Know your goal. Know your role. Slow your roll.
We live in a world of appearances. It’s unavoidable when most of the data we accumulate is visual. How we look is important and can play a large part in what social groups we to which we gain entry. If you show up to your office job in overalls or your mechanic’s job in a suit, there’s a good chance you won’t be taken seriously on first impression. You’ll be embarrassed (Damn. There’s that word again.). In the fight against the dreaded embarrassment, we emulate. We find who we want to be like, and we try to look like them.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance firearms are a part of your life. We all come to guns from different places. Some of us grew up hunting. Some of us chose a profession for which a gun is a tool (maybe even the primary tool). Some of us came to firearms as historical or collectible. Some of us (I) didn’t have any of that. There’s a new category of shooter these days. With media, politics and world events constantly sounding the alarm, many of us came to this community later in life, and without guidance. When that was (and sometimes still is) me, emulation was my first step.
We also live in an unparalleled world of information. We can ask any question we like in a search bar and the entirety of human opinion appears before us. Please notice I didn’t say “knowledge”. Most of what you will find isn’t that at all. The knowledge is in there, you just have to find it, test it and apply it to yourself (My journey in this is a topic for another day.). In the absence of true knowledge, we work from those opinions, appearances, and emulation. What does that mean in the defensive shooting world (“Tactical”, if you must)? Gear.
When I was first starting out, my emulation came in the form of gear. I incorrectly assumed that the “high speed/low drag operators” were the ones. I studied and researched and turned it into a hobby (There’s still nothing wrong with that, as long as you know its place). I lamented that I was too broke to buy everything they had. Turns out it was a blessing.
In my aimless meandering through the internet world of “Tactical”, I found a nugget that changed everything. I couldn’t care less what you think of his persona, credentials or abilities (You shouldn’t either); I found James Yeager. With one statement, he changed the way I thought about what I was doing, where I was going and why.
I’m not crediting him with being the first or only one to think or say this, but that it was the most easily digestible for me when I found it. You’ll see it now, from different instructors in different forms, quite often. The current soundbite is something along the lines of “Trying to find a ‘hardware’ solution to a ‘software’ problem” (My Tandy5000 and I feel so old sometimes). If you’re about to take your first “Tactical” class (Hopefully your first “defensive” class, but I digress…), these are the questions I posed myself:
Know Your Goal
The first step I took in this process was honesty with myself. Why did I want training? As I stated earlier, we are all different in this regard. Want to play Deltarangersealoperator fantasy camp? LARP (Live Action Role Play) away. There’s nothing wrong with that. Do you want to find/reclaim your “manhood”? I won’t lie. That’s some of why I started. Nothing wrong with that either. Do you think that society is on the brink and you’ll need to “survive the coming winter”? Cool. Do it. Have you been a helpless victim and want to avoid being such again? Awesome. Do you want to “feel” safe? Prepare to have your idea of safety challenged, but okay! There’s nothing wrong with shooting as a hobby instead of a lifestyle, either. For me, it’s become both and I keep them separate for very specific reasons.
For me, it was a woman. I finally had something in my life worth defending. This partially came in sexist form, but that quickly faded. I’ve heard this often from engaged or newly married male friends who never even thought about guns. “We’re moving in together. I think I should buy a gun.” The really cool thing is that I’m hearing it more from women too these days. (This is how we come across so many “unfired, ‘lnib’” shotguns, I assume). That was my first goal. Nothing wrong with that. I may write something later about how gun ownership changed me at a fundamental level, but it did. My goal now is to defend myself and others who may need it. I’m no “sheepdog” (god I’m so sick of what that word’s become), no “Batman”, just a guy with his own moral compass. It doesn’t have to be yours. As long as you’re honest about your goal for training and can perform in a safe manner, please go do it.
Know Your Role
“Mission Dictates Gear”. Consume enough media, and you’ll start to see this often. When I first started out, I looked to the elite of the military for knowledge even though I didn’t really know what it meant. I thought it meant having the highest level of gear at all times. Being prepared for everything. As has often been the case in my life, I was wrong. Never having been “.mil” (My Tandy5000 and I still feel old), it took me some time to learn: Even in the military, your mission changes every time you go out. What you need will be different. As I’m sitting here writing this, I do not ( gasp! ) have on level IV body armor, MultiCam and a rifle. I do, however, have my G19 on. It suits my “mission”.
I like camo as much as the next guy, but it doesn’t do anything for me practically. I once spent an entire month studying which pattern was most effective for my “AO” (Area of Operations. Now known as “my neighborhood”). What I came to was a realization that, if I was hiding in the woods, 1,000 things had gone wrong. More importantly, that if I was in the woods for longer than a day, being found would be more important that being hidden (Ha!). It didn’t suit my “mission” of attracting the least amount of criminal attention (While attempting to attract the maximum amount of attractive female attention) in my day-to-day life. Military- style clothing doesn’t work for me. (If you mutter the words “Grey Man”, even to yourself, please reconsider how honest you are about your role. Then go choke yourself.)
My role is “Responsible Armed Citizen”, and the rest of what I write will be informed as such. I’m just a guy who carries tools of defense. Nothing more. Nothing less. YMMV.
Slow Your Roll
If you’re new to the world of training, I advise finding a course with “Weapon/Gear/Holster/Optic/Whatever selection” in the syllabus. Let your instructor know what you do and don’t have, and rent if they offer it.
Hopefully you’ve decided to take a class (or your next one) at this point. What’s left after “Where do I sign up?” is “What do I bring?”. Do not get “wrapped around the axle” about what someone else has or what looks cool. If you have gear that fits your mission, bring it. If you don’t know what you need? That’s cool too. It’s fun to go shopping and play dress-up. I highly advise against it if you’re going to the class as a “responsible armed citizen” as I did.
Please pay special attention to classes that ask you to wear what you would daily. This is where you will learn the most about what actually works for you. Testing and validating what you use early in your training journey does two things: It helps lessen the chance (nothing ever eliminates that chance, even if you really are a Deltarangersealoperator) that your gear will fail you when you need it most, and it will save you tons of money on gear you thought you needed or was of dependable quality.
In the two “live fire” classes I’ve had this year, I did and learned invaluable lessons. If you aren’t wearing a chest rig to the grocery store, having one in class won’t help you if you’re confronted in a parking lot. Learning how to draw from a drop-leg holster won’t help you at the movie theater. You may be surrounded by a class full of MultiCam and Plate Carriers, but that doesn’t matter. Their goals may be different from yours, and that’s okay. It isn’t a fashion contest and you’re there for you, not them.
My best advice is to follow the gear list that any good instructor will provide with the class description. Most will divide the gear into “essential” and “recommended”. This is not by accident. If the class you’re taking requires a pink Tu-Tu, bring it. If it is recommended? Borrow it, buy it if you’re able, but don’t sweat it too hard if you can’t. You must have the equipment it takes to follow instructions, or you will immediately be That Guy (Or Gal).
If you have questions? Do not hesitate to contact your instructor. They are supposed to be working for you. They also want as smooth of a class as possible, and lack of essential gear can grind everything to a halt.
If an instructor doesn’t have time to help you before class, they won’t have time during class and by after the class, it’s too late. I’d walk away. Also, asking your instructor ahead of time can help them prepare for your lower skill level, and help you decide if the class is right for you in the first place. They should also be able to direct you to the best gear for your purpose.
Buy the highest quality gear you can afford that fits the requirements set forth by the class. Look to what professionals use in similar circumstances. Buy gear that fits your life. That is what you’re training for, right?
Don’t sacrifice a quality necessity to have a cheap one and all the recommended gear. Prioritize. After a quality weapon, what are *you* most likely to use on a daily basis? Buy the best of that first. You’ll save money over time in all the replacements you would have bought. Move on to the next as you are able.
It’s fun to geek out and buy gear, but take it from me: It’s better to be the best version of yourself than a shitty copy of someone else.
– Jonathan Halek