Oi! So I’ve worked hard to convince people that there’s a value in women-only classes. Apparently, that’s a successful sell, because I’ve heard a lot of people talking about such classes recently. That’s wonderful!
What isn’t so wonderful, however, is … well, I would not have gotten where I am without excellent instruction from male instructors teaching co-ed classes. Let me tell you about some of them.
The man who oversaw my first handgun shots was a family friend, who took my husband and me out for an afternoon of informal plinking in the woods. It wasn’t long before this became a regular event, and if it hadn’t been for his encouragement, it’s a sure bet I’d never have attended my first formal class or purchased my own handgun.
The first formal class I took was co-taught by Gila and Marty Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle. If memory serves, Gila was the lead instructor and Marty her assistant, though I admit the memory is fuzzy. I do know that Marty and many other male FAS staff members taught the next several classes I took as I worked my way through the school’s handgun courses. In my early classes, Marty was always kind, patient, and encouraging, but he never allowed even a hint of nonsense on his range… and there was never any doubt that it was his range when he ran a class. Marty modeled for me a kind of quiet professionalism I’ve grown to appreciate more and more as the years have passed. Marty taught me the value of earned respect; a bluff “well done!” from him could leave a student smiling for days, even after the class ended. His obsessive concern with safety taught me how to run a safe range of my own, and his insistence that the person in charge of the class take responsibility for everything that happened in that class laid a welcome but very heavy burden on my shoulders as I grew toward instructorhood.
Jim Cirillo, survivor of more than a dozen shootouts as a veteran of the NYPD Stakeout Squad, taught another class I took early on. Jim left an indelible mark on me as a student, as an instructor, and as a person. He affected me as a student because at 72 years of age, he was still tremendously excited and enthusiastic about learning new things. I know this because he made a point of sharing a few tips from the most recent class he’d taken, taught by Andy Stanford. That enthusiasm for learning made me vow to stay as young inside as he was. As an instructor, I decided to emulate his positive interactions with his students. He never put things in negative terms: “If you yank the trigger, you’ll miss the target.” That’s not the sort of thing Jim would say! He would say, “Press the trigger smoothly and you’re sure to hit the center every time.” Not only that, but when he went forward to read the targets to his students, he always had some encouraging word about what the student was doing right and how they should keep doing it. As a person, I found his upbeat outlook on life one of the most attractive traits a person could have. Again, that’s something I promised myself I would strive to imitate, though it’s not something that comes naturally to me. Jim’s time with the Stakeout Squad meant he had seen and done some ugly things in his life. But he did not dwell on those. He chose to think of the good, the positive, the uplifting. The world was a better place because Jim Cirillo walked through it.
I can’t remember if I met Massad Ayoob before or after I took my first class from Jim Cirillo. Like Marty, Mas modeled an obsessive concern with safety on his range, and the work ethic he brought to his classes struck me hard. Here was a man who called his class to order at 9 am, expected them to listen to lectures during lunch, sometimes didn’t let them off the range before 6 or 7 pm – and still expected them to study in the evening. A new student, I found the schedule grueling, and said so. He smiled at me with some concern, and said, “People work so hard to get to these classes and they should have full value for it. I want to be sure everyone gets more than they expected.” To this day, I’ve never met a student of his who would say they’d gotten anything less than that.
Another instructor who has had an impact on my shooting: Tom Givens. I’d heard Tom’s name for awhile, but really got to know him when I was editing Concealed Carry Magazine. When I was finally able to take a class from him – a three-day instructor development course – I found his heavy emphasis on quick accuracy was exactly what I needed at that point in my learning curve. Not only that, but Tom has a way of pressuring his students into giving their best. The tests at the end of his classes are real tests, with the possibility of failure. That means success in his class has that sweet tang that’s only possible when it’s not assured.
There are many, many other good men who are professional firearm trainers. Many of them have helped me grow, encouraged me to learn more, strive harder, do better. Some have become good friends, while others were just instructors. But in every case, I learned something from each one of these guys that I could not have learned from anyone else. It would please my heart to know I’d helped other students find such good men to learn under, since they did so well for me.