I knew I had taken my first “quality” firearms class when, near the end, the instructor told us that we should train with as many different instructors as we could. While it is easy to be a cynic and say to oneself, “Ah, they’re all in this together. They all wash each others’ backs”, there really is more to it than that.
I will admit right here and now that I started my training journey with the wrong people. Driven by a combination of not wanting to stray, geographically, too far from home, and also being “careful with money”, I started with an organization that had all the characteristics of a cult or small dictatorship. While at least 75% of what they taught was similar to what most instructors teach, two recurring issues popped up: first, they made a few too many recommendations to buy “their” gear and, second, they only recommended further training with their company.
When I first strayed from that training company and took the aforementioned first “quality” class, things were different. The recommendation to train with as many different instructors as possible is something I took to heart. As of this writing, I have taken 405 hours of instruction in firearms, medical, empty hands, edged-weapons, and legal issues with a total of 19 different instructors (plus a conference that featured a smorgasbord of instructors).
Why is it important to train with as many different instructors as you can? The reasons are many and varied, but I will outline a few that spring immediately to mind.
- Validation—If you spend all of your time at one school or with one instructor, how do you really know that what they are teaching is what we call in education “research-based best practices”? It might look cool, and you might feel like it is all awesome, but how do you really know? The answer, of course, is that if you learn something from one instructor, and then go to another, unaffiliated, instructor who teaches the same things, and then another and another, eventually you need to say to yourself, “there is safety in numbers. If Instructors X, Y, and Z all teach the same stuff, there might be something to it.” Of course, we must beware that many instructors do come from similar backgrounds, and so the risk of institutional inbreeding is possible. However, this is much less likely to occur when you train with a variety of instructors from a variety of backgrounds.
- Teaching Techniques—Among all the instructors under whom I have been a student, most teach very similar things. However, there are also subtle nuances to the manner in which they teach those things. There are things I have been taught that I know several instructors have been trying to tell me, but sometimes one instructor can just say the magic words, or demonstrate something in a certain way, and suddenly it all comes together. We all have our own learning-style preferences. Even if we cannot clearly articulate to ourselves or others how we prefer to be taught, our minds can sense what we need. Some teachers connect better with some students than with others. There is no way for me, or anyone else, to determine what teaching techniques will pay the biggest dividends for you. You have to take classes with several different instructors to find out for yourself.
- Background Knowledge—although many techniques that are taught are similar across the board, sometimes the background of the instructor can have an impact on what and how they teach. This, in turn, can be important to you depending on your intended “mission”. For example, a technique taught by a competitive shooting instructor might differ from that of a special forces combat veteran. Though special forces do tend to borrow heavily from the civilian shooting world, there are some things (be it the setup of the hardware to the “software” techniques taught) that might differ significantly between them. For example, in setting up a carbine, a competitive shooter might set his up with a quality optic but with a large muzzle break, super-lightweight parts made of carbon fiber and other “space-age” materials, and might not equip the rifle with back up iron sights. To a combat veteran, flash suppression tends to be much more important than recoil mitigation, and you will not often see combat veterans utilize an optic-equipped carbine without backup iron sights and/or weapon-mounted light. This is but one example of how different instructors from different backgrounds can teach different priorities to the students.
- Personality—Another issue is the personality of the instructor and how it might mesh with your own personality. Imagine if all of your friends told you that Instructor A is awesome and how you, just starting your training journey, need to take a class with him. Now suppose you drop a couple of hundred dollars on the course and learn some things but found the instructor a bit difficult to approach with questions or just gave you an uneasy or uncomfortable feeling (maybe he uses a lot of profanity and you are just not a fan). On the heels of that experience, you may not be very eager to sign up for another class with any instructor. However, by continuing the journey with someone else, you will soon realize that Instructor A is not like every other instructor out there, and perhaps Instructor B works better with your personality. Personally, I have taken some classes from which I gleaned some value, but there were aspects to the personality of the instructors that will not have me clamoring to go back. Conversely, once you find an instructor whose personality works for you, I recommend taking more than one class from him/her.
As should be evident, there are a number of advantages to training with a variety of different instructors. I should also add that, as much as I have thought about it, I really cannot come up with any downsides. Some might argue that different instructors might teach different things, with the result that the student ends up constantly tweaking things and never improving. While I do believe that can happen, I also think that a student who engages in some critical thinking can pick and choose what to “take” from each instructor. In other words, if you try something and it does not work for you, move on to what does work for you.
In the end, it is my opinion that the rewards of training with a variety of different instructors far outweigh any “negatives”. Do not run the risk of stagnation. We live in what I truly believe is a golden age of firearms instructors, with some of the “old school” guys still out there teaching while a new breed of instructors from a variety of backgrounds joins their ranks every day. It would be foolish to not take advantage of all that is out there.
Thanks for reading. If you found this article worth your time, I hope you will visit the blog I cofounded, the Civilian Gunfighter Blog. There you will find other articles, class and equipment reviews, recommended readings, and other items of possible interest to those concerned with self-defense. Stay safe!
About the Author
Robert is just a regular guy who entered the world of gun ownership and concealed carry a little over a decade ago. About five years ago, he started to take that responsibility more seriously and embarked on a training journey that he fully realizes will never actually end. His goal is to continue to improve in all aspects of personal self-defense, to share the journey with his readers, and to encourage those readers to do the same. By sharing, he also hopes that readers can learn from the mistakes he has made along the way.
Robert is a teacher by trade (high school), and perhaps there is something about his career choice that attracted him to the role of student in what has now been hundreds of hours of firearms, edged weapons, empty hands, medical, and legal aspects of self-defense training. As a teacher, he can recognize and appreciate quality instruction, and hopes to pass along to the readers some of what he has learned. If this educates gun owners or inspires them to get training for themselves, he believes all society will benefit.