AR-15 Training: Conquering The Enemy Within

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To learn your limits you have to stretch things out. For example, when it comes to long-distance shooting you won’t know what you can do unless you reach your limit. This lets you know what you can do, which creates confidence, and with time your skills improve too.
To learn your limits you have to stretch things out. For example, when it comes to long-distance shooting you won’t know what you can do unless you reach your limit. This lets you know what you can do, which creates confidence, and with time your skills improve too.

Be it for self-defense, competition or plain old marksmanship, the greatest hurdle to becoming more proficient with your AR-15 is your ego.

How To Put Your Ego Aside And Become A Better Shooter:

  • Be humble and surround yourself with those who know more about the platform than you.
  • Don't compete with others, focus on personal improvement.
  • Learn on a basic carbine and equipment before investing in more complicated systems.
  • Force yourself to improve on your weakest points.

The ego — your self-identity — can be good, bad … and sometimes just plain dangerous. The ego doesn’t like being embarrassed, looking bad or making mistakes. It likes comfort, and it will shy away from “new” or “different,” preventing you from training and practicing with your AR. Your self-image is the difference between putting meat on the table and winning the match — or going home empty-handed.

More importantly, the ego will hinder your evaluation of possible danger; other people’s egos make them dangerous. Your self-image will be the deciding factor in a violent confrontation. In fact, it will likely be the deciding factor in whether you’re involved in a fight or not. Regardless of the AR activity, your best performance is achieved with a humble, well-balanced self-image.

The Battle Within

The vast majority of skills necessary to use a firearm safely and efficiently, especially the AR, are not instinctual. The only way to become proficient is to get instruction from someone who knows more than you do. However, the ego is extremely fragile, and it doesn’t like to admit ignorance. It’s difficult for people to admit they need help.

Admitting you don’t know it all is the first step to becoming better. Then it’s about finding someone who knows more and getting instruction. After training comes practice, and plenty of it, in order to learn how to apply your skills on demand, and under any conditions.
Admitting you don’t know it all is the first step to becoming better. Then it’s about finding someone who knows more and getting instruction. After training comes practice, and plenty of it, in order to learn how to apply your skills on demand, and under any conditions.

Firearms, by design, can be dangerous. The majority of tragedies that occur with them are the result of ignorance, not understanding how to safely handle them. Training introduces you to the correct techniques needed to use the AR safely — which is critical to everyone around you — and efficiently, which determines your performance. Step No. 1 is accepting when you need assistance and when you need to get additional training.

Even after making the decision to seek instruction, the battle against the ego continues. In nearly every class I teach, this scenario comes up: I explain a technique or drill. After asking if anyone has questions, waiting a moment and not getting any response, I noticed a puzzled look on “Ted’s” face.

“Ted,” I inquire, “what is it you’re not sure of?” I have to force students to ask for clarification. We care more about appearing ignorant than we do learning. There are some things in life that you can bluff your way through, but faking it with firearms is dangerous. You attend training to learn; don’t let the ego impede your progress.

After training — an introduction to AR skills — comes practice. Repetition is necessary to learn these skills to a point that they can be applied on-demand, under any conditions. The battle continues; the ego has a big bag ‘o tricks to prevent you from practicing.

The ego will also “self-inflate.” Instead of acknowledging that you need additional practice, it says, “Oh, I’m good enough.” Or, how many times have you heard someone decline an invitation to practice by saying, “Oh, I’d just embarrass myself.” Maybe your skill level or equipment isn’t up to par, and because the ego is extremely competitive, the best way for it to win is to never play with others.

Standing Up To Your Ego
First off, there’s always going to be someone better than you. When it comes to learning, the experts agree that one of the best ways to improve is by surrounding yourself with people who know more than you. Secondly, the only person you “compete” with is yourself. As long as you’re improving with each practice session, it’s all good. Third, you’re better off learning to use the basic equipment first, plus you’ll get a chance to test other people’s gear before buying. And finally, when it comes to defensive or combative actions, not participating isn’t going to be a choice.

During practice, you guard against interference from the ego. Our identity’s tendency is to only practice the things we’re good at; the ego doesn’t like stepping outside its comfort zone. The only way to improve is by focusing on your deficiencies.


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You’re going to make mistakes, during training and during practice. Mistakes will also occur during an armed confrontation. What counts is how you react when you make a blunder.

Instead of letting the ego beat you up — “I should’ve done this,” or, “Wow, I did that wrong” — concentrate on correction, compensating as necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen again. “If you’re not making mistakes,” I tell students, “you’re not doing it right.” More mistakes during training/practice means improvement, and that equals fewer errors in the field, wherever that may be.

Confidence Through Trial

Practice also builds confidence. You determine what you can do, and what’s beyond the capabilities of you and your gear. Discovering these limits involves experimentation. The ego will prevent you from venturing into the “I’m not sure” area. If you never go too fast or shoot too far — meaning, step beyond your limits — you’ll never discover what you and your AR are capable of. Confidence is only developed through learning, practice and experimentation. Just remember the difference between having confidence as opposed to an over-inflated ego. Don’t let your ego stop you from creating the proper self-image.

Maybe your gear isn’t as “fancy” as your buddy’s. Don’t let that stop you from practicing. Plus, if you learn using basic equipment having accessories only makes things easier. Remember, it’s all about the shooter, not the kit.
Maybe your gear isn’t as “fancy” as your buddy’s. Don’t let that stop you from practicing. Plus, if you learn using basic equipment having accessories only makes things easier. Remember, it’s all about the shooter, not the kit.

Your optimal performance is dependent on a balance between three elements: the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the self-image. In the beginning, the conscious mind — which only thinks about one thing at a time — is responsible for the majority of your actions. With practice, most of these actions are shifted to the subconscious mind — they don’t know what its capabilities are. The conscious says, “Draw,” and the subconscious takes over to perform the sequence.

During practice, the self-image improves. Your performance and self-image are always equal. “I’m gonna miss this shot,” you think. Then that’s exactly what you’ll do. With repetition, and learning to tell yourself, “I’ve done this on the range thousands of times,” – your performance improves. It becomes normal for you to make accurate hits or apply your defensive skills under any type conditions.

When Ego Is The Enemy

The ego factors heavily into self-defense applications. For example, let’s say you see a group of rowdy teenagers or a man who looks irritated. The ego is concerned with how others perceive us. “I don’t want people to see me overreacting,” you think. Instead of moving and creating distance, you ignore them. Just as you walk past, they attack, with much more violence and speed than you imagined possible.

Or, many of us have said, “I can’t believe that guy cut me off in traffic!” Now, let’s say that escalates. After a slight transgression, you verbally confront the offender, adding some creative hand signals to make your point heard. One thing leads to another, and now you’re in a physical confrontation, forced to defend against an attack.

Keeping a training diary or logbook is essential. This let’s you track your progress, and looking back on previous entries and seeing documentation on how much you’re improved will boost your confidence.
Keeping a training diary or logbook is essential. This let’s you track your progress, and looking back on previous entries and seeing documentation on how much you’re improved will boost your confidence.

The over-inflated self-image is responsible for the majority of violent actions committed by threats. Traditionally, an over-inflated identity has been considered a bad thing. In an article, “The Trouble with Self-Esteem,” Lauren Slater reports that “People with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem.” Once someone starts thinking they’re better than others, they feel free to act accordingly. There are people out there who firmly believe, “I’ll just go out and take what I want from others.” And just like that, they’re ready and willing to use violence to achieve their goals. The two cardinal defensive sins are over-estimating your abilities and underestimating the threat. Both these problems stem directly from an over-inflated ego.

Preparing for the hunt, a big match or to defend against an attacker is all about humility. It takes mental focus and discipline to fight the instinctual desire to feed, inflate and protect the ego. Never over-estimate your abilities, and know what your limits are. Don’t underestimate possible danger. Research and study to develop an understanding of violent type actors. Admit ignorance; cure it with training and practice. This creates a healthy self-image, the proper kind of ego, which is the key to success with your AR.


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