No, I didn't believe they flew across rooms or anything but I remember watching a movie where a man got shot in the shoulder with a handgun, doesn't even twitch, looks down at his wound and then charges the shooter in rage and all I could think was how unrealistic that was.
I was that naive.
So when I entered this debate, I did so under the premise that knockdown power was not only real but something to be relied upon in armed confrontation.
When my opinion was not sufficient to persuade I figured I would overload my nay-sayers with data.
So, the search began. I went to the interwebz and spent non-stop hours searching for a shred of irrefutable proof that a handgun bullet would physically knock a human being off of his feet reliably.
The problem was I couldn't find any data to support my argument.
I was wrong.
And if that weren't bad enough. The people I learned that from, who I thought were more knowledgeable than me in these matters were also wrong.
And if they could be wrong about knockdown power what else were they capable of being wrong about?
Holy plastic nutcracker, they could be wrong about .... EVERYTHING!
This meant only one thing: I would have to verify everything I ever learned. I would have to test it. I would have to do my best to make sure it was valid, not only if I were going to use it or allow it to influence in my own decision making regarding my own safety but especially if I chose to pass that information on to others.
The problem with that is that it's time consuming and exhausting and sometimes there is misleading or dated information out there that needs to be updated. Another problem I've seen is with public opinion. They get used to the way it is and resist change, new ideas or tactics. Instead of looking at those things dispassionately, they resort to rejection.
How was/am I to know what's valid, what can be changed or updated, what's worth considering, what I'm willing to change my mind about and what I'm not?
1) Question everything.
Yes, even the basics, the rules, the absolutes, the truths. If they are worthy they will stand up to scrutiny. If they aren't, they will crumble or will be improved upon.
No, this doesn't mean you have to be the jerk in the back of a class who is interrupting every five seconds to ask, "Why?" (Here's a hint: Most good instructors will already tell you why.) Use some common sense, ask valid questions as they arise, take good notes and go home to research and get your second opinion.
If the information your questioning is in a written or online form use your google-fu.
2) Consider the source.
In this world where anyone can have an opinion and publish it in one forum or another or get some credentials and teach a class, it can be difficult to narrow down whether something is a trustworthy source. There are a LOT of people out there who are vary well-respected (even if that's just locally) and very wrong. There are also people out there who are generally unknown but very knowledgeable. Determining who is worth considering can be difficult. Resort to step 1 and then move on to step 3.
3) Find someone (preferably more than one someone) you can trust.
I have been very fortunate to get acquainted with and even become friends with some great instructors and leading individuals in the gun community. Perhaps one of the reasons I've been so fortunate is because I've sought these people out. I have hunted them down and not been shy about asking them questions.
They base their opinions on experience, they know how to distinguish between tactics that work for police, military and the civilian sector and they aren't intimidated when asked, "What makes you believe this is better than that?" They have been gracious enough to take my questions and give me the time of day to at least point me in the right direction when it comes to information. I've been sent books, given links, had amazing discussions, learned about biases, and even been told, "I don't know."
And that last one should be a big clue. If your trustworthy source isn't willing to say, "I don't know," I doubt their trustworthiness.
Many of these people have been around long enough to know and/or trained with a good number of other instructors and aren't afraid to recommend other classes and instruction or steer you in the right direction to meet your goals.
Be leery of instructors who discourage you from taking classes from any other source but do consider their warnings if they tell you a certain class or instructor isn't particularly up to par. Yeah, every instructor out there wants business and there are feuds so keep an open mind. Do independent research and come to your own conclusion.
But remember step 2. Every instructor and writer and trainer, no matter how good has their biases and/or flaws. Some are biased against certain types of guns or training or methods. It doesn't make them invalid sources but it may be important to see through their bias to avoid casting aside their valid information or instruction.
4) Test it.
It's really easy to take something you learn and think it's the begin-all and end-all of what you need to know, especially if it seemed to work well in a certain environment such as a classroom. I've seen this a lot in women’s' self-defense classes. A technique will be taught as "guaranteed to work" but then I go home and test it on a non-compliant partner and it falls apart.
Some things being taught are just bad all around. And some are just not right for you. I've seen lots of techniques (or gear or ideas) that work really well for most everyone that just don't work for me. I will give it an honest try but if it doesn't work for me, it doesn't work. It doesn't mean the technique is completely invalid, just not for me. Sometimes it means that the technique just needs to be worked more to be perfected or adapted to your size and abilities. If it can't be adapted and you've given it an honest effort and it's still not working for you (or not working reliably) it might be time to ditch it.
The only way to know that, however, is to test it as often as you can.
This step goes hand-in-hand with step 1. If it's valid, it will work. If it's not it will fall apart or need changing or adapting.
5) Don't stop going through the steps... Ever.
Even if something has been tried and tested one hundred times or you've done it this certain way since the first time or you heard it from a hundred different sources, doesn't mean you stop questioning it, updating it, reevaluating it's place in how you prepare, train or think.
You may just learn a new way to apply that same principle or you might find something that works better. But you won't if you aren't willing to open up to different avenues of learning and training.
In a world where everything changes, the ones who fall behind will be the ones who think they have it all figured out.