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  • Writer's pictureJ B

Becoming a Professional Student

- Jon

In my time as an instructor I have had hundreds of students and have seen millions of rounds go down range. After a while, if you’re paying attention, a pattern starts to develop. What do successful students do? What behaviors do they share? What do unsuccessful students miss? There are some common missteps and hurdles every student faces. Some are easier to combat than others, but if we can at least identify them, it will make you a more conscientious and successful student.

Check Your Ego at the Door

"Nothing breaks a lifter faster or for longer than ego." –Jim Wendler

This should be its own article (and it may be someday). I want you to think about the above quote. Jim said it about powerlifters, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t carry over to shooters. The reason any student stagnates is because they tie their ego to whatever they have already learned. Everyone wants to be “the guy”… the most tactical badass that’s ever walked the earth. If they learn something new, then they can’t be “the guy” anymore, because they already should have known it. Don’t make this mistake. I’ve had the honor of working with some guys that legitimately could claim to be “the guy”. They are the first to tell you they don’t have it all figured out. The best are perpetual students, you should be too.

Just Try It My Way

“This is the way we’ve always done it.” –People Who Will Never Improve

Any instructor will tell you that this is the worst thing they will ever hear. Or, it’s closely related cousins, “my way works for me” and, “I know”. I once had a young Marine attached to us with his canteens mounted on the chest of his plate carrier above his mag pouches. When I politely pointed out the flaw in his logic, he told me this set up “worked for him.” Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have THE way, but I’ll let you imagine the outcome the first time he had to retrieve a magazine. Don’t tell me your way works best for you if you cannot demonstrate competency with my, or any other way, because then it’s just your ego talking. If you have any prior training, trying something new will not deprogram you. The worst that could happen is that you confirm that a particular technique doesn't work. Or, even better, you discover something that works better than you imagined and you get to take another step on the competency stairway. Now, I know, we’ve always been to classes where an instructor says or does something that makes the whole class give each other side eye. Even if it goes against your very being, just grin and bear it. The middle of class is nether the time nor the place. And hell, you might even be surprised.

Be Selfish

Any instructors I train with: Sorry bro, I'm fixin to bug the shit out of you. I paid, and I'm going to make you earn my money. Everything we do I need to know why, and I'm going to suck everything out of your brain that I can. When I'm teaching I love having students that are constantly asking for clarification or using breaks to review a technique. If I see someone on the line during a break practicing something, I'm going to go over there and work with them one on one. If you're putting in the work so will I. Be careful not to take this too far, never interrupt the instructor to interject, and give them a chance to get some chow or water and a bathroom break every once in a while.

Take Notes

This is self-explanatory. Take notes. Lots of notes. On break, after class, during lunch. Human memory sucks, so if it’s worth remembering, write that shit down. Besides the obvious, why take notes? I present to you the cone of learning.

Taking notes takes us from being passive participants to being active participants in our own learning. This doesn’t mean taking dictation for the entire class, but something like how a concept was articulated that resonated with you, or a specific drill that you liked, even just what you did for the day. Then, a few months down the line, you can simply go back and review what you wrote, and all that information you paid good

money for doesn’t get lost to memory.

Steal Everything You Can

I don’t shoot for a living (as my demos will attest), I teach for a living. So one of my main focuses when I go to a class is to not only improve as a student, but improve as an instructor. Every instructor will explain something a little differently and every student has something different that resonates with them. So I am always seeking a better way to articulate concepts or improve my teaching methodology. If I like the way an instructor explains a particular concept, I'm adding it to my tool box. This is a high stakes world, and good information is good information. Use it.

Take it Seriously/ Be an Adult

"Don't get on the Ride" –Matt Graham

I hate that this even has to be discussed. It’s also unfortunate because it generally means there is good cohesiveness in the class, but there is a massive divide between having fun while you're training and having fun instead of training. Between drills it's okay to enjoy the company of your fellow students, crack some jokes, and enjoy your training. But when it's time to train, it's time to train. Don't bring your levity into the drill or scenario. Matt Graham once described this as "getting on the ride". Don’t get on the ride, once you do, there's no getting off. Learning has ceased and now you’re just along for the fun. Here's an example. I was in a class shooting through a windshield with a carbine. My scenario partner decided to hit his fun switch and dump a mag through the glass. He got on the ride, and I coughed up glass particles for a week. The same holds true if you're supporting a scenario. During a CQB class, I was running some of the role players. At the beginning of the day they were doing exactly what they were told. As the day wore on they started to get bored and do some goofy shit. This is kid shit. Respect your fellow students and allow them to maximize their training. You paid for this class; how stupid would it be to not take advantage of knowledge you may not have? If your agency or unit paid for the class and you don't want to be there, be an adult, and allow those who paid out of their pocket to get the most out of their money.

Saved Rounds

Training of any kind is an incredible opportunity to sharpen your skillset, improve as an individual, and maybe meet some cool people along the way. At the end of the day it all comes down to your ego (doesn’t it always?). Are you confident enough to open your ears and your mind? Are you mature enough to put it on during a drill and relax a little during down time? It’s your time, use it wisely.

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. –Miyamoto Musashi

(This article was written by me and originally published on our good friend's website,, republished here with his permission. Thanks, Chuck!)

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