Ask Your Instructor How Smart He Is Instead of How Fast He Can Shoot

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

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11 Responses to “Ask Your Instructor How Smart He Is Instead of How Fast He Can Shoot”

  1. CRR

    Absolutely agree. Some of the worst classes I've had came from the most impressive resumes. The key to being a good teacher is understanding the material but also being able to convey in a way that is able to be understood by a wide variety of people. Side note: it cracks me up all the people who are on about the IQ issue but didn't actually read the article. Yeah, yeah we get it. You don't think IQ is important, but maybe it needs to be high enough to read and understand the whole article before commenting.

  2. Tony Fuller

    Agree 100 %. I have been teaching firearms for the past 17 years to an elite Army Unit. I have also been teaching to the civilian population for about 7 years. I pride myself on what I can teach others, and want them to be as good as me or better. I have been to numerous high intensity Combat shooting schools and watched the instructors tell you how good they are. It's all about the student! Looking forward to your discussions in the future. Sincerely, Tony

  3. Jeremy

    I like the concept, but a high IQ does not mean you're a good teacher.

  4. Andy

    Well, lucky for me that the name of my business is "The Smart Shooter". And I'm a member of Mensa. :) To those who commented that it doesn't really matter. I also agree with that to an extent. I phrase it like this: Having a high IQ doesn't mean everything, but it don't mean nothing either. It can be very useful and helpful, but there are certainly other factors that are important. On the other hand, I have seen too many that are not very bright, and that is a problem. And some of the complaints that say it's better to have this or that... well, some of those things are hard to have if you're not that bright. Ideally you have an instructor that is smart, and also has the other traits needed to be a good teacher, and the work ethic to learn and be on top of what he/she needs to know. And, by the way, I almost never tell anyone about being a member of Mensa (but since this topic was related...). I don't brag about anything related to it, of make anyone else feel badly. I just try to be helpful and use what abilities I have to spread the word. And I'm not a socialist. I'm about as conservative as they come.

  5. jeffrey ward

    I also have to disagree about the IQ part. I work in a high tech field and know many people who can do amazing things but cannot change a wiper blade. I want an instructor who is comfortable with the material and knows how to transfer that material to me. They might not be the brightest but they will make me feel I am in the right place and I can go home feeling that I have learned something valuable.

  6. ole Shoemaker

    Sorry, but I totally disagree with you on any test showing anyone's ability to do anything, except maybe some book learning type thing. To say an IQ score makes a difference totally contradicts the rest of what you wrote. The only thing the IQ may have a little to do with in your statement, "Aside from knowing the [book] material," the rest has nothing to do with IQ, a person's integrity, ability to adapt, communicate and retain the student's attention, plus the knowledge and values of the person's performance achievement are all much greater factors. You are trying to divide people into social classes, by insinuating that a certain IQ level should allow one to have some kind of preferential treatment or automatic status, it means nothing. I know that in fact there are a lot of so called highly intelligent "assholes" who could no more teach anyone anything as proven by the fact they cannot wipe their own asses. Anyone who thinks that there IQ somehow makes them superior to other people ought to have to associate with a few of them for a while and/or real people. Of course those with high IQ's, the arrogant, dumb ass, mostly socialist/communistic bastards, will probably disagree with me. I know one who is supposed to be a member of that "Mensa" group or whatever that supper smart group of assholes is supposed to be and brags about her IQ, and alienates everybody around her and is so dumb "common sense wise,” that in my “humble” opinion, she wastes the air she breathes. I have known people who are very good at what they do, but are not good teachers and/or do not want to teach people, also some who are good teachers but not the best at what they do. IQ of the person has nothing or at least very little to do with it. Asking someone how smart they are "IQ wise" is an insult, and has very little - to absolutely nothing to do with their ability to teach. Like anything one wants to learn, one must find instructors and information that the individual can learn from and the individual’s ability to learn from the way that particular instructor teaches. Not all instructors can and will ever teach exactly the same and not every person will now or ever learn things the same way. On top of everything else, the most important factor is how much the student really wants to learn. Just look at the reviews or talk after any class when the same class gets from rave reviews to learned little to nothing. Finally, if PDN is so adamant about IQ levels, I did not find them listed under your instructor profiles. Just saying.... .

  7. JB

    I think you are spot on. I have taken classes by instructors that were no longer able to do amazing physical things but were awesome a transferring knowledge.Also I myself have considered delving into the teaching world to share my interest in firearms and their safe use so it was good to know that an IQ of at least 140 is a good criteria for a teacher. I'm nowhere near that so I think I'll keep my ideas to myself.

  8. Joe

    Nonsense! Great teachers are not the smartest person, they are the one best able to get the student to succeed at developing the skill or thinking process being taught. High IQ does not indicate any ability to teach or connect with a student or diagnose a problem and break it down into bitsize chunks that a student can assimilate. Passion, compassion, strong grounding in the material, flexibility in meeting a student's learning style are all much more valuable than a high IQ. Find an instuctor with a teaching style that works for people that learn like you do! If you like rules and repetition go there. If you learn best with someone calm and patient go there. More freedom, less freedom, more drills less drills, hands on or classroom... All more important than how smart or how accomplished the instructors resume looks.

  9. Grubbs David

    I totally agree too!!! I'm far from instructor level on this topic… but after 20 years taking and 15 years teaching medical certs and college (and vocational) level firefighting courses I have learned first hand that there is far more truth here than most realize!!! Your "young, dumb, fulla… well you know the type" will understand you in 10-20 years if they take enough classes, but I appreciate you bringing it up for the rest of us to soak up and think about.

  10. Curtis in IL

    Knowing how to do something. Teaching other people how to do something. Two completely different skill sets, with very little overlap. The old joke says, "Those who can't, teach." The reality is that most of those who can, are really crappy teachers. Learning how to teach is a discipline in itself, beyond learning how to do.