In the last episode, I discussed the Martial Marksman ideal and how it relates to the various topics I talk about here. One of the challenges that anyone going down this path quickly runs into is the fact that there is a lot of “stuff” to learn and practice. It’s one thing for a professional soldier to do these things, but it’s a very different beast for Everyday Marksmen like you and I.
Military members have the benefit of government pockets paying for training, equipment, travel, and the like. In a perfect world, professional military members make their living pursuing the Martial Marksman ideals, and don’t have to worry about competing day jobs and other obligations. Of course, I know that it’s not realistic, given the number of “additional duties” and superfluous other stuff they have to do. That’s besides the point.
So the non-professional aspiring Martial Marksman must play within a different set of boundaries. It’s not that they can’t have it all, because they can achieve everything we’re setting out to do. But they cannot have it all right now.
Chasing every scenario and capability at the same time is a bottomless pit of spending money, stress, and neglect of our day-to-day lives.
Today I’m introducing the Martial Marksman’s training philosophy. These are not so much laws as they are guiding principles to help us stay within the bounds of budgetary, time, and training restraints. As we explore more aspects of the Martial Marksman’s capability set in the future, I’ll refer back to these principles over and over.
So let’s dig in.
The Big Picture Training Principles
I’ve spent a lot of time writing and talking about different ways to approach Marksmen problems. What I have thus far failed to do is tie them all together into a repeatable methodology. Today I’m changing that. Here are my five training principles from here on in. I’ll break each one down a little further as we go.
- Train for the target
- There is no such thing as optimum
- Embrace simplicity
- It’s training, not entertainment
- Play the long game
If you’ve been a long time reader and listener, then I bet you’ll recognize a few of these themes. They’ve showed up again and again throughout my writing. Each one might be worth it’s own article or podcast episode on its own.
Training for the Target
A good training program is intentional, not arbitrary. In practice, this means that the training objective is based on something real and tangible rather than something that sounds good in theory. This came into focus for me the last time I talked to John Simpson when he released his book on patrol rifle marksmanship.
To illustrate a marksmanship example, if you ask most people what their personal rifle accuracy standard is, I bet 8 out of 10 will tell you that it’s 1 Minute of Angle (MOA), or about 1″ spread for every 100 yards of distance. If you follow up with, “ok…but, why?” then you’ll get some variation of, “because that’s what everyone says.”
While we hope not to do it, a Martial Marksman is prepared to fight against human adversaries who wish to do harm. At 300 yards, the outside edge specified by Trainfire, a human is not 3″ tall or wide. Since a human is roughly 19″ wide (shoulder to shoulder) and 10″ deep (sternum to spine), the actual accuracy standard is closer to 3.3 MOA at the minimum. Going tighter than that is needlessly restrictive, and training to such a standard would consume more time and funds (in both ammo and equipment up for the task). 1 MOA might be important for competition sake, but remember a Martial Marksman competes as a means to an end and not the end itself.
Even more specifically, we could argue that we don’t need a 3 MOA standard so much as we need the ability to hit a 10″ target at any distance, in any condition, up to 300 yards. If we fixate only on a 3 MOA accuracy standard regardless of distance (and time), then we’re training to be in second place…during a gunfight.
There is No Such Thing as Optimum
To say that something is optimized requires a specific set of known circumstances and boundaries to optimize for. A professional power lifter training for competition can optimize his training program because he knows the exact rule sand requirements expected of him at the meet. A competitive USPSA shooter similarly knows the rules and parameters of their game, and they configure their weapons to the raggedy edge of reliability since the consequence of weapon failure is that they lose the match stage and not their life.
In our paradigm, there are no hard rules and boundaries. We don’t know exactly what we will face, at what distance, and under what conditions. Since we know that configuring our equipment and capabilities for specific circumstances leads to worse performance at everything else, we take the opposite track. Instead, we must become generally good at many things without specializing in anything.
This idea applies to our weapons, equipment, skills, and physical capabilities.
In line with the first principle, we become generalists in all things Martial Marksmanship. We must become strong enough, conditioned enough, good enough shots, and have our gear squared away enough for most situations. We do not specialize until we’ve reached the “good enough” standard everywhere else.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “keep it simple, stupid.” It’s an engineering principle that says designs or systems should be as simple as possible. Simple systems are easier to understand, easier to maintain, and are more robust under stress. We should treat our training and equipment the same way.
If you read books or watch videos created by experts for aspiring experts, you’re likely to learn some hyper-specialized variant of a well-known activity. Shooting positions are a great example of this. Some trainers feel compelled to teach their own particular twist of something to demonstrate their knowledge and impress the crowd (probably to help them feel like they got their tuition’s worth).
While their special technique might be valid for a very particular set of circumstances, it’s also yet another skill you have to practice and maintain over time. For professional shooters making a living practicing and shooting, the extra time required to maintain this new skill is trivial. However, for the everyday marksman balancing a family, job, budget, and limited time to practice, maintaining this special technique takes away time and energy that could be better spent mastering the basic version and getting 95% of the same benefit
When I interviewed coach Paul Horn, he relayed that he once played drums for studio sessions. He had a great analogy comparing drums to strength training (and by extension, shooting).
Novices do basic things because it’s all they know, and they don’t have the skill to do anything more advanced. Intermediates have developed skill, and become eager to show off whenever they have the opportunity. Since they want to prove their skill, they over-complicate everything, which just mucks up the works.
Experts return to the basics and focus on executing them perfectly. The basics always work. They’ve been refined and practiced for generations. Use them.
It’s Training, Not Entertainment
Allison, my wife, is a classically trained musician who held the role of principle clarinetist in the symphony when we met. The frustration she had with all of her students was the same: they didn’t want to endlessly practice their scales to technical perfection. They wanted the thrill of playing something new and exciting. Marksmen have the same issue in that the problem with “simple” is that it gets boring. I completely understand the temptation. Like running a jungle lane and turning money into noise under the guise of training, some training is just flat out fun. The problem is when we fall into the trap of “entertrainment.” By that, I mean that we pursue the “high” of such novel experiences rather than continuing focus on the basics. The basics are boring.
The path to mastery is not always entertaining. You will spend hours and hours doing the same things over and over again. Whether it’s dry practice of shooting positions, mastering the pistol draw, performing the same few boring strength lifts, or putting in endless miles under a ruck. There will be skill plateaus, riding along without making significant progress while you continue checking the box of each practice session even when you didn’t feel like it. The goal is not that it’s entertaining, but that it’s something you just do because it’s who you are.
On the occasion that a particular session feels entertaining and great, then embrace it- but don’t become addicted to it. Success is the goal, not novelty.
Play the Long Game
The hard truth is that we cannot accomplish all of our goals at once. Trying to do so is a path to mediocrity and burnout. Depending on where you are right now with your pyramid of performance, you probably have at least one weak link. A Martial Marksman must prioritize one or two things at a time, and those are usually the weakest links first. That’s not to say that he should neglect other things, only that he deprioritizes them for the time being.
Internet personalities are happy to sell an “intense bootcamp” claiming to take you from zero to amazing in eight weeks. They even have slick marketing with cherry picked “before and after” results of their best clients (who were probably pretty far along to begin with).
I’m asking you to reject this mindset. Your timeline is not measured in weeks or months, but in years. You can learn the basics of anything in a matter of hours and days. However, most worthwhile capabilities take far longer to become truly proficient with. A Martial Marksman thinks of his entire training year in terms of seasons, with different focus areas for each one. As he cycles through them over the years, he makes steady progress on each area without losing much ground (if any) from the others. This is the most sustainable approach that you and I can learn.
Lastly, the Martial Marksman always prioritizes mental and physical health. The long game demands that he remain healthy and ready to train the next day. If today’s training session results in a hospital stay or major surgery, then he’s done far more to set himself back in his training than simply not pushing so hard that day would have done.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t push your edge from time to time. In fact, doing so is good for you- from time to time.
So there you have it. These are the five principles that make up the Martial Marksmen training philosophy. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, to be sure. In fact, I bet you’ve heard some variation of each of these at different points in your life. The catch is that I’ve not seen anyone tie them all together into a repeatable mindset.
Regardless of the goal you’re training for, these principles hold true. I’ve seen them play out with shooting skills, strength training, physique goals, nuclear weapons, computer code, and music. There is no escaping the fundamental truths behind them. So the question is, how will you apply them to your life?