Training Groups: Bridging the gap between individual practice and classes

| February 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

This is a guest article from CR Williams, firearms instructor and author of several books on self-defense and firearms use (see our reviews of his book Facing the Active Shooter and Gunfighting, and Other Thoughts About Doing Violence). You can follow him at In Shadow In LightShepherd

If you want to maintain skill and competency in almost any subject, practice is required. Gunfighting is no exception to this principle. We all know this already. That’s why we practice and train between classes. We want to not just maintain our level of skill and capability, we want to improve on it.

So we take up an empty gun and we do repetitions. Or we go to the range and do repetitions. Hopefully, we do both dry practice and live-fire practice. We decide what we’re going to work on and we go and do it. That’s good.

What about variety of practice work, though? What about the introduction of unknowns? That can be harder to do when you’re working by yourself. And ongoing training—taking a class, say, once a month to get exposure to new things—is beyond most of us in time or ability to finance the activity.

There are some ways to compensate for the lack of variety and to introduce unknowns into your practice routines. One is to enter competitions with the attitude that you will use the contest environment to get repetitions of technique in unknown situations and under some stress. You can get drills and practice routines from others as well.

You can also create a training group, which is the subject of this article. A training group is a gathering of individuals to drill and practice specific skill-sets they already know in places and under conditions that are different than where they normally practice. Training groups can be one-off events or periodic. It is not a class where you learn new skills and techniques (although some learning often takes place). It is a place to work on what you already know under unfamiliar conditions. If the training group focuses on team tactics, it is also a place where you practice working with others. It’s a way to get some variety and some unknowns into your practice mix in a non-competitive and mutually-assisted way.

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On Jan 30th and 31st of this year I hosted and directed a two-day training group session at Double Tap Training Ground in Calera, AL. The facility offers classrooms, live-fire ranges, and a Sim House where either Airsoft or Simunitions can be used in a two-story building set up like a small motel. I decided when planning this event to take advantage of all of this. (Let me note that most training group events are single-day affairs. There were reasons why this was designed to run a full weekend. Normally I would run one-day events like most do.) Most of you can do the same thing where you are.

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If you decide to try setting up a training group (it may be possible to find an existing one to participate in—Suarez International instructors have regional training group sessions on a regular basis, for example) in your area it may help to consider these points:

  • This is an organized event. It’s not a get-together for conversation and some shooting. There is a schedule and a plan to this.
  • At the same time it should not be made too rigid in schedule. You want to build in time for interaction and feedback and you want to allow for exchange of information during and between drills. The way I did this was to have a willingness to alter the list of drills, either moving one or another up or down on that list or dropping it altogether (the second day about seventy percent of the list was discarded, for example). The organizer must be flexible and adaptable about this without allowing things to degenerate into a nice get-together and shooting session.
  • It’s not as expensive as a class but it’s not free either. Do not expect the organizer/host to pay for everything needed if you’re going to participate in a training group. Most of us can’t afford it. If you’re the host, assess a fee sufficient to cover range fees at the least and I would add enough to cover your meals and some extra expenses as well. You, the organizer, are putting time and effort into this and you should not be expected to do that without some compensation. How much is up to you and what you think participants will pay for a day of drilling and some coaching. In my case, it was enough to cover range fees, gas and food consumed coming and going, and enough additional to get a piece of equipment I used there. That was it.
  • Have a focus and a plan. Don’t wing it, don’t expect to ask everybody what they want to work on when they show up. Decide on what you will focus on, draw up a plan or list that supports that focus, and work from that. (To use my case as an example: Morning 1st day, a series of ‘disturbed shooter’ drills [where the shooter was physically ‘disturbed’ either before or during the shooting string], Afternoon 1st day, variants of the Reverse Dozier drill, 2nd day, CQB drills against opposition with Airsoft in the Sim House.)
  • This is not an event for brand new or inexperienced shooters. Depending on what you do and what you’re going to focus on you may not need a lot of experience or training background, but given the reason you’re doing the training group and given that it’s not a class you shouldn’t allow new or basic-level shooters in. That said: They don’t have to have direct training in what you cover. I had at least two at this group session that had not run CQB and at least one that had never done FOF work. They all had a background either from training or experience that gave them a foundation for going in the deep end that way, however, that new shooters would not. This is a safety and confidence issue for all concerned and should not be lightly ignored.
  • Everybody can be a coach, everybody can be a teacher, everybody can be a student at any time. I was the organizer, I told everybody what we would be doing next, I was responsible for making sure things in general were safe. I also had two other instructors in the group and everybody was experienced in shooting and gunfighting to one degree or another. I allowed time and space for cross-fertilization—a quick rundown on how to move people by the man with training in Executive Protection or my five-minute presentation about how to ‘take’ a set of stairs in the shoothouse are just two examples. Debriefings after runs on the range and in the Sim House were I think appreciated by everyone whether they were the ones running the drill or not. Cross-checking and helping each other with grip, with running guns, with the drawstroke, with how better to do this or that—the cross-fertilization and feedback was there and it was valuable. Allow for that to happen as long as it doesn’t turn into an impromptu half-day seminar.

That’s the high points as I see them about setting up and doing a training group. If you’re thinking about it, do try and attend one or two first to get a better idea of what to think about before you start setting one up. (I’ll advance an offer now to go where you are and run one if you want to see how it works.) It’s not a hard thing to do but it does take some time and effort.

Done right, though, training groups can be an invaluable bridge between classwork and solo training. Anyone serious about maintaining and improving their skills should think about joining one or forming one. I don’t think you will regret it.

You be safe out there. And if you can’t be safe…you be dangerous.

About the Author:

CR Williams is the author of (so far) four non-fiction books: Three volumes of the ongoing "Gunfighting, and Other Thoughts about Doing Violence" series and "Facing the Active Shooter: Guidelines for the Armed Citizen Defender". He has also made entries into the fiction arena with recent releases of "Live Fire" and the first volume of the "An Even Break" series. He currently runs classes from either his home-base area in Central/South-Central Alabama or wherever anyone wants to host him for a class. An active and ongoing student of the fight in all its aspects, he continues to work toward his goal of making you the very best defender of life and loved ones that you can be.
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