“Training without standards is not training. It’s playing games.”

Whether you are concerned with resisting the tyranny of the government, or simply helping your tribe survive the continuing collapse of the social fabric of America, you know you need to be training. Combat shooting with pistol and rifle, combatives, small-unit tactics, trauma medicine; it all needs to be trained. How do we determine if our training is effective? How do we know if we’re “good enough”?

The simplest answer is, until you hear the snap of the first round ripping past your head, you don’t. It’s that simple. What you can do however, is look at the experiences of those who have been and done, and develop performance metrics based on what worked for them. These are what we refer to as standards.

Anyone who has actually been training for any length of time wants to know about standards. From the Appleseed metric of a 4MOA capability at 500 meters, to passing an Army Physical Fitness Test with a score of XXX points, people want to know how well they’re performing. I’ve been asked numerous times by readers, “John, what standards should I strive for?”

People read my articles and books and jump to the conclusion that, if they cannot bench press 300 pounds, squat 400, and run a 300 meter shuttle run in less than one minute, then I am telling them they will die in their very first gun fight. The reality is, nothing could be further from the truth. Those are all good standards to aim to achieve, but none of those would be standards I would prescribe to anyone. Why not?

Because they are utterly irrelevant. They are what we call “outcome standards.” I believe in “performance standards.” What’s the difference, and why do I dislike outcome standards? Let’s look at an example:

Instructor X has a set of standards he believes a shooter should be able to achieve. Among these, let us say, is a standard requirement to shoot an E-type silhouette at 100 meters in five seconds. This standard allows for time to get into the prone position, find a sight picture, and squeeze the trigger to achieve an accurate enough shot. It’s actually not a bad time standard for a shot either. Most people would be—in my experience—hard pressed to achieve that consistently, on demand. So, what’s the problem?

As I write this, yesterday I shot a C-Zone steel plate (considerably smaller than an E-Type silhouette), at 100M, from the standing, in 0.94 seconds (and for the record, there were witnesses). Granted, that was my fastest time of the day for that shot. Most however, were between that and 1.20 seconds. From the standing, at 100M. I didn’t have to take the time to get into the prone to get a hit. What if I’d been satisfied with shooting a full-size E-Type? Could I have made a legitimate half-second shot?

Last week, we ran a drill, from the standing, at 100 meters, drop to the prone, and get a hit on a C-Zone steel plate. My best time of the day was 2.14 seconds. All of my repetitions took me less than 3.00 seconds, and the vast majority were less than 2.5 seconds. Suddenly, five seconds seems like a lifetime, doesn’t it? Does this mean we should change the time standard to three seconds?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Outcome-based standards like this, are the equivalent of standardized testing in grade school. Does standardized testing have a place and a valid function? Absolutely. However, it is not indicative of a student’s value or learning ability. It is a measure of a performing monkey. The same applies to outcome-based training for what we do.

How far should you be able to shoot? As far as you are capable of getting hits. How fast should you be able to shoot? As fast as you are able. How strong should you be? As strong as you can be.

How do we improve then? How do we establish metrics, to allow us to know if we’re “good enough?” We use performance-based standards. Look at the “performance standards” in a US Army training manual. Outside of the Marksmanship manuals (and according to a friend currently helping to re-write that manual, this is changing), they generally do not prescribe outcome-based training standards, they prescribe performance standards.

You can do the same thing in your training. You can even use external metrics to determine improvement, while you’re doing it. What do I mean?

We need to determine how good we need to be. How good is that? For better or worse, you need to be as good as you can be. I guarantee you, if you are willing to believe in yourself, and push yourself in your training, that is far, far better than you know. It’s certainly better than you are now. Until yesterday, I’d never have believed I could make a sub-1:00 second hit, at 100 meters, from the standing! Now? I’m wondering if I can break the half-second mark.

Shooting Metrics for Performance Standards

There are only two metrics that matter in combat shooting. Those are accuracy and speed.

It doesn’t matter if you use “practical shooting” competition-derived shooting methods like I do, or you use traditional National Match marksmanship shooting methods. What matters is, can you shoot fast enough and accurately enough to be as good as you need to?

Wyatt Earp supposedly said “fast is fine, but accuracy is final.” It’s true as well. No one ever missed fast enough to win a gun fight. However, a shot that hits, three seconds after the bad guy shot you in the face, is probably not going to do you much good, is it? We need to find a way to balance those two metrics.

This is why you will never see me shooting a full-size E-Type silhouette in a training course, and I don’t let students shoot full-size E-Type silhouettes in training courses. There are only three types of targets I recommend for combat marksmanship training. These are C-Zone steel plates, 6-8 inch steel plates, and silhouette targets with the vital regions of the human body marked. These smaller targets—especially past the 7-10 meter ranges typical in contemporary “tactical” shooting courses—will FORCE you to exercise your fundamentals properly. Bad execution of the fundamentals will result in misses on a 6-8” steel plate at 100 meters, regardless of how long you take to get the shot.

At faster speeds, even a C-Zone steel will be impossible to get hits on at that distance, unless you execute the fundamentals properly. In order to get hits on these targets—an outcome standard—you will have to execute the fundamentals properly—a performance standard. Now, we can add a time metric, to measure actual improvement.

If it took you 5:45 seconds to get a hit on a C-Zone steel at 100 meters last week, but this week, you managed it in 5:00 seconds even, guess what? You’ve improved. You’re more dangerous now than you were last week. In two weeks, if you manage it in 4:00 seconds, you’re still improving. THAT is all that matters.
Sure, I can do it in less than 1:00 second, but guess what? If you’re getting a 5:00 second time, my sub-one second time is completely irrelevant to you. There’s no way you’re going to match it, let alone beat it—yet. But, if you shave half-a-second off your performance each week, while executing the fundamentals properly every time, it’s not going to take you very long to catch up, is it?

It doesn’t have to be a half-second improvement. I am—and every serious shooter I know is—happy if I see a 0.1 second improvement from month-to-month. I’ll even settle for a 0.01 second improvement. If you’re improving, you’re becoming more dangerous. When I left the Army, I’m not sure I could have hit a C-Zone at 100 meters from the standing in less than 10 seconds. I just never allowed myself to stop improving. THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS.

Can I actually break a half-second? I don’t know. Maybe not. But I’ll keep trying. I’ll also work on improving my accuracy metric though. Now, I’m going to try matching that 0.94 time, shooting a 6” steel plate. Initially, I won’t be close. It’ll probably take me anywhere from 4-6 seconds. But, by tightening up my execution of the fundamentals even tighter, and pushing myself to go faster while I do so, I will get there—eventually.

Physical Fitness Standards

Over the course of writing the Mountain Guerrilla blog, my book The Reluctant Partisan, and for Forward Observer, I’ve received a lot of negative commentary from people who feel attacked by my constant emphasis on elite fitness levels for survival. Ironically, it is always someone who has an excuse for being fat and lazy. It’s never the guy who’s actually in the gym, doing work, who complains. Even when my training recommendations seem borderline insane, the guys doing the work never complain.
The reason is, they understand the difference between outcome-based standards and performance-based standards. It doesn’t matter how much you lift. It matters that you lift correctly—which will keep you from getting hurt—and that you lift progressively heavier. If you’re doing a metabolic-conditioning workout like a Crossfit-style WOD? Then the metric that matters is that you accomplish it a little faster than you did the last time you did…while still performing your exercises properly.

How fast do you need to be able to run? How far away is your cover? I can hit a C-Zone at 100 meters in less than a second. Will it take me an extra half-second to hit it moving? Maybe, but maybe not, since it’ll be a bigger target (after all, I don’t have to hit you in the vitals to stop you or slow you down….I can do that after I slow you down). How far away is your cover? You better be able to get there faster than I can notice you’re moving, and then shoot you. It’s that simple. You need to run faster than you did last time you ran.

You don’t need to be a power lifter. You do need to power lift. You don’t need to be a sprinter. You do need to be able to sprint.

Tactical Skills

Whether it’s Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3), small-unit tactics (SUT), or land navigation, outcome-based standards can be particularly difficult to develop. Of course, with land nav, it’s as simple as “did you get where you were going?” Even that however, is really a performance objective, because if you’re running a real land navigation course, and you perform anything incorrectly, guess what? You won’t get where you’re going.

Fortunately, for each of these, we KNOW what our standards should be. They are clearly outlined in the Task-Conditions-Standards statement of any particular skill. Once you can perform them to the published performance standards, there’s really only one metric that you can change for improvement: speed.

You know how to put on a tourniquet properly? Great? How long did it take you? Forty-five seconds? Now, aim to get it in 44 seconds. Then 43 seconds.

Speed Is Not The Standard

Using speed as a metric tends to lead people to believe that speed is the standard. This is not the case. Proper performance of the skill is the standard. Speed simply gives us a metric to measure improved skill in performing the skill. If you can cut five seconds off your time practicing “move under direct fire” for 100 meters, but your 3-5 second rushes were extended to 5-10 seconds each, you’ve failed to meet the standard. On the other hand, dropping even half of a second off your time, but executing everything according to the performance standards means you’ve improved, because now, you can perform the same skill faster. Speed is not the standard. It is a metric to measure improvement of the standard.

Conclusion

Training without standards is not training. It’s playing games. Everyone wants to know standards. How fast should I be able to shoot? How accurately should I be able to shoot? How far should I be able to shoot? A lot of whiners within the preparedness culture have tried to take me to task for sharing the fact that you need to be an elitist in your training. They claim that I want people to be bad ass SOF supermen. This is completely, utterly wrong.

I am not a bad ass because I was a SOF soldier. A dear friend of mine has been an adjunct instructor at Gunsite for over twenty years. Among his friends and professional contacts are a lot of my fellow SOF veterans—some still serving—from across all branches of service. We were discussing my performance standards today…and the fact that I meet and exceed my own standards.

“John, you do realize, don’t you? You’re exceptional, even for an SF guy.”

I’m not a bad ass because I was a SOF soldier. Neither the Ranger Regiment nor Special Forces made me a bad ass. They gave me the tools to become a bad ass, but they didn’t make me a bad ass. When I left the service, twelve years ago, there is no way I was capable of hitting a C-Zone steel from the standing, at 100 meters in less than one second. If I could have hit it from the standing position—at all—it would have taken me at least 6-7 seconds or longer. I’m not a bad ass because I was SOF.

I’m a bad ass, because I refuse to rest on my laurels, or accept that there are limits. “Good enough” does not exist in my training vocabulary. I train to the standard, every time that I train. What standard? The only standard that matters. The standard of being better than I was last time.

A Standards Prescription

I’m sure a few people at least, either hoped—or dreaded—that I would include a set of standards to aim for within this article.

Fear not, I have:

Shooting Standards

The only shooting metrics that matter are accuracy and speed. The standard is: You need to shoot faster and/or more accurately than you did yesterday. Tomorrow, you need to shoot faster and/or more accurately than you do today.

PT Standards
There are three basic metrics I am interested in, for PT: strength, speed, and endurance. Here are the metrics for each:

Strength

You need to be able to lift heavier weights today than you did yesterday. Tomorrow, you need to be able to lift heavier weights than you can today.

Speed

You need to be able to move faster today—at any distance—than you did yesterday at the same distance. You need to be able to move faster tomorrow—at any distance—than you can today at the same distance.

Endurance

You need to be able to last longer today than you did yesterday. You need to be able to last longer tomorrow than you can today.