“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” I’m not sure who first coined that phrase, but he or she was only right about half the time. For I know from first-hand experience that if you want to get really good at something, try teaching it. Once you have a room of students asking every possible question about the topic you are teaching, you will suddenly realize the depth of knowledge that is required in order to teach it.
So it was that I signed up for the Rangemaster Three-Day Instructor Development and Certification Course with the primary goal of become a better shooter/self-defender. The class was held at the Xenia, Ohio Police Department range and training facility, just a stone’s throw from a local drag racing strip and the Xenia Waste Water Treatment Facility (yum!). The cost of the class was $595, which I paid in full. Insert the usual disclaimers here about my lack of any affiliation with Rangemaster, Tom Givens, or the Xenia Police Department. Other than gasoline, ammunition, and food, I incurred no other expenses, as I was able to stay with relatives about an hour away.
Here is a link to the course description.
Including myself, 26 students took the class (22 men and 4 women). Among them were three officers from the Xenia Police Department. Among the remainder of the students, the vast majority seemed to be firearms/self-defense instructors of one sort of another. Several had their own training companies while others had NRA Instructor credentials that they typically utilized to instruct at local (to them) ranges. The students hailed from at least a dozen different states, some coming from as far away as New Hampshire and California.
Tom Givens served as lead instructor. Tom is in his sixties but seemed to have more energy than many—perhaps even most—of his students. That is saying a lot considering the high temperatures over the three days were never less than 90 degrees. He was assisted by his wife Lynn and by Jim Higginbotham, but Tom did almost 100% of the presenting.
For the shooting portions of the course, I would be using my Glock 19 (my OD one that I recently fixed). It is equipped with Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights, a Vickers/Tango Down slide release, and a Glock 17 smooth-faced trigger. I used my Wilderness Instructor belt, my no-name kydex double magazine pouch, and the Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon holster worn AIWB. I used Federal American Eagle 124 grain FMJ ammunition fed from mostly factory and a few Magpul 15 round magazines (I brought 8 magazines, which meant that I spent a lot less time frantically stuffing magazines with loose rounds from my pockets). Most the other students seemed to be using Glock as well, with the police officers using Sig Sauer P226s, and I believe I saw at least one other Sig in use. One student used a Smith and Wesson Shield, so kudos to him for his performance and all the reloading he had to do! I believe there were at least three students utilizing optics on their pistols.
Training Day One
The class met inside the climate-controlled classroom at the training facility. After filling out some forms and receiving our Rangemaster Instructor manuals (about 200 pages), the class started promptly at 0900. Tom began with the “why” of the class, that under the last president about 8-12 million people became first-time gun owners. Most people now cite “self-defense” as their primary reason for owning a firearm, and so, as instructors, we need to provide those willing with the best instruction we can, as we literally hold their lives in our hands. Tom then went into what it means to be a subject-matter expert (SME), and that our students will look to us to provide answers to the many questions they will have.
After each of us introduced ourselves, where we were from, our levels of experience and our goals for the class, Tom began his safety brief. Having just taken two classes with Tom just a few months before (see here and especially here), I was already quite familiar with Tom’s rules of firearms safety (NOT range rules!). Nevertheless, this was no time to let the mind drift, as Tom takes safety very seriously, as we all should. There were no surprises to the safety rules, but Tom, as he does with everything he teaches, was able to clearly articulate the “why” of each of the rules as well as provide anecdotes to what happens when the rules are not followed. One portion that was new to me was, as part of “Rule 2” (Never let the gun point at anything you do not wish to destroy), Tom pointed out that we have to point the gun in the safest direction when no true safe direction exists.
Once done with safety, Tom then went into “range etiquette”, which mostly consisted of how we should conduct ourselves on the range during class. Most of this was common sense, but some students still struggled with certain aspects at times (not paying attention, not having the required amount of ammunition on hand, talking on the line, etc.). Tom runs a pretty tight ship, but even this was illustrative of the point that, during a class, time is the most precious commodity, and anything that wastes time takes away from learning.
After a break, we then reviewed the different types of sidearms available to us for self-defense, and went through a fairly lengthy description of single and double-action revolvers followed by the different types of semi-automatic pistols (single action, double action, double action only, striker fired, and then some more unique types). Definitions, nomenclature, and pros and cons of each system were described and discussed.
The next portion of the day involved marksmanship. Tom stressed the importance of hitting what we intend to with EVERY round we fire. As private citizens, nothing less is acceptable (note: of the 63 of his students who have successfully defended themselves with handguns, they have a combined 96% hit rate!). All of the fundamentals of marksmanship were reviewed, with Tom giving credit to everyone from Steve Moses to Gabe White for elements of their teaching that he has borrowed over the years. Sight alignment and trigger control are regarded by Tom as the two most important of the fundamentals.
We also got to review different common ready positions and why Tom has come to prefer the low-ready over some other options. Once again, Tom amazed me (and I’m sure all) as he was able to clearly articulate the history of different ready positions and why they might be great for those who developed or used them the most but may not be best for private citizens.
After a half-hour lunch break, we got right back to work talking about the effective coaching model and what it looks like. An effective coach should be able to explain, demonstrate, provide opportunities for practice, and then test his or her students. Tom stressed many times that if your instructors are not testing you, then they are missing a key element of the teaching process.
During this portion of the class we also reviewed common errors students make when firing and how to diagnose their issues. We were given instruction in what to look for when the student is actually shooting as well as how to “read” their targets. In essence, we were given a checklist of things to look for when out on the line.
I should note here that all of the above took place IN the classroom. I have noted in past AARs how much I prefer a setup like this. The thought of standing under the hot sun, or even under a tent or awning, and going over EVERYTHING we did for the first 5 hours of this class is just awful. How fatigued would the students be before they ever fired a round? I think aspiring (or current) instructors should take note of how much time their students spend being lectured to under the blazing sun, in the cold, in the rain, etc., and plan their venues and instruction accordingly.
We finally got out to the range around 1400 hours and spent almost the entire rest of the day there. Tom assigned half the students to a target and then assigned the rest of the students to those same targets. With two students assigned to each target, we would shoot in two different relays and take turns coaching each other. I started out coaching a guy named Scott who was very much switched on as a solid shooter and did not require a ton of tips from me. We started out dry working drawstrokes and dry trigger presses on the targets. Gradually, we worked in live-fire, taking turns as we shot and making some minor tweaks, but overall we shot very well on the different strings of fire Tom called out to us (shooting one round, shooting two rounds, shooting five rounds, etc.). Most of this work was done at 3 or 5 yards. The vast majority of what we did on the range—other than the peer coaching aspects—was identical to what I did in the two-day pistol class just a few months before, so there were no real surprises for me. We did not do a ton of shooting on Day One; I fired a total of only 64 rounds. We finished on the range around 1730 and then returned to the classroom for a few words from Tom before departing for the day at 1800. Tom stressed to us the importance of cracking the manual overnight and beginning our study, because on Day Three we would be taking the written test which would NOT be open book.
Training Day Two
I must confess that, writing this just a few days after class, Day Two is largely a blur. Most of the day was spent on the range shooting, again, many of the same drills I had shot in the class in April. Tom began the day by addressing any questions or concerns from the day before. He then had us watch a couple of videos (both of which I had seen before) illustrating two very different fighting mindsets and their all too predictable results. We then hit the range. We were assigned new partners to start the day, which gave us new things to look at (very different for me, since my new partner was left-handed). We worked some of the same strings of fire as the day before, but now began to introduce some smaller targets (it was here that I was deservedly, if indirectly, referred to as a “dumbass” by Tom when I shot at my partners target instead of my own! Haha!). The “Parrot Drill” also made its first appearance as Tom used it to again stress the importance of not wasting time in a class. The idea is to not shoot at one target at 5, 10 and 15 yards, but instead stay at 5 and shoot at a target half the size and then half the size again to achieve much of the same effect without all the walking.
We spent a LOT of time on Day Two talking about and working on cadence and rhythm of shooting. The basic point was that a closer target poses a greater threat, and the fact that it is closer makes it larger in our field of vision. Accordingly, it should be shot very quickly and in a steady rhythm, roughly a quarter-second per shot. Conversely, targets that are further away generally pose less of a threat and take up less space in our field of vision. Because we are responsible for EVERY round we fire, further targets should be shot more slowly, at perhaps one second per shot.
We switched partners again and moved on to the DT2A (Casino Drill) target, where again we worked some of the same drills as the class in April. After first shooting at targets called out to us, such as “TWO!”, or “YELLOW!”, we then moved on to the Casino Drill, of which we shot a few variations (magazines not always loaded with seven rounds each, but sometimes one magazine with 6, one with 7, and one with 8). After taking turns on our target a few times, my new partner, Gary, and I were the only pair on the line who never had to use a pasty to cover a miss! Tom then decided to show us how to induce more stress in our future students by having us shoot the Casino Drill one-at-a-time with a prize going to the shooter with the lowest time.
When I shoot the Casino Drill on my own I often hover right around the 21 second mark, but in class in April I got down in the 17 second zone a few times (though when I did my “official” run some issues had me finish at exactly 20 seconds). Well, I do not know what happened this time, but I put up my all-time best time of 13.75 seconds with no misses (which are a one-second penalty each). One student shot the drill in the 12 second range, so he earned the prize. But I was ecstatic about my performance on this day (I should note that the other student shot before me, and believing I would never get down that low, I kind of just “went for it” with nothing to lose, so that may have played into it).
After a relatively brief lunch, we went over a few different positional shooting issues. These included shooting from the prone (and the history of how and why that came to be part of the FBI Handgun Qualification, at least until quite recently), and then the various kneeling positions. Back out on the range, we also reviewed and had a chance to try some different single-handed shooting techniques, both strong hand only and support hand only. We then got to try out three different kneeling positions so that we could figure out which worked best for us: braced kneeling, double kneeling, and speed kneeling. I found double kneeling worked best for me, as did most of my compatriots. We also covered malfunctions during this afternoon phase, and got to practice the best types of remedial action to take if our pistols should malfunction.
The day on the range culminated with each of us shooting a practice run of the current FBI Qualification. Regular readers of our blog have already read about my practice (and success rate) shooting this course of fire. This practice run was no exception for me, as I lost one round low below the “belt” of my target and therefore passed with ease. I shot a total of 374 rounds on Day Two.
Training Day Three
Day Three again began at 0900 in the classroom. Tom addressed any questions the students had, and then we all went to the range for a class photograph. Following the photo, those students who had been part of the first relay the prior two days stayed out on the range to shoot their qualification courses, while those of us who had been part of the second relay retired to the classroom building to study our manuals in preparation for the written test.
My relay finally made it out to the range around 10:45. There, we would shoot the FBI Qualification two times each, with the higher of our scores being the one that would count. We would then shoot the Rangemaster Qualification twice as well, again with our higher score being the one that would count. We would then return to the classroom for some more instruction before taking the written exam. By Tom’s rules, each student has to score at least a 90% on all three tests. The student with the highest aggregate score would be awarded the class “Top Gun” award.
I chose the target on the far right of the line, next to one of the Xenia police officers. On my first run on the FBI Qualification I missed with a single round at 25 yards (the police officer’s 226 ejected exactly to his 3:00 position, and I had one of his shell casings dancing on top of my slide for what felt like forever. Once it fell, I rushed a shot and missed). Still, knowing that I had passed, I relaxed a bit more for my second run and shot a 100%.
I was much more concerned with the Rangemaster Qualification. I had a shot a 50 round variant of it twice in personal practice in the weeks prior and had passed both times, but it is noticeably more difficult, with tougher time windows, head shots, and much smaller scoring zones. On my first run, I scored a 297/300. Again, knowing I had passed, I relaxed a bit for the second, but still pulled two shots almost exactly as I had on my first run, so again shot a 297/300. Several students, including the officer next to me, shot 100% on both live-fire qualifications, and later in the day Tom said that we were an above average class when it came to shooting. This was the only shooting we did on Day Three, and I fired a total of 240 rounds on this day (60 for each course of fire).
After we had all finished our qualifications, Tom gathered the entire class on the range to go over some revolver manipulations. As instructors, we should be prepared for the full range of different handguns students might show up with, and revolvers, though inferior in many ways to semiautomatic pistols, still serve many people in the self-defense role.
After lunch and back in the classroom, Tom reviewed human anatomy and its relationship with different targets. This, in turn, segued into how to choose targets to have students shoot in classes.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on topics such as adult learning theory, how to break up skills into different sub-skills, what the purpose of drills and courses of fire are, how to teach techniques (and which ones to teach), how to define the threat for our students (this was almost the exact lecture I heard him deliver at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference in 2017), and legal issues of self-defense.
We finished up by taking the written examination, which consisted of 85 true/false, multiple choice, and short-answer questions. I was told by some other students (who, in turn, had heard from other students from other classes) that Tom can be a stickler for the EXACT words that he either used during lectures or from the manual, so I was more nervous about this test than the shooting qualifications. When everyone was finished, we exchanged papers to grade the tests, and then Tom collected them to review the scores and determine who passed and who did not.
I am not sure how many students did not pass, but several did not, and I am not sure if they failed at just the written portion or perhaps one or more of the live-fire qualifications as well. I am confident that at least three did not pass, but there may have been more. I really did not keep track, because I was getting nervous when my name was not called to go up and receive my certificate. Tom then revealed that he wanted to single out a few people in particular. As it happened, two students tied for third place overall, and two tied for second. And my name had still not been called. Finally, Tom called my name as the “Top Gun” of the class, having scored a 100 on the FBI Qualification, a 99 on the Rangemaster Qualification, and a 97.6 on the written examination. I was—and remain—quite incredulous at this feat. Going into the class, I had just hoped to pass it. Despite Tom’s assurances that not passing the class is not a failure per se, I would still feel mighty disappointed. But to have shot with such confidence all weekend was a big deal for me.
The Course in Hindsight
I had not taken a three-day course since 2015, and I was reminded of how physically–and especially–mentally exhausting they can be. One thing in my favor was that I had just taken Tom’s two-day class, and many of the salient points about marksmanship fundamentals, mindset, etc., were covered in both classes. While I would not say this gave me the chance to let my mind wander the second time around, it did help insure that the different “messages” stuck with me. It was quite evident that several of the students had had little training beyond NRA or state-mandated Concealed Carry classes, as a lot of the techniques taught seemed to be quite new to them. For students with such a limited training resume, taking Tom’s two-day class in advance, as I did, probably would have benefited them immeasurably. For me, having just taken that class a little over two months prior, there was a lot of carry-over. However, if I was being asked by my twin (i.e., someone who has had as much other training over the years as I have) if it would be worth it to take the two-day pistol class prior to the Instructor class, I would probably say no, just go right to the Instructor class. Indeed, the two classes were so similar in terms of the shooting portions that I fired 686 rounds in the two-day class in April and 683 rounds during this three-day class. In essence, if you take the three-day class it only costs $100 more yet you get all of the information about coaching/teaching as well as the graded courses of fire.
Time will tell if this course was as good as I think it was. Since, at this point, I have no plans to become an instructor, I have to resort to utilizing the skills taught in this class either on myself or on friends and family members for whom I have already become their de facto instructor. But I definitely had fun, I definitely learned some new things, and I reinforced some other things.
There is always something refreshing about Tom Givens. Whether it is something that he has written, or an interview on a podcast, or his lectures at the Tactical Conference, or now having taken 6 days of actual training with him, he is truly a fantastic instructor. He is a real living, breathing subject-matter expert. His long time in the firearms/self-defense community and his vast study on these topics allow him to quote chapter and verse of the history of different bits of hardware and software that few or perhaps no others can equal. If you spend a lot of time training with the ex-military guys, as I have, then Tom is like a breath of fresh air for civilian self-defense, providing no-nonsense techniques that just plain work in our context. While I may not agree with EVERYTHING he teaches (a few very minor things), I understand why he teaches what he teaches. Given the success I enjoyed in all three classes I had with Tom this year, I believe I will look to do some more training with him in the not-too-distant future.
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse. Also, please note that some aspects of the class were omitted or written about in a vague manner on purpose of my own freewill, as I believe that if readers really want all the answers, they need to “bite the bullet” and take the course as I and my classmates did. I know it may be hard to believe that I left things out in a 4,000 word review, but I did. That is how much information was packed into these three days.