Each day of my existence brings further examples of the similarities between the martial arts and firearms training worlds. I have only been training people how to use firearms for a couple decades, my martial arts training goes back to 1972. Almost every aspect of the “industry” that has grown around firearms training parallels my experience training and teaching mostly traditional martial arts. Some of this is good, but as one might expect much has ruined the very purpose of the endeavor. For many these days its just a fantasy camp.
Over 30 years ago I coined the phrase “Samurai Camp”, likely not original, but unheard of at the time in my circles irritating more than a few contemporaries. Those certainly still exist, but more prevalent today is “Commando Camp”, the equivalent for firearms training. Both have their place, but it is critical to know the difference if you intend to garner some usable skill set.
A huge portion of those training in traditional martial arts (open handed or weapons) do so more as a hobby. Fully 95 percent “dabble” in it for cultural reasons, exercise, or competition. Many just watched a superhero or martial arts movie, and are looking for their inner Jason Bourne. Better yet they are Grand Master level on a video game. Others perused the net or read some book about how to have a “samurai mind”. Unfortunately much of what a samurai was is based on pure fiction propagated by books, movies and television. Real samurai killed people for a living, most professional samurai spent every waking hour practicing a better way to do just that either in war, or later in a dual. Most were not philosophers or anything resembling “noble” . Their focus was singular, survive, and that generally meant the other guy died. Fighting with what amounts to a knife on a stick (spear) 42″ razor blade (sword) or a powerful bow is seldom survivable by both parties. Losing those meant you needed to kill them with your hands, quickly, even more difficult. Training was intense and often brutal, generally very simple and effective. Koryu or very traditional Japanese systems are as close as it gets to what they really did. No wasted movement, the quicker the other guy is dead the longer I live. Not a bad idea if you are actually going to use it, just neither politically correct or “safe” nor was it easy.
But its HARD!
In those schools trophies don’t exist and promotion intervals are measured in years not weeks so few stick with it. Invitations may be required to attend, and most want little to do with social media attention ruling out “selfies”, and the like. They are about training and building character, not publicity. Even most “serious” martial artists lack the patience to stick it out in a Koryu given the attention span of humanity today. I have had what most would consider extensively trained martial artists lose interest in Kendo in a month or two. Once they figure out they won’t be Musashi Incarnate in a week, flipping their sword around like a Ninja Turtle, or traveling the world as a “competitor” they lose interest. A couple 3 and 4 hour training sessions and they are out. Some just want to whack people with a stick, its fun, more trophies for the game player. It can be more about status than training, maybe the most common aspect of large systems. Training is secondary to “who you are” and “where you fit” in the system. For anyone in the firearms training world this should have big ass bells going off!!
Many are just there to play dress up focussing more on how to tie the knot in their Obi (belt) than to actually train. Either way, the training is either too hard, or too slow, or heaven forbid, you may get hurt. Same with the Karate I teach. Truly traditional Japanese arts (all of them) can be brutal, and yes, you will probably get banged up. Done properly with a real instructor serious injury is rare, but its not aerobics dance class. What we called “kumite”, or “randori” (grappling arts) in the 1970’s has more in common with MMA then most arts today. It was and is the practical application of your training. Students today have flat out told me I am just here for the “kata” (forms) I won’t fight – ignorance epitomized. If there is no fighting it is not martial, it is dancing.
Sadly (or lucky for some), there are numerous schools that do just that. most in fact. No fighting necessary other than tag in a tournament, just compete, win trophies and pay your dues and up the ranks you go. I recently had one of those students train with me for one day. Skill level that would not garner a green belt in my system yet she was a black belt in what was originally at least a traditional school, even well respected at one time. Performing what are advanced kata solely for the purpose of competition with absolutely ZERO idea what she was doing. Just moves in a pattern, a dance. All she knew was it garnered metals, plaques, and trophies, and yep, she never had to fight.
In many cases showing up is all you need, just so long as you pay your dues. Attend the “instructors class” and now you too can teach (sound familiar firearms folks). These are nothing more than belt mills, or in some cases camps where people play dress up and frolic about fantasizing about being a Samurai or their favorite superhero. Its all great fun, just never expect to use it as martial arts (any of them) were intended, to survive and prevail in what was generally mortal combat (singular or in groups). Think of those classes void of practical application as a dance class, generally without the music. Training for purpose requires commitment, and a focus on practical application, not movie magic. Nor are you going to “fight” day one. Traditional schools require you prove your metal inside, not just out. Its not just fighting, its about vetting who you teach, and that takes time and patience. There are plenty of places to just go the rounds, and you will learn how to fight. You won’t learn much else, but you will learn to fight. You will get hit by the way, and sooner, but hey, you are learning to fight.
This may be the most common form of training in the firearms world today. Its mostly about dress up and preparation for something that will only occur as part of a fantasy, or in the next action or zombie movie. In most cases its more about selling you the stuff you need, not the training. Convince people of the coming apocalypse, a disease ridden zombie like event, or some other catastrophe. Tell them what they need to survive, sell it to them, then get them to pay you to train them how to use it. There is even some pretty well done multi-level marketing for firearms training. Create the need, then suck people into paying them to meet it. Its capitalism at its finest, and so long as you understand thats what you are getting it is fantastic! Void of this condition the firearms industry would be a third of what it is today and its America, paying for needless crap is a right. But it is not a bad idea to come out of the clouds and back on earth occasionally it may just save your life.
Commando camps are fun, especially if you will never actually use anything you do. No one is trying to kill you at camp, you go back to your hotel and watch more fantasy on television. Most are not headed somewhere to fight a war. Some are for sure, and for them its different, but for most its no different than Samurai Camp, just a different fantasy. Its not that some skill sets will not be gained, its just for the most part nothing you do will prepare you for what might occur in your daily existence. Spending a week dressed in camouflage running a carbine in full kit will NOT help you in the real world where you are trying to survive with the micro-pistol stuffed in your crotch. The chances of you having all that crap in hand when the terrorist attacks your local mall are about zero. Its going to be your pistol. Maybe you carry a fighting pistol, even then spending 10K on kit and learning to be a commando won’t help you fight with that pistol, or without it in many cases. Even law enforcement suffers from this. Most of the time your rifle is in your squad. You “may” have enough information to cause you to bring it, generally not. You may even be able to get back to it, but again, probably not. You are most likely going to fight with that pistol on your hip, and the other one that should be on you. Don’t train like a SWAT guy at the expense of learning to use what you KNOW you will have with you. Thankfully we are not yet to the point where you can respond to the barking dog call in full kit, hope we never get there.
Just like the aerobics class, range dancing is not fighting, nor preparation for a fight. Do some of that, its a great time, but spend more time learning how to use what you WILL have when it happens. If that is a carbine, or one of the new “prifles” (AR pistols), then fine, but don’t kid yourself. Those are most likely used in home / vehicle defense not personal. Even then you are likely not going to need the crap that goes wth it. Probably just you, the rifle properly equipped and a spare magazine (if you are lucky), all the while in your underwear. If hordes of evil doers are attacking your home requiring 10 magazines and full kit there is some other problem there. Even home invasions are generally comprised of two or three bad guys, so 60 rounds or so should do it? Learn how to deploy it from where it is, and practically, without the commando garb.
This is not a knock on fantasy firearms training, it can be a blast (pun intended). I have had some great times at schools training on the most useless skills imaginable. As a police sniper many a school involved some hide and stalk, dressed like a tree, face covered in paint crawling through bug and snake infested fields to eliminate the round steel target representing the evil terrorist. It was fun, all but useless for a police sniper, but fun. Expending copious amounts of ammunition, mostly making brass at “tactical” schools is a riot. Many classes are based solely on round count, most are to be avoided like the plaque if you are there to learn, but man they are fun. Think of it as cosplay for adults with guns. By all means, attend those, shooting guns is fun, just know up front what you are getting, and don’t expect it to necessarily be useful, just fun.
Reality is you are most likely to use a firearm in defense of yours or another’s life in close proximity, with what is on your person. Generally, you put yourself there, most people will NEVER see this happen. While you may be there when the mall is attacked by some whack job or terrorist, its still pretty uncommon. In most cases trouble can be avoided, and you probably won’t have a rifle or the 10 grand in crap to go with it. Its going to be you, your pistol, and your wits. Stay focussed on using those in the real world. Just like in the martial arts world that training may be tedious, it may not be nearly as fun and it will take work. There will be no trophies, certificates, or prizes. Nor will you move up the ranks and become the next “GRAND MASTER! However, you just may survive to live with the aftermath and learn to appreciate what you have, like family, friends, and the like. Not as cool, but way better in the long run.