What it means to plan your Range/Training sessions…

Yesterday I finished up a rare Friday/Saturday course working on handgun essential skills and drills with eleven very motivated and experienced students.

On TD1 after getting waivers signed and the scheme of maneuver for the two-day course out of the way we discussed how important it is to have a plan for your practice sessions that gives you some direction as to what you want to work on.

These things should be written down. Personally, I use a good old fashioned piece of paper and clipboard. What this does is documents practice sessions and what you are working on at any one time along with allowing you to make notes for empirical data to be saved in case you ever need it further down the road.

Storyboarding your target can also help you to remember what the course of fire that you shot and how you did during your practice session as well. What I mean by Storyboarding is writing notes and any other empirical data down on your target and taking a photo of it with your smartphone, this is a great way to memorialize your training sessions as well.

The great Ken Hackathorn says, “you are what you practice.” That is spot on, and if you are not practicing essential core skills and the drills that enhance your performance of the essential skills that you need to fight with your handgun then you are missing the point of practice.

Here are a few things that I like to do each practice session.

My first drill is typically a walkback starting at 3 yards and progressing out to 5, 7, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50. I always take a break in between the distances longer than 25 yards as my nearly 55 year old eyes are not as good as they once were and, I want to see exactly where I am hitting.

The walkback drill can be done from the ready position of your choice or from a concealment or duty holster. I typically run it from the holster as I have that capability at the ranges that I regularly practice at, if you do not I am sure that a low ready would be acceptable. You can shoot 3 or 5 shots at each position, that’s entirely up to you. Most importantly you need to have a clearly defined target and make sure that to hold yourself accountable to an accuracy standard and focus on achieving your standard.

Another drill I like is a 100 round warm-up that I got from Steve Gilcreast with Sig Sauer. Using a B-8 Bullseye Target the goal is to keep everything in the nine ring or better (The black scoring area) from ten yards. These are ten specific tasks conditions and standards that are very tough to meet.

After the warm-up then it is on to essential core skills drills practicing those for a good hour and if I can get in some movement and work on tracking the dot (Everybody knows that I run a gun with a TV Screen on it) on the move, I do that as well.

The last thing is I try to add in a qualification or two and if I run a qualification I usually shoot those first as it is important to know what you can do cold on demand.

In summary, it is my suggestion that each range session should be a good 400-450 rounds of deliberate practice with a plan, and as mentioned above you should be keeping records on what you are working on during each practice session and make sure that you fit in some dry-fire practice sessions in between your live-fire sessions.

Edited to add: If you can only get in 100 rounds a week or every other week that’s OK, just make sure that it is deliberate practice with a goal to improve in mind.

Thanks for checking in, and until next time, be vigilant be the best, and as always, live life abundantly!

Train hard so you can fight easy!

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What course should I take next and what is a Firearms Instructor Development Course?

Many new Instructors and students ask me “What course should I take next?” My answer is always the same, any course that enhances your skills as a “student of weapons-craft” and those that offer more than just a course of fire designed to make you a better shooter. The courses I am speaking about are those that teach you things like the importance of having good situational awareness, evaluating points of access and egress in each location you find yourself in, including an evaluation of transitional spaces and those that teach you a variety of force options or some kind of use of force continuum if you will. Additionally courses that teach you how to prepare yourself for the aftermath of a self-defense incident where you had to use non-lethal or heaven forbid, lethal force.

These courses should also emphasize that your first option should always be to avoid, evade and then if necessary counter your threat rather than going for the gun immediately. The gun should be a tool of the last resort, period.

I tend to go a little further in my answer by saying that one should have skills in non-lethal methods of engagement, such as OC or “pepper spray” and of course empty-hand Combatives, maybe even one or two of the various martial arts. My personal choices for many reasons, but mostly because I studied both of these extensively are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or “BJJ” and Jeet Kune Do or “JKD.”

For empty-hand Combatives I always recommend to find someone who was trained by the late Bill Underwood first, Bill is the father of empty hands Combatives. Right now the top Combatives trainer in the game, again, in my opinion, is Kelly McCann with Kembatives Brand, honestly, I do not know Kelly and I do not know who trained him, but his program of instruction is spot on and very similar to what I was taught by my mentor Mike Griffin, who was a personal friend of Bill Underwood.

Circling back to Instructor Development Courses…

The NRA’s Firearm Training Program is a true Instructor Development Program. Most people start by becoming an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, and yes many people in the industry talk down the program, but truth be told in my intermediate and advanced level shooting courses the first drill I start with is the NRA Instructor Pistol Shooting course pre-course qualification and you’d be surprised how many people, (Even nationally known trainers) who have failed to shoot a 6″ group at 15 yards cold on demand. Yeah, they don’t know that first drill is actually the NRA’s Instructor Pistol Shooting course pre-course qualification, but when I tell them their collective “oh man, I suck” comments sound like an echo.

So what it an Instructor Development course? Is it a course where you listen to a bunch of lecture and then are driven out on the firing line to run a bunch of drills where you are the shooter and NEVER once do a teach-back of any kind on the material presented by the Instructor or even run a drill on the line with your fellow Instructor candidates? That is not an Instructor Development course, and how could it be? That is just a money grab from the Instructor, and some build little cults teaching like this, believe it.

Furthermore is taking a written test and passing a couple qualifications that are not that difficult an Instructor Development course evaluation? I don’t think so, it could be a good student level course.

Yep, that’s what happens in most of these so-called “Firearms Instructor Development” courses and it is ridiculous if you ask me. (I know you didn’t ask me, but this is my blog so you’ll get my qualified and educated opinion)

Recently I attended a three-day Instructor Development course and it was exactly what an Instructor Development course should be. What made this Instructor Development course stand out was the fact on TD1 the Chief Instructor and his staff, there were five (5) total staff instructors asked each individual candidate what they were there to learn. The Chief Instructor readily admitted that he doesn’t know what we know and wanted to make sure that each person got what they came for, that was a big takeaway for me, the Chief Instructor was fully engaged at all times and each candidate did a teach-back on the range selecting one of five or six different drills offered by the staff. During the teach-back the candidate was teaching a couple Staff Instructors with the rest of the candidates observing and then at the end there was an evaluation or the good, and of course the areas that needed to be improved.

This course was not a “Certification” it was all about development and that was refreshing in a world where people want to collect “Certifications” to list on their C/V or website.

Now, I have seen just about all of it, when you travel the country teaching classes as I do and having dinner with students on the road they give you feedback and most tell me that courses that do not pressure test the Instructor Candidates ability to deliver a block of instruction in a classroom environment and on the range with a range exercise are just a “Paper Credential” and I agree with them. So, are you into collecting paper or are you into getting coaching on how to be a teacher, trainer, coach, and mentor?

Let me circle back to this recent Instructor Development course, it was a wealth of knowledge on everything from basic fundamentals to moving while shooting, communication with partners/friendlies, proper use of cover and concealment, room clearing and even a block of instruction on tactical medical procedures and tourniquet application, along with starting a business and talking about things like range and firearms instructor liability insurance and so much more.

The block of instruction on tourniquet application is something that I added into my courses about three years ago and soon I will be requiring each individual student in my range intensive courses to bring their own tourniquet and have it on their person throughout the course, right now I have a fully-stocked trauma bag at each course and the range that I teach at full-time has a fully-functional AED or Automated External Defibrillator, when I am on the road I take my own AED with me.

Now let’s talk about certificate collectors, I have no problem with them, attending courses and getting more training is what we as trainers encourage our students to do. In fact, I encourage all of my students to take as many courses as their pocketbook will allow and from as many different trainers as they can. My binder of certificates include many you would recognize and I have taken multiple courses with people all across the country.

Earlier this year I was invited to attend an Instructor Development course as a guest to evaluate the POI or Program of Instruction and was even provided ammunition and a place to stay, all I had to come up with was travel expenses, rental car, and food. Several of my closest friends know about these offers and they also know that I am the type of person who will refuse the “freebies” and will pay the tuition because that gives me the ability to speak freely about the course and write about my experience(s) in this blog.

Oh, by the way, I was to evaluate a nationally known Law Enforcement Instructor Development course next week, unfortunately, the course was rescheduled due to a death and I will be doing that in September now.

Again, this is my qualified opinion based upon my years of education, training, and experience in this arena and as we know in order to have a qualified opinion on a particular subject you must have the education, training, and experience in that specialized field otherwise your opinion is just like that thing that you expel waste out of your body from while sitting on the crapper.

A Firearms Instructor Development course is one that as I say, pressure tests the candidate in a variety of situations, not just standing in cement on the firing line and mediocre course of fire then a couple qualifications and then take a written test. An Instructor Development course pressure tests each candidate to actually present assigned curriculum either on the range or in the classroom, I prefer a range drill myself so I can evaluate the Instructors ability to explain, demonstrate, imitate and coach his or her students through the exercise.

An Instructor should allow the student to run drills at 50% speed to get familiar with the drill and then allow them to gradually increase the speed until the point of failure or in our case “misses” and then evaluate with the student why they missed. I give a lot of one-on-one coaching as I walk my firing line in the courses I teach because it is important to give feedback to the student, that is what they crave, interaction with the trainer.

This going full-speed just to shoot fast is ridiculous, you must be able to shoot good first, speed will come over more and more repetition. A famous quote attributed to legendary lawman Wyatt Earp goes as follows, “Fast is fine, accuracy is final.”

An Instructor Development course should also include a short exit interview with each candidate, not just a certificate presentation ceremony full of pomp and circumstance and photos for social media. This exit interview should be conducted by the chief instructor and any assistant instructors. It should be used as a tool to help the Instructor candidate understand their strengths and weaknesses and give them an opportunity to give feedback on the course in a closed-door session so the candidate can speak candidly without his or her peers in the room. This exit interview should only last 5 or so minutes.

I will be offering a one-day and two-day Firearms Instructor Development course very shortly and soon my two-day course will be approved in Florida as a “State Certified” program eligible for those graduates to teach Firearms Safety Courses for Florida Concealed Weapons or Firearms License applicants, stay tuned, that will be coming.

Lastly, it is my recommendation that all Instructors take some kind of continuing education throughout the year. Yeah, I know many do not have an unlimited budget to travel the country and take courses, that’s why you must seek out not only Instructor level courses, but solid student level courses and try to increase your skills, that will make you a better trainer, teacher, coach and mentor to your students.

Thanks for checking in, and until next time, be vigilant be the best, and as always, live life abundantly!

Train hard so you can fight easy!

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The importance of giving a Safety Briefing and developing an Emergency Procedures Plan for your courses.

Last year while teaching a Counter Ambush course to a mixed class of Law Enforcement Officers and Licensed Security Guards, one of my students, a forty-seven (47) year old male experienced a myocardial infarction, that is the medical term for a heart attack. When I spoke with him last week he got on me a little for not posting this blog and talking about this very important topic, he has long since returned to full-duty and is doing very well.

Let me give you a little background, a little over a month prior to that particular course I purchased a Phillips HeartStart OnSite Automated External Defibrillator or AED like the one in the link above. This had been something I was wanting to do for a year or so before and in my opinion, it is an essential piece of equipment for any firearms instructor obviously along with a well-stocked trauma bag/medical kit.

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On the day of the event, I had given a safety briefing and knew that I had a Paramedic and two EMT’s in the course. Knowing that made it easy for me to volunteer them to act in case of a medical emergency. All three had brought their personal trauma bags, but none had an AED with them. Just so you know, they all carry an AED in their vehicles now.

Let us start with the outline of a good safety briefing. The National Rifle Association recommends that each safety briefing should encompass the following:

  • The purpose of the shooting event/Introduction of Range Personnel
  • Range layout and limits
  • Range safety rules
  • Firing line commands
  • Emergency Procedures

In these items, there are plenty of subcategories that we can get into, for the purposes of this blog posting I am only going to focus on Emergency Procedures.

Since I teach a wide variety of curriculum mostly my own, I have had to develop my own set of emergency procedures that are able to be modified to meet the needs of the various venues where I teach throughout the country. One very important thing to remember is that your emergency procedures plan must comply with any local range rules and standard operating procedures on dealing with such incidents. This is precisely why communication with your course host and or the range owners and operators is so important.

Take a look at this short video by Ken Hackathorn, “Prerequisites for Taking Your Training Classes on the Road.”┬áIn this video, Ken addresses the safety briefing for traveling instructors; however, it applies just as well to those instructors who teach at their home club or local public range.

Diving a little deeper, with each and every course that I teach, one person is designated as a primary and one as a backup for key roles in the event that we need to initiate the emergency procedures plan, these key roles are listed below:

  • Emergency Medic
  • Trauma/Medical Bag Runner
  • A person to take charge of the firing line making sure all firearms are secured and also to keep everyone away from crowding the person being treated.
  • A person to call 9-1-1 with a script and physical location memorized.
  • A person to meet Emergency Services and Law Enforcement at the entrance to the range complex and lead them to the location of the emergency.
  • A person to take notes. Provide this person with a notebook and pen that should be kept near the trauma/medical bag. This person should have good penmanship, you’ll thank me later for that small piece of advice.
  • A person to inform range control or anyone else on-site that we have an emergency and have called 9-1-1. (Many ranges that I train at are a part of a larger complex with a central range operations office and some have absolutely nothing, it is up to you to have a plan)

Now I know what you are thinking, what if I am doing a one-on-one coaching session or teaching a course that only has four or five students? That’s easy, you must modify your plan to cover that possibility.

Once you have laid out your emergency procedures plan, you need to take the time to let your designated medic get familiar with your trauma/medical bag and its contents and then you should coach the others on what you expect them to do in performing their roles and answer any questions from them before you start any live fire exercises.

As a suggestion, I like to use the back of a target to write down everyone’s name and assignment along with the physical location of the range. See the example below from a recent course that I taught at my local gun club, this was a sixteen person course and as you see I needed thirteen volunteers plus myself. I also assigned my assistant instructors roles to help out as well because of their inside knowledge of the facility and local range rules.

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It is important to note that more often than not I will assign myself the task of making the 9-1-1 call, I know many of the questions that they will be asking and have a prepared script, but not always do I do this because some facilities I train at have their own procedures to follow.

Remember that no two facilities operate the same and some will want you to follow their emergency procedures plan in accordance with their range standard operating procedures so, make sure your responsibilities are understood well in advance of the course and if you are in a remote location you should also plan to have a helipad set up in case you need it, ask me how I know to plan for this… Yep, I have seen someone evacuated from a range with an injury (Compound fracture of the tibia) via helicopter.

I also recommend that when you give your safety briefing it should be done in full view of the range and not inside a classroom. One thing I do when teaching a multiple-day course is to revisit the briefing each day and make sure that everyone reaffirms that they are still capable of performing their designated roles in the event of an emergency.

In executing an emergency procedures plan you must first determine if the emergency is one that requires a call to 9-1-1 and possible transport. Some trainers get into the mindset that the only emergency they might experience on the range is to have a student with a self-inflicted gunshot wound or worse someone else gets shot negligently or accidentally, you decide on which word to use. Truthfully, that is one of the least likely of scenarios; however, it is one that must be planned for and one must be prepared for, but candidly, you are more likely to see anything from snake bites to twisted ankles and even heat casualties.

Speaking of heat casualties, you should also have some crushable ice packs on hand during the summer months, you can find them at your local CVS or Walgreens pharmacy. A substitute would be to use some ziplock bags and bring a bag of ice for your cooler with cold drinks. Another thing is to have a supply of sports drinks, e.g. Powerade or Gatorade not just for yourself, but an emergency stash as well.

Other things that I recommend you have in a separate bag is a variety of pain relievers, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and other NSAID’s, e.g., Tylenol or Aleve and don’t forget Benedryl in both liquid and capsules for allergic reactions to anything from an insect bite to a brush with poison ivy.

Additionally, make sure that you have a “Boo-Boo Kit” with a variety of band-aids, alcohol swabs, and things like Neosporin and a small bottle of liquid skin for cuts and blisters is a good thing to have as well. When I teach locally or within driving distance, I also bring an assortment of bug spray and sunscreen, this is invaluable and I find that even though it is in a list of suggested items for students to bring it is usually the one thing they most often forget.

It is worthy to note that myself and many other trainers are requiring both assistant instructors and students to have a belt mounted tourniquet on them during their courses and some including myself have been including a block of instruction in each course on the proper application of a tourniquet; however, this is not standard in the industry, at least yet anyway.

In summary, being prepared saved the life of my student who experienced a heart attack, as an instructor you should be asking yourself right now if you are prepared for the same or worse. It’s not enough to have the equipment, you also need training in basic first aid procedures, so go and get some training, I can refer you to several companies that do basic first aid/CPR certifications and even those that teach the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (T.C.C.C.) courses as well.

Thanks for checking in, and until next time, be vigilant, be the best and as always, live life abundantly.

Train hard so you can fight easy!

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