The two questions your defensive shooting instructor should be willing and able to answer.

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There are a lot of questions you can ask your defensive shooting instructor, but I believe there are two which will tell you more about his teaching ability and dedication than any others.

In the defensive shooting world, critical thought or introspection are not often celebrated. There is, in fact, a certain (and vocal) segment of the CCW and self defense fraternity that ridicules anything other than a regimented, don’t-ask-questions military-like approach to teaching lifesaving skills.

I think your life, and the life of your loved ones, is more important than cookie-cutter soundbites and pithy sayings backed up by nothing other than someone’s reputation. I believe that you should demand a higher level of intellectual engagement than that, and your instructor should be willing and able to answer two questions which can show you if he or she is up to the task of teaching you the how, why, and when of defensive shooting.

The first question was inspired by Greg Ellifritz, an instructor who isn’t afraid to question the status quo: “what are your biases or preconceptions?” All of us have a bias, and all of us have preconceptions, that affect what and how we teach. How we look at the world depends on what we know, and what we know comes from not only our own experiences but the experiences of others.

Those biases might be detrimental to your learning experience if they result (as they often do) in a context mismatch: teaching things that aren’t applicable to the student’s lives. An unrecognized bias can lead to an instructor holding on to and teaching outdated or inappropriate material, or an active ignorance of advances being made by other people teaching in the field.

At its worst, such biases can lead to an inability to recognize actual flaws or dangerous inconsistencies in one’s own material. If the instructor believes that his material is flawless because of its source or because of its success in a completely unrelated context, he or she will never look at it with the critical eye necessary to maintain a high level of instructional integrity.

I think it’s so important for the student to know my own biases that late last year I started opening my classes with a discussion of those biases and preconceptions. Though I work very hard at maintaining an objective, fact-based outlook on what I teach it’s always possible that my human nature will cause me to make teaching decisions based on my biases. I believe that my students deserve to know where I’m coming from and why I teach what (and how) I do.

I also believe that any instructor in this business should be able to do the same when asked. If he or she can’t (or won’t), that’s a sign that that he’ll never know when he’s wrong. It’s also a sign that you might be learning things from him which really aren’t appropriate to you and your own life.

The second question is one I stole from Rob Pincus, and frankly I think it’s one of the more profound notions I’ve heard in this business: “what have you changed your mind about in the last year?”

Any teacher of any subject should always be learning and expanding their horizons. Here’s the kicker: if someone is actually learning new things (not just rehashing what they’ve already learned), at some point they’re going to encounter something new which causes them to look at the subject differently. They’ll change their mind about that thing, and from that new perspective will continue on and learn still more new things. Sooner or later, if they’re actually learning they’re going to change their mind about something they learned previously.

This is a question that any instructor worth his or her title should be able to answer, and by answer I mean actually answer specifically. I’ve asked this question of more than a few people in this business, and I often get a statement worthy of a slimy politician: “of course things are always changing, and I’m committed to incorporating the best and latest…blah blah blah.” That’s a meaningless answer; if he or she is really committed to teaching the best and latest information, there will be something they don’t teach any longer — something they’ve changed their mind about. They should be willing and able to tell you what that is, and why.

I’ve changed my mind about quite a few things over the last couple of years: appendix carry (it’s not for me, but I can see the advantages for some people); the .380ACP (I used to deride it as useless, but the objective evidence says it’s better than most of us will admit); the value of competition (I used to be very pro-competition, then went through a phase where I was very anti-competition, but now I’ve evolved to see that the arguments are really pointless given all the other things that we need to deal with in the self defense context.) As I learn I sometimes encounter facts which contradict simple opinions or unsupported “common knowledge”, and I change my mind to incorporate the new, better knowledge.

These are two important questions that any thinking teaching can answer. If yours can’t, that probably means he or she isn’t thinking much — and do you really want someone who isn’t thinking teaching you something as important as saving your life?

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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