Real World Experience?

Editor’s Note: The issue of the value of “Real World Experience” to anything other than marketing for a would-be Instructor is a frequent topic of discussion in the world of self-defense. Here’s a great take on it, from one of the best Teachers that I know. -RJP

We received an e-mail at Endeavor a few days ago from a potential student, who was looking to “vet” our staff before coming in to train. In the e-mail they said they were very serious and picky about who they trained with and (in short) they wanted to know what type of real world experience our instructors had.

Now first and foremost, I admire what they are doing at the root of the matter. I think it is very important to make sure you are getting the best possible training and I certainly have no issue with her asking, nor do I have any issue answering her questions.

But the real issue comes specifically from that line “real world experience.”

What exactly does that mean to you and to your goals?

Real world experience can certainly be a key part of helping a teacher to teach, but does your definition of real world experience match what you think it does? Do you mean real world experience in the subject, or real world experience teaching the subject?

For the sake of staying “in my lane” let’s talk self defense. If a student comes to us looking for reliable, no BS self defense training, they are coming to learn how to increase their chances of surviving a potentially awful encounter. They are going to learn concepts that will cover pre-contact cues, verbalization, striking and dealing with grabs, chokes and other forces applied by an attacker. Eventually they will move on to learning to deal with armed assailants and other very dangerous situations.

Now, in that gambit of training concepts, what background qualifies as “real world experience?”

Law Enforcement Officer maybe? Depending on the department I was assigned to and my own will to train, you are going to have a huge disparity in training amongst LEO’s. The majority of their training is done with their duty belts and additional tools taken into consideration. Not to mention use of force procedures, protection of others, the need to restrain the criminal as opposed to the officer simply running for safety. Maybe I’m one of the LEO’s that had several run ins with criminals, got hands on, deployed my taser, or baton, or firearm. Or maybe my partner or other officers were their to help.. maybe they weren’t. Maybe I’ve taken a bullet, or taken a life. Maybe I spent time undercover, or working in prisons with unruly inmates. Maybe I have A LOT of experience fighting… or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I worked in a quiet town, with not much action.

Does it really matter? Does any of this experience directly speak to the woman who is afraid of domestic violence or rape? I don’t know too many LEO’s or self defense instructors in general, with extensive “real world experience” fighting off someone trying to rape them.

What about military experience? Maybe I’m one of the brave men and women who take up arms and vow to protect our country. Who ship away from their families for large chunks of time and walk into enemy territory, who get shot at or worse. Does my experience clearing rooms, flying jets or firing my rifle qualify me to teach you how to survive a knife attack while I’m walking to my car after work?

What about someone who has been in a lot of fights. Maybe goes looking for them. Maybe they were part of a futbol firm and never backed down from a challenge or a fight. Does this qualify them to teach you how to de-escalate a road rage situation before things take a turn for the worse?

Maybe, this one time, someone pulled a gun on you in a store… and you responded by grabbing their gun away from them and sticking your gun in their mouth. Is that the technique you teach to everyone? Is that the real world experience you’re looking for? Is that considered extensive?

I had a gun pulled on me once. I didn’t do anything (for better or for worse), the situation resolved itself and luckily the guy was just puffing his chest and had no intent to use it. Does that mean I can speak to how everyone will respond to a gun threat? Does that mean I just tell them not to do anything anytime a gun is involved? Will that advice work in all situations?

I got jumped outside a bar in Youngstown when I was 20 and beat by a group of individuals, Does that count as experience? Does it count against me? Does it make it any better that when I came to I had another drink, iced my bloody face and talked trash to them on the phone about it?

Even though I’ve been in several fights, and won way more than I’ve lost, but I’ve got more “real world experience” playing golf… that doesn’t make me qualified to teach you how to shoot under par… trust me on that. Experience is a tool to help the teacher to relate to very specific situations. But it doesn’t make you a teacher.

Teaching is a gift of its own.

So be cautious of looking for superficial qualities in those you seek for training. Certifications, experience, belts… they are but one piece of the puzzle. Instead, look directly at what they produce. Are their students growing, learning, gaining true confidence, continually being challenged, loved and cared for. That’s the instructor that will help you meet your goals.

Be good, train hard, one love -Aaron

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4 Responses to “Real World Experience?”

  1. Chris

    Good article. When I co-teach an Enhanced Concealed Carry class for everyday civilians, I distinguish between a LE background (which I have) a military background (my partner, who was Spec-Ops) and civilian concealed carry under various conditions (self protec, exec-protec, security detail, etc.) that is an entirely different dynamic than LE or Mil. We both have 20yrs or more of everyday concealed carry, and can effectively tailor our teaching to what these civilians are wanting and needing to learn. So "real world experience" should mean, have you extensively trained, refined and actually *used* the principles and techniques you are teaching? Have these techniques been pressure tested and refined? Are you continually improving your own effectiveness?

  2. Dave Ullom

    That was a excellent explanation of that issue. Your last paragraph says it all.

  3. Jack B

    I am a retired teacher and counselor. I am new to shooting. I have 30 years of experience teaching and counseling. I have spent literally hundreds of hours studying concealed carry & defensive shooting. I have the ability to teach, but everyone I know who does concealed carry is a present or former LEO. I have always felt inferior to the experience they bring to the classroom. I have had 2 concealed carry classes with 2 different instructors, and 1 class in the reason my church should utilize concealed carry for protection. I have had a couple of concealed carry instructors tell me that I may have more overall knowledge on the subject than they have with my hundreds of hours, but, again, I've always felt inferior to those with years of experience through law enforcement. How can I stand in front of a class & tell them I began shooting in 2015 & have any credibility (no matter how much I've studied)? Your article is the 1st thing I've read that gives me hope that I have something to offer in my teaching skills, but how do I get qualified & have credibility with only 1 year's experience. Your article gives the idea that maybe someone has 20 years experience with a gun qualifying on a range but may never have been in any more of a "real world" event than I have. Your article gives the idea maybe someone has the 20 years experience and has had several experiences in gunfights, but with the infinite possibilities of "real world" events, they may not be able to do more than share their limited experiences (still adding to much more credibility than I have) but maybe they can't teach. I have the time and the desire to help others understand and improve skills, but what do you suggest given my limited background?

  4. Jethro

    Spot on, good piece. Everybody is an expert these days, but like you said. You can only recognize a good teacher when his students are growing and gaining confidence. Thank you for sharing and your effort in making people feel safe and confident.