On the path to becoming an Everyday Marksman, there are a lot of detours. Once someone makes the mental leap from a “dabbler” and decides to start taking their training and capabilities more seriously, there’s usually an ensuing sense of overwhelm. There is a lot of information and skills to learn.
Earlier this month, I plowed through reading K. Black’s Tactical Barbell series. As I was reading, I noticed a theme in the exercise programming that resonated with me in other areas as well. The main idea is creating a balanced athletic capability by spending your time practicing only a few key things. This ultimately reminded me of George Leonard’s Mastery.
In the book, he mentions that even the most ideal path involves spurts of progress, plateaus, and even the occasional backslide. The primary goal was to remain consistent. So I thought more about it, and the idea of the “tactical minimalist” was born.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone has heard some variation on the idea. In fact, I bet you’ve heard the saying, “Beware the man with one gun. He knows how to use it!”
When I talk about tactical minimalism, I’m not about to tell you to pick one gun and master it. Nor am I suggesting you strip your gear down to the bare minimum capability. Careful analysis of your weapons and gear is important, but not what I’m getting at.
Tactical minimalism is the idea that we’ve got a lot of different important skills to learn, so don’t muck up your brain space with learning infinite variations of techniques.
Employing the gun in the military is one part of a broader skill set, albeit an important one. Consider the amount of time that goes into learning and practicing small unit tactics, communications, medical, soft skills, vehicles, explosives, survival skills, and a myriad of others.
On this site, I’m asking you to invest your time into marksmanship, physical fitness, outdoors skills, medical skills, communications, and more. In Tactical Barbell, K. Black makes a related point about fitness domains.
I’ve said something similar in my own thoughts on tactical fitness. You’re never really going to become elite at one particular aspect. But you can become really good at a lot of aspects at the same time.
So let’s bring this back to tactical skills and marksmanship. It’s a mistake to focus all of your attention into a single realm of capability unless that realm is the only thing you’re going to do. Gun gamers, for all of their skill, only have to worry about staying within the bounds of their particular sport’s rules. This controlled environment lets them not have to train other skills, because they simply won’t be needed.
The Everyday Marksman primarily concerned with keeping their family and community going during hard times is far better served by practicing a few high-impact skills to the level of mastery than trying to learn 50 variations of the same task.
The Jungle Lane
About three years into my own marksmanship journey, I attended a small unit tactics training class. To that point, I had spent 90% of my time learning and practicing basic rifle marksmanship. Hours upon hours spent in the prone, kneeling, squatting, sitting, and standing positions taught me a lot.
While I was no expert, I showed up to the course fairly confident that I could hit a target.
On the third day, we moved away from the flat range and started the jungle lanes. The trail was a typical West Virginia dirt path through hilly terrain. Trees densely packed all around the trail. When the first pop up “Ivans” showed themselves, we bomb-burst into the treeline and began the drill.
Amidst the “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down” movement and laying suppressing fire, I never once found a piece of ground flat enough to take a proper kneeling or prone position. Tree roots and rocks littered the Earth, and it was pretty much impossible to be “textbook.” But it didn’t matter.
Despite the imperfect conditions, my muscle memory was practiced enough to adopt a close-enough position with good natural point of aim, and then improvise the rest. This is an example of tactical minimalism at work.
Don’t worry about the many variations and tips on the kneeling position. Pick one that works “good enough” and practice the hell out of it.
Putting Minimalism to Practice
During that same training course, Max (the lead instructor) mentioned something I’ve kept in my pocket ever since. We all need to start thinking about the big picture, and stop focusing on the minutiae of gun handling.
So let’s dig into that. What are the minimalist skills that I think everyone should build on? I suppose this ties into the idea of a minimum-capable citizen. For simplicity, here’s some ideas for minimalism with just the marksmanship side of things:
In my own rifle marksmanship articles, I gave at least three different versions each for standing, kneeling, and sitting. Your first order of minimalist business is to pick one variation of each of those, and then practice it.
I’m a fan of squatting, but you could honestly ditch the position entirely and be fine. Which position you choose is ultimately up to you and what works for your body mechanics, but my suggestions to work as a starting point are:
I choose the tactical standing because unless you’re shooting high power, then this is the “go fast” shooting method taught in training.
The high kneeling is less stable than low kneeling, but it’s also faster to get in and out of. I think the high kneeling makes the most sense if you’re concerned with defensive shooting, since you’ll be using to quickly pop up and down from behind cover or transitioning to a sprint.
On the flip side, I picked the crossed ankle sitting position because the emphasis is on accuracy when you can’t get low enough for the prone. If you’ve got the time to get into sitting, then you might as well make it count.
For prone, the best bet for most people is to practice the traditional unsupported prone. As Kyle Lamb put it in his book, “We don’t live in a prone world.” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proficient with the basics. You could probably but the least amount of practice here, though.
When I talk about weapon manipulation, I mean things like reloads and malfunctions. Again, there are lots of little variations and techniques on this. A lot of these variations work to shave fractions of a second from a reload during a match stage, but aren’t very important for “tactical” use.
So my suggestion pick one way of doing things and stick to it.
I have my preferences for each of these techniques, and I’m not getting into them today- but know that every instructor I’ve come across generally thinks their “twist” is the best. The truth is that they all work, and you can probably learn something from each. So here’s a list to explore:
- Emergency reload (bolt open)
- Tactical reload (bolt closed, partially spent magazine)
- Immediate action drill
- Remedial action drill
- Shoulder transition from strong side to support side
- Transition to sidearm (if present)
I suggest starting with something basic, though. Years ago, John Simpson talked about the importance of mastering the fundamentals before trying to “make it your own.” Everyday Marksmen need to be well versed in the basics, not experts at all things. If you’ve practiced enough that any particular action is instinctual, then move on to the next basic task and keep working your way up the mastery curve.
So what other skills fall under tactical minimalism? Here are a few ideas:
- Pick five knots and practice them enough that you can do it in the dark
- Pick a favorite emergency shelter style, and practice it until you can do it in less than two minutes
- Learn to stop a bleed!
- Build your athletic base with a mixture of strength and aerobic training
- Practice building a fire (without lighter fluid)
- Pick a lock
Each of these skills has a variety of applicable techniques. So pick the minimalist answer and learn your favorite way to do each. You don’t need to be a master at anything, but you need to be pretty good at many things- which is it’s own version of mastery.
I’m going to keep building on this theme a bit. We’ve been talking a lot about the minimum capable citizen, and this closely relates. Most of us all live busy lives with lots of obligations outside of following the Marksman’s Path. It’s important to balance our time, money, and aspirations.
Focusing on fewer high-impact skills and developing them to the point of near-mastery is a far more efficient use of our resources.
You should probably take Bob Keller’s Intro to Tactical Carbine/Pistol class. This is an ex-Unit operator who’s been in hundreds of gun fights. However, he teaches fundamentals and basic stuff. He keeps it simple and it’s an enjoyable course, not a Do It My Way Boot Camp” course.
Good theme Matt! It’s like having a tool box with a few quality multi-purpose tools that are used frequently and maintained rather than a lot of cheap single purpose tools unused and rusting at the bottom.
‘…absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.’ – Bruce Lee
“You don’t need to be a master at anything, but you need to be pretty good at many things- which is it’s own version of mastery.” I’m glad you included that. I’ve run into the temptation to go too deep down a rabbit hole, past the point of diminishing returns. Probably because it feels good to be a “master”. Now I know that once I reach an appropriate level of proficiency, I should invest in a different area where I’m not proficient yet. If/when I become proficient everywhere I need to be, then I can afford to pursue mastery in… Read more »