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Do Killers Make the Best Teachers? - Street Smarts (permalink)

One of the interesting and wholly unanticipated side effects of the presidential election is that demand for firearms training has increased rather than decreased. Most industry insiders had predicted things would quiet down now that most of our federal leadership isn’t using the phrase “Second Amendment” as a vile personal insult.

In spite of expectations, instructors and schools are seeing near-record levels of people seeking training, a welcome but somewhat puzzling situation. Some of the demand is ironically coming from frightened progressives, a wonderful bit of karma because, once they step into our world, they’ll quickly learn that “gun people” are good folks who don’t care that much about race, religion, or sexual preference. We just want to hunt, compete, and drill large-caliber holes in bad people.

Regardless of the reasons, this upswing in student numbers is a positive thing, but at the same time a major revolution is happening in the training industry that needs to be discussed. After nearly 20 years of continuous war fighting, hordes of folks with buckets of real-world experience are hanging out their shingles as trainers.

That isn’t always a good thing.

Let me start by stating clearly that I wholeheartedly support the military, its people and mission. But the question begs to be asked: Does killing a whole bunch of “tangos” over scores of major firefights make you a great firearms trainer?

Having trained under and around people from every branch of the military, including former members of nearly every “elite” unit and several people who aren’t listed on any official government documentation, it becomes pretty obvious that body count is one of the least important predictors of success as an instructor.

Don’t get me wrong—a well-rounded firearms or tactics teacher needs real-world experience. Without having spent time pointing real guns at real people, it’s hard to maintain credibility in the eyes of students.

On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious that not every technique used in Crapistan to produce the aforementioned stacks of bodies is practical, useful, or even legal back here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Therein lies the crux of our argument: Shooting is only one facet of a good instructor. Other factors are involved, and most of them are far more important in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s a brilliant observation: the primary purpose of a teacher is to teach. But not every teacher is up to the task of effectively implanting knowledge into their students. Your math teacher might be Einstein’s second cousin, but if she can’t explain how to add two single-digit numbers, she’s a pretty poor teacher. A great mathematician perhaps, but a lousy instructor.

The same concept applies to firearms and tactics trainers.

For my money, the most important single trait of a good firearms instructor is a deep-seated love of helping students rather than doing it for the money or to be hero-worshipped as The Mystical Tier One Tactical Beard.

The very best instructors I know would teach for free and in total anonymity if they could somehow pay the mortgage every month.

Almost as important is the trait of humility. There are two reasons for this. First, being humble means a teacher will be a lifetime student, always refreshing and perfecting skills that are highly perishable, while occasionally learning there are better ways to build a mousetrap.

Second, a humble instructor will share the mistakes made during actual operations and the resulting lessons learned. Having passed the half-century mark, one thing I’m sure of is that as humans, we learn and remember far more from a single screw-up than from dozens of successes, even if that cranial-rectal inversion belonged to someone else.

The final pieces of the puzzle are teaching appropriate tactical doctrine based on realistic threat assessment and the fact that what worked in the sandbox may or may not work in Hometown U.S.A. For instance, I recently read a blog post by an instructor who flatly stated target identification is overemphasized in close-quarters engagements.

Speaking as a lifelong cop, you’d better pray you don’t make any target ID mistakes here in the private citizen world. I remember a mentally challenged young man who got lost and entered the wrong house one Christmas morning. Reflexively shooting such an “intruder” would really suck and, life-altering moral distress aside, there’s a good chance you’d end up dating that large hairy gentleman in cellblock five. That would be … unpleasant.

Such “shoot first, ask questions later” doctrine may be proper during house-to-house fighting in downtown Goatdung, Iraq, but it is not something I’d want to teach cops, housewives, and other civilian students. A smart, humble, well-rounded instructor can see those invisible, but real, lines.

In the end, the old rule of caveat emptor (buyer beware) still applies. Fortunately it’s easier than ever to do some digging, get recommendations, and figure out if someone is teaching for the love of it or simply because they can’t get another job killing people.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of knowing some of the world’s greatest shooters and teachers. It is the rare individual who can do either well, but it is the exceptional person who is good at both. Find those folks and place yourself at their feet.

The rest will eventually stop teaching and go back to the thing they are really good at: bragging.

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