“We’ve Always Done it That Way.” And Other Lame Excuses.

Oct 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Historical, Military/LE, Psychological, Strategies, Tactics


“WELL, WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT LIKE THAT.”  If I hear that excuse one more time I think my head might explode.  I’ve been in the shooting business for more than two decades now as a student and instructor in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a police officer.   

No one starts out as the teacher or instructor, we all began as students, plebes, rookies, cadets, you name it.  When you are a rookie you do what you are told.  No questions, no ifs, ands, or buts.  However, as we grow and develop in our chosen career field we should begin to apply something simple yet apparently elusive; analytical thinking.  

The Crutch      

 Too many of those charged with firearms training for the new troops fall back on the old “we’ve always done it that way” crutch.  This excuse apparently frees them from the need to think.     

For several years I worked at military training command.  My job was to teach small arms and tactics to troops preparing for overseas deployment.  When I started working closely with the existing instructor corps, I found that their pistol training program was ten to fifteen years behind progressive law enforcement training.   Inquiring as to why certain things were done, the most common answers were “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Or “That’s the way they want it taught.”    

A law enforcement agency I once worked with required its officers to annually pass the state mandated firearms qualification course. Invariably, year after year, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty percent of the officers failed to qualify the first time through and had to be remediated.  A simple question was posed.  If such a high percentage of people can’t pass the qualification the first time through, shouldn’t we mandate extra training time and ammunition?  The answer was “No, this is the way we’ve always done it.”  

Rather than examine or address any deficiencies in the curriculum or training program, it’s much easier to simply state, that’s we way we’ve always done it.  Well that’s great.  We used to bore holes in people’s heads to let the demons out.  I’m sorry folks but “we’ve always done it like that.” is a crutch.  It’s an easy way out that requires no thought or effort.   

Changing World  

Consider this, if you needed to have heart surgery, would you rather have a doctor who regularly attends seminars on vascular surgery and operating techniques or would you rather the doctor who has had no training since leaving medical school in 1993?  

During the last twenty-five years or so I have been involved in firearms training first as a student, a part-time coach, and then full-time instructor. Throughout the decades I have always been a student of the gun considering how and why certain things are done.  

Some of the techniques I was taught originally have been left behind, not because they are out of fashion but because I came to realize they were impractical.  One of the best examples of techniques left behind is the Weaver Stance.    

I was baptized a Weaver shooter in the 1980’s.  I learned the proper foot placement and push/pull grip on the pistol.  This stance served me well in the Marine Corps during pistol qualifications where I earned the Expert badge on multiple occasions and was awarded Top Shooter at one of many schools I attended.  Why mess with success you might ask?    

Over the years I came to realize that I was practicing the best way to shoot stationary paper or steel targets.  However, my ultimate goal was not to shoot paper, it was to prepare to save my own life from felonious attack.  Deadly force encounters are not square range scenarios.   When the bullets start flying your feet had better by moving.  

That is where the light bulb kicked on for me.  The second the gunfight begins and you move your feet that perfect Weaver stance you practiced for so long is gone.   

Too often we train and practice techniques that are designed to optimize the square range or static target shooting.  We’ll practice manipulating a firearm in a way that requires ample time and light.   Time and light are two luxuries often in short supply in the battlefield or on the streets.  

Let’s consider the once-accepted technique of “SPORTS” for clearing an AR/M-16 stoppage.  Breaking it down; Slap the magazine, Pull the charging handle (with strong hand), Observe the chamber/ejection port area, Release the charging handle, Tap the forward assist button, attempt to Shoot the rifle.   This technique does work if the shooter has ample time and light available.  Again, both are luxuries on the battlefield.  

From a practical standpoint, SPORTS includes many more steps than necessary to fix the simple Type 1 or 2 stoppages (failure to fire and stovepipe).  For the dreaded Double-Feed stoppage, SPORTS does not go far enough.  

If the previous statements are true, and they indeed are, why do some schools continue to teach the SPORTS technique for clearing the AR?   It’s simple’ “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”   (Also, I think SPORTS is just such a cool acronym that folks can’t let it go.)       

Paul Markel making a point during pistol training course.

Think About It  

I know that it goes against most every instinct known to man, but every once in a while we need to actually think about why it is we do what we do.  I’m not telling you to reinvent the wheel here or to be contrary just for the sake of being a smart ass.  However, if we are talking about the most serious undertaking you can participate in, saving your life from a deadly threat, you might want to give it some thought.  

Are you playing a game with your guns?  Games are fun and we all like them, but games are not reality.   Reality dictates that the felon who attacks you will cheat.  They don’t follow the rules.   The felon will attack you when the light is poor, when you are tired, cold, wet, and hungry.  The felon doesn’t care that you are feeling “off your game” or that you haven’t “warmed up” yet.   

 Of course, it should be obvious that in order to realize what is practical, and what is not, you need experience and training.   The more training and experience you gain the better prepared you will be to discern between what is practical or gamesmanship.   The next time you hear someone say, “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” take a moment to think about it and ask why.  

Paul G. Markel became a United States Marine in 1987.  Mr. Markel has spent his entire adult life in the service of this nation during times of war and peace, as a Marine, Police Officer, and Small Arms and Tactics instructor. His written work has been published for two decades in numerous journals and periodicals.  He now hosts Student of the Gun, a weekly television program.  Follow the show at www.studentofthegun.com or daily on www.twitter.com/studentofthegun

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