Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Training Without a Trainer: Video and Context

This isn’t about any one instructor, DVD series, YouTube channel or other video media; in fact it’s pretty much about our reaction and acceptance of those things. 

I honestly don’t know what it was like to do business or teach before the internet; I write articles, this blog, regular Youtube videos and the occasional interview.  Oh, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.  That’s a lot of connectivity, a lot of access and most of it is one-way communication, which isn’t communication at all.  Before the internet, before the instructional video juggernaut, most training was done in person and just watching videos was not considered to be anything else than entertainment.  Today we have two camps: those who know they will need professional instruction and some point and those who don’t (and are wrong).

When I’m teaching, I’m in front of the students nearly any time they aren’t shooting.  I can field questions, provide hands-on adjustments, walk through skill evolution and techniques, explain context and generally engage like people did before we decided it was safer and more civilized to communicate through electronic magic boxes.  Being in the same place, at the same time as a student allows true communication, which is vital to skill development.  No matter how good a video, it cannot account for every question or provide explanation for something someone may take out of context.  Video being taken out of context is a constant (and I use that would the same way it was intended to be used).  The constant is that people will look at a demonstrated drill or technique via video and then start adding variables that can’t possibly be addressed in the video.  Some people can get very emotional about these things, addressing videos like they would a hostage and the behavior is even somewhat acceptable even though someone behaving the same way towards a book would be cause for concern and looking for the closest cover.  Video and print have one glaring thing in common: you can’t talk to them, they are not a form of communication.  They are simply information and therefore can only supplement training.  That’s right, watch all the videos you want, it will never be the same thing as receiving instruction in person. 

Now I have my personal definitions for training and practice because there is a difference.

Training is the process of receiving professional, peer reviewed instruction from one or more subject matter experts in a structured and empirical manner. Instruction provides the proper fundamentals and application of the skill(s). The instruction and tutoring that allows the student to develop a frame work and strategy to address and solve problems within that subject at a level commensurate with the instruction. More than mere memorization, proper training teaches the student to conceptualize and create new techniques and tools to address real-world situations. For firearms, all training should be conducted with reality in mind.

Practice is the continuous and correct repetition of trained skills, concepts, and principles under end-user created conditions to maintain proficiency. Proper practice is adherence to the guidelines and fundamentals of a technique or skill without dogmatic replication of drills or specific circumstances that hinders free thinking. For firearms, practice is application of personal skills on a situation, problem or technique, not a circumstantial environment.

I like video; I must because I use it to put techniques, drills and information out to whoever can stand me talking at paragraph length about something as simple as a magazine reload.  I do this because I know that despite someone’s ability to email me or post a comment, the amount of steps they have to take to ask a question will reduce their chance of bothering to take the time.  I want as much detail as possible in my video and writing because I understand it’s not a conversation; it’s simply information for digestion, a training and practice supplement.  Without that understanding, I’m just putting out entertainment videos or selling snake oil disguised as instruction.

Context, context, context.

"Whats up?  No, its cool, I can talk."
Every drill has a context, every technique and every skill.  I know that sometimes that “context” is as simple as this guy has no idea what he is doing or why is there a cameraman down range?  Other times the discussion may zero in on a minute detail like a piece of gear or a photograph of a technique mid-execution.  If the internet is good at anything (besides cat videos, which is like the Event Horizon of the internet) it is good at totally dissecting anything to sometimes preposterous levels (just google “Blood Diamond Pants” for proof or better yet, here is where it all started).  This is good.  This is bad. 

It’s bad because let’s be honest, the best time to attack anything is when it can’t fight back.  Every instructor that writes articles or puts out any sort of video is going to run into the situation.  It’s unavoidable and it should be, but it’s up to the shooting public to try and approach every situation with reality in mind.  Most recently there was a great deal of discussion from one particular training community over the “temple index” position being mainstreamed by William Petty, Steve Fisher and a small handful of others.  It was discussed and attacked, more-or-less with a range mentality towards how “unsafe” it was.  Well, unsafe is subjective to context.  If you live your shooting life thinking that you will, at all times, exercise all four of the cardinal firearms safety rules, you are wrong.  As long as you follow any two of these rules at any one time, no one can be unintentionally injured.  Temple Index is safe because it is intended for a few, very specific situations, none of which have the luxury of being on a one-way firing range.  When viewed in the context of vehicle exits under exigent circumstances where the weapon is already drawn or extreme enclosed space/linear space navigation, temple index points the weapon in a known, safer direction as opposed to muzzling everything and everyone as you exit a vehicle or work a crowd.  Are there alternate techniques?  Yes.  Are they better?  No, not every time.  So in respectful disagreement with some in the CFS crowd; this is about life not the range.

This is why context is so important; just viewing and commenting on a photograph totally misses a wealth of information you literally could not get without additional explanation or video and even then, it can in no way replace being there in person and learning the skill. 

Video helps practice, it doesn't replace instruction.

There isnt a video that teaches how to do this, I checked.

Video is an excellent tool, it can provide new insight to an existing skill, confidence through information or even introduce a way of training that you are interested in pursuing, but it isn’t teaching.  It can help refine existing skills, give you new ways to practice existing techniques, but it isn’t teaching.  You can’t learn to proficiency from a video.  Memorize, yes. Memorization is the lowest level of education.  Adapt, replicate?  Certainly, but is this the proper application of the skill beyond what you have seen it used for?  Obviously common sense can answer some of those questions, for the rest it pays to be professionally instructed.  No one is going to take a doctor, pilot, F1 driver or crane operator seriously if all their training was by DVD and YouTube, why would firearms be any different?  We should continue to use video as a supplement because it stands in and helps during those times when we are not training. video helps us in our practice and all things being equal, we are better off now than we were 30 or 40 years ago when it comes to the access to new concepts and methodologies.  However we have to have context when approaching anything, or we do run the risk of projecting bias onto something without considering the authors intent.


  1. Great article-- ( even though we aren't "Face To Face " ) enjoyed it all-- & love that tomahawk pic.!

  2. and I thought I had reached the end of the internet... BDP....

  3. I have been the victim of tactical DVD rape ..... Not having a ton of money for classes, I turnt to the Instructional DVD platform to learn everything I would possibly ever need to know about becoming a "Gun Fighter". After buying into the hype and buying into many different methodologies and techniques, I found that I could not effectively use anything I had "learned" because I had taken in too many sources of information at one time. I quickly learned that I could not perform Instructor X's 3 point drawstroke while simultaneously following Instructor Y's 4-point drawstroke method. It was literally information overload and paralyzing (What method is right?).
    Aaron's point about context is so true. Any information and demonstration without personal interaction is just that, information (and also imitation). I finally put money aside for a class (which im taking next month). I learned the hard way that soaking up information and instruction from a vetted instructor trumps DVD imitation. Im looking forward to correcting my training scars.