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Skill at Arms: Part I

Skill at Arms: Part I

Several years ago as our lead SWAT Commander was rotating out and a new Commander was preparing to take over we held a banquet for the team,during which we had a pseudo changing of the guard ceremony where our Commander was presented with a gift from the team and given the opportunity to leave us with any last words.

“Skill at Arms men” was what he left us with.  I’ve had a passion for self defense and protection of the defenseless from an early age.  I’ve always worked hard at trying to better myself in preparation for the day when my skill level was put to the test and meant life or death for me or someone else.

What my Commander left our team with, “Skill at Arms” has been the mantra repeated over and over in my head for the last several years.  For me, these three simple words sum up what years of training and experience have taught me.  My book shelves (yes, plural) are over flowing with books, DVD’s, VHS tapes and CD’s that cover a wide array of topics related to self defense, concealed carry, competitive shooting, leadership and martial arts to name a few.  To me, “Skill at Arms” nicely and neatly sums them all up.

If you are reading this, my assumption is that you too are a Sheep Dog and that you are seeking new and more efficient ways of handling yourself during a violent encounter.  My goal is not to stand on top of the mountain and say “Look at me”, my goal is to point you in the right direction and allow you to find your own path to the top of the mountain.

Let’s look at Skill at Arms as it relates to firearms real quick.  Colonel Jeff Cooper is quoted as saying that “One is no more armed because he carries a pistol than he is a pianist because he sits down at a piano.”  What’s he saying?  How many people do you know that own firearms; say for home protection or who may carry them on a daily basis for personal protection but have never taken any type of tactical course to learn how to use that particular firearm during a violent encounter or under a modicum of stress?  Or, maybe they have taken a class but it was 10 years ago when they first bought the gun but haven’t been to the range since then?  Skill at arms is a perishable skill and something that needs to be continuously honed and sharpened.

I know many people who carry guns on a daily basis, whether it be for work or personal protection that may understand the basic principles of marksmanship and how the gun functions but as soon as they are forced to use that firearm under any amount of stress their knowledge and skill level, or lack thereof, is clearly and plainly demonstrated. They have not pushed themselves to the point that they can enter a state of mind often referred to as “Mushin” by the Japanese warrior and often translated in English as “No mind”.

Samurai warriors would train and train and train until they reached this mental state.  During combat they were not focused on how to pull their sword, how to hold it properly when preparing to attack or defend or how to position the sword at the proper angle as they struck their enemy.  This portion of their battle was ‘thoughtless’, it just came out of them as their preparation with that weapon had been taken to such high levels during training that the battle was just another day in the dojo or the training field.

When I teach firearms courses I always stress the need to have such an intimate understanding of your particular firearm that you can operate it under extreme stress.  That your familiarity with and your ability to run your gun are just an extension of who you are as a warrior.  In the middle of a gun fight or attack you do not have time to spend a majority of your thought process on how to unholster your pistol, how to properly grip it, align the sights, press the trigger, adjust your angle of fire or to quickly get the gun back up and running should you encounter a malfunction.  You have too many other things to consider; what is the threat level, what are my avenues of escape, how can I de-escalate this situation, where is my family, if I do have to shoot can I do so without endangering any other innocent bystanders and am I legally justified at this point to shoot, just to name of a few.

You should have already thought about and trained for these general scenarios in a safe environment under the instruction and direction of qualified trainers.  You should already have mentally processed your ability and willingness to take this encounter to the end if need be.  The last thing you want to do is get caught off guard or ill prepared.  The decision to carry and use a firearm (in whatever context: work – home defense – concealed carry) comes with great responsibility. You owe it to yourself, your family and your community to push yourself in every aspect of knowledge and skill level to ensure that on the day you become an asset and not a liability to yourself or those around you.

“Skill at arms men”

Make a commitment to yourself today that you will push yourself in the area of training.  If you don’t already, set aside an hour a week to work on dry fire and weapon manipulation drills.  Break up the time into smaller chunks, say 10 minutes a day for 6 days and take the 7th off. Or 20 minutes every three days.  Find a good and competent instructor who can teach you how to fight with your pistol not to just hit bull’s eyes on a piece of paper.


Be safe.  And if you can’t be safe, be violent!

Written by Tyler Christian