As a Navy SEAL, I learned that there is no such thing as good enough, and as a SEAL Sniper, I learned close enough is enough to get someone killed. Everything we did in training and on missions was done with the goal of perfection — anything less and we went back to the drawing board and figured out a way to go from good to great to ensure we were better than the enemy.
When it comes to firearms training, if you want to be a truly great shooter, you too need to seek perfection in every aspect of your training program. Because unlike leisure endeavors, shooting is literally either hit or miss. There is no close enough when it comes to taking low percentage shots in a high-stress environment. This means not only a strong foundation in the shooting fundamentals but performing the fundamentals exceedingly well. It takes Virtuosity.
CrossFit’s coach Gregg Glassman first introduced me to the term virtuosity back in 2005 in an article where he talked about the importance of virtuosity as a CrossFit trainer and used the gymnastics definition of “performing the common uncommonly well.” As a Navy SEAL sniper instructor, I understood this style of training and had been practicing it for years, but it was not until I read his article that I had seen it put into words so well. So my goal here is to try and explain the importance of virtuosity in firearms training and the theory behind my training model.
Becoming a virtuoso of firearms requires hours upon hours of dedication and perseverance. There are no shortcuts to becoming a master, but there is a tendency among shooters, especially new ones, to ignore the fundamentals of marksmanship and quickly move to wanting to learn more advanced or cool-looking techniques, skills or movements. This pattern of novice training is apparent in all kinds of skills such as playing a musical instrument, learning a new sport, or any other type of mechanical skill. This immature yearning is an obstacle to those aiming for perfection and should be avoided at all costs.
If Looks Could Kill
Solid fundamentals are required to become the best in any skill, especially in firearms training. The problem comes from shooters having weak fundamentals and a desire for useless originality. Many times this is supported by firearms instructors either afraid to insist on perfection before moving on, or worse, a lack of understanding of their importance. This will eventually lead to a lack of virtuosity and a delay in truly mastering the art of weapons handling. It’s important to understand that especially in firearms training, where mistakes can be fatal, it’s important to hammer on the basics of shooting. These include:
Obviously, these are the fundamentals of marksmanship, but they must be truly mastered before you attempt to move on to more advanced shooting skills. Like the foundation of a building, your shooting fundamentals need to be solid or everything you add on top will eventually come crumbling down. Sure it looks cool to run around the range like Neo in the Matrix, but if your shots are missing the target, you’ll walk away looking like an idiot, not a master of your weapon system. Look at the masters of any sport and how they train, and you’ll see they spend the majority of their times on basic skills. They don’t practice for highlight reels; highlight reels happen by performing the basics with uncommon perfection.
What This Means to You
When I talk about perfection and mastery, I’m not talking about key-holing shots — unless that’s your goal. I’m talking about breaking down each fundamental and practicing it until it’s perfect. What you do with these skills is totally dependent on the situation you’re in or your course of fire. Virtuosity means something different to an IPSC shooter than it does to a Tier-1-door-kicking-beard-wearing operator down range or even the average guy who just shoots a few weekends a month. Look at what you’re training for and never settle for good enough.
If you want to be a truly great shooter, you too need to seek perfection in every aspect of your training program.
What Are You Training For?
There are a wide variety of firearms instructors out there; some are really good and some…not so much. Do they insist on the perfection of your shooting fundamentals? Or do they try to teach you cool-looking techniques? If you’re training just so you can shoot cool videos to post on YouTube, that’s one thing, but if you want to be a true master of your weapon and not just some guy doing ballet with a boom-stick, then take a step back and check your fundamentals. If you’ve ever been trained by some of the best in the business, you will surely have seen how simple, basic and fundamental the training was. What will eventually cause the downfall of any training program is a trainer’s lack of commitment to the fundamentals and the students’ lack of insisting on its instruction.
Rarely are instructors critical of minor details of the mechanics of shooting, which will eventually cause beginners to try and jump forward to the more advanced shooting techniques. In the end, this will lead to a shooter who may look cool but never seems to get any better.
“Hey Everyone, Come See How Good I Look!”
As an instructor, it’s natural to want to show my students fancy movements and advanced shooting techniques. But in the long run, I’m doing them a disservice. It’s a natural desire to entertain and impress students with your knowledge and skill. They’ve paid a lot of money and you want them to know how good you are, but my goal is to make them good shooters and I can’t do that when I move away from the basics too quickly and onto the advanced material. Training is about making my students better shooters, not me.
In firearms training, you really need to nit-pick the fundamentals of marksmanship and insist on them relentlessly with every shot you take. If you do this, you will be impressed by your progress and mastery of the art of shooting. The sooner you learn that mastery of the fundamentals is the key to effective shooting, the sooner you will become a truly great shooter. Shooters founded in the basics of marksmanship will quickly progress past others who are not lucky enough to have had such a well-grounded firearms instructor.
If you simply commit to the basics of firearms training, your shooting will improve, you’ll advance quickly, and you will gather an immense amount of respect from those around you. Seeing someone shoot with virtuosity is awe-inspiring to watch, and it’s even better when you reach this level in your own shooting.
How are you building your shooting fundamentals? Share your training techniques below.