Every year, I tend to focus in on a “theme” to pursue. Sometimes it’s personally, sometimes it’s got a bit more to do with the site. For most of 2022, the key phrase was “Minimum Capable Citizen.” The idea was around a set of standards and baseline targets that I think any prepared citizen should strive for. Eventually, the idea fizzled out a bit when I felt like there wasn’t much more to write. I’m not interested in “minimum.” I believe we should strive for excellence, and minimum doesn’t cut it. In 2023, my goals turned personal, with a heavy focus on my health and fitness. Now, coming out of my annual break, I’ve settled on an idea that’s worth exploring with you: the Martial Marksman.
The philosophy and capabilities of the Martial Marksman is the focus of the book I’ve been working on. The book itself won’t be ready for a while, I’ve still got more to do, but I’m happy to start talking about the ideas stemming from my effort so far. I credit the seed of the idea to two places: John Simpson’s latest book, and Jeff Cooper.
A Means to an End
In my review of John’s book, I quoted something that needs to be said again. Bold emphasis mine.
The audience that this book is written for has already made the decision to deploy patrol rifles, so I don’t need to talk you into it. They’ve picked the manufacturer and model of the rifle they’ll use, so I don’t need to sell you a particular product. And they’ve picked the ammunition design, so I don’t need to make recommendations. The point is that you’ve got your patrol rifles and you want to know how to train with them. That’s why you’re reading this book now.John Simpson
Keep in mind that the type of marksmanship we’ll be discussing here has nothing to do with shooting bull’s-eyes for score or seeing who can shoot the smallest shot group. Those are fun sports and have their place, but always keep in mind that in patrol rifle training, shooting on the range is a means to an end and not the end in itself.
This sentiment is not new. Several of my previous guests said variations of the same thing. Time on the range and in competition is not wasted, so long as you’re doing it with the right motivation. You must keep the end goal in mind. Your goal is building proficiency with the rifle and its employment. If your goal shifts to competing and winning as your primary purpose, then your training and practice change accordingly, often for the worse. Eventually, you’re more “gamer” than “Martial Marksman.”
This was the first impetus. John put it clearly and concisely in a way that I could chew on ever since reading it. Now let’s look at Jeff Cooper.
A Good Shot
Years ago, early in my marksmanship journey, I picked up a copy of The Art of the Rifle from the now defunct Paladin Press. Published in 1997, it predates my serious interest in shooting and marksmanship by nearly 20 years. Jeff opens the book discussing “The Queen” and about finding a why. Rather than summarize, I’m just going to quote some relevant excerpts.
Personal weapons are what raised mankind out of the mud, and the rifle is the queen of personal weapons. The possession of a good rifle, as well as the skill to use it well, truly makes a man the monarch of all he surveys. It realizes the ancient dream of the Jovian thunderbolt, and as such it is the embodiment of personal power. For this reason, it exercises a curious influence over the minds of most men, and in its best examples it constitutes an object of affection unmatched by any other inanimate object The rifle is a weapon. Let there be no mistake about that. It is a tool of power, and thus dependent completely upon the moral stature of its user. It is equally useful in securing meat for the table, destroying groups of enemies on the battlefield, and resisting tyranny. In fact, it is the only means of resisting tyranny, because a citizenry armed with rifles simply cannot be tyrannized. The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles. While it is true that there exists in most nations a sport of rifle shooting, the formalization and specialization of target shooting competition has led its practitioners somewhat astray, in much the same way that the sporting practice of fencing has obscured the art of the sword. Probably the most serious obstacle to the popular understanding of riflecraft is the fact that rifle marksmanship is dependent entirely upon individual self-control, and self-control is out of fashion in the Age of the Common Man.
I think each of us understands how these paragraphs apply to the world around us and our experiences. In the next chapter, Jeff defines what makes someone a “good shot.” It’s a definition I’ve remembered ever since reading it, and one I’ve been using more and more often. It used to adorn the wall of the classroom at Old Gunsite:
A marksman is one who can make his weapon do what it was designed to do.
An expert marksman is one who can hit anything he can see, under appropriate circumstances.
A master marksman is one who can shoot up to his rifle.
Defining the Martial Marksman
Taken together, these two pieces of writing sent me down a rabbit hole that, over the last couple of months, solidified my theme for the coming year- and probably much longer.
Let’s get something big out of the way first. The Martial Marksman is an ideal to strive for. It is the embodiment of our why for training our minds and bodies for success at arms. Outside of select military units where this kind of thing is your profession and someone else pays for all of your training and logistics needs, the vast majority of marksmen simply have too many competing priorities for their finances and time.
In other words, will never reach par excellence across all domains under the purview of the Martial Marksman simultaneously. We can only pursue them and achieve excellence in a few areas at a time. It is the practice that is most important.
So, knowing that the Martial Marksman is an ideal rather than a physical “you have arrived” point in your personal journey, what characteristics define such an ideal? Let’s break this down into our core Everyday Marksman topic areas.
The Martial Marksman’s mindset is focused on success at the task at hand and adept at handling stressful situations. He is confident in his abilities, without being arrogant, and demonstrates relentless self-control in all areas of life. In the style of Jack Donovan’s tactical virtues, the mindset of the Martial Marksman covers all bases. He espouses courage, moral strength, sense of honor, and his mindset supports the development skills mastery with focus and tenacity.
The question then becomes, how does an aspiring Martial Marksman develop these mental attributes? That is ultimately a series of articles for another day. I’ve dabbled in these areas before, particularly when it comes to winning mindsets and skills development, as well as a few thoughts on controlled adversity. I think there is room to go deeper, though.
If I were to pick three core areas that build a Martial Marksman’s mindset, it would be these:
- Controlled adversity: the Martial Marksman actively chooses to do the harder thing from time to time. That might be as simple as taking the stairs at work rather than the elevator, parking further away in a parking lot, or denying himself certain little pleasures and conveniences (camping without a tent, anyone?). Challenging exercise programs are their own version of controlled adversity, demanding that the lifter find the will to overcome the weight.
- Self-image building: a Martial Marksman routinely practices his skills and abilities, then actively seeks opportunities to test them against others in the agon. A Marksman will never outperform how he views himself, and so he must test himself to see where his skills truly lie. Remember, for the Martial Marksman, competition is a means to an end and not the end itself.
- Mindful practice: I don’t necessarily mean meditation, though it wouldn’t be a bad thing. The Martial Marksman is adept at keeping his mind focused on the here and now. When performing a task, such as a practice session, he quiets his mind of other things. Some activities, like a heavy bar on your back, outright require you to think about nothing else- which makes them useful for training this attribute as well as the physical.
When it comes to physical capability, the Martial marksman is capable of handling any reasonable task thrown at him without becoming a liability. This does not mean that he is the strongest or the fastest. Only that he is strong and fast enough to succeed. Again, I’ve touched on some reasonable fitness standards to strive for and talked about the role of physical fitness in the Marksman’s life- but there’s still more to do.
A marksman’s level of physical fitness is a trailing indicator of his lifestyle choices and habits. This is a hard truth that I wish I understood better while I was on active duty and sometimes described as, “kinda heavy, but still moves really well.” Along with marksmanship skill, fitness is one of those things that cannot be faked. There is no such thing as buying your way into good health or a high level of strength. You have either put in the time and consistency to make it happen as best you can within your circumstances, or you have not.
For that reason, the pursuit of strength and fitness is also an incredible way to support a proper mindset. It requires that you regularly put yourself under controlled adversity. Success mandates focus and mindful practice, else you will not see results or may even become injured. Physical training builds the self image, because you test yourself over and over again- exploring your limits and pushing them a little further every time. This is why I pair the two so closely together.
Best of all, it’s practically free to practice. A marksman only needs to prioritize it enough to find a way.
Of course, a Martial Marksman engaged in marksmanship. Simply described as the ability to hit the mark, Marksmanship is a fundamental practice. Like strength, it’s a never-ending journey that we pursue to the next level for as long as we are able. At the beginning, it may simply be consistently hitting a piece of paper at 50 yards while seated at a bench. Once a novice marksman can do that, they move on the x ring at 100 yards, then steel at 300, and so on.
To ape Jeff Cooper’s writing, the end goal is that a Martial Marksman become confident they can hit any target they can see under nearly any weather condition. Ballistic limitations of the cartridge and environment notwithstanding, of course.
We haven’t even touched on the third level of Jeff’s hierarchy: the ability to to shoot up to the level of the rifle. This is the battle that I find within myself and here at the Everyday Marksman overall. Too often, we become bogged down in the idea of buying the best, even when we are far from able to take advantage of it. Most rifle and optic combinations are far more capable than the shooters wielding them. Yet, somehow, everyone goes along with the idea that spending more money on a better widget is the answer.
The Martial Marksman does not do this. He builds his fundamental abilities to the point that he could pick up practically any rifle and make it sing. Like with fitness, one’s marksmanship ability is a direct reflection of the time, discipline, and consistency that went into marksmanship practice. It cannot be faked or bought. The practice of marksmanship further contributes to the self-control and mindful practice requirements of a proper mindset.
The Martial Marksman is not interested in “optimization” for any situation. Down that path lies a bottomless financial pit of despair. Instead, he honestly considers his primary use case and equips himself to perform well at it. He is comfortable and competent with his primary gear to the point that when any of the other edge cases come up, he can still successful deal with them even if his gear wasn’t optimized for the situation.
The Martial Marksman is judicious with his resources. He invests where it is required, and carefully considers the probability/risk/reward ratios of purchasing more gear.
Don’t get me wrong, equipment matters, but it only matters insofar as it reliably supports the task at hand. Becoming a gear whore for the sake of it is not the Martial Marksman’s way.
Lastly, we arrive at a Martial Marksman’s additional skill set. Physical fitness and proficiency with a rifle are the core capabilities we care about, but they aren’t the only ones. In fact, on the scale of probability, a Martial Marksman is far more likely to need to perform other tasks like land navigation, water purification, first aid, communications, firecraft, field hygiene, and shelter construction during an emergency like Scenario-X.
Learning and practicing these additional skills contributes to a Martial Marksman’s sense of mastery and confidence in emergencies. It’s what rounds out his capabilities and makes him more useful as a team member and community leader. We cannot afford to neglect these!
Wrapping it Up
So there it is, my first brain dump of the idea and how it molds the site and my writing over the coming year and beyond. I’m glad you’re here on this journey with me. So let’s get to work!