The importance of training, practicing, and knowing the difference!

By: Joshua Gideon

As more and more people purchase firearms, I am seeing an increased interest from many new gun owners to get training. My waiting list for classes is growing at an astounding rate and I am struggling to keep up with the demand. This is a good thing for the industry and I am excited to be part of it. Maybe it is because of this growth that I am seeing a trend that concerns me. The trend looks something like this. A person says, “With everything in the world going on right now, I think it’s time I consider purchasing a firearm.” The nearest “gun guy” hears this declaration and albeit with good intentions, offers to help and show them “everything” they need to know for FREE! On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this, however, as they say, “nothing is free.”

Back in the late 1990’s when I began enrolling in firearms and security classes, I would occasionally get invited by a friend or buddy to come “train” with them. These were good guys with good intentions. They wanted to share their love for firearms with their buddies and even strangers. Now for most of them, these “training” sessions meant putting up some paper targets at distance and shooting them to see who got the smallest groups. The person with the tightest group at the farthest distance was clearly the better shooter. Clearly. Some of those buddies had also been through some civilian, law enforcement, and military training and we occasionally tried to implement the drills they learned from the training they had been through. To my buddies and me, this was “training” and boy did we feel great about what we were doing. Yet, little did we know, what we were doing wasn’t training.

What was the big problem that none of us got at the time? Well, we were not instructors and we didn’t know how to teach. The best we could do was demonstrate something and say, “do this.” Not a single one of us had been through an instructor course at that time or even helped anyone teach a class. None of us had a clue how to put together a curriculum for a class and what to include or exclude from it. Sure, we had read the gun rags of the day, hung out at gun stores, and attended every local gun show. Only a few of us had actually been through formal training classes. Those of us who had been through a couple, had not been through enough to be training others. Although we were pretty good target shooters amongst ourselves, we didn’t have the first clue how to actually help people learn to shoot (and certainly didn’t know how to teach them “when” to shoot). Even worse, we didn’t know the ripple effect of what we were teaching and how that might cause issues for someone down the road. These sessions, however well intentioned they were, caused severe training scars for all who participated (including us). It would be years before I would realize the impact these training scars would have in my personal development of defensive firearms shooting. We were all suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect (–Kruger_effect) and causing unintended damage in the wake of our good intentions.

Years later, it took a very good friend to finally break me of the habit of calling my practice sessions “training.” Knowing I had some martial arts background, he stopped me mid-sentence at lunch one day shaking his head. After a friendly verbal lashing, he simply asked me if I thought someone could teach themselves to be a Black Belt from a DVD in his mom’s basement. I’d heard that before, the self taught “black belt.” I quickly responded, “Well no, there is no instructor there to help ensure he is doing it correctly and even worse, he will think he actually knows what he is doing. He will eventually get his butt kicked on the street.” After realizing what I just said, the light bulb went off and I felt pretty stupid. Training and practicing are two different animals. The guy could “practice” in his mom’s basement, but he is fooling himself if he thinks it’s training.

In a recent PDN article (, my mentor Grant Cunningham explains, “Training is the process of being exposed to, and learning how to develop competency in, a new skill or area of knowledge. Training requires someone — an instructor — who can relate what the skill is, why it’s important, how to perform it properly, and most importantly correct errors in your performance.” I would go a bit further and say an experienced instructor also knows the ripple effect that will result from inefficient or incorrect skills. He or she knows the importance of teaching those skills thoroughly and how to repair the damage from poorly taught skills.

In the same article, Grant explains that, “practice is the process of developing and improving the skills learned in training.” It is important that students practice the skills they have learned in training. I’ve yet to meet an instructor that was so good that they could teach the students to master all the complex skills they threw at them in the duration of a one or two day class. Humans are not perfect, we make mistakes. It takes practice to develop skills to the point where mistakes are rare. It’s normal, it’s expected.

The graphic that I used for this article emphasizes my concern. Make no mistake; I applaud those who have a desire to help other gun owners. Your intentions are likely good and pure. At the same time, we have to be careful what we are costing them. As I said before, nothing is free. Just as my buddies and I were well intentioned trying to help each other, we caused more harm than good. It took hundreds of dollars and hours of training and practice to fix some of the bad habits learned during those days. In my humble opinion, this graphic shows a clear misunderstanding of what it takes to train someone. It also fails to show the differences between training and practice. Knowing that difference is critical to proper development of each student. Otherwise, you risk practicing things incorrectly and creating your own drills that are out of context for a defensive firearms situation. At the worst, they could even be dangerous and cost someone their life. As I close this article, I’d like to suggest a few changes to the graphic above:


  1. By helping you find a good training class that will teach you the skills needed to safely handle a firearm, the skills you need to select your first firearm, ammo, mags, and parts, and the skills to use a defensive firearm in a life or death situation.
  2. By going to the training class with you if you feel nervous or need someone to go with you.
  3. By helping you find a gun store that will not rip you off when buying the firearm, ammo, mags, and parts.
  4. By helping you practice the skills that YOU learned.

It is important to get training and practice, but it’s just as important to know the difference!

If you are interested in training, please sign up on my waiting list at to be notified when class seats are available. If you can’t train with me, find a reputable trainer that will train you in context how to use a firearm in a defensive situation.