Theorizing, Practicing, Training, and Fighting

| August 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

I mentioned this briefly in a recent article, but I think the concept is worth spelling out in its own post.

A lot of what we do on this blog is experimental. There aren’t a lot of people out there carrying personal defense weapons (PDW) every day in addition to their other tools. To my knowledge there aren’t classes specifically for the bag carry of PDW, so we’ve had to improvise and integrate these firearms into “normal” fight-focused training classes.

There are some schools that offer courses on responding to an active shooter / terrorist incident, but even those are typically pistol-focused.

More so than any other aspect of self defense training, we have to learn in three modes:

Theorizing, Practicing, and Training

Hopefully we’ll avoid the ultimate teacher — Fighting.

Let’s define what each mode means, and how they are different.


Theorizing is the phase where we think about and talk about something. The vast, vast majority of people spend the vast, vast majority of their time here.

The theory mode has the following stages: Conceptualize, Research, and Discuss.

We Conceptualize the need for something (usually a tool, like a handgun). Maybe we read about a robbery, home invasion, active shooter, rapist, etc. We don’t want to be a victim, so we conceptualize ways to avoid being one.

We Research tool options: what’s the best handgun I can conceal? What’s the best caliber for a defensive handgun? What does everyone else own? What looks cool?

Then we Discuss our concept and/or our research. This might be with people we know in real life (meatspace) or online (cyberspace).

We then repeat the Theorizing phase until we make a decision, and then again for different tools and gear.

The Theorizing phase is also where some people get “trained.” They read blogs or watch YouTube videos about how to fight from inside of a car, or when it’s legal to use a firearm, or how to respond to a bump in the night. People watch, think, and hypothesize.

I think the incredible majority of people who think they are training for self defense spend their time Theorizing. They argue at a gun shop or a gun forum about why bullpups are better than any other rifle form factor, or why this caliber is better than that caliber.

The Theorizing mode is not bad in and of itself. We need to be thoughtful, and do research, and discuss, and come up with hypothetical responses to problems.  But Theorizing must be validated as much as possible. That’s where Practice and Training come in. For some of us, we are unlucky to test these tools and techniques by Fighting.


The Practicing mode is when we begin to test and validate our ideas from the Theorizing phase. For example, you may do test draws from a new pistol holster with a practice gun. I have done a lot of Practicing with an unloaded PDW and drawing from a bag. I practice reloading and accessing my trauma kit from a bag. Dry firing is another common example of Practicing.

Practicing is usually done at home or at traditional square shooting range, not under professional instruction, and under very little stress.

When I Practice, I begin by isolating exactly what I am trying to prove from the Theorizing phase. “Is it practical to draw an SBR AK47 from this specific messenger bag?”

Once I’ve validated or invalidated a hypothesis, I add in more and more things. “Is it practical to draw an SBR AK47 from this messenger bag while moving two or three steps?”

Although Practicing at home is free, I think people spend the least amount of time in this mode.


Training is a combination of learning and practicing. We may learn new techniques at a fight-focused training class, and we will practice these techniques during class.

The critical difference between Training and Practicing is that Training is under the observation of a trained, experienced professional. This person is responsible for watching you and judging your performance. They will be able to give quality advice and help you improve.

Going out to the gravel pit and blasting the shit out of some watermelons is not training.

Training is often stressful due for many factors. Ego drives a lot of the stress: people don’t want to look dumb in front of the class, they want to impress the celebrity instructor, they have Theorized a lot about their firearm and their own aptitude, etc. However, good fight-focused training instructors will increase stress via complex and hostile drills, audio and visual distractions, and volume of fire and movement.

The most stressful Training I’ve taken was against other students who were also Training against me. I highly recommend Force on Force training.

We may Theorize and Practice during the Training mode. However, our Training will go better if we have spent more time Theorizing and Practicing before class begins. This is one of the reasons I advocate that people take basic self defense and first responder classes multiple times.

If it’s your first time Training in trauma care, you may not even know what a tourniquet is, let alone Theorize about which models are best for you, or Practice to validate your decisions. The next time you Train again you will be better prepared, and will learn more. You will focus more on the Doing, and less on the Thinking.

We should spend a significant amount of time Training, but Training is the most expensive mode most of us will ever encounter. Prioritize your budget for Training over tools and gear.


The last time I was in a physical confrontation was almost sixteen years ago. Hopefully we will never have to fight, but Fighting is the most honest, brutal mode of learning of all. Things work, or don’t work, and serious injury or death may be the outcome.

Of all the modes of learning, Fighting is — and should be — the most rare. I’m not going to write much more about Fighting, except to acknowledge its presence. There are individuals who have seen combat as a civilian and/or in the military that are more qualified to talk about this mode than I. So I’ll honor them by not pretending to know what they know. That’s Theorizing, and we want to spend as little time there as possible. 😉

Spend Your Time Wisely

In my opinion, we should spend our time in this order: Practicing -> Training -> Theorizing -> Fighting

Consistent, effective Practicing validates our Theorizing mode and improves things learned during Training. The more you Practice, the better your Training will go. Training is the most important, but also the most expensive in terms of time, opportunity, and money.

Spend as little time Theorizing as possible. Just thinking and talking about something doesn’t make you prepared.

If you spend more time Theorizing than Practicing and Training, you’re not a gunfighter. You’re a philosopher.

If you find yourself getting into arguments in person or online about things like “should appendix carry be allowed in a basic handgun class” or “should you carry a PDW?” you are wasting your time. This type of debate is mental masturbation, and if you ever enter the Fighting mode I doubt you’ll be thinking, “I should have discussed barrel twist more on ARFCOM.”

Prioritize “doing” over “thinking.”

Practice. Train. Theorize.

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.

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