View Full Version : John Farnam's course. Not what I expected.

July 14, 2001, 11:33 PM
A few weeks ago I displayed my ignorance by asking if anyone knew anything about John Farnam. I was interested in taking a defensive handgunning course he was going to be teaching here in Utah.

Well, I was informed that I had just asked about one of the top 4 or 5 instructors in the country. Duh!

I completed the course yesterday and today. I thought some might be interested in my impressions. This is probably going to be long and tedious, but then, you don't have to read it! :) This is my first such course, so those with more experience may find this ho-hum.

First, I have to say that the course was not as advertised. If you are going to spend good money to take a course on defensive handgunning, you expect to be taught to shoot well, or at least, better than when you arrived.

That's not what happened.

What happened was that a group of semi-decent shooters learned new skills, new techniques, and, by far most importantly, new ways of thinking.

Farnam is a warrior and a philosopher, a poet and an historian. He has far more to teach than mere marksmanship. And, in a two day course, he moves very fast. There isn't time to drill every skill to a high level of competence. There IS time to learn how to practice those skills. And that is much better than merely learning the skills.

I can't pass on all that I learned in a packed two day course. I can give you an outline, and a few high points. I'll just throw this out in no particular order.

Probably the most important things about the course was the caliber of the instructors. I've already talked about John a bit. One more thing about him - he's a gentleman of the old school. Not at all in a sissifed way - his language would have been right at home in a drill sergeants mouth. And he's a lot of fun. He's not at all arrogant, though he's well qualified to be. Very matter of fact, too. He's not interested in what Jeff Cooper taught 20 years ago. He's interested in what works now. Period.

Then there was his co-instructor, Dennis Tueller. Yes, that's the Dennis Tueller of the Tueller Drill. (I still don't know what that is!) I only know him from some phone calls and emails before the course, and what I saw of him during the course. But FWIW, here's my reading of him. You could trust Dennis Tueller with your life or your wife. He's much like John in a lot of ways. The externals are very different. And the language is certainly different! But the warrior's heart, the philosopher, the gentlemen are all there. And he is a generous man. It's a long story, but I wound up the afternoon before the course faced with having no gun. None. I called Dennis that evening to let him know I'd have to cancel. This man who'd never met me offered to loan me a 1911. He also provided a suitable holster after I found mine was not working for me on the range. (I'm now sold on Fobus.) I can't say enough good about the man.

So here are some of the things I took away from the course:

A weird sunburn. There was a miscommunication. John wanted to emphasize concealed carry techniques. Almost none of us were prepared for that. I was wearing an old white dress shirt (long sleeve, button down) for protection against the sun. I had to unbutton that and use it like a jacket. So, I burned down the middle of my chest and belly where the shirt hung open. It really looks weird! Okay, so I look wierd. So it's wierd on wierd. (Best thing for burns, sun or otherwise is a product called Willard Water. Look it up on the 'Net. It sounds like pure snake oil hype. It's not. You won't believe this stuff. And I'm not selling it.) I wore a hunting vest today. Much better.

A nasty bruise and gouge on my inner knee from trying to cycle the slide on a 1911 with one hand, gripping the slide between my knees. Yes, we worked on a lot of things you never think about doing at the range. What if one hand is disabled? How do you reload? How do you clear a stoppage? Funny thing was, it worked fine with my left hand, but I could NOT get it to work with my right. I need to work on that - find something that DOES work for me.

A divot on my right lower ribcage where my hammer got me while doing a 'close fire' drill. The scenario is that the bad guy (Goofy, as John calls him) has managed to sneak up on you and you are suddenly grabbed at close range. You do a rock and lock and punch holes in him from point blank range. DON'T TRY THIS WITH A STEEL TARGET!!!!!! Use cardboard for this, and the muzzle blast will still get your attention. Uh, accuracy is usually not an issue here! :D Oh, and be careful about that hammer!

A whole lot of things to think about.

A bunch of much safer gun handling techniques. Well, I thought I knew how to handle a gun safely!

A new appreciation for how difficult it is to really shoot well under pressure.

The confidence that I am now better prepared for a conflict. I'm better prepared to avoid one in the first place, better prepared to control it if it comes, and better prepared to win if it goes all the way.

The first day started with classroom time. We didn't fire the first shot until mid afternoon. It was time well spent. We did more classroom time throughout the course. The second day we got shooting mid morning.

The drills were very revealing. They revealed weaknesses in technique, weaknesses in strategy, weakness in equipment. After assuring John that I really did want to carry with a thumb break strap (after he advised me against those "suicide straps") I had to go to him during a break and take him up on his offer to "circumcise" my Accumold Bianchi. Well, whaddaya know, he knows what he's talking about! That was much better! No more thumb break straps for me on a defensive carry gun. But the Accumold still flopped around too much, hence the Fobus loaned by Dennis.

And having a target chase you at a pretty fast pace is real interesting! Dennis works with Action Targets (http://www.actiontarget.com/) and they have some interesting 'responsive' targets. I am pleased to report I only killed a few innocents in the hostage drills, and I did NOT kill the innocent bystander in the shoot house. All in all, I was very pleased with my shooting after a disastrous outing two weeks ago with my Springfield 1911 hi-cap. (Which may have been the gun, feedback fro the gunsmith tells me. That's some of that long story.)

We had one criminal defense attorney in the group, and one Deputy from a local SO. We also had two concealed carry instructors. The rest were ordinary Joe Schmoes like me. John had the deputy (I'll call him Ralph - not his real name) teach a few drills. We broke up into groups and Ralph took one, Dennis took one, and John took one. For some of the drills, anyway. The deputy's comments at the end were interesting. He said he'd rather go shooting with us than with most of his colleagues. His estimate of officers in his department that even cared about shooting well? 10% John asked him the question. Ralph's answer was in line with John's experience. That's sad.

Ralph is a good man. When I first saw him, I thought he had that "I'm a cop and you're not so shut up." attitude. I was dead wrong. He was a bit tired, having worked the night shift.

I'm burned out on typing, and I haven't scratched the surface. I'm pretty whooped, in fact. That was two high intensity days, and out in the Utah heat too. If you're from or near Utah, think about taking the class next year. He comes around about that often.

If there are questions I'll try to respond tomorrow.

For $285 bucks and some ammo (shot about 450 rounds) I think I got the bargain of the century! :D

George Hill
July 15, 2001, 12:52 AM
Now you know what we mean by "Good Instructor."

You want to learn just how to shoot better? Find an NRA Certified Coach...

July 15, 2001, 01:47 AM
Wow, sounds like you got a well rounded experience:) I've taken quite a number of courses in which I was equally well informed & just as well pleased. You can't beat the price, $285 is a steal for that caliber of instruction. You say he comes around about once a year, does he have a schedual of times/locations?

July 15, 2001, 08:53 AM
His schedule is posted at his web site.


I should have posted that. Sorry. There's a lot of good information, stotytelling, and history (with current application of lessons learned) under the link, "Quips, quotes and lessons learned."

BTW, George, there was an NRA instructor in attendance. I consider myself to be an advanced novice. A "conscious incompetent", as John calls it. I shot a good deal better than the NRA instructor! A nice guy, though.

July 15, 2001, 10:09 AM
Thanks, Cap'n, for your description. Hope to participate next year! You're right, $285 sounds like a steal. Would they sneer at a lady carrying a mouse gun?

Mebe you didn't know this particular instructor or course, but would it help others to understand your assessment if they understood your broader (older) background?


Train your children right: homeschool!!!

July 15, 2001, 10:41 AM
Denise, Vicki Farnam was there for Friday's session, and we had one lady (and I don't toss that word around lightly) participant. A college perfesser in her late 50's, maybe. She was packing a piece too large for her hands, and had a lot of trouble. Vicki took her aside and spent most of the day one on one with her. 9mms were well represented, and respected. They don't move steel targets as well as .45 hardball, though. :D

In short, ladies and mouse guns are welcome! The language from John is a bit rough, but otherwise it's a good place for ladies. But it's not a beginner's course. Know good grip, sighting, and how to operate your weapon.

Jack Carson
July 15, 2001, 11:48 AM
I took Farnam's Basic Defensive Pistol course in February. I will agree with the Captain--it was not what I had expected--it was a heck of a lot more. It was a bit disconcerting to find that most of the skills and habits acquired throughout 25 plus years of IPSC, PPC and other competition experience were really bad habits.

I can't wait to take his Advanced Defensive Class. I hope he offers it in Dallas or Oklahoma City within the year. As for the ladies, Vicky Farnam teaches a women's only class from time to time. Contact her through John's webpage.

John has also updated his text book of defensive pistol shooting fairly recently. I strongly recommend it.
Regards to all, Jack

July 17, 2001, 01:42 PM

If you can't get the thing with the knees to work for your right hand, try hooking the rear sight on your back pocket and apply pressure in toward your leg while shoving down on the pistol. Dont try this with expensive pants!! hehe.. it works ok with jeans, or if you have enough forearm strength you can just apply pressure to the side of your leg with the slide and shove the pistol downward. It seems to work better though if the rear sight is 'hung' on something.

July 17, 2001, 04:18 PM
Sounds like the guys at the FARM are really getting things going. I took a shoothouse related class from Tueller last year and Farnam was one of the instructors on a larger rifle class I had there. They are everything you say they are!

Back when I did this, the class you took was only in the planning stages. Glad to hear it has come of age. Was your class on the FARM or somewhere else? Hopefully they will expand even more programs and we'll have a place that is capable of competition with places like Gunsite, Front site, etc. I think it would be a great way to spend some time with the wife on the range. Maybe 2003...

I plan to go back next year for a 5 day long course (sorry LEO only course on the FARM - called LETC annual camp) Can't wait.

July 17, 2001, 08:59 PM
the course was indeed at the FARM. Nice to have a facility like that close by.

BTW, there was an older fellow there who had attended LETC several times, but is not LEO. Dennis knew him from that class, so he wasn't slinging bull.


July 18, 2001, 06:20 PM
Not sure how he got in, but I know there are ways. I remember lots of military instructors there last time and a few Feds who wouldn't generally fit the "LEO" category.

The "LEO only" comment was just to reflect who the class is catored to, I'm sure there are other ways in. And maybe they've had a policy upgrade last year and anyone could go. That would be just what the doctor ordered!

The Utah TFL chapter was looking for a place to hold thier first gathering right after I got back and I tried to get us in at the FARM. They wouldn' let us due to the LEO restriction. :( Maybe in the future...