Almost any skill you need for daily living, from how to remove a broken light bulb from a socket to how to solder a copper pipe into an antenna, can be learned online. In my family, we refer to “YouTube University” as the source of our education on performing these kinds of difficult tasks. In this regard, both YouTube and its younger cousin, Rumble, are useful resources of video training.
YouTube has a number of personalities who have an emphasis on firearms. Some of their content can be quite educational and, often, entertaining.
Need to know how a .45 Speer Gold Dot reacts to a human thoracic cavity? YouTuber Garand Thumb can show you.1 Want to see the worst internet gun fails? Brandon Herrera’s channel frequently features this kind of content along with funny gun memes. Some other content creators use video footage obtained from security cameras and police body cameras to educate viewers on criminal behavior and victim selection.
While all of this content is interesting and entertaining, it presents an important question: Does watching any of this stuff actually improve your skills?
Speaking solely for me, the answer is no.
Knowing vs. Practicing
There is a big difference between “knowing” what to do and actually practicing what to do under the watchful eye of a competent instructor. Following channels like Colion Noir’s will no doubt provide beneficial education, but what stands out is that YouTube folks with anything substantive to offer in terms of education are continually taking classes at ranges across the country. They are never satisfied that their skills are “good enough.” Understanding, as they do, that their lives depend on being able to get rounds on target in a life-or-death scenario, these YouTube personalities train to ensure that the educational content they provide matches up with real-world scenarios.
Along those lines, any rifle or pistol class can be broken down into three parts: education, practice and live-fire. While the “education” portion of any class is, of course, very important, the “practice” part of the course is the first step in building skills that will be vital later.
Like many Vietnam-era veterans, I trained with rifle, pistol and shotgun in the Army. I learned “the Army way” using the tried and true “by the numbers” approach to mastery of skills. When I sought a concealed carry class from a local NRA instructor in Missouri, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be learning anything new, and I was equally convinced he had very little to teach me. Both of those suppositions were wrong.
The military taught me that there was only one place to carry your sidearm (on your hip at 3 o’clock) and only one way to secure the holster (with the strap across the hammer). It hardly mattered that I had learned using revolvers and that my experience with rifles was limited to the M16. I went into the class “knowing everything” — or so I thought. While I did not come out of the class with a Glock tucked neatly in an appendix holster, I did learn skills with the pistol I had never learned in the military. (And, yes, I eventually adopted appendix carry.)
I later took a class on the fundamentals of concealed carry and learned how important a competent instructor truly is. I had practiced and drilled on drawing my firearm at home. I had done “micro drills.” I had even used the CoolFire Trainer system. However, I had not practiced taking the safety off, even though, at the time, I carried with the safety on. Having to draw and fire against a timer under an instructor’s supervision convinced me I had been training incorrectly.
Limitations of Video Education
Many YouTube videos tout the idea that most gunfights occur at a range of about 6 feet between the parties. That’s probably a useful statistic, but it is important to remember that statistics are descriptive, not predictive. In other words, limiting your training to shooting at targets 6 feet away will get you killed if your attacker decides to rush you or hits you with a lucky shot from 20 feet away.2 Unless you have been taught to shoot from retention, expecting to have 6 feet and ample time to snap off several shots could very well lead to your demise.
I learned this skill in a fundamentals class but never in a basic pistol course or the military. And it took me a lot of practice (and a patient instructor going by the numbers) to learn how to make it a habit to always place my support hand on my chest so that I did not accidentally shoot my support arm or hand.
Nearly every time I demonstrated the skill by the numbers, I could do so perfectly. But give me a blue gun and ask me to do it while someone simulates charging, and each time that support hand shot out in front of me to keep the attacker at bay. With patient instructors, I was able to develop the skills I needed. But I need more, and I’ll be taking a close-quarters-combat course this year.
Techniques Viewed Through Video Training
So, the question remains: Would simply watching a video demonstrating this technique improve your chances of surviving an encounter with an armed attacker? Almost certainly by a little bit, but not like training on that technique with a competent instructor will. Unfortunately, you are just as likely to get bad advice online as you are to get good advice. But the USCCA and other reputable firearms associations certify their instructors, and those instructors must meet exacting requirements for knowledge and proficiency.
People new to firearms and to the concept of concealed carry may feel as though attending a course on the fundamentals of concealed carry with dozens of other students is unsafe. With USCCA or other certified instructors, that is not a concern. But if that is what prevents you from taking training, then understand that for a few dollars more, you can hire the same instructors who teach those courses for private lessons.
In a private setting, an instructor can work one-on-one with you and answer your questions and is not going to be surprised or upset by what you might think is a “stupid question.” The instructor has heard them all before, and you won’t be the first to ask what the difference is between an FMJ and a jacketed hollow-point round.
Relying, instead, on video education, is problematic. Are you sure enough in your own skills to be able to discern if a video is correct? Take, for example, the videos produced by Detroit Urban Survival Training (D.U.S.T.). The company’s website suggests that it teaches “Preventive Threat Management training systems from Detroit Threat Management Center.” Brilliantly marketed by someone who understands the public’s fear of violence, it goes on to state that the “training has been proven in Detroit and enables police and the public to protect themselves from violent attackers.” Its founder claims no one who has been taught by the company has ever been killed using its techniques. There is equally no proof that I have seen that anyone who has used the skills survived.
Can Video Training Be Applied in the Real World?
In one vignette found online, the instructor shows how to disarm an attacker who has a gun to your chest. Every time he attempts this technique, he executes it flawlessly and isn’t shot by the supposed attacker. Yet you can find other videos demonstrating the flaws in those tactics and telling you how, exactly, they will get you killed.
The skills taught in these videos may indeed work. However, the skills are physical skills. They involve movements, joint locks, jabs, eye gouges and similar tactics simulated in a training environment with compliant training partners.3 They require the coordination of hand, body and eye movements and the ability to distinguish between different types of firearms.
Most people do not have the experience to apply the skills being suggested by the videos and would require training and practice to even have a chance employing those skills against a real attacker.
This is the reality of online and video education when compared to actual training. While a video may very well tell you what to do and how to do it, a video is not dynamic. It cannot react to your movements and make corrections in your techniques. It cannot ensure you are properly performing the movements, grips, joint locks, holds or throws in a way that an instructor can.
Anyone who buys a video course or watches online training needs to understand that he or she is not training as effectively as possible. That individual is getting an education, sure, but he or she is not benefiting from the feedback loop that is inherent in all forms of actual reciprocated instruction. Top-notch training involves mastery of skills, and mastery is not achieved without feedback.
They Do Have Their Benefits
Don’t misinterpret me. Education is an important part of training. You should know how your firearm operates and how to clear malfunctions. You should understand ballistics, penetration, cover and concealment on an intellectual level. You should become familiar with how to disassemble and clean a firearm as well as how to lubricate it, maintain it and check it for wear. These are all skills that you can easily learn by watching videos. But after you learn them, you must practice, because only with practice will the education you obtained prove useful.
Again, please don’t think I’m discounting video instruction. Spotting pre-attack indicators is a perfect example of an area in which online or video education is very valuable. Situational awareness is all about observation and mental attitude, and there are several excellent videos on YouTube that discuss pre-attack indicators and provide a good analysis of what to look for. Viewing that educational material would be a net positive for anyone who doesn’t want to become a victim. But like the other educational material, in order to be truly useful, it must be integrated into your daily practices. And that requires discipline — to effect changes in your routine — and regular refresher education.
Look at it this way: Medical and legal professionals have continuing-education requirements built into their licensure structures. This is because there are literally thousands of diseases, and scores of them have the same symptoms. Distinguishing between them requires skill, education and the correct diagnostic procedures. For that reason, medical professionals benefit from continuous training that helps them see new and better ways to approach diagnosis and treatment.
Learning Is Forever
The same is true for concealed carriers. Ongoing training, in courses where attendees are physically present with an instructor or instructors, helps build new skills as well as reinforce skills previously learned. Because they focus on mechanics and body movements and usually involve live-fire, such classes also reinforce basic marksmanship and gun safety.
At the same time, information presented in video and text formats provide ongoing didactic education. The USCCA’s videos are particularly valuable because they often focus as much on what you should not do as what you should, and they mix both tactical and legal issues into the education provided.
Reading, of course, is also immeasurably valuable. I recently did some research on defense against carjacking and learned that police officers recommend never getting so close to another vehicle at a stoplight that you cannot see where that vehicle’s rear tires meet the road. Keeping an adequate distance allows you to avoid getting blocked in. If necessary, you can steer around an obstruction and escape a potentially dangerous situation.
Since that research, I have drilled every time I’ve driven anywhere and practiced, every day, keeping my distance at intersections. All skills, whether acquired through hands-on training, video education online or materials you read, must be practiced for a minimum of 21 days before they will become a habit.
Some Training is Best in Person
Education is never wasted, and techniques and information learned through videos can save a life. (Marcus Everett’s story is an excellent example of this reality.) But skills related to marksmanship, gun-handling, close-quarters engagements and shooting are best learned in a class taught by an instructor and proctored by well-trained safety officers.
Simply put, YouTube content, if it comes from a respected source, can unquestionably be useful in your development as a concealed carrier. But to become better at the skills that will save your life, you need to attend in-person courses with individual instructors. For the nuts-and-bolts of hitting that at which you’re shooting, there just isn’t a better way.
(1) Garand Thumb uses ballistic gel dummies, not actual human torsos.
(2) Doubtless scores of police officers would attest that people with violent tendencies and deadly weapons rarely act rationally. Rather than run from a gunfight, they charge, hoping to get their hands on your weapon.
(3) Attackers are seldom compliant. I know of no case where a victim said, “Hey, would you cooperate while I disarm you?” and the attacker did so. Headstones probably mark the residences of those who’ve attempted this.