For the last several years many responsible citizens have followed the advice of experts and begun storing extra food at home.  Most have gone out and purchased a gun or two or three and stocked up ample ammunition for them.  The sale of gold coins has pushed the price to heretofore unheard of levels.  There is nothing wrong with this situation.  Society as a whole will always benefit when citizens take responsibility for their safety and wellbeing.

The situation many of these good citizens now find themselves in is that they possess a plethora of gear but little skill or knowledge of how to use said gear.  To paraphrase the late Colonel Jeff Cooper, “Owning a gun doesn’t make you a gunfighter anymore than owning a guitar makes you a musician.”  We’ve all suffered and smiled as we listened to the self-taught musician.  The self-taught shooter is the same.  They might to get by and not hurt themselves but they possess little true skill.  (Yes, I know there have been self-taught musicians that succeeded and went on to fame.  Save your letters.)

You Cannot Buy Your Way Around Training

Far too often people, men being the biggest offenders, will try to buy their way around training and practice.  They spend thousands on the most expensive firearms they can find and then equip these guns with high-powered scopes, red dot optics, and laser aiming devices.  All of these accessories can enhance the ability of a trained shooter, but in the hands of an untrained novice they are simply expensive toys.  The red dot sight doesn’t fire the rifle and the laser doesn’t guide bullets to the target.

I’ve known guys who purchased $3000 custom M1911 pistols, hand-bonded exotic leather holsters and never attended a single professional training course.  Although it might simply be an unconscious act, they are attempting to buy their way around training.  James Yeager of Tactical Response equates training to buying a new car and making payments.  “When you attend a training course you make the down payment on the skill you need.  After returning home you must continue to practice what you’ve been taught.  That act is like making regular payments.  If you make enough payments you own the skill.”

Sonny Puzikas, a former Spetsnaz soldier now confirmed capitalist firearms trainer, once offered that, “You cannot buy skill.  When you combine professional instruction with dedicated practice the end result is skill.”

Mindset: The Toughest Part

The first step toward the development of skill is acceptance, the admission to oneself that you are lacking in a certain skill.  This is absolutely the most difficult concept for adults to grasp and admit to themselves.

The hierarchy of training was explained to me by John Farnam more than twenty years ago.  It flows like this: Unconscious Incompetence (blissfully ignorant or you don’t know what you don’t know), Conscious Incompetence (realizing you don’t know, but are willing to learn), Conscious Competence (if I think about it, I can do it), and finally the end goal, Unconscious Competence (I can do it without having to stop and think about it).

Most citizens fall into the Unconscious Incompetence category.  They deceive themselves into believing that if they ever need to perform in a crisis that the will or desire to perform can make it so.  That’s rather like sitting in the cockpit of an airplane with no training but telling yourself that you could fly the plane if it was “really an emergency”.  Gun owners say this all the time.  “Well, I might not have training, but if I ever need to fight I’ll know what to do.”  That thinking is delusional, but it’s also comfortable and thereby far too easy to accept.

When a person makes the transition to Conscious Incompetence, “I realize I don’t have the skill but I want to get some.”  They have overcome a tremendous obstacle and the road to proficiency and genuine skill is opened up before them.  As soon as you overcome the denial stumbling block and accept that you in fact don’t know it all, the learning can begin.

More than Guns

For the prepared citizen, the family that has indeed purchased extra food, firearms, medical supplies, etc. the road to skill and genuine security has several levels.  Many will purchase pre-stocked bug out bags, survival kits, and medical gear.  Based on the suggestions of experts or from watching television, these folks will buy a medical trauma kit, but again, all they really have now is gear, not the skill to use it.

Should you find yourself or a loved one lying on the ground with precious life-sustaining blood spilling out, that is not the time to try and read the manual to figure out what to do.  Reality check: how many of you in the audience purchased some type of battle or military trauma dressing from a catalog but have never taken it out of the package?  If someone you care about was bleeding to death would you have the skill to apply that bandage or would you simply be making it up as you went along?

I’ve had people tell me that if things got “too bad” they would live off the land, hunt, kill, and eat wild game.  Most of these same folks have never actually killed or eaten any wild game, much less done so with enough skill to preserve their lives.  Again, it’s the self-deluded thinking that “I’ll know what to do if the time comes.”

Genuine Skill Leads to a Strong Mind

“The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The brain is final weapon.  All else is supplemental.”  Wise words from John Steinbeck.  While it is not possible to will the body to possess skill, the possession of genuine, earned skill leads to a strong mind.  When faced with a true crisis, a life or death situation, it is a strong mind that will guide you through to the other side.

First, the mind must accept that the body needs to be trained.  When the mind and body are working in concert and real, tangible skill is achieved the mind will be stronger and more resolute.  What was once thought to be impossible now becomes possible.  Self-imposed limitations begin to fall away and old boundaries at pushed back and the horizons expand.  The first step, however, seems to be the hardest.  Are you ready to take that step?  In the end the choice is yours to make.

Author Bio:  Paul G. Markel became a US Marine in 1987 and served this nation in time of peace and war.  Mr. Markel has been a professional bodyguard, police officer and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor.   His lifelong training and skills are being put to use today as an instructor at the recently launched “Emergency Tactical Skills” program.  The ETS program is an intensive, comprehensive training program designed to give the end user the skills they need to be victorious and survive the most hostile of situations.  For more info go to:

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