The Cornered Cat
Shape shifting

Starting almost three years ago now, I lost 70 pounds over the course of a single year. I did this by simply exercising regularly, not by “going on a diet” but just by changing my activity levels. 1 My idealized goal was to exercise at least 30 minutes every single day, and my achieved average worked out to be a little more than 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Yay, Team Me!

Well-known internet fact: Serious firearms instructors always have epic beards.

Well-known internet fact: Serious firearms instructors always have epic beards.

When I lost that weight, according to the NIH, I became merely “overweight” instead of “obese.” Also according to the NIH, if I lose another 40 pounds (which would put me at a weight I haven’t touched since I was 11 years old and four inches shorter than I am now), my weight would then become “normal” … the heavy end of normal.

Well, rats. So much for Team Me.

What does this have to do with the usual topic of this blog, firearms and self-defense? I’ll tell you: Right now, there’s a current in the training industry that says you can’t be a good firearms instructor unless you happen to be (wait for it) in peak physical condition.

The thinking is that you cannot possibly be serious about self defense if you don’t look the part of a warrior. Unless you are fit enough to lead a team of Special Forces, you can’t be fit enough to lead ordinary people toward knowing how to use their firearms effectively in self defense. You can’t know anything about how to protect yourself from violent crime unless you know how to protect yourself from too many cupcakes.

And don’t even get me started on the beard thing.

Of course, on a personal level this offends me. Despite that big weight loss, I’m still “overweight,” remember? To be honest, even though I will continue to eat consciously and exercise regularly for the rest of my life, there really isn’t much chance I’ll ever get down to allegedly-normal weight. It won’t happen because my skeletal frame really is not inclined that direction. 2

Still, given that I’ve spent the past few years being relentlessly faithful with a daily exercise routine, it’s safe to say that I obviously I agree that most of us are better off when we’re in better shape. Quite apart from the long term health benefits, when you’re less hefty it’s easier to find cute clothes that fit, the airline seats feel less cramped, and you’ve got a better chance of keeping up with your kids as they ricochet around the playground.

So there’s that. But still…

What’s your take? Does someone have to be in peak physical shape in order to teach other people how to effectively use firearms for self-defense?


  1. I did find that regular exercise changed my appetite, reducing it significantly and giving me a distaste for overly-sweet foods and foods high in processed carbs. But in the beginning that was a side effect, not a conscious effort.
  2. Yup. I just used “I’m big-boned” as one reason for being the weight I am. Haters can bite me.

6 Responses to Shape shifting

  1. helkat says:

    Whoah. OK, a couple thoughts.

    1. You deserve big props for going from a person who’s health is at risk to someone who valued themselves enough to DO something.
    2. If you truly believe you’ve reached a point of optimum health, why be defensive? It lessens your achievement.
    3. Set a new health goal and go after that. Why not? You’ve already proven you can do it.
    4. Why would an instructor not want to role model to their students that any body type can have good balance, arm strength, and core control, things that can really help ones ability?

    • larryarnold says:

      1. I’m 67. No matter what I do ninja won’t be in my repertoire.
      2. “Teaching shooting” does not equal “teaching self-defense.” A lot of my basic classes focus on safety and fundamentals, not tactics. Yes, most of my students consider self-defense a reason to learn to shoot, but having fun is often more of an incentive for beginners. Particularly if said beginners are tweens or younger.

      Agreed about too much militarization. I’ve seen instructors who get into combat presentation (bring the gun up close to your body then extend it toward the badguy) before the student has a chance to learn trigger squeeze.

  2. Bill says:

    Helkat: “Why would an instructor not want to role model to their students that any body type can have good balance, arm strength, and core control, things that can really help ones ability?”

    I’ve seen “morbidly obese” people out-shoot physically imposing ones. She’s teaching defensive firearms, not Tae Kwon Do.

    I cringe at the militarization of civilian firearms instruction. We’re training Moms and grandfathers and Dads how to defend their lives and those of their loved ones, not training them to storm Fallujah.

    And frankly, I think the most important thing we teach is situational awareness, not firearms use. We spend a lot of time on guns, sight picture, sight alignment, trigger control and point shooting, but I honestly think learning to see trouble and go someplace else is a more valuable skill.

    The gun comes out when I have FAILED at everything else. Deterrence, avoidance, de-escalation have all FAILED TO WORK before I shoot.

    So ya, the idea that we all need to be ninjas or SF qualified in order to teach granny or her son how to shoot accurately and consistently is ludicrous, which I think was Kathy’s point.

  3. larryarnold says:

    Kathy, are you really “overweight?”

    IMHO the standards used in the U.S., and by WHO, are skewed too light. According to a number of studies people in the official “overweight” category actually live longer.

    Anyone but the government would look at the data, say, “Oops,” and revise the standards. But the government can never be wrong.

  4. Kathy Jackson says:


    That’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? According to the gov’t guidelines, I’m overweight. According to our cultural expectations for women, I’m hugely fat. But from my perspective, I’m the right weight for me — given my age, skeletal structure, personal history and willingness to invest in myself. Hellkat thought I sounded defensive, but that’s not how I feel at all, not even a little bit. To me, there’s really no negative value judgement about how people look whether that’s fat or thin or somewhere in between. People come in all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors, and all of them can be beautiful.

    That’s not something I just pay lip service to; it’s something I really believe. When I see that one friend of mine is super-skinny and has ribs that stick out, that’s not me saying “Oh, she’s ugly and weak and someone should give her a sammich.” Not at all. It’s just an observation of what her body shape happens to be. When I see that another friend of mine is shaped like a pumpkin with legs, with a full round abdomen and lots of belly fat and big boobs, that’s not me saying she should be some other shape or that it’s a personal failure of hers that she’s shaped how she is. It’s just the shape her body happens to be. And that’s the way I am with myself, too. This is the shape I am. There are people in our society who think — because I still have plenty of padding — that this shape is horrible. Some of those people will personally condemn me for living in a body shaped like this one or think that I’m stupid for being content with it. That’s how they think, but it’s not how I think. I think I am what I am and that’s okay.

    As far as self defense goes: how much (and whether) you exercise, how you eat and what kinds of things you avoid — those are all a question of how you choose to spend your life. You can spend it fast or slow, living dangerously or living safely, sitting on the couch and letting your heart wear out earlier than it otherwise would, or doing enough exercise to keep your heart beating strong through many decades. All your choice and all a matter of how you want to spend your own life. But learning about self-defense? That’s making the determination that nobody else will TAKE your life. The two aren’t related at all even though some people think they are.

    When I hear people saying that people who aren’t in good physical shape can’t possibly teach others anything about self defense, I think those people are being very silly. Of course a fat old guy or gal who knows how to shoot and how to teach can teach you how to use a gun effectively. That person may even know a few things about a living-life-to-the-full mindset or have a few ideas about staying alive that the highly athletic, fit-focused young person might not have learned yet… just as the young and fit person might have a few ideas that the other person never realized. Everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses and everyone brings something different to the table.

    To refuse to learn from someone just because you think their body shape means they don’t know much? To my way of thinking, that’s not only bigoted, it’s foolish.

  5. kukuforguns says:

    ” Does someone have to be in peak physical shape in order to teach other people how to effectively use firearms for self-defense?”

    No. One of the primary benefits of firearms is that they allow the physically small/weak to act on equal footing as the predators. If being physically intimidating is made a prerequisite of teaching firearm self-defense, it will give the wrong impression. So long as you are strong enough to aim, fire, and repeat, you are strong enough to teach. Being a good teacher has nothing to do with being in peak physical condition. Teachers teach skills.

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