Blog Rewind: Defensive Firearms Context- Transferrable Knowledge & Skills

By:  Joshua Gideon


Transferrable Knowledge & Skills

One of the least understood principles in the defensive firearms community is the principle of context.  At the root of the issue is what I believe to be a misapplication of what is now known as “21stCentury Skills” or “Deeper Learning.” These are defined as the process through which a person develops the ability to take what was learned in one situation and apply it to new situations.  Growing up with a teacher and marrying into a family of teachers, I’ve had the unique perspective of seeing this philosophy enter into the education world.  In fact, one of the goals of Common Core was to develop core transferrable knowledge and skills that could apply to various educational disciplines.  We may argue about the effectiveness of Common Core, but the underlying principle of transferrable knowledge and skills is sound.

Although we may agree that there are some skills and some knowledge that can be transferred across many disciplines, not everything you know and not every skill you possess is transferrable.  They must be kept in context or they will be misapplied (sometimes with tragic results).  Imagine, if you will, a young person who has just received their learner’s permit to drive.  They have just spent the past few months studying and obtaining the knowledge to operate a motor vehicle.  In addition to the knowledge, they have been put behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and developed the skills to operate said vehicle to an acceptable level of standards set forth by the State issuing their drivers license.  They are both knowledgeable and skilled to operate a motor vehicle.

Now, let’s take that same young person to the Indy 500 racetrack and put them behind the wheel of a 750 Horsepower Indy Race Car.  An Indy Car does have what any driver might recognize as a steering wheel.  It also has some gauges, something that feels like peddles, and even something that looks like a transmission gear shifter. Would you agree that this young person has “Transferrable Knowledge and Skills” to operate the Indy Car on a racetrack?  Maybe they do have some, but I don’t think anyone is going to be volunteering to be a passenger in that car.

The point is, just because “some” knowledge or skills of driving a car are transferrable to driving an Indy car, it doesn’t mean that person is qualified to do so.  A good majority of their automobile skills are out of context when driving an Indy Car on a track at 240 miles per hour.  This seems basic and silly to us, but we see people try to make this application in the defensive firearms world all the time.

How many times have you witnessed someone wanting to get defensive firearms training from the “Retired Marine” or “Navy Seal” or “Police Officer?”  I have heard people say that they would never take a firearms training class from anyone who had not been in a gunfight.  This line of thinking is the source of many gun shop debates on caliber, number of rounds in your gun, types of guns to use, etc.  Does that Police Officer, Marine, Solder, etc. have Knowledge and Skills that are transferrable to the defensive firearms world?  Probably some.  However, much of what the officer was taught is based on being a police officer.  The Marine was taught to setup ambushes and storm beachheads.  Transferring that knowledge or those skills may very well be out of context for your average citizen.

The best way to determine if a particular skill or knowledge is transferrable and in context is to see if it is reciprocal.  If it applies in context one direction, it should apply another direction.  For instance, if a law enforcement officer witnesses a robbery at the local gas station, his response will be to attempt to apprehend the suspect.  His training has provided this knowledge and he has likely experienced several similar situations, which have developed his skill to apprehend.  He is operating in context with the situation and his sworn responsibilities.  On the other hand, if an armed citizen witnessed the same situation and threw the person who they believed to be the robber to the ground, handcuffed them, and threw them in the back of their car, they would likely be arrested for kidnapping.  On the flip side, if a law enforcement officer witnessing the same thing got the call from dispatch and responded like an armed citizen could and said, “That looks bad, I’m going to a different gas station.”  We would be calling the police station demanding the officer be fired!  Sadly, we see examples of this in training.  The civilian firearms training world is plagued with law enforcement officers and soldiers teaching armed citizens to respond like law enforcement or soldiers.  These are extremely knowledgeable and talented individuals who are sincerely teaching to save civilian lives, but many are developing their curriculum based on transferable knowledge and skills without considering the context.  This is a major flaw in the industry.

Defensive Firearms Context

I have listened to a few gun shop conversations in my days and read a few Internet threads from keyboard experts out there.  I hear comments like, “You never know what your fight is going to look like.”  Or, “You need to prepare for the worse case scenario.”  When I read or hear this I hear the “Mission Impossible” tune in my head.  What is the worse case scenario?  I can begin to imagine the entire weight of the Russian Military being launched after me.  Russian drones flying overhead, Spetnaz snipers setup in the house across the street, and my family is not really my family but planted FSB spy’s.  That’s a little silly when you think about it and way out of context for the risks I am concerned about.  I’m not on the top ten most wanted terrorist list in the Mother Land.  I can guarantee that I am not important enough for them to allocate those kinds of assets on foreign soil to “take me out” while typing this article.  I disagree with the premise that you don’t know what your fight is going to look like and you have to prepare for the worse situation your mind can possibly invent.  I think we can with reasonable accuracy predict what our fight may look like.  Even better, I think in most cases we may even be able to mitigate the risk to prevent the fight from happening in the first place.

In my current job working with the local power company as well as a past career in Executive Protection, I have learned several different ways to evaluate and mitigate Risk.  Some of this is transferrable knowledge.  Although, not even something as clear-cut as Risk assessment, is wholly transferrable (especially to personal protection and the defensive firearms world).  The transferrable part is the fact that “Risk” is the potential of losing something of “value”.  Values on the other hand are not necessarily transferrable.  For our purposes, Values are (Financial, Emotional, Physical, Reputation).   Values can be gained or lost when taking risk resulting from a given action, activity and/or inaction, foreseen or unforeseen circumstances.  As part of the Risk assessments I do and have done in the past, I have to accept some risk.  You can never mitigate all risk and at times to try to do so would cause you to be even more vulnerable.

The plain and simple truth is the defensive training industry has opportunities to train ranging from high-risk building entry to how to protect your family in the grocery store.  It’s easy to get distracted and divert off course to the cool stuff.  We have to sit back and be honest with ourselves.  If we spend more time behind a desk than fast roping from a helicopter, maybe we need to focus our knowledge and skills development on things that could actually happen in our environment.  Believe me, it can be just as challenging and rewarding to train in your environment.  Leave the operator training to…well…operators.

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