I recently started following an online debate about performance related to shooting, where one group of high-performing individuals (serious USPSA shooters) were conversing about a training philosophy that doesn’t use any set, specific metrics for performance. There were a number of interesting thoughts on the topic, most everyone being in agreement that you need to be able to track your level of proficiency, work to improve it, and measure it to see how that level has risen or fallen. The arguments piqued my interest because I come from a background strongly rooted in tactics versus competition, but I personally found that the methods used for improvement among that crowd carry over nicely, even if some specific things don’t work for my uses. I like what they had so say, and likewise had a fair amount of negative feelings over the notion of not working towards a measurable goal or standards in my training. This isn’t a rant against a specific organization or trainer, because frankly I’m not going to worry much about people or organizations who are unconcerned with quantifiable performance. It’s mostly just because I find the notion of not using performance standards in general preposterous.
I am not sure why we would fall into some category in a gunfight that is unlike other forms of competition in terms of the level of preparation and performance tracking helping us out. What do pro football, motocross, ultramarathon running, or even golf have in common with fighting? Easy: there is a clear cut winner and loser, and there are tremendous penalties for screwing up the details. I challenge you to find a quarterback in the NFL who the coach sends out onto the field because the player felt he had to confidence to prevail, without ever measuring his ability to perform the tasks required to do so. I challenge you to find a Badwater winner who just trotted around the neighborhood a little bit and said “I’m ready to win this. What the hell is this stopwatch I keep hearing about?” Golf would be even more boring if we didn’t keep score. Nobody who just goes out and swings clubs around until it feels right wins a green jacket at Augusta. So why would we not use a performance-based system of improvement to meet out full potential when the difference in a win or loss isn’t a championship, a trophy, bragging rights, or a personal record, it is being dead? There was an argument made that if someone failed to meet a standard, then they would not have the confidence to perform in a real-life fight. When someone decides to kill you, you’re in the big leagues now, whether you want to be or not. Sure would be nice to have big-league skills right around then, wouldn’t it? I don’t need someone to tell me I’m ready, I want to know I’m ready because I can do (insert task) to (insert standard)!
I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of schools and a selection process, and then work in them later in my career. I’ve also trained with most of the reputable tactical trainers in the industry as well as some top-level competitors. There is a common bond between all of these places and people that I’ve encountered: they have all had a set of performance standards you are measured against and then you know whether you’re as good as you think you are. If you don’t know where you’re at, you have no idea where to go from there. Like one of my partners says, “It’s not hard to be the fastest motherf**ker in a one man race.” I shudder to think at the state of the force had I passed people on their confidence to perform rather than their abilities. I would have had a 100% GO rate. Fortunately, it was never a floating set of standards based on one guys individual potential or my intuition. I’m not some master educator, I’m more of a knuckle dragger. But I know we could afford to hire people that were, and they all dealt in standards. You stand in the hallway with a list of #1-150 for all of your peers to see, and nobody other than #1 feels good about it. Lesson: It’s important to know if you suck or not. Feeling like you can win something that you can’t isn’t “confidence”, it’s stupidity. Working to meet that standard is where the greatness comes out.
This little piece has been pure opinion, experience, and a little bit of a rant. Everyone else is welcome to theirs as well, but I doubt anyone is going to change my mind, that you can’t reach your full potential in anything without tracking your progress and seeing where you stack up against yourself and others. You have to be measured in training, because when the time comes for real you’re going to be measured, whether you’re ready or not.
Jon Canipe served on Active Duty with the US Army as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant at 5th SFG(A) and was a Senior Instructor at the JFKSWCS, training SFQC students in planning, unconventional warfare, small unit tactics, CQB, and advanced marksmanship. He is a veteran of multiple combat tours, and still serves in the Army National Guard’s 20th SFG(A) in addition to working as an industry consultant and small arms instructor.