I was fortunate this past March 2013 weekend to finally participate in Rangemaster’s Firearms Instructor Development & Certification Course, taught by Tom Givens and hosted by Karl Rehn of KR Training.
I’ve tried to take this course for the past some years, but was unable to for one reason or another, usually logistics due to involved travel to Memphis. But now that Tom and crew were coming to my turf, there was no reason not to make the class.
The event was held over 3 days (Friday through Sunday) from about 9 am to 6 pm each day (a 24 hour course). It’s an intensive and dense course, split about 50/50 between the classroom and the range. This is not intended to be a class where you learn how to shoot, but rather a place to learn how to be a better instructor (firearms and private citizen self-defense in particular, but of course many teaching concepts can be applied anywhere in life). Thus this is not a class to take to learn how to shoot or how to be a better shooter; it’s a class geared towards instruction.
Weather was most cooperative. Spring is starting here in Central Texas, with the wildflowers in bloom and the temperatures just right… mostly. Friday we were pretty warm outside, broke a good sweat. Saturday we were pretty cold with some early rain threats. And Sunday we were cold and fought a bitter cold 25+ MPH wind (with higher gusts). So while not ideal, that’s life — you don’t get to choose when the fight happens, so you just work through it and have to be that much better.
Tom came with his wife Lynn, assistants John and Ray, and of course Skeeter his Back Up Dog (for when your real dog breaks). We had 15 students, including numerous KR Training assistant instructors (Karl took the class too).
The course is about a 50/50 split between the classroom and the range.
It’s important to understand that the context of this course is that of private citizen self-defense and concealed carry. This is not law-enforcement, military, nor competition. Could folks working in those areas benefit from such a course? Certainly. But it’s important to realize that the core context is private citizen self defense with firearms, and as such all is geared towards that end.
The classroom is where most of the relevant material comes. It runs the gamut from safety, parts and nomenclature, history (Tom is one of the best repositories of history), adult learning, coaching techniques, use of force issues, speaking/presentation techniques, etc.. Anything that might come up in the classroom is discussed along with information and techniques for working with it.
There are 3 tests by the end of the weekend. Two of them are classroom tests: a written test, and a short presentation on an assigned topic. Yes, you will get up in front of people and do a presentation, because if you’re going to teach, what do you think you’ll be doing? 🙂
To help with the written test, you are provided with a 170+ page workbook containing a host of useful information. Some directly applicable to the course, others as supporting material for you to use afterwards. And yes, keep this book and use it as reference. Reread it from time to time as it’s a useful and information-dense resource.
One subtle thing Tom does in his classroom work is practice what he preaches. For example, Tom talks about the use of “other things” when teaching so it’s not just you up there droning for hours. He used video to show the operation of various firearms, because the video was shot on the range with Tom actually shooting and manipulating the guns — can’t do that in the classroom, so what a useful thing video can be as a supportive aid. Also, Tom talks about not hiding behind a lectern, stand to the side. While there’s no true lectern in the KR Training classroom, Tom still stood off to the side of the table. There’s much to pick up and learn from, if you pay attention.
Of course, everyone looks forward to the range work. We started shooting some diagnostics so Tom and his crew could assess where everyone’s skill is. A few things were cleaned up, and qualification tests were shot. All tests were scored, but the tests shot on the first 2 days were not recorded.
If you haven’t shot much at 25 yards (or even 15 yards) you need to work on that. There’s a fair bit of work at those ranges, and they are humbling. 🙂
But the range time wasn’t all drills. The range is also the meat of the content for many classes you aspire to teach, so you need to know how to handle the range and run the range. Tom didn’t go over much about how to run the range itself, and for that I’d suggest something like NRA Instructor classes and RSO certification (Tom can only teach so much in 24 hours). But he did talk about how to interact with students on the range. He provided useful tips and techniques for teaching technique, diagnosing problems, how to remedy problems, and how to convey numerous concepts in a way that makes sense to students. One really useful technique he provided was how to allow you, the instructor, to verify a student actually understands what sight alignment and sight picture are; I think we’ll need to keep a “red gun” in the range wagon for just such occasions! (you’ll have to go to class to learn the technique, sorry).
We also shot numerous drills to introduce us to the host of drills and variations on drills that can be used to teach and practice various concepts. Of course, Tom did use it as an opportunity to put us under pressure. For example, after introducing the whole class to the “casino drill”, he asked for variations. Someone said how you could have people shoot drills individually, because that puts greater pressure on them to perform (the eyes of their peers upon them, which is a huge stress). So what did Tom then do? Have us all shoot the drill individually with our peers watching. 🙂
Sunday contains the third test: the shooting test.
We shot two tests for recorded score. The first test was the FBI Qualification. Just a few months ago, the FBI revised their test based upon improved and modern data. They removed that which doesn’t happen so much, and replaced it with that which happens more often. I haven’t been able to find a printed copy of the test online, and didn’t have time to record it during the test administration. But you will shoot from 3 to 25 yards, two hands, one hand, draw from concealment, reloads, and time pressure. It’s a tough course; I think Karl was the only one to clean it and he didn’t clean it every time he shot it. The other course was Rangemaster’s Instructor Qual course, which was also revised in light of the FBI revisions (I believe). It’s similar to the FBI course, but tougher (e.g. smaller scoring zones). Both tests were shot twice and the better of the two scores (on each test) recorded.
Thus at the end of the weekend your class score was made up of the FBI test, the Rangemaster test, and your written test.
And yes… you have to pass with a high score on all three portions. There’s a high standard to uphold, and no, not everyone passed.
What I Learned
A lot. 🙂
I’ve taken numerous Rangemaster courses in the past, and much of the core material is the same. This stands to reason, given the source. But this class was not a rehash of Combative Pistol 2. This class was teaching about teaching, and so material was presented from that angle.
That said, having heard some of these things before was useful. On the one hand, it’s always good to hear it again because redundancy fosters learning. It just helps me become better in general. On the other hand, because I heard it before, it meant there was less quantity of new things to cram into my head. One can only absorb so much, and the class material is dense with information — you won’t remember it all. So having heard much of this before meant there was less I had to cram in my head, just refresh what was already there.
I certainly picked up on numerous things I can immediately put to use in my work teaching and assisting at KR Training. In fact, one was kinda funny. My assigned presentation topic was “follow-through”. I giggled as soon as I received my topic, because back when I was taking NRA Instructor training? My assigned presentation topic was… “follow-through”. I did a much better presentation this time around, but I hope future instructor trainings can give me a different topic! Else I’ll take it as a sign someone really wants me to be an expert on follow-through. 🙂 Of course, I talk about follow-through every time I help with a Basic Pistol class at KR Training, so the topic was old-hat to me. I already knew what to say, what to do, and how to present it. Of course, I still practiced and prepped for it, because this setting and audience was slightly different. In doing so, I came up with a revision for my presentation. When we introduce the concept, we use an analogy of golf. But golf, bowling, baseball, whatever… that “swing” is a familiar concept to folks. I came up with a better example: tennis. Why? Because in all those others, it’s just you. In tennis, someone is shooting back at you, if you will. I think it’s a slightly better analogy because it makes it more evident why you need to follow-through, so you can get ready to shoot again (or return the volley, if you will). Of course, the other analogies I think are still fine. I think it’s more that if I was say talking to someone in a bullseye shooting context? I might use golf. But if I’m talking in a self-defense context (which is what I usually am doing), I think tennis works a little better.
The other fun thing about my presentation? I didn’t present what I planned to present. I figured we were supposed to present as if we were presenting to an audience of beginning students. That is, present like we’d present if we were teaching a class. Well, Karl was the first to go (his topic was safety) and he took a different angle. Givens teaches with the 4 Cooper Rules, Karl with the 3 NRA rules. Karl took this opportunity to present to the classroom of (aspiring) instructors about safety and those 2 sets of rules. So his presentation was informative to the current audience. I liked that. I also observed other presentations and found myself wondering who they were presenting to; did they identify their audience when they developed their presentation? Hey… I taught public speaking for a number of years, I can’t help but observe these things. 🙂 So I decided on the fly to modify my presentation and instead of presenting as if I was teaching follow-through to a class of beginner students, I opted to teach this classroom of instructors a technique they could use in their classrooms for teaching follow-through (tennis analogy, using the SIRT gun, whiteboard, etc.). Came off great. 🙂 But I’m not afraid to speak in public… probably got that from my politician dad.
So how did I do? I scored a 96% on the FBI Qual test, 235/250 (94%) on the Rangemaster, and 98% on the written. I passed.
I did get a lot of other things out of the class, including assessment of shooting skills and what I need to work on from here. I’ll write more on those in the coming days.
Should YOU take this class? If you desire to teach? Yes you should. However, I’m not sure this should be a first class. I think one might get more out of it if first they obtain their NRA Instructor Certifications and RSO. Even if you don’t do them first, you should still obtain those certifications. I also think it may be useful to attend one of Rangemaster’s other courses, such as the Combative Pistol or Dynamic Marksmanship, or their Level 1-5 handgun courses. This gives you an introduction to how Tom runs things, his material, his point of view. Thus when you come here, you aren’t focused on everything, you can focus more on just the “how to be an instructor” portion of stuff.
After taking this class, are you ready to teach? Nope. Certainly you’ll have a better foundation for things, but nothing substitutes for experience. If you can, seek apprenticeships. I have benefitted greatly from Karl Rehn’s generosity: his time, his teaching, his knowledge, his friendship, his mentorship, and of course, having me as an assistant instructor at KR Training. There’s so much that can and will happen on the range; to have an experienced eye watching, helping, and teaching you will benefit you greatly. This will allow you to have greater confidence in your ability to teach, and it will show in your students.
Thank you to Karl for hosting, and Tom, Lynn, John (great name!), and Ray for coming out to teach us…. and Skeeter for snoring in the back of the classroom.