Choose Wisely

I was recently brought into a internet conversation regarding a pistol technique.  Normally I avoid these discussions like the plague, but the prompt came from a friend so I took a look.  This only reinforced my belief that I should never delve into these discussions.  As you can imagine it was a thousand word essay on why his was the right way.

This actually spurred me to write this brief article though, so I guess it was not a total waste of time.  It seems that over the last few years, there has been a HUGE increase in the number of firearms instructors here in the U.S.  Everybody and their kid brother are teaching now.  Contrary to what you may think, I welcome this.  I welcome it because if they can help spread the word about how to effectively use a firearm – we all win. What tends to happen however is that we also get a group of instructors that feel their “experience” qualifies them to enter this field.

Instead of taking an unsavory road of bashing, I will simply share what I suggest you look for in an instructor – regardless of the topic.  This is the same criteria I use for courses I want to attend.  So, without further ado, here are my criteria.

1. Instructors should be subject matter experts in the field they are teaching.  This goes far beyond any “certifications” and awards.  Is this person the real deal or not?  This is my number one because it is the most critical.  Becoming a SME demonstrates that this person has chosen this as a life.  What qualifies a person as a SME?  Well, experience above all things. This experience is gained primarily as a student.  The absolute best instructors will always have a student’s mind and be constantly improving themselves.  One or two classes simply does not cut it.  The two things I see tossed about quite often are “I was in the military” and “I was a cop”.  These are many times listed as their primary or only qualifications to teach.

Well, buckle up because I have some bad news for you.  Neither of these automatically qualifies anyone as a firearms instructor.  Now don’t get your panties in a bunch.  I respect these people more than most of you can fathom.  I spent the first 30 years of my life in, around, or teaching for the Army so I get that.  I have also spent the last 20+ years teaching cops.  Each of these factors qualifies me to say, that while many have good basic firearms skills (some not so much), they are in no way automatically qualified as an instructor.  Some of the worst shots and firearms handling I have ever seen have been in the military and law enforcement communities.  Conversely, these communities have the potential to produce phenomenal instructors.  These are the men and women that go beyond the “basic” firearms training that they receive and drive themselves to excel.  This is a strong characteristic in most of the high end instructors I see.  They tend to be people that worked in the special operations community, SWAT, sniper teams, and HRT.  The nature of their duties drives them into another category.  They are professional shooters.

Some of the finest instructors and shooters I have ever worked with though have been pure civilians.  One of the most sought out precision rifle instructors in the world is a civilian shooter from Texas.  Civilian SME’s have a much longer road to be sure.  What others get in their military or law enforcement training, these shooters must seek out on their own.  A characteristic I find in these people is the ability to choose their training wisely.  They tend to end up in hardcore serious classes taught by serious people.  I have a great deal of respect for civilian SME’s because they have traveled a very long road to get where they are.

2. Instructors should have an open mind.  What I mean by this is simple.  Accept that fact that there may be a better way.  See my previous statement about having a “student’s mind”.  I do not recommend that you sway with any breeze that comes, but keep an eye open to new techniques and principles.  People that claim this is the “RIGHT” way or “ONLY” way show themselves for what they are. Question them as to why and it falls apart from there.  The techniques I teach in classes have evolved over the years.  If I see someone doing things a bit differently, I watch closely to see if it works.  I find it hard to correct someone shooting ragged holes just because they are not doing it exactly as I instructed.  I was actually in a class where the instructor was harping on the guy next to me because he was doing it “wrong”.  What was “wrong” was the instructor.  The guy had put 5 rounds into the pupil of the target in less than the time required.  He did not do it with the feet angled as the instructor suggested so she considered it wrong.  Yeah…about that.

3. Last but not least – instructors must be professional.  Remember that as an instructor, you represent us all.  Being a profanity screaming jackass only makes you look foolish and demonstrates some Freudian daddy issues.

Do not shy away from being who you are, but remember that once it is said – it can not be taken back.  This is one of the most profound lessons I have ever learned as an instructor.  I had a student bring up a discussion I was having with a class almost 10 years ago.  What it showed me is that people are listening so choose your words wisely.

In the end, it is really up to you.  Who do you feel suits you best? Be honest in your choice and decision. Research the instructor and ask questions. Do they teach professionally or is it something they just do on the side? Above anything else though – seek training!  Sure, I would love for all of you to come train with me.  It does not work that way though.  To be serious about this art, you must train with a variety of instructors to truly master the craft.  I hope this has been helpful if not entertaining.  Until we meet again, be safe and stay in the fight!


This was reprinted with permission from our friend Fred Mastison with Force Options

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