How I Was “That Guy” but Avoided Being *That Guy*
By: Jonathan Halek
“People, men especially, avoid doing things they don’t do well”. If you consume enough media on defensive firearms use, you’ll come across this phrase often. It’s usually in the context of “weak” or “support hand” shooting, but I’ve heard it related to malfunction clearance and even marksmanship fundamentals. It’s sexier to show off what you already do well. You “look” good so you feel good.
Anything less is an embarrassment in front of your fellow men, and that is a fate worse than death.
This is where I was in contemplating my first rifle class. I bought my 1st and only rifle a month before ‘Newtown’, and the insanity that ensued. For two years I scrounged ammo as I could but was afraid to shoot it. I didn’t grow up with guns and am the only real “gun guy” amongst my friends. I had no time behind my rifle and had shot 120 rounds spread over 2 years. I didn’t know what the sight picture should be. I didn’t know what the trigger press should be. Zero? Not easy when you’re shooting 10″ groups at 50 yards.
I had consumed plenty of media in that time. I’d refined my bullshit detector. I’d figured out who was “credible”. I learned the language. I could punch paper with a pistol. I’d taken pistol and FoF classes already this year. I should be confident in a fundamental carbine course, right?
Wrong. In stereotypical male fashion, I didn’t want to do what I wasn’t good at. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Add to that the health and fitness issues I struggle with (some self-inflicted, most not), and I was set on putting it off “Until I was better”. (*”Someday” NEVER comes)
The opportunity arrived. The instructor from my previous FoF class was holding a class too close to me to ignore. I still looked for an excuse or a way out. I didn’t want to be *That Guy*. Something in me firmed. I knew the instructor and respected him immensely (still do). With no frame of reference, the class didn’t look too physically demanding. The syllabus looked like just what I needed-basic. I wouldn’t have another opportunity like this anytime soon. I went for it with one caveat: I would *not* be “That Guy/’. I came up with four rules to prevent that (and added one more on the fly). Little did I know, they would rule my existence for those 2 days. I’ll get back to them later.
So there I was: Gear list checked. Syllabus and videos studied. I couldn’t afford an optic and the class, so I went without. “People used rifles before optics, right?”, I tried to comfort myself. I was as prepared as I could be. Turns out, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
One of my favorite clichés comes from poker: “If you can’t tell who the sucker in the room is…it’s *you*”. I quickly found out this applies to shooting as well. Hi. My name is Jon and I’m the worst shooter on the range. I didn’t expect it, but in hindsight I should have. “Name” instructors attract the best shooters, even to “basic” classes. Game? Changed.
I know the best teachers “read” the class. With 95% of the class at an advanced level, the
“basic” part went out the window. What I planned on learning, gone. No classroom but the range. Whole sections of the syllabus were omitted. I wasn’t “drinking from the firehose”, I was trying to stay upright as it hit me in the face. I won’t go into the gory details, but those were some of the most mentally and physically taxing hours of my life. I’ve spent a lifetime in the restaurant business where challenges like that are normal daily activity. I don’t say those words lightly. (l still enjoyed it, though)
“Don’t be *That Guy*” became moot. It was obvious I was struggling. There but for the grace of my comrades go l. The instructor and my classmates lifted me up as best they could. The words of encouragement, tips and assistance were huge. I can’t say enough good things about them. I was a toddler, but I was still their brother.
What began as my rules of pride became my rules for survival. They, in turn, became what I was most proud of. Funny how shit works.
1. Stay Safe.
Nothing is more important. We all go home with the same number of holes we came with. I was concerned I’d be so overwhelmed I’d slip up. Muzzle in the wrong direction, safety off at the wrong time, finger on the trigger too early. I resolved that, no matter what, I would not endanger others…or myself. This was a “hot range” with “big boy rules”. If I had to sacrifice a drill or the whole day to do so, I would. I didn’t have any issues, as this was always on my mind.
2. Follow Instructions
As long as I did what was asked, I would learn. No shortcuts. I did everything as exactly as I could. I didn’t perform as well as my classmates. I didn’t care. I was there to learn. (This garnered the one true compliment from the instructor after the class). It also leads into 3. Don’t Waste Your Classmates’ Time
Although #2 follows logically, this rule was emotionally more important to me (yes, I invoked “the feels”). I wasn’t the only one who paid hard-earned money and took valuable time for this class. I wasn’t about to ruin their experience. If I couldn’t finish a drill without slowing the class down too much, I’d step out (luckily, that didn’t happen). We’ve all been in classes and meetings with the person who can’t grasp the concept on the 10th explanation or gets lost in the minutiae & esoterica. From previous classes, I knew to save those questions until breaks or the end of the day. If it didn’t affect my ability to do #1 or #2, it could wait.
3. Be Flexible
This wasn’t in the original rules, but inherent in my background. The restaurant business will do that to you, or it will chew you up and spit you out. I watched my preparation and expectations for the class explode in about 5 minutes. Shit happens. Often. Things change. Quick. “No battle plan survives the first shot”. I did my best not to think about what “was supposed to happen” and accept the reality at hand.
4. Give *Your* 100%
I came in with limitations. Limitations of experience, health and fitness. I tried not to turn them into excuses. I tried not to let them show. They were my burdens and I didn’t want to share them. I did my best to make up for my lack of experience with #2 & #4. My physical issues, I kept to myself as best I could. It came up that I had fused vertebrae and rods in my back from childhood scoliosis. Soon after, the instructor asked “‘Are you okay?” I replied that I was. He said “l don’t want you to hurt yourself’. I said I wouldn’t. I lied. I didn’t tell him what I wanted to, for fear of getting pulled. I was going to hurt myself. I already had. What I wasn’t going to do was *injure* myself. I knew the difference. I agreed with my classmates when they thought my shakes were from being nervous. I pushed my limits. No one else’s. I didn’t give up, even when I wanted to. That said, I also took things at my own best pace. I didn’t try to run as fast or crouch as low as others, but I gave it all I had. I have no regrets in that regard.
I made it to the end of the weekend and completed with my class. As we were packing up, I had one more burning question: “How did I do?” I won’t lie; some of why I wanted to know was prideful. I wanted to know how much I had accomplished. I also needed to know how far I had to go. I asked “Scale of 1-10, after both days?” It stung a little, but I got “You were a solid ‘1’ when you came in. You’re a ‘3’ now, but you can get there.” I was hoping for a ‘4’ or ‘5’, but appreciated his honesty. He then gave me the compliment I mentioned earlier. “You did really well in not trying to keep pace with the faster guys. You worked at your own level. You don’t find that very often.” Regardless of anything else, I accomplished those 5 goals and have a map for improvement. I’m okay with that. I didn’t ask, but I don’t think I was *That Guy*, even though I was “That Guy”. Of that, I am glad.