The answer to this question is, “Of course.” That is unless you have such stellar, world-class training from your agency that you don’t need to consider anything else.
We are in the golden age of training – there are more firearms trainers, with more knowledge and more experience and more data to draw on than ever before in history. This would be the case now even if we didn’t have droves of highly trained and experienced military personnel returning from years of combat experience and hanging out their shingle, but we do, and that only makes the knowledge available today all the more valuable.
No longer are we restricted to a few private schools like the Gunsite Academy and a few vendor sponsored training units like the Smith & Wesson Academy and the HK Training Division. Now, in addition to those kinds of institutions – the numbers of which have exploded – there are many first tier spec-ops veterans with a plethora of combat experience making themselves, and their know-how, available to you. There are even highly regarded ex-Delta guys out there teaching – the best combat shooters in the world (emphasis on “combat” and also emphasis on “shooters”). Of course, there are also a lot of less qualified teachers out there, too. While some of these can be quite useful to you, you will probably want to keep others at the distance of the proverbial “ten foot pole.”
How Do You Choose a School or Instructor?
Well, first determine your objective. No one does this – everyone chooses something “cool” to learn, without regard to what it is that they themselves really need to work on. Do you need to become a better fundamental shooter? Do you want to build on your competence in the fundamentals to acquire tactical skills? Are you ready for professionally developed and administered force-on-force training? Do you need to learn entry and SWAT tactics? Whatever it is that you (putting your ego aside) determine you need to work on now, choose a school with a course noted for that – not their cool factor or flashy YouTube videos.
Second, lean towards instructors with reputations as quiet professionals, not braggarts or self-promoters. Every instructor has videos posted these days – review them and choose a personality who meets those criteria. Professionals are respectful of all students who are safe and are trying – don’t put up with arrogance or an inflated ego.
Third, consider the instructor’s background: Does he (or she) have experience with what he (or she) is teaching? If you want to learn fast and accurate shooting, can he do that? If you want to learn entry tactics, has he done that in the real world? If you want to learn how to be a better shooter in combat, has he been there?
Fourth, consider to whom the instructor caters. Look at class photos and posted videos. Do the attendees look like you (a law enforcement professional)? Or are they primarily military, or “strange rangers,” or other sorts? Don’t be put off by non-law enforcement people in a class – just make sure that their motivations for being there are congruent with yours.
Fifth, realize that the most experienced person in the world is useless as an instructor unless he can communicate his knowledge and, just as important, has organized that knowledge so it is easily communicated. Most people do not have organized minds, but the very best instructors do.
Related to number five above, and somewhat contradicting number three above, always remember to factor in the “Angelo factor.” In other words, if you wanted to learn to box, would you rather be taught by Muhammad Ali or Angelo Dundee? While I’m sure Angelo could box, he was a piker compared to Ali, yet he was Ali’s coach and trainer.
Finally, consider attending a nonshooting skills course, or maybe a rangemaster course if you run a range, or a simulation instructor course so you can learn how to run force-on-force simulations safely and effectively, or a steel instructor course to learn how to safely and effectively train with steel.
Are Ex-military Instructors the Best?
There are quite a few ex-top tier military guys teaching civilians and law enforcement these days. It’s hard to argue that someone who has had tons of real world experience – being shot at and shooting back – and who has also probably taught thousands of personnel before retiring, isn’t a treasure trove of useful information. Certainly, in many cases, they are.
On the other hand, just because some guy retired from a top tier unit with tons of combat experience doesn’t mean that 1) he can relate to someone with (let’s be honest) less innate talent (that’s you and me); 2) he can teach someone who hasn’t shot thousands of rounds a week of free ammo for years; and 3) he understands the constraints of the law enforcement job (which differs very considerably from the military). Some of these instructors have made a special effort to understand the job of law enforcement, even going so far as to become sworn officers. Of course, how important this is depends on what you are seeking to learn. Delve into those areas – read course AARs online or pick up the phone and network with the instructor’s previous attendees.
Can Only Law Enforcement Instructors Teach Cops Useful Stuff?
In a word, no. Someone doesn’t have to have been a cop to teach a cop how to shoot well, nor how to teach well accepted basic tactics if they are skilled in them. But, it does help to have been there alone on that scary traffic stop or to have kicked down some doors and made entry into a real-life, crap filled environment if you want to really understand the full picture of how cops will apply these skills. In short, you can learn a lot from someone with no law enforcement or military experience – not everything, but a lot.
Familiarization vs. Competence
Understand that there are two types of courses you can attend. Familiarization courses have the goal of getting you familiar with a subject, technique or tactic, and showing you how to further train on your own to gain proficiency in it. A competence course will try and instill a level of competence in a particular skill or skill set and will usually have a standard you have to attain. Some instructors don’t understand this difference and wind up using the wrong instructional techniques and exercises as a result. Make sure you know what the course goals are and how the course modules build to those goals.
Vendor vs. Independent School/Instructor
Should you take a course at a vendor institution? Absolutely. The SIG SAUER Academy and the Law Enforcement Division of the NRA offer great training, as do many other vendor training divisions, vendor sponsored training events and vendor sponsored instructors. I’ve been to several and I usually didn’t even get a sales pitch – just a discount on the vendor’s products. When I showed up at the Smith & Wesson and SIG SAUER academies with my GLOCK®, I was hardly the only one and no one so much as said a word. Take good training where you can find it.
Why Should You Have to Pay Out of Your Pocket for Training?
Because you do. I mean, don’t if your agency will pay, but, for most of us, professional development is something we have to do on our dime and time. It’s that way all over the world – engineers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and carpenters all have to pay for their own professional development.
“We Shot Like 1000 Rounds that Day! Boo-Yah!”
Some courses/instructors are famous for their high round count – 1500 rounds or more over two days is a selling point for them. Setting aside the fact that ammo is now more expensive than ever, is shooting that much conducive to learning? Arguing for a high round count is the fact that, as Rob Leatham has said, you learn to shoot a gun by shooting a gun. Dry fire and other dry exercises only take you so far. On the other hand, accelerated learning and neuro-based techniques are pretty underutilized in the firearms arena so far as I’ve seen, and they can be practical and effective approaches.
While it’s pretty easy to pad a course with a bunch of shooting, and while most students will be happy as a result, it takes more thought and skill to impart a skill using the fuller spectrum of mental, intellectual, visualization, and kinesthetic learning techniques. In the end, the answer to the question of round count all depends because, despite what I’ve just said, sometimes shooting 1000 rounds a day (or whatever) is the most effective way to build a skill.
What Are Your Responsibilities?
First, understand what the instructor expects in terms of your skills when you show up – ask if this information isn’t posted. Second, prepare yourself by tuning up – it’s a waste of your time and money to attend unprepared. Third, debug all your gear – test everything and zero all your guns before you get there. Fourth, don’t let your ego or preconceived notions or what you “know” get in the way of learning something. Last, make damn sure you handle your gun safely. (Let’s admit it: Cops can be pretty bad at this.) Don’t ask another cop if you’re safe; ask a friend who shoots competitively if you are because those people are absolutely fanatical about safety.
Finally, understand that you are going to learn a perishable skill, not punch a ticket. You can have the best instructor at the best facility with the best classmates and learn a “ton of stuff” at a course, but your newfound skill or knowledge has a short life and will deteriorate quickly if you don’t practice it. A coach can show you how to dead lift and get you skilled at it and even help you to significantly increase your poundage, but, if you don’t dead lift every week, your skill will diminish and you’ll get weak.
It’s the same with shooting.
Ralph Mroz was a police officer (part time) in Massachusetts for 20 years, seven of which he was assigned to his county’s drug task force. He has taught at a number of national, regional and international law enforcement conferences. His blog can be read at https://thestreetstandards.wordpress.com/