Learning How To Learn: Defensive Shooting Skills

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Benefitting from a training course requires the right mindset if you want to improve your defensive shooting skills.

Mindset—the mental attitude or inclination of someone as it relates to self-defense—is discussed a lot, and rightly so. As Col. Jeff Cooper so astutely observed, “Man fights with his mind.” One aspect of this that doesn’t receive enough attention is mindset as it relates to attending firearms training schools.

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Weapon craft can be improved through instruction, but only if you open your mind.

Having spent a good part of my life in firearms training classes provided by the military, law enforcement and private schools, I’ve found that some students who attend these courses are more interested in showing off than learning. They treat courses as an opportunity to exhibit their skills. In some cases, maybe these arrogant students actually do know more and even have more experience than the instructor. But that doesn’t matter; the goal of participating in a training course is to learn.

You might learn a new way of doing things that works better than your way of doing things. Or you might learn that your current method of doing things works better than the new way you’re being taught. However, for this to happen, you must attempt to learn what’s being presented. As the American philosopher John Dewey observed, “The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.”

If you take a firearms training course, the probability is high that someone in attendance will want to argue with the instructor…or at least present an opposing view to many of the lessons presented. Just as likely is the student who refuses to try the techniques that are offered, justifying their unwillingness to learn with comments like, “This is the way I’ve always done it,” or “This works better for me.” I’ve always thought this a somewhat perplexing approach to paying for a learning opportunity.

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An open mind and a willingness to try something different is how you discover new techniques.

The school Jeff Cooper founded in Arizona, now known as Gunsite Academy, has been teaching soldiers, citizens and cops how to fight with a handgun since 1976. Tuition isn’t cheap, nor should it be; the doctrine that drives the instruction there has been proven. According to Gunsite Academy CEO Ken Campbell, they occasionally get students who show up to show off instead of to learn. Why would someone spend the money to go to a school and refuse to try what’s being presented?

It reminds me of my youth. After I got my driver’s license, I proceeded to prove to my father and everyone in our community that I could wreck an automobile in a variety of unimaginable ways. Among other forms of disciplined learning, my father enrolled me in a defensive driving course so I might rectify my ways. The class was full of others who, for a variety of reasons, had proven that, like me, they were unsafe automobile operators. Some of these non-driving fools argued with the instructor or tried to impress them with their knowledge. I’d managed to convince myself that I wasn’t a very good driver, and I paid attention. I learned some valuable lessons that have stuck with me for 40 years.

Showing off isn’t part of the firearms educational experience. In fact, the process of learning is more important than your grade or score.

Defensive Driving

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that no matter what a firearms instructor tells you to do, you do it. I’ve heard horror stories of unsafe training practices and have seen some examples of the same on the internet. Never participate in any firearms activity that you feel is unsafe or that you feel you’re not capable of conducting safely. Of course, you can avoid situations like that by attending reputable training schools. What I’m suggesting is that you attend a firearms training course with the attitude that you might gain knowledge that’ll develop your skills so that they have a better chance of saving your life.

Having a proper learning mindset starts with curiosity and the willingness to look at things in a different way. It involves the intellectual and social maturity that accepts the premise that learning is more important than the grade you might be given. It requires that you place value on the mistakes and failures you experience. It also requires that you look for relevance in the content of the lesson and that you move beyond preconceived notions and ideas. And finally, to learn, you must be willing to be challenged to go beyond, and to develop a depth as opposed to a breadth of knowledge.

Defensive Shooting Skills slide
Weapon craft can be improved through instruction, but only if you open your mind.

Seek out as much and as varied firearms and self-defense training as you can afford to devote time and money to. But do so with the goal of learning and developing your weapon craft…otherwise, you’re just wasting time and money. If you think you know more than experienced instructors, or that your way is better than that presented by proven training institutions, start your own firearms training school. You might even get a few students to show up. Maybe, some of them will even know more than you.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 Buyer’s Guide special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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