The Cornered Cat
Sweet Potatoes

Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you. – George R.R. Martin

From time to time, people ask me what my credentials are to teach the things I teach. Sometimes it’s just idle curiosity, or a getting-to-know-you question. Sometimes it’s more challenging than that. My current favorite was a man who started the conversation with, “So what makes you think you can teach me anything?”

So much potential snark, so little time.

Still, it’s a valid question. It’s one you should ask every firearms trainer. How do they see their own qualifications? What’s their background? Have they had just one short class that gave them a teaching certificate? Have they done more than that? Has all their information come from one source, or have they learned from multiple sources? Have they studied, have they worked, have they learned? Who taught them the material they’re passing along to others? Who are their role models? What kind of experiences have they had that they believe will apply to this discipline? These questions provide you with an excellent opportunity to assess your potential instructor’s background.

As you read my comments below, please notice the complete lack of the word “just” in any of my self-descriptions. That’s one of the subtle ways a lot of women tear themselves down, by telling people they are “just” this or “just” that or “just” some amazing other thing. And it’s nonsense. We are what we are. We bring to the table whatever we bring to the table. Not one of us is the same as any other of us, and that’s okay. It is far better to be honestly what you are, than it is to fluff and puff and bluster your way through this minefield.

So let me tell you honestly what I am, and what I am not. (Like Popeye of an earlier era, I yam what I yam … and now you know the origin of the post title, too.)

Here’s what I am not: I am not a law enforcement officer, nor do I claim a “law enforcement background” on sketchy credentials. I am not a former member of the armed forces, nor do I claim to be one. I have rarely shot competitions, and never seriously. The things I don’t know fill more than just one book. They fill most of the shelves at my local library, and an amazing number of articles I stumble over while wiki-wandering in search of something else I want to know. I’m not a beauty queen and I’ll never attract the happy hordes of guys who just want to see beautiful women shoot guns while wearing skin-tight clothing. I am not a YouTube personality and I don’t make money based on how outrageously I behave on the internet. I can’t tell you a darn thing about running a SWAT team, about being an MMA fighter, about working as a bodyguard or a contractor or a bouncer or a prison guard, about organizing a military engagement or running a convoy through unfriendly territory.  All of those can be good things, or bad things, or just things that are — but none of them are my things.

And here’s what I am: I am an ordinary, middle-aged woman who has successfully completed hundreds of hours of professional-level handgun training. I have a large handful of advanced training certificates, including several that say I’m an instructor. I have over a decade of industry experience, a wickedly obsessive learning habit, and a burning drive to help other ordinary people learn how to fit self-defense ideas into an ordinary, mundane lifestyle.

Through the time I spent raising my five very active, very normal boys to healthy young adulthood, I can tell you some stuff about living in a busy household full of kids while armed. And maybe a few things about how to turn a child’s normal, healthy childish curiousity away from handling firearms when you’re not there.

Five of my credentials.

Five of my credentials.

From doing a crazy insane amount of reading and studying and thinking and playing and learning from others, I can tell you some reasonable ways to fit a solid self-defense mindset into an ordinary lifestyle without driving yourself to the same level of crazy. Because I know that not everyone wants to, or needs to, dive as deeply into this pool as I have done.

After carrying a gun almost every day for the past 14 years — as a part of an ordinary lifestyle, not as part of a job with a uniform — I can teach you some surprising tricks that will help you keep the gun with you for the time you need it, if that’s what you want to do.

While building the Cornered Cat website and keeping it active for nearly a decade, and after working more than four years as the editor of Concealed Carry Magazine before I stepped down to build my own training business to a higher level, I have had many wonderful, ongoing opportunities to get my hands on some amazing holsters and other gear. I have handled many new products during the development phase and have cheered on several small companies who later became big successes with their excellent products. I have also refused to write reviews, or to tell students about, anything that I have not handled for myself for an extended period of time. That insistence on handling the products myself, and on really giving them a complete workout under real world conditions, means I can tell you a few things about how to choose a functional, high-quality holster and carry method that’s right for you.

From taking hundreds of hours of professional firearms classes and self-defense classes from multiple schools, and through studying defensive skills under many different instructors, it’s safe to say that I have a solid grasp on the state of the training industry right now. I can tell you a few things that I’ve seen change and evolve over the past 14 years. From long and fascinating study, I can tell you something about the contexts where many shooting techniques and familiar self-defense axioms got started many years ago, and how those techniques have changed over the years to reflect increased understanding of crime, different social and legal rules, or changes in available equipment.

As a lifelong autodidact with a deep fascination for what makes people tick, I can tell you a few things about violent crime and how it happens. I can tell you some ways to spot a developing criminal crisis before it’s too late, some ways to understand how criminals think, some ways to tell if you are the intended target for an act of violence. I can tell you about how people respond to stress and danger, including both physical and physiological responses to fear. I can explain what some of the most recent studies have found about strategies for surviving violent encounters and their aftermath, including legal, psychological, emotional, and social survival skills.

By spending more than a decade first learning, and then playing with, advanced handgun retention skills with highly qualified and talented friends, I can show you a little bit about how to fit those skills into your self-defense plans. After repeatedly taking a basic handgun retention skill set to experienced people — the kind of people who use similar skills on a daily basis — learning from them, and then analyzing how their needs compare to (or contrast with) the needs of ordinary citizens, I can teach you something about the basics of protecting your firearm from someone who would grab it away from you.

Because I have invested more than ten years of my life working as an instructor at one of the busiest professional firearms training schools in the country, I can teach you a few things about how to shoot quickly and effectively. I can teach you how to use your firearm in ways that are optimized for self-defense — and not just on a static square range, either. I can effectively teach you how to shoot in the dark, on moving targets, while you are moving. I can show you how to keep your firearm running when you need it, including how to reload and how to clear unexpected malfunctions. I can teach you to hit small targets at distance (such as you might need to do in a mall shooting) and how to quickly hit a target that’s very close (such as you might need to do when attacked in a parking lot). I can teach you how and why to use cover and concealment, and I can teach you how to shoot from downed positions. And — of course! — I can teach you how to draw quickly, safely, and effectively from any carry method you care to use.

After working with thousands of students over the past ten years, I can tell you a few things about what works and does not work in front of a class as an instructor. I can tell you how to put your own material into a working outline, and how to tell when your class schedule is well-ordered. I can teach you how to diagnose some common shooting difficulties and teach your students how to overcome those challenges. I can give you some solid ideas about how to effectively pass your own skills along to others.

As a woman who has spent a decade and a half inside this male-dominated industry, and who has extensively studied how gendered groups respond to various teaching methods, I can tell you a little bit about teaching women how to defend themselves with firearms: what works well and reliably, what doesn’t work well or doesn’t work reliably, and why minor shifts in teaching techniques can make a big difference for your students.

For some people, none of that is enough. It will never be enough. They want the person who teaches them how to use a defensive firearm to be a warrior, a meat-eater, a badass, and … well, a guy. Or at least a woman who wants to be a guy. Someone who has been “in the sandbox” or who has “seen the elephant” or who has done whatever this year’s buzz phrase happens to be. Someone who bench presses three times their own body weight and brags about it on the internet. I’m not that person, and never will be. And that’s okay. Because there are already plenty of people out there trying to be that, and the people who want to learn from that person can find that person everywhere.

But if you want a thoughtful, well-trained woman who can help you bring defensive handgun skills into an ordinary lifestyle without driving yourself crazy — I’m your gal.

4 Responses to Sweet Potatoes

  1. A Girl says:

    So thankful, you are who you are and that I have had the good fortune to learn and grow from your experiences, skill and knowledge.

  2. larryarnold says:

    I’ll take you, your training, and your attitude any day of the week.

    Back in my day it was a jungle, not a sandbox, and I volunteer with the local PD, so I know some about both.

    Past the point where you’re centering the front sight in the rear sight military, law enforcement, and self-defense are very different subjects. When I took my first NRA instructor class I had to unlearn several things I had used as an infantry officer and as a basic combat training officer. That included both shooting techniques and teaching techniques.

    And don’t get me started on those who know everything.

    You go girl.

  3. says:

    Wait, you’re not tacticool??

    (and I can say that since I don’t happen to be within arms reach at the moment)

    Thank you for all you do and for who you are!

  4. aairborne01 says:

    This post really speaks to me right now.
    I spend a lot of my life wishing I were someone I’m not – someone who has real combat experience, someone who spent over ten years in the Army, someone who has mad fighting skills, someone who can identify guns at a glance, someone whose credentials command respect.
    Well, that didn’t work out – for a lot of reasons beyond my control. But not because I ever gave up on anything. And I’ve done my best to keep learning, and growing, and becoming skilled at what’s important to me. And now, six months after starting my own firearms training business as a new instructor, I have accepted a contract at a quality local training school and will start teaching NRA classes there soon. And I’m terrified that without the impressive credentials of the rest of the (male) instructor team, nobody will take me seriously.
    It is inspiring to be reminded that I don’t have to be someone I’m not, nor am I inferior for it. I am who I am, and have valuable lessons to offer out of my own experiences and perspective. It’s okay that I am new – it’s okay to have limitations, as long as I’m not pretending to my students that I am or know more than I do. And it helps to know that that’s what will earn their trust and respect, despite my shortcomings.

    Thank you.

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