benefit of a system like this is it institutes a good method of measuring your performance. For the vast majority of skills, Larry has some sort of drill that can be used to measure your performance.

Day 1

The first day started with what Larry considers the most important fundamental: trigger control. A variety of partner drills were used to perfect trigger control. Throughout the day we also covered sight picture, shooting from the low ready position, draw-stroke, emergency reloads and “follow through, scan, and assess.”

Day 2

The second day started with the carbine, and included some pistol work later in the day. We started with zeroing before covering a variety of topics: prone, sitting, kneeling, standing, shooting from low ready, reloads, transitioning to the weak side and transition to sidearm.

Day 3

Day three was about 50/50 between the pistol and the carbine. The morning was a review of the previous material followed by malfunction drills on both pistol and carbine, and shooting on the move.

My Thoughts

I took a lot away from this course, specifically in the carbine realm. Not having had any previous instruction in this area, I had a lot to gain by taking this class. I now have a good starting point upon which I can base my own continuing training regime.

Larry definitely has mastered the shooting skills that he is trying to teach, and he also has strong opinions about various methods and equipment. If your method or equipment falls outside of what he prefers, you’re going to catch some flak for it. I shot the course with stock sights on my Glock 17 and Larry didn’t miss out on the chance to give me crap for it.

Don’t show up to a class like this if you are worried about getting your feelings hurt. If he tells you your equipment sucks, you can take his advice or turn the other cheek. Either way, any instructional situation like this is a chance for you to take in new material and opinions and filter them with your knowledge and experience.

Ultimately when you take any class, you’re likely to differ in opinion on something with the instructor. The key is to build a strong understanding of the subject matter and compile a variety of experiences and opinions so you can make an informed decision.

The one thing that disappointed me about this class was what I perceived as a sensation of limited instruction. Part of this hinged on the limited one-on-one time. Being in a class with 18 students for one instructor basically means you might get a few corrections over the course of the weekend. Unless you had a question to ask, you got limited assistance. This could simply be an effort to not over-coach people, but based on the free distribution of equipment criticisms, I have a feeling that isn’t the case.

The material covered seemed rather thin, especially on Friday. At times I couldn’t tell what skill level this class was really targeting. We covered basic topics but without the level of depth that I expected. For example on Friday we went over trigger control and sight picture with little discussion on stance or grip. Larry might not consider these aspects important in his view of pistol shooting, but to really cover the subject matter completely I think they should have been discussed. But perhaps my expectations were unrealistic since I don’t have a lot to compare this to.

This was also an expensive course compared to the several others I have taken. $700 for a three day class (plus range fee) seems a bit high in my book. If the class was in the $500-$600 range, it would have been more competitively priced, and a little easier to swallow. If you are looking for a basic carbine course, there are certainly cheaper options available that would probably get the job done for you.

In the end, this was an enjoyable class taught by an experienced instructor. If you can afford a class like this, and are willing to pay the premium for Larry’s expertise, you’ll definitely learn something new.

Do you make the mistake of relying on one gun?

Equipment fails. Usually at the worst conceivable moment as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this from my wife’s laptop. Mine kicked the bucket.

Convenient.

I wish my laptop was the only thing that failed me recently. Almost two months ago I wrote about how to prepare for a carbine course. I was preparing for a course I took a little over a week ago, a combined pistol/carbine class taught by Larry Vickers.

As part of my own preparation I had been familiarizing myself with my go-to rifle; making sure I had it zeroed and could make good hits quickly with my new Aimpoint Pro. Everything was working well; when I did my part I was shooting ragged holes at 25meters.

And then something happened.

A little heat and my rifle suddenly opened up to 8.5×11 size groups.

It definitely was the rifle. More specifically, it seems that it was the barrel. I removed the barrel and shipped it back to the manufacturer, CMMG. Long story short, the barrel was bad and produced poor groups for them as well. They ended up shipping me a complete upper to replace it. CMMG definitely stands behind their products.

In the meantime, being very short on time, I ordered a brand new Daniel Defense barrel. The barrel came in with a week to go before the class, as did the new Troy MRF-DI Battle Rail I ordered. Unfortunately I could not install the rail on the rifle. After spending a huge amount of time on the phone with both Daniel Defense and Troy it appears that the rail was out of spec.

As a result I had to overnight some plastic handguards to be up and running in time for the class, and took some time off work mid-week to zero and verify function of my rifle before the class. Everything worked fine and thankfully I got through the class without a hiccup.

What can we learn from my month of equipment failures?

I certainly learned a few lessons, the most important being that one is none. Backups are a good thing. If I had another rifle in a workable configuration I would have been good to go without the last minute parts shuffle. Don’t rely on one piece of equipment if you can avoid it.

The next most important lesson is avoid buying parts for a rifle under a time crunch. No one local ever seems to stock what you need, and most online distributors are out of stock on 50% of their merchandise at any given moment. If you need to build or buy a rifle for a class, make sure you do it months ahead of time. Invariably something will go wrong and you’ll need the time to sort it out. If you’re luckier than I am, you don’t have anything to lose by gearing up early.

5 Ways to Stay Motivated

Photo Credit: Jeremy Botter

What is the hardest part of training? I adamantly believe that it is staying motivated. Practicing and learning are relatively easy, but convincing yourself day after day to keep training, to do one more rep and push yourself a little further can be hard to do.

How many times have you started getting ready to go to the gym and decided not to? Or found some sort of excuse why you couldn’t dry fire today? Excuses are easy to find, especially when motivation is at its lowest.

I don’t have all the answers and can fall into many of these traps myself, but here are some tricks that have helped me to keep motivated and trudging on.

Find ways to make measurable progress (if only small)

Progress is the best motivator in the world. If you are able to do 10 pushups today and 11 pushups tomorrow, you have evidence that you are making progress. When you see progress you see the fruits of your labor and it makes any of the pain and suffering worth it.

When you lose sight of progress, or it becomes too small to measure day to day or week to week, you are destined to lose motivation. When you aren’t succeeding every day why keep going?

The best way to keep motivated is to keep making progress.

If you are working on a skill or exercise that requires significant time and dedication to reach the next milestone, this can be difficult to see. Make your progress more obvious by finding intermediate milestones.

Maybe this means adding smaller amounts of weight to a weight routine, adding repetitions or even decreasing the length of time for your workout. With shooting skills, finding measurable progress might require you to start using calipers to measure your groups or investing in a shot timer.

If you see progress you will be less likely to tell yourself to skip training.

Set achievable goals

Connected to the idea of measurable progress is achievable goals. You may have big goals set that are very difficult to achieve. Rather than struggle for potentially years to achieve these goals, set some intermediate goals that you know you can achieve.

If you set a goal to become rated Master in IDPA for example, perhaps setting your sights on Expert or Sharpshooter are more easily attainable for you. Strive for the reachable goals so you get an opportunity to pat yourself on the back for achieving your goal.

Leave yourself reminders

Sometimes motivation is about remembering why you want to train. Or even that you should train.

A great way to stay motivated is to find ways not to forget the reasons you want to train. Place a sticky note on your bathroom mirror. Maybe all it says is go train. Or it could have your goals written on it. Either way, seeing your goals every day should inspire you to keep training, even when you don’t feel like it.

Train with others

Another method for staying motivated is to train with others. When you are weak, your friends will pick you back up. When you are strong you pick your friends back up.

Even better is the desire not to show weakness in front of your friends. We all perform better with an audience if for no other reason than we are a competitive species. You want to avoid losing motivation? Form a training group.

Don’t allow yourself to give up

Tricks can help you to stay motivated, but sometimes it is just about willpower. Work on building the mindset to keep training and not to give in to the temptation of quitting or taking it easy. Treat the desire to quit as the inspiration not to.

You want to quit, therefore you can’t.

It should be your goal to build that never quitting attitude required to succeed (and reach your other goals).

Motivation is difficult to find at times. You might have had a rough day at work, or you might be tired or sore from another training session. You might feel a little sick or have allergies, or maybe the AC is broken.

At times like these, tell yourself to suck it up and get back to training. Use the tricks if you need them and tell yourself not to give in.

Warning: Failure Does Happen

Photo Credit: Charles & Clint

One principle I have based my training on is that our failure is defined by our training as much as our success is. Mistakes are to be expected because no matter how much we train, perfection is unattainable. The best we can hope for is to make fewer mistakes. When these mistakes do happen, it is our training that defines how we will react to these failures. If you never practice, your default reaction will be a surprise. But when you train hard and consistently, you can expect to look no worse than your worst day in training if you need to defend yourself. The more you practice, the better your ‘worst’ becomes.

Before I went on vacation I shot my second IDPA match. I did pretty well in this match, but I made some major mistakes. While some of the mistakes themselves are pretty disheartening, I also learned something about my training. After dropping a magazine on two separate stages during a reload, I managed to recover quite well.

My favorite mistake was on a stage that involved a vehicle. You started in the car, picked up the loaded pistol on the passenger seat and engaged a target out the passenger side window until slide lock (4 rounds), debussed out the driver side and were to engage targets across the hood from next to the driver side door.

During this reload is when I dropped the mag. I didn’t just drop the mag though… I filled it with sand and stuck it into my pistol. The pistol failed to go into battery and I now had a fight on my hands. Tap rack and bang didn’t solve it, so I ended up removing the magazine and clearing the pistol out completely.

It sucked. A lot.

I’m not proud of dropping that magazine. I am proud of how I dealt with the issue. I didn’t lose my cool, and I just worked through the problem. Amazingly I didn’t come in last place on the stage and got plenty of compliments on how I dealt with it. I now have a good idea of what my ‘worst’ performance might look like, and it doesn’t bother me too much.

In training: always work through it

There are two lessons to be learned here. One is to not drop your magazine in the dirt. The other more important lesson is to always work through it. If you dry fire and manage to foul a reload or a draw, don’t stop until you are done.

Even if it’s not quick and clean, the important thing is completing the task you started.

Your natural response should be to deal with the problem, not run away from it. While we strive for perfect practice, we must also realize that in real life you don’t get do overs. If you make a mistake, make it right.

In pressure testing: don’t lose your cool and always work through it

When you get to a match or you are working on some evolution intended to pressure test your skills, work through your mistakes. This should be pretty obvious (and second nature if you practice this way) but it needs to be said.

When bad stuff happens to you or you make a mistake, stay calm and fix the problem. Redo’s don’t happen in real life so why should they happen in your training?

In real life: work through it

It should be even harder to screw this up in real life with a full adrenaline dump. Just like in training and testing: when you make a mistake work through it. Don’t stop to scold yourself or waste time swearing under your breath or hating yourself.

Fix the problem! Fix it now!

The costs of not working though a problem in practice are low at face value, but when it causes you to not react the way you want on the street, the cost is high. Again, real life has no redo’s and your attacker won’t reset if you ask him to when you make a mistake.

My point is redundant just like your training should be. Hopefully you make fewer mistakes as you train more, but when you do make them, make them good mistakes. Fix the problem and get it done. Don’t immediately stop and restart in an attempt to avoid making the mistake in the first place. That’s for after you fix it.

Unless you make the mistake more than you do it right, you need to work through it so you will have the confidence you can work through similar mistakes in a life or death situation. You need your default reaction to be a good one when it really counts.

Have you ever made a mistake in competition or training? How did you deal with it? Post a comment below and share!

The Secret to Training on the Road

Photo credit: sookie

I don’t travel very often. A vacation every once in a while and a trip for business here and there.  One of the biggest costs of traveling is the time it takes out of your training. Sure, sometimes you really need that break from training to help reset yourself and rest so you can go back at training hard again. But if you travel a lot, it can be a serious detriment to your progress.

If you are anything like me, getting home and seeing your skills or fitness droop because you haven’t been maintaining them is a frustrating thing. There are a few ways to keep your skills fresh despite being away.

Dry-fire in the hotel room

Traveling anywhere that allows you to carry your normal concealed weapon is a great thing. Not only do you have the means to protect yourself, it also enables you to dry-fire while on the road. Dry-fire is great practice, and it can be an excellent way to keep your skills up when traveling.

The most important thing when practicing with dry-fire is safety. Make sure no ammunition is anywhere near the firearm you are practicing with, and make sure you are practicing in a safe direction. In a hotel this can be very hard given the density of the building and the number of people around.

At home I prefer to dry-fire against a concrete wall or utilizing a wall with nothing valuable to shoot behind it. In a hotel this is often difficult to do. Keep an eye on which side of the hotel you are on, and what is located where. This past week when I was traveling, I noticed the hotel was located directly in front of a mountain and had a a great view of it from my window. Dry-fire at this wall was safe because even if a round somehow went off, it would end up in a huge berm not far from the hotel.

If this is not an option and you travel frequently, a Kevlar vest is a very portable option that can be hung or placed as a backstop. Its more expensive than some other options, but it does give you some peace of mind when dry-firing.

Just because you have a backstop doesn’t mean you can be lax in your safety. Dry-fire is inherently dangerous and requires your conscious commitment to safety. Your business trip or vacation will end quite quickly and uncomfortably if you fire a round in your hotel room.

You can get fancy when practicing in the hotel room like you do at home, or just work on sight alignment and working the trigger. Keep in mind that the more props you use in training, the more you’ll have to travel with. I prefer to travel light, so simple and abbreviated sessions are all I need to keep me from losing my skills.

Workout just about anywhere

Training isn’t just about shooting. For me it’s very much about getting into and staying in fighting shape. Most hotel fitness rooms are anemic in the equipment they provide. A couple of treadmills or an elliptical and maybe a weight machine or two.

Most of my own strength training comes in the form of body weight exercise: pull-ups, push-ups, squats, crunches, etc. All of these except pull-ups can be done easily in a hotel room. Do the same bodyweight routine minus the pull-ups, or find a bodyweight routine if you normally hit the weights. Just like at home, a park or playground can provide a great outdoor gym and is the perfect venue to work on your pull-ups.

Find a local range

If you are traveling for long enough it is probably worth looking for a local commercial range. Bring that Kevlar you bought to dry-fire in your hotel room and be prepared to pay through the nose for range time. If you really want to keep your skills up you need practice, so this might just be worth it for you.

Traveling can be necessary for work, and even for pleasure. Rather than have it put a stop to your training, find ways to maintain your skills on the road. Use these tips and come up with a plan before you pack for your trip.

Do you train while traveling? What tips can you suggest?

Equipment Issue? Three tips to make sure it’s not you

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

A common experience around firearms is the blame game. Is it the rifle or pistol that’s shooting crappy groups, or is it you? Too often it’s the gray matter behind the gun that is causing the problems, but the blame is put on the equipment.

Still, there are times when it really is the gun that is to blame. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing if you are the cause of a problem, or if it is the equipment. When you are an experienced shooter, this determination gets easier as you have years of evidence of good shooting to fall back on. For the new shooter, this can be a difficult problem to solve.

There are a few steps you can take to help narrow down the culprit and save yourself some frustration. If you are shooting a new gun for the first time and run into issues, or your groups suddenly open up or move, here are a few ways to help identify the cause.

Check for loose parts

The most likely cause of a moving group or a group that opens up is loose sights. Check the front and rear sight or your scope and make sure they are tight. I have seen shooters not realize their sights were loose until their front sight or scope walks itself off the gun.

If you are frustrated at your performance, double check the sights before you get too upset.

The sights aren’t the only part that can come loose. Check that barrels are secure (on rifles) and for excessive slop in the action on pistols. Some rifles like the 10/22 can lose accuracy if the action screw (or any other mechanism) holding the action in the stock becomes loose.

These are easy things to check and are a good first step if you are having problems.

Have someone else shoot the gun

If the issue truly is the gray matter behind the gun, having another experienced shooter try the gun should prove it. Try to have someone you know is a better shooter try the gun, or just go for an increased sample size and get multiple shooters to try it.

An issue with the gun will become quickly apparent if no one else can shoot it better.

In the absence of other experienced shooters, shooting from a shooting vice or ransom rest is great alternative that takes any issues you may have out of the picture.

Shoot a different gun

Sometimes neither a rest or another shooter is available. When this happens, your best bet is finding another gun to shoot. Maybe it’s a completely different gun, or just another of the same model. If you can demonstrate the skills needed on a different firearm, you can either eliminate yourself as the problem or start narrowing down skills that might be specific to the gun you are having trouble with.

An alternate gun isn’t a perfect test, but whenever I feel like I’m doing horribly with a new gun, I like to go back to a known standard. I pick up something that I know I can shoot well to prove my technique hasn’t taken a vacation without telling me.

Poor results from your shooting can be very frustrating. Knowing how to resolve these issues quickly and calmly not only helps you get back to being productive faster, but it also eliminates unnecessary self doubt.

How do you identify whether an issue is you or the gun? Post a comment below and share.

The Secret to Setting up a Dry-Fire Area

I am obviously a big fan of dry-fire and dry-practice. I have proclaimed its usefulness, and how much it has helped me in my own pursuits to improve my shooting skills. What I would like to talk about today is one secret to getting the most out of your dry-fire practice: a well organized dry-fire area.

Setting aside a place in the house for dry-fire can simply make your practice safer, but it also allows you to get more done in a shorter period of time. With a designated dry-fire area, you can get far more out of your practice than a lonely wall might give you.

Improved Safety

Safety is one of the biggest reasons to set aside a place in the house for dry-fire. Ideally you need a backstop even without live shooting, because accidents do happen. Select a part of your home where you will have peace of mind knowing what is beyond your target.

Dry-firing against an interior wall is probably the riskiest thing you can do unless you live alone. Pointing a gun through a wall that might be the only thing between you and your wife, husband, children, or other loved ones is not a great idea.

Your best options would be something like a concrete wall (say in a basement) or an exterior wall with nothing valuable behind it.

Your dry-fire area should contain no ammunition. It is your personal responsibility to make sure no live ammunition enters your dry-fire area. If you have no ammunition, then the risk of an accidental or negligent discharge is significantly reduced.

Make use of good targets

Another advantage to a dedicated dry-fire area is being well-organized. When dry-firing you will want to make the best possible use of good targets. Scaled down targets of various shapes and sizes are great for practicing presentation of the pistol and transitioning between targets.

One of my favorites is this scaled down F.A.S.T. target put together by Todd Louis Green from Pistol-Training.com. If you are training more for competition than self-defense, scaled down IDPA or USPSA targets are also an excellent idea.

The advantage to your own dedicated area is that you can post all of these targets simultaneously. You can post targets scaled to different sizes (to represent different distances) and be able to do all your dry practice without needing to change targets.

Necessary equipment

A good dry-fire session might include some timed practice, so you should add a shot timer with a good par feature (or a PC application that can mimic the same thing). I use this flash application from predatortactical.com.

Barriers for good dry-fire

One thing that is missing from many dry-fire routines is barrier work. Do you dry-practice making use of cover? This can be difficult without good preparation.

My recommendation is to build yourself some soft lightweight barriers out of large pieces of foam board or cardboard. A lightweight barrier is easily moved into your practice area, or out of the way for storage.

In order to be best setup to use these tools you should consider a small table, perhaps an end-table or a small folding table. This gives you a place to put any electronics you might use, but also a place to stuff magazines.

Wait, did he just say stuff magazines?

Do yourself a favor and buy some snap-caps. If you are practicing pistol skills, not only will these give you a solid way to practice malfunction clearance (tap rack and bang doesn’t work so well on an empty mag), but it will also make practicing reloads easier.

Ultimately having a dummy round to chamber will allow you to practice moving as fast as possible, and verify that you are actually successfully reloading.

Space and movement

Practicing staying on the sights while moving is another skill that is often left out of most dry-practice sessions.

Make your space ideal for practicing movement by keeping an open and clear floor. Ideally you would have something like a 10ft x 10ft space to enable you to move in a variety of patterns while practicing keeping your sights locked on the target and dry-firing.

While we’re on the subject of space – another quick tip is to use a room with carpeted floors. Not only will the carpets protect your mags as you practice reloading, but it’s not as likely to be dinged up by them either. If you prefer staying out of the doghouse, avoid dropping mags on a nice tile or hardwood floor! I find my fastest practice sessions send magazines flying across the room, so keep fancy furniture and decor around at your own peril.

Dry-fire is a great way to develop firearms manipulation skills. You can improve your draw-stroke, trigger control, sight-alignment, reloading, malfunction clearance, shooting around obstacles, transitioning between targets, shooting on the move and a variety of other skills.

Set yourself up with a dedicated place to practice, and you should improve the benefits you gain from dry-fire.

Do you have a dedicated dry-fire area? How did you set it up?

What Everybody Ought to Know About Preparing for a carbine course

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

Next month I am signed up to take my first ever carbine course – a Carbine/Handgun course with Larry Vickers. I have great familiarity with how to get the most out of a rifle, but I really don’t have any true experience learning how to run a carbine properly.

I have taken pistol courses before, but there is a lot more going on in a carbine course. The equipment requirements are much more significant (we are after all running two guns), and the total number of skills that are involved is exponentially higher than just running a handgun.

Making preparations

When showing up to any class, it’s definitely worth investing some time upfront to make sure you arrive prepared. A three-day class like the one I am taking comes with a hefty price-tag, especially when you start adding up the ammo costs. Don’t waste the opportunity by coming unprepared.

Gear

A carbine class has much steeper equipment requirements than a simple pistol class. You need both a carbine and a pistol, some number of mags for each, a sling for your carbine, a huge pile of ammunition, a holster, and some sort of load bearing vest or belt.

When preparing for a class like this, there are four things you need to accomplish when getting your gear together.

1. Identify what you need

Scour the class listing and determine exactly what equipment is required for the class. The class instructor will generally list exactly what he or she expects you to bring. Don’t skimp on meeting these requirements.

It is also a good idea to read after-action reports and course reviews from other shooters who have taken this class in the past. Often another shooter’s insights into what they found to be useful or what they wish they had can save you a ton of pain. This also leads into the next point…

2. Research the gear

Once you have identified what equipment you need, it’s time to start selecting which products you will choose to meet your requirements. The number of holsters on the market, for example, is huge. Not all holsters are created equally so spend some solid time researching what is available and what will fill your needs perfectly.

Gear can be expensive and just adds to the already mounting cost of attending a course like this. Do your best to select items you only need to buy once. Better to spend a little extra money now than to find out your purchases were wasted on shoddy items that will need replacing. If you already have something that will adequately meet your needs, don’t buy something special just for the class.

3. Buy your gear

Now the fun part: spending money. Shop around so you don’t overpay, but definitely get your stuff on order sooner rather than later.

The last thing you want to do is to show up without your kit. The class I’m taking is in July, and I have just about everything I think I’ll need in hand and have had it in hand for a few weeks now.

4. Test your gear

Once you get your gear, make sure you set it up and test it. Don’t show up to the class and put all of your gear together for the first time.

The first goal of testing your gear is to make sure it all works from a basic level. If your gear won’t function together, or you can’t operate it, then you have a problem. Maybe something doesn’t work like you thought it would, or just doesn’t fit (for example a MOLLE mag pouch doesn’t work with the dimensions of your vest).

Once everything is on, you want to make sure the equipment is comfortable. Sure it must be functional, but remember that a three day class is a long time to be wearing uncomfortable gear. Maybe things are too heavy or just dig into you… make sure you identify and fix these issues now while you can.

Once you determine that your gear is comfortable, you want to spend some time trying to use it. Start off with dry fire/dry practice. Can you get magazines out of pouches and into your guns? Does your tactical sling work for you when you try transitioning to your pistol? Can you assume prone and kneeling positions with your gear on? All of these things matter and should be identified early.

The last thing you want is to be fighting your gear while taking your expensive class. You need to be a sponge ready to absorb all the instruction you can get. If you are distracted by failing gear, you won’t be getting the most out of the instruction you came for.

You also need to test your firearms. Don’t show up with a carbine and a pistol that have never been shot before. Put 500-1000 rounds through each and make sure they operate without issue. A semi-functional gun can do a lot to make your experience a crappy one.

Prepare your skills

Gear isn’t the only thing you need to bring with you to a class. You also need to bring some level of skill. Most instructors have a certain expectation of what you are bringing to the class. In any course beyond a basic pistol intro type class, you need to show up safe. If you can’t handle a firearm without putting everyone in the tri-state area at risk, then you need to get some help for that before you step foot on the range for your class.

Most instructors also have some basic expectations for skills. Try to identify what those skills are by reading class reviews and the class listing. Practice those skills before showing up and make sure you have them.

Don’t be that guy

Whatever you do, don’t be that guy who shows up to an intermediate or advanced level class with no skills and an inordinate need for attention and assistance.

Nothing frustrates someone more than having their expensive class squandered because some nitwit doesn’t know the basics or how their gear works.

Skills to be familiar with

Regardless of whether you have taken a class or not, you want to have some basic skills worked out. Many instructors will ‘test’ you to see what you brought to the show. Don’t be figuring these things out for the first time at the class, show up with some base level stuff:

  1. Drawing from your holster

  2. Accessing pouches

  3. Shouldering/shooting your rifle

  4. Operating your sling

  5. Adjusting your sights

  6. Malfunction clearance

  7. Any other topic that you expect to be covered in the class*

*This could be anything from low light shooting to shooting around barricades, etc. Be careful and tread lightly here. The last thing you want to do is ingrain a bad habit before taking a class. You do want to show up with enough competence to not slow the class down and have a good starting point to build from.

All of these things can and should be practiced dry, but also ideally in live fire as well.

Be prepared to enjoy your class

All of this adds up to one thing: enjoying your class and getting the most out of it. Three days (or two or one) is not a lot of time to learn a set of skills. Set yourself up to learn as much as possible and get the most from it.

You are paying for the class, why not take advantage of it?

What do you do to prepare for a carbine class?

Warning: IDPA Is Not Training

Photo credit: dagnyg

A little over a week ago, I competed in my first IDPA match at my local club. I have been more than a little excited to give the sport a try and see both how much fun it would be (spoiler: tons!) and how I stack up against the guys that compete at this sort of thing all the time.

I learned a lot about IDPA while at the match, but I also learned a lot about myself and training in general. I’ll be looking forward to shooting another match soon. If any of you happen to be in New Hampshire and want to meet up at a match, contact me, I’d love to shoot with you.

Here is what I learned…

IDPA doesn’t build skills

Quite a few people seem to be confused and state that IDPA is good defensive training. These people couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, IDPA is a game. All games have rules. Real life doesn’t.

More importantly, IDPA isn’t training because it doesn’t build skills. Efficient skills development requires repetition in isolation.

When you practice your draw-stroke, you train through consistent repetition. Every repetition works to ingrain the proper motions in your subconscious.

In IDPA you shoot a stage once.

One repetition does not give you a chance to make refinements to your technique. One repetition does not allow you to ingrain good habits.

What IDPA does do for you is to provide a good opportunity to pressure test what you bring to the table. I now know my weaknesses and which areas need the most additional practice. You can expect to discover the same things about your own training.

Any game with rules will deviate from real life

Since IDPA is a game, and has rules, it deviates from many of the realities that we train for. For example IDPA limits your magazine capacity to 10 rounds.

IDPA also restricts placement of your gear. Restrictions are placed on where your holster and mag carrier may be worn. If you have chosen to carry Appendix In Waist Band (AIWB), then clearly you can’t compete in the same way you normally carry.

This is a problem if you are using IDPA as a tool to test your skills. If you enjoy the sport, you are forced to either carry as you compete, or train two different skill sets, one for carry, and one for competition.

Marksmanship is key

The match reinforced for me how critical good marksmanship is.

The second stage of the match was essentially a skills test. Three strings were shot, and they all came down to marksmanship.

The first string consisted of 6 shots, with weak hand only, at two targets that were behind hardcover from the neck down (head shots only). The second string was 6 shots strong hand only from the draw at two targets placed a little farther out that had hard cover from center chest and below. The final string was shot freestyle at two targets even further back, no cover.

Watching the other participants, you could easily tell who really practices and who doesn’t. I shot with a group of shooters that were also new to the sport, and almost everyone had trouble making hits on the targets.

Do you think that this stage improved anyone’s shooting skills? I don’t think anyone who missed on that stage could magically make hits afterward. But they did gain an appreciation for one of the weakest links in their skill-set: marksmanship.

IDPA doesn’t really build skills on its own, but it does test them.

Everyone is a gamer

Another thing I noticed at this match was that I seemed to be the only person with an IWB holster using a t-shirt as a cover garment. Everyone else was shooting using some sort of vest or jacket combined with a belt-style holster.

There are two possible explanations for this: either everyone normally carries with a gaudy looking photographer’s vest, or everyone was gaming the match.

I’m going to assume the latter because I don’t see too many of those vests outside of a match.

Gaming in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can’t fault people for trying to be competitive. Why compete if you don’t plan on trying to win?

However, it is important to keep in mind that this type of competition can have its disadvantages. If you are gaming it, odds are you are sacrificing some of your training benefit. Remember the statement “Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train”? If IDPA were really training, you would compete like you carry, or carry like you compete.

A fun way to pressure test

In short, my take on IDPA is that it isn’t training, but it is a great way to pressure test your gun handling and shooting skills.

Shooting on a square range without movement and without pressure can only get you so far. Fighting is dynamic, so it makes perfect sense to test your training with a dynamic activity.

IDPA fits that bill.

If you want to test your skills and have a good time doing it, seek out an IDPA match. You won’t be disappointed.

Do you shoot IDPA? Share what you may have learned from the shooting sport by posting a comment below.

What My Back Injury Can Teach Us About Training

Photocredit colinedwards99

Several weeks ago I managed to hurt my back doing something as silly as attempting to assemble a new TV stand. This back injury managed to put a huge damper on all of my training efforts besides dry-fire.

Any sort of movement was difficult in karate with an injured back and strength training was nearly impossible. As a result I spent two weeks working on dry-fire and trying hard not to re-injure myself.

Last week I got back to strength training for the first time after that two week forced ‘break’.

The results of that first workout were not exactly what I had hoped for. Over the course of the workout I managed to perform approximately 25% fewer repetitions than I did prior to the break.

That’s a loss of at least 25% of my strength after only a two week period.

I can’t say that this made me happy, but I do believe that we have many opportunities to learn in training, and even injuries provide those opportunities. What did I learn from injuring myself?

Successful training requires a consistent unrelenting effort

Just like climbing a very steep hill, you have an opportunity to move forward (and upwards) or to slide back down.

Any type of training requires constant effort. It often is less about the duration of the practice session so much as it is about the amount of time between practice sessions. Train more often for less time, and you’ll find two things:

  1. You will get more out of each training session

  2. Your skills will always be fresher because the last time you trained will be more recent

The quality of your skills and the efficiency of your reaction to an event will always be dependent on the length of the time since your last training session.

An extreme example

Just for the sake of argument, let’s take an extreme example. Let’s say you commit to training one hour every week for a year. That might be three 20 minute sessions, or just one block each week.

In a parallel universe, an alternate you commits to a single tortuous training session of 52 hours of constant training over the course of a week, and be done for the entire year.

Which case gets you the most for your training efforts?

In the universe where you train for one week all at once, you will likely make significant gains over the course of that week. There is something to be said for making a short concentrated effort, and total immersion. If you couldn’t learn and make huge gains in a short period, weekend classes wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular as they are.

When a year has passed, do you think those skills will still be fresh? Probably not. I would expect to drop far below the peak of your performance that you reached during that one week of training.

On the other hand, training for an hour a week might net you smaller gains with each session. The trade-off, however, is that at any given point during the year, the longest time since your last training session is only a matter of days.

Instead of one huge spike in performance followed by a long slide down, you get many small spikes with a reduced loss.

Training is an investment

Training is a lot like an investment, and every training session is like collecting interest. Do you remember high-school math where you learned about the benefits of compound interest? The more frequently you compound your interest, the better your rate works for you and the bigger your overall gain.

Rather than make the same or similar gains every session, your goal is to make gains on top of your previous gains. Reduce the time between sessions and you can spend more time gaining every session instead of rebuilding what you gained last time.

Ultimately training requires consistent unyielding effort. Training hard but infrequently serves you little. Instead, break up your training into many smaller sessions and reap the benefits.

What is your training schedule like? Do you train daily, weekly, or monthly? Join the conversation and post a comment below.

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