It was a few months ago that I found myself in a “conversation” on one of the gun/self-defense forums. The forum in question is not one of the “gun” oriented ones (such as SigForum, Glocktalk, etc.), but one set up by a firearms/self-defense training company, which we shall refer to as Company X. As one might imagine, the forum is run by a “guru” and is primarily populated by his associate instructors and then a bunch of sycophants (some of whom, I am convinced, are merely he and his associates masquerading as other people, but I digress). Because it is the guru’s site, he gets to make sure the “narrative” always “fits” that which he and his people advocate.
As it happened, the discussion I became involved in was about the use of “the sidestep”. I refer here to the sidestep/draw/fire as taught by well-regarded instructors like Tom Givens and Pat McNamara. Company X favors more aggressive movement rather than one or two sidesteps. I pointed out that Givens’ students have what can only be described as an impressive record in armed encounters, so the sidestep might be something worth looking at. From there the “conversation” devolved into a series of insults directed at me and accusations that I must not have paid attention when I took classes with Company X. Readers of this blog who have read through my coursework After Action Reviews should realize that I do not have a tendency to sleep in class!
I bring this up as backstory because the behavior some of the sycophants who chose to “pile on” in support of their guru was, well, sad in a way. The comments by one user in particular have stuck with me over these last couple of months as representative of many things I have read by others on that forum. In this case, the user in question wrote that that he was “so happy that he chooses to spend ALL of his training dollars with Company X”.
This guy freely admitted that he spends all of his training dollars with this one company, and I know he has no other background in firearms or self-defense training (he was a fellow student of mine in two classes). I have a real problem with this attitude. How is someone–with no other experience and who “buys” whatever his guru says–supposed to determine whether or not the skills he is taught are in any way applicable to real-world self-defense? For example, readers of this blog may be familiar with my article on taking classes with a critical eye. If Company X teaches the sling technique that I was exposed to in my first carbine class, and the person in question ONLY trains with Company X, then how is he to know that the sling technique taught in that class is complete crap? He is essentially taking it all on faith that his guru is right.
Now, students of anything (high school, college, law or medical school, etc.) do make assumptions about the expertise of the instructors. My own students assume, because I am standing in front of them at the front of the classroom, that I have a certain knowledge base and can be counted on to be correct about the subject matter I have been tasked with teaching them. Any good student can/should compare what the teacher says, what the textbook says, what online resources say, what supplemental books say, and perhaps what other teachers say about the topics at hand. Once this is done, the students can make their own judgements about the expertise of the teacher.
In self-defense/firearms instruction, the same holds true. However, if you limit yourself to only one instructor or “school”, then you are not affording yourself of the chance to vet the skills being taught against what other instructors or schools are teaching. Again, as the example in my article on using a critical eye shows, had I only trained–in that particular case–with Suarez International, I might never have otherwise realized that the slinging technique they advocate is less-than-optimal.
Why do a lot of students choose to spend their training dollars with only one company? In my opinion, there are a few possibilities. The school in question may be geographically close, which translates to convenience and less money spent on travel, lodging, etc. Another reason might be the comfort factor. Once you have trained with an instructor, you know what to expect, which, in turn, makes it easier to go back. If you’re a naturally anxious person such as myself, there is some “safety” in knowing what to expect. A third possibility comes up when there is a “guru” involved, where training with one person or school takes on almost a cult-like quality. Finally, I think some people like to stick with one school because, over time, they become like a big fish in a small pond.
I would strongly encourage our readers to try to take courses with a variety of instructors. All of the best instructors I have trained with have been secure enough in their own instruction to advise their students to do likewise. I would not just willy-nilly take a course with anyone; you should spend some time reading course descriptions and AARs to figure out what courses to take and with whom to take them. The courses you take should also fit your “mission”, whatever that might be. For those curious, as of this writing and going back 3 years, I have taken 19 courses with 13 different instructors, and I feel like I can clearly articulate why I took each of those classes with each specific instructor.