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What are you really training for? The Skill Pyramid and How to Train the Right Stuff

I wrote a previous article about training with purpose and using the Skill Pyramid to structure your training. I think setting your training up this way is so important that I wanted to do a whole separate article on the Skill Pyramid and how to use it.


The idea of the Skill Pyramid is to structure your training like the old food pyramid, with the good healthy stuff at the bottom making up the foundation and the more indulgent stuff at the top. For firearms training that looks like putting the most likely skills and fundamentals at the bottom with more niche and low-probability skills at the top.




Too often people fall into the trap of training with an upside -down pyramid, spending hours working on skills they will realistically never use.


Any quick trip to Instagram or Youtube will show plenty of examples of people practicing CQB building clearing, running and gunning, contact drills, and shooting with 50 lbs of kit on. I want to be clear, there is nothing wrong with that!


Stuff like that is fun and for some people that is the skill set they have or want to acquire. Unfortunately for each of those individuals, there are 10 guys at the range convinced they need to learn how to shoot under a car at multiple attackers...without ever learning the basic fundamentals of shooting.





If your goal is to go out and have fun and do the stuff that looks and feels cool, awesome! There is nothing wrong with that, but if you want to take your training seriously and maximize your skills while minimizing the time it takes to get to your desired level of proficiency, I strongly suggest you draw up your own skill pyramid and be HONEST about what skills you need.


The skill pyramid for a Navy SEAL is going to be very different than that of a patrol cop or an everyday guy who just carries for protection.


From the perspective of a "normal" person who wants to learn to shoot for self-defense, I think you should set yourself a realistic competency goal. It might look something like this:


"I want to be able to defend myself with a firearm in a realistic lethal force situation"


What does a realistic lethal force situation look like? There is a commonly cited statistic that says most shootings are 3 shots, within 3 yards, and over in less than 3 seconds. I'm not sure exactly how accurate that is but I think it is probably pretty close. I've watched footage of hundreds of officer-involved shootings and they very often match this. With that being said I would say a realistic skill goal would be:


"I want to be able to draw my gun from concealment as fast as possible and engage a close-range target with multiple rounds as rapidly as possible."







Looking at our example of 3 shots, 3 yards, and 3 seconds...did we need to reload? Did we need pinpoint accuracy? Did we need to work on pieing doorways and unconventional shooting positions? No. That doesn't mean those aren't useful skills to have in the toolbox, but you are going to be much better served by getting good at what you need the most, as quickly as possible. For our hypothetical situation, we need a relatively small skill set:


Mindset/Situational awareness - This goes beyond firearms but the best self-defense is avoiding the situation in the first place.


A fast draw - It doesn't matter how accurate you are, how fancy your bullets are, or how expensive your gun is, If the bad guy shoots you before you shoot him, it is not going well for you.


Recoil control - At this range we really don't need to aim. If you have solid recoil control you should not have a problem hitting effective shots on target as fast as you can pull the trigger.


Now for many people that goal is really what they want, but yet they spend hours at the range trying to shoot nice accurate groups at 10 yards at a slow pace without a holster. Once we set up a skill pyramid that matches our goals it becomes much easier to focus on the skills that really matter. Once those are brought to a high level of proficiency then it is time to move up the pyramid.


Here is my example skill pyramid for an every day "civilian" who wants to carry for self-protection.


Skill goal - "I want to be able to draw my gun from concealment as fast as possible and engage a close range target with multiple rounds as rapidly as possible."




I have recently started participating in competitive shooting and my skill pyramid reflects a focus on those skills that will help me compete. My pyramid looks like this:


Skill goal -"I want to improve in the skills I need for competitive shooting to become faster and more accurate, especially while moving through a stage quickly."




Creating your own Skill Pyramid and sticking to it will ensure you train with a purpose and progress straight to your end goal. If you'd like help setting up your own pyramid feel free to get in touch!


Have fun and keep training!



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