For many years, conventional firearms training has been doctrine-based, in that teaching a person to shoot — regardless of whether he or she was learning to shoot competitively, for personal defense, to hunt, to plink in the backyard or otherwise — took the same path. Entry level, intermediate and advanced training usually involved showering the student with such a large variety of techniques and absolutes as to push him or her into information overload, which inhibits retention and performance.
The theory was that no matter how much information is thrown at a student, some of it is bound to stick. With repetition — more of the same on a frequent basis — students would eventually get better … hundreds or even thousands of rounds later.
Invariably, some would improve and others would give up in frustration because they weren’t fortunate enough to absorb the essential ideas and techniques that would lead to success.
Fortunately, there were a few forward-thinking individuals in the training world who dared to step outside of the realm of convention. These trainers knew there must be better ways of coaxing performance out of students in a shorter period of time than with the, “I talk, you listen” and, “Do this, don’t do that” method of teaching shooting skills.
Under ideal conditions, five to seven bits of information [is] at the upper limit of cognitive processing for the average human.
Actually studying how humans acquire and retain knowledge revealed that the “throw the whole kitchen at the student and they’re bound to catch some of it” method didn’t work nearly as well as originally thought. In fact, comprehensive studies had been done in the academic world on the subject of adult learning, which suggested that, under ideal conditions, five to seven bits of information was at the upper limit of cognitive processing for the average human.
It was also found that this number was diminished when factors of stress were introduced along with the learning. What this meant was teaching shooting fundamentals — foot position, arm position, head position and angle of the torso with an emphasis on recoil resistance — pretty much used up a student’s cognitive processing ability on stance alone, before the shooting even started. When attempting to coordinate all of the above with sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, left-hand grip, right-hand grip and breathing, the average human’s maximum cognitive capacity is exceeded by more than a factor of two.
These discoveries caused a lot of instructors to rethink exactly how to make students better shooters, particularly within a specific discipline and with a specific type of firearm. As a result, those who were on board distilled successful methods down to two or three bits of information at a time, and did so while ensuring that information was understood and reproducible before moving on to anything else.
This method requires a specific stated objective — an activity the student should understand and be able to do after the lesson is completed — accomplished through the necessary steps and nothing more. Teaching in this objective-based manner simplifies and enhances the learning process and improves retention of the subject matter.
To start this process, the initial explanation of the task needs to make sense to the student: It must be non-arguable, and it must be relatively easy to reproduce successfully within the time frame of the lesson and using a minimum number of steps.
For example, the objective of shooting, regardless of discipline or firearm type, is hitting the target; no one can argue that. To keep this as simple as possible, we’ll be discussing a single- projectile launcher (a handgun or rifle) and a single stationary target on a recreational range.
From an objective-based teaching standpoint, instructing stance for personal defense (and some types of competitive shooting) is simple, it makes sense, it’s easy to reproduce and it’s hard to argue about.
The two factors necessary for a shooter to hit the target are to stabilize the muzzle on the target and pull the trigger to fire the shot without influencing the stability of the muzzle. “Stabilize” means to hold the gun as still as possible for the time it takes to pull the trigger and fire the shot.
Now, an explanation that the gun won’t be motionless is helpful to a novice shooter, since it’s virtually impossible to keep the gun motionless. After the student understands this concept, it allows her to execute a smooth trigger pull, even through the small amount of movement that will invariably be present.
It’s literally “point gun, pull trigger and hit target.” It’s simple. It works. It’s non-arguable. From this point, there are usually one of two paths to follow:
If the student isn’t experiencing the desired levels of success, it’s simple to diagnose what’s standing in the way: The student is either failing to stabilize the muzzle on the target until the bullet exits the gun or she’s improperly manipulating the trigger, adding unnecessary motion to the gun and causing the muzzle to veer off target. It’s not difficult to discover what she’s doing, determine why she’s doing it and formulate a plan on how to fix it and move forward.
The objective of shooting, regardless of discipline or firearm type, is hitting the target.
The other path is to build on the student’s success by fine-tuning and enhancing what she already knows. This is where the extras and adjustments can be introduced into the process.
From an objective-based teaching standpoint, instructing stance for personal defense (and some types of competitive shooting) is simple, it makes sense, it’s easy to reproduce and it’s hard to argue about. The three key words are balance, mobility and stability, and one leads to the next.
A shooter needs to be balanced to be mobile, as being stationary in a gunfight or in a tactical course of fire is not to her advantage. The balance that allows such mobility also helps in stabilizing the muzzle on the target, which in no small way lends itself to the overall objective of hitting the target.
Objective-based training is a simple, easy-to-use and very effective way to train and educate students in almost any aspect of shooting. It gives students what they need to be successful and nothing they don’t, eliminating the unnecessary details that clog the mind and are rarely even useful.
As both an instructor and a student, consider stepping out of the box of convention. Identify the objective to be learned, and then find the simplest and most effective way to accomplish that end. Only pursue what you need and nothing you don’t. The simpler the better, and success is non-arguable.