Training, Practice, and Proficiency December 14, 2017 10:16

Often times, the words of the title: training, practice, and proficiency get confused with one another. The purpose of this article is to differentiate between the terms, and highlight the benefits of each.  Frequently in firearms-related discussions, improper or inaccurate definitions are used, diluting the discussion, or worse, hijacking the original meaning or intent.



Training is instruction, whether formal or informal, done under the watchful eye of a competent instructor.  The purpose of training is to teach a student techniques, tactics, and markskmanship, and how to practice them.  This can include classroom, range, and force-on-force situations.  Military personnel attend training frequently, and police officers do as well, though this seems highly dependent on their department attitude towards such.  By the way, a fifty-round qualification once a year is NOT training. That is a course of fire anyone should be able to pass at any time, cold. 

Commercial firearm training is for the most part voluntary, and students are mostly motivated to attend class. Students are taught what and how to practice when they return to their homes.  In short, training provides you with a "shooting workout plan" to go home and practice every time you go to the range, as well as dry practice. Additionally, during training instructors provide feedback to students on improvements, and provide corrections when students improperly perform a task.  You cannot get that from a video or book.



Practice is the correct repetition of the techniques, principles of marksmanship, and proper tactics learned while attending training.  In short, practice is putting in the WORK.  There are many individuals out there who want to be good shooters, yet a small percentage of them are actually willing to put in the effort and work required to be such.

This includes dry practice, which involves the use of an empty firearm, as well as live-fire practice.  The purpose of practice is to ingrain the PROPER repetitions required to build proficiency.  The most improvement happens with dry practice. Truly great shooters do more dry practice sessions than range sessions.  When performing dry practice, focus on proper form, presentations, and perfect repetitions.  Dry practice needs to be performed frequently, at least a few times per week.  Live-fire confirms your dry practice has happened properly, and does not require hundreds of rounds per session.  You should be able to have a great range session with 100-200 rounds maximum. 

Reading and watching firearm-related material in books or on the internet is great, but is in no way a substitute for putting in the work needed to become a proficient and competent shooter.  In the end, you will have to present your firearm properly, see your sights, and manipulate the trigger to ensure a hit.  Watching someone else do as opposed to performing this yourself does not achieve osmosis.  You cannot "fanboy" or buy your way in gear out of this reality. You have to put in the work.  



Proficiency is defined in Merriam-Webster's dictionary as: the state of being well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge

Proficiency with a firearm takes time to achieve.  A shooter achieves this by seeking out the information, applying it in practice, and then measuring their progress.  How proficient an individual is depends on how well they process and correlate information, as well as how frequently he/she practices.  Did you listen to the instructor in class?  Have you performed dry as well as live fire consistently?  One cannot expect proficiency if he/she has failed either of those. 

To track progress, we have to measure accuracy AND time.  We have to measure both for proficiency.  Anyone can learn how to hit the target. It is a simple task of geometry.  Line your muzzle up with the target and the rounds will hit. If it takes you five seconds to do so, that is too long in most situations.  You are not proficient.  If you practice a few weeks and can achieve the same accuracy, in half the time, you are making progress.  To measure proficiency, a shot timer is the tool I recommend. You can look at ones I recommend HERE.

How can anyone say that it doesn't matter how long it takes to hit, as long as you do?  That's like saying that it doesn't matter how long it takes for you to qualify for the olympics in the 100-yard dash, as long as you do.  Well,  there IS a qualifying time, as well as other people trying to beat you, but in a race for your life!  If you do not practice at speed, you will not perform at speed, and gunfights happen VERY fast.  Objective data is readily available, as is dash cam and surveillance footage. Rarely do these incidents take longer than a few seconds, hence the qualifying time. They are short, violent, and require fast, accurate hits to stop the threatening behavior. We have to shoot on the bad guy's time, not ours.  Waiting for a perfect sight picture is time-consuming, and time is the most valuable resource we have in deadly force. Those that can decide, shoot,and hit more quickly and more accurately than their opponents will be more effective during deadly force.

We have established that time does matter.  So how do you know if you are proficient, or how you can become more so?  To start, you must obtain a baseline of your skills from which to measure and track improvement.  A timer is great tool to use for that purpose.  Why is a timer important for measuring proficiency?  One, it gives you a starting baseline of where you are currently.  Second, you can use it to measure your progress as you continue practice.     

Start with achievable goals short-term.  A good baseline to start is to be able to draw and shoot an 8" circle from 7 yards in 2.00 seconds,from concealment. Once you can do that and reliably hit, then shave off 10% of the time, and continue to shave off tenths of a second as is warranted.  Once you feel comfortable, try our Valor Ridge Standards.  They are achievable, practical, and challenging.  They provide a good benchmark to measure proficiency and life-saving skills.  You can watch me demonstrating them HERE



Training, practice, and proficiency work together to improve your performance and knowledge.  All three are necessary to improve.    Amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can no longer get it wrong, and masters never stop practicing.  Learn, practice, and measure.  Then repeat.