There are a lot of new schools and instructors that have entered the scene over the past few years. Many present themselves as “better than the rest” or try to create a “new” tactic or technique that they name after themselves. Writing from the perspective of both student and instructor, I have seen a lot of instructors come and go.
The challenge to instructors is to be able to demonstrate and teach specific skills and do it perfectly. Those who are department instructors know that we spend hours on the range teaching and get very little time to shoot. We also know, and teach, that shooting is a perishable skill and instructors are not immune from bad habits and diminished skills. An instructor’s certificate on the wall does not make us immune from the same problems as our students. Here are some examples.
Even the Best
Several years ago, I was on the range with a good friend who is a very experienced instructor from a federal agency. He was in the process of testing a new holster for his agency. I noticed that when he initiated his draw stroke, his support hand/arm did not immediately move to the center of the body but remained relaxed at his side until the pistol was clear of the holster. As a result, during the draw stroke, the support hand was playing catch-up and was not joining the firing hand at the proper location. He was totally unaware of his “lazy” draw stroke until I pointed it out to him. Instructors will always help each other.
I was recently watching a training DVD on pistol skills. The instructor gave a very good demonstration and his draw stroke was very clean and fast and he was accurate with his shots. However, the first thing I noticed was that he had fallen into the range/competition habit of coming off the target and into a high-ready immediately after firing the required number of rounds. The second thing I noticed was that his transition to high-ready was just as fast as his draw stroke. This begs the question, “What if the target is not neutralized with the first two shots?” This may be okay at an IDPA match, but it could prove deadly on the street!
Tried and True Methods
One valuable technique is for the instructor to teach the skill by the numbers and then demonstrate the drill at half-speed. The objective is to show the student the proper skill, not show how fast you can perform the task. This is especially true when teaching a new skill or correcting problems. Travis Tomasie, from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, can perform a reload in less than 0.75 seconds. But if you blink, you miss it and will never learn how it is done! Half-speed allows the instructor to be perfect in his demonstration. This is not to say that full-speed demonstrations are not a valid teaching tool. Remember, the object is to transfer knowledge and teach skills, not to demonstrate how good you are!
Good instructors will admit their mistakes, not ask for a do-over. I have seen great shooters fumble a reload during a demonstration. When that happened, that shooter pointed out what he did wrong. He did not blame it on the bright lights, sweaty hands, or the alignment of the moon and the stars. I have grabbed both gun and shirt when teaching concealed carry. It happens. The answer is to work through it. If you fumble a reload or have a malfunction, the threat is still there and you should stay in the fight until the fight is over. There are no do-overs in a gunfight.
Be wary of an instructor that has created his own “better” way of doing things. While there is more than one way to do something, time and experience have distilled the basic techniques into a common set of skills.
It you are teaching a specific unit or department, I suggest that you teach using the same firearm and basic gear as the students. Certainly, there can be some variation, but attempt to match the gear as close as possible. This will give you far more credibility than if you are using a slicked up pistol and a USPSA holster.
During practice, good instructors push themselves and seek out other instructors and training classes to improve their skills. You will never know how fast you can be until you start missing. This is true whether you are practicing your draw, a reload, double-taps or transitions. A timer is essential equipment to evaluate a student or instructor’s current skill level and measure improvement. It will also validate your gear and setup. As with holsters and belts, spend a little more and get a well-known brand that has multiple functions.
Competition can be a great learning tool for instructors. Competition will put you under stress and require you to shoot a course of fire designed by someone else. Both are good for training. However, the key is to use the stage to practice for real life. In some cases, this will result in a penalty. That’s OK! What is more important, winning a street fight or a local IDPA match? The benefit is you are performing under stress in a timed event. This will put your skills and practice to the test. It is helpful to have a friend critique your performance or, better yet, have them video record the stage.
Instructors must have a combination of skills and proper temperament. The skills part involves both shooting and teaching. The temperament involves understanding the needs and capabilities of your students and imparting skills in a clear and concise manner. We should always remember that we are also students and that learning is never over. Attend as many classes as possible and remain open to new ideas.
There is no greater compliment than to have a student return and tell you that they survived an armed encounter because of what they learned from you. In this day and age, anyone can hang a shingle and open a school. Many are in the business for the money, not to teach life-saving skills. As an instructor, remember that teaching is a serious business and lives may depend on what you teach! In the end, all an instructor has is his integrity and reputation. Guard both as if your life depends on them.