The Training Junkie Fallacy

Or How Presuming Everyone is a Young Athletic Male is Bad for the Self-defense Community

By Kjell Rosenberg MD,

There is a tendency among those who train in martial arts whether it is an open-hand art such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or weapons-based training in firearms to assume that most, if not all, participants in self-defense will be dedicated, energetic, coordinated, and otherwise fit and talented young people.  I call this the “Training Junkie Fallacy” or TJF. It occurs across all walks of life but I’m going to address it specifically in the way that it is detrimental to the self-defense community.

“You just have to…” is the new “Let them eat cake.”

How did this come to pass?  We are currently living in a golden age of martial training.  There are dojos aplenty and a high-quality firearms trainer is within easy reach of just about everyone these days.  The availability of these programs has been a boon to self-defense training and created a cohort of people that have turned hobbies into lifestyles.  We lovingly refer to ourselves as “training junkies.” 

If you are a training junkie (TJ), you know a lot of the people that are also training junkies.  If not personally, you have seen them at functions, engaged with them on social media, or at least recognize their names.  It’s a pretty small community.  It’s unusual for me to go to a course on the other side of the country and not run into a few people that I already know or who know the people I know.  We are addicts.  We can’t get enough.  If we aren’t at a course or teaching a course, we are training, talking about training, creating media about training, or otherwise pursuing the training lifestyle.

Sure, there are some normal people in these classes and forums as well.  But after a while, the community becomes self-selective.  If you can keep up, you do.  If the cost, or physical requirements, or skill level becomes too high to follow, you drop out. 

All of this results in the elite level trainers and their students becoming a fairly monolithic group of athletic, dedicated folks with time and/or money to burn on the lifestyle of training.  The far end of the bell curve.  The more expensive, the more time consuming, the more skill required for the class, the further the students are from the median and the mode.  Just taking a full weekend class that requires travel and half a case of ammo probably puts you at least a couple standard deviations from the mean.

“But Kjell, what’s wrong with that?” 

Absolutely nothing.  That’s my family.  I can’t wait to go to the next event I’m registered for and see my friends! 

“Then what are you on about?”

What I’m concerned about is that the TJ community, in large part, is the counterweight to Fuddery.  What the community becomes is the standard for legitimate training, trends, and gear.

“Still not following….  This is a bad thing?”

Not in itself.  Not until we start to assume that rather than the far end of the curve, the average person who needs to defend themselves from a violent crime possesses the same strength, stamina, health, and resources that the average TJ has, and our recommendations become detrimental to those who are not us.

This manifests itself in many ways.  One of the recent TJF I’ve seen going around is that Trigger Control doesn’t matter because “Grip” is everything.  Since this article is not about the fundamentals of shooting, I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing the various pros and cons of different fundamentals. 

Suffice it to say that Grip is very important to fast, accurate shooting.  But here is the rub.  Karl Rehn has established data that tells us that there is a benefit to shooting derived from being able to use grip strengtheners up to 100lbs.  After that, there is no noticeable benefit.  What is the implication then on people who cannot grip up to 100lbs?  Simple, they are not able to maintain the same degree of control over their pistol.  As the strength of their hands decreases, the effects of recoil increase and the ability to use grip to hold the gun perfectly still while pressing the trigger decreases. 

If you cannot use grip to hold the gun perfectly still, what other vectors of force must be controlled to prevent the muzzle from moving off the desired point of impact (POI) before the ammunition primer is struck?  The trigger.  While grip can be used to minimize the importance of the trigger for the average TJ, the average grandparent is not likely to get so much value from theirs. 

To say that Trigger Control doesn’t exist because properly applied Grip can mitigate the force vectors that would push the muzzle off the desired POI when the trigger has pressure applied in a non-desired direction is like saying Syphilis doesn’t exist because properly applied Penicillin prevents you from getting chancres.  It is not valid logic.

This is a prime example of the TJF being used to extrapolate technique from TJ to the average person who cannot work a 100lb hand strengthener. What of the people with physical limitations of weakness or arthritis who must make sure the trigger is not upset because they lack the strength to mitigate it?  What good are we doing telling them that Trigger control is not real because of GRIP! 

“Rawr!  We are strong!  Sorry folks, you will just have to suck unless you can find a stronger and more coordinated body!”

A second TJF that has recently been making it’s rounds through the community is the teaching that you can safely remove the “tap” from the traditional “tap, rack, roll” method of clearing a malfunction.  This  fallacy assumes that the reason you get a “click, no bang” is because you have an unloaded firearm or a misfire.  While those are both common causes of stoppages, it completely ignores the possibility of a loose or unseated magazine.

True, removing the “tap” will work close to 100% of the time for experienced users, it is common in gateway classes to see loose magazine related malfunctions.  They may be a result of not fully seating the magazine in the first place or accidently pressing the magazine release during use.  I have seen both of these magazine issues multiple times.  Sometimes even in competitions and upper-level courses.

An experienced user can be reasonably sure they know the issue but sometimes they might not even recognize it.  Once, in a Craig Douglas course evolution with Simunitions, I had a “click no pew.”  Knowing that Simunitions have a high rate of failure, I assumed it was a misfire and attempted to fix my stoppage with only a rack and roll.  It turned out that the magazine was not fully seated even though it had appeared to be.  Needless to say, simply racking the slide did not fix my malfunction.

Some people are teaching that you do not need to rack a firearm while clearing a double feed malfunction.  This is another training junkie fallacy.  Although, this is a different sort of problem.  The mistaken idea that you will not have to rack the slide while clearing a double feed comes from training clearance of double feeds with dummy rounds that do not get stuck in the chamber like a real piece of brass will.

I include this as a TJF even though it doesn’t result from superior capability, because a person who doesn’t repeatedly train with dummy rounds would not have developed this misguided theory.  It is directly the result of training and practice clearing a malfunction that is rare enough that most shooters with modern firearms have probably never had one.  Its easy to see how fallacies of this type occur.

Another TJF that is pervasive in the self-defense community right now is that “My 60 year-old grandfather does brazillian jiu jitsu so you can too!  And if you don’t have open hand skills, you have no business doing firearms training.”  No.  Nope.  Not so. 

We can’t all make our bodies do everything TJs can do.  When I was younger, I really enjoyed BJJ.  Both of my shoulders are so screwed up now; I can barely do a lot of the techniques.  The amount of time I have to dedicate to training as an almost 50-year-old doctor working 80-90 hours a week in my day job is minimal.  As my life progresses the utility of trying to stay on my martial arts “A Game” has diminishing returns.  But even so, I am still closer to the training junkies than the average American in terms of ability.  Every passing year, I am more likely to rely on tools vs. hands than I was the year before.

Firearms are an equalizer.  They allow smaller and weaker people to defend themselves from larger, younger, stronger predatory criminals.  Great-grandma doesn’t need MMA.  She needs a handgun she can control and good enough technique to hit what she wants.  Anything that requires strength is not going to be a good option for her.  Of course, most people fall somewhere in between the TJ and an elderly self-defender.  They will fall on a bell curve of ability, talent, strength, size etc. that will affect the realistic techniques and tools available to them.

“But I’m not even using much technique!”

That’s another thing I hear from those who espouse TJFs.  The reality is they have developed the technique to a point that it is difficult to do poorly, and they forget how much work it took them to get to the point they are at now.  Their technique is so good they don’t have to think about it because they have developed “unconscious competence.” 

But the majority of people learning to shoot are still in one of the early stages of competency: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, or conscious competence.  It’s still important in those stages to pay attention to the trigger.  They don’t automatically do it correctly like we do.  Even if we do it fast or hard so that we are “slapping,” the detrimental vectors we put on the trigger are still a magnitude lower than the less skilled shooters will even while trying not to “slap.”   

John Hearne refers to this phenomenon as “over-learning” or having “automaticity.”  It means that once you have developed a certain skill, say trigger press, to a certain level, you do it without thinking about it.  You are now at the far corner of the bell curve.  You have ingrained neuro-muscular pathways.  The fact that you don’t have to worry about it doesn’t mean that no one else does or that trigger control doesn’t exist. 

There are a number of other specific fallacies, and I won’t list them all.  My goal is to create awareness in those TJs who are putting out materials for consumption and/or instructors who see such material while trying to teach gateway courses to the average person. 

Look at the person you are.  Look at the person you would teach.  Do an honest assessment of what you and they could realistically do.  Strength matters.  Coordination matters.  Find the balance of strength and technique that gives you results.  Find the mix of physical self-defense vs. tool-based self-defense that would realistically deter an attacker who is likely to select you because they are bigger or stronger than you are.  There is a reason that fighting sports have weight classes.

Training junkies, don’t tell your listeners, readers, students to eat cake.  They aren’t you.  They don’t have cake.

copyright 1/8/2022 Kjell Rosenberg