In my first post, I talked about the value of knowing your lane – how to understand your area of expertise as well as being aware of what your blind spots are. Today we’re going to look at what you can do once you reach a level of comfort with your current lane.
First and foremost it’s important to say that you can never know everything about a topic, and you will always have blind spots and there will always be people who know more than you. I guarantee you that JJ Racaza, who just won the USPSA Open and Limited national championships, doesn’t think that he knows everything about competition shooting. Now that we have that out of the way, we can look at how a person goes about expanding their lane.
Right off the bat we have to understand that there are two mechanisms for expanding your lane: 1) acquiring knowledge and 2) acquiring experience. Knowledge is, for example, what you get from taking classes, reading books, listening to podcasts, etc. Experience of course is only gained from actually performing the act in the environment. To use myself as an example, I have some knowledge of how to clear a building as part of a four man team because I’ve attended classes and received formal training on the topic. I have literally zero experience doing that for real, so my lane here is very small. I have decent knowledge on how to shoot a handgun well in a competition environment, and a lot of experience doing it, so my lane there is wide. I have lots of experience driving a car, but very little formal training in how to do it well, so we’re back to an actually relatively narrow lane.
Knowledge is great, but without experience it’s limited in value to being purely academic. There are lots of things that “the book” says to do that simply aren’t practical in the real world, whether that real world is a four way stop sign, the Middle East, or a USPSA National Championship. Similarly, experience without knowledge is limited in its utility, because it’s entirely possible to gain a lot of experience doing something wrong. That’s why I used the example of driving, since there are millions of people on the road with 20 years of experience driving who really shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a car.
Now lets bring this back to the martial art of gunfighting, specifically with a handgun. You want to expand your lane but are unsure how to go about it. Step 1: classes. Tactical classes, pure shooting classes, and not all from the same instructor. Get different people to pour different ideas into your brain, because even though many credible instructors agree on the big elements, there are lots of small variations that certain people may do differently than someone else.
Alright, we have knowledge covered, but what about experience? That’s slightly more tricky, especially for civilians. Unless you want to go join an elite military unit or major metropolitan SWAT team, you’re probably not going to get into a whole lot of gunfights. That’s a good thing! But as a civilian there are ways that you can pressure test your skills and help grow your experience with shooting a gun under pressure. Obviously, competition shooting. The only people who don’t think competition shooting provides a valid medium to pressure test your shooting skills are people who suck at it and don’t like getting junked by some 23 year old Amazon engineer. There are also certain classes that involve force on force training, which when it is done correctly is an excellent way to pressure test your skills. There’s a lot of bad force on force out there, but the good stuff is out there and available. I strongly recommend Craig Douglas of Shivworks for all your tasty force on force needs.
Again, matches and force on force aren’t gunfights, so you won’t grow your experience with actual gunfights. As mentioned above, there are some career paths you can take to do that if you really want to; however what competition and well-done FoF training do accomplish is growing your experience with shooting a gun under pressure. That’s important. It’s important enough that Jim Cirillo was a proponent of competition shooting.
Knowledge is power, and experience makes us wise. When you put knowledge and experience together, you end up with a broader lane of understanding, and less likely to fall victim to Dunning-Krueger. The more competent your are in one area, the more likely you are to recognize your lack of knowledge and experience in another area.