One of my big commitments is trying to get in a class every month on some sort of martial skill. Mostly, that’s guns, because guns are fun, but I’m good with knives, hand-to-hand, medical, whatever. It is expensive, but they’re usually one day and local, so there’s not a lot of ancillary costs.
The big problem is often making the call about what class to go to. There are some months where I’ve got hard choices. Do I do the Green Ops practical pistol clinic, the FPF Training Minuteman Rifle class, or the PNTC PRS class?
In an attempt to solve that conundrum, I’ve got a list of priorities that I try to use to as an evaluation standard to determine what I should take. These are ordered in importance to me, but no priority will ever totally override the others. I am very interested in what my readership feels about these, so please leave comments if you agree/disagree!
Is it a skill I don’t know?
No one’s going to be an expert in anything after a class, but as GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle. While I think pistol training is valuable, learning how to shoot at 600-900 yds is also valuable, and I don’t know how to do that at all. Learning new skills is always going to be at the top of my priority list. I admit that some skills are less interesting to me (“how to run a revolver” classes being a good example), but I try to be well-rounded skills-wise.
What is the reputation of the instructor, and how often do I attend their classes?
This is nearly as important as the first priority, and will often override it. Good instructors need your business; bad ones do not. But I’ll say that you may not be doing yourself a favor if you use one instructor exclusively. Being a well-rounded, proficient shooter involves diversity of training sources; they just need to all be good ones. I took almost exclusively Green Ops classes last year, and my goal is to take more from other people (but not to worry, Green Ops is still figuring prominently in my training schedule in 2019!).
I think there’s also a bit of a cool factor in being able to say you’ve trained with the industry greats, too. Ego shouldn’t really come into this, but it’s nice to feel good about yourself.
How far away is it?
Time spent traveling is a very real non-financial cost to a class, never mind the actual financial aspects of it. Every hour I’m on the road is an hour I’m not with my family or getting other things done. Closer classes are always better, but realistically, I’m willing to drive a couple hours to get to where I need to be. Am I willing to drive 4-5 hours? Probably not, unless it’s some kind of unicorn five workday class that I simply cannot miss.
Is it a class that’s offered infrequently?
I can find pistol and carbine classes pretty easily. It’s a lot harder to find a good tactical shotgun class (on a Sunday), or a low-light shooting class. This goes doubly so if it’s a visiting instructor; I jumped on the recent Greg Ellifritz knife skills class because that guy doesn’t come to town a whole lot and has a rep as an amazing instructor.
How long is the class?
Provided the time is used well – and it is by most competent instructors – I always lean towards a longer class over a shorter class. That said, sometimes those half day evening classes are VERY convenient to doing things with my family on Sundays.
What is the round count?
I like higher round count classes, because shooting a lot is more fun than shooting less, but this is lower on my list for a reason… first, most classes have high estimates compared to actual round counts, and, second, spraying lots of rounds down range is not necessarily good training.
What is the cost?
I’m not completely price insensitive, but it’s pretty far down the priority list. The fact that I can’t do Saturday classes rules out most of the expensive stuff right off the bat, including traveling to classes in more distant locales. That said, I am probably not going to make a habit out of $350 one day classes, unless they are offering something truly exotic and hard to come by (NOD usage, room clearing, etc.).