Haters, Fan Boys, and Valid Instruction

“He’s a fraud!  He teaches all of that stuff, but he’s never had any experience using any of it in real life!” – This was a comment I read a few days ago made by some anonymous poster on the internet, directed at fairly well-known defensive shooting instructor.  Best I could tell, the implication from this poster was that if an instructor hasn’t personally used each and every tactic, technique, or skill he or she teaches in a “combat” situation or in a “gunfight”, then not only is the tactic, technique, or skill invalid, but the instructor is also a fraud.  A quick perusal of this anonymous poster’s profile on a popular social media site revealed that he was a major fan of numerous competitive shooters and apparently a competitive shooter himself, though there was no mention of him having been in combat or him being a student of combatives himself, so in using his own form of logic, I’m not exactly sure what qualified him to make his statement in the first place.  And I’m not exactly sure what made him think he actually knew whether or not said instructor ever had any “real” experience with the application of the things he teaches anyway.

But I digress; I am not writing this entry to discuss the merits of this person’s comment.  Rather, his comment got me to thinking about what qualifies a tactic, technique, or skill (in the context of self-defense), as either “valid” or “invalid”.  Additionally, if an instructor teaches or advocates the use of a “valid” method even though he or she has never used it in an actual violent conflict, is that instructor really a “fraud”?

“Valid” is a very subjective standard.  After all, any tactic, technique, or skill that could conceivably be effective, or has ever been effective (again, in the context of self-defense), would arguably be “valid”.  However, “effective” in and of itself, may not be a very good measure of “validity” when we look at the big picture.  I dare say that nearly all of us have seen video footage or read a report of some sort of technique or tactic that a victim of a crime used in the heat of the moment that allowed him or her to either gain the upper hand, make a successful retreat, or otherwise diffuse the situation, that we can now look back upon after the fact and clearly see that the use of such a tactic would normally be ill-advised and that luck probably played a significant role in it’s being effective in that particular situation.  This is probably not the kind of tactic we would want to train, nor is it one we would want to teach our students as instructors.

In my mind, I believe that before a technique, tactic, or skill can be considered “valid”, there are a few more qualifiers that must be met.  When we are talking about self-defense, the techniques, tactics, and skills we train to use need to not only be effective, but they also need to be efficient, intuitive, and consistent so that we can use them to the highest possible level of efficacy.   In my opinion, these additional requirements make it a little easier to categorize a technique, tactic, or skill as “valid” (or “invalid”).  With that said, it leaves us with the task of defining what constitutes “efficient”, “intuitive”, and “consistent” before we can apply them to our measure of “valid”.

Efficiency, in the context of self-defense techniques, is measured by how much time, energy, and/or resources it requires to complete/apply any given task or action.  The less time, energy, and/or resources it requires to complete/apply said task or action, while still being effective, the more efficient said task or action is.  An easy to understand example of this would be the act of accessing spare magazines from our support side rather than from our shooting side.  It requires less time, less complex movement, and subsequently, less physical resources to access them from our support side (assuming we are not injured or otherwise physically impaired), than it would to access them from our shooting side, which is already preoccupied with holding our gun.  The primary reason most serious shooters carry their spare magazines on their support side because it is more efficient than alternative modes of carry.

In order for a task or action to be Intuitive, it must work well with what the body already does naturally, without requiring a significant amount of cognizant thought or mechanical adjustment.  If we must go through a complex thought process or make major, complex mechanical adjustments to our musculoskeletal system just to complete or implement an action, it is probably not very intuitive (and, by default, it’s also not very efficient).  For example, if we look at the typical “modern” defensive shooting position used by the majority of serious defensive shooters as well as most serious competitive shooters, we see that it typically involves the shooter being square to the target, weight forward on the balls of the feet, with a slight bend to the knees and a slight close at the hips.  This is very similar to the position we instinctively place ourselves in when we are startled or when we are preparing to engage in a physical fight.  Subsequently, it doesn’t take much thought or mechanical adjustment to assume this position as we plant our feet to take a shot.  It is Intuitive.

Consistency is more of a subjective measurement.  A given tactic, technique, or skill need not be effective 100% of the time in order for it to qualify as consistent.  However, it should be demonstrably consistent within the context of its intended use.  For an example, let us look at the use of cover and/or concealment.  A compelling argument could certainly be made that using cover/concealment in EVERY self-defense situation wouldn’t be prudent, even if it is readily available.  The reason for this is that every situation is unique and dynamic, so thinking that one specific tactic would be effective 100% of the time isn’t realistic.  However, the proper use of cover and/or concealment has proven to be an effective tactic under a fairly wide range of conflict scenarios for as long as human beings have been walking upright, so it certainly qualifies as “consistent” by any objective measure.

So with our qualifiers spelled out in black and white, I believe we can now objectively measure which techniques/tactics/skills are “valid”, and which are “invalid”, (again, in the context of self-defense).

In order for any technique/tactic/skill to be “valid”, it must be:

  1. Efficient
  2. Intuitive
  3. Consistent, and
  4. Effective within the context of it’s intended use.

I think it is fair to say that this encompasses a fairly large “pool” of techniques, tactics, and skills (far too many to ever attempt to list here), and no single instructor, training school, or training program, no matter who they are and no matter how many “gunfights” they have or haven’t been in, can lay claim to all of them.

Which leads me to the next part of the question.  If an instructor teaches a tactic, technique, or skill that meets all of the criteria required to be considered “valid”, does it really matter if said instructor has ever used that tactic, technique, or skill on the battlefield or in a real “gunfight”?  Well, in my opinion, maybe.  Yes, I know that “maybe” is not a very definitive answer, but it’s the truth.  Experience CAN be an important piece of the instructional puzzle.  Likewise, it can also be a detriment in some cases.  It really all depends on what the actual experience truly consisted of, and how said instructor actually uses that experience to shape the instruction he or she provides.  I think just as important as actual experience, if not even more so, is the instructor’s understanding of WHY any particular tactic, technique, or skill he or she teaches is important and his or her ability to actually convey that message to his or her students in a manner they will easily understand.  We can take the most valid technique in the world, but have an ill-equipped instructor attempt to teach it to a group of students without having the knowledge or ability to convey why it is important and how it solves whatever real problem it is supposed to solve, and it will be completely lost in translation.  Additionally, we can take the most invalid technique in the world, have the most well qualified instructor in the world teach it, and it will still be just as invalid at the end of the day as it was at the beginning.  Experience matters.  Knowledge matters.  Ability matters. Validity of techniques, tactics, and skills matter.  And none of these traits are necessarily mutually exclusive, OR, mutually INCLUSIVE of one another.

The truth is, there are a lot of great instructors out there, some of them very well known, and some of them not very well known.  Likewise, there are plenty of not-so-good instructors out there, and some of them are very well known while others aren’t.  In the end, I think it’s foolish to attempt to judge an instructor’s value based on nothing more than specific job titles he/she has or hasn’t had over the years.  Just because an instructor may have been involved in armed conflict in the past doesn’t necessarily mean he/she will be able to provide the student with any educational value because of that experience, nor does it mean he/she won’t.  That will depend entirely on the instructor and, indeed, how relevant the specific situations he or she encountered are to the real-life situations the student is most likely to find him/herself in.  I dare say that a gunfight that took place on a battlefield somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan will have very little in common with a home invasion that takes place in the middle of suburban America, and the tactics essential to prevailing in the one event will likely be significantly different than the tactics essential to prevailing in the other.

In closing, as I’ve stated often, I think it pays to do your homework when selecting any training program and any instructor.  Listening to the “haters” probably has no more value than listening to the “fan boys” when it comes to choosing a program or an instructor.  Rather, not falling for hype, seeking out references from unbiased sources (both student references and professional references), and using a large dose of common sense, will probably work out best more often than not.

As always, be safe!

~ Chris ~

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