Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting the Most Out of a Suarez International Class

Suarez International classes are one of the best investments you can make when it comes to self defense. We’ve got a really great curriculum and our instructors are top notch (if I do say so myself). As with many things in life, however, how much you get out of it depends on how much you put into it. A bit of preparation beforehand and some regular follow-up afterwards can dramatically increase the amount you learn and how much your skills increase. Based on my experience in quite a few SI classes, both before and after I became an instructor, here are some things that I think you can do to help you get as much out of the class as possible.

Before Class

The starting point for getting the most out of an SI class is to choose an appropriate class to begin with. If you don’t have the fundamental skills to do well in more advanced classes, you’re not going to get as much out of them. Suarez International classifies its classes into three levels: basic, intermediate, and advanced. Knowing whether you’re ready for an advanced class is pretty simple: if you’ve taken an intermediate level SI pistol class and can perform the material, you’re good to go for advanced pistol classes. The same goes for rifle classes.

Deciding between a basic or intermediate class requires a bit more judgment. The intermediate level classes don’t have a hard and fast prerequisite, but they do carry a disclaimer that says “THIS COURSE IS NOT FOR THE NOVICE SHOOTER”. We’re not really talking about accuracy here, we're talking about gunhandling. Our intermediate level classes are very dynamic, and you need good muzzle and trigger finger discipline to safely participate. To really get the most out of these classes your basic gunhandling skills, particularly the drawstroke, need to be ingrained to the point where they are almost automatic. These courses all involve dynamic movement, in order to learn this effectively, you can’t be thinking your way through each step of the draw. For long gun classes, the equivalent would be mounting the rifle or shotgun. If you have any questions about whether a particularly class is appropriate for your level of skill and experience, either call SI and ask, or post a question on Warriortalk. There are plenty of experienced folks in both places who can help you find the best class for you.

We throw a lot of information at you in SI classes, to the point where it can be a bit daunting at times. It helps a lot if you've had some exposure to it beforehand. Infidel Media Group publishes books and DVDs by Gabe and other SI trainers. They’re no substitute for coming to a class in person, but watching them it advance can make it easier to process all the new material you’ll see in a class. Most SI classes have a DVD equivalent. In many cases the class and the DVD have the same name, but there are some exceptions (for instance the DVD equivalent of the Defensive Pistol Skills class is called Combative Pistol Marksmanship). Again, if you have any questions ask on Warriortalk or call SI. The situation with books is a little different. Not all SI classes have a direct book equivalent, sometimes material from one class is distributed over several different volumes of Gabe’s writings. I find all of Gabe’s books that I’ve read worthwhile, but it’s a bit more difficult to say, “if you are taking this class you need to read that book”. One exception is Roger Phillips’ Point Shooting Progressions book. I can absolutely say that if you are taking an SI Point Shooting Class you will get a lot out of reading Roger’s book ahead of time.

While I recommend watching the DVD, I would advise against trying to practice material from the DVD beforehand. One of the big advantages of coming to a class, rather than just buying a DVD is that in class you have an instructor to watch your performance on the drills, critique what you’re doing, and generally make sure you’re learning this the right way. Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. If you practice a technique you’ve only seen on a DVD, you run the risk of doing it incorrectly and having to unlearn it in class. Instead, practice what you’ve learned in previous classes to make sure you’ve really got that material down before coming to a more advanced class. As I mentioned earlier, to get the most out of intermediate and advanced classes your drawstroke (or long gun mount) needs to be really solid. Practice these until they’re utterly ingrained.

Finally, bring the right equiptment to class. Every class comes with a list of required equipment and other stuff you need to bring. Make sure you bring everything on these lists. The listed number of magazines is a minimum. More magazines are always better. Load your magazines before class (classes often include dry drills, so it’s good to leave leave one or two empty for that purpose. Similarly, stated ammunition counts are minimums, bring more if you’ve got it. If you have a second gun, or spare parts and the knowledge to install them, bring them.

Test your gear before coming to class. Don’t bring a gun you’ve never shot, or a holster you’ve never drawn from. Some folks say that an SI class is a great way to test your equipment. It’s certainly true, anything you bring to an SI course will get run hard, but this does not absolve you of the responsibility to test your gear beforehand. I have seen students come to class with equipment problems that fifteen minutes on the range, or even fifteen minutes of dry practice, would have uncovered. Some of them had to struggle against their gear through an entire class.

If you’re coming to a rifle class, zero your rifle ahead of time. For intermediate and advanced rifle classes, generally the shooting exercise in the course is shooting from prone to verify everyone’s zero. We can do some corrections, but there isn't time to zero everyone’s rifle from scratch. If you come with an unzeroed rifle, you’re going to be shooting a poorly zeroed rifle for the class. In basic level rifle classes we understand that not everybody knows how to zero their rifle, that’s one of the things we teach in the class, after all. If you do know how to zero your rifle, however, it’s still a good idea to do it ahead of time. That way you can spend more of the class working on your marksmanship, rather than your gun.

SI classes are usually held on outdoor ranges and training will continue even in inclement weather. Make sure you have appropriate clothing, rain gear, headgear, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Temperature can vary throughout the day, so wearing layers can make it easier to adjust as the day goes on. Bring more layers than you think you'll need. Many ranges where we teach don’t have seating available, so a camp chair is a good addition to your gear.

During Class

As mentioned earlier, we throw a lot of information at you in SI classes, enough that most folks won’t remember it all. Taking some notes will help you retain more of the information we cover in class. This is where having watched the DVD or read the book really comes in handy in cutting down on the amount of note taking. If you remember something from the DVD or book, you may not need to take notes on it because you already have a reference for that information. I find it helpful to take really terse notes that will be just enough to help me remember things until that evening, when I can flesh them out a bit more.

After Class

After class start out by going back and watching the DVD or reading the book again. After you’ve seen these techniques in action and done them under a watchful eye of an instructor you can pick up on some subtleties you may have missed the first time out. It’s also easier to place some things in the proper context once you’ve got some actual experience with them. Go over your notes to review any material from the class that wasn’t in the book or DVD.

At SI, we teach more in one of our two-day classes than some other schools teach in four or five. This is one of the things that make SI classes such a bargain. One of the ways we accomplish this is not to do as many repetitions of each drill. We still think you need these repetitions, but we assume you’re an adult and you don’t need an instructor standing over your shoulder for every one of them. There’s an old saying, “Amateurs practice until they can get it right, professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.” In class, we’ll give you enough practice to get it right. It’s your responsibility to go home and practice what you learned in class until you can’t get it wrong.

In the intermediate and advanced classes, SI teaches lots of things like dynamic movement and shooting from unusual positions that will make many more traditionally minded folks, including many range operators, freak out. This can make it difficult to practice skills from SI classes in a live-fire environment. If you’ve got access range where you can shoot during dynamic movement, definitely take advantage of it. If you don’t, however, you can still practice almost everything we teach using dry fire or an airsoft gun.

Finally, we hope that you sign up for another class. One of the great things about SI is the variety and depth of the courses we offer. There’s always more to learn.

Thanks to my fellow SI instructors for feedback on this piece and additional ideas for getting the most out of a class.

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