Five years ago today, I woke up on a deflated air mattress in the back of my SUV in Lewis, Indiana for my first firearms training class after having driven 6 hours overnight to attend. This would be my first step down the martial path that has led to amazing experiences, friends, mentors, and training. I wouldn’t say my first step down the martial path was the best step, but it was still a step forward. The very ironic thing about being an “alumni” of the infamous RangeTime, is how it shaped my outlook on training and how I view instructors immensely.
I am generalizing my blog post to firearms instructors/training as that is what I primarily take classes involving, however, this subject is really self defense. So much of this can be applied to other areas of self defense as well. Just wanted to be clear. A firearm is only a SMALL PART of self defense.
The very first lesson I learned was to NEVER confuse a large social media presence or large following as adding credibility to an instructor. I saw Cory and Erika’s YouTube channel with a large following with awesome videos and just figured if so many people are following them, they must be credible. That was an incredibly dumb mistake on my part. Sadly, from looking at the industry now, I think it is even worse for new folks than when I started looking at firearms training due to more platforms now with Facebook, Instagram, etc. Let me tell how just how that feels to look back and realize how poor of a decision you made. Specifically, with RangeTime, Cory was a stolen valor asshat. I attended a training school where the instructor eventually got busted for faking his whole military medical story. Do you know how bad that feels as a student? To realize all the things you thought about that person where wrong? Then realize you gave them money and your time, which you can never get back? Then in your mind, it turns into: “If he lied about his background, is he lying about his methodologies?” What I now realize knowing the whole story, he never cared about the students, it was all about the money. An “instructor” who is willing to lie to their students doesn’t have their best interests in mind. Which to be a good instructor, that is literally the first requirement. Train with the best instructors you can afford. Train with those that are known for their training, not for their YouTube channel or Instagram theatrics. You will thank me later.
Now, before I start the second point which can be a rabbit hole, it is important to understand that there are different types of firearms instructors. There are the types where all they are going to do is show you how to load the gun and shoot paper at 10 feet at an indoor range and not kill yourself and others. There are others that offer very specific training like Vehicle CQB, or CQB, Foundational Carbine/Handgun, Combatives, Less Than Lethal and everything in between. So from a student aspect, please understand that not all instructors are created equal and that is okay. This is why it is YOUR job to vet the instructor and select the right instructor for you and where you are at on your path. Just because their Instagram profile stays “_______ instructor”, it doesn’t mean they are one or the right one for you or that they are any good.
The second lesson that I have is understanding what a firearms instructor should be to a student. I have lost track of the number of classes that I have taken or assisted with, but it is probably somewhere in the 50-75 range. Obviously, I have experienced quite the spectrum of firearms and self-defense training in regards to quality, or lack of. As a student, you should have expectations of your instructor. You are there paying them to learn, so they should be facilitating that experience. Here are some fundamental rules:
If the class/range isn’t safe and you don’t feel safe, just walk away. No class is worth someone getting shot over. No one should be muzzling other people. No student should muzzle another student. No instructor should be muzzling students. No instructor should be muzzling other instructors. They should have a safety plan and a medical brief. You would think this is a no-brainer, however, it isn’t.
You should be getting feedback on how you are doing in the class. That is the teaching part of the instructor. If they are having you work a draw stroke, reloads, movement, or whatever teaching point, they should be giving you feedback on how you are doing. If you don’t know you are doing something wrong, spend all day doing it wrong, and leave the class doing it wrong, what was the point of the instructor even showing people?
The instructor needs to have a laid out, systematic approach to what they are teaching, referred to a POI (point of instruction). Now, we all know POIs can change based on the class (sign of a good instructor), but there needs to be a deliberate and obvious progression of what is being taught. The previous step needs to be built upon in the next step. A class that is called “Concealed Carry 101” that has day one working on draw stroke to the next day working on fighting from a vehicle is absurd. While it sounds cool, you aren’t getting the necessary information on any of the subjects being “taught”. You aren’t getting the reps needed to implement what is being taught into your brain. Honestly for this example, probably sets a student up for major failure as working in and around a vehicle isn’t a subject that can be covered in just one day.
The instructor needs to provide you context to what is being taught. Now, I’m not looking for war stories, I am looking for trends in data, tons of videos showing the same thing working over and over, multiple first-hand examples, etc. If they aren’t explaining the WHYs of what is being taught, then you have to ask them, WHY is this being taught? An answer of “well, this is how it always has been” or other junk like that, that doesn’t cut it! Students need to ask WHY about everything being taught and an instructor should be explaining the WHY about everything being taught.
Next lesson: Be Humble (Humble Pie Patch). You aren’t as good as you think you are and get rid of your ego. I remember rolling into my second ever class called “You Suck Its Not The Gun” with Trek from MDFI and thinking I was about to blow this shit out of the water cause I was ready for bigger and better things…Nope. Didn’t do that shit at all. Not. Even. Close. Thankfully I had a Jesse with me and we were smart enough to realize “Fuck, this shit isn’t about the gun at all”. Going to the range and shooting ammo doesn’t mean anything without a purpose. Going to the range allows you to work fundamentals of shooting. That is all. It doesn’t prepare you for a 360-degree environment. To steal a line from my good friend Functional Gentleman, “All I Know Is That I Know Nothing”. If you follow this motto, you will always be improving, you will also be learning, and you will always be getting better. That is the goal of training right?
I can’t think Swat Jesus enough for the mentors that I have. Get a mentor. It doesn’t have to be in regards to firearms training, but having a mentor in life will help you immensely. Find a person who shares the same values, morals, and approaches to life as you. They don’t have to be rich or famous, but if they are successful at what they do and they are living a good life, you should be asking that person questions because they have information that could stop you from making the same mistakes they did. Find a mentor, ask them questions, see what drives, and LISTEN when they are speaking. For some reason, I have managed to stumble into having some amazing mentors. When they talk, I shut up.
Do This and Do This Early: I have become a better student and a better shooter because I started training in a 360 degree environment early in my training path. Shoot houses with Steve from Sentinel Concepts, Force on Force Trek from MDFI and Joe from Alliance Police Training, Vehicle CQB with William Petty showed me that square range stuff doesn’t prepare you for all that life can throw at you. And it doesn’t prepare you at all for the information processing when you start training in a 360 degree environment. If you carry a gun every day, you better start preparing to win the fight of your life in a 360 degree environment because I don’t know too many gun battles that happened on square ranges, or timers for drawing, or gunfight with everyone on the same line and no one down range. We are accountable for everything we do: better be able to do it right the first time because of training instead of figuring it out on the fly with no training experience to pull from when its for all the marbles as Petty says.
My last point is for instructors out there who might be reading this. Here is some information that I feel is important to help you be a good instructor from a student perspective.
Go Get Training. If a student is coming to you to get better, why aren’t you continually trying to get better? Keep training, keep evolving, and keep learning. Being a better student will make you a better instructor. Anyone can open a firearms training company. LITERALLY ANYONE. There are no rules for it. There are no laws. There are no standards. Don’t be the bare fucking minimum with the NRA Basic Instructor. Honestly, that shouldn’t even count.
Be able to look at your POI and answer the WHY about EVERYTHING you are teaching. Context is the most needed information for students a lot of the time. If you teach concealed carry classes, shouldn’t you be able to explain why we have retention and offer context for when to use it and when not to use it? Why and Context need to apply to everything you teach, no matter what you teach. A student leaving your class not knowing WHY something was being taught will never stick with them.
Be humble and give the respect the word instructor deserves. Students are paying you money and taking time away from their lives, families, and kids. That is an amazing feat, so do it humbly and with respect. Don’t think cause you wear a red vest that says “Instructor” on it that you are better than your students. You need to be an instructor, a leader, and a teacher, not an overlord. A true leader supports not yells commands.
Don’t ask your students to do something you can’t. Demo The Shit Out of Everything. Seeing is believing and most people learn by seeing. Now, there might be some subjects where this can’t be done due to various reasons, but students need to see it can be done. How to do it. And know that if they do what they are being taught, they can do it to with practice and effort.
Stay In Your Lane. I get sent a lot of videos from people looking for training, DERP videos online of “instructors” teaching some bullshit, and instructors teaching stuff they obviously have no clue about. Don’t be that fucking guy. Teach what you are good at, teach what you can explain to your students, and teach what you are contextualizing to your students. There is nothing wrong with teaching fundamentals. There is nothing wrong with teaching just your niche subject. You will get more students from staying in your lane because other instructors will notice that, respect that, and probably mention you if a student is in your area or looking for a class in your expertise. Or maybe that instructor will send a new student to you first to get squared away before that student goes to him. Nothing will ruin your reputation faster than a student who thought they learned some subject from you, then take training with someone who actually knows what they are talking about and opens the eyes of the student that you were BS.
This has been an amazing 5 years for me in regards to how I have progressed. I have come so far, yet still have so much farther to go. I hope this blog post helps those on the path, about to start, or to those that help students on their path. At the end of the day, just remember that as a student be smart and don’t fall for the same mistakes that I did that led me to RangeTime. You want every dollar you spend, every minute you burn, and every round, punch, movement, and thought to be making you better.
Instructors, this is a pretty simple job. Never do anything that would make your students feel ashamed to have trained with you and where your certificates are now a joke and not a good memory for your students:
I hope I conveyed the WHYs to all my lessons and covered what most might have questions about in 5 years without going into specific classes or moments. Everyone’s path is different and I can’t say the path I did is the best for everyone or the classes I have done are for everyone. But I think if people learn from my mistakes and take my experiences as a student and apply them, it might be able to help them in some way.