Excuses

20121117-212741.jpgI awoke this morning not too long after dawn, to a gray sky and a hammering rain. I packed my range bag, made a mug of coffee, and picked up a friend. Together, we drove for more than an hour to the range we shoot at.

When we arrived, it was still wet and gray and cold. The wind whispered through the trees and licked at the corners of our targets, past the places where the staples held the paper. We trekked downrange through a gloppy, sticky, rock-laden mud to erect those targets. My friend unbagged firearms while I loaded magazines.

We stayed out there and shot for nearly two hours. My friend plinked with his revolvers, while I worked methodically through the skills I’d identified that I wanted to drill during the session. I shivered just a bit beneath my jacket, despite my usual tolerance for cold weather. I had to stop shooting several times, to wipe the film of fog and mist from my glasses so I could see my target.

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Excitement, Delight, Total and Complete Exhaustion

I’d meant to write this post yesterday, but just didn’t quite have the energy left.

You see, we had another women’s shooting clinic Saturday at my local range, and (like last time) I was helping to instruct. This time, I was teaching basics (grip, stance, sight picture) with a blue gun as well as a .22 pistol, and also helping run some students on a .22 double-action revolver stage.

After the clinic wrapped up, we had just enough time to grab some lunch, and then we were back at the range for a Ladies Night shoot. The combination of the two events on the same day meant I was out of bed at 4:30am, and it was close to 11:00pm by the time I rolled out of the shower and into bed.

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Instructors: Check Your Ego at the Door

I thought about titling this post, “It’s Not All About You”, but decided that would be too inflammatory. But I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind lately.

Over at the Cornered Cat blog, Kathy Jackson had a post today about the fact that instructors are, by the nature of what they do, in a position of authority over their students, and she talked about the limits of that authority. One piece in particular jumped out at me:

[T]hat authority is voluntary, limited, and temporary.

It is voluntary because your students choose to enroll in your classes. The students who end up in your classes get there because they have made a choice to do that. They have lots of other things they could have done this weekend, but they chose to rearrange their time to spend it with you. They have lots of other things they could do with their money, but they chose to buy a class from you. You have to treat them with the same respect a shopkeeper would give a customer, because that’s what they are—customers.

I wanted to highlight this part of Kathy’s post because I think there’s another important aspect to the voluntary nature of this authority we have as teachers: The student who comes to us is choosing to do that because of what THEY want to learn. Your job as an instructor is to meet that need, to help them learn the skills they seek, or to tell them that those skills are outside your area of expertise and suggest the look elsewhere (if that’s true). Although you have the position of authority in the relationship, the relationship is about them, not about you.

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Teaching Shooting, and “Necessary” vs. “Sufficient”

The inimitable Kathy Jackson of Cornered Cat has a blog, and she had an excellent post today about good teachers. I left a comment on her post, but wanted to reiterate and expand on something here.

Kathy wrote:

There’s a huge number of women out there right now who have a desire to reach out and to work with other women, but too many of these women have not yet developed the skillset to do that well.

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I’m always impressed when I talk to women who have a heart to help other women get into the firearms world, and especially into the self-defense corners of that world. I love that! I love it so much that it thrills me to see it being done well. I love to watch competent women at work and I love to meet women who work hard to learn what they need to know in order to reach others even more effectively.

Personally, I think this is hugely important, and I want to expand on it a bit here. In particular, I’d like to talk about what makes a qualified firearms instructor, and what makes a good one. I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there, and (as I said in my comment on Kathy’s post) self-defense and shooting skills are just too important to be held hostage to an instructor’s ego trip or, worse, to his or her ignorance.

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Practice Not Shooting

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Robert over at The Truth About Guns has a good reminder today: One thing we should include in our training is practice not shooting.

Robert discusses the tragic case of Jeffrey Giuliano, a Connecticut man who recently shot and killed a masked intruder in his home, only to discover the hooded figure was his own fifteen year old son. And he points out something interesting and, I think, important.

Robert writes:

One thing is for sure, if you shoot every time you clear leather or aim a gun at a gun range—which people do tens of thousands of times over decades— you’re most likely to shoot when you clear leather in a defensive gun use (DGU). Regardless of whether or not you should.

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Steps Forward, and a Request for Book Suggestions

As I mentioned on the weekend, I’m involved with a series of women’s shooting clinics hosted by a local range. I was able to connect with the coordinator of the program today, and found out that, unfortunately, their upcoming NRA Instructor course is beyond full. We talked at some length about my goals, interests and experience, and we now have a plan. I’m going to take an NRA Range Safety Officer class that they’re putting on sometime soon (probably late October) and I’ll be at the top of the list for the next Instructor class, which will likely take place in the spring.

I’m excited to be a part of this program – which they hope to eventually grow into a monthly offering on a larger scale than they currently can staff – and looking forward to the RSO course as a step down the road for me personally.

With that said, I’ve a request of my readers who also teach shooting: Are there any good books you’d recommend? I have plenty of stuff in the “how to shoot” category in my library already, so I’m really looking for “how to teach shooting” type of books. If it’s available on Kindle, so much the better. Suggestions are most welcome…and I’ll continue to update you as this journey progresses.

Enthusiasm, Empowerment, and My First Teaching Experience

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As I write this, I’m sitting in my living room at the end of a 16-hour day, muscles aching, feeling at the same time physically weary and absolutely exhilarated and galvanized. Today, I was part of a group that taught a basic firearms safety and shooting workshop for women. The course, hosted by one of our local ranges and sponsored by a grant from the NRA, attracted close to 25 women, and it was a wonderful experience.

The class gave participants – about half of whom, I would guess, had never shot a firearm before – exposure to both .22 rifles and pistols, as well as a few larger-caliber handguns and revolvers in .38, 9mm, and even one 1911-pattern .45 ACP. Students got to shoot at Shoot-N-C paper targets, cardboard and steel, and even had a chance to try a mini-Steel Challenge stage.

I’m still processing the day’s experience, since this was my first time teaching, but I have a few experiences and observations to share.

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Can You Recognize a Jammed Weapon?

Do you know what it looks like when a pistol jams? How about a rifle or a shotgun?

Even if you don’t shoot these kinds of weapons, it’s still in your best interests to be able to recognize jams and malfunctions when you see them.

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Physical Fitness as a Survival Skill

20120915-124816.jpgit’s been quiet here for the past few days because I got my new compound bow and have been doing some training with it in what little spare time I’ve had. This morning, I participated in my first 3D Archery shoot, and along the way I was reminded of something important: physical fitness matters.

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Hardware or Software?

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to be getting a bow for my birthday. I’d done a fair amount of digging online, and thought I’d identified what I wanted. But then, I discovered there’s an archery store about 20 minutes from my house. I dithered. Should I go over there? I asked myself. Surely I know what I want, and anyway, the price will be better online.

In the end, I decided to go. After all, it was only 20 minutes away, and I had an appointment nearby anyhow. So, I left early for my appointment and drove over there. Boy, am I glad I did!

For one thing, I was able to lay my hands on several different bows, and thereby to clarify my thinking about some features I needed (and didn’t need), accessories, and so forth. I was able to be properly and professionally measured for my draw length and weight, and to shoot a few bows on the store’s indoor range. I was able to answer some questions about stance and technique.

Better yet, the store had a special going on a bow that was of much higher quality than the one I’d been looking at, and will be able to essentially match the online price I’d found but deliver a better product. The bow is one or two model years old, a fact that bothers me not at all but which enables me to pick it up for a great price.

But do you know what? Even that fact isn’t a deal-clincher for me. What sold me was that the shop offers a free lesson with every bow purchase, as well as good prices on training and range time.

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: My gun, knives, flashlight, and (soon) bow are just tools. But the real weapon is the grey thing between my ears. Without our amazing human brains driving our perception, motions, reflexes, and responses, my bow is just a chunk of aluminum and composite. My gun and knives are just lifeless pieces of steel and polymer. Without my brain, all my efforts toward shooting, self-defense and safety are for nothing. Without the brain, I might as well not even bother.

Consider this next time you catch yourself saying, “I can’t take that class – it’s too expensive!” Think carefully next time you’re planning a new gear purchase. Do you really need that fourth gun, sixth blade, third bow? Or will you get more bang for your buck by spending that money upgrading your software to better use the tools you already have? I can justify buying a bow, because it’s a useful tool that I don’t already have. But you can bet that once I buy it, I’ll be spending some time and money on training and practice before I buy a second one.

The pages of American Handgunner and Bowhunting and dozens of other magazines are full of glossy full-color ads showing us all the latest and greatest guns and bows and gear. Their call is seductive: “Buy one of THESE, and you’ll shoot better.” And you know what? It might even be true. But is it really the best use of our money if we’ve not maxed out the capability of the weapons we already have?

Buy all means, buy that new gun or bow or scope or whatever, if you can afford it. But along with the new hardware, add to the software that is your brain and spend the time and money it takes to become proficient with the new gear. You’ll see huge dividends in the long run.