Fundamentals of Training

When you come to one of my classes, you are not overwhelmed with technical details, terminology or requirements.

There is a well-developed framework and methodology behind all of my curriculum. This framework is scalable to each class and each student’s relative level of skill (or lack thereof). The two major components of the framework are conditioning and orientation. Training should have the primary goal of developing these two components in the fighter.  Conditioning includes both the physical conditioning to perform skills on demand and with endurance, and the mental ability to both assess problems and persevere in the face of extreme adversity. Conditioning comes through dedicated training, repeated exposure, and study. Orientation is the basis for mindset. Your response to violence will be based upon your orientation to the violent situation. Your conditioning and confidence level, your attachments in life, your cultural beliefs (particularly about violence), and ultimately your real experience level, all make up your orientation. Through these experiences and beliefs, you will make a series of decisions which will determine how you will assess and respond to a violent encounter.

To accomplish a thorough development of conditioning and orientation, training-for me-takes on a systematic approach broken into 3 categories:

  • Mission
  • Training
  • Testing


The very first step in any training is to identify the mission you will train for. If you are not clear what your mission is, you have very little guidance on what to properly train and prepare for. I know this sounds simple, but in the hundreds of courses that I have taught, when I ask this question most people either can not answer or get it completely wrong. What is a wrong answer? It is wrong when it contradicts your OWN goals. For example, someone who trains to protect themselves and their family, but is prepared to run head first into a fight that does not endanger themselves or their family and risk their life for a stranger. Noble or not, if you mission is to protect yourself and make it home with your family every night, running into any random deadly situation you see is not in line with that mission. You could lose your life, and it would not have been in the defense of you or your family. Your family is left without protection. Mission=Failed. I would rather hear someone proclaim their mission is to fight evil wherever it appears, like Batman, than to contradict their own stated mission.

When you get into any situation where you begin to go outside of the lines of your mission, you will get into trouble. Your chances of failure increase exponentially. For most civilians, the mission is something like this, “to make it home, every night, with my family, for the rest of my life.” At the root of it, military, law enforcement and civilians probably all have that in common, we all want to go home. What differentiates our lanes from one another are the objectives, parameters and details of the mission:

Mission Objective

What is your mission objective? To fight evil? To respond to distress signals, screams, dispatch calls? To be prepared to protect yourself and your family? Clearly name your objective and stick to it.

Mission Parameters and Rules of Engagement

The parameters of the mission are set by your attachments and how far you are willing to go to protect them, which is then governed by the rules of engagement for your mission. In other words, you are attached to your loved ones and your own well-being. Are you willing to die for them? Again, something that seems simple actually requires a serious introspective look. You must know what you are willing to do to accomplish your mission. You must know the potential of what it may take. Within that framework, you must consider what the rules of engagement (ROE’s) are.

You may have heard the phrase, “there aren’t any rules in fighting.” This is a myth. UNLESS you are a criminal that operates outside of ROE’s. If you are a civilian, law enforcement officer or soldier, you have very strict rules that you can not break, or you will go to prison. As civilians, you can not typically pursue someone who is fleeing. You may not use deadly force under many circumstances, most notably once the threat has ceased. Saying “I’d rather be judged by…” is–in my experienced opinion–lazy, misinformed and arrogant. I guarantee if you say it, you’ve never experienced it, or you are a criminal.  Learn the ROE’s of your mission, and train in ways that give you the advantages to win and accomplish your objectives without breaking those rules. Any good civilian defensive fight training will have a curriculum that is flush with adherence and reverence to the rules of engagement.

Risk Assessment

Risk Assessment can also be referred to as threat assessment. However, I prefer risk assessment because it encompasses more than just assessing a threat. Risk can be defined as all of the variables you will have to consider in a developing situation: what is the threat level, what are the parameters and ROE’s I face, what is the risk to myself and others if I proceed?

Risk assessment is specific to situation, and must be developed with your particular mission in mind. For example, the risk assessment model of you walking into a store to buy your coffee would be vastly different than an LE officer walking into the same store responding to a violent person call. Situational awareness is closely related to risk assessment. After all, without situational awareness assessment will begin too late, if at all. Developing a solid risk assessment model will naturally improve your situational awareness. It raises the importance of catching early cues and warning signs, which in turn causes you to pay attention more. The result is you develop a solid risk assessment model that helps you make appropriate decisions while systematically developing your situational awareness to a higher level. This is accomplished through training, lecture and then application and practice.


Mission procedures are the execution part of the mission decision process. Once you are faced with a developing situation, and you clearly understand your objectives, parameters and ROE’s, and your risk assessment is done properly, you will proceed to execute and act upon a series of decisions. These decisions may include whether to fight or not, how much force to use, where to escape, evacuate loved ones, etc. etc. Through training, you will develop procedures for likely tasks. These procedures will not only be skill based, but will adhere to the defining components of your particular mission.


The “cool” stuff. The part everyone wants to get to; right away. Well, now that we have mission defined clearly, we can design a training program that will begin to add the advantages we need to win in that mission. For us, the civilian mission is to protect self and loved ones, and in the process stay out of the hospital and prison. The first realization about training program design is that each and every action that you learn-every single drill you run-must consider and adhere to those objectives and parameters.

Once we understand what we are willing, and allowed, to do in a fight, we can begin to build the skills, techniques and procedures that will give us the advantages to be victorious in that fight (and within those parameters). In the beginning, we must first be honest about our skill level and begin our conditioning there. Too many want to jump into “advanced” or “tactical” courses, when they can’t even effectively define those words, let alone accomplish a complex task like safely running a gun, around other people, while moving quickly or transitioning positions, etc.

Advanced vs Fundamentals

A fundamental is defined as a central or primary rule or principle on which something is based. In training, fundamentals are often referring to basic skills. To understand how the word fundamental is appropriate in this way, we must see that the complex tasks involved in techniques, procedures and tactics are based upon central principles of basic skills. Therefore, fundamentals are the absolute foundation for everything you will do that is skill-based.

As fundamentals become ingrained, there are then subsequently more complex tasks that need worked on in training. So I’ve come to refer to “advanced” training as the point where basic fundamentals are repeatable enough to begin to build higher order or more complex tasks off of them.

Advanced has less to do with plate carriers and running and gunning than it has to do with being able to “stack” fundamental skills into more complex decisions and actions. The gear and tactics part is purely determined by your mission (eg. the likely scenarios you will face in the course of your daily life.) While many today will look at breach and clear/run and gun training and call it “advanced”, I assert that it should be considered “specialized” training intended for specific jobs. Advanced has more to do with where YOU are at in your performance than it does with what particular actions you are doing or what you are wearing while you are doing it.

Too many people make the mistake of thinking that training is a linear, numerically defined progression. Although we may have a Pistol 1, 2 and 3, it does NOT mean that you simply progress through them and you know the material or have the skills. Remember what we said about conditioning? The repeated practice and positive reinforcement of the fundamentals is the important part of the conditioning process. Without repetition, you will not retain or progress. I can teach you, but you must do it, to be able to do it.

The majority of our regular students have taken 1 and 2 multiple times, and return to take them each year. One reason is because you will never get exactly the same course. You are different, your skills change, the class has it’s own skill level collectively…there are many reasons that each class experience will be positive and will give you something to take away. This goes for taking fundamentals courses from other quality instructors as well.

The moral of the story here is that you should run the fundamentals hard, for the rest of your life.

The Training Program

The training program should proceed something like this (to borrow Chappy’s terminology, but necessarily his explanation, here):

  • Skills
  • Techniques
  • Procedures
  • Tactics

I also add and emphasize a 5th column:

  • Standards


Skills training is first and foremost in becoming a fighter. Your basic, fundamental skills MUST be mastered first before you can progress to any other tasks. The reason for this is because your more complex tasks are built from multiple skills. Therefore, if one or more skills are performed incorrectly, you will stack mistakes as you begin to combine skills with other skills and do them incorrectly.

In other words, look at moving while drawing and shooting. Do you know how to run? Do you know how to draw your weapon safely and effectively? Do you know how to shoot while moving? Do you know how to control your muzzle during this series of events? Do you know how to account for terrain differences, obstacles, other people, etc. during this series of events? Each one of those questions is asking for a specific basic skill: running; draw stroke; shooting; muzzle control; situational awareness; etc. Combining them and adjusting them within the demands of the situation then becomes technique.


Techniques are variations on skills that adjust a skill to be more effective, efficient, safe or achievable to an individual and/or situation. Performing a draw stroke can be pretty straight forward. However, performing a draw stroke in close contact, while not muzzling your own body, will require adjustments in your technique.

As you can see, the basic skills need to be mastered first, before you can even think about developing technique. Having trained, fought and trained others for many years, I firmly believe that technique will largely emerge naturally from the proper dedication to training the fundamental skills (when coupled with physical conditioning.) As you grow confident and efficient in basic skills, you will begin to develop pathways and efficiencies that adhere to the principles of the skill while improving your performance and safety at the same time. This is technique.

Shooting a bullseye, standing still, one shot at a time, is a basic marksmanship skill. Drawing in extremely close quarters and engaging from retention is a technique.


Procedures come well after the basic skills are mastered and techniques have been developed to a reliable and repeatable level of performance. A procedure is a selected group of skills and techniques performed together to respond to a specific situation. How you combine those skills and techniques will depend on the circumstances of the problem you face. How you approach a doorway; how you deal with multiple attackers; every set of problems can be answered with a procedural response (or a series of procedures). It is the combining of skills and techniques to apply them against a specific problem.


The word tactical is the absolute most abused word in the training world. I rarely use it. Most people will never reach a truly “tactical” level of training. Tactical actually has less application in self-defense, since it involves heavily pre-planned series of actions across a situation, rather than responding to said situation. In classes, I always ask students to define the word tactical. Very rarely can anyone correctly define it. The definition of tactic is an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.

Think in terms of self-defense and rules of engagement. If what you did ended in the death of someone and you also admit to strategically planning that specific end, you could have quite the hard time in court with that. Aside from that fun legal fact, tactics are a collection of skills, techniques and procedures applied to a specific set of problems to achieve a specific end. In terms of training, it is way down the road from fundamentals work. For the civilian, it may apply to fighting around vehicles and home defense, for example. But I would argue staying within mission parameters would require the civilian to be more on the procedural level, allowing them to respond to each evolution in a dynamic situation, rather than having a set plan that forces the situation to adhere to that plan regardless of changing circumstances.  


Without standards–which are minimum skill levels measured in time, accuracy, ability, endurance, etc–you can have no idea if your training is actually accomplishing anything beneficial. Standards can come in the form of shooting tests, timed drills, endurance stress, etc. Many tests exist such as the FBI Qualifications, various police qualifications, military qualifications, and more. It is important to adopt or create minimum standards that fit into your mission and perform up to (and beyond) them.

(Competition shooting can satisfy some of that, but remember that there is a difference between the requirements of a competition and a fight. Huge difference. Keep that in mind when testing skill-based abilities through competition.)


There are three categories of knowledge about fighting:

  1. Hypothesis: a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. An assumption of ability without ANY evidence that it is actually an ability.
  2. Theory: a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena. An assumption based upon TESTED propositions.
  3. Fact of Experience (Real Life): It happened, how did you perform.

Like far too many CCW citizens out there carrying guns today, many people are walking around with completely untested and unproven hypotheses about their own abilities. Without ever going on to a range and actually practicing getting the gun out of the holster quickly, they have convinced themselves that they can not only do it, but can do it under serious stress, danger and time constraints. It’s just ridiculous to walk around with assumptions about your abilities when you have not even remotely tried to perform these assumed abilities at all. But people do it. Everyday.

Testing in fight training is critically important for the confidence part of your orientation. It is also the absolute only way you can know how you will perform without actually getting into a real, deadly fight. The best way to accomplish this is in Force on Force training. For those of us in firearms training, that means some type of simulated training ammunition or gas airsoft. Get into real fights with real people, using weapons that actually sting you. There, you can test all of your hypotheses out. Can you draw on someone who already has a gun out on you and win? Can you negotiate corners in a house and not expose yourself? Can you make quick decisions under pressure? So many questions can be answered with a lot of clarity in an FoF course.

However you do it, you have to work away from the untested hypothesis and into a tested theory. Can I get my gun out and hit a target at 7 yards in under 2 seconds? If I stand on the range and perform that a few hundred times, I can answer that question affirmatively and confidently that I am at least capable of doing it. Conditioning myself to do it under threat is another task, but at least the confidence of knowing I can do it at all is unquestionable. Do you get the point?

We often say, you don’t know what you don’t know. Testing is how you find out what you know, and what you don’t know.

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