‘Training progressions’


Lee’s note: This is the first of what I hope will be many contributions to this site from Peter Burlingame, a firearms instructor operating in the Caribbean.


Training Progressions

By Peter Burlingame

A Virgin Islands Police Officer incorporates movement into basic skill drills. Photo courtesy Peter Burlingame.

“You are no more a gunfighter because you own a gun, than you are a musician because you own a violin.” Jeff Cooper

If you own a firearm for personal protection, it makes good sense to be well versed in how to use it. Not just how to hit a target, but how to use it in a dynamic situation. There is a large difference between ‘target shooting’ and ‘gunfighting’, and being good at one is not a guarantee of being good at the other.

We are truly blessed with an amazing abundance of training opportunities, whether it is in the form of books, articles, videos, or classes. That bounty can be a bit confusing, so the point of this article is to give you some guidance in the progression that your training should take.

First and foremost is safety. Know that YOU are an ambassador for ALL gun owners. We all feel the pressure from the gun control crowd to take away our guns. Every time one of us makes a mistake that results in injury or death, we give them more ammunition to further their goals. Don’t give it to them! More importantly, a momentary lapse can ruin a number of lives. If you always follow the 4 Rules of Gun Safety, you will never have an incident resulting in someone becoming injured or killed, unintentionally. They are: 1. Treat every gun as if it is loaded. 2. Never let any gun that you are handling, point at anything you are not willing to destroy. 3. Keep your finger off of the trigger (indexed up on the frame) until you have made the decision to shoot. 4. Be certain of your target, and what is around it.

“The Purpose of Shooting is Hitting” says Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch. His point is that we aren’t firing our guns to make loud noises, but rather, to put a bullet into a particular place. This is called marksmanship, and is the place where everyone should start. Sight alignment, sight picture, and trigger control are most important of the ‘basics’ that need to be learned. Once the concepts are learned, honing them will be a lifelong pursuit. The National Rifle Association offers inexpensive ‘Basic’ classes, which are widely available and offer a solid foundation for marksmanship skills.

Once you have a good understanding of what it takes to put a bullet into a particular area with some precision, it is time to start working on your gunfighting skills. The dynamic use of a firearm in a fight is quite a bit different than static, precision marksmanship. The skills you need to learn are: the Draw, the Draw from Concealment, Keeping the Gun Running (reloads and malfunction clearing)  Communication/Verbal Commands, Multiple Shots, Multiple Targets, Strong Hand and Support Hand Only shooting, Use of Cover, and Shooting from Unconventional Positions.

At this point you have been standing still, shooting at a stationary target. Fights are fluid. If you aren’t moving, you should be. You can bet that the bad guy will be moving. So incorporating movement into your training is important.  Some people call this ‘Getting off the X’.  When attacked, dynamic movement can create distance between you and the attacker and put them behind the curve, having to now react to YOU.  All of which improves your chances of winning the encounter.

These are the skills of the gunfighter. While you can learn the skills by reading a book or watching a video, and practice them on your own, it is much better to get trained by a professional instructor. Not only will they be able to impart the information quickly and efficiently, they will do so safely. Most importantly, they will also be able to diagnose and correct what you are doing wrong and tighten up any inefficiency, something that is very difficult to do for yourself.  My toughest job as an instructor is changing bad habits that people have trained into themselves. Remember: Practice doesn’t make Perfect, Practice makes Permanent. Be careful of the Conditioned Responses you are programming and the neural pathways that you are burning.

How do you find a good instructor? Ask around. Check the internet. There are probably several within a couple hours driving time of you. Instructors aren’t created equal. There are the good, the bad and the ugly. Realize that what they teach you (or fail to teach you) can mean the difference between whether you go home, go the hospital, go to jail, or go to the morgue. Don’t limit yourself to one instructor, but train with as many people as you can. No one school has THE answer. If they say they do, that’s a clue folks. Use word of mouth and internet reviews to get an idea of whether a particular instructor is right for you.

Whenever you are presented with information or technique that could impact on your safety and security ask yourself this question: “is this REALLY what I want to do in a life or death situation?”. The answer will be obvious.

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

The ultimate goal of training isn’t to be able to win a gunfight. It is to avoid the fight in the first place.  Many of you have fire extinguishers in your homes, cars, and businesses, yet you do everything you can to avoid having to use them. Same with the gun. It is an last ditch piece of emergency equipment that you use because something has gone wrong, despite your efforts at prevention.  The police and fire fighter are NOT the first responders, YOU are. Neither the fire extinguisher nor the gun will do you any good if you cannot operate them under stress, in an emergency.

Finally, the best part of training is that the more prepared you are, the less likely you are to need those preparations. When you come out of a firearms training class, you don’t just walk away with new skills and abilities. You come away with new awareness and confidence. Both of which go a long way in ensuring that you don’t get attacked in the first place, which is, the ultimate goal.

Stay Safe.

Peter Burlingame is the founder of The Self Defense Initiative, a 25 year old training school based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Peter is a contributing member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. His articles have been published in the FBI’s National Associates’ magazine, “The Firearms Instructor” and “Survival Quarterly.” You may contact him at vigunfighter@earthlink.net Videos at Youtube.com/vigunfighter.com


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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