The Cornered Cat

In an email to a friend a few days ago, we were discussing ways to develop new firearms instructors via the apprenticeship model. I was talking about my own experience of learning from some of the best defensive handgun trainers in the world after the class was over:

“As much as I’ve learned on the range in formal classes over the years, I’ve learned far more sitting in [my mentors’] living room on weekend nights, chattering over dinner…┬áListening to the guest instructors explain the nuts and bolts behind their own programs, in a casual setting where they weren’t on stage and were simply talking among friends. Finding out what makes the good ones tick, and beginning to understand what motivates them, and finally coming to see the beating heart of love that drives the truly greats in everything they do, the angry and desperate love that hides behind the gruff exteriors of crabby old men who’ve seen too much death and carnage and never want to see it again.”

It’s love that drives a good instructor — love for the student, and not for himself. The best of the best aren’t the stars of their own movies. They’re humble, down-to-earth, practical people who look for ways to make others shine. They’re driven by a kind of selflessness that strives to protect others and give them the tools to protect themselves. Because of that love for others, they get a lot of their energy from deep wells of frustration and yes, sometimes even rage, at anything that would harm their students or prevent their students from being able to protect themselves.

As a learner on this journey, from watching these men and women I’ve come to realize that for anyone who wants to become a truly excellent firearms instructor, we have to be driven by the same kind of selfless love that fuels them.

It’s love that forces us to do the work that needs to be done.

It’s love that keeps us up late at night making sure our teaching plans are solid and built on good principles, our ranges well prepped for the students, our safety protocols carefully considered and ready to go, our techniques the best we can possibly offer, our shooting skills solid enough for students to imitate… and on, and on, and on.

Anyone can grab an audience without having the heart, but it’s love for the students that separates the good from the truly great.

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