At SHOT Show back in January of this year, I had the same conversation at least a dozen times. I’m not exaggerating. Many different people said essentially the same things to me. Let me share a very typical interaction with you. The person below is a composite, not a specific individual, and her name is Miss Legion.
Kathy: “What do you do for a living?”
Miss Legion: “I’m a firearms instructor.”
Kathy: “Excellent! I love that! What kind of classes do you teach?”
Miss Legion: “I teach beginners’ classes, and I also teach advanced and tactical classes.”
After listening to her explain her classes for a few minutes and getting to know Miss Legion a bit better, the conversation would continue.
Kathy: “What kind of firearms training have you had? What’s your background?”
Miss Legion: “Well, apart from my instructor class I haven’t had any other training. But I’ve been shooting a long time – at least two years.”
Sometimes at this point, Miss Legion would say something like this: “I’m a certified instructor.” Let me translate that one. Being a certified instructor usually means she’s had a single two- to four-day class from an organization that has given her permission to read their material to her students, as long as she stays strictly within their curriculum and teaches it their way. Given this reality, my new friend would often add, “I have my certification through [organization], but I like to teach my students a lot more than that organization’s classes do.”
(I love that answer! It means that Miss Legion recognizes that there are a lot of important skills that her students need. It also means she knows her students need things that will be found outside the very basic curriculum she’s trained to teach. Good on her for realizing it!)
Kathy: “How did you get into teaching firearms classes?”
This is where my new friends would say, with intensity, that they have a real passion for teaching women how to shoot, or a real passion for getting other women into the firearms world, or a real passion for helping women learn how to protect themselves. This hit exactly the right note for me, because you know I share that same passion. Helping women learn to defend their lives has become a heart project of mine, just as it has for these new instructors. So Miss Legion and I have a lot in common, and I love exploring that commonality with a new friend.
At the same time, there’s another passion that I have that I’m eager to share with my students. It’s a passion I would love to share with Miss Legion, too.
My heart passion is to learn as much as I can about the art and science of self defense. I want to know more about how to effectively protect myself with a firearm. I want to know how to defend the people I love. I want to absorb as much information as I can possibly get about violent crime and about effective ways to avoid it or deal with it when it happens. I want to know when people need to use their firearms, how they use them, what happens under stress, how the laws interact with the human right to self defense. All of these things. I want to know them all!
Not only this, but I also have a passion for becoming a better teacher. I want to know as much as I can about the process of teaching. How do you successfully communicate your ideas to adult learners? How can you best coach a non-athlete to do well in a physical skill? How do you deal with difficult students? How do you get people engaged with your material and keep them learning? What are the best ways to keep groups of people safely engaged in learning difficult skills on the range?
Passing it on
Here’s where the rubber meets the road: I think that for self defense trainers, having the passion to learn is every bit as important as having the passion to teach.
Why? Because whenever you stand up in front of a group of students, your students will catch your passion, whatever it is. If your passion is simply to be the one standing at the front of a classroom, then that’s all your students will take from your class: that you like to be in the boss slot. Some of them will catch that vision, and will themselves want to be the one at the front of the room. If your passion is simply to get guns in the hands of other people, that’s what your students will take away from your class: that just having the gun is enough and that’s all they need. They won’t have any desire to take your next class, to practice what they’ve learned, to come back to learn more, or to improve their skills in any meaningful way. They won’t stay engaged with your teaching business, but will just take that first class and wander off, maybe deciding to invite their friends to come shoot with them next weekend. After all, that’s what they caught from you: a passion to get people to the range. They did that much, and they’re done. They won’t come back for your next class.
But it’s different if your own passion is to learn. If you have a passion for learning, you’re doing two important things for your students.
First, your passion to learn means you’re assuring them that you will always give them the absolute best you have to offer. You’re not just dialing it in. It’s not guesswork. You’re not just making it up as you go along or repeating an untested rumor you heard from some guy at the gun shop. Every day, you are doing your homework. In every class you teach, you are bringing your A Game into the room for your students. Your students can trust your information you give them because you’ve done the hard work of making sure you found the best and most current information for them. They can trust the skills and techniques you recommend, because you’ve studied as many different teachniques as you could get your hands on, and you’ve found the ones that work best within the scope of your intended use. You don’t have to drive this point home in order for students to see it. Your trustworthiness will ooze out of every pore! They’ll naturally trust what you have to say, because they will see the honest confidence you have in your material even if they don’t directly see the hard work you put into building it.
Second, when you have a passion for learning, you’re contagious! Your passion will shine through everything you do, and your students will naturally catch your vision. They’ll be motivated to study and learn more for themselves. You become the model for them of what it looks like to be a lifelong student of the defensive arts. When they look at you, they understand what it means to learn these life-saving skills. They will be more motivated to come back for the next class, to take the next step, to practice what they’ve heard from you, to try your ideas out on others around them. They will naturally stay engaged with your teaching business because they will catch that same passion you have for learning. They will catch your passion to learn more and to grow as a person through what they’re learning.
Do you believe that knowing how to use a gun can keep people alive when they would otherwise die? So do I! That’s why I want to learn everything I can about defending myself and the people I love. It’s why I have a passion to learn as much as I can about how to effectively teach self-defense. I’m saving people’s lives here! That’s not hyperbole. It’s the simple truth, and it’s what drives my desire to learn more and to constantly seek out the best information in the field. If my students are going to bet their lives on the information I give them and the skill set I teach them, I’d better be sure that the information I give out is the best I can offer and that the skills that I teach are the best I can find.
A simple passion to teach, without an equal passion to learn, might be easier and good for my ego, but it wouldn’t be good for my students.