This past weekend, I was able to attend Frank Proctor Shooting’s Proctor Pistol Process “The Fundamentals of Fast” (2 day course). I had been aware of Frank Proctor for a while, having previously purchased one of his DVDs, and decided to sign up after reading some favorable comments posted about an earlier iteration of this class. The cost of the class was $625.00, which I paid in full. The class was held at ACADEMI’s Salem, CT indoor range location. Other than being a full price paying customer, I have no affiliation with either Frank Proctor Shooting or ACADEMI.
Class began in the classroom upstairs, and after introductions and the signing of waivers, Proctor spent about an hour explaining his philosophy of performance shooting. This was a valuable discussion that emphasized exactly how to train. Proctor breaks the training process down into three separate phases. In short, and in Proctor’s words, “Doing is not training.” He believes in fewer deliberate repetitions to program the machine and in fact demonstrated this to us later on the range. While taking video of his presentations during class was prohibited, he did encourage us to video ourselves for evaluation purposes and many of us later had the opposite relay film us shooting in slow motion.
If I had to distill Proctor’s process down to one singular overriding tenet, it would be forming a visual connection to the gun and the sights. Almost everything he talked about, demonstrated, and had us experiment with was geared toward this objective. In this regard, his curriculum has made me a believer. More on this later.
Also in this discussion, Proctor explained what he considers to be the five “Fundamentals of Fast.” These are processing, control, mechanics, movement, and mental control. If you’d like to read some more about these, read the class description at this link.
I appreciated his approach to safety, with simple to follow rules and objectives. In emails sent out before class, he had attached a safety brief for students to print out, read through, and initial and sign prior to class. These safety protocols were reiterated in the classroom before moving down to the range. One thing I scribbled in my notes was his admonition to “keep the world as big as it is” when you have a gun in hand.
As far as the “fast” that’s in the class title, Proctor asserted that the eyes and brain are far faster than the hands can ever be. To that end, we were advised to perform manipulations at a “comfortable, fluid, and repeatable” speed. In a later impromptu moment on the range, the speed at which our eyes and brains can process information was profoundly demonstrated. One student was using a weapon mounted light and if you got in just the right position behind him, you could see his bullets arc towards and strike the target as the light reflected off the projectiles. Considering those bullets were traveling at roughly 1100 feet per second, yeah, visual processing is fast. The challenge, and what I gather is the entire point of this class, is to harness that visual processing speed to shoot faster and better.
Once down on the range, we began with some dry fire exercises and then progressed to live fire. Proctor first introduced us to his preferred ready position that he calls the “go gun.” This is basically having the gun held in the work space with muzzle awareness. Most exercises involved expending roughly 2-3 magazines worth of ammo in four or five good reps. The validity of this methodology was shown when Proctor had us tape over our dominant eye and present the gun about 15 times. After the tape was removed, most of us instinctively brought the gun up under our non-dominant eye and then had to reorient the gun. Reprogramming can happen relatively quickly if it’s done deliberately and correctly. He did emphasize that in order to properly train the techniques he showed us, we would have to put in the work on our own time. Training can’t be accomplished in a two day class.
Most of the morning of day one was spent on how to use stance and head position to optimize visual input and form the visual connection to the gun. This is something that I will need to continue to work on, and my difficulty with visual acuity may yet drive me back to a dot gun. I found it interesting that with a neutral head position, I was able to clearly visualize the sights with both eyes open during dry fire. However, tracking the sights in recoil was quite difficult with both eyes open. This is something that I will continue to experiment with.
Notably, Proctor did not have us tape or reface the USPSA backers we were using as targets, but instead encouraged us to see our sights and call our shots. Having a shot up target that provided no visual reference of our bullet impacts made it easier to focus on our sights rather than the results on the target. This is similar to the negative taping approach advocated by Pat Rogers and others (linked video NSFW!). Not only does it save time, it forces you to focus on the process instead of the result.
Shortly before lunch, Proctor offered up what I considered to be a hysterically true sentiment, “Shooting a Glock is a lot like running a marathon in hiking boots. You can do it, but you’re going to have to work a lot harder.” In my experience, yup.
After a roughly half hour lunch, we met again in the classroom and Proctor talked about another central theme to the class, “Do little things in big ways.” Making small changes consistently can pay huge dividends in the long run. Proctor again emphasized the visual connection to the gun and talked about how to visually approach target transitions.
Back down on the range, we practiced target transitions on a set of targets set a few yards apart. Proctor again discussed and demonstrated what was possible with a relaxed upright stance and ended the day with some drills involving shooting around barricades in the form of stacked barrels. This required the increased articulation of the upper torso and extremities that one gains with a relaxed posture. Most of these exercises necessitated two stations on either side of the range that students worked through.
Day two began again in the classroom with Proctor discussing how to take an intuitive approach to being competent with a gun. As I understood it, his point was that shooting is a process that is filled with minutiae that can be quantified, but doesn’t need to be. Rather, we just need to let the machine (us) do its thing and not overthink the process. As his motto goes, “Let it do.”
He also discussed discussed how to dry fire, some differences between dry fire and live fire training, and what to practice in each. This classroom portion evolved into a discussion of pistol optics and differences between steel framed and polymer framed guns. Suffice it to say, there’s a reason the competitive shooting world is dominated by steel framed guns.
We then moved downstairs to the range and practiced shooting two shots each at a series of four targets, with an emphasis on making individual shots at a visually comfortable cadence. After a rough start with this, Proctor again emphasized that focusing on the outcome is detrimental to getting the outcome that we want. Instead, the focus should be on the process.
Proctor delved deep into training methodology during the day and at one point explained how doing certain artificial things in training can be beneficial. The analogy he used was that of football players practicing footwork by running through tires or rope ladders.
Before breaking for lunch, Proctor introduced us to a drill he calls the “Focus Monster.” The drill brings together all of the core fundamentals of his process. I would encourage you to watch this video to see what it’s all about.
After lunch, he introduced us to a unique exercise that promotes shot calling ability. Similar to shooting a target wearing a t-shirt to obscure your hits, he had us put up a clean target behind the shot up target backers and then call our shots firing five round strings. After each string of fire, the students that were on the opposite relay went down to assess the accuracy of our shots as well as the accuracy of what we though we shot! This was a good drill that I will probably replicate in my own practice.
Finally, Proctor set up something similar to a USPSA stage and had each student run through it, recording our results in Practiscore. I was very focused on accuracy and had a slower time. Although I wasn’t the worst shooter, I was far from the best. I think I wound up roughly in the lower third out of eighteen shooters. We were able to run through the course of fire one more time each, but did not score that second run. I did manage to shave roughly seven seconds off my overall time the second time I shot it. I have some more thoughts on this experience that I’ll share below, but the key takeaway was efficiency with movement.
This brings me to a few observations about the class. There were eighteen students on the range, which is roughly 25 yards deep by maybe 10 yards wide. There were at times up to seven or eight target stands set up against the backstop. I think we probably could have squeezed in another target stand or two to make two even relays rather than having a few odd men out when we swapped relays. Everybody got a chance to shoot, but maybe it could have been set up a little more efficiently.
Next is a big pet peeve. This observation is not limited to just this class, but is something I’ve experienced in the past several classes that I’ve taken. The advertised minimum ammunition requirement was 1500 rounds. I shot exactly 349 rounds over the course of two days! To be fair, I was using limited capacity 10 round magazines and we were running multiple relays with individual shooting stations, but I shot less than 25% of the required minimum! I’m not so worried about the round count from a training perspective, but if I’d had to order ammunition that I wouldn’t have been able to fly back with, I’d be pissed! I’ll use it up in short order, but there’s an unopened case of ammo in my truck that I had ordered for class and didn’t even touch. This is something that I’m having some trouble coming to terms with. Make no mistake, I don’t really have an issue with the round count, I have an issue with the advertised round count. Quite frankly, I don’t see any way that we could have shot anywhere near 1500 rounds the way the class was conducted.
Just as in the class I attended at ACADEMI last year, noise on the range was at times an issue. This year, the range restricted the commercial operations on the other side of the facility to pistol calibers only. In addition, management is actively planning further noise abatement measures. In such an environment, I consider it good practice to double up on hearing protection with plugs and muffs. I think it may be time to finally retire my well worn Howard Leight Impact Sport earmuffs. A few students on the range were using Walker’s Razor Slim Electronic Muffs, and had positive things to say about what is a very affordable set of ear pro. At any rate, I will continue to attend training at ACADEMI despite the noise issues since they are making a great effort to bring in and offer high quality training.
When Proctor says on video and in interviews that he likes to get into the weeds, he’s not joking. There was a lot of talk and discussion during the two days of class. Here’s where I’m going to venture into the weeds. What follows is perhaps not so much an AAR of the class, but more what Robert aptly termed my “nascent thoughts on competitive shooting.”
Before I go any further, I want to make a few things clear. First, I am not a competitive shooter. Right, wrong, or indifferent, I’ve never caught the bug and the topic sort of bores me. Second, I wholeheartedly agree with most every reputable instructor that suggests that competitive shooting will make you a better tactical or defensive shooter. No doubt about that. Third, I’m not against competitive shooting. My lack of interest in it has a lot to do with my schedule, time, and familial obligations. With all that said…
I found the final exercise that we shot to be in an interesting experience. I’ve never shot USPSA. I might have shot one IDPA match in the past two decades, I honestly don’t remember. Proctor was not shy about his dislike for IDPA and their rules. Nor is he a fan of shooting at B8s at 25 yards. He is definitely a USPSA dude. But as good as USPSA may be for shooter development, I have a hard time squaring the required balance of accuracy and speed needed to win against my experience and training to date. I believe Wyatt Earp is credited as saying, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is final.” I cannot count the number of BTDT (been there, done that) instructors who promote accuracy standards closely approximating the vital areas of human anatomy in order to quickly incapacitate a lethal threat.
Now, I understand that it’s a game, and I understand what the rules of the game reward. But I literally watched a student “win” the mock stage even though he had a miss that sent wood from the target stand flying. How the hell does that shake out in the real world against a determined adversary against a dynamic background? When shooters are rewarded with fast but marginal hits, how is that necessarily good training or conditioning?
Make no mistake, Proctor consistently related the things he was teaching us back to combat shooting, but I felt that the class gravitated more towards achieving success as a competitive shooter as the two days progressed. Truly, I get the sense that perhaps no two classes are the same. Indeed, Proctor seems to go where the class and students lead. He has a wealth of knowledge about shooting and tries to share as much of it as possible. There’s just only so much you can do in two days.
I think that if you’re a competitive shooter, you would really dig the class. If you’re more of a defensive shooter, like me, then you can still get a lot out of the class. As I mentioned above, there was an above average amount of discussion, and this was a very cerebral class that provided me with a lot to think about. Having said that, in addition to favorable comments, I’ve also read some less than positive reviews of Proctor’s teaching style. I hesitate to label it as disorganized, but perhaps freestyle might be a better description. Proctor likes to get deep into the weeds of shooting. Perhaps too deep into the weeds for my skill level or learning style. Indeed, it seems as though his teaching style is as relaxed as his shooting style appears to be.
For this class, I used my M&P9 2.0 Compact and Blazer Brass 147 grain FMJ ammunition. I shot the entire class from concealment with a JM Custom Kydex AIWB holster, and I believe I was the only student to do so. To my knowledge, everyone else had a battle or competition belt setup or open carry OWB holster. There was a wide range of guns on the line. I saw Glocks, Sigs, STIs, Walthers, and others. There was more than one dot gun, although iron sights were still prevalent. I don’t recall anyone experiencing any malfunctions.
With this class behind me, I am now really considering building another red dot gun. I had the opportunity to look through a Holosun 507C mounted on a Glock, and I think that’s the way I’m going to go on another M&P. Proctor had two similar STI guns, one sporting iron sights and the other a Sig red dot sight. His opinion seemed to be that red dots were awesome for performance shooting but largely unnecessary for civilian CCW, given the likely distances involved. I was surprised that his red dot equipped gun did not have backup iron sights. He doesn’t see the need for them. He did suggest that perhaps deteriorating vision would benefit from having a red dot, and I resemble that.
In discussions with Robert, and especially after this class, I am really beginning to wonder how much my poor vision may affect my shooting. Most of the really great shooters I’ve encountered seem to have excellent eyesight. As I mentioned early in this AAR, Proctor is all about vision and processing visual input. Perhaps a red dot would afford me more information to process? I’m still slow, but I think I can do the “comfortable, fluid, and repeatable” speed that Proctor advocates. Whether I simply need to learn to process what I see better or may actually be able to see better with a red dot remains to be seen.
Some final thoughts… I like taking a fundamental pistol class early in the year, simply because I feel like it is a good reset to begin the new year with. I was really looking forward to this class. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the class, and I’m not saying that I didn’t get anything out of it. I will, however, confess that I’m a bit disappointed. I think I would have preferred a more structured format that made better use of my time and money. Proctor’s style strikes me as a stream of consciousness approach. There is no doubt that he is an accomplished shooter and experienced instructor. I think he knows what he’s talking about and has thought deeply on the subjects that he teaches. But I’m still left with a nagging disconnect, and this is what I’ve tried to convey above.
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