Some More Thoughts on Instructor Pedigrees

My previous article on instructor pedigrees stimulated at least a little discussion here on the blog, on Facebook, and between John and me.  I had a few thoughts as it relates to this topic that I did not address in the first article, so I thought our readers might appreciate my sharing.

Beware of Talent

Whether through an incredible number of repetitions or some sort of God-given, natural talent, some people are just more talented than others at particular tasks.  I saw this first-hand in Paul Howe’s Advanced Individual Tactics class.  I had fired a few rounds at a target in the dark about 40 yards away, illuminated with my not-up-to-the-challenge flashlight.  As we walked to the target to check my hits, Paul told me that he knew I missed because he was watching the bullet in mid-flight.  Yeah, uh, I can’t do that.  My eyes are just not good enough to see a bullet as it flies through the air, and I’m pretty sure they never will be, as they continue to worsen with age.

Fortunately, Paul is an excellent instructor who recognizes that not everyone has the natural abilities to do what he can do.  But there are instructors who probably cannot fathom how a student cannot do what comes so naturally to them.  I again reference my prior article, where I mentioned that there has only been one Hall of Fame football player who was later a Super Bowl winning head coach (Mike Ditka….and some would argue the team won in spite of him, with Buddy Ryan’s defense carrying the entire season, but I digress). 

Also, keep in mind that even the most gifted players in any sport still have coaches.  The best golfers have swing coaches (most of whom never won majors themselves), major league baseball pitchers have pitching coaches (some of whom never played professional baseball), and the great tennis champions like Serena Williams and Roger Federer have coaches as well (again, who have never won majors in their careers).

My point here is that we have to be wary of just going to someone who is talented, because they may not be able to understand how it is we cannot do what they do.  Some of the best instructors and coaches got to be so great because the road they took to reach whatever level of mastery they achieved was the tougher one.  Likewise, even the most talented people still require coaching.

The Fallacy of Success

This is something that I mentioned in the comments section here on the blog after my last article on this topic.  While I am as guilty of anyone of wanting to train with the been-there, done-that (BTDT) crowd, there is some danger in following only this group.

Imagine I am the exact person I am today, except that tomorrow I survive an attempted murder by shooting my two attackers.  Further suppose that, in surviving, I did everything “wrong”.  Perhaps I used shoddy situational awareness that got me caught up in the situation to begin with, and then executed poor (but nonetheless successful) tactics and techniques in defeating my adversaries.  Suppose that I then hang up a shingle and start teaching defensive tactics.  Technically, I would be part of the BTDT crowd, though it was only through sheer luck that I survived my encounter.  I could probably build up quite a following if I am savvy on social media and make at least a decent living cashing in on my success.  But, would people out there really be doing themselves a favor training with me?  Would they be learning the skills they might need in order to survive their own dangerous encounter?

My point is that we must be wary when we choose those from the BTDT crowd.  Particularly now, after the USA spent a decade plus fighting in several places, there are many out there now cashing in on their combat experience.  What level of experience they have, or even if it is relevant, can be almost impossible for a civilian to discover.  There are also the private military contractors who have evolved into trainers, but finding out about their past accomplishments can be even tougher.  One never knows if the instructor in question was great at his work or hid in a roadside ditch when the chips were down.  Likewise, there is at least one former member of the law enforcement community who was involved in several shootings, surviving at least one of them due to what I would call luck rather than skill.  He now bases most of his curriculum on the mostly unique circumstances of that one encounter rather than what the statistics of countless other encounters by other people in similar positions would suggest would be best practices.

Final Thoughts

As a consumer, be wary when choosing an instructor.  We are lucky in that we live in a golden age in the availability of instructors.  We are doubly lucky in that we live at a time when we have information available to us almost as soon as a question forms in our minds.  Use the web to research potential instructors, read AARs (try to find several AARs by several different people), look for patterns.  Readers of my AARs will notice that I was kinder in some than in others, and also tried to disclose things that could potentially prejudice the AAR.  Things to look for would be:  did the writer take the class at some discount?  Did the writer go into the class with a “man-crush” on the instructor before they ever met?  Has the writer returned to take future classes with that same instructor?  Weigh these considerations as you read AARs to help you reach your decisions.

In the end, it is still important to choose your instructor based on what you want to learn.  Do they have expertise in the areas in which they are teaching?  Do they have BTDT experience in the areas in which they are teaching?    What value do we place on the expertise or the experience if they cannot actually TEACH?  I don’t know that I have definitive answers, but put this all forward as food for thought.  Please share your own thoughts/experiences in the comments below or on our Facebook page.  As always, thanks for reading.

8 thoughts on “Some More Thoughts on Instructor Pedigrees

  1. Great post. I am just starting on my journey now and this is a not small concern of mine.

    I have signed up for 11 classes with (focused on handgun, combatives, tactical medicine) 7 different instructors who have backgrounds in Military Special Operations and Law Enforcement.

    I think I have made solid choices. All of them have Real World Experience with the subject matter in the Course Title, at least I believe so.

    Here is an example: Instructor with vast amount of experience in Military Special Operations teaching handgun classes for civilians? Thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jaycel,

      Thanks for the comment/question. The answer is: it depends!

      I’ve taken handgun classes from several different former members of Special Operations, and all were fine to great.

      I think there are plenty of people (civilian, military, LE) who can teach you “fundamentals of handgun marksmanship”. If you start throwing in some tactical considerations, then seeking someone more from the BTDT crowd would be a good thing. As you move on in your training, you’ll want to add in more of the decision-making/tactical problems to solve.

      But consider this: what sort of “special operations” was the person in question involved in? I took a VERY basic pistol class with a former Army Ranger, but how often do Army Rangers utilize their pistols, particularly as their ONLY weapon? Conversely, if you read the book “Relentless Strike” by Sean Naylor (see our recommended books list), you will read about many covert operations carried out by Delta and Seal Team 6–out of uniform–where a concealed pistol was probably their only available weapon. Given the choice of a pistol class with a former Ranger or a pistol class with a former Delta operator, who would you choose? Food for thought.–Robert


  2. Thanks for the reply, Robert!

    That’s interesting, I have done the same thing with a gentleman from the 75th (John Lovell), very basic Intro and Pistol 1 and 2 (in October) courses. It has been a great introduction to pistol shooting and am grateful to my instructor for making it a good experience.

    The next series of classes are with three Delta operators (Johnny Primo, Robert Keller, and Jay Paisley) then an LEO (Jared Reston), ending with Kyle Defoor for Concealed Pistol and Craig Douglas’ ECQC.*

    I know that Defoor and Paisley served in Recce elements.

    So definitely, after fundamental marksmanship training….I’ll take a Recce Operator for Concealed/Tactics all day.

    *My work schedule means I can’t usually attend a class on a Saturday for 10 months of the year. So I just grabbed every class that was during the week, on a Sunday, or in January/February.

    You guys have the best written AARs on this subject matter online. Grabbed that Defoor Concealed Class due to the AAR you did about his Two Day Handgun class an hour after it got announced. It sold out the following day, I think.

    Thanks so much for posting well written, thorough, and comprehensive content.


    1. Jaycel,

      Thanks for the kind words on the AARs, et al.

      Obviously, I recognize many/most of the instructors you’ve chosen to train with. Defoor and Douglas are top-notch, and I hear great things about Jared Reston (a great guy to learn mindset from, given his survival story).

      I also wanted to clarify something for all of our our readers. In my last reply, I did not mean to imply that a former Ranger cannot teach handgun skills. Obviously, anyone with the skill and the teaching ability can do so. Rather, if an instructor hangs out his shingle based solely on his BTDT experience, then that BTDT experience should have included whatever it is he (or she) is teaching.

      Finally, please heed the advice of John (below). Stacking so many classes on top of each other can be an issue for retention of information. The vast majority of what you will learn in classes won’t matter to you until you practice what is taught, and you may not get in enough practice between classes in order to get the maximum benefit. Case in point: it was probably 6 months to a year after I took Critical Handgun Employment with Steve Fisher before I REALLY appreciated the class. Just food for thought.

      Good luck in your training and let us know how you do. We appreciate you reading and commenting here on the blog, and hope you stick with us through our own journey.–Robert


  3. Jaycel,

    Let me jump in here… I think it’s fantastic that you are taking so many classes with so many good instructors. Having said that, I would recommend you look up a book called “Building Shooters.” Short version, be careful what you commit to procedural memory, and allow for adequate time to consolidate the new material learned. Training with different instructors is a good thing, and at the higher levels, most instructors will be teaching similar methods. But learning different methods to accomplish the same thing in a short time period my very well be counter productive to the desired outcome. One of my future blog posts will be a review of the aforementioned book, hopefully spurring further discussion on training methodologies. I know that reading it certainly impacted my personal training habits.

    Thanks for reading the blog, and thank you for your comments!


  4. I’m glad you brought this up, Robert! I was thinking after your last article about the perceived vs actual legitimacy of instructors and the amount of weight that BTDT should contribute to one’s decision. I would definitely not take a class from George Zimmerman even though he has used a handgun to purportedly defend himself (for character reasons as much as the circumstances of his experience). Also there is at least one instructor that I would never take a class from that I feel is 85% bluster and self-aggrandizement and maybe 15% disseminable experience.

    I feel that to be a competent teacher, you have to be able to analyze where the student is in their learning, break down the task(s) into steps that will become milestones towards the basic competency, help your audience master the requisite components individually and then eliminate the boundaries between them to make a smooth and complete whole. Meaningful practice and repitition continues that process until it becomes a singular and hopefully natural execution of the task, and eventually becomes instinct.

    But there seem to be so few people in any given subject area that are truly great at being able to do all of that, be it music, work tasks, sports, or anything that requires a synergy of thought and action to evolve into a fluid motion, and might I even say, to become Zen, where the thought becomes the action without thinking. “Those who cannot do, teach.” Cute saying, and I’m sure everyone agrees it takes only a few experiences to get their fill of those people in their lives, but I find it mostly untrue. But finding someone who is best-in-class that is an exceptional teacher can be challenging to downright difficult, but I have experienced a few in non-shooting fields, and from this blog I have learned that there are several in the civilian defensivist industry as well. As I seek out formal training I know that I can use Civilian Gunfighter as a resource to help guide my decisions, and for that, John and Rob, and the patrons here, from a noob, you all have my gratitude!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Terrahawk,

      I think “the market” has a way of weeding out MOST of the crappy instructors, at least at the higher levels. Sure, your local range might offer classes with whatever local “talent” is available, and these can vary widely in terms of quality (witness my first NRA class taught by a former county police SWAT officer, a self-proclaimed 1911 guy who disdained the stainless Sig Sauer P220 in front of him because he doesn’t like double-stack pistols in 9mm ??????). But I think, at the higher level, the industry does at least a decent job of policing itself, and in the modern age of communication, word gets out fast about less-than-stellar instruction (witness how quickly everyone knew about that Tactical Response class in CA where the instructor stomped on a student’s pistol, causing a negligent discharge into a student’s vehicle!).

      Thanks for reading, as always!–Robert


  5. Robert and John,

    Thank you for the replies. Understood about the possible mental retention issues. I will definitely look up Building Shooters!

    It’s feast or famine with my schedule, but I hope I can make the necessary distinctions and incorporate what works for me rather than what does not from each instructor.


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s