Nov 18, 2009

Masters and Marksmanship

"I have seen one hundred men who would call themselves Masters yet if you took all their skills added together, you would not have the makings of three good students, let alone one Master…of this art there are few Masters in the world"
- Master Fiore dei Liberi, Flos Duellatorum, 1410

The quote above is 600 years old and is about swordsmanship. Unfortunately, not much has changed. In the field of marksmanship it has worsened.

How do you determine if someone truly is a master at marksmanship and worthy to teach? Jeff Cooper laid out the following criterion which remains the best I've seen to date.

What does it take to be a Master of Weaponcraft?

First, it requires demonstrated expertise with the chosen weapon. A master need not be a world champion in competition, but he does need to be a dangerous competitor. He must be able to do everything that the weapon is capable of doing, and doing it on demand. He must be able to show his students exactly what is expected of them, while not, at the same time, intimidating them.

Second, the master must understand the theory of the technique of his instrument. He must know the geometry and physiology behind the shooting process. Generations of military and police instructors have got by without this by simply emphasizing "This is the way we do it!" While that may be good enough for government work, it is not the best way to success. I remember from long years ago an encounter with a great master of the saber. We youngsters depended almost entirely upon speed, but this gentleman showed us that speed was unimportant without timing. To demonstrate he would choose a pupil and than say exactly how and where he would hit him - and then do it. When your master can do that to you, you tend to believe what he says.

Third, the master must have a genuine desire to impart. Here is where the master differs from the mere expert. He must desire excellence in his students more than excellence in himself, and seek at all times to produce that. We have all known some very good shots who have failed as teachers because of a lack of this essential desire.

Fourth, the master demonstrates "command presence," which is a combination of articulation, vocal tone, posture, and attitude. The master must be able to command without rank. Obviously, true masters of weaponcraft are not common. During the time I ran the school at Gunsite, I sought continually for people who displayed the necessary qualifications, but I did not find a lot of people who made the grade. That is doubtless one reason why really good marksmanship is so rare. Very few practitioners are truly qualified to teach it.

Nov 4, 2009

Bore Yourself Into Shooting Better


Chapman Academy of Practical Shooting

Students often ask us, how and what should I practice. The short answer? Basics. Remember what they are? Position, Grip, Trigger Control and Sight Picture.


Think about that. When that round went low, were you looking at the target when you should have been looking at the sights? When that second shot when high, did you have a strong grip and locked shooting position? It all goes back to the basics.


Answer, only if it’s perfect practice. Recall the concept of Muscle Memory Training, that is really what practice is all about, creating the proper muscle memory training so under stress you can rely on it to execute the basics correctly. The more you do it correctly in practice the more likely you are to do it correctly when you need to. Having said that we need to address the speed at which you practice. Most of us watch the top shooters on various TV shows in different competitions. They shoot with blinding speed, naturally we want to do the same. What we are seeing is the product of years and thousands of rounds of “perfect practice”. Let us put it this way. If given the opportunity to drive a high performance racecar would you just jump in and start driving it at 200 MPH, or would you take a little time to “work up to it”?

Each year in May we get the opportunity to see and talk to all the top shots from around the world who compete in the Bianchi Cup. This year’s match is May 23 - 26. I have asked several of them this question: “If you had a hundred rounds to practice with, how would you do it?” Almost to a shooter, they say "I would fire 70 to 80 of them in basic exercises, making sure I was still executing correct basics. The other 30 to 20 rounds would be for getting ready for the match." See, I told you; you were seeing the product of Perfect Practice.


Yep, you need to have goals when you practice. Unfortunately we humans are not capable of dealing with a lot of different things at once. Therefore, we need to set goals and work on one thing at a time, until we reach our ultimate objective.

Anatomy of a Perfectly Boring Perfect Practice Session

My goal: To consistently shoot a bank of plates in four seconds without missing from ten yards.

Step one: dry practice session, just to make sure I can still press the trigger without the front sight moving. Maybe five to ten minutes worth.

Step two: live fire without time limits, making sure I hit each plate with one shot. It is not going to do me any good trying to do it fast if I cannot hit the plates anyway. After five banks in a row without missing, move on to the next step.

Step three: shooting on time, but not fast. Set the timer for 6 seconds and again set a goal as in step two. Five banks in a row without missing a plate and within the time limit of six seconds.

Step four: same as step three but lower the time to five seconds.

Step five: same as the others but again lower the time limit to four seconds.

Now if that doesn't bore you, nothing will.

It not only takes perfect practice; it also takes will power, determination, concentration, and dedication on your part.