It has been quite some time since I did a “media review” for the blog. Indeed, the only one I ever did was this one featuring Pat McNamara. One could argue that my training journey began with the Magpul “Art of the _____” DVDs released back in the 2008-2009 time-frame. While I had had friends who had taken courses with big-name instructors, many of these were LE only, and so it was through the Magpul videos that I really first saw how a class might be conducted. In essence, those DVDs helped motivate me to take actual classes.
Fast-forward a few years, and I have now received 500 hours of in-person instruction, with plenty more to come this year and hopefully beyond. During that time, I had, for one year, a subscription to Panteao Productions streaming service, through which I probably watched a video per week. I let that lapse, but then joined again for three months (during which I watched the video linked in the above article) and watched as many videos as I could. I let the subscription lapse again and never went back. While I do think Panteao puts out a decent product, Paul Howe ended up in a dispute with them about royalties he believed he was owed. Knowing Paul as an upstanding individual and the head of Panteao as a guy with a bit of a shady past, I chose to vote with my wallet and never again join their service (all of the Panteao DVDs I own were purchased second-hand).
Besides the Panteao subscription, I, like I assume most of our readers, have often found myself on YouTube watching videos of the better-known instructors (“TRex Arms guy” does not count!). Mike Seeklander, Kyle Lamb, Dave Spaulding, Mike Green, Kyle Defoor, and others have put out quality content on varying schedules, much of which is worth viewing. Finding myself most days with pockets of time to watch 5-10 minute videos has allowed me to view countless videos over the years.
Recently, I came upon some training DVDs for some good prices (locally, eBay, etc.), many of which are out of print and therefore at least somewhat difficult to obtain. Some also feature instructors who are either no longer with us or who do not do as much teaching as they once did. After viewing the DVDs (I find my in-home workouts a great time watch them), I thought it might be worthwhile to write about the pros and cons of training via video.
1. I think the best use of video is as review of prior learned material. If you take a class with an instructor and that same instructor offers videos, visiting the videos in the days, weeks, months, and years that follow can have tremendous value in reinforcing key points from class. Indeed, I have even found that if you can only find videos by a different instructor but one who teaches the same or similar concepts, positive results can still occur. I will also note here that, even though I take copious notes in classes, I still miss things. Having a video to refer to afterwards (which has the added benefit of having the visuals that are tough to convert into words and difficult to remember afterwards) can fill in those gaps, provide camera angles not available to you (as a short guy, sometimes I just cannot see over or through people in class!). Likewise, the ability to rewind and watch certain aspects again and again is something you cannot do at an in-person class.
2. Almost of equal value is the ability to use videos to preview what might be taught in an upcoming class. I seem to remember that one of the reasons Paul Howe made the first few in his video series was so that his students—particularly students in his instructor classes—could learn as much of the material and drills as possible before ever stepping on the grounds of his facility. Along these same lines, John Murphy of FPF Training has put much of his lecture material online (for free) in order to just spread the good word and also so that he can focus on skills development in the classes. As he told me, no one wants to pay him to hear him flap his gums, but the information in those video sessions is vital in order to understand many of the “whys” of his curriculum.
3. Similar to the ability to preview the material, videos can also provide potential students the chance to see how an instructor teaches in order to determine whether or not it might be worth it to take an in-person class with that instructor. I would much rather pay $20 for a DVD to determine if I want to train with someone than spend $500 plus travel expenses. I can recall, way back in 2014, watching this brief video on YouTube and deciding right then and there that Mike Pannone was a guy I wanted to learn from. I just got a good vibe, which turned out to be well-founded.
4. Videos provide opportunities to receive instruction from those from whom we would not otherwise get the chance to learn in person. It might be that an instructor just never comes to your neck of the woods, the instructor’s classes are prohibitively expensive, or perhaps the instructor is no longer teaching (retirement, death, etc.). Pat Rogers and Louis Awerbuck are two of the latter who come to mind; though I never got the chance to train with either, I am glad I at least own videos featuring each of them.
5. Similar to #4 above, where some instructors may not be available, so it is with content. Perhaps you have no problems finding handgun classes, but carbine or shotgun classes are few and far between where you live. This is perhaps most true for some of the more esoteric topics out there, like fighting with a cane (I believe Michael Janich once offered a video on this topic). Whatever the topic, chances are someone out there offers a video covering it, which can get you at least SOME information.
6. An often overlooked advantage of the video format is that you will get that instructor putting his or her best foot forward. If they screw things up recording a video, they get to say “CUT!” and do it again. In a class, you get what you get. If the instructor screws up some phraseology or a demonstration in a class, then that is what you have to work with. With a video, you should get their best efforts. Similarly, students who have taken Massad Ayoob’s classes, like the MAG 20 course I took last year, know that much of what he presents is on video. In his case, it is to help ensure that every class is exposed to the same material without worrying about a tangential discussion robbing him of the chance to cover the core material.
1. The biggest issue with videos is that there is no interaction, no feedback. You can try to emulate what is happening in the video, but without the actual instructor there to watch you, it is difficult to figure out if you are doing what they are saying/showing what you should be doing. Feedback is really key in any learning environment. These days, the only types that provide feedback would be something like John “Shrek” McPhee’s “Gunfighter U”, which my blog partner John tried out in 2017. However, such interactive videos are not really the focus of this article.
2. I believe it was Travis Haley who said that videos should come with an expiration date. If an instructor is constantly changing his or her curriculum, a video will only capture a snapshot of what they are teaching at the point in time it was recorded. If you watch one of their instructional videos from ten years before, they now might be teaching different things in different ways. While, from a historical perspective, it might be interesting to see how that instructor has changed, what is in the video you watch may no longer be “best practices”.
3. The time factor. Most of the training DVDs I own run around 90 minutes. That is 90 minutes out of an 8 or 16 hour course. True, all the downtime of a class is not there. But nevertheless, what you are getting with such a video are merely a few highlights of a class or of what might be taught in a class, not the class itself. Just considering time, it would take several such videos to equal the time from a one-day class, let alone a two, three, or five day course.
4. Finally, there is the issue of “what exactly is training?” Just like I would want someone performing surgery on me, or fixing my car, or installing a new roof on my home to be more than “YouTube trained”, so it is with self-defense topics. Someone who watches a video (or ten) and then considers himself “trained” is doing himself a disservice. Of course, this is more of an issue with the person than the videos themselves, but I include it nevertheless.
Over the next few months I hope to add some more media reviews to our blog. I believe that videos, while not a replacement for in-person instruction, can certainly be used to supplement or complement an already robust training plan.
What has been your experience with training videos? Have I left anything out in the pros and cons? What is your favorite training video? Least favorite? Please share with us and our readers.
As always, thanks for reading. If you would like to reply to the above questions or have other questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page. We always welcome civil discourse.