By Rouen Heiberg
Trigger warning – I may cause a serious amount of butthurt with this blog, but truth be told if it affects you, then it’s probably related to you.
Training is good: we can all agree on that. Training can take many forms, be it workshops, seminars, self-taught via online resources, or through the use of good training partners. For folks in rural areas the latter options may be all they have to work with.
Here’s the problem – a weekend workshop cannot and will not make you a Jason Bourne, quasi-ninja, bone-crunching, death-dealing operator despite what the instructor on the poster tells you. In fact, in many cases it will only give you a very false sense of security. Allow me to explain. Shooting, and its less modern cousin – unarmed combatives, is a perishable skill: to do it well you need to practice. Drill it in, repeat, sweat, blood and maybe some crying. You not only need to drill it in, you also need to maintain proficiency with that skill over time.
What I have seen are people going to the odd workshop twice a year (kudos to them for seeking training, I am not taking that away) and then believing that with only two to four days training a year they will succeed in becoming the hardest man (or woman) in the room. There are various reasons for this: some arrogance, or false advertising by the instructor, or sometimes just plain ignorance.
I had a very close friend who passed away last year. He was serial workshop attendee. After attending a few combatives workshops presented by some of South Africa’s best instructors he decided that the time is right to come and convey his knowledge to a few of us. It’s safe to say that it did not go well for him: he succeeded in getting the living daylights beaten out of him by a few guys when he tried putting his knowledge to practise. Afterwards he admitted to me that he realises now that he still has a long way to go. Fantastic! Lesson learnt. Does that mean that his instructors were bad? Of course not: he just did not practise what he was taught.
Fair disclosure – I was one of the two guys that taught him that lesson. It was one of those lessons that needed to be learnt the hard way. Now, I’m not the most dangerous guy in town. I am also not some Black Belt Magazine Hall-of-Famer. I stand about zero chance against a pro fighter. But…I do a bit of everything – some Krav Maga (the non-empty chamber kind), a bit of MMA, and I recently got hooked on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. There have been training gaps of months here and there, but I was still at a level of skill that only comes from being punched in the face and choked regularly (I do hope you mean outside the bedroom, Rouen – Ed). You cannot learn or maintain that with a 2-day workshop.
I recently came across a training program which is provided to the South African Farming community by a certain group. Yes, the farmers desperately need it and I have no issue with them being taught to defend themselves. However, then I see things in the curriculum such as “Room Penetration”, “House Clearing”, “Hostage Rescue” and sundry others. The pictures show young children stacking up by a door for this “room clearing” exercise. This is about where I say “stop right there.” The Special Air Service, SFOD, MARSOC, US Army Rangers and our own SAPS Special Task Force spend thousands and thousands of rounds, and hundreds of hours drilling and preparing to do execute these highly dangerous and extremely technical manoeuvres (clearly activities in the realm of specialists with all the prerequisite qualifications and experience. – Ed). Some of these workshop-goers have not even mastered the most basic firearm-handling skill fundamentals, and now they are being taught how to clear a kill-house. I have performed a bit room clearing training myself, and I found it extremely nerve-wracking and difficult. This with all of the guys participating being regular shooters. Can a civilian be taught how to do these things? Sure, but it takes a serious commitment to regular training and money spent to do it safely. (One must also ask what value is added to a civilian’s tactical toolbox when you teach them advanced tactics when they have yet to master the basics. – Ed)
Don’t get me wrong – I think workshops are great, but I also do not think that they are all-encompassing. You will still need to practise regularly. The workshop shows you what you need to do, but the onus is on you to practise what you have learned. Workshops are also used as a marketing tool to pull students into attending a regular class where they will have the opportunity to practice and drill-in the skills on offer.
You can dryfire your gun at home, or you can go to the range for some actual shooting. When it comes to unarmed combatives, you need to fight another human in order to train. You can join a club or gym and start sparring with a suitable partner. If I had to bet my money on a guy who trains once a week in a fight against a guy who did one workshop in a year: 52 sessions of 1.5 hours equals 78 hours of training. A workshop usually offers 12-15 hours. Do the math – it is a no-brainer.
During the week Rouen works in the security industry designing integrated security solutions. In his free time he cultivates his tactical beard, causes butthurt amongst liberals, and helps to run an IDPA club.