Friday, I received a response saying that he had received an inquiry from one person:
Also, my in-basket included a CC from Bernie confirming that he wanted to take the class, and offering both email and phone contact information.
I phoned Bernie "after dinner" (6:45pm in any self-respecting Oregon home, although not in mine) and confirmed that he did intend to take the course. I sent him an email with the basic information .. known as "The Boilerplate". That included an invitation to "... bring your friends, bring your family ...", so when I showed up at the range Saturday afternoon Bernie met me at the gate and said he had brought his friend Tim.
Tim seemed reasonable conversant with basic gun-handling concepts, even though he announced that he had only bought his pistol a short time ago. He mentioned that he had qualified with pistols in the military; that seemed to be "a good start", if not a guaranteed of advanced techniques. I accepted him as a student with few questions.
We moved down to Bay 7, and about the time we were starting to do our classroom segment, David showed up. He said he had been trying to work the class into his schedule for "a long time", but this was the first date he had been able to attend. He informed us that he had been competing in Speed Steel for some time, so I accepted this as verifying his basic gun-handling skills.
We got through the preface, started working through the test that they had (well, Bernie and Tim) downloaded from the Internet, and another student showed up: Juan.
Juan didn't profess to have any specific pertinent experience in gun-handling. Even though he had not been vetted by Mike McCarter, who usually handles and unknown or "marginal" entries to the class, I instinctively liked him because his calm and confident demeanor. I accepted him into the class anyway.
So I had one person with demonstrated skills-sets; one with only a recommendation from Mac; one with no demonstrable background at all; and one who admitted he has a new pistol with which he has not experience.
To my not-so-special surprise, all four of them managed to endure the next few hours of instruction and testing with .. perhaps no errors, but they all demonstrated good judgment even when the Feces hit the Rotary Air Conditioning.
It's a general statement that people who want to take this class usually have more experience and/or better judgment when it comes to gun-handling skills than the average man in the street. This is not universally true, and my experience in the past before Mac assumed the responsibility for vetting prospective students was sometimes unpleasantly surprising; still, 3 out of 4 participants were this week accepted although they had not necessarily demonstrably met the minimal qualifications.
We are, after all, an Equal Opportunity Gun Club. And I don't even have a bullet-proof vest.
But then, being in charge of the class allows me to exert the ultimate control of the class, shooters and stages; I have the authority to refuse further training on anyone who doesn't meet my standards. I've not had to exercise that yet; although the day the lady pointed a pistol at my belly while we were chatting at the safety table did give me a moment of retrospect about my decision to accept the trainer position. BTW, she never appeared at a match. Perhaps she realized independently that she didn't have the proper mindset to do "run-'n-gun" with live ammunition.
Amazing that 24 hours before I thought I had no students, and now I had four. Even more amazing considering the the temperature at 1pm was 46 degrees and there was a strong wind bring an uncomfortable wind-chill factor into the equation.
These guys were really interested. What with the recap for slightly late-arriving Juan, and considering that at least one of them had neither red the manual or completed the test, the one-hour classroom session took us an extra 30 minutes over the scheduled time.
Then it took another 20 minutes to raid the prop room and set up the basic stave construction for the "Live Fire" exercises. By the time we started working on them, we were 47 minutes behind schedule.
I talked fast, but these guys were sharp and motivated; they asked intelligent questions in class, not all of which they may have need had everyone completed the preparatory material. However, they were all quick-witted and nobody asked a 'dumb question'. (I don't know what that is, except that my impression is that a "dumb question" is the one which is not asked. I was glad that I had already invited them to interrupt my presentation if they had questions; that allows me to respond with information which they really need.)
So, we got into the Live Fire portion a little late, and as a consequence when we got down to the end of the hard-wired syllabus, they were all willing to stay a little late so they could get the "extra credit" stage. Today, that included an impromptu stage teaching advanced topics such as "strings" in a stage, and "Strong-hand/Weak-hand" target engagement.
Everyone voted to stick around for that exercise, and I was impressed at how well they performed. At least one student told me that he had very little experience shooting handguns; no experience in competitions; and in fact he had just bought the handgun he expected to use "a few weeks ago" (a Beretta 92, which he discover was too large-framed for his hands).
But that wasn't the most notable moment of the class.
I try to emphasize to these class attendees that there are some things in Practical Pistol Competition which are not intuitively obvious, and these will lead to moments of confusion or dismay in which they will doing something "not in their best interest". Also, that if there is an "extreme sport" version of competitive shooting, it is in Action Shooting (Practical Pistol, Multigun, 3-gun, etc.) In order to help them understand how actions which they take without thinking may lead to disaster, I describe at least a couple of things they need to think about.
During cold-weather months, almost everyone shows up with jackets, sweatshirts, and long-tailed shirts. I make a point of explaining that when they shoot a stage, they would be best served if they remove their coats/jackets before coming up to The Line. If they have a top which hangs outside their belt they must be absolutely certain that they holster their pistol carefully; if a shirt, jacket or sweater is hanging loosely about their waist, that material may be inadvertently scrunched between their pistol and the belt. In that case, if they (for instance) raise their arms above their head, the material may drag the pistol up out of the holster far enough that the pistol will fall on the ground.
The class, as seems reasonable, pretty much ignored this. All of my classes ignore this, because I give them a lot of advice and it becomes "Information Overload". (Think: "This guy is over-teaching, and it's not gonna happen to me because he's a worry-wort and I KNOW how to shoot .. he has nothing important to tell me.")
You can buy them books, but you can't make them read.
Five minutes after we had established the range props and targets, I was explaining the first exercise when I hear the clatter of a pistol hitting the concrete pad on the covered bay. Glancing to the side, I see a small Glock on the pad, and a very worried student wondering how the hell he's going to survive this Teaching Moment.
One of the other scenarios we had discussed was --- dropped gun. Drop your gun on the range while you're shooting a stage: definitive DQ. Drop your gun while you're smokin' and jokin' with your buddies in the Squad Area, you're okay as long as you do NOT touch the gun! That's "handling a firearm", and Match DQ."
Definite Teaching Moment. I've told them that their primary concern is the same as the Eddy Eagle Program:
- Don't Touch!
- Call an Adult!
I got everyone uprange of the gun (even if I had to push them), looked at the gun in situ, rotated it downrange so it wasn't pointing at anyone. Then I picked up the gun, cleared it (unloaded, of course), called the owner over and handed it to him with the instruction to "unload and show clear; hammer down; holster".
End of lesson, except explaining how it illustrated one warning (don't let your clothing bind your pistol in the holster) and one Safety Rule ( don't touch a downed gun).
I have to say, this was the first time that this particular warning was so graphically illustrated. It was almost as valuable as the time in an earlier class when a Demonstrator I had shanghaied to help me with the class tripped during a Course of Fire ... and was NOT DQ'd because he "did everything right".
Full Disclosure: since I shot my first match in 1983, I have NEVER seen anyone drop his gun on a concrete floor in the Squad Area because when he raised his arm his shirt-tail pull his gun out of his holster. But I've seen less demonstrative incidents related to this phenomena, and I always knew it was just a matter of "when", not "if". And no, it's not that the student was especially negligent. He just did what a lot of people do without thinking. I can guarantee that nobody in THIS class holstered a pistol without checking whether his clothing was trapped between his pistol and his holster; and none of them will ever again holster a pistol without making that check.
When we actually started shooting, we discovered that there were two other issues which had not been clear -- or, having been clear, not immediately loaded in the Hind-Brain so it would never happen:
- Keep your finger off the trigger when you are loading/unloading, clearing a jam, or moving; this is a Safety Issue and may lead to a Match Disqualification (DQ);
- When you are done with the Course of Fire, and the Range Officer give the command "If clear, hammer down, holster", you should do exactly that ... paying close attention to maintaining control of your firearm and NOT "sweeping" yourself. THEN you can worry about picking up your dropped magazine, your unfired/ejected round, and your brass; and if you didn't perform according to your self-imposed standard you are free to beat your head against the Bianchi Barricade. In the meantime, listen to your RO and do exactly what he tells you to do; nothing more, nothing less.
One student was "DQ'd" twice during the same stage; once for leaving his finger on the trigger during a reload, and the second for leaving his finger on the trigger during Unload And Show Clear.
Other areas which need work:
Very few areas here, as this was an exceptional class. The single most frequent recurring problem, other than leaving your finger on the trigger during loading/unloading, movement, and clearing a jam was that students sometimes forgot to reload when a mandatory reload was part of the Stage Procedures.
Then, we announced it to everyone in the class. Reinforcing the lesson is embarrassing when you are the subject of The Teaching Moment, but it tends to help you remember The Thing You Did Wrong. Calling attention to a failure to perform a mandatory reload, for example, is part of emphasizing the "per-shot" penalties which are imposed when you forget to reload when the Stage Procedures tell you that you must do so.
Other than that, the relatively minor problems which were demonstrated during the class were no different than any other class. These included: not knowing what to do when you performed a mandatory reload, so you racked the slide "anyway" thereby discarding a round from your gun; at the beginning of the stage, forgetting what the Starting position was and therefore assuming it was the same as a previous stage (e.g. "surrender position"); and at one point during the Live Fire exercise, slowing down to look at the gun to determine what "condition" it was in. *(Is the safety On, or Off; and should the safety be On or Off?)*
IPSC competition is very different from the usual "going to the range with your pals, and handling the guns indifferently at the counter in front of the range". When we shoot with our friends, and we either aren't aware of the Safety Regulations or we assume that they don't apply here, we tend to develop bad habits. Breaking these Bad Habits is one of the un-announced primary purposes of USPSA training.
In a way, embarrassing a student because he demonstrates gun-handling habits which are entirely comfortable to him when he's shooting casually with his friends, but In Real Life (i.e. contrary to the rules of safe gun-handling), seems cruel. On the other hand, one of my common practices is to inform the students at the beginning of the class that ... one major reason for the class is to ensure that they are all sufficiently aware of the difference between "safe" and "not safe" handling. Why do I care? Because someday I may squad with them, and I only want to squad with Safe Shooters.
I want them to be safe because I expect to squad with them. And I don't want to get shot.
So I do not allow my natural disinclination to embarrass them prevent me from making a MAJOR POINT OF IT when they violate a safety rule.
My job here is to acquaint and familiarize them with the rules, especially those rules concerning safe gun-handling, and when they perform an unsafe act I intend to do whatever is necessary to reinforce the concept: they just did something "unsafe", and If This Was A Real Match you would be DQ'ed.
And if I say it loud enough, the other members of the class will somehow register it in their minds that this is something that IPSC shooters take very seriously. They should avoid it, if only to avoid personal embarrassment. Sweeping; Finger on the trigger; breaking the 180; dropped gun; and all of the other naughty things that one might do during a USPSA match.
In fact, I have compiled a "Seven Deadly Sins" list of DQ-able offenses, and I have recently started to include that in my regular syllabus. Those "Seven Deadly Sins" include most of the Safety Failures which I teach to my students as UNACCEPTABLE:
- MUZZLE: don't break the 180 degree demarcation between a "safe" zone where you can point your gun, and where you cannot point your gun safely.
- FINGER: Keep your finger off the trigger when you are (1: moving except no more than one step, or when you are actively engaging targets), and (2: when you are reloading, unloading, clearing a jam).
- SWEEPING: Do not allow the muzzle to point toward any part of your body ... sweeping during holstering/drawing/bagging has special circumstances.
- Dropped Gun: If you drop your gun during a Course of Fire, it is a DQ. Special circumstances if you "ground" your gun while recovering from a prone position, etc. If you drop your gun not during a Course of Fire (e.g., while you are observing or out of the shooting area), it is not a DQ unless you touch your gun except under the direct and specific supervision of a Range Office.
- D&D: "Drunk and Disorderly": "DRUNK" specifically includes "under the influence" (alcohol or other drugs, even if prescribed by your physician), especially they if they undermine your judgment, ability to perform safely, etc. "Disorderly" specifically refers to Unsportsmanlike conduct such as arguing with the RO in an unseemly or profane manner.
- Over The Hill: specifically refers to "negligent discharges", and other incidents which may be loosely grouped under this sometime-vague umbrella (note: the rules may not be all that vague, but is sometimes a 'judgmental' definition).
- Cheating: Refers to claiming exceptions to the rules which are defined elsewhere. Example: deliberately dropping "eye or hearing protection", which is required -- and accidental loss requires a mandatory reshoot. ( "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" overlaps with #5: D&D.)
As usual, many of these issues and points of interest overlap with comments I have made in previous articles referring to the "Intro to USPSA" classes which I have been privileged to teach. For those comments which are obviously redundant, I apologize; it was not my purpose to bore you with meaningless repetition.
It's just my way.
However, in EVERY class I learn something new. Sometimes it's something ... some incident or occurrence which may be a new version, or reinforces something I have observed before and am astonished to see that it remains no matter how I change the course syllabus to emphasize recurring issues. Sometimes it's something that has been mentioned before, but is reinforced by an actual re-enactment of what had previously been nothing more than a precautionary note. (Case in point: clothing jammed between holster and pistol results in a "dropped gun:"; or, how the competitor should respond to the situation, and how they may expect the RO to deal with the situation.)
If you aren't interested in an ongoing litany of "How Things Can Go Wrong", it's easy to avoid any future re-visitation to this kind of article. Just ignore any post labeled "Intro to USPSA".
On the other hand, I think it's interesting to note the kind of situation which many of us who are more experienced just -- take for granted. Yet new shooters provide a prolific field of errors and misunderstandings which may help the rest of us to re-visit our gun-handling practices.
If it saves just one