I recently had a conversation with a shooting buddy of mine about his “class rifle”. It was a very well-thought out AR-15 build that he was slowly piecing together. Knowing this guy pretty well, I noted that he had a bunch of ARs already, and, to the best of my knowledge, had never actually taken a training class before in his entire life. He confirmed these facts to me, and then told me he was hoping to take a class with some YouTube celebrity I’d never heard of, and said trainer that didn’t even have a class scheduled in this area.
When I noted that there’s like half a dozen excellent training companies within like two hours of where we lived, he got kind of quiet and made some mumbled non-committal remarks. We then moved on to some other topics. But that conversation has stayed with me, because it seems like it’s a common line of thinking.
The shooting buddy in question is a good guy, and I freely admit that I ratcheted up the pressure pretty high. This post isn’t about him. This post is about mindset and the willingness to perform even under imperfect circumstances – and imperfect circumstances is real life.
I like A5 buffer systems as much as the next guy. I think adjustable gas is awesome, and that 1/8 twist .223 Wylde barrel is peachy. High-end optics are worth it. Cool-guy slings can be helpful. When you’ve taken enough classes, you realize that all of that matters, but at the same time, none of it matters.
To PC the phrase slightly, “it’s the Native American, not the arrow”. Getting so worked up about what you’re bringing up to class or who exactly the class is with that you never actually take a class is a tremendous mistake. The only requirements are finding a quality trainer and then bringing stuff that works reliably, is safe, and meets the class’ base requirements. Literally every other thing beyond that is just icing on the cake. I shoot my fancy pants Fauxland Special and my pimped-out SBR because I took enough classes that I figured out what I wanted. But the truth is, I could walk into a class with a stock Ruger P95 or a stock AK-47, and I’d do just as well in almost all cases. Maybe I wouldn’t be as fast and maybe I’d be a little less accurate at distance, but I could still do the drills just fine. I would learn something – heck, maybe I’d learn more by not having all that gear advantage behind me.
Worrying about perfect equipment is not only a terrible excuse, it is essentially an unattainable goal. I’m on track to take 14 classes this year, and I took 9 the year prior. You think I’m past equipment failures? You think I never suddenly find out something’s not working for me? I wish. I go to class to figure out what’s going to fail and what’s not going to work, because I’d rather it fail in a controlled training environment than in a match or in a real life defensive situation.
I’m not saying don’t buy the best quality guns and gear. You should. It gives mechanical advantage, which can help you a lot if you know how to make use of it! But if lack of that top-end gear is stopping you from taking a class, you’re doing all of this wrong. I took my first low-light class with a terrible holster, a Surefire 6P, and an old Streamlight TLR, and even with that handicap, I got SO much out of it.
I suspect this kind of thinking is a mash-up of “trying to buy performance” and “worried about performance in class”. You’re worried about how you’re going to perform in class, so you’re trying to buy gear that is going to amp up your performance. The problem, of course, is that you can’t buy performance, and that you should not be worried about your performance in class. Everyone starts somewhere, and the crazy-fast guys in classes and matches know that better than anyone else. You come in humble and wanting to learn, and everyone will go out of their way to help you before, during, and after class. You are not the worst person anyone’s ever seen, I promise.
Just enroll in the damn class. Stop making excuses. Get enough reasonable quality gear to meet the stated class baseline, and use the guns you’ve got. After the class, all sorts of light bulbs will go on, and then we’ll be having a different conversation entirely – it’ll be a conversation that starts with real demonstrated performance, and ends with how equipment can support improved levels of performance.
If you find out you hate it, well, OK, that’s a finding. So be it. But I’ve never met someone who went to a quality training class and said “that sucked”. I bet I can find a lot of people who wished they started seriously improving their shooting skills years or even decades earlier. That includes me; don’t repeat my mistake.