Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit…–Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
In the study of physics, force is influence which tends to change the motion of an object. As legend has it, a young Macedonian prince once called on the elders of an ancient Phrygian city called Gordium. On his trek toward the East and a rendezvous with Darius of Persia, Alexander had heard of what would befall the man who untied the massive knot of rope attached to a sacred ox cart in the palace. As it had been related for centuries, he whosoever untied the knot would inherit the kingship of all Asia. Like it had done to many before him, the knot befuddled the boy king. Yet, calling upon his childhood instruction at the side of the philosopher Aristotle, Alexander thought laterally and inquired if there were any specific commands as to how the knot ought be untied. There were none. The King of Macedon proceeded to draw his whetted sword and hack away at the knot until it fell. Gordium’s elders hailed Asia’s new king.
The untying of the Gordian Knot was an act of force which altered the motion of the ancient world. Alexander swept through Darius’s defenses and in two years gained control of much of the known world. Yet, the force he unleashed was driven by ambition and indiscipline, later leading to his empire’s dismantling mere years after his death. It would seem that it is one thing to heedlessly unleash force, yet another to study the directing and redirecting of its nature. This study, enriched by the practice of discipline, brings forth not an empire for one to rule, but rather an individual who can rule him or herself.
The study and practice of marksmanship can be thought of as the directing and redirecting of force in a manner that is beneficial to the practitioner and those around the practitioner. It can take on many forms and utilize an endless array of equipment. Yet, ultimately, the practice is one in which the individual is constantly seeking improvement measured against the most timeless, though most relevant of adversaries, one’s self. In an effort to better understand the discipline involved in the practice of marksmanship, and its attendant benefits to individuals and those around them, I approached two experts from both competitive and military marksmanship arenas. These two sources were truly generous with their time and incisive with their perspectives.
Popular and multi-awarded Honolulu recording artist Audy Kimura is most known for his skill with a guitar and as a singer/songwriter. He has been a pillar in the Hawaii music scene for decades, and to this day is still playing to appreciative audiences in the Waikiki area. His songs have long proven to be hits both with the American and Japanese markets. However, before finding his musical vocation, Kimura pursued his calling as a national level rifle and shotgun competitor. Among his many accomplishments in the sport were meriting an AA classification as a skeet shooter, and a second place finish at the prestigious National Rifle Championships in Camp Perry, Ohio, considered by many the equivalent of the World Series of marksmanship. As in the musical sphere, Kimura is still active in the world of Hawaiian marksmanship, lending his insight and experienced eye to the up and coming generation of Island competitors.
Larry Vickers is a retired U. S. Army Master Sergeant who spent the entirety of his military career in special operations, first as a Green Beret, and then as an operator in the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force. Having deployed in these capacities all over the globe, he most notably served in the Unit teams which rescued American prisoner Kurt Muse from Panama’s infamous Modelo Prison during Operation Just Cause. In addition to his operational experience, Vickers’ skills as an instructor are held in the highest esteem. He was a Delta tactics and marksmanship instructor while on active duty, and after retiring, continues to teach law-abiding civilians, law enforcement officers, and members of the armed services. His instruction proved its worth in the hands of special operations personnel that pursued and captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Both Kimura and Vickers represent what is best in the realms of sport competitive, and tactical military marksmanship. They exemplify how much the discipline demands, and rewards both student and teacher. With this in mind, they were asked to comment and posit their insight on questions regarding marksmanship; questions which aim to better illumine its benefits and attendant responsibilities.
As a sport, hobby, or personal discipline, how would you rate the accessibility/level of openness to participation, of civilian marksmanship? What intellectual and physical attributes do you believe work to enhance one’s level of success in marksmanship?
On accessibility, both Kimura and Vickers focused on different, yet related aspects of the question. A resident of Hawaii who had also competed at ranges in states as varied as Texas and Ohio, Kimura stressed that geography and culture affected the sport’s outreach. Rural areas will generally have more land with which to build more comprehensive ranges whereas urban centers would house mostly indoor facilities. In addition, a region’s culture with regard to the shooting sports greatly enhances its ability to accommodate and train beginning students, as well as maintain the skills of veterans of the sport.
Vickers, on the other hand, took on the capacity of marksmanship to appeal to a wide range of participants. Claiming the discipline involved more than pastimes like tennis or golf, he stated that in truth it was proper that it did. People choosing to participate in marksmanship, which Vickers affirmed as a Constitutional right, do so knowing there are risks and rewards indigenous to the endeavor which encourage a greater sense of mindfulness extending beyond picking up a new hobby.
Kimura next focused on the intellectual attributes leading to successful championship level marksmanship, among them a unique marriage of calmness under stress and a quiet, yet determined attention to detail to rival any other discipline. A successful competitor needed to channel his energy with acute precision, selecting only the exact equipment, time, and technique necessary for improvement. The great adversary to this was a quick temper leading to a loss of focus, the bane of many a would-be champion over the years. Practice and execution always spoke of a competitor’s many years of training. Hence, it was vital to approach each opportunity to compete with the willingness born out of knowing the immense value and sacrifice one had already paid to refine his or her craft.
The physicality of the marksman was Vickers’ focus. What made the discipline accessible to a broad range of participants was its lack of need with regard to brute physical strength. Strength did of course enter the equation if one was utilizing equipment which produced increasing amounts of recoil. However, he stressed that trumping this was the cardiovascular fitness which enabled average sized students to put in the hours of range time required to master a tactical weapon system. Again, Vickers emphasized nuance in this by reiterating his own training policy which usually curtailed a training group’s instruction at either three hundred rounds fired, or a three o’clock in the afternoon end of session. Good, solid instruction can happen within these parameters, but going beyond this may lead to diminishing returns for the student.
What in your estimation are the intellectual and physical benefits to be gained from taking up the practice of marksmanship? What are the ethical considerations involved in practicing marksmanship?
Kimura’s high school marksmanship coach was a member of the All Army Rifle and Pistol Team, as well as being a former student at M. I. T. He decided to survey team members, freshmen through seniors, in order to gauge the team’s academic performance. The results showed that everyone ranked in the top third of their class with at least one valedictorian. Whether or not the practice of marksmanship caused better academic performance, there seemed to at least be a symbiotic relationship between students having initiative, responsibility, and focus in both fields. Kimura also related how marksmanship had a mutually beneficial relationship with better cardiovascular health as many top competitors, himself among them, were avid joggers. Lowering heart rates spaced more widely one’s heartbeats; spacing necessary for taking more accurate rifle shots.
Complementing these intellectual and physical benefits of marksmanship, Vickers posited that the practice, with its emphasis on mastering a machine capable of powerful force, honed the elusive quality of human confidence. In his instruction geared toward armed self-defense, he spoke of how easy it was for any individual, faced with a lethal encounter, to simply fall victim to not only an assailant, but to the fickle whims of fate as well. With confidence gained from earnest training, an individual could in the very least attempt to have control over fate; control which was impossible should mastery of the self be absent. Few other disciplines ask for this self mastery as honestly as marksmanship.
Marksmanship asks for self discipline, which of course requires an ethical dimension. Kimura here voiced the importance of safety in the storage, operation, and use of one’s chosen equipment. A practitioner ought be well read on the laws governing these wheresoever he or she chooses to be. It is also incumbent on the individual, Kimura wrote, to realize and accept that one’s lack of responsibility regarding these areas of safety would lead to ramifications harmful not only to the individual, but to others in the competition community itself. Hence, aside from striving to be an ace competitor, one also ought aim to be an ambassador for a large body of people.
Aside from his operational and teaching vocations, Vickers is also a sought after weapons designer and consultant. He played a lead role in the development of the HK416, the rifle used by Seal Team 6 in Operation Neptune Spear, the assault on Osama Bin Laden. Thus, more than most, Vickers has a true appreciation for the engineering and machinery side of marksmanship. Part and parcel of this appreciation is the respect for what one is handling and utilizing. As with the physical aspects to marksmanship, symbiosis exists between respect for one’s craft and a consciously cultivated internal discipline.
What are the qualities needed to be an effective teacher of marksmanship?
A love for the shooting sports and the ability, as a coach, to allow students to find out what works best for themselves. For Kimura the former scholastic and collegiate ace competitor, these qualities make up an effective teacher of marksmanship. Once at a high school match, he remembered getting off his first shot without being completely squared on the target. The shot was disappointing for someone used to consistently high levels of performance. His coach approached and calmly said, “That’s OK-we’ll just have to make all the rest of them good.” Kimura finished the event with a good score following a less than stellar start.
This was a testament to his ability, and his coach’s guidance. Apart from knowing the basic and more sophisticated aspects of the sport, a teacher needed to round this acumen out with human qualities such as calmness, patience and the pragmatic ability to adapt to each student’s rate of learning. It was when the confluence of great knowledge, technique, and confidence occurred, that the student was able to reach his or her true potential.
Apart from being highly accomplished soldiers, a less well-known fact about Green Berets is that a central focus of their missions is being very good teachers. Vickers is unequivocal on this. To be an effective teacher, one must be a subject matter expert of what is being taught. Having himself taken part in considerable instruction as a student, he mentioned that those lacking in this fundamental requirement are exposed quite quickly. It was only when a teacher fully knew the subject matter that it was then possible to tell the student not only what to do but why it ought to be done in this manner.
Vickers’ classes are known for their serious adherence to accuracy. One of the drills he is known for is called “the test.” This involves getting all ten of one’s shots within a five to six inch blackened area on a bullseye target at ten yards, within a time of ten seconds. In order to succeed at this with a police, or military style service pistol, one must have close to perfect control of the rearward motion of the trigger. Vickers also demonstrates why not doing this leads to failure. Through the course of a mere two days of instruction, students visibly see how much tighter their shot groupings get by simply abiding by this principle.
How has the practice of marksmanship affected your life?
This question truly brought together, given their differing backgrounds and callings, the perspectives of two expert marksmen.
Kimura calls marksmanship and the shooting sports the cornerstones of his life. They gifted him with that most elusive combination of steely confidence and an ironclad devotion to safety and self-control. As the craft impressed upon him the importance of performing well under stifling pressure, it also opened up for him the avenues to some of the most rewarding friendships of his life.
One particular experience stands out for the Honolulu native to this day. As a collegiate competitor, he was tasked, along with seventy-five others, to hit an A-36 metric fifty foot target which had a bullseye, worth ten points, which from the shooter’s view was the size of a pin prick. It took twenty minutes to fire twenty shots, and when it was done, an exhausted Kimura saw that there had been a sixteen way tie at 199×200, while the only perfect score of 200×200 was his. It reinforced in him the craft’s importance being placed on even the most minute of details. In his words, this meant, “making every shot count.”
Soldier, Green Beret, and Delta Force operator, Vickers sees one integral calling as defining the majority of his life. The practice and teaching of marksmanship has extended into his post-retirement, as his classes perennially are in high demand. He contents himself with the knowledge that his students have been imparted the conjoined confidence and skill levels which may one day mean that they will return to their families safely after a critical encounter.
Vickers recounted a recent training class he had given for students in South Africa. Given certain socio-political conditions in that nation, he learned that a full third of the participants had been in life or death gunfights, which as Vickers emphasized, were “for real.” It is one thing to teach a skill of great value. When this skill attains the incalculable value of assuring happy and relieved family members after a long night of wondering, Vickers’ work has been done.
Alexander the Great felt that being able to unleash force would immortally etch his name into history and win him the world. The two masters of marksmanship discussed above have taken a different route. Instead of the path would-be king’s have tread, these teachers sought to earn the ability to direct and control force. This later led to perhaps that most esteemed form of mastery, the one over one’s self. Audy Kimura and Larry Vickers serve as evidence that marksmanship not only allows the individual to scale this mountainous route, it richly provides many forms of terrain to suit each individual’s personal standards of success.
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