The Cornered Cat
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Lots of new instructors (and some very experienced ones) suffer from imposter syndrome. What’s that?

Impostor syndrome describes a situation where a fully qualified and well-trained individual feels like an impostor or fraud because they think that they have duped the people around them. They have a fear that some day, they will be “outed” as not being as smart or as prepared to do their jobs as others perceive them to be.

(I should add — and this is important! — that sometimes, people feel as though they don’t belong in the job they’re doing pretty much because they don’t. Our industry is flooded with people who really want to teach things they have not bothered to learn. This is a real problem, but a different one than what I’m talking about here.)

Imposter syndrome does not always feel good, but that doesn’t mean it always has to be a bad thing. Embraced and used properly, it can become a strong driver for excellence and continued improvement. In many cases, it’s actually the source of expertise.

Think about this: It’s hard for someone to learn anything when they already know everything. Once someone has decided they don’t need to learn more, they often stop learning. Adult people rarely look for ways to do better tying their own shoes. There’s no need; they already know how. They’re already experts at that. So why bother looking for ways to improve their skills at it? They stop learning because they feel they already know everything.

That’s the experts’ trap.

The person with imposter feelings doesn’t feel like that. They might feel out of place, foolish and weak and untutored. But they do not feel that they know it all. Despite this (and this is where fears of being seen as an imposter lead to actually becoming an imposter in truth), a person with imposter syndrome might stop learning anyway. They might feel so afraid of others thinking they are ignorant that they refuse to learn more where others can see them. They might hide from learning situations and avoid being put in positions where others might realize that they don’t already know everything. They stop learning because they are afraid to be seen learning.

That’s the imposters’ trap.

Instead of getting caught in either of those traps, a brave person with imposter feelings can use those feelings to drive themselves toward true excellence and expertise. In order to do that, they must not ignore the imposter feelings or try to “overcome” the negative thoughts by sheer willpower, stuffing them back inside or telling themselves to shut up when they feel weak. Instead, they can lean into the feelings like a yachtsman leans into the wind, letting the wind fill the sails that speed the boat across the water. Instead of fighting the feelings head-on, they can use that energy to learn and grow and strengthen their  abilities at every opportunity. They can use the fear of being found unprepared help them become better prepared, and they can use the fear of being seen as weak to help themselves become strong.

When a person embraces the imposter feelings as the allies they are, they can help that person learn more, do better, and achieve more than they ever imagined. And along the way, they will have truly earned the respect they once feared others would not give them.

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Looking Around

My Fb feed at the moment is full of trainers talking about “Checking Your Six” and being “Tactically Aware” and doing “After Action Scans.”

Most of that is garbage.

It is not garbage in the sense of being useless, but garbage in the sense of being clutter. Noise. Added complications. This tactical clutter turns what should be a common sense and practical and ordinary thing into a game of “Let’s Pretend.” Let’s pretend you just shot someone, now let’s pretend to look around. Maybe we’ll even suggest you look around in a complicated, mechanistic way that you cannot even practice on your ordinary range.


Looking around after we shoot should definitely be a thing that we do. But we should not be playing “let’s pretend!” when we do it. We should not be doing it as a “tactical exercise” and we certainly shouldn’t be just going through a complex series of motions just because we think we might need to do something like that “someday.”

We should be looking around after we shoot for a simple, very real reason: because it’s a good idea to look around sometimes. Shooting is a high-concentration exercise, just like programming your next stop on your GPS, or texting a friend, or counting your change. And just like we should remember to look around every time we’re done concentrating on these other activities, so should we remember to look around every time we’re done concentrating on our front sights.

Looking around should be a thing we do simply because it helps us stay safe in the here-and-now. Immediately. Today. Right now and every time we’re at the range practicing with our firearms as part of our normal, everyday lives. Because you know what?

Ranges are NOT 100% crime-free.

There are no utterly safe places in this world. None. This includes wherever you shoot. Bad things can happen there just as they can happen anywhere else.

On the lower end of the scale, valuables get pilfered. Ask anyone who’s ever had a good set of muffs or an entire bag walk off how that feels. You set your stuff on the table at the back of the bay, and go forward to tape your targets. When you return to the back of the bay, some of your stuff is … gone. Where’d it go? Good luck finding out.

On the higher end of the scale, there’s violent crime. It’s rare, but not unheard-of. Those of us who shoot on remote private ranges aren’t immune. In fact, we may be more at risk. The criminals in the 1986 FBI Miami shootout, for example, stole several of the firearms they used in their crimes from people who had been shooting alone on public ranges — shooting or beating those people and leaving them for dead. Within the past few years, similar things have happened to a man shooting alone on an outdoor range in Oklahoma (he recovered) and to another man in Pennsylvania (he died).

It’s not unique to outdoor ranges, of course. Irony-minded criminals have been known to steal guns, at gunpoint, from people leaving indoor ranges — sometimes shooting their victims in the bargain. Which probably goes to show that just owning a gun, or even having it with you, isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t see trouble coming. Or if you’re not prepared to counter it when it does.

So, yeah. Look around when you’re done shooting. Do it every time. But don’t do it because you’re playing a game of “Let’s Pretend.” Instead, look for the answers to these questions:

  • Who is on the range with me?
  • Who has come onto the range or left the range since the last time I looked around?
  • What is everyone doing?
  • Is anyone loitering around my stuff? Or paying more attention to other people’s stuff than seems natural?

It’s not a tactical exercise or a range dance. It’s just, you know, looking around.

Different Domains

Not long ago, I came across an online video from a well-known trainer, someone I respect, who said some very important and true things.

He said that for ordinary people looking for training in firearms-based self defense, there’s little sense in seeking out instructors who have a military background. He pointed out that even though many excellent handgun instructors have been in the military, there’s very little experience in the military that directly applies to the ordinary person who intends to carry a handgun for self-defense.

Regardless of the branch, he said, very few members of the military use handguns at all, and of those that do, they rarely consider a handgun as the primary weapon system. He added that the rules of engagement between military and civilian gun use differ widely, and so do the expected situations where handguns might come into use. This means, he said, that an effective and good military mindset might in fact be a dangerous and perhaps illegal mindset for a civilian who carries a handgun.

So far, so good, I suppose.

Then he went on to say that ordinary citizens who want good defensive handgun training from an experienced source should instead attend classes taught by law enforcement professionals.

And that’s where he lost me.

He lost me because there is as wide a gap between law enforcement experience and ordinary citizen needs, as there is between military experience and ordinary citizen needs. Even though many excellent handgun instructors have spent time in law enforcement, there’s very little experience in law enforcement that directly applies to the needs of the ordinary person who wants to carry a handgun for self defense.

Military, law enforcement, ordinary citizen. These are three different domains, with different potential problems and different rules for solving those problems.

Nothing to Add

“There’s nothing wrong with deciding you are not able to take another person’s life. We all have unique moral principles that guide us. This is why I never proselytize about gun ownership. Having a firearm for protection purposes is a deeply personal decision of the same magnitude as deciding to lose one’s virginity, get married, or have a child. However, someone who cannot bear the thought of taking another’s life in self-defense should not have a firearm as a protection tool.”

– Claude Werner

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Instructor Development notes

Really enjoyed meeting a long-time internet acquaintance, Hsoi, for the first time last week. It’s always an adventure, meeting someone for the first time after you’ve known them for years. Really enjoyed getting to know him in person and wish we’d met sooner.

Hsoi attended the Instructor Development class I taught down in Texas at Karl Rehn’s facility (KR Training), which isn’t surprising since he has worked as Karl’s lead assistant for a number of years. In fact, he had asked Karl to bring me in after he read either Tamara’s or Melody‘s review of the class last June. So for that I owe him a vote of gratitude. (Thanks, Hsoi!)

As for our host, I’ll freely admit that Karl Rehn has long been one of my favorite people in the gun world. He’s  a quietly competent presence who might be easy to overlook in a day of flashy YouTube celebrities and overnight “experts”. Not just a nice guy (although he is that!), Karl is also a USPSA Grandmaster and a deeply thoughtful, highly experienced instructor who has been teaching for longer than I’ve been shooting.

When I met Karl face to face for the first time a few years back, I was at that time working as the editor for a national magazine about concealed carry. To this day, Karl remains the only person who ever fully, spontaneously understood the direction and scope of the work I’d been doing as the editor there. And I know that he did, because as we sat across from each other over dinner that night, he described it to me from his perspective as a reader and sometimes-contributor. To say that I was deeply impressed would be understating the case; I was blown away by the acuity of his vision, and a little humbled that he had seen my editorial choices so clearly.

Speaking of being a little humbled, having Karl in the class as a student was another type of adventure for me as an instructor. That’s partly because I know how very selective he is about the traveling instructors he invites to teach at his facility, and in this case, several of his staff would also be joining us so all the more reason that my own work had better be up to snuff. More than that, I’ve long deeply respected Karl as one of the strong pillars of the training community. He has built a solid school and kept it going for decades. What could I possibly have, to teach him or his people?

Thinking about that, I decided to embrace my inner imposter, and taught the class anyway. Glad I did, because it was full of very good people — everyone from brand-new instructors and people who were just considering becoming instructors, up through people who’d been doing it awhile and who were very accomplished and skilled at it. I like to think we gave full value to everyone there, no matter what their experience level when they arrived.

Anyway, Hsoi wrote up a very nice AAR of the Cornered Cat Instructor Development class in Texas. You should go read it, especially the part that involves spattered fly parts.

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Instead of copying & pasting half the articles from my website, printing them out and saving them to highlight and re-read …

Why not just buy the book!?

(This post brought to you courtesy of a walk through the gun forums. I’m flattered that so many people like my writing, and I’m happy to provide good info as a public service. But … )


It’s nearly impossible to get a right answer when the question itself is wrong.

“Which home defense gun would the best choice for someone who dislikes guns and does not believe in using violence under any circumstances?” is one example of such a question.

Defense guns don’t belong in the hands of those who don’t want them and aren’t willing to use them. This may be heartbreaking, but it’s the simple truth.

Instructor Development Qualifications

Getting ready to teach several classes on Instructor Development this year — the soonest one is coming up fast! That class will be held at KR Training in TX and I’m very excited about it.

During a longer conversation on Fb, I had just recommended several awesome, non-NRA instructor development classes from various schools and trainers when someone asked me:

“… ultimately, what qualifies them and you to teach instructors or instructor development?”

That’s what we call a Darn Good Question. It’s easy enough to look at someone’s credentials to teach defensive handgun courses, but what qualifies them to teach instructor development classes? What qualifies them to train the trainers?

In my case, any prospective student can see my training resume on this website on the “About” page — although it’s a little bit out of date right now, as it does not make any recent updates to the number of hours I’ve spent learning from others over the past couple of years. Over the past few months alone, I’ve added several NRA credentials and a 2 day private class from John and Vicki Farnam, and will have a weeklong Gunsite course under my belt by mid-April.

In addition to spending some 16 years of continuous study under some of the best instructors in the business, I also have put myself out there in writing. Potential students who wonder about my background can read an extensive, informative website where I have written in sometimes-exhaustive detail about my training philosophies, preferred techniques, mindset, and ideas about defensive firearms use. Or they can read one or both of the two books I’ve written (soon to be joined by a third), or the archives of Concealed Carry Magazine, where I served as editor for more than four years.

As students read the things I’ve written, if they are paying attention, they will soon realize that I have extensively studied the dynamics of violent crime, criminal mindset, how deadly events happen, use of force law, social patterns of behavior, human body language, teaching skills, public speaking skills, the history and use of concealed carry holsters, and a host of other subjects of interest to the armed citizen. I’m not shy about telling people what material I’ve drawn from in my writing — both of my books, and my website, are heavily footnoted — and I encourage others to study the source material as I have. I’m also (sometimes bitterly!) aware of all I don’t know and haven’t yet learned, so I’m constantly driven to learn more. That, too, shows through in my writing.

There’s also the little matter of serving as a staff instructor at one of the most highly-regarded schools in the country for more than thirteen years now, beginning as an apprentice and continuing on to become one of the lead instructors at that school. Or that over the past five years (still on staff at FAS, still teaching there when I’m home) I’ve also been running my own training company, teaching both co-ed and women-only defensive handgun classes throughout the country at many different facilities.

During my time at FAS, in addition to studying under Marty and Gila Hayes (who both have solid, nationally-recognized reputations), I have also worked alongside many highly-experienced and competent firearms instructors, and have learned from them at every opportunity. FAS hosts many of the best trainers in the industry, and so (in addition to the classes formally recorded on my resume) I’ve often had a “fly on the wall” view of these trainers when I’ve worked as an assistant in their classes. That has given me a tremendous opportunity to concentrate not just on the what of their classes’ content (as students do), but to really focus on how these master instructors present their material and run their ranges — and I’ve kept extensive notes on that over the years.

I can also point to students I have worked with, who review and recommend the classes they have taken from me. They say things like:

  • “If you’re looking to build your own curriculum, run it safely and effectively while minimizing risks to yourself and your students, this is a class you should take.” — Melody Lauer
  • “For anyone interested in improving their performance as an instructor, I highly recommend this class. It distills a lot of the tribal knowledge that has been developed over the years at FAS, Gunsite, and other ranges and presents it in an organized package that is a boon to any instructor. Bring an open mind and an empty notebook, because you’ll fill them both up with knowledge.” — Tamara Keel, writing in Shooting Illustrated.

So what we have there is a mix of education, training, and practice in the art and science of teaching students how to use guns to defend their own lives. Over the past decade and a half, I’ve had many good models and I’ve studied those models with a great deal of care. And I have freely shared what I have learned, and where I have learned it, so that prospective instructors can easily discover my background.

For the others I mentioned (Marty & Gila Hayes of FAS, John & Vicki Farnam of DTI, Tom & Lynn Givens of Rangemaster, Massad Ayoob of MAG), you’d have to ask them what qualifies them to train others how to teach. But I will tell you right now that most of their training and teaching resumes far outshine my own, either because nearly all of them started a decade or more before I did, or because they began with a vocational or experiental background that I lack. These are people I deeply respect and admire.  But I am in no way ashamed of my own experience or ability to teach.

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