Performance Pistol - Frank Proctor
Frank Proctor is well known in both the tactical and the competition worlds of shooting. He's been on my shortlist of instructors to train with for quite some time, so when he had a class in Augusta, GA- I jumped all over it. I've purchased both of Franks DVD's for carbine and handgun, and really liked his teaching style, his attitude toward shooting, and his views on how to run a gun. I've also spoken with several people who have trained with Frank, and no one ever had anything negative to say about him. With that said- I went into this course with very high expectations... Arguably unfair expectations...
Nevertheless, when Frank offered a 1 day version of his Performance Pistol course near me- it was something I had to do. The course description is outlined in the slider below. It called for 800 rounds of ammunition, which was almost spot on for the amount I fired.
We arrived on scene, and after getting the range setup- Frank began with a safety and medical briefing. His safety briefing was pretty standard and similar to any other safety briefing and included medical contingency plans, identification of IFAKs / people with medical training, etc. Succinct, concise, yet thorough enough... It is that necessary evil, but Frank made it integrate into the course without "overdoing" it. Immediately during this section, I identified that Frank's personality in the DVD's was exactly the same as his personality/attitude in person. He's a laid back, humble guy who openly shares his information without any of the ego or "resume reciting" that some other instructors portray. Frank is a soft-spoken guy who doesn't yell (or even talk loudly), so it draws the students in closer to him when he's speaking. This proves helpful during demonstrations as everyone is already close enough to see the intricacies of what he is demonstrating. Frank also shares his opinion on the various ways that people perform any tasks within shooting. He says "it's like gumbo (or chili). No two recipes are the same, but there is a lot of good gumbo in the world."
During this discussion, Frank talked at length about his 5 aspects of Performance Shooting:
It would quickly become clear to me that Processing seemed to be the one we would spend the most time on throughout the day. This isn't to say that the other aspects weren't developed and tested- but Processing seemed to be the underlying theme that is Frank's niche.
"Let the World Be As Big As It Is."
Directly after the safety briefing, Frank rolled directly into discussing his thoughts on performance shooting. Frank has a background in "tactical" roles through his Special Forces career in the Army, and he also has a proven record in the competition circuits of performance pistol shooting. Frank touches on the stereotypes that come along with both sides and bluntly identifies his teaching mentality. "I want you to put hits on target as quickly as possible." That clearly resonates in both the competition world as well as tactical shooting. This is a great way for him to identify the elephant in the room as the participants in the course are a healthy mix of competition shooters, concealed carriers, and SWAT/LE officers. Everyone wants to hit their target quicker- so it quickly set the tone for every exercise we would do after this point.
Frank's one underlying point that I picked up on continuously is that shooting is a very visual activity. In order to shoot fast, you will need to see and process information quickly. He goes into great detail about what you should be looking for and what it will look like. For instance, he talks at length about letting your eyes focus on the relationship between the sights and the target, but remaining aware of everything else around it. Too many times, shooters get "sucked into their sights" and lose awareness of all of the other things going on around them. This might be other potential threats/non-threats or it might be the next steel plate you're going to transition to... Regardless- you have to be aware of it in order to focus on it. Frank drives this part home by saying "Let the world be as big as it is" instead of getting tunnel vision inside of our sight picture.
At one point, Frank lead us through an exercise where we consciously watch the front sight during recoil, paying particular attention to the relationship to the target. Did it track straight up, or at an angle? How far did it move? When it settled, did it settle back onto the target? He also mentioned that the recoil process happens in about 0.6 seconds- but when we consciously look for it, it seems to be happening in slow motion. The point being- our eyes are fast. Very fast. We should use them accordingly. The way that Frank breaks down the entire process is simple: "See the target, See the sights, Let it do." Instead of overthinking the process and trying to apply numerous fine motor skills simultaneously, Frank phrases it quite simply: Let it do.
"Your Eyes Will Teach Your Hands What To Do."
We worked on a decent amount of dry fire exercise both for Frank to assess any bad habits and to get warmed up with Frank's way of doing some of the "normal" tasks with a firearm. During these dry-fire iterations, we worked the trigger to simulate shots. I was running an HK VP9 for this course, which maintains a "live trigger" even after the firing pin is released. However, Glocks will result in a "dead trigger" at this point, so Frank shared a trick where he utilizes a zip tie in order keep the Glock just slightly out of battery, which maintains a live trigger for dry-fire. It was a fantastic addition to any dry fire regimen, as it eliminates the need to constantly reset the trigger by manipulating the slide.
The dry-fire sessions are where I had some of my personal largest take-aways from this course. Shooting is a very mental activity for me, and having the opportunity to pound out repetitions under the watchful eye of someone like Frank is an incredible opportunity to learn small things that can make a large difference. For instance, the single largest take-away that I got from this course was a quote originally from Ron Avery that Frank shared. When referring to how quickly you should move your hands when drawing the firearm, Ron (and Frank) mention that you should move them about as fast as you would take your hand out of your pocket to ring a doorbell. So many other instructors seem to stress speed by "moving your hands faster" which can often-times result in a rushed, jerky manuever. By slowing down the hands to a controllable, deliberate speed- I am able to break an accurate shot at the exact moment I reach full extension. Though the actual action of drawing my handgun from the holster is slower, the accurate hit and overall time are actually quicker because I'm not making any last second adjustments to sight picture. If I had one take-away from this course, this was it. It was worth the tuition and the drive just for that lesson.
Luckily, the lessons didn't stop there. Because we were now all switched on to the idea of consciously seeing everything that was going on with our gun, Frank started drilling home the point that "Your eyes will teach your hands what to do." To reiterate this, Frank lead us through an exercise where he would limit the ability of one of our eyes and have us perform a task through about 15 repetitions. Then he would remove the visual obstruction and have us perform the same task again. Without being too specific (at the risk of ruining the exercise for future students), I was shocked at the result. In about 15 reps my mind had un-learned everything it spent years learning in order to deal with the visual obstruction that was previously limiting the ability to perform a task. In other words, just as Frank had repeatedly said: my eyes were teaching my hands what to do. If it works in this small, controlled exercise- it could work in other areas as well.
"If You Saw the Bullet Hit, Then You Didn't See What it Took to Make it Happen."
Frank went through the ability to "call your shots" similar to the way that other instructors had previously taught it to me. Basically, it's the relationship of the sights and the target at the exact moment when the gun goes bang. If you can take a mental snapshot of that moment, then you know where your shot went. Frank goes on to say things that further reiterate this point. "If you saw the bullet hit, then you didn't see what it took to make it happen." If the recoil of the firearm is 0.6 seconds, and the bullet is striking downrange much faster than that, then there is no way that we could be looking at both simultaneously.
Frank also talks about the difference in visual focus vs. visual awareness in great detail. During this section, he breaks down what the shooter should see as "sight picture" more effectively than I've previously heard it articulated. He likens the visual relationship to that of reading a word. When we read, we don't actually focus our eyes on each individual letter. Rather, we are aware of the relationship of all the letters and our mind figures out what the word means. If we were to focus intently on just one letter, similar to the way some instructors tell you to focus on just the front sight, we would struggle greatly trying to actually read full words at a time. (This was another huge take-away from me, and I'll likely be stealing this explanation in the future... Though I will give Frank credit for it when I do!)
Frank also spent a good bit of time talking about recoil management and how our grip can go a long way in mitigating the displacement of energy caused by the recoil. His method is different than I previously have used- but you can't argue with the results. At first, the recoil felt snappier in my hand than what I am used to... Likely because it was a new technique and I'm sure I wasn't doing it 100% correctly. Regardless, I quickly realized that although it felt snappier, the sights were actually settling back on target very quickly and (more important) predictably. My follow-up shots were pretty easy to time since the sights were falling back into place consistently and I could predict when they would be in a "good enough" picture. It was pretty eye-opening, pun intended...
As the day progressed, we also worked through multiple other exercises such as shooting while moving, more holster work, multiple targets and transitions, multiple hits on each target, etc. The round count was held at an aggressive pace throughout the afternoon- and the amount of knowledge-transfer that occurred was fantastic.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Per usual, I'd like to summarize my AAR with three sections from the class, as much for future students as they are for the instructor. As always- remember that each AAR is based solely on my opinion and experience(s), so other people might categorize or interpret various aspects differently than I did.
As you can tell from the previous verbiage, Frank is a very mental shooter. He thinks through everything thoroughly and seeks more efficient ways to do things. Stylistically, this aligns with my goals, opinions, and insights in virtually every way. Frank doesn't refer to shooting exercises as "drills" as people will generally just go do what they already do, the way they already do it. He wants you to be mentally plugged in to the small details to more effectively reach your goals. I like it... Also, Frank's overall demeanor and attitude toward the training and participants was among the best I've seen with any instructor. He's an easy guy to talk to and approach with questions. He's knowledgeable without any trace of arrogance, and it is obvious that he truly wants to help students reach their goals. Furthermore, the guy can run a gun like a damn sewing-machine. He's among the most proficient shooters I've ever seen, and his efficiency of motion is likely the best I've witnessed. Frank's shot times are insanely fast although he looks like he is moving relatively slowly. He simply has zero wasted effort or movement. It's a style that I look forward to improving on within my own skill sets.
Though it always feels like I'm scrounging around trying to find something negative about the course, I try to include something that could be improved in my opinion. For this course, I look forward to taking it over a 2 day format. Frank has a ton of information to share, and the limitations around the training in a one-day course are such that it makes him pick and choose what to omit. I don't want him to omit anything. I'm okay with more classroom time and less range time if it means that I can take away more of the mental pearls that Frank has to offer. I want enough shooting to validate and practice the lessons that I'm learning, and I want enough lessons that I'm at max mental-capacity without missing anything when I leave. That's an impossible balance to achieve, but that's the ultimate goal. A guy like Frank is likely to be able to get as close to that fine balance as anyone I've ever trained with- so I want more days to be able to gather the information!
Another way that I think Frank could help the participants retain some of the information would be with either handouts, slides, or something to refer back to. I usually take thorough notes during training, but a soft-spoken guy who is trying to cover a lot of content in a one day class can be tough to capture in a notepad. Again- over a course of 2 days, this would likely solve itself.
The weather was in the high 80's with enough breeze to keep it pleasant. The venue was 2 hours from my house. The round count was low enough to not break the bank, and the price/hour for a top-tier instructor was about $30/hour. To find something "ugly" in this class is really trying to identify with the "half-empty" look at life. However- I'll try...
As I become more proficient at various skills, I like to add in stressors in my training to force me to perform those skills at a sub-conscious level. Obviously this isn't appropriate when first learning a new skill- but once it has been successfully added to the toolbox, I like to test it. Being as this was only a one-day course, the more challenging exercises were just getting cranked up as the class ended. I believe that with more range time, we could incorporate more challenging exercises that would quickly identify our deficiencies within our skill sets. This would place those deficiencies under a microscope and let us know specifically what we needed to work on outside of the course. Personally, this is one of the most effective methods at enhancing my skills that I have found, and I think it would be more possible in a 2, 3, or even 4 day format.
I came into this course with high expectations. Unfairly high expectations. I can honestly say that they were met in every way. I look forward to training with Frank again both on handguns and with carbines. I will be reaching out to Frank to try to coordinate some dates when he could come teach in Georgia, and I will also find myself at his range in Alabama in the not-too-distant future.
In summary, if you have the chance to take his course and choose not to then please call me- I'll likely take your slot.