One characteristic our instructors/contributors here at PDN have in common is that they started early and have never given up on what they’re passionate about: training others, whether it be with firearms, knives or hand-to-hand, and for professionals or civilians. Andy Loeffler took his youthful interest in guns and shooting and enlisted in the U.S. Army at the earliest opportunity.
Upon leaving active duty, he enlisted in the Ohio Army National Guard, where he attended an Army Instructor training course and discovered a talent for teaching. When the Ohio Army National Guard formed the Master Weapons Training Team to provide basic and advanced weapons skills to its units, Andy was assigned as the senior small arms instructor, a position he held until he retired with 22 years of service.
Today, Andy is the lead instructor and assistant training manager at Black Wing Shooting Center, a NASR five-star rated gun store, range, and training facility in Delaware, Ohio. He took time out to answer our Top Ten Questions for Trainers.
Why did you decide to become a trainer?
I attended an Army school called the Battle-Focused Instructor Training Course, or BFITC for short. And although my reasons for participating in the course were entirely self-serving, to my surprise I discovered that I had a real excitement for what a trainer can do. At the same time, it made me realize how much havoc could be wrought by unskilled, uninformed, or unmotivated instructors. And the fact that I noticed this and gave a damn about it really took hold. I not only wanted to teach, but I wanted to be good at it.
Lots of people teach shooting — in what ways do you teach it differently?
Considering that the majority of my classes are defensive-type stuff, I’m simply not as grim as some people expect me to be. There are those in and around this business who put a lot of emphasis on the “steely-eyed killer” persona. I would look and feel a bit ridiculous like that. Good thing is, I work for a company that has lots of students who are taking lots of classes. The full-on tactical guy is generally not very good with the new shooter. But the “First Steps” guy can’t do Combat Focus Shooting very well, either. I have to do both, so all I can do is show up as who I am — and I’m grateful that I have a very active sense of humor to get me and my students alike through the day.
How do you motivate students to learn while in a class? What type of person should your students expect to deal with when they train with you?
Motivating students to learn was, quite honestly, a bigger problem for me when I taught soldiers — they are sometimes forced into the classroom at bayonet point! Not many people show up at a class today with no interest in what I’m teaching. The bigger issues are overcoming some students’ preconceived ideas or dealing with the occasional bruised ego. These are often the first casualties in our battle to provide the best and most relevant information available. Of course, I was once in their shoes, being shown something that I didn’t like or didn’t quite want to believe. So if you come to me for training, you’re going to meet a guy who has a lot of empathy for your position — but who is going to bring you around to his way of thinking.
Who are your inspirations?
It’s too bad Bill Cosby isn’t a gun guy … because that would make it easy. I admire the work of Massad Ayoob and the writing of Boston T. Party. Then there is the Army Master Sergeant, who shall remain nameless, who told me that “Sometimes their faces are bright and alive and ready to learn … and sometimes you look out and see a room full of rocks with lips!”
And for a comprehensive education on all things gun, one can do no better than the late Dr. Edward C. Ezell, who made the technical stuff absolutely fascinating. Like many here, I also owe a considerable debt to Rob Pincus and his single-minded determination to bring defensive training to the world.
And who do you think are some of the best instructors teaching in your field today?
I’ve really enjoyed working with Rob Pincus and have learned a great deal from him. Ken Hackathorn is brilliant in person as well. I enjoy reading anybody who makes sense, but through PDN I’ve discovered the likes of Grant Cunningham and David Williams, and have gained a wider perspective from them. And not too long ago, I finished reading my wife’s copy of The Cornered Cat, so I can add Kathy Jackson to the list of folks I’d love to train with.
What can students expect to take away from your courses?
Solid information. I think the most important thing is that I have reasons for everything I teach and everything I recommend, and I’m going to give students the reasoning behind what I want them to do. They’re also going to have some fun, but without losing sight of the purpose at hand.
Do you have a “typical” student? What is s/he like?
I don’t know that I have a “typical” student, because people come to Black Wing Shooting Center for all kinds of things. What I do see is a lot of “cross-contamination,” if you will — the people who are strictly hobbyists tend to slowly become interested in defensive stuff and vice-versa. What I really enjoy is that I can be there every step of the way and we can build a longer relationship than the usual teacher-student dynamic.
What’s your training philosophy?
I guess I’d call it the “There’s gotta be a way” school. It isn’t realistic to go into training saying that everybody can do everything. But if someone wants to learn to defend themselves, I’m going to find a way to teach them, even if their circumstances impose some limits. Nobody is going to hear from me that they can’t do something to defend themselves.
Looking ahead, what do you see in the future for yourself as a trainer? How about for your particular training industry?
I would like to do more writing, especially from my perspective, which is “This is what I discovered” as opposed to “I am the expert.” Naturally, this means I’ll have to keep having those discoveries. And it goes without saying that I need to keep learning, so I can provide my students with the best and most worthwhile experience possible, which is kinda the point. This industry has a limitless potential for growth because unfortunately, guns last longer than people. For example, we’re losing World War II vets at the rate of something like 1,200 per day, but their guns are still here and are a tangible connection to that time and place. So someone will always have to be ready to pass on that history. Also, we’re unlikely to run out of bad guys anytime soon, so the need for defensive skills will continue. The trick is to not let our rights get legislated out of existence in the meantime.