PA Radio E218

Open Mind, Empty Cup

Everyone needs a Jeff Gonzales in their life. A proficient firearms instructor with his venture, Trident Concepts, Jeff draws from his military experience and years of pursuing perfection on the range. This week John and Tex discuss the details of executing the optimal shot – from fitness, to body position, to sights, and trigger press. A decorated vet and former SEAL, Jeff has mastered the discipline of combat and precision shooting making him one of the most sought after instructors in the field. Hear more about his evolution and philosophies of combining strength training and tactics.

Later in the show, the guys transition to a more topical discussion about politics. It’s the kind of high brow shit you’ve come to expect from the Premier Podcast in Strength and Conditioning.


You can find Jeff Gonzales on his website or by DMing him on instagram at @TridentConcepts. Ok Ok, he clearly stated that he didn’t respond to DM’s but did hint at being an excellent pen pal.

The Beginner’s Curse

What Value Do You Offer Your Students

Over the years I have trained thousands of students. The most valuable skill I can offer is not some super secret or high speed technique, it is nothing more than the fundamentals and it is these fundamentals that create the beginner’s curse.

What Is Mastery

The biggest challenge any instructor has is in their efficacy for behavioral change in their students. Students bring a lot to class, they can be motivated, ready to learn and physically active. Or, they can be none of those. It doesn’t matter because your charge is to train them in whatever skill set and skill level they selected. When I look at the effectiveness of my curriculum I’m looking to see how well we produced the desired result. The best results have always come from our insatiable drive to focus on the fundamentals. While many things have changed over the years, this philosophy of minimalism has stood the test of time. When I reference a minimalism philosophy what I mean is strict adherence to mastery of the fundamentals and nothing else.

Don’t Do Things To Delay Mastery

Here is the hard part as an instructor. Sticking to your guns. If you believe mastery of the fundamentals is what the student needs, then deliver it in the best way you can. The problem is when the student who is nothing more than a customer wants something that might be considered excessive, unnecessary or down right silly. What i can lead to is weak fundamentals or what I consider the most overlooked key. Delayed mastery. Folks wonder why mastering something is so difficult. The act or skill itself may not be difficult, but the difficulty comes in the form of time. The time it takes to master is whatever it takes to master. There are no shortcuts. There is simply working hard to perfect the fundamentals. When a student gets wrapped up in current trends, new equipment or even sophisticated or overly complicated tactics or techniques they fall victim to the beginner’s curse.

Quality Over Quantity

Beginner's Curse 2
Discussing common mistakes with a student

Whether a beginner or elite, the fundamentals do not change. The steps that make up a skill are still the same. The steps did not disappear, they became effortless to the elite and that’s the difference. But, when you begin your journey it is easy to fall victim to the flash and hype to the beginner’s curse. It is human nature. You have identified a goal and now just want to get to that goal faster. I get it and have been there myself. The harsh reality is will take time, lots of time to master a skill. The secret to mastering the skill is wanting to master it in the first place. If you are not committed to mastery, you will never achieve mastery. I don’t think it is fair to state mastery will be achieved within a set time period. Whether it is 10,000, 1,000 or 100 hours what makes the difference is your dedication to the practice. I would rather have 100 hours of high quality practice versus 10,000 of low quality practice. If I can add a feedback loop to those 100 hours to help ensure each one is achieving the very best outcome that is even better. Then, take what I have discovered in my 100 hours of deliberate practice and share it with friends, families or peers. Being a “teacher” teaching someone what you discovered in your 100 hours is hugely valuable. What ties all of this together is those 100 hours were focused on mastering the fundamentals. Let that soak in because that is the most important sentence you will read.

I love the idea of mastering a skill, it is a drive that pushes me to be the very best. No matter the skill, mastering the fundamentals is the number one goal. Everything else is a distraction.

The Importance of Pressure Testing

Pressure Testing Your Gear

Take Care Of Your Gear & Your Gear Will Take Care Of You

Early in my Naval career it was impressed upon me to always evaluate your gear. It is my best method for assessing whether my gear will perform to my expectations. We don’t often appreciate the importance of pressure testing our gear.

Breaking It Down

A lot of times we don’t know how to pressure test our gear. Or, we don’t do a good job. For me, I start by defining what I  intend a specific piece of gear to accomplish. What is its mission. This has helped me keep my sanity since it is so easy to find yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole. When you have some left and right limits it helps you to stay focused on what is important. I have used a time tested method of asking myself three questions; does it work, is it necessary and will it work under stress. The first question is pretty easy. When I say work, this is code for performing to a minimum standard. Is it necessary means, do I have to use it or can I use soemthing else to accomplish the same goal. Will it work under stress is the one most often overlooked. I start by defining “stress”. What is stress to me and how does it help.

Feeling Stress Can Be Good

Stress is any type of change that causes a physical, emotional or physical strain. If I had to go from shooting indoors, to shooting outdoors in the Texas summer heat, that can cause me stress. That stress can manifest in many different ways so what is important is how I deal with that stress. I like feeling a little stress, it helps me evaluate not only my gear, but my techniques and a major reminder of the importance of pressure testing. If you had a little bit of stress to something, you may find it doesn’t work as well as without the stress. Being exposed to cold may make my hands less functional and operating a handheld light as I conduct a search of an area may be more challeing. Stress mostly is associated with a negative outcome, but in truth we should consider the positive.

It Is Good To Be Challenged

Meaning, what happens when I apply a little stress. Does my gear and technique handle the stress or am I left to adapt or modify. I like feeling stress, it helps me to also shut off a part of my brain. That part is normally responsible for overthinking and paralysis analysis syndrome. So, it is not all bad. Recently, I had the chance to attend the first ever Sig P365 EDC Championship held at the Sig Sauer Academy in New Hampshire. The premise was pretty simple, using a Sig P365 or variant and working from concealed navigate over a dozen different stages designed around every day tasks and activities. First, it was AWESOME! I haven’t shot a match like event in so long it is hard for me to remember. My loadout was simple, it was my default gear I carry on a regular basis. I carries not just my handgun, but my other gear such as knives and OC spray. I don’t normally carry a spare magazine, but due to the guidelines provided I opted to have one on me for every stage.

After Actions Review

What I did well. My training. Pure and simple, what I have been doing over the last 2-3 years speficically have really paid off. My focus has been on accuracy primarly. Then trying to be as fast as I can guarantee the hits for the courses of fire. This has allowed me to go fast, not just for the sake of going fast. I’ve seen consistent improvements and what I like is I’m not practicing a test, I’m developing a broad base of skills. When I got to one goal, such as a three round drill at a certain par time, I’d either add a 4th round, extend the distance, reduce the target or lower the par time. Then, I’d work to achieve that as my next goal etcetera. What I did poorly. My first shot. I was not happy with the varying degree of first shot par times. Granted, a lot of this had to do with defeating my cover garment or poor firing grip. These are two areas I see spending more time in the future. My cover garment was simple, but add a little time pressure and you can see the effects of stress in a poor grip. What I want to add. More work from other positions. While we started from a seated position on a couple of stages it reminded me that I’m not doing enough work firing from these positions. That will be added to my future skill development as I continue to value the importance on pressure testing my gear.

Overall, I could not be happier with my performance. I got out of it, exactly what I put into it.

The Old Warhorse

Unless you have been living under a rock you know the caliber wars are over and 9mm won. Whether you like it or not, that is the harsh reality.

Not A Stranger

I’m no stranger to the 1911 having carried it for a long time as my primary. I loved it! Loved how it shot. I loved what I could do with the pistol who’s history is long and prestigious. I was lucky to bear witness to some of the best carrying this blaster and learn from them. I remember when I decided against carrying such a heavy load out. When, the weight, spare magazines and maintenance got old. The lesson I have learned over the years is I would rather carry more bullets. It wasn’t a major news flash, more of a gentle reminder.

Where Are Your Priorities

I see a different view point as an instructor. I see frustration and irritation in students. There are two types of people who carry a 1911. Those who know and those who don’t. If you know, you are aware of the challenges trying to keep up with the “wonder-nines” in a high intensity setting. You know there is extra maintenance and attention to keep things running. You spend a lot of your time contending with these two points. You watch as other students load faster, have more free time and otherwise chill during class. The mental energy you spend keeping the gun running could easily be spent focusing on other priorities such as marksmanship.

It’s A Marathon

Even when the 1911 is chambered in 9mm the single stack versions still have a difficult time keeping up with other students. While there are some really nice double stack 9mm guns on the market they rarely find their way into the hands of students who would benefit. The goal as a student is to reduce the number of distractions allowing you to maintain strict focus on marksmanship. At a certain point gains in your skill development are measured in inches versus miles. Those distractions don’t assist you, they don’t help clear your plate.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

It is hard to argue with good old fashion American ingenuity. I love breaking my old warhorses out to blast away. I doubt I would take them to a class unless the class was about shooting 1911’s. Instead, I would find the best gun to help me achieve success in class. A gun that I can shoot countless rounds through with little maintenance. That isn’t a burden to carry in a high intensity class. One where my ammunition bill is closer to a good night out at a fine steakhouse. The two students I saw most recently in class with 1911’s ran them fine. They had the usually challenges of keeping them loaded and running, but they did fine. A comment from one and I’m paraphrasing, “had I known, I would have brought a 9mm.” That says a lot.

This article is not a hit piece against the 1911. It was designed to think about the big picture and your goal for attending the class.

Buried Deep

When temperatures cool the ability to conceal may seem easier. It may actually improve the printing more common in summer months, but it also creates accessibility challenges.

Avoid This Mistake

In every Concealed Carry class I teach there is a student who fails to grasp the idea behind concealing. Instead, they often wear a “range appropriate” uniform. You are in a concealed carry class, dress accordingly. Take the time to test not what you always wear. Instead, work on cover garments that are more realistic to your daily clothing requirements. The problem with their range uniform is the characteristics are typically different than what the average person wear on a regular basis. I hear from several students comment how they are comfortable in the uniform they are wearing. I am all for comfort, you need to be comfortable when carrying concealed, but not at the sacrifice of poorly concealing.

Going Heavier

The range uniform usually goes out the window when the cold weather arrives. I love the fall time, such a wonderful time of year. Many will be comfortable wearing heavier shirts or even a light sweater or hoodie. Typically this is great for not so low temperatures or short exposure intervals. The moment it gets to low temperatures or your exposure is increasing you may need to rethink your cover garments. The takeaway should be more about staying warm. Should you be exposed to the environment you become slightly hyperthermic you will not do yourself any favors. Your reaction time will be slower, movements less precise and even your attention will wander.

More Than One

There is no reason you cannot comfortably carry while wearing multiple layers. In fact, this should be an essential skill for the serious practitioner. How many is multiple, well at least more than one. In our classes we get to two and sometime three layers of cover garments. Working your defeat methodology to manage the multiple layers should go without saying, yet so many choose the easy road. They choose the simplest method for carrying concealed, almost the bear minimum. In this condition, defeating your cover garment really doesn’t create much of a challenge. You almost want to push the envelope to the point failures are occurring. Then work your contingencies to manage those failures.

Addressing Reality

Your skill sets are not truly prepared until you have worked through multiple layers of cover garments. Finding yourself in multiple layers because it is cold is not the time to learn. The key is making your everyday technique work across the seasons. The technique should be the same whether you are defeating one layer or multiple. This is where I see so many methods fail. They rely almost exclusively on defeating the one cover garment. Add a couple and now it is more about luck.

Don’t fall into this trap. Use a defeat technique that transcends not just multiple layers, but just about any type of cover garment.

Lessons Learned

How often do you perform a comprehensive assessment of your performance.

Why If Failing Important

What’s the importance for reviewing your performance in the first place. Why do you need to go over your lessons learned. It should be pretty obvious, we want to get better. We want to start off today knowing if we do the work, we will be better than we were yesterday. That’s it. Your gains will not be measured in huge accomplishments as much as small victories. One of the easiest things you can do is making shooting a regular practice. How regular is up to you, but just getting out there is the key. Doing something, even if it is “wrong” is better than not doing anything.

Know Thyself

I’m fortunate to be healthy enough to compete in the Crossfit Open each year. I use it as my review of physical performance. It is hard to beat it for my needs. I want three physical characteristics, strength, speed and stamina. Now, everyone will measure these characteristics differently and that is fine. You don’t need to use the same tools I use. As long as they give you the feedback you need to get better that is all that matters. Here is the other thing I have learned over the years. Every workout does not need to be balls to the wall performance. I am happy to going hard, but that extra effort I reserve for competitions. How you can interpret this is not every training or practice session needs to be some sort of make it or break drill. Work on your weak areas for sure, but you don’t have to go at everything like you are shooting for a title.

Manage Your Expectations

Start out by taking stock of your overall skill. Where do you need work? Is it your marksmanship, is it your speed, is it your drawstroke. Whatever it is, take a close look at your performance and figure out where you are and where you want to be. Where you want to be does not have to be a blazing time, in fact that might be worse. What you are doing is trying to identify a goal, something that is reasonable and achievable. When you look to set a goal, keep it within reach. Once you reach it, update your goal. Making them bite size will be a lot better for you in the long run. With your goal in mind, your next step is to hold yourself accountable. I don’t like to put time limits on my goals, but I do like to put expectations. I expect to have improved my 25 yard marksmanship within seven or eight trips to the range concentrating on this task.

Plan The Dive, Dive The Plan

Looking at your goal from this perspective will give you a lot more latitude towards achieving. It also allows me to come up with my plan of attack. How am I going to achieve these goals. What drills will I use to improve. Will I look at updating my gear, will I look at new gear. I try to lay out the steps as descriptive as possible. Down to the rounds fired on each target. I know it may seem tedious, but it works. If I’m not doing well on a specific task, then I break the task down into its parts. Find the part that needs work and create practice around this part. Once you have done the work to prepare, it all comes down to the execution. Don’t make excuses, just do the work. Removing the time lines and focusing on the parts will get you by those frustrating periods.

Keep your eye on the end goal, follow your plan and don’t get lazy…do the work.

Stress and Your Heart Rate

Any life threatening event will spike your heart rate, be it an auto accident or self defense setting. The problem with a high heart rate is not solely limited to physical performance, but mental clarity.

Cracking Under Pressure

We have known for some time, the more physically fit a person is the more resilient they are under pressure. Yes, being stronger, faster or meaner on the battlefield goes a long way. The real benefit is in the decision making and by that I mean making the best decision in the shortest time frame possible. Not easy under normal conditions, put your life in danger makes it even more complicated. Being able to manage stress goes a long way towards improved decision making. In these situations the calmer you are, the better your choices.

Reflex Response

Of course, this flies in the face of physical performance. We are always trying to automate our skills to the point they are reflexive, almost instinctual. It makes sense, you will have little to know time to think about what you are doing. I am all for the automation of most hard skills; whether drawing your gun from concealment or managing the trigger. The more you can rely on muscle memory the better outcome you could expect. To get to this level, the subconscious, competent level, requires years of training and practice. It is not an easy task, but well worth the effort. The question remains, have you done anything to improve your decision making in conjunction with the automation of your hard skills.

Preparation & Planning

Most of the time, the two actions fail to get equal attention. We put so much effort into the automation of our hard skills we forget or flat out don’t realize the importance of the soft skills. Making decision an equal skill to develop is the first step. Part of the decision making process is knowing what you will do in advance. Having a better idea of your available options. Going through each of these to better understand their value in addition to their outcome will improve your decision making. The more you consider your force options in advance the more likely you will be to choose the right one.

The Fog of War

Making the choice is the hard part. It is such a thin line often skipped. There is the hard skills and the soft skills, but what triggers the decision making process? In addition, how do I increase the accuracy of my decision making, the correct decision under pressure. About the only time you can expect to be under those types of conditions is when your heart rate is elevated outside normal range. When your heart rate exceeds a certain level your cognitive ability will be severely degraded. Severely degraded is code for not likely to make the best decisions. The longer you stay in those dangerous levels the more likely you will continue to make bad choices. Is there a way to train to be able to make better choices. Maybe, maybe you have to increase your heart rate on a regular basis to the point it is more familiar to you. Maybe you need to force yourself to be in those elevated heart rate conditions when you have to make choices, preferable choices that don’t have high negative outcome. Maybe you just need to put in those situations so you recognize them for what they are, an obstacle you need to work at overcoming.

Fitness doesn’t solely improve your quality of life. It improves your decision making, particularly under high stress.

A Tale of Two Guns

There is an old saying, “be careful of the man with one gun, for he probably knows how to use it!” Very true words to live by, but as an instructor I don’t often get the same luxury.

Dance with the One Your Brought

I am pretty monogamous with my handgun selection. I try to keep within the same family of guns for my duty and carry requirements. It is helpful when I’m bouncing from one class to another to have some familiarity. Even if it is a different size frame or caliber, there is enough familiarization to do the work required. I enjoy keeping things simple and will often roll my eyes when I see a student sporting the gun of the month idea. From an instructional point of view I know there is going to be consistency issues. I will front load them to keep them to a minimum. I don’t have an issue with expressing your need to have multitude of guns. I’m saying focus on one and master it, then have fun.

The Hypocrite

So, it’s kind of hard for me to sit here when I have shifted away from my default brand. There is nothing wrong with them, nothing you need to worry about. As an instructor I need to have familiarity with different platforms. In this case I am working with a unit who is issued a different make/model. It is helpful when instructing I can discuss the unique idiosyncrasies of said make/model from a first person point of view. Without it, your credibility is not at full power. While marksmanship principles don’t change, their setup and application can differ. I am both happy and frustrated when I work with different platforms.

Do Work

Happy in the sense I reiterate the marksmanship principles regardless of the platform. Frustrated it might take slowing down or a few magazines to really get into the groove. Here is my secret…do work. I typically start with my supporting gear such as holsters and magazine pouches. When possible I try to go to the same manufacture for these needs. It creates a little bit of familiarity with the fit and ride. I try to have sufficient magazines for both training and self-defense. Since I fully immerse myself to keep the brain farts at a minimum this means carrying the same made/model concealed. Then there is dry fire practice, lots of dry fire practice. I will invest usually twice as much as I normally allocate with a little bit of overlap to cover my bases. What I mean is if I know I have an event with a unit, I will start practicing well in advance that overlaps with what I carry at that time.

Invest in the Process

The real work comes when you have to put holes in paper or shots on steel. I go through a variety of drills. I know I do these drills well with the other platforms so it helps keep consistency going. The key is you need to slow things down. I talk about full, half and slow speed in class and I usually do twice as much work at slow speed when transferring. Then I ramp up with drills that maintain accuracy, but push speed. The last step is to go full throttle. This is where the wheels start to wobble so I have to spend a fair amount of time getting them to settle down. While I don’t need a reason to switch platforms, I take it seriously since I’m fully immersed. This process has worked for me over the years and when students are looking to explore other options this is the path I recommend.

There is nothing wrong with having several guns, but if you are going to carry keep it simple. Investing time, talent and treasure is commitment not to be taken lightly.

The Two Confidences

It happens all too often, you start off real slow and before you know you are some sort of ninja. Well, at least in your mind you are a ninja, the reality is a little different.

Finally Tuned Machine

In our instructor courses I talk about the importance of developing the two confidences. The first is skills confidence. What you need to technically be proficient at the skill or skills. This is where you put the hard work into your development as a shooter. You learn the basics, drill them over and over. Start to fail, learn why you fail and work to improve. Then fail again, repeat as necessary. At some point, you have developed your skills to what I call command performance level. That means, at any given time, in all manner of conditions demonstrate your skill to a minimum standard.

The Truth Hurts

It sounds easy, truthfully it is pretty easy. The hard part is patience and discipline it takes to get to the level where you can now push into situational confidence. The mistake made is trying to jump right into the situational confidence arena. It may not be bad, you learn really quick how ill prepared you are and well worth the price you paid. You walk away realizing, well that didn’t go according to plan. It can force you to work harder, seeing your failures in all their glory. Or, it can do the opposite. It can solidify the notion of not wanting to be put in that awkward and uncomfortable position…ever again.

Baby Steps

Situational confidence is about taking your proven skills confidence; which is typically void of realism and applying them in realistic settings. These don’t always have to be in force on force scenarios, even just role playing with unloaded or even prop guns can scar someone. The importance of situational confidence is huge, but it is also part of a linear progression philosophy. One where you build from one level to the next, only advancing when you have developed a level of proficiency or meet a standard.

The Unknown

This is where the rubber meets the road, where you want to spend a good amount of your training resources. The reason situation confidence is so important is because it both familiarizes you with an unknown as well as inoculate you to the unknown. The more you dabble in this field the more gaps you bridge; which allows you to better react in real time. A major problem this solves is critical decision making under stress.

Rehearsals & Looks

Trying to perform any task under duress is challenging enough. Trying to do it without ever having been in the situation can be Herculean. We call these “looks” and a major reason we spend so much time doing rehearsals. The insight was ridiculously valuable, but it was only available if you were willing to see it over your ego. You had to recognize you made a mistake, try to understand why you made the mistake and then work towards changing the behavior that lead to said mistake. It is a process and no amount of good intention can replace the skill needed to take advantage of the benefits.

Put the work in to build your skills, hone them to a razors edge. Then test, test them until the fail, then test them again.

The Joy of Travel

I have been living out a gear bag for more than half my life. No matter how glorious it seems, it gets old really fast.

Learn the Rules

I’m traveling this weekend for our first class of 2019 down in Florida. I get asked this all the time; what do you do? Well, it is really not complicated. What I have learned over the years continues to guide me going forward. Most of these tricks are not really tricks, but experience. The most often asked question I get is how do I travel with firearms and ammunition. Simple, know and follow the rules. If you haven’t visited the TSA’s website, stop reading my article and go read up on their files. You cannot be surprised if you have an unpleasant experience when you are ignorant. Here is the flip side, you can do everything by the book and still get jammed up. My best advice is to be nice. Be nice, if you studied the rules, packed smart and arrived early to the airport then smile. I almost positive I’m the smartest person on this subject in the airport. I don’t flaunt it, I just smile.

Ounces to pounds

Everyone has probably has a horror story to share about a bad airport experience. I have my fair share and if I was smart I’d switch professions to be a paid consultant to the airlines. When it comes to packing, my game is strong. I invest in quality and rugged luggage. The days of having the super sized “dead hooker bags” are over for me. All they do is attract unwanted attention and extra fees. You are restricted to 50 pounds on just about every air carrier. If your bag or box weighs 20-25 pounds or more you will end up skimping on the gear you really need. You are looking for something with comfortable handles, big wheels and a sturdy frame. Also, you should expect about a two year shelf life no matter the manufacture. On my first trip with my current roller bag still with the tags still attached, I lost a buckle. So, don’t get too attached.

One of One is None

When it comes to your firearms they will need to be secured in a lockable hard sided case. There are a lot to consider, but you have to remember their weight mentioned above. I have two different load-out methods; one for handguns only and the other for rifles and handguns. For my handguns only I take a smaller hard sided case and lock it in my checked luggage. This case is just large enough to secure both of my handguns. Then save yourself the hassles and use TSA approved locks. In addition, pack a spare set and consider these to be consumable. The worse case scenario is on your outbound flight your locks get lost. Don’t ask, it happens more than you think. This will save you time and money trying to find a set for your return flight.

OCD to the Rescue

When it comes to supporting equipment my suggestion is to pack them in individual smaller bags. For this task I have come to rely on the Danka bags from Magpul. I have an assorted collection of sizes and colors. One bag for my holsters, one for my magazines loaded with defensive ammunition, one for my medical gear and my junk bag. I like to be as discrete as possible. Keeping all this other stuff under wraps helps. Then there is my compulsive need to be organized. Keeping equipment separate in different bags makes it super easy to throw stuff into my larger roller bag. On the off chance I have a lot to pack I get technical, like a game of Tetris.

Pack Smart and Go Lite

I’m big on weight because I am done paying extra fees. Part of my experience has helped me to pack smart. Bring quality gear that is rugged and light. Think about items that can fulfill multiple roles and choose them over specialized items. In the beginning invest in a hanging scale. I’m usually lighter coming home because I burn ammunition. Going out I am spot on to a pound. Partly because I’m a creature of habit, but also because I weighed my bags every trip. In the off chance I screw up, I pack a small duffle bag I can quickly use as a second carry on to avoid overweight fees. Remember, the bigger the bag…the more stuff you will pack. After a couple of trips ask yourself if you really needed all the items. Eventually you will find the sweet spot. As for packing my carrying on bag, I have the bare essentials to teach. My schedules, rosters and supporting classroom material. Fortunately, most are digital. Then the minimum personal safety equipment such as eye/ear protection and a small medical kit.

I enjoy traveling, don’t let a sour opening fool you, it is more my lifestyle than a vacation. Give some thought to these lessons learned. That’s right, everything above is there because I had to learn the lesson.

Trident Concepts
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