We were talking the other day at work about the process of effective teaching and diminishing returns. It was hot outside, one of the first full days of an east coast summer – and humid – the kind of weather in Appalachia that lets you know, distinctly, that spring is over and the wet heat of the next three months has quickly arrived. For those that haven’t or will never experience it, it is truly like flicking on a light or jumping into the ocean: there is no gradual step. The sudden change has an effect on your body. By that time, day four into a five-day course, the students have been through all manner of weather conditions, long hours, lots of bullets, and mental stress. It starts to show, which is why we were talking.
“It’s been a long week,” a coworker of mine said, “and I’m afraid we are going too slow.” The drill we were doing seemed simple – verifying your zero on your carbine at 100 yards – and it wasn’t very taxing: shoot three, walk down and check them, make necessary adjustments, shoot three more. Repeat. From a student standpoint it doesn’t take too much, just focus and fundamentals. From a range management standpoint, though, it takes the most precious and fleeting thing we have: time. Time to shoot. Time to walk. Time to interpret. Time to evaluate. Time to talk. Time to adjust. Time to correct. Time to, time. It all takes time and we all know, inherently, that time isn’t something we can make more of. Once it is gone, it’s gone. So we have a tendency to rush, to hurry, to “want to get it done.” Simply: we’re scared to watch it tick away needlessly.
I leaned over on the hood of the car, grabbed my Sharpie and, while writing, said, “We are right where we’re supposed to be,” as I scrawled refinement, on the hood of a broken down car. “It’s day four,” I said, and began filling in the list, first above, then below. Day one of any new task, not just shooting, is mechanics. Merriam-Webster defines mechanics as “the details of how something works, or is done.” That is what day one is for: defining how something works. The foundation. The fundamentals.
An understanding of the fundamentals allows us to build the framework for applying step two: concepts. For us, and for our students that week, concepts is the idea of how things work. The foundation is the details of the specifics, the functionality; the concept phase is the idea of how they work. Concept is the transition from the abstract (an object) to the concrete (me and the object). Concept is the togetherness, the you + me. The concept phase is one of my favorites because it allows you to create what the two of you are. In building a house it’s the breakfast nook where you sit to greet your day. In renting a cabin it’s the fireplace where you’re going to read that book. Concept creates your space whereas limits – the next step – defines them.
If concept is creating a pick-up baseball game with friends it’s limit that defines how many ghost runners you get. Limit is defined as a point beyond which it is not possible to go. I love that. I truly do. I love it for what it means to my life, because often I find that it means something different to others. Some people stop at concepts – they stop at the boundary of their created space. I push for the limits, the edge of the abyss. I think it is important that we define, in whatever we do, the point beyond which it is not possible to go. No, to me, is just a “not yet.” Setting that limit, much like framing that house, brings you to refinement.
Refinement is, simply, finishing the process of removing all that is left to remove. On that day, our day four, the first really oppressively humid day of the year, it was all about refinement. About working within the limits – the boundaries that we had already found – to finish what had begun. Because at some point in time – maybe we’ll know it, maybe we won’t – we’re all going to be called to perform.