AAR: Cornered Cat Instructor Development Course – KR Training April 2016

Always be learning.

From April 22-25, 2016, KR Training hosted Kathy Jackson of The Cornered Cat and her Instructor Development Course. From the course description:

During this four-day course that includes both classroom and range time, we will focus on teaching defensive handgun skills to adult students. With personalized instruction designed to help you become a better teacher, our lecture and discussion subjects will include firearms safety, emergency protocols, classroom management, principles of adult learning, gendered learning styles and classroom dynamics, developing student confidence, legal considerations for use of force, instructor liability, writing and documenting course materials, effective coaching, and holster/carry method selection. Range work includes left- and right-handed manipulations with semi-auto pistols and revolvers, developing student accuracy, teaching trigger control, demonstrating techniques, developing your range presence, giving effective voice commands, observational safety skills, malfunction clearances, teaching drawstroke, working with instructional teams and assistants, diagnosing and solving shooting problems, and sight or vision issues.

Although we will enjoy many shooting activities during this class and will coach each other to shoot better, please be aware that we will primarily focus on teaching skills development, not shooting skills development. You will have an opportunity to assess your own shooting skills against several objective standards, which will give you some idea of where to focus your efforts for personal growth. If you find that your current shooting abilities are not up to standard, that’s a subject you can and should address in classes designed specifically to improve the skills you need to improve.

Come prepared to teach and learn during our time together.

It was a long but fun and fruitful 4 days.

Background

While Karl Rehn is certainly mentor #1 for me, I would say Kathy Jackson is one of my earliest influences. When I was first getting serious with firearms, I found Kathy’s website and read just about everything she wrote. Still to this day I find her work on “Kids & Guns” to be the best resource on the topic, and always refer folks to that series of articles.

I don’t recall how Kathy and I first crossed paths, but I do have a comment here on my website from her from back in 2009, so at least since then (Kathy and I talked about it and we believe it was even earlier but… whatever). So we’ve known of each other for some time; she’s linked to my blog numerous times and I hers, and we’ve conversed online from time to time. But it wasn’t until this weekend we finally got to meet.

I will confess one reason for attending was just to finally meet her. In fact, I was the impetus for this class. I had read about Kathy’s first time offering this class (either Tam’s or Melody’s), and around the same time Karl and us other KRT instructors were talking future class schedule. I mentioned Kathy’s class to Karl one morning and by lunch time they had come to agreement. Huzzah! 🙂 So of course I had to attend.

Some have asked me why I’d want to attend this class. What would I expect to get out of it?

Learning.

Improvement.

Growth.

The older I get, the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know and how much more there is to learn. Given my background, I didn’t expect everything that Kathy taught to be a novel realization for me, but I knew there’d be something. Her training and lineage is different from mine (tho with some overlaps), her approach and attitude are different. And I know that even hearing about things I already know, I’ll hear about it from a different perspective. I know some new light will be shed, I know something will expand and grow. I know I will come out better than I went in.

Achievement unlocked.

General Stuff

Class was small. There was Kathy, her assistants Don and Tina, then 8 students. Three of the students were male (myself, Karl, one other), and five were female. I knew half of the students, the other half I met for the first time. While I had hoped for a sold-out class, I was happy for the smaller class which meant an improved teacher-to-student ratio. Weather was good, facilities were in order, and away we went.

Classes were generally 9-to-5 each day, and we worked through lunch. I appreciated the timing because with the KRT facility being where it is, having that drive in and out every day adds to the total time investment, plus it wears on you. Running a sharp 9-to-5 instead of an 8 until we run long and maybe get out of there whenever we do, was appreciated. Right there is a key factor in a good instructor: classroom time management, and Kathy ran things well.

After introductions and generalities to get up and running, class officially began.

Course Focus

Usually I break down my AAR’s by day, but this time I don’t want to do that because it doesn’t do the course justice.

What did we talk about? A lot of things.

Some of the class was presented in the context of a basic/introductory firearms familiarization class. As Kathy said, then we’re “pulling the sheet rock” off the wall to actually see the wiring, the pipes, and other “behind the scenes” things that are necessary to make such a class go. The learning then had 3 facets:

  1. You learn how to have such a class. How to have an introductory class, what to talk about, drills to do, and other things to allow you to formulate your own such class.
  2. You learn how to run such a class. You learn how to run the line, keep it safe, keep it orderly. How to present (e.g. tell, show, do, feedback).
  3. And here’s the subtle one: you learn by watching how Kathy actually runs her own class. You have to remember that we’re here in a class ourselves, that Kathy is teaching it, so pay attention to the things she’s doing to run this class itself! There are things you can pick up.

Consequence? A lot of information.

While of course we had trigger time, this was not a class about guns, about learning to shoot. The fact we shot guns was merely a necessary thing  because that’s the topic realm in which we are teaching. This is a course about becoming a better instructor.

You learn how to run a classroom. You learn how to run the range.

But most of all? You learn about people.

I think that’s what really sets this class apart from other classes I’ve taken. Other classes primarily focus on the nuts-and-bolts. While we certainly received a lot of nuts-and-bolts discussion here, a lot of time was spent on people. On developing our people skills, on being able to work with our students as people. I know that seems like a “DUH” thing, but honestly I see it so much in this industry and in others where “those in charge” and “those teaching” seem to forget their audience/students are people – with needs, emotions, baggage, and differences.

If our goal is to improve our students, then we have to connect with them. We have to have their respect, their trust, and their personal interests in mind.

Kathy threw out a quote from Massad Ayoob (and hopefully I recorded it correctly):

Sooner or later every instructor realizes students don’t come to you for competence, but for confidence.

Sure, competence is what we might be teaching, but confidence is what we want people to leave with. You need people skills, you need to remember and work with your students as people.

And like it or don’t, men and women are different in this regard. Yes, sweeping generality, but go around the block enough times and no matter what modern culture wants to espouse, even underlying their commentary is acknowledgement that men and women are (generally) different. Kathy’s material is not exclusively woman oriented, but she does bring up women topics. Some of the topics work to address everyone regardless of gender. Some topics may touch on how one gender may respond and adjustments that can be made or sensitivities that can be taken. Others are flat out gender-specific. For example, we finished Monday with a great discussion of holsters and other carry equipment, and without a doubt there were female-specific solutions discussed. I saw some products I hadn’t seen before, and I must admit that some are pretty darn cool.

I think the main problem with this class? It’s a lot of information. 🙂  Rough problem to have I know. It’s just the reality of things: that there’s lots of topics to cover, and only so much time to do so. I think Kathy did a great job getting to important topics, ensuring the “must do” topics were covered, but there’s no question people wanted to continue to dig deeper on many topics. In a way, that’s ok — always leave them wanting more. I think what will help is post-class supporting materials, be it discussion groups, reading materials, etc.. One thing that’s great about Kathy is it’s evident she herself is a student, and is always learning, always trying to improve.

Personal Take-Homes

While I don’t have a resumé like Karl or Kathy or Massad Ayoob or Tom Givens or John Farnam, I’ve got some things under my belt. Consequently, a good portion of what Kathy talked about was stuff I already knew. BUT! I consider that to be a very good thing! What it does is it provides affirmation and reinforcement about what we know. Kathy’s background is different than mine, and while our lineages and circles overlap, they are different. When you find people from different areas coming to the same conclusions as you, that speaks strongly to the validity of those conclusions.

For example, over the years I’ve been frustrated at how we “teach stance”. I think it takes too long, becomes too complicated of a process. So I started to think about a simpler, easier way to do it. What I landed upon was a runner’s stance. Not getting down into the starting blocks, but “Imagine you and I were going to have a quick little race down to the end of the hallway – when I say “on your mark”, get your body into the position you’d take to start the race”. And everyone does what you’d think, which is precisely the stance we want people to be in. It works great! It makes it simple, it makes it relatable, student’s don’t think they have something new to learn because this builds upon what they already know. There’s so many good things about this approach. So when Kathy started teaching stance (how to teach stance), I couldn’t help but smile when she used the exact same approach!

But of course, there were a lot of new things I learned. The most obvious is some aspects of working with women. I’m very proud of the fact KR Training has a lot of female students: we aren’t some high-speed-low-drag #OperatorAsFuck school. We can do that stuff, but it’s not our image. We aren’t out to be intimidating (it’s just not good business). I’ve received numerous complements from female students about how comfortable they feel, how happy to are to have chosen us, etc.. Still, there just are things I hadn’t thought about.

For example, it’s good on the reholster to look the gun back into the holster. I admit, I never realized that some women cannot see their holsters because boobs are in the way. Solution? Just move the bodypart of the way (same holds for men and their guts). I know that seems like a small thing, but that’s life for me at this point: little refinements, little details, to continue honing my skills to an even finer point.

Another good thing I got was new perspectives on existing material. Take grip. We teach that thumbs-forward grip. Kathy teachings the crush grip (thumbs are curled, clamping down over them). We do use the crush grip, but typically as an alternative to the thumbs-forward when we see someone whose strong-hand thumb keeps gripping hard and pressing their weak-hand off the gun. Is it as ideal a grip? Long-term, no. But Kathy’s fresh perspective to me was that the crush grip is easier for people to learn. Why? Because people understand crushing with their fingers/hand/grip — we all understand how to squeeze something in our fist. The thumbs forward grip does imply some additional muscular forces (e.g. use of pectorals). Me? I never really noticed because I’m pretty big and strong, but breaking down the mechanics in class, hearing Kathy’s perspective, made me realize that yes I can see how a crush grip may sometimes be the best and right grip to teach someone right out the chute (then teach them thumbs-forward down the line). There’s more to it than what I can convey in this write-up, but the larger point is I appreciate getting fresh perspectives on known material.

And this is why I like taking classes, even “beginner” classes from others: because I know there’s going to be something to learn. Even if it’s “everything I’ve heard before”, I know there will be something I can pick up and grow from.

One thing I need to work on? Being concise, especially in my range commands. For sure I can tighten up my delivery.

Fun Stuff

Class was tremendously fun. We had such a great group, so much laughter, so much cutting up.

Karl shot the class with an M&P Shield, left-handed the whole time. It was a challenge for him and he had some good take-homes from it.

During one part of the class we were working with revolvers. I had my S&W 640. I haven’t shot a revolver in… a very long time, and that gun in even longer. As we got on the line, Kathy was going to pull me off to have me work the line. Well, a fly had landed on my target and I joked “But I want to shoot the fly!” So OK, if I was going to be a smart-ass about it, they had me do it. In fact, they called the line such that only I made ready (and everyone else watched). I aimed, pressed off the shot, and got it. 🙂  I had no idea I did, because holdover — I couldn’t see the fly in order to aim properly to hit it (we were at 5 yards). And I haven’t shot that gun in ages, couldn’t remember where it’s precise holdover was at that range, with that ammo, etc..  So skill? Certainly, but a bit of luck as well. 🙂

Kathy and myself, vouching for the target.

The target. Note the one “fly”-er on the left

Close-up. Note the splatter of bug guts

 

Conclusion

I had a great time. 32 hours of instruction on becoming a better instructor. Am I a better instructor? Time will tell as I put the learning into practice.

I recommend this class for anyone seeking to become a better firearms instructor. Note the operative word: better. Anyone can become a firearms instructor, and a lot of people are content to just get their NRA Instructor certification or their state’s handgun license certification and call it done – that’ll be the extent of their education, forever. Alas, the consuming public doesn’t always know what makes for a good instructor, but that does seem to be changing. The more we can have an informed consumer base, the better things will be for everyone. Continuing education is important, and that includes how you can become better at the job you do.

Again, what I appreciate about this class is it’s not just a nuts-and-bolts class, but one that’s big on people skills. You just don’t find (enough of) that in other places, but it’s so key to running a successful program.

Kathy kept going on about how she’s not the best marketer in the world. Maybe so, but I can tell you one thing I noticed about her was her tremendous people skills and insights into people. She groks people. She has a keen insight into human nature and adult education. You have to not only look at the things she’s directly teaching, but look at how she herself operates: how she talks with you, the other students, how she conducts herself. Yes she’s very real and very human, and so of course things weren’t perfect. But even from those things she handles herself well and there’s learning to be had. I appreciated finally getting to meet her after all these years, that we got to spend 4 days (and even a wonderful dinner) together, and that I can now officially call her one of my instructors. I look forward to what else I can learn from her, and I hope you too can have a chance to learn from her.

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4 thoughts on “AAR: Cornered Cat Instructor Development Course – KR Training April 2016

  1. Nice shot, “on the fly!” Kathy is great…I’ve never met her but I’ve read her book and I’m a fan. WE NEED more civilian centric experts in the industry, and I think that Kathy is at the forefront of that movement, and has been for awhile. Good review!

    • There was actually a wasp that landed on the sticks… but can’t shoot up the sticks. But you know the meme… bees are nice, wasps are just assholes, so…. 😉

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