I wrote this back in the early part of this year and shelved it for a variety of reasons. I had promised several people I'd someday post these thoughts. I really wanted to spend some time cleaning this up but it just never happened. I simply never had the time. So, for good or bad here it is...my rambling thoughts on what I think defines a quality firearms instructor.
I'll try to add some examples and/or pictures maybe later but really just wanted to get this out there. I hope we can have some good discussion come from this. Understand this was a "one time brain dump" and I have not proof read this. So if there are mistakes (and I am sure there are), deal with it.
I don't have time to make this perfect.
Specifically, I want to dedicate this to the following people:
Nuum and Woody, you guys are two awesome friends and I've enjoyed every time we've shared a training field together. I love you guys.
Kevin B. - Holy crap dude you are my hero. I don't think I've ever shot with someone who was as much a natural as you. It is always a pleasure shooting with you.
Tod Litt - No one observes people like you. When I think of good instructors, you always pop into my mind.
Erik Lund - I still remember the first time I saw you driving the little tiny car. I think I heard circus music when the door opened. Learned a lot from ya over the years. Other instructors should aspire to be more like you.
Tim H., Ross, Rich, Mayo, Benedict - I can't think of training without thinking of you guys and those early classes I shared with you all. Mike B. - I learned a lot from you; you are too cheap though on those half-day classes. LOL.
So you've finally decided to seek some weapons training. Good decision! Too many people are more interested in buying another surplus rifle for their already huge surplus rifle collection instead of putting a little cash toward something more important. Actually becoming more proficient with our firearms is a responsibility that escapes many firearm enthusiasts.
But now that I've decided on training, how do I pick a good instructor?
Well, that's a great question. There are a lot of good instructors and schools out there. There are also some no so great instructors. The short answer is that you likely will have to select an instructor/course on referral from a trusted source. You might also want to see if you can attend a class as an observer. Some instructors will allow this. Obviously, there might be some safety concerns or worry about distracting the class. So don't be shocked if the answer is no. Another resource for investigating an instructor is media, to include the internet. But understand a lot of information on internet boards comes from maybe not so trustworthy sources. So, you need to get good at separating the good info from the not so great.
I've attended a lot of classes from some of the top instructors in the country. I've also witnessed some classes that left a lot to be desired. I've found there are some things you can look for when choosing the right instructor/class to suit your needs. Hopefully, these thoughts will help you when looking for that next class.
Knowing his audience and customizing course accordingly
Most classes start with some sort of instructor introduction, overview of the course and a safety briefing. Sometimes students are asked to introduce themselves. The really good instructors will also want the students he does not personally know to give a little background on their shooting skills and maybe what they hope to achieve in the class. This helps the instructor better understand the audience and may even cause him to modify the course to better meet specific needs or interests of the students. In other words, an instructor might teach different techniques to a group of SWAT guys interested in clearing large buildings than Joe Citizen who is more interested in using his rifle for some three-gun matches.
Leaving the ego in the range shack
Better yet, I prefer the instructor leave his ego back at his home. Just because someone was a Super Mall Ninja Door Gunner on the Space Shuttle doesn't mean he is a good instructor and can actually teach. Some instructors rely too heavily on their impressive resume of military and/or law enforcement accomplishments instead of their actual skill and ability to teach. Tiger Woods might be the best golfer in the world but that doesn't mean he is skilled at teaching others out to swing a club.
I am impressed with the IPSC Grand Master who can teach me to draw my weapon faster, hit targets faster and more accurately and perform lightning fast reloads. I might be impressed with the colorful career of a decorated war veteran and have great respect for his sacrifices. However, that doesn't mean he can teach me the skills I seek. Backgrounds do matter, but performance and teaching ability are a lot more important.
Leading by example
A quality instructor won't just describe a drill or skill. He demonstrates the lesson for the class. Attention to detail is given to ensure students fully understand the drill. Most importantly he can actually execute the drill with a high skill level.
Let's face it, if an instructor wants me to draw my pistol and place a round in the A-zone of an IDPA target at 25-yards in 2.5 seconds I expect him to be able to execute that drill successfully every time he steps on the line. A good instructor never asks more of the class than he himself can accomplish.
Beyond leading by example is actually taking the time to demonstrate various techniques for accomplishing a task. For example, there are different techniques for performing a "tactical reload". A good instructor will take the time to explain various techniques and then will allow the student to figure out what works best for them.
I've seen many so-called instructors fail to give any attention to actually teaching technique. This should be a big clue that maybe another instructor can provide more useful information.
Prepared in Advance
Quality instructors don't just "wing it." They come to the class with a well thought out course agenda. They have taken the time to prepare certain drills and a class format that provides a good pace. It is my personal preference but I prefer a pace that is a little like a roller coaster. I enjoy and respond well to a pace that builds and pushes me to points of failure then backs down a notch or two allowing the class and individual students to reflect on what just happened. Then we push again. This type of pace keeps me interested and energized.
Speaking of prepared, let's jump back to that beginning of the class when the instructor is introducing himself and learning a little about his students. The better instructors will always seek out those students who are medically trained. The instructor will have a plan already prepared in the event something bad (meaning someone got hurt) happens.
Willing to adapt
A prepared agenda is a good thing. However, things don't always go as planned. The weather might not be cooperating. Or perhaps a drill setup more for the benefit of a right-handed shooter needs to be adjusted because half the class actually is left-handed. Or maybe there is even a student burdened with some handicap or other physical limitation. A quality instructor adapts the drills and course structure to accommodate everyone in the class. This includes altering the pace of the class or even things like knowing when the students have had enough and need a break to regroup.
Equipment, tactics and techniques have evolved over time. So should an instructor. The better instructors are constantly trying new techniques, the latest gear & weapons and look for ways of doing things better and faster. If your instructor is stuck in the tactics, techniques and gear he used back ten plus years ago, well, you are limiting yourself to the amount of useful knowledge you potentially might gain. That is the nicest way I can put it.
The really, really good instructors learn FROM their students. He knows his students all have different personal experiences and different backgrounds, so the quality instructor learns from his student's experiences.