Out of the blue I got an email that asked a loaded question: what did I think was the most important achievement for a defensive shooting instructor?
I’m sure he wanted me to say a minimum score on a popular shooting drill, or a particular ranking in the world of competitive shooting, or some number of course certificates, or perhaps even how many students one has taught.
Instead, I told him he should look for a tested IQ of at least 140 on the Stanford scale. His lack of response indicated that wasn’t the answer he was looking for.
Now I’ll admit my reply was a bit flippant, and I didn’t necessarily mean that a genius-level IQ was an absolute necessity, but the art and science of teaching anything — including defensive shooting skills — is intellectually demanding. This is no different than any other field of teaching, from medicine to theoretical astrophysics to welding.
Were you to you ask any number of defensive shooting instructors if what they teach is important — critical, even — I doubt you’d find any who say ‘no’. I’d be willing to wager that everyone would agree theirs is crucial material on which people’s lives may depend, and doing it correctly might make the difference between survival and victimhood. I would agree with them.
It follows, then, that if this stuff so important, so vital, so essential, shouldn’t we want only the best and brightest teaching it?
Aside from knowing the material, being able to explain complex topics in a way that is comprehensible to the average person is the essence of teaching. It requires a high level of understanding to do that, much higher than that the students will eventually have, plus a practiced ability to deliver that information through mastery of the language. Frankly, it all requires intellectual development; there’s really no way to sidestep that.
This is, I’ll admit, a slightly unusual way of looking at the whole topic of defensive training. A large margin of the people you’re likely to meet in the training world are focused on themselves: getting better, stronger, and faster. If they’re “gun people” they’re interested in winning more matches, taking more classes to make themselves better shooters, and getting faster at shooting whatever currently-popular drills are being talked about on the ‘net. Teaching may or may not be their primary focus, and very often you’ll find these inwardly-focused people believe that simply becoming a better athlete (which is what they really want to do) will somehow magically make them a better teacher.
You’d be surprised how many arguments I’ve gotten when I’ve said that knowing more about teaching is what makes someone a better teacher! It seems obvious to me, but not to everyone.
When I’m considering who to train with, of course I want to see something indicating that they know their material. I want them to understand what they’re teaching and why they’re teaching it. Just as importantly, though, I’m looking for evidence that they’ve spent at least as much (preferably much more) time on their teaching development as they have on their athletic development. If that answer isn’t easily found I’ll even ask one of my favorite instructor evaluation questions: “what instructor development courses have you taken in the last year which didn’t involve pulling a trigger?”
There are people in the defensive training world who do take their teaching development as seriously as they do their physical development; I’m privileged to know a few of them, and by reputation many more. You have to seek them out, however, and sometimes ask hard questions to find them. Don’t let yourself get distracted by what THEY can do; what you need to know is what they can teach YOU to do.
The smarter your teachers are, the better off you’ll be.
– Grant Cunningham