On Taking Classes More Than Once

There is a LOT to learn about gunfighting, and gunfighting is just a small part of self-defense training. There is never enough time. I understand the desire to learn as much as we can, and I also respect the desire for accomplishment.

However, if students rush through as many courses as possible, they may not be ready for “the next level” and may actually hinder their ability to be effective if trouble comes.

The best way to be prepared for more intermediate classes is to repeat the basic ones.

If you’ve been here long, you know that I like to make clear that I’m not an instructor. I don’t have any experience in the military or law enforcement. I’m not a competitive shooter.

I am a serial student. A regular guy with a desk job. I attend as many classes as I can every year. I logged over 120 hours of training last year, not including practicing at home and analyzing video of my training.

This means that I see a lot of other students in class. Some students I see several times a season, some I just see once and never again.

The situation is this: someone attends a basic class. They may have been around guns their whole life, or may have run 3-gun competition, but they are novices in fight-focused training. Since they’ve been exposed to firearms for so long, they are eager to pass the basic class so they can do more difficult, “interesting” courses, such as vehicle gunfighting or partner tactics.

Instead of mastering the core fundamentals, they move on to more advanced classes as quickly as possible.

As a serial student, I think this causes a lot of problems:

  • Since classes typically build on each other, being only marginally competent in a level 1 class may make it difficult to properly learn anything in a level 2 class.
  • It is impossible to learn everything the first time a student takes a class. Depending on skill level, students may be unable to soak in all of the lessons from the instructor.
  • Even if a student learns everything in a class, they may not be able to implement everything in a class. I record video of most students I train with, and inconsistency is a common trait among students, newer ones especially.
  • Students will naturally focus on certain aspects of training at the expense of others. One example is my recent struggle with using concealment effectively, and not exposing myself while reloading or preparing to fire. I also see a lot of students fail to properly place their off-hand out of danger when drawing their handgun, or stop moving while drawing / reloading, or any number of small but important details.
  • Students with prior experience at Training Group A may jump right into an intermediate class with Training Group B. They may discover that there are variances in technique (moving while drawing, reloading, shooting, or how to handle malfunctions), or philosophy (verbalizations, disengaging, number of rounds on target, shooting grounded attackers, etc) that make their class more difficult than necessary. If you train with different organizations — and I recommend that you do — I strongly suggest you contact the head instructor beforehand to discuss your training background and if it’s appropriate for you to start in the middle of their curriculum.
  • Students need to give themselves a chance to improve upon mistakes of the prior class. This certainly applies to me. You should always find an area to improve upon. If you never repeat classes, you may not have the opportunity to correct your past mistakes. You may compound your “basic” mistakes with more advanced ones. For example, beginning students often struggle with magazine management during reloads. An intermediate class with one handed reloads is even more difficult for students who have only combined reloading, moving, looking around, keeping their finger off of the trigger, etc once before.
  • The more help a student needs, the less help other students receive. This is somewhat unavoidable, but three times this year I’ve attended classes or training conferences where some students needed so much attention that the rest of us didn’t receive much.

Some think showing up prepared for class means having your magazines pre-loaded and all of your gear squared away. These things are important, but it’s also important that a student’s skill level is appropriate for the class.

This is difficult for some to ascertain, especially if students are new. You don’t know what you don’t know. A good instructor will outline the objectives of the class in their course curriculum, and repeat the objectives at the start of class. However, not everyone reads and not everyone listens. I’ve seen dozens of students attend intermediate or advanced classes and go wide-eyed at the prospect of doing what’s outlined in the class. I’ve also seen students start the day with utmost confidence, and then fail to complete drills later that afternoon.

I think instructors play the largest part in making sure students are ready for each class. As a serial student, I expect some amount of pre-screening and prerequisites. However, this is nearly impossible, especially in larger organizations that may run 20+ students per class four or five days a week. While some training groups require you to take Class A before Class B, very few (and none I’ve ever attended) also require a level of proficiency.

I wish that instructors would record their students’s performances and rely on multiple staff members to “grade” students. Students could proceed to the next tier of training only after receiving passing grades.

I also think that students should take classes on a regular basis. I’ve been attending QSI Training classes long enough to see students return after several years of absence. They may return to take an intermediate class, but some aspect of their performance will still be at a beginner level. They technically fulfilled a prerequisite, but they were no longer as sharp as they were when they completed the prereqs years ago.

As students, we can’t control how our training groups screen other students, and we can’t control the proficiency of our peers. However, we can be honest with our own performances. I strongly recommend recording yourself during class. Ideally you will have someone follow you, but running a head- or chest-mounted camera is always an option. Do not train with organizations who prohibit recording. They are stifling your ability to learn and critique yourself.

I also recommend that you repeat classes, especially basic ones.

Yes, there is an incredibly long list of things you need to learn for self-defense. We need to be proficient at all of these things. But after training with so many other people for so long, I think it’s more important to be proficient at a few things than not proficient in many.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

4 Comments on "On Taking Classes More Than Once"

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  1. Joe McLean says:

    Also ask how many actual gun fights your instructor has survived before taking anything they teach you seriously. More classes means keeping the gun industry pipe full.

    • CR Williams says:

      If those gunfights were all fought in Iraq or Afghanistan while that instructor was in the service with a rifle, is that necessarily going to translate directly to them instructing a class about fighting with a pistol?

      The nature of both the experience and the previous instruction and training of the instructor makes a difference.

      There are also those who have immense direct experience but not ability to teach. That doesn’t do you as the student much good.

  2. Biggfoot44 says:

    Eh .

    On the one hand there can be a real phenomim of taking “classes” and only “classes” never really gaining actual mastery of skills. ( Just ask anyone involved with LE training giving or recieving about the difference between training and Qualifing and stand back for several hours of venting.)

    Learning a skill to the level of smoothness, consistancy, and suitable degree of rapidity takes time and rounds, the exact amount of time and number of rounds varies from shooter to shooter. Rarely will this be acomplished in a class (other than one on one coaching). A class is supposed to teach you what to practice, and how to practice it. Woodshedding to master the school is the student’s responsability.

    If the student was reasonably awake and aware, possably took notes they should know what they need to practice. If the amout of information presented is truely more than a student who pays attention can absorb, it is an error of instructional course design, to wit either not enough time, or too much information.

  3. gundude says:

    I am not a firearms instructor, but I have taught other forms of self-defense as well as other skill-intensive activities. I have also attended more than my share of firearms training.

    I find there to be people on both ends of the bell-curve: those who rush through the basics without mastering them to get to the ‘cool stuff’ only to face difficulty; and those who refuse to move beyond the fundamentals for fear of failure.

    in my experience, one needs to both push limits – it is truly the only way to improve – and revisit the basics. I find that coming back and examining things I ‘thought I knew’ after some more advanced training has opened my eyes to skills/practices and details that needed attention. I think we should always practice the fundamentals and continually push skills to grow.

    easy to say, harder to do.

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