…FIREARMS! Ok, so not everyone has a firearm, but just ask around the interwebz and you’ll realize quickly that when it comes to guns, training, tactics, etc… EVERYONE has an opinion!
With so many voices streaming into our consciousness these days, it’s enough to make a new shooter decide to call it quits before you even start. There is simply NO WAY you’re ever going to conform to all the DOs and DON’Ts, the NEVERs and ALWAYSs, the RIGHTs and the WRONGs.
I get it. I’ve been there myself. More to the point, I’ve seen it happen with students. When all of the “experts” in the world have conflicting opinions about everything from holsters to hygiene, it seems unlikely any new shooter will ever get things right enough to be perfect.
Ah – and there is where we can all take a deep breath. PERFECT.
I believe my epiphany about perfection came while sitting in a seminar presented by one of those opinionated experts – Massad Ayoob. (While he may reject the label of “perfect”, Massad ranks high on my list of “people I listen to”). His helpful tidbit, however, was more than an opinion (and I suppose technically less than fact). Although it had a huge impact on the way I train, teach, and frankly LIVE daily, it’s hardly an industry secret. In fact, I’ll share it with you, in all its profound simplicity:
PERFECT is the enemy of GOOD.
Let that one sink it for a moment.
The improbability that we’ll ever be perfect is enough to give anyone pause to even begin an intimidating journey. We all know any journey starts with the first step, but if you’re pretty sure that first step will lead to failure (because that’s the only alternative to perfect), there is a high likelihood you’ll plant your feet firmly in the soil of inaction.
So I’m here to tell you, before you get any farther on your journey – there’s another alternative to perfect!
The other choice - is GOOD!!
Even if your ultimate goal is PERFECT (and I get that, I really do!), GOOD is a necessary step along the way. GOOD is something we should all strive for. Even when we qualify it with ENOUGH, GOOD ENOUGH is always… well… ENOUGH!
Ok, ok, so ENOUGH of the philosophy… how does this address the opinions? –you ask. Well I’m glad you asked.
When it comes to learning anything about firearms I’ve seen too many potential GOOD shooters quit before they even start because of the overwhelming amount of convoluted, conflicting (and often blatantly incorrect) information available telling them how to be perfect shooters. I CRINGE when I hear a fellow instructor tell a new shooter why they should NEVER do something or they HAVE to like this gun or that holster. I can see the light in the new student’s eyes fading quickly as they realize they’ll never have what it takes to be the PERFECT shooter this “expert” is describing.
And it makes me very, very sad.
I want to lay some truth out here for you, and I hope you’ll take it for what it is. At the end of the day, this is my opinion. It may apply to your world, and it may not. If it does, I hope you’ll take hold and run with it. May it help you stay afoot when you start to drown in an unforgiving industry of perfection.
The truth: There are a lot of GOOD options. Guns, holsters, tactics, flashlights, trainers, blogs, magazines, knives – yup, they all come with a lot of GOOD options. They also come with some less than ideal options. There are very few options I would call worthless, and even fewer I would say are perfect.
More truth: What is perfect for me might just be good enough for you. Or frankly, it might not be good enough at all. Dear perfect “experts”: if you see me about to hurt myself, please speak up. Otherwise, please share with me the wisdom of your experience and let the rest be just what it is – your opinion.
The ultimate truth: Perfect is the enemy of good. The fear of never achieving perfection is going to keep good students from taking the first step. Myself included. We should all always be students.
Dear new shooter – keep trying. You aren’t good yet, and I’m ok with that. You don’t have equipment that works for you yet and I’m ok with that, too. Let yourself off the hook for the things that aren’t good. The truth is - they just aren’t good YET.
Take the first step. If you’re already there, pick that foot up and take the next one. It’s your life, make sure you live it.
And what to do with all those opinions? How do you process them all? Compare them all? Sort out the good from the less-than-ideal when there are OH SO MANY???
Why, the same way you eat an elephant.
Take them one bite at a time, chew slowly, and only swallow the parts that help you get GOOD.
If ever you have an opportunity to hear Lt Col Dave Grossman explain the relationship between sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs, please jump at the opportunity. He does it with such passion and conviction you will never look at yourself, the armed citizen, quite the same.
Ever have one of those moments when you let your mind wander just a little farther than usual and it comes back with a realization so clear and obvious you feel a little silly for not having seen it sooner? I had one of those moments today. It had to do with the sheepdog paradigm I’ve heard repeated many times in the last few years. This realization felt important enough to share, so here I am. I’ll see if I can do it justice.
First off, if you aren’t already familiar with this metaphor I’ll briefly explain.
The story goes something like this.
In this world there are 3 basic personality types.
There are SHEEP.
Most of the people you know are sheep. You might be one yourself in fact, and the truth is there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with being a sheep. The sheep are incapable of violence. Sheep do not live in fear, they rarely contemplate what dangers are lurking just along the perimeter of their world, they have their routines and their priorities and for the most part things are pretty wonderful in the life of a sheep.
But there are WOLVES.
A very small percentage of our population falls into this category. Wolves are not only capable of violence, they live by it. They are driven daily by one primal directive – prey on the passive sheep. They take advantage of the sheep’s docile nature, waiting at the perimeter of the sheep’s world waiting for the right time to “put on the sheep’s clothing” and strike fear into the heart of the defenseless sheep.
Fortunately, there are SHEEPDOGS.
But the sheep fear the sheepdogs. Sheepdogs are also capable of violence. They lurk warily at the perimeter looking into the darkness as if there were some evil that can’t be seen instead of basking in the joy of the sheep’s peaceful world. Sheepdogs can be loud, fast, and have sharp teeth – just like the wolves!!
For most the metaphor stops there. Good guys, bad guys, and the thin, sometimes-dangerous line of defenders standing between them.
This morning I realized… there is more to the story. In all the times I’ve heard this story, a key player was left unmentioned. More important than the differences that divide sheep and the sheepdog is the one common thread that binds us eternally:
We BOTH belong to the Shepherd.
What drives the sheep to graze in the pasture and bask in the sun is love. Love for the Shepherd who tends and cares for them. Love for a life of peace.
What drives the sheepdog? A love so convicting it will push the sheepdog to that dark perimeter – not without fear, but without hesitation. A love that will cause the sheepdog to run to the wolf, rather than away, praying he can get there in time to protect the sheep.
The sheep that he loves.
Because they belong to the Shepherd.
What binds the sheep to the Shepherd is a mindset of servitude.
What binds the sheepdog to the Shepherd is a desire to serve in ways that go beyond that which is safe. Beyond that which is normal.
At least, in the eyes of the sheep.
Not because of what the sheep think of the sheepdog.
Not because of what they can do for him.
ONLY because they are loved by the Shepherd.
As is the case in many childhood parables it struck me that what makes us different is far less valuable than this critical way in which we are the same.
So that’s it. My epiphany for the day. I would encourage you to check out the foundation for the story in his own words on Grossman’s website: http://www.killology.com/sheep_dog.htm and then follow up by reading A Time to Kill: The myth of Christian pacifism by Greg Hopkins.
~It’s not about the odds. It’s about the stakes.~
Guys, stop laughing. This applies to you too!
You know the old saying. "If I had a dime for every time...." So if I had a dime for every time I hear or read an instructor say his students HAVE to do this or MUST have that or ALWAYS need something else, well I'd have a lot of dimes, but not a lot of confidence as a shooter.
There are very few absolutes in any aspect of life and the shooting sports are no exception, so why are there so many prevailing thoughts that FEEL like absolutes? Because everyone has an opinion, and you know how that saying goes, too.
So the instructor in me says you need to carry the SAME gun in the SAME place with the SAME holster EVERY DAY. Otherwise you will NOT be ready to defend yourself!!
The realist in me knows absolute statements like that do less to serve students with good information and more to intimidate them OUT of carrying their firearm. Telling someone "you're doing it wrong" if they don't conform to our mandates is a sure fire way to convince them they aren't cut out for this, so they'll give up before they begin and not even try. Guess what, fellow instructors, I know your hearts are in the right place, but YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!
There are people in the world for whom it's very simple to change their entire wardrobe around a gun, select the perfect firearm for all occasions, and settle on one carry method that works every day. Then there are women!
For us there are circumstances that just don't make it that simple. There are kids, business dress codes, widely changing temps between (and sometimes within) the seasons. While these are issues men have to consider as well, I find it's the women in the field who struggle the most when it comes to finding a method of carry that works consistently. Our style of dress varies more broadly, we don't always follow a predictable routine when outside the home, we are expected to hold ourselves physically to a different (more feminine) standard than our male counterparts. Does that mean we shouldn't carry a gun?
Silly question, of course it doesn't. And many of you have heard me say in class that you will have to make certain concessions and compromises when it comes to your outfit/activity/comfort at times in order to be able to successfully carry a gun. I'm not telling you now that comment is incorrect. There is a happy place in between.
I'm not here to tell you where that happy place is. I'm not here to tell you what to change, where to bend and what your priorities should be. Instead I'll share with you what my happy place looks like.
I would LOVE to carry the same gun the same way with the same holster every day. I understand the hazards of changing these things. When I need my gun I will NEED my gun, immediately, without thinking, and without fail! An attack is anything but predictable, so I'll need my response to be as predictable as possible. I need all the tools in my toolbox to be exactly where they were when I trained to use them. I'll be entirely too busy trying to keep up with the bad guy to have to think about where I left them!
For the most part (over half the locations I venture out to daily) I do in fact carry my gun the same way. I carry a Colt Defender on my strong side in an IWB (inside the waist band) leather holster. Nearly anything in my wardrobe will conceal it adequately enough to avoid detection in most circumstances. At least enough so that I don't worry someone will call me out for having a gun.
There are a few places/activities/outfits, however, for which this method just doesn't work. I may know I'll be in close contact with people and the considerable protrusion on my right hip may be more easily detected, or maybe the waistband of my shirt will ride up just enough to expose too much of my gear, or I'll be in the company of those I know to be uncomfortable with the presence of firearms and know they will be scrutinizing my profile for printing. (Yes, this matters to me, I don't like to make people uncomfortable! It may not be a problem for you).
In those situations I've had to resort to what I consider my backup method of carry. In fact it sometimes is a true backup, providing me access to a second firearm, just in case! For those times when concealment is more crucial than all the factors that lead me to the Colt (stopping power, capacity, weight, reliability), I compromise with a smaller caliber, smaller framed firearm. I also move the location from my strong side hip to a cross-draw under-arm position using a belly band situated around the lower half of my ribcage. The thinner profile of the Bersa .380 allows for nearly flawless concealment even in tighter clothing. The position under my arm gives me extra camouflage and terrific ability to "guard" the gun with my arm.
This method also helps when around people who are "huggers".
I... am not a hugger...
That doesn't keep people from hugging me, which always creates a moment of adjustment, making sure their embrace isn't going to bring them in contact with my gun. Having it wedged higher under that arm makes that move just a little easier and seem a little more natural.
Using multiple carry methods is easy from an options standpoint. Women said we wanted more feminine options and the industry responded with everything from fire power modifications to conceal carry purses and corsets. Where it becomes a challenge is that predictability front. If I'm relying on my training, muscle memory and a predictable toolbox to save my life, I've just created a serious roadblock for myself. I have to figure out not only where the gun is today but also which gun is it?!? They don't all function the same, there will be a difference in operation of the firearm, how it feels and how I react with it in my hand. I can't fix that and still have the versatility we all want!!
So I do the only thing I can do when faced with reality:
I acknowledge the situation - I'm putting myself at a tactical disadvantage.
I weigh the options - I can change my whole world, or I can change my training to match my world.
I compensate for the disadvantage - I put in some extra time training with BOTH firearms and BOTH methods of carry. This includes a few minutes spent every morning practicing how to draw and function the gun I'm carrying that day from the holster it will be in and wearing the outfit with which I've chosen to conceal it (ALWAYS with an UNLOADED firearm - see there ARE some absolutes in shooting!!).
I'm sure you can see how more options will lead to more complicated training. The disadvantage increases exponentially with every additional method you add to the routine, at some point making your convenience and lifestyle wishes an unacceptable risk. You alone can figure out where that line of diminished returns falls for you. For me it stops with two options, any more than that and I'm setting myself up to fail. You need to understand the reality, overestimate your personal limitations, prioritize, and train accordingly.
I sure wish I could offer an absolute to make this a simple matter the way some writers would do, but I just can't in good conscience discourage you from carrying if you can't live up to the expectation of a tactical mandate. Beyond a few true, simple rules of safety there just aren't that many absolutes you should trust! Take your time, know yourself, and be smart about it. With this many options on the market, finding a couple that work for you should be easy to check off your list!