So it seems my social media feed is being dominated by a video of a ‘self-defence instructor’ who uses some very contentious, and indeed – from my point of view – enormously hazardous practices. The video shows the instructor and his assistant demonstrating how to conduct weapon-disarm techniques with a loaded firearm. Yes, you read that correctly. A loaded firearm pointed at himself and his assistant. During filming shots were fired, so the viewer is left in absolutely no doubt that the firearm is indeed loaded. The issues surrounding this video were then exacerbated by this individual, and a small number of of his highly-vocal cohorts, taking to social media and defending their practices with what can only be described as extreme bellicosity.
The social media bun fight ran the full gambit that those internet chairborne ranger debates typically do. I certainly don’t want to rehash those concepts. Typically people who are stringently beholden to their own dogma have little insight into reality, and I have outgrown trying to change their minds. It did however lead me to reflect on how people are selecting their own pathways of learning in the critical field of protecting oneself and one’s loved ones.
Don’t Be a Personality Cult Disciple
My reflections lead me to believe that most people are so blown away by the legend of their chosen trainer that they forget to overlay their own needs on their development program. In essence they don’t receive training, but often find themselves contributing to the trainer’s projected image. In so doing they subjugate their own identity to that of the so-called instructor. And their own development falls completely by the wayside. They rather view their training as a rite of passage into the instructor’s personality cult.
In any event, I held it appropriate to examine how one should go about selecting the right type of instructor and training program for yourself.
Understand What You Want to Achieve
At this point I need to add some context. I am not talking about the legislated firearms competency training. You should view that only as an introduction or a first step. The sole purpose of proficiency training is to ensure that you are competent in handling a firearm. You should never mistake it for being high-quality defensive or sport-related training. So with the context given, I guess I can now segue into the next step.
What do you want to achieve?
Yes, it’s a simple question. But it is simultaneously also a really complicated one. I know a whole lot of people are now already raising a mental finger in the air and saying “Well, wait just a minute! Are you going to unpack the whole sport versus reality debate?” Before you drift off into your knee-jerk response, let me say yes; I am going to revisit that. So go ahead and get your noses out of joint. And then understand that it’s not as bad as you think.
Once we put aside our indignation we need to be honest and establish what we want from our shooting experience. If it is to become the best sports shooter you can be – and that is an awesome goal, by the way – then we need to build our training plan based around that. If however we decide that we want to focus on the combative elements of shooting; then we can apply our training plan to achieve that goal.
Sports versus Reality – Shooting and Fighting
It really is about focusing on shooting and focusing on fighting. The sports route needs to focus far more on the specifics of shooting – shooting with precision, understanding and applying the technical elements of shooting sports, and preparing oneself for that arena.
For those that choose to pursue the combatives-focused approach, they will need to understand that shooting is a part of it. One which they will not explore to the same level of precision as sport shooters. But they will approach the fight – and inflicting damage upon their opponent – as the primary aim. And that the tools – knife, gun, fist, or foot – are merely the tools to which they turn at that moment.
Choose an Instructor Who Suits Your Journey and Method of Learning
Once you have decided on what you want your destination to be, find a good partner for your journey. Yes, there are crossovers between the two routes. They start from the same point, of course, and typically those crossovers are the fundamentals. So you need to find an instructor who includes a solid sharing of those fundamental skills that you need to build off of. Also, you want your instructor to have a solid background in the arena that you wish to grow in. And who also has the ability to be an excellent teacher, with a teaching style that suits your method of learning. And a coaching style that helps you grow in your own journey.
Think of it as someone who can convey the knowledge you need to learn, and then contextualises that knowledge so that you can grow that knowledge into your own skill set.
The ability to teach is as important as having a solid background in an arena. I know a phenomenally good sports shooter. One who regularly dominates at all levels of the sports shooting environment. Yet by their own admittance has the people skills of a typical house brick. You can of course learn from the house brick. But that learning will be limited. And when your goal is growth, why would you want to limit yourself?
Right! So we have a goal. Now we also need someone who has experience in that goal, and builds skills based upon solid fundamentals.
Your Defensive Instructor’s Experience Counts
This instructor needs to balance their own experience within an area with the skills of teaching. So let’s unpack why experience in an area should be important.
Some people say that those who can, do. And those who cannot, teach. I have various degrees of disagreement with this context. And I feel that is one of the areas that large scale training institutions, such as the military, tend to get more right than wrong.
You see, instructors in those environments (especially the tactically-orientated instructors) are often compelled to have proven themselves operationally. And their institutions indeed often require them to maintain operational exposure throughout their teaching assignments. The reason for this is of course the understanding and conveyance of context.
Herein lies the proverbial rub. Context is the primary differentiating factor between shooting a gun and fighting a gun.
Added to this context is that shooting is often a fairly small part of your overall tactical prowess as it relates to your job. Or in the case of a private citizen, your life. Think about this: police officers and soldiers are meant to be tactically proficient. However, that is not their overall goal. And it is merely a part of what they do. Certainly, their role might determine how large a part the tactical aspect is to their job. But it is typically only a part of their overall skill set development. It’s only the very small group of professional shooters who get to focus primarily on shooting.
Your Defensive Instructor Must Understand Your Goals
So why is this a factor? Well, your defensive instructor needs to understand the role the skill set that they are teaching plays in their students’ life and lifestyle. And how that relates to the students’ development goals.
Again, let’s examine this. If one is focusing on improving your skill in the sport shooting realm, then shooting becomes the primary focus of that entire development. Whereas within the defensive context, firearms skill is only part of what your overall development of a defensive skill set should be. Indeed, an overemphasis on pure shooting skills would be counterproductive in terms of dealing with actual critical incidents. Your defensive instructor also needs to be able to coach you in understanding the key transitions between all the different elements. And how you can achieve this efficiently.
The goal being the capability of blending your defensive skill sets into your lifestyle without overwhelming it.
The Pillars of Your Defensive Skill Set
So, blending. Right, yes: you read that correctly. Look at this way – in defensive shooting skill development, the main lines of your development effort need to focus on the following:
- Develop your mental stamina. This is key – in terms of completing the actual training, understanding the purpose and the motivation of the training, but also in applying the skill sets in way which fits into your life. Awareness and threat recognition are two other crucial skill sets which absolutely need to be included within your skills development program.
- Develop your physical stamina. Yes; follow a fitness program. Being able to move is a critical to life in general. And of course that extends into your defensive skill build. Try and combine a fitness development with a combative motor skill. But do something. As much as we believe that we are all running-and-gunning, the truth is that most of us are sitting. Our sedentary lifestyle needs a shakeup. As much as I used to run-and-gun, I now find myself punching keys more than the bag. And with my ADHD I absolutely need to get active at least once a day.
- Develop your combative skill set and shooting. Well, that is only one part. Learn a combative physical skill, and learn the value that a good knife can bring to the fight. Learn and understand all your less-lethal options, from pepper spray to a PK. All of those skills need to be part of your learning program.
- Develop your understanding of the law. You don’t need to be Barry Roux. But I put it to you that knowing the legal fundamentals for private defence, and being able to apply it to situations, are more important than learning that quick reload in terms of priority.
Right, so your defensive instructor needs to be able to organize all of these skill sets for you. He or she might not be able to provide them all. I would indeed be surprised if one person was able to supply all of these elements to you. But they should be able to direct you to the best-placed people to provide you with this.
Your Ideal Defensive Instructor
The other key element is an open mind. Let me explain; The sports learning environment benefits a great deal from specialisation. This transcends all athletic pursuits, not just shooting. The fly-half does not make a good forward. The sprinter doesn’t do marathons. And the figure skater doesn’t do hockey. The sports environment is based on the parameters of the game. There is nothing wrong with that. But it does not translate well into the unpredictable and dynamic nature of a critical incident.
Your defensive instructor needs to recognise that, and needs to be secure enough to advise you to seek experience in other areas. If he or she is honest, they will tell you to experience a gun game. And to seek out other good instructors and explore, logically, the development of your skill set.
Lastly, your defensive instructor needs to define limits. If this sounds strange, no – I am not saying your instructor should limit you. But he or she should know when to direct you away from your pursuit of defensive skills. Just as important for long-term learning is a clean break. Active recovery as the Crossfit community calls it. Spend time doing something that is not shooting or focused on defensive growth. Mud runs, horse-riding, mountain biking, surfing, whatever it is – find time to develop all aspects of your mind, including the relaxation space.
You Are Embarking Upon a Journey of Personal Learning and Growth
So, let’s summarise this process. I need to emphasise that you should be embarking upon a journey of personal learning and growth. You should not be joining a following, or buying into a dogma. Your journey needs to happen within a context. And your instructor needs to understand that context and the nuances thereof. Your defensive instructor needs to be a coach, a teacher, a fellow student and, above all, a nurturer. They need to guide you through developing yourself, and sensibly building you up. They should guide you to finding other teachers, and advise you when it is time to switch off.
Once you have found a person like this, you know you have found a great defensive instructor.
I have been blessed by knowing some awesome instructors who fit this mold during my career.
Sgt Kobus Burger from my time in the police was one such a person. As is Arno Barlow from Kembativ Concepts, Brett Clarke from Warrior Sports in Centurion, Kelly McCann from Kembativz, Mark Human from MDW, and Karl van Lill from Bodyweight Training in Somerset West. All of these individuals have shaped how I view instructors. And I would strongly suggest each of you, my fellow readers, focus on building up such a life experience.
Written by Bryan Mennie, originally in 2016.
Bryan is a former police officer and following a stint conducting protective work in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and the Sudan he joined the corporate world as an incident management specialist. He is a keen IDPA shooter but most of all considers himself a keen student of defensive practices.
Originally published by Gun Africa.