I have on more than one occasion remarked that I’ve learnt more about shooting from training students than I have from attending courses. That said, I also have the privilege of possessing a modest training library. The small collection of volumes on my shelf have paid for themselves many times over. The amount of time and ammunition they saved me far exceed their combined listed price on Amazon.
Over the Christmas holidays I managed to reread a couple of them, as well as one or two newer additions. The eternal reality of combative shooting is that the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know. Hence a regular and focused refresher of the basics is a definite necessity – you never know which overlooked aspect will leap out at you.
I think it was Kelly McCann who said “if you want to learn something new, read an old book.” There is an undeniable quantity of truth to this. Most of my books are by the older (I much prefer the term “legendary”) generation of instructors. Men like Dave Spaulding, Clint Smith, Louis Awerbuck, Massad Ayoob, and Jeff Cooper. Essentially men between the ages of my father and late grandfather. And men who have, in my humble opinion, mastered the multidimensional martial art of armed personal combat.
Recently I’ve seen a number of people on the internet question if their teachings and opinions are still relevant.
Are older defensive firearm instructors still relevant?
Now, even asking that question exposes the degree of ignorance and the severe lack of understanding of the interrogator pertaining the realities of personal combat and violent confrontational crime.
At something that goes far beyond fundamental level, gunfighting hasn’t changed an awful lot over the past half-century. The nature and manifestation of violent contact crimes remain largely the same as they were in the 1970s. The dynamics of personal combat between civilians and criminals still involve a defender and one or more attackers. And they are armed with the same tools as 50 years ago.
Yes, we have learnt a great many invaluable lessons. And we have adapted our equipment and training regimes to better suit reality over this time period. Technology has also certainly progressed and improved astronomically. But we are still using defensive handguns that work on the same principles as they did in the 1970s (and before). And our “modern” semi-auto rifles are still derived from (and basically identical to) the original 1956 design – now a full 67 years later. Equally so, we can trace modern pistol shooting and combatives all the way back to World War I.
Everything we do and know today is built on foundations that are more than a century old.
Hence the teachings of the older generation of defensive shooting instructor is just as relevant as ever. If a skill or technique worked well in 1982, it will very likely still work just as well in 2022. In fact, considering the ceaseless gimmickification infesting the firearm world – including its training segment – there is a very strong argument for returning to the roots of combative shooting.
We have unprecedented access to information, but lack wisdom and understanding
Over the past four decades we have seen all manner of equipment-based solutions for skills-related problems come and go. Equally so there have been training fads (some with accompanying internet “personalities”) of varied lifespans, most of which are no longer with us today. What has withstood the test of time, however, are the core fundamental truths pertaining to the conduct of personal combat by use of small arms.
This explains why there is so much value in much of the older defensive firearm training resources. Jeff Cooper’s Principle’s of Personal Defense is as valid today as when it was first published in 1972. Equally his The Art of the Rifle remains a completely relevant and highly-recommended read.
I by no means infer that the younger generation of defensive shooting instructors haven’t added huge amounts of value. Because they certainly have, and will continue to do so. But our current age of Tik-Tok fame (no longer 15 minutes, but closer to 15 seconds of it) exposes the increasing demand for immediate need gratification. We want to feel good about ourselves, we want it now, and we don’t want to work too hard for it. And unfortunately there are people who take advantage of this on both the producer and consumer side.
Near-universal internet access has given us access to information unprecedented in history. But it hasn’t provided us with the required wisdom. This is why you hear people shout things like “tuck that elbow in!” or “lower that elbow!” to someone who is shooting their rifle from the off-hand position. These individuals read something on the internet about c-clamp grips and tactical-door-kicker elbow tucks without understanding their context, and are generally ignorant about rifle shooting. Yet they won’t allow this to stop them from expressing incredibly strong and incorrect opinions with unbridled confidence.
The same is the contemporary obsession with speed.
Context matters: shooting skill is not fighting skill
People chasing shot timers because they are confusing speed with skill is a debilitating phenomenon that deserves an article all on its own. And I certainly intend on providing one. But Aaron Barruga already wrote a fantastic one you can read here. Mr. Barruga states that “obviously there is no link between how quickly we can shoot an exercise and our performance in battle…Everyone wants to be faster, which is fine, but faster does not always correlate with better.” I completely agree with him.
Just because you can shoot a flawless El Presidente in under 8 seconds doesn’t mean you are actually proficient at fighting with your gun. The same goes for those among you who obsess over your sub-second draw. Beating a shot timer on a square range shooting at a 2D cardboard target which is facing you belt-buckle-to-belt-buckle means we are pretty good at shooting. It doesn’t mean we are any good at fighting.
Of course speed is important. But there is such a thing as fast enough. And understanding the context of speed, as well as where speed originates from, is vitally important to becoming a good handgun combatives practitioner. But this isn’t knowledge the sub-second hotshot on the 30-second social media video is going to supply to you. He might try sell you a t-shirt or a Patreon subscription, though.
To succeed we must understand, but to understand we must know the foundations
The point I am trying to make is that a great number of people who own firearms and practice with them lack adequate context regarding the skills they are developing. They practice and train, which is very good, but they harbour vast misconceptions about the applicability of their skillset into the combative context. In fact, many are incredibly overconfident in their fighting abilities. Something that is reinforced by their competence as marksmen shooting defensive pistol drills and placing well in competitive sport shooting matches.
This is very dangerous, and it is setting them up for terminal failure. It also makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to train combative skills with the necessary deliberateness and purpose. When you are putting disciplined effort into something, but the direction is incorrect, then you are obviously going to struggle at achieving success.
All of the information, knowledge, and wisdom you need to change the way you think about – and practice – the combative application of firearms is contained in old books written by men who have forgotten things we have yet to learn. And many of them are no longer with us today. But fortunately they not only walked the walk, they wrote and spoke about doing it as well. They laid the foundations every modern technique derives from, and continuously adapted themselves and their teachings to new information. And have provided us with invaluable resources to learn from.
It is easy to get lost in the cluttered maelstrom of today’s high-fad-low-wisdom tacticool magpie world. So use this as an opportunity to tune out all the white noise and dive back into the fundamental truths of personal combat. Go find and read and old book, and learn something brand new.
Written by Gideon Joubert
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus.