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Old September 19, 2023, 09:26 PM   #1
Pep in CA
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Defensive Handgun Training

How should I train for defensive handgun situations?

The handgun training classes I attended, advertised as "defensive handgun", emphasized marksmanship rather than tactical or survival skills.

What do I mean by that?

Well, the classes taught me to use a weaver stance, focus on the front sight, and use a deliberate trigger press with a "surprise break".

I say phooey to that.

If I am in a defensive handgun situation, situational awareness is of increased importance. The target is likely at close range and moving. My objective is to stop the threat, not to achieve perfect marksmanship.

All of those things tell me I should practice hitting a target the size of center mass without using sight alignment.

Am I wrong?
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Old September 20, 2023, 08:51 AM   #2
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You are not wrong.

While shooting fundamentals are a necessary component there is SO much more.

Diversionary tactics, movement, cover and concealment, weapon retention and many more are all necessary. The average CCW person in the US is a McDonalds consumer. Just take what is offered and "think" it's good. It is woefully deficient and you are 100% correct.

Simulators, Sims, Airsoft, Force on Force are necessary, but seldom practiced or even experienced by the average CCW holder/Defensive firearm person.
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Old September 20, 2023, 04:09 PM   #3
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Defensive Handgun Training

I have taken 47 firearms related courses at this point. If you go into a singular course with the notion that the course in question will give you all you ever need to know about the defensive use of firearms, you’re being incredibly naive. There is an almost endless amount of material to cover and in many cases one particular skill can be a whole class in itself. This is made much more difficult by the fact that the people showing up to the courses can be at significantly different skill levels, even among “higher level” courses. I have spent a nontrivial amount of time trying to figure out what would be a good curriculum and how best to structure that curriculum, and in just about every iteration I find a way in which that iteration is deficient. I am not saying it’s an impossible task, but I am saying it’s next to impossible to arrive at a solution that will please most people.

As far as not needing sight alignment, in my experience like most things it depends. It depends on your skill level, distance to the aggressor, their level of movement, etc. People seem to want a “if I do this thing it is ideal in all cases” solution, and I don’t think that is feasible.
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Old September 20, 2023, 06:43 PM   #4
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But, accuracy / precision is high on the list of importance, if not top of the list. Say you can shoot 2 inch groups at 10 yards with no pressure, no adrenalin dumping through your veins. You'll be lucky to shoot 10 inch groups under the extreme pressure of an actual shootout with a bad guy. Now if all you can shoot is 10 inch groups under no pressure, you'll be lucky to hit that bad guy during a fire fight. Learn to shoot those 2 inch groups first, then worry about the other stuff later. Just my opinion, you may believe otherwise.
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Old September 21, 2023, 11:03 AM   #5
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The NRA "Personal Protection Outside the Home" course is a decent introduction to the use of a firearm in self-defense. From that, courses offered at Thunder Ranch and Gunsite are generally good choices.
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Old September 22, 2023, 08:59 AM   #6
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I think Tunnel Rat is spot on. There is so much material to cover that it is impossible to do it all in one class. The other thing to consider is the instructor doesn't know who you are and what experience you have. I did a Handgun Tactics 101 class even though I've been shooting for 25 years. The guys in my practical shooting class recommended it, and they go back to that class as a refresher periodically.

There are other classes offered like close quarter tactics, which may be more what you are looking for. This instructor used to teach at Gunsite but branched out on his own.

I also recently started doing IDPA matches. While some may feel these kinds of matches are "gamed", there are a lot of benefits to this kind of shooting that you can't do at most ranges. This includes shooting on the move, engaging multiple targets, and shooting quickly.
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Old September 22, 2023, 09:19 AM   #7
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I think Tunnel Rat is spot on. There is so much material to cover that it is impossible to do it all in one class. The other thing to consider is the instructor doesn't know who you are and what experience you have. I did a Handgun Tactics 101 class even though I've been shooting for 25 years. The guys in my practical shooting class recommended it, and they go back to that class as a refresher periodically.

There are other classes offered like close quarter tactics, which may be more what you are looking for. This instructor used to teach at Gunsite but branced out on his own.

I also recently started doing IDPA matches. While some may feel these kinds of matches are "gamed", there are a lot of benefits to this kind of shooting that you can't do at most ranges. This includes shooting on the move, engaging multiple targets, and shooting quickly.
I still can't get over the record of 47 classes.

I'd be disappointed in myself if a student had to take a "refresher" class that is the same class they already took. The whole idea of a "class" is education. To help the student learn the material, develop good fundamentals on the subject so that when they leave the class, they know it. Sure, there is such a thing as continuing education, but that is what practice and competition is for.

I see guys that go to a class, get a little better and then the next year, they are back where they were, so they go to another class. That is not learning, that is paying an instructor to practice. Kudos on shooting IDPA. That will help keep your skills up. It is a carrot at least. It does sadden me that so many shun competition because of a few "famous" instructors who get their butts kicked, so instead of getting better, they trash it.
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Old September 22, 2023, 09:34 AM   #8
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I still can't get over the record of 47 classes.

I'd be disappointed in myself if a student had to take a "refresher" class that is the same class they already took. The whole idea of a "class" is education. To help the student learn the material, develop good fundamentals on the subject so that when they leave the class, they know it. Sure, there is such a thing as continuing education, but that is what practice and competition is for.

I see guys that go to a class, get a little better and then the next year, they are back where they were, so they go to another class. That is not learning, that is paying an instructor to practice.
I’m not even close to the guy with the most courses taken, believe it or not.

Most of my courses have not been repeats, but a few were. Even in the courses I repeated I still found something new. Generally it was a different instructor, and that person often has his/her own take on the course and that materializes in the way the course is taught. Additionally, I’ve been taking courses for I think 12 years or so now. Even in that short of a period of time, in the grand scheme of shooting sports, I’ve seen some noticeable changes in what was or wasn’t the “standard”, and that affects the way the courses are shot. Off the top of my head, appendix carry, looking at holsters when reholstering, the ability to target focus with red dots, how to use weapon lights, and more than this have seen pretty dramatic changes. Now if you’re taking the same course year after year, I would consider that nonproductive. It can be an easy trap to keep doing the thing you get good at, or at least comfortable with, rather than branch out.

When I take a course I take notes. At this point I have multiple notebooks worth of notes, easily enough to build a curriculum for myself and maybe one day my kids. I am almost always the only person taking notes. Maybe everyone else has a great memory, and I get that some people can’t multitask well. At the same time, I definitely have seen people show up, take a course, get what I see as constructive feedback, and then I see them in another course that year or next year still having the same difficulty. There are absolutely those that “pay an instructor to practice”. What I will say is that in talking to those people, for some of them they don’t have access to ranges that allow them to practice certain things and those local ranges might not host competitions either. There are those for whom opportunities aren’t easy to find. There’s an argument that they could make more of an effort to find opportunities (you have to be your own advocate), but sometimes that would involve physically moving and they can’t do that yet (often they are working on moving). If you live in an area where you have access to ranges that allow certain practice or larger stretches of public land that allow shooting, you’re rather fortunate compared to others out there.
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Old September 22, 2023, 09:58 AM   #9
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I also recently started doing IDPA matches. While some may feel these kinds of matches are "gamed", there are a lot of benefits to this kind of shooting that you can't do at most ranges. This includes shooting on the move, engaging multiple targets, and shooting quickly.
A number of years ago I had more of a negative view of competition than I do now. That negative view was a function in part of me being jaded, but also in seeing competition shooters in tactical classes that repeatedly had two notable hang ups .

The first was an inability to think on their feet. Between stage walkthroughs and shooting with a regular squad many had become used to having outside feedback in terms of how to approach a situation. This was more noticeable in situation based training, where there wasn’t a clearly defined course of fire. In addition, they often would also go to the gun quickly because that’s what they were used to. They saw it as “the tool”, not a tool.

The second was a very marginal use of cover/concealment. In many competitions as long as your feet stay in the designated box behind the prop used for cover/concealment, you’re fine. The problem was this often meant much of their body was very exposed, made worse by the fact that they crowded the cover and didn’t back off enough to make use of angles that would have resorted in reduced exposure. They were used to competing for a time, and as long as they met the requirement of being in the box then they saw themselves as fine.

What I finally realized over time is that the above isn’t the fault of competition, the above was a function of what those individuals were taking from the competition. You could compete and still get a lot out of it, including practicing the skills that Stephen mentioned and often aren’t allowed at a number of ranges (see my other reply). These shooters did have the ability to think and actually quite a few references from competition on which to draw, they weren’t used to applying those references to a non competition environment. For some of them competition was something they did more for fun than for practice. That’s not, imo, inherently wrong depending on what they want to get out of it.

In my experience simply attending competitions and attending training courses doesn’t necessarily make one skilled. What you’re putting into it outside of that is easily as or more important. Quite simply you also don’t know what you don’t know (unknown unknowns). The more exposure you get to more things the more from which you can draw.
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Old September 22, 2023, 12:37 PM   #10
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Old September 22, 2023, 03:46 PM   #11
Pep in CA
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I started this thread because it occurred to me that the 4-class training course I took, billed as "defensive handgun" did not prepare me adequately for defensive handgun situations.

It did not, for example, include the skill of delivering several quick shots to a center mass target without using the sights.

My current range practice routine is this:

Using a silhouette target, I fire 5 aimed head shots. Aimed meaning with my eyes focused on the sights. Then I fire 5 quick center mass shots focusing on the target (without using the sights). Repeat.

This way I practice both marksmanship and quick hits, not just marksmanship.

I will have to find another place to practice hitting moving targets and taking cover.
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Old September 22, 2023, 05:10 PM   #12
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5x5x5 drill is what I start and finish with. Five rounds five seconds in a five inch circle at five yards, from the draw.

My indoor range doesn't allow drawing from the holster so I cut my time to three seconds with turning targets.

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Old September 22, 2023, 05:55 PM   #13
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Defensive Handgun Training

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Originally Posted by Pep in CA View Post
I will have to find another place to practice hitting moving targets and taking cover.
Some things can be practiced “dry” with an empty gun. You can practice working doorways and corners with a cleared firearm, or safer yet a blue/inert gun (even a finger gun). That will give you some understanding of the movement. Shooting in those scenarios is more just adding the shooting on top and especially being mindful of the height over bore of your sights and in turn not shooting your cover.

Finding an opportunity to shoot moving targets isn’t always easy. A lot of ranges have targets that move straight forward and back, but side to side is another story. There’s nothing wrong with shooting skeet, 5 stand, or other shotgun sports to get some practice shooting at moving targets.

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Old September 22, 2023, 08:32 PM   #14
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5x5x5 drill is what I start and finish with. Five rounds five seconds in a five inch circle at five yards, from the draw.
That is a very generous time for 5 hits into 5" at 5 yards. A lot of LE would have higher qual scores if that is all it was. I'd say cut that down to 2.5 seconds and you might have a good drill.
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Old September 22, 2023, 09:03 PM   #15
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That is a very generous time for 5 hits into 5" at 5 yards. A lot of LE would have higher qual scores if that is all it was. I'd say cut that down to 2.5 seconds and you might have a good drill.

In my experience a sub 1 second draw is pretty challenging for many people. Drawing from a duty rig or concealment I would allow a 1.5 second draw to first hit. Then to meet your time you would have a second left, giving you 0.25 seconds for each of your splits. I don’t think the above is impossible or even overly hard, but I have shot with a number of law enforcement members that likely wouldn’t meet that consistently. A SWAT or other response team member is often another story. I’ll be honest and say that the average enthusiast gun owner is, again in my experience, more competent than a lot of patrol officers.

I bring this up because while I think par times have a purpose, there seems to be an attitude among some that if someone can’t do a sub 2 second Bill Drill then they’re going to be “killed in the streets”. I think depending on the people you shoot with it’s easy to forget that a lot of people are more “average” than people seem to credit. I think it’s important to have goals and work towards personal improvement. At the same time, I’ve seen par times turn into a form of gate keeping. In my opinion a person doesn’t need to be USPSA Master or Grand Master to survive a self defense shooting, even though it might well help.
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Old September 23, 2023, 11:28 AM   #16
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In my experience a sub 1 second draw is pretty challenging for many people. Drawing from a duty rig or concealment I would allow a 1.5 second draw to first hit. Then to meet your time you would have a second left, giving you 0.25 seconds for each of your splits. I don’t think the above is impossible or even overly hard, but I have shot with a number of law enforcement members that likely wouldn’t meet that consistently. A SWAT or other response team member is often another story. I’ll be honest and say that the average enthusiast gun owner is, again in my experience, more competent than a lot of patrol officers.

I bring this up because while I think par times have a purpose, there seems to be an attitude among some that if someone can’t do a sub 2 second Bill Drill then they’re going to be “killed in the streets”. I think depending on the people you shoot with it’s easy to forget that a lot of people are more “average” than people seem to credit. I think it’s important to have goals and work towards personal improvement. At the same time, I’ve seen par times turn into a form of gate keeping. In my opinion a person doesn’t need to be USPSA Master or Grand Master to survive a self defense shooting, even though it might well help.
I agree 100%. If you will look, I have said on this forum that the "draw" is over-emphasized and most of my classes, I start students off from the low ready. Then to SUL. The holster is merely a place to keep the handgun during those classes. Having been on the stand, and investigated a lot of SD shootings, the draw mattered in only a few.

I should have added more modifiers to my response. It's just too generous of a time to press anyone to improve. While the draw is hardly ever an issue in SD, heck, for most, they won't ever even use a firearms in SD their entire life. But practice should still be a thing.

I've not done a Bill Drill, in practice, ever, as I don't think it is a good drill to burn in. I do dot drills, scrambler drills and Mozambique's, mixed in with decision making targets (Numbers, Colors and Shapes) that are fired up by command, even with math at times. Most of my drills are getting off the X and I hardly ever run drills, or train students when movement is not a part of the exercise.

My Nephew is in the Academy right now. He was pretty rough, and par for the course, after a few sessions with me at the range, he has moved past most of the folks in his class as a result.
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Old September 23, 2023, 12:43 PM   #17
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That is a very generous time for 5 hits into 5" at 5 yards. A lot of LE would have higher qual scores if that is all it was. I'd say cut that down to 2.5 seconds and you might have a good drill.
Yes, it IS generous. It's a baseline, not a goal. If one cannot do it they should go back and work on fundamentals. If one can do it consistently the time constraints could be shorter, the circle smaller or target further away.

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Old September 23, 2023, 12:50 PM   #18
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I agree 100%. If you will look, I have said on this forum that the "draw" is over-emphasized and most of my classes, I start students off from the low ready. Then to SUL. The holster is merely a place to keep the handgun during those classes. Having been on the stand, and investigated a lot of SD shootings, the draw mattered in only a few.

I should have added more modifiers to my response. It's just too generous of a time to press anyone to improve. While the draw is hardly ever an issue in SD, heck, for most, they won't ever even use a firearms in SD their entire life. But practice should still be a thing.

I've not done a Bill Drill, in practice, ever, as I don't think it is a good drill to burn in. I do dot drills, scrambler drills and Mozambique's, mixed in with decision making targets (Numbers, Colors and Shapes) that are fired up by command, even with math at times. Most of my drills are getting off the X and I hardly ever run drills, or train students when movement is not a part of the exercise.

My Nephew is in the Academy right now. He was pretty rough, and par for the course, after a few sessions with me at the range, he has moved past most of the folks in his class as a result.

I think we’re of similar mind.

It’s good to hear the perspective of someone who has been in court proceedings for this, because I feel like the “shooting community” has a tendency to get disconnected from reality at times.

I agree that the time itself as presented originally wouldn’t push someone, but I wanted to add some understanding for people reading about how that time can break down and where the challenges can lie.

I think people can get religious about certain drills, and I brought up the Bill Drill as an example. I think the Bill Drill is okay if used as intended as a means to practice recoil control at speed while maintaining an accuracy standard. If you shoot it ad nauseum and build a “training scar” where you always fire 6 rounds when you shoot your firearm, then you can well see yourself in trouble where you are firing rounds without evaluating whether a threat has evolved.
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Old September 24, 2023, 06:20 AM   #19
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I still can't get over the record of 47 classes.

I'd be disappointed in myself if a student had to take a "refresher" class that is the same class they already took. The whole idea of a "class" is education. To help the student learn the material, develop good fundamentals on the subject so that when they leave the class, they know it. Sure, there is such a thing as continuing education, but that is what practice and competition is for.

I see guys that go to a class, get a little better and then the next year, they are back where they were, so they go to another class. That is not learning, that is paying an instructor to practice. Kudos on shooting IDPA. That will help keep your skills up. It is a carrot at least. It does sadden me that so many shun competition because of a few "famous" instructors who get their butts kicked, so instead of getting better, they trash it.
I'm with you. a two day class is $500 plus around $100 in ammo. Add travel and lodging and you're easily over $1,000. There were guys that have done multiple classes with that instructor.

The problem with training classes is our memories fade. It takes a lot of repetition to really lock something in. I take notes as well and try to practice what I learned, but an occasional refresher isn't a bad thing. I'm probably going to do the Low Light course next, and then maybe the Tactical Handgun 2 class.
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Old September 24, 2023, 05:05 PM   #20
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I agree with stephen426 and MarkCO, but I will say it this way:

Classes teach us what we need to learn, but we learn by doing. I.e., by practice.

It's like anything else that is nontrivial, and that is why teachers assign homework.

In my case, the intermediate and advanced classes I took hardly taught me anything that I needed to learn. They just made the targets more difficult than the beginner classes.

I am now training on my own.

Last edited by Pep in CA; September 24, 2023 at 08:04 PM.
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Old September 25, 2023, 08:59 AM   #21
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In my case, the intermediate and advanced classes I took hardly taught me anything that I needed to learn. They just made the targets more difficult than the beginner classes.

I am now training on my own.
Agree. Of the (maybe a decade ago) handful of instructors I'd take a class from, 2 have now passed (Voight and Avery). I shot with, and talked with Seeklander a good bit, but I'd still like to take an advanced class with him at some point. There are two precision rifle instructors as well.

Most of my "classes" that I take now are taught by Homeland and are cerebral exercises in best practices for organization and institutional security. The latest data and trends are something it is hard to keep up with as a civilian, and that is the best path. Fortunately, some of the things I do allow me access to those courses.

I still train a few folks a month at various levels. It is a good excuse to be on the range and when I break out my hardest or most demanding drill, I will usually do it myself, cold. It is a self test, and it also illustrates to the student that I can still hold myself to a high performance level. I find training others gives me more than taking advanced classes. At some point, and maybe you are also there, the pool of instructors good enough to take a class from becomes very small, and more expensive. And frankly, coaching the HS Shotgun team is more rewarding.

I now have 3 of my prior students traveling for classes as very accomplished shooters and trainers. That is part of the reward as well. One only teaches for the .mil, but if you get a chance to take a class from Charlie Perez or Riley Bowman, they both teach top notch courses.
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Old September 25, 2023, 09:06 AM   #22
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I now have 3 of my prior students traveling for classes as very accomplished shooters and trainers. That is part of the reward as well. One only teaches for the .mil, but if you get a chance to take a class from Charlie Perez or Riley Bowman, they both teach top notch courses.
I have Perez’s book, Path of Focused Effort on recommendation from others. If I can get some free time I can hopefully finish it.
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Old September 25, 2023, 09:46 AM   #23
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I have Perez’s book, Path of Focused Effort on recommendation from others. If I can get some free time I can hopefully finish it.
Charlie took a small intro class from me many years ago. We met through the local GTO group. After that, he jumped in head first. He has been very successful, and is very analytical. I served as one of the editors of his book. Since I shoot all shooting sports, and he is pistol focused, I expanded a few areas to encompass action shooting sports in general.
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Old October 2, 2023, 11:58 PM   #24
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Firearms instructor Tom Givens has had 67 of his students accosted by armed attackers.

Three were murdered because they decided they didn't need to carry a gun that day.

The remaining 64 all won their gunfights.

61 of the encounters occurred at a distance of 3-7 yards.

The farthest distance of the other three was 21 yards.

Givens teaches simple techniques that work under stress.

Too many folks want to overly complicate and mystify defensive shooting.
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Old October 25, 2023, 03:25 PM   #25
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...
In my experience simply attending competitions and attending training courses doesn’t necessarily make one skilled. What you’re putting into it outside of that is easily as or more important. Quite simply you also don’t know what you don’t know (unknown unknowns). The more exposure you get to more things the more from which you can draw.
I think this is worth repeating.

One of the primary reasons I originally tested to become a LE firearms instructor was to get the opportunity to receive more training (and not just how to teach other adults), but also to have the opportunity to engage in recurrent practice of whatever I was learning ... under the watchful eyes of the senior instructor staff. Back in those days, most of them had been members of various agency-sponsored Pistol Teams, so they were often stern taskmasters with new and inexperienced fledgling instructors.

In my case, we were transitioning from revolvers to pistols at the same time I was becoming an apprentice instructor, so there was that to contend with at the same time. Free range use and ammunition, though, so I spent as much time attending training and practicing as possible ... and getting paid for it.

Over the years I noticed that some people who joined the training staff were content to achieve the minimum standards allowed for instructors, and others strove to always improve and push the limits of their abilities, skills and knowledge. It was the same way everywhere else I went for training, and when I helped train people from outside agencies over the years, but that's because human nature is fairly predictable.

Training and learning what's being taught, and then being able to properly practice what's taught ... and finding the training venues that teach what you need to learn.

Nothing wrong with competition, either. Remember that much of the earlier 'modern' competition venues got their beginning from the involvement of police who wanted to compete. Sure, it's important not to pick up any 'training scars' that might prove to become counter-productive for actual shooting situations outside competition range conditions. But that falls under the general heading of TANSTAAFL.

FWIW, one of the sad things I observed, before my retirement, was while attending a Firearm Instructor's Update class. Only current, experienced firearms instructors working at agencies were allowed to attend, so the hope would be that they'd be somewhat skilled when it came to weapon-handling, shooting and teaching ... right?

At the end of the week there were still some instructors working hard trying to pass the basic 'bullseye' marksmanship test from Day One, and there were some difficulties experienced by various instructors when it came to passing the other various courses-of-fire involved during the week. This was an update class (some legal updates), and a refresher for both shooting and teaching skills, as well as reviewing how different tactics were taught.

I remember at least one guy didn't pass the basic bullseye by the end of the class, so he didn't get a certificate. The part I found really dismaying was that the basic bullseye test was something that would've ordinarily sent someone home on the first day if they couldn't pass it at a basic instructor class ... and these were working instructors from agencies, who had already attended basic instructor classes. I recall being surprised that only a few of us easily passed it the first time, the first day of that Update class. I'd expected that any working instructor would've sailed through that basic test of marksmanship without it even being considered a warmup. Sigh.

Of course, even finding good instructors nowadays may still be a daunting concern for folks who will be investing their hard-earned money, and giving up their personal/family time to attend classes. Then, there's always the concern that some inevitable 'lowest common denominator' student will drag down an entire class.

Same old, same old.
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