Safety and Training

Training: Motivation and Preparedness

Young woman in light shirt and shorts with a young man in a striped blue shirt and light pants practice shooting a target at close range.

In this feature, the author looks at the most important component of mindset—motivation. What you bring to the range is important; what is between the ears is vital.

Young man with gray t-shirt and blue jeans gives a thumbs up to indicate he is ready for training, with a group of white and blue barrels in the background
Is this the proper attitude? It is!

In training, the single most important factor is motivation. You are creating something from nothing. The motivation to stop an attack is not difficult to work up—you either respond, or you die or are critically injured. However, to have the will and means to defend yourself you must train, and that type of motivation is more difficult to muster.

You must train hard because you will fight as you have trained and will fall back to your default. You will not rise to the occasion. You will operate at your average performance on the range, perhaps less, which is why training is so important.

You must work up the willpower to train to gain skills you may never need. You cannot be a one-trick pony. For example, many find a drill that they excel at and, through time, practice that drill to build proficiency. It may be a multiple-target or hostage-rescue drill. However, if other skills, such as a rapid magazine change and weak-hand shooting, suffer from neglect, then you may be SOL when you need a skill the most.

Quite simply, you are half-trained, at best, if you ignore all-around skill development. A lack of proficiency is a dangerous thing. When you consider that the firearm is potentially a life-saving tool and not simply a fashion accessory, you realize that, just maybe, your attitude about training should change. The biggest reason for poor performance is lack of motivation. One problem is, in most states, once you pass the concealed carry course, there is no annual or remedial training as required in law enforcement.

I am not suggesting there should be, but just the same, without that requirement, quite a few shooters become lax at practicing their skills. Some shooters are lazy about training and tend to contaminate the minds of others. They sat training does not matter because you will shoot at only a few feet. Perhaps that is sometimes true, although you do need to be able to present a weapon quickly and bring it on target smoothly.

Sometimes, students say firing is stressful. Then perhaps you do not need a handgun at all. If you cannot handle the stress of the range, then you certainly cannot handle firing for real against an attacker. If you panic, an innocent bystander may pay the price. If you consistently have problems on the range, then you should seek remedial help to improve your shooting. It can be done.

Young man in yellow t shirt, shorts and ear protection practices loading his Magnum
My friend, Mike, practices and reloads his Magnum.

The greatest single predictor of gunfight survival is prior training, not necessarily the score or average—the established training an individual has received.


Can you present the handgun from a holster in a smooth motion and in a manner in which the sights are quickly lined up on the target? Those skills need to be firmly programmed into your muscle memory. Only repetition on the range produces smooth, fluid movement on demand. Some of us obtain a quality firearm, and fire it in what is basically recreational shooting without a purpose, what trainers call making brass.

Most shooters who go through concealed carry classes are more interested in obtaining permits than learning to shoot, although there are exceptions. Others become interested in the shooting sports and excel. In between are interested students who want to learn the skills necessary to save their lives. They may never compete in a shooting match and may not be gun people in the sense that some of us are, but they realize the need for training and have the proper mindset to address it.

Young woman in pink t-shirt gets instructions from a woman in a white shirt and red ballcap
A good instructor will have you up and running with the basics, if you pay attention.

You must consider the likely problem. An attack is stressful mentally and physically. An attack will strain and dminish your physical and mental processes. What you have brought to the fight will determine the outcome. Prior training is the single most reliable predictor of survival or defeat. Having the proper mindset, the winning mindset, will dictate whether you survive.

The greatest hurdle to overcome is self-doubt or human inertia. You must examine the realities of a gunfight—not what you saw on television or read in some gun-funny books. Fighting is fighting, whatever the weapon, and you must be able to draw the handgun, retain it in a struggle, quickly take cover and know the difference between choosing to shoot or take cover.

Young man in light blue shirt and ear protection shoots at a series of black paper targets with a wooded area in the background
Firing at one-dimensional targets on the range is the beginning.

You must be able to quickly clear a stoppage if needed. You also must have a realistic expectation of handgun performance. The primary mindset is to develop a healthy understanding of a handgun’s purpose. It is not an instrument of recreation for firing at one-dimensional targets. It is a life-saving device you must respect and understand.

The single greatest shortcoming of students is a lack of familiarity with the handgun. They come to class unprepared to load, handle or fire. You can learn a basic understanding from the owner’s manual. I have trained many people who have had handguns ready in their homes for months, or years, yet they are not proficient with them. Owning a handgun for personal defense involves more than occasionally firing at paper targets. Quality firearms are not inexpensive, but you purchase arms proficiency with a different coin.

If you own several firearms and fire them regularly, that does not mean you are proficient. On the contrary, you may learn bad habits from an untrained individual. A good start on the road to proficiency is an NRA basic handgun course from a certified NRA instructor; when you begin with the NRA course, you cannot go wrong.

Young woman in light shirt and shorts with a young man in a striped blue shirt and light pants practice shooting a target at close range.
The basics begin at close range and proceed accordingly.

In the beginning, the basics of gun handling actually are more important than marksmanship. Following are the most important things in the beginning.

  • Handling the pistol safely.
  • Observing muzzle discipline.
  • Safely loading and unloading the pistol.
  • Firing the pistol safely.

Successful repetition is vital. The more you practice the correct method and handling of a handgun, the more natural your movements are. And with smoothness comes speed. You must use mental discipline to exercise what you have learned.


Young lady in white t-shirt and camo cap practices the right grip
My assistant, Bethany, demonstrates the proper firing grip. Every skill must be nurtured.

When you attend a training class, the most important thing you bring is your mental skill; you must have a good attitude and desire to excel. You must have certain skills that will make the class progress as designed and not slow down your fellow students.

  • Do not show up at a class that demands a 15-yard qualifier if the only handgun you have is a .25 ACP pocket pistol or derringer.
  • Do not show up with an ancient .22 caliber pot-metal revolver that does not fire more than half the time.
  • Obtain fresh ammunition that fires when the hammer falls.

Don’t laugh—I have experienced all those problems with students. Another observation is that a self-loader is not very efficient with only one magazine. If you have several, don’t leave them at home!


Training room with students sitting at tables studying
Classroom work is important. It all begins when you crack the book.

The most important thing to bring to a class is yourself and motivation. Here is a short list of the things to bring to class:

  • An appropriate handgun—reliable and serviceable
  • Ammunition—be certain it is the proper caliber and load for the handgun. Yes, really
  • A spare magazine or two for the self-loader—it is ridiculous to keep loading a single magazine for a self-loading pistol on the firing line
  • A holster that fits the handgun and a gun belt that supports the weight of the handgun and holster
  • A spare magazine pouch to be worn on the belt
  • Shooting glasses and hearing protection
  • Gun-cleaning gear
  • Water
  • Appropriate clothing for the weather

And a refresher—have you studied the owner’s manual for your handgun? Can you safely load and unload it?

Arm yourself with a good attitude, common sense and the desire to learn, and you will train successfully.

White haired man in red shirt and young woman in yellow shell and bluejeans practice the right steps
Simply learning to properly load a firearm takes time but pays off in the long run. Do not skip any step. The elementary must be covered first.

Otherwise, you may be a danger to yourself and others.

What are your thoughts about training before you are in a life-or-death situation? What kind of training do you do to keep in top form? Share in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. enjoyed this article – raised around guns, taught to shoot, handle, clean, etc. but its been YEARS since I’ve even handled one. now I’m somewhat afraid of them – but now living in the mtns, I need to start from scratch and learn all over again.
    your article has some good advice – I will listen, learn, practice, and practice some more until I feel comfortable – then go for some training classes. My goal is permit to carry – and defense. thank you for suggestions.

  2. I couldn’t agree more that motivation is a key success factor when it comes to training, especially gun training. It helps push you through the training, which keeps you safe, smart, and protected. Thanks for sharing!

  3. First off Mr. Campbell I want to tell you how VERY much I look forward to your articles and thoroughly enjoy reading them. I ALWAYS learn something, or at the very least get a grin out them!

    I love training, and have my sites set on becoming an instructor, but that’s another story.

    All I have to add is when I holster my weapon EVERY DAY, I look into the mirror and tell myself that this may be the day that I have to take another persons life.

    If you can’t honestly do that and be ready both Physically AND Mentally, you are a danger to yourself and EVERYONE around you.
    Leave your weapon locked-up at home until you are.

  4. I train using different combat scenarios such as, from behind a doorway, laying down in the prone position, not just laying down but getting there quickly, running between trees and different cover in the back yard, prone, standing, kneeling etc.

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