For me, it happened about 20 years ago.
Older readers of this column will remember a similar experience, when you had an epiphany and realized that you weren’t the only latent brain surgeon who had ever walked on this planet. And it manifested itself about ten years after your imbecilic father apparently swallowed an encyclopedia overnight and became both a rocket scientist and your life’s mentor the following day.
Yes, it took about another decade, because even that shock of paternal humility wasn’t enough to dampen the cockiness of youthful exuberance and bravado. So you kept it to yourself like a dark family secret (which it was) and never let on to your acquaintances that your character and wisdom—or lack thereof—didn’t exactly match your reputation. In fact it never does, unless you’re Mother Teresa.
So you meandered through life, blithely nodding sagely at every new revelation like it was old hat to you, not wanting to publicly admit that in the City of Knowledge, you were the Village Idiot. But at some point the moment of comeuppance reared its ugly head, when your obvious jaw-dropping, eye-popping countenance could no longer be concealed from the world at large.
My hapless Episode of Enlightenment occurred at the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times, because it was when my weapons and tactics learning curve had reached the stage where a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. It’s not that I thought I knew everything; it was merely the stage where I didn’t think that there was much more to be learned in the game.
Bad mistake. Great ego-breaker and learning experience.
It also came at the worst of times, because it was a self-inflicted humiliation caused by attempting to embarrass an acquaintance in front of several other shooters.
The idiot acquaintance—let’s call him Alfred—had just completed a pistol transition drill from a Colt 1911 primary pistol to a Smith & Wesson 1917 revolver. Since the presumption of the range exercise had been that both hands and arms were operational, Alfred had chosen to retract the Colt semi-auto back to his right-side ribcage, and draw and fire the Smith revolver left-handed only.
Upon completion of the drill, he reholstered the 1911, transferred the 1917 revolver to his right hand, and dumped the fired brass—and then pulled a spare .45 ACP magazine from a belt pouch. Here we go, I thought, a rare upcoming moment of glee in my miserable life as I watch a brain-dead duffer attempt to speed-load a Colt magazine into a Smith revolver.
“Hey, Einstein,” I yelled, using enough verbal decibels to ensure that all the other shooters and the entire planet’s population—including two orbiting astronauts and a couple of long-dead Egyptian pharaohs—would be sure to bear audible witness to Alfred’s misery and embarrassment. “You’ll never get a Colt magazine to fit in a 1917 revolver as long as my rear end has an orifice in it.”
Not fazed one whit by my brilliant verbal assault, Alfred calmly proceeded to perform several manual operations with hands now concealed from my view, reholstered the revolver, fiddled a while longer, and then re-pouched the semi-auto magazine. He then proceeded to reload the Colt with a second spare magazine that he retrieved from a black hole in space.
“Now how about reloading the revolver?” I gleefully commented.
“It’s loaded,” came the quiet Alfredian response.
Having known Alfred for several years at this stage, and being aware of his normally unflappable, proficient prowess, I started to get that sinking feeling. You know, the one where you realize that your hindquarters are indeed lacking an orifice, and that the sun is about to set on your self-proclaimed Sun Tzu image. Kind of like the night your father devoured the encyclopedia…
For those who care—and I did, because it was yet one more invaluable learning experience—Alfred had reloaded his revolver one round at a time, using the semi-auto magazine like a Pez® dispenser. The Smith cylinder chambers had internal “shoulders,” allowing the head-spacing of .45 ACP rounds without the necessity of moon clips. He then proceeded to refill the depleted magazine with single loose rounds—just in case, and out of habit.
Just call me Moon Tzu, because my loud-mouth life became awfully dark awfully quickly.
As Lao-Tzu wrote: “He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.”
From that day on, it’s been eyes and ears open, mouth shut. And years later, when somebody attempted to load a half-eaten apple into a Glock 21—twice—I didn’t mock him, because the Alfred experience had made me older and wiser. And when a police officer loaded a tampon into his shotgun magazine tube, I shut up, because I realized it was a momentary mental lapse and another important learning experience for both him and me. Why was he carrying a tampon? In those days, anything was better than nothing to plug a sucking chest wound when there was nobody around to help.
So what have I learned in 34 years of training and 46 years of packing iron? Secondarily, hundreds of potentially life-saving tricks and techniques, hopefully passed on to the next generation.
But primarily, unless you’re Mother Teresa, Sun Tzu, or your late father, I’ve learned that silence is often misinterpreted, but never misquoted.
[Louis Awerbuck is Director of the internationally acclaimed Yavapai Firearms Academy. Course information and schedules are available at their website at www.yfainc.com.]