What We Do, How We Do It, and Why.
“It changed my life.”
We heard that over and over. Not once or twice, but dozens of times.
These people were talking about their first course at the Gunsite Training Academy, as it was operated in the early 2000s. And we knew they were telling the truth, because it changed our lives as well.
How can a firearms training program actually change lives? By showing us that we are truly capable of controlling situations that frighten us.
Fear is in Our DNA
We all have fears.
As small children, maybe it was monsters under the bed, or that dark area at the end of the hallway or the back of the closet. As we grew, the monsters that frightened us changed. We came to be vaguely anxious about certain people, places or situations. Not terrified, but anxious. Because we know that bad things do happen to good and well-intended people every day.
Fear serves a function. But it can also be a burden – living with that anxiety is not comfortable and can even be debilitating.
So, what to do about it?
Coping with Our Fear
We cope with our fear in a lot of different ways. Some are more practical and realistic than others.
For example, we tell ourselves there is nothing to fear where we live, because it is a “good neighborhood.” Or we tell ourselves (and anyone else who will listen) that we have no fear. Others pretend they were somehow born knowing how to protect themselves. None of these is, of course, true. And deep down we all know it.
Some of us turn to religion and/or superstition. We pray for protection, hang horseshoes or carry a rabbit’s foot. Or we buy a gun we don’t know how to use, and put it in a drawer, where it sits as a comforting but useless talisman.
We also rely upon the police to protect us. But the news is filled with reports of violent crime, so we know the police cannot be everywhere. "When seconds count, they are only minutes away."
There are No Shortcuts
And then there are those who cope with their anxiety by “preparing.” This is rational. But its efficacy depends upon the nature of the preparation.
The late John Cooper once famously said, “Buying a gun and thinking one is armed is like buying a piano and thinking one is a musician.” The message is that one cannot purchase proficiency. One must do some work to become proficient.
Many people try to compensate for their unwillingness to do the work by buying more guns, stockpiling ammunition, and getting fancier equipment. They go to the range and take “target practice,’ watch videos on personal defense, or even take a self-defense course. But in their bones, most of these people understand that owning 20 guns they don’t know how to use is no more protection than owning one gun they don’t know how to use, and casually shooting holes in a paper target is nothing like reacting to a sudden, mortal threat. Similarly, watching videos or reading about how to react in an emergency is like trying to learn to drive, play judo or hit a baseball from a book – it cannot be done.
One-off shooting or self-defense classes are no better as preparation. Most people who take a one-day training course leave fully aware of the very limited effect the experience had on them. Indeed, they were likely told by their instructor in that an afternoon “gun safety course” that it was not sufficient, and they were advised to seek additional training. Still, there are those who walked away thinking those few hours somehow made them competent to deal with a dangerous situation, because that is what they wanted to believe.
But the fact is, the only way to prepare to deal with a situation that frightens you is to train for it. When you train, you grow. And that changes your life.
What those early Gunsite courses did was show us specific strategies and techniques to control frightening situations, and convinced us we were actually capable. We were taught what to do and how to do it, and shown the options at our disposal. Equipped with both the skills and the confidence in our ability to react, we were no longer pretending. And no longer pretending is a different way to live.
Consider this analogy – you come upon a terrible auto accident just as a trained paramedic arrives. If you run over to help and find someone horribly injured and dying, you will be alarmed and uncertain, and your head will be muddled with emotion. But the trained EMT will simply go to work, doing what they are trained to do. As the EMT works, their mind is focused on what to do next in dealing with the situation, and fear is simply crowded out of their consciousness. They knew this could happen, and they know what to do, so they do it. The EMT is competent in this situation. You are not.
Knowing what to do focuses your attention on something constructive. It allows you to put fear aside, and confidently proceed. It is that confidence in your training and experience that allows you to remain cool, make good decisions, choose the right tools, and just “go to work.” Absent confidence in your training and ability, you will invariably freeze, panic, wilt, or simply do the wrong thing. No magic totem and no amount of bravado will change this result. You are either confident you can work through it, or you are not.
Confidence Derives from Competence
Confidence comes from knowing you are competent to effectively use the tools at hand to solve a problem. It comes only from what you know you know. That knowledge comes only through the experience of being instructed by someone with genuine know-how, then practicing, being tested, failing, and then practicing some more, until, eventually, you achieve a level of competence you are certain you can rely upon.
A firearm, a commanding tone of voice, a cell phone, a plan thought out in advance, or even well-timed silence, are all proven, useful tools. Training in their use enables you to know, from personal experience, what can work and what will not. Properly trained, you no longer suspect, pretend, tell yourself, or get told by others. Instead, you know how to use the available tools, as well as your skills and limitations, because they have been tested. It is the opposite of pretending.
The skills and attitudes that make you competent are not available for purchase in a gun store or via Internet chat rooms or videos. They must be taught and practiced, or they don’t exist. The simple, inescapable truth is that when it comes to dangerous situations, you are either trained or you are helpless. Those are the only two alternatives.
The “good news” is that you get to choose which it will be. The “bad news” is that effective training takes a little time and effort, and access to teachers who know the process. Neither money nor talk nor new gear nor reading about it will substitute. Sorry, there are no shortcuts.
The FIRE Institute was founded in 2001 with the objective of making professionally designed, cost-effective training available locally, to people who cannot afford thousands of dollars for tuition and a week off work to travel to an out-of-state school. Our goal is to impart skills and knowledge that you can confidently rely upon to control frightening situations. Like the paramedic in our example, if that hypothetical threat ever becomes a reality, you will be calm and get busy doing what needs to be done. Fear will take a back seat.
From the time you experience that kind of confidence, you will be a different person. It is within the reach of almost all of us.
While many of those who instruct for us have military or law enforcement backgrounds, we teach basic skills and practical strategies that are realistic, legal, and appropriate to daily civilian life. It does no good to pretend to make commandos out of ordinary men and women, who vary widely as to age, physical condition and circumstances. The methods and techniques we teach are attainable, and can be practiced and maintained by ordinary men and women who have jobs, families and other commitments.
For us, training is a calling and not a business. That’s why we are a non-profit organization. We only charge what we need to cover our expenses and keep the program running. This is how we are paying it forward.