What Are You Training For?

I posed this question to one of the USCG Counter-Narcotics teams that I had been training for about four years at the time. Like most units, the level of commitment given to training seemed to wax and wane depending on the leadership (or lack-there-of in this case), and unfortunately, they were on a steep downswing due to someone who’s never shot a gun before being in charge of training. As an instructor, it’s pretty easy to tell, not just by how they do during evaluations, but also how they act or even talk before training begins.

In a unit dedicated to training, I hear talk about increasing their tactical advantage or looking for more opportunities to hone their skills. In a unit like PACTACLET, plagued by the disease of mediocrity, talk seems to center around the testing itself or how long we’ll be training. Why is someone asking me how many ‘negative marks’ they can get during their tactical evaluation? To a true warrior, someone dedicated to training, the answer is simple — Zero. That’s how many times you can turn your back to a guy with a gun in combat and live to tell the tale.

Once you put your sights on the bottom of what’s acceptable, you’ve found your range. Sometimes you’ll be just above (Yes, I barely passed!) and other times just below (I thought I could die four times and still pass? — Chris is mean – That clipboard scared me!).

Over the past few years, I’ve talked a lot about the technical aspects of combat training, but have you ever thought to ask yourself why you’re training? If it’s just to put holes in paper targets on a sunny day, then you’ll do fine. Read my lessons on marksmanship and any paper target that comes your way is going down! But if you ever need to defend your loved ones or your job is protecting our country, you need to look deeper. If you’re in the military or law enforcement, you need to understand that,”minimum standards” set by those in charge can often lead to your death.

Next time your training officer tells you it’s OK to just “meet the minimum,” ask him if he’s ever had someone shoot at him – or if he’s just “going out of the manual.” I know a training officer in the USCG who went to inpatient alcohol rehabilitation, and the USCG Commanding Officer hid this from everyone, saying he was on vacation in Hawaii. Is that who you want dictating your training?

No one is going to care about your safety as much as you and the ones you love. When managers run your training – your training is going to fail. Managers care about one thing – numbers. Because a miss on a paper target may give you a lower score or even a fail on an evolution, but a miss on a guy who breaks into your house with intent to do you harm could mean you’ve failed yourself and your family.

So — What are you training for?

If you don’t immediately know the answer or if it’s just to shoot fast, look cool, or pass your next training evaluation, you’ll never have the drive needed to become a true warrior. Warriors arise from strong motivation — a motivation to survive no matter what evils come their way — and that motivation is love.

Love for the people in our lives is the reason true warriors train. We train for battle to make sure we return to the ones we love. Anyone who has brushed death’s cold shoulder can tell you it’s those faces we see when our lives flash before our eyes. You don’t see the fun times you had or any accomplishments you made. You see the pain and sorrow in their eyes knowing that you’re gone and you’re not coming back. In combat, you’re not fighting for a top score or bragging rights.

There’s no one with a clipboard keeping score.

You’re fighting to spare your wife the pain of crying over your grave as she grows old without you. You’re fighting so your parents don’t need to bury the son they raised and expected to bury them.

You’re fighting so you can raise your children right and protect them from harm. Because if you die in battle, the permanent pain in their hearts will be worse than any temporary pain you feel in death.

If you know this when you train, you will train that much harder; you’ll wake up early and stay up late making sure you are the best warrior you can be. You’ll never be satisfied with your performance and will always look for ways to improve your chances of surviving a violent encounter. By knowing that you are training to be with the ones you love and spare them a lifetime of grief, you’ll never settle for ‘good enough’.

Defeating your enemy is the ultimate act of love.

There will come a time when you will look back at the training you’ve done and either say, this is why I failed, or this is why I prevailed. Right now you have the opportunity to choose your future and that of those you love.

There are twenty-four hours in a day. How many of them are you willing to spare to ensure you return home and spare your parents, your wives and your children the pain of your loss?

So I ask again, what are you training for?


 

20 Comments

  1. Wow, this is something I have always thought to myself. Why do I train, why in the face of family looking at me like I am insane when I tell them how they need to set up their house, or how they need to practice (like I do on a regular basis) walking through their house clearing room by room trying to keep the best tactical position and planning the next move based of different scenarios laid out in my head so I know exactly what to do if I ever have to defend my home from a single or multiple threats. Why when my wife and I are watching a movie or whatever I always have my gun next to me, (and after clearing it) I practice dry fire, mag changes, FTFs, just so I know my trigger and how to clear without even thinking. This Is not a toy, it is an extension of my arm, it is my sword and shield. I could care less about my grouping at 20 yards from a bench, of how fast I can hit 10 targets at 5 yards away. I care about two well placed shots center mass, to stop a threat. I do not practice these things to hit a paper target, I practice to stay alive and keep my family alive.
    Thank you for letting me know I am not alone in this world surrounded by people who only shoot for bench rest grouping, and only practice shooting while standing perfectly still.
    (I have nothing against those who shoot accuracy for sport, I am just surrounded by people who think that is the only training they need to defend themselves, and will not listen when I say it is not enough).

    1. Joe, You are certainly not alone! In fact, I think most of the people who train just need to be reminded why they are training. Training for sport is fine and can be helpful for perfecting your skills, I’ve just spent my life training to survive and protect those I care about (include my country!).
      Thanks for your comment. Train hard. -Chris

  2. Well said Chris! Very well said! Finally someone said it!

    I am occasionally asked, as someone looks down at the chunk of polymer and steel mounted on my hip: “Why would you want to carry a gun?”

    Why do I WANT to carry a gun?

    The answer is always the same: “I don’t want to carry a gun, I want to protect my family.”

    In fact, there isn’t a pants/belt combination in the world that makes the carrying of a sidearm completely comfortable. Gravity tends to be harsher on the right side of my pants. And my daily wardrobe, one way or another, is chosen contingent upon my ability to draw quickly and safely. (You will never catch me in public wearing flip-flops either. Invariably, that would be the day I dash for cover and that little plastic flip-flop thingy between your toes breaks loose and sends me tumbling ass-over-broken-toes into a bad guy’s sights…)

    Anyway, I don’t mean to ramble here, but I’m so sick of seeing these “tacticool” guys leisurely training like they’re taking golf lessons. What? Your “speed reload on the move drill” went bad so you just stop and start the run over? Solid. I hope the bad guy lets you have mulligans.

    Great stuff Chris. I hope the guys that spend more time in front of a mirror looking at themselves in their gear than they do sweating in it pay attention to this one.

    1. Thanks for you comments Jay. I’m not the first one to say this by any stretch, if fact I’m sure I’ve heard it years ago by many of the great teachers I’ve had. Sometimes though, we forget why were training and need to be reminded. The post is not meant for the “tacticool” guys at the range, I don’t mind if that what they’re training for – it’s for guys like you and the guys I train who’s goal or job is to protect the things they love and may have forgotten (or never realized) that failure equals death. And your death would be no different than if you came home to find your wife or child dead…you would still be separated and filled with grief. I think a lot of people don’t understand that part – you’re training out of love of your relationships. Glad you do. Keep it up. – Chris

  3. Great article, Chris, and the same mantra that we’ve been preaching since opening our Simunition shoot house / CQB training range almost a year ago. it’s amazing how many people will give “Just in case,” or “For an emergency” as their primary reason for buying a gun (or yet another gun). But it’s extremely difficult to get any but a tiny percentage of folks who aren’t ex-military or LE to actually train for that emergency. Unfortunately, Hollywood seems to have taught many people that either (1) they’re going to get the drop on the bad guy rather than vice versa, that (2) their bullets will hit while the perp’s will fly harmlessly elsewhere, that (3) the good guy’s always going to win, or some combination of other fallacies.

    Sadly, most people will invest in their entertainment, but not their independence, ability to defend themselves, or in building the skills that provide resilience when things go awry. It’s unfortunately easier to believe your skills are adequate if you avoid ever putting them to the test.

      1. Interesting. We’ve begun selling our auto-resetting reactive targets and the range systems that allow good, safe throughput thru a shoot house, and have another person in San Diego interested in setting up a small range, too. As you can see, we’ve been wrapping the training in an entertainment experience to bring in those who should but often don’t train. The side benefit is that whole families and groups of friends come in to shoot (and get training benefit), rather than just the serious shooter!

  4. This is one of the most well written, most accurate, and most motivating articles I have read in a long time.

    To train for any reason other than for love falls short. Thank you for reminding us of that.

    1. Thanks. Also works as a good excuse if your wife complains about you going to the range too much…”Babe, this is how much I love you!”

  5. Great read Chris! I’m going to forward this to my students. I find, it’s always good to take a step back and try and find perspective with things. It’s easy to get caught up in the task, the class, the drill, and what’s right in front of you. It takes perspective and foresight to try and see that unexpected catastrophe that may be coming your way in the future. A lot of times I’ll start a class off by asking students why they are there. I’ll also sometimes pose the question of, “Are you willing to take a life, to save a life?” or “How much do you love your family? Do you love them enough to take a life to save their lives?” It’s really kind of simple when it gets down to it.

    1. I’m honored that you would share this with your students Travis, thank you. Training is journey and if you don’t know the destination, it’s pretty hard to get anywhere. Hooyah!

  6. Hey Chris, I was perusing the site again (as I so often do here at work–shhhh) and seeing this article again reminded me of a part of my mental (emergency) conditioning which I refer to as “Breaking the Glass,” but some people call it a “Survival Trigger.”

    I’m sure you already know what I’m talking about, but I’m referring to the absolute, number one, most important thing in your life to recall in that dire moment when you absolutely must not lose the fight for life.

    For me, it is a vivid mental image of my wife and kids huddled together on the floor sobbing upon receiving the news of my death. I mentally store this image in one of those glass-front fire extinguisher boxes and when I’m confronted with a truly life and death situation, that moment where it is truly go time, it’s time to “break the glass” and then, armed with this, I cannot be stopped. I will win. I will survive. There is no other outcome.

    Anyway, if you haven’t already written on the subject, I would be interested to hear your take on this.

    1. By the way, I’m speaking specifically about the mental conditioning part of this, in a separate way from your actual firearms training stuff. I didn’t want you to think I missed the point of your article. I realize they overlap…

    2. I like your explanation of “Breaking the Glass.” I’ve got the same type of pictures I use not just in tight situations, but also in training. That’s what the article is about, but more explanation of how to train this is a great idea. In fact, it’s going to be the 3rd book in the shooting series I’m writing – Combat Mindset: Be the Bullet.

      1. I can’t wait to read the book. And don’t worry; if you decide to use my “Break the Glass” analogy, I won’t require any royalties… 😉

  7. Good point Chris, I see the same aspect in people whether they are learning bush survival skills, doing a martial art or even meditation! I think there is a deeper issue here and that is of morale. Morale tends to erode in many individuals if they are not actively using their skills. If the only thing you are training for is the violent rapist that breaks into your Fort Knox home then the chances are slim you can put that skill to use. Will you really keep at peak fitness for decades and ready? Perhaps what is needed is to develop some other aspects to your training and even applications.

    So I guess these can be helping out with emergency services such as fire rescue or lifeboat duty, mountain rescue. This makes the philosophy of practical use to others and helps avoid the image that you are a paranoid gun nut that will one day flip, and instead reveal you are a grounded member of the community that is prepared for diverse eventualities and situations. Along with this comes a camaraderie that actually motivates and tests you more. I found that training can be broadened, for example trying out battle re-enactment, mixed martial arts and expedition weekends to extreme environments. These can be for example related to nature protection, there is a real chance to practice stealth skills / stalking and stakeouts if assisting stopping poachers or bird nesters on a nature preserve for example. In some countries this can be quite dangerous and such jobs give a real sense of danger.

    These are good substitutes to actually being in combat, and can be tailored to skill and experience levels. If you happen to be the captain or leader of a group, then it is up to you to motivate the other members and find interesting relevant training and fun experiences that keep morale alive and up. Small victories can be achieved with careful planning. And the strengthened psychology leads to a mindset of preparation prevents piss-poor performance which can be brought to all kinds of application in your life. After all violent physical combat should be avoided where possible, if an opponent can be persuaded to surrender without a tussle so much the better! (An experienced armed response policeman told me that when a rookie colleague was physically engaged with a criminal, he sprayed them both with mace – Why? Well it was about protecting both, both were debilitated, but the criminal was immobilized and the officer recovered without injuries soon after. Why let the officer fight it out and possibly get injured? Why let the criminal have a legal option of claiming he was acting in self-defence afterwards and that the officers were unreasonably violent? Much better that there is no excuse and everyone goes on less injured and it is less costly.

  8. Chris,
    Having found your blog there isn’t any article I have read and haven’t loved /learned something from. I find this article to be one of the most valuable being former military myself people often ask what it takes to be a “good” shooter and I always have a hard time finding the right way to explain the correct mind set. You have hit the nail on the head and the next time I’m asked I’m going to send them a link to this article.
    Thank you
    God bless

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