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.
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.