I took my own advice and invested in a firearms training class this past weekend, attending the 3 day partner tactics class at Tactical Defense Institute in West Union, Ohio, courtesy of my awesome wife who had dinner waiting for me (dessert too) each night when I got home. TDI has been on my “wish list” for a while, but all the pieces finally fell in place for me to attend my first class there. Hopefully it won’t be my last.
I’m going to cover a few things in this post. First a review of the course itself, then some personal takeaways and to conclude a reflection on the close relation between firearms training and the practice of mindfulness. If you don’t like guns or transcendental meditation, you can top reading here.
As for the course it was, in a word, fantastic. The facility is top notch and the instructor to student ratio was the lowest of almost any firearms training school I have been to. There is a wide range of instructors and instructing styles. I learned something from each of them, but its definitely possible to find an instructor you like and stick with them. For my particular class there were no female instructors, but I do know that TDI Ohio has them on staff. In addition to my first class at TDI, it was the first time I have taken a 3 day course, and the extra day makes a big difference. In other classes you get a chance to practice a skill once or twice and then its on to the next drill or concept.
In the Partner Tactics class we had the chance to run through the foundation drills that help establish good partner communication habit patterns at he start of each day. It may seem like a lot of repetition, but I found it extremely valuable. The rest of each day was spent in various scenarios from a live shoot house, to vehicle training, to force on force (with air soft….obviously ;-)). To be clear this is NOT really a “shooting” class. I did go through more than 1,000 rounds of ammo, but there was very little instruction on drawing, getting good grip, sight alignment, squeeze, follow-through, etc. The instructors assume you know all that, and given the course pre-requisites, its a safe assumption. This is first and foremost a TACTICS class that focuses on how to work with a partner in a wide array of situations. After the three days, I am by no means an expert, but the 15 pages of notes and hours of video are a good sign that I know a fair bit more than when I started. If you have the chance and the interest (and a god partner!) then by all means sign up….but do it early in the year. We signed up in January and got the last 2 spots for the class this past weekend.
The biggest leanings for me were about how my regular participation in IDPA matches is affecting my performance in tactical training simulations. On the good side, I was of course very comfortable with the mechanics of getting of a good first and follow-up shots. Moving while shooting was no big deal. Multiple targets and site pictures was no issue. I was really solid on all my reloads (save one which was pretty funny and captured on video). But it wasn’t all roses.
Focusing on trying to “win” in IDPA has made me weaker than I would like in manipulation of cover. Being on the clock drives me to be a little loose with my pie slicing and I never do drop outs in a match – there just isn’t enough time. I follow all the rules so as not to get a cover procedural, but its still not quite the same as when someone else is shooting back (again – with air soft). I also realized that I hadn’t spent much time at all shooting weak handed, but supported. Every time weak hand is prescribed in an IDPA stage, its always “weak hand only”. Since I am MD for my local match I think I cam going to add a weak hand supported stage to the next match. And in matches where I am not in charge of the stages, I am going to make sure to shoot weak hand supported every time I am going to the left around cover. Another issue that cropped up that I have to pin on my match mentality is not staying on targets to assess after I shot them. In IDPA I am on to the next target (again to save time) so as soon as my rounds are down range and I “feel” like I had good hits ( = good sight picture + good trigger press) I a on to the next target in the sequence. This showed itself every time I engaged a target and was quick (way too quick) to come back to a retention position and scan. All of these are solvable issues but will take some rethinking about how I approach a match and what training I do outside of IDPA matches. I still think IDPA is the best deal in training out there, but you have to come with a plan that is more than just winning the match if you want to get maximum training benefit out of it.
Last, it occurred to me on the (long) drive home last night (it was 2 hours from my house each way) that one reason I might have enjoyed the class so much is that the drills and scenarios force you into a state of mindfulness / present moment awareness. When you are with your partner and you are trying to clear and then enter a room, one in front, one behind with potential threats just a dop out away, you forget all about past and future and live in the present moment fully. You have to bring everything you have into that moment or something isn’t going to go well. No it’s not transcendental meditation, but the feeling was very much the same: all of your senses lined up and main lining straight into your cortex which is running at full capacity to make sure you don’t miss something and can stay balanced on that razors edge of fast reaction without over reaction. On second thought its just like meditation…with the added adrenaline rush of 180 grains of lead flying down range at 1,000 feet per second.