Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
I am glad to have seen what appears to be an increasing number of calls from people who are point blank asking our staff why they should come to see us. First, I am glad they are calling, but more importantly I am glad they are calling around and doing their homework! Here is my two cents on evaluating gun training institutions and instructors. The first thing you need to ask yourself (and them) is how is this institution or instructor going to help me meet my goals?
One of the most frustrating experiences for a human being has got to be change. We intuitively understand what will happen when we repeat the same or a similar action and we very quickly get comfortable with what we know. The more we repeat those actions, the more consistent we become. That consistency starts to create a physiological response, which ultimately makes you very skilled and gives you an advantage in doing something – exactly that way. If that advantage meets your needs, that is great. If it doesn’t, you now get to spend a lot of time and effort breaking that “habit”. And that’s just the physical part of change.
Far more challenging to break is the psychological commitment that comes with repetition. The more time, effort and money we invest in something the stronger the psychological attachment to it becomes. We would have to be a fool to have invested time, effort and money into a marginal project, so we convince ourselves it must be great or at least adequate for our needs! We see this in all sorts of addictions, counter-productive relationships, education and yes – even in gun training! We fail to account for the one factor that matters most – what are you trying to get out of it?
Your goals are the only thing that matters and why you are doing it in the first place should be the key factor in your gun training decision. Are you trying to learn about safety, or are you trying to be the next Jerry Barnhart? Those are two very different objectives. Your goals need to factor into the gun training equation because you are in fact a special snowflake when it comes to learning.
Gun Training and why you are a special snowflake!
Gun training fundamentals are consistent, sight alignment, trigger control, etc. Psychology, physiology and goals all vary from one person to the next. If an institution is advertising the one best way to do something, that is generally an indicator you will be exposed to a fairly limited range of techniques. This is a business decision in some cases. The more options you give the staff, the more staff you need per client – and that costs money. Additionally, hiring a staff that has the depth of experience to teach a variety of techniques correctly are generally more expensive the hiring a staff and teaching them to teach “The Best Way” to do it…
So, generally, the more experienced the staff, the more you can expect to pay for their experience. If you’re learning the “One best way” to do it, you should probably be getting those “Secrets” at a significant price discount. Anyone who tells you there is one way to do things when teaching people to shoot, doesn’t have enough experience to know that is not true or they are lying… Either way we call that an indicator!
Volume is the next indicator. X number of students per class or per year is a useless metric. What matters is the client to mentor ratio. How many people are in the class and how many mentors are on the firing line? Do they work in relays or run a single firing line. The NRA and a number of institutions reduce staff by implementing the “shooter/coach” technique. That can effectively bridge the safety gap and help reduce costs by reducing staffing requirements from safety perspective. From a training perspective, you and a buddy can watch a Magpul gun training video, and then go watch each other try out the techniques – and probably get close to the same result. Personal attention plays directly into meeting your goals. If you just want to go shoot for a day or a week and aren’t too concerned with getting input, that’s a different goal. Find the price / volume / staff ratio that can help you meet your goals!
The next real question is who is the staff? Do they have the experience and credentials to teach you what you want to know? Some schools hire exclusively law enforcement, or military special operations forces. Some hire primarily law enforcement and some hire just about anyone. You should be able to see a description of the staff on line that lets you know exactly the people you are going to learn from. Generally, those who have the capability to teach are comfortable putting a resume or biography out there. If they “can’t disclose that information” they are trying to hide something they consider to be lacking in their background. There’s another sign. You don’t need to be Chris White or Jim Stahl to teach basic skills to a client. Conversely, if you are going to purport to teach practical gunfighting skills – you need to have been in a few gunfights.
Gun Training Facilities matter, but they matter less than how the space and equipment they have is utilized. The targetry should support the drills you are executing and the range should accommodate you accessing the targetry with out placing yourself or others at risk. I’ve seen great courses run on marginal range space with flat out bad targetry, and conversely seen marginal courses run on first class facilities. Don’t be put off by a qualified instructor on a marginal range.
Lastly, what kind of follow on support can you expect? With too many places the answer is nothing. If you get a book or an emailed document with drills, that’s great when compared to most of the rest of the industry. Many institutions and instructors hand you nothing at all. Unless you have an incredible memory or take extensive notes, you won’t remember the specifics of how to do the drills let alone what skill each drill you shoot is developing. Ask ahead of time so you can mitigate it with extensive notes if you are not getting a follow on program.
You are spending your money and your time off to learn something. If it’s free, well, you get what you pay for and you should have pretty low expectations. If you are paying top dollar, you should expect personal attention from a highly qualified staff, on a top notch facility with a professional follow on program.
What to look for in a Gun Training Institution:
1) How will they help you meet your goals?
2) Are portions of the curriculum specifically designed to help you meet that goal?
3) Does the Staff have the experience to help you meet your goal?
4) Ratio – will you have adequate access to the staff to meet your goal?
5) Will the facilities allow you to meet your goal?
6) Is there follow on support?
Call the school and ask. If you can’t talk to the staff, that’s a pretty big indicator. I have been pleasantly surprised by some husband and wife run schools, and disgusted with the incompetence of some large institutions. The one thing I can tell you is my initial phone call has been pretty indicative of the gun training experience I received. It’s your money, your time and your goals that matter. You not only deserve to have your questions answered, you deserve to have your goals met. If your goals are not being met, re-read the quote from Albert Einstein at the beginning of the article!
Best of luck with your gun training!