AAR: Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Course, September 2016

On September 16-17, 2016 I attended the Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Course, run by Tom Givens, assisted by Lynn Givens, and hosted by Karl Rehn at KR Training.

I passed the class, but am disappointed in my performance.


Rangemaster provides one of – if not the – best firearms instructor certification course out there. It starts with the 3-day Instructor Development Course, then continues with this 2-day Advanced Instructor Course. Really, the Advanced Course is like days 4 and 5 – it’s really “one big course”, but it’s hard to work with 5-days straight: time off work, information overload, physical exhaustion, etc., so it works better to split it up. As well, I think from a practical standpoint it works to split it up: if you’re going to be a firearms instructor, you really need the core Instructor Development Course. Do you NEED the Advanced Course? I would say you don’t NEED it, but you’d be silly not to take it (if you passed the core course, of course) and you’ll be far better off if you do take it.

I took the core course back in 2013, and as soon as I heard Tom was coming to my home range to do Advanced, I signed up. It was originally to happen in 2015 but was rescheduled. I’m glad it happened!

Why take this course? Various reasons. Again, it’s really day 4 and 5 of the Instructor course, so to get the full picture you really need to take the course. It’s another opportunity to train with Tom Givens, and he’s absolutely one trainer that anyone serious about firearms for self-defense needs to train with. I consider him my #2 most influential teacher (Karl Rehn is my #1). I knew there’d be much to learn, and learn I did.

Class Itself

Here’s what’s posted on the Rangemaster website:

The Advanced Instructor Course is the second installment of Rangemaster’s instructor development curriculum. Our Three-Day Firearms Instructor Development and Certification Course packs an incredible amount of information into three full days of training. Since most of our students are there on their own dime and their own time, we hold that course on Friday through Sunday to minimize disruption of their lives. The Advanced Firearms Instructor course picks up where day three of the basic instructor course ends. If we had five full days, the advanced instructor course would be days four and five of the process. By making this a separate course, the students can practice the skills learned, absorb the material covered in the basic instructor course, and be ready to learn a whole new set of skills.

In the Instructor Course, we have already covered the academic side of marksmanship and adult teaching methodology and given the students a thorough grounding in pistol marksmanship. In the advanced class, we push students to even higher skill levels on the range, including firing in low light both with and without a flashlight (if the facility allows). In the classroom we will cover subjects including different scoring methods; target design; course of fire design; instructor liability and how to limit it; and some of the psychological issues involved in teaching people how to fight for their lives.

The advanced course is usually conducted from 9 AM to 6 PM on Friday and Saturday. Students will need about 900 rounds of ammunition. Students receive a comprehensive training manual. We only offer this course once per year, and enrollment is strictly limited to those who have successfully graduated from our basic instructor course.

Note: we did not do any low-light shooting, because of facilities limitations.

The only way you get into this class is if you’ve passed the “basic” Rangemaster Instructor Development Course. If you do have that credential, you ought to have a good idea of what to know and be able to do to perform in the Advanced class. You’ve studied with Tom, you know what he emphasizes, and this is consistent with his outlook and curricula. It’s just tougher. More advanced topics in the classroom, more advanced skills and expectations on the range.

A few things to point out (specific to this class, but applicable to any class).

You will want at least 5 magazines (if shooting a double-stacked modern striker-fired gun; more if a single-stack), more if you can. You’ll want to wear (cargo) pants with deep pockets, to hold extra magazines, to hold loose ammo. You will be working with partial magazines, reloading mags by hand while on the line, no chance to run back to the fumble tables to use your UpLULA to reload.

If your magazines are hard to down-load/strip, keep a couple empties on your person. There will be drills where you’ll do things like “make a 2 round magazine” so  you can shoot to slide-lock then reload. Friend of mine in class had these Wilson Combat 9mm 1911 mags which are great mags, but you just cannot strip them by hand. If you have magazines like this, keep 1-2 dedicated empties.

Make sure you know your gear and that it’s dialed in. So buy your ammo ahead of time, benchrest your gun, and know how it shoots and patterns with that ammo from 0 to 25 yards. Make sure your sights are in good shape. Bring a spare gun in case of breakage, and also ensure it runs well. Make sure the guns are clean, well-lubricated, and ready to go.

We went through maybe 500-600 rounds of ammo. Bring 1000.

Wear sunscreen. Drink LOTS of water. Keep water with you somehow (e.g. Camelback, closable jug to keep behind you on the line) since again you won’t always be able to walk off the line. During my class, temperatures were in the mid-90’s with wicked humidity: we were soaked in sweat and had a few people get woozy. Tom was VERY good about managing things, shooting for a bit then going inside into the air-conditioning for lecture, and alternating range and classroom to keep anything from getting too much. Still, take care of yourself.

Mind your gear. It needs to work, it needs to be reliable. Retention holsters cause hangups. I personally was battling the M&P auto-forward “undocumented feature”  (i.e. “bug”) throughout both days. Many times it would auto-forward and NOT strip a round, causing me problems. Then I just racked it every time, and sometimes would rack out a round and sometimes not. And of course, every time the drill required a specific round count after a reload (e.g. Casino Drill) would be a time a round would properly strip, then I would rack it right out of the chamber (expecting the auto-forward to have failed to strip) and throw off the ability to complete the drill correctly. Ugh.  Oh and what was really fun? On one drill it auto-forwarded and somehow I wound up with a double-feed! That’s a first. I’m actually quite pleased that I instantly recognized it, didn’t get hung up about it, went right to work on clearing it, got back up and running, and managed to finish the string in time! (John Johnston of Ballistic Radio was my partner for that particular drill and witnessed it, even pointing it out to Tom). I’m happy with how I handled the malfunction, but I’m about finally fed-up with this “feature” of the M&P. There was a lot of SIG 320 love going on in class… but another discussion for another time.

Electronic muffs are essential.

If it’s going to be hot/sweaty, some way to manage the sweat is useful. That could be headbands or caps, to keep sweat out of your eyes. That might be a towel in your back pocket to wipe your hands down. It might mean something like Liquid Grip to help keep your hands dry. Tom let us shoot most of the drills from open carry, if we wanted to (some drills had to be shot from concealment). I shot from concealment on day 1, then from open on day 2. In my case, having my gun and magazines up against my very sweaty torso just made for a wet gun against my wet hands. So having the tucked-in shirt on day 2 helped keep things dry. If you might be in such a situation, consider wearing some sort of moisture-wicking undershirt. You could even consider an OWB holster (so long as it could still be somewhat concealed when drills require). If in doubt, check with Tom WELL in advance of class.

Can’t hurt to have something to manage wear and blisters on your fingers and hands.

So, that’s about it for some general class things.

In the classroom

The classroom material was good. We each received a binder full of class materials, packed with useful information that you will come back to later on. Just a great reference.

A few things that stood out to me.

Tom spent some time talking about target selection and design, and methods of scoring. While none of this was unfamiliar to me, the way Tom went through it all made me more aware of little details that perhaps get taken for granted. I also appreciated the discussion of Comstock scoring. Usually Comstock is saved for “gaming” and you just don’t see it much in “self-defense” courses of fire – they usually use time limits (e.g. “3 shots, 3 yards, 3 seconds”. But Tom made a great case for using Comstock (and other such scoring systems that measure both accuracy and speed, like Vickers Count) in defensive pistol work, especially when you get to this level of shooting.

There was also a video presentation. It’s something that is so dense with information, delivered so rapidly, you really need to watch it like 4-5 times before it sinks in. I hope there’s some way to get a hold of this video because I would love to watch it 4-5 more times, do you follow?  One thing that really stood out to me was he mentioned there are 3 things we humans deal with: fear, pain, death. That so many people work their whole lives trying to avoid those three things. But if you’re going to be a warrior, you have to work to make those things your friend. There’s really a lot do it, it’s worthy of an article unto itself, and I may write that up later. But just start to roll that concept around in your head.

We also had a special medical presentation by Andy Anderson. It was short and focused on tourniquets. Very cool thing? Andy brought a couple of those finger-tip pulse detectors. The intention was to apply a TQ and register no pulse – because then you knew you applied it tight enough. You need more pressure than you think. In fact, when they tried it on me, it was a struggle to cut off my blood flow. I don’t have huge muscular arms, but they have some meat on them, and it required a LOT more tension to shut things off. And yes, it hurt like crazy. Welcome to the TQ reality.

None of the classroom material felt redundant – truly an extension of the material already learned in the base Instructor class.

On the range

There’s a lot I could say about this. I’ve been thinking about it ever since class. What I’m going to say is not making excuses, but merely me recording my thoughts. I own my performance.

So I did pass the class, which I’m happy about. But I am not happy about how I performed. I expected more out of myself, especially regarding the stupid mistakes.

Before I go into class, I have to back up.

I’ve been treading water in my performance for some time now. Karl finally kicked my pants enough and over the summer I finally got my USPSA classification (“B” class, Production). I’m happy about that, but it made me realize how much I suck. When I saw what it took just to become “B” class, then you see what it takes to become “A” class, yeah, I suck. But I worked on what was needed to make classification and got it. I’m happy.

As soon as I earned the classification, I changed gears to prep for this Advanced Instructor course. For ages I’ve known that my 15-25 yard shooting sucks, but I always focused on other areas that were of greater importance. But now was the time to focus on 15-25 yards. So I did, and I’ve gotten MUCH better. I’m shooting at 25 yards better than I ever have, and I’m very happy about that. While my 25 yard shooting isn’t awesome, I was making 280+ (out of 300) on the various runs of the Rangemaster Bullseye course (except for the one double-feed run I mentioned above, got a 274 on that because rushing from that malfunction), and on many of the drills with 25 yard shooting I was doing well. Again, I’ve still got a long ways to go, but my improvement at 15 and 25 yards was evident to me. So I’m happy about that.

But that’s all I’m happy about.

Basically, I blew the mental game and screwed myself.

Goal? Pass the class. So I told myself during my prep to slow down and get the points. Don’t shoot faster than I can shoot right and well. Generally good advice, but I didn’t apply it well. So say the string is 3 shots, 3 yards, 3 seconds. I would work to use the whole 3 seconds to ensure I did right and well. Take a little more time to aim, to validate the sight picture, etc.  Not a horrible thing, but it was not the right attitude for me to take. It was a deliberate change to how I shoot, and basically laid the groundwork for me not trusting myself and my abilities.

So I go into class, the pressure is high, and I’m thinking way too much. I’m focusing on the wrong things. And so, I blow it. I really needed to just shut my brain off and “just shoot”. Do what I can do, and let myself just do what I can do. But I focused on too many things that didn’t matter, then would try to focus on some things I needed to focus on, too many things in my head, and things would just fall apart.

I can blame my gear a little bit. My primary gun had been in the shop for months to get some long-overdue TLC, and I got it back 2 days prior to class. I hadn’t had a chance to shoot or test it, so I only brought it in the off-chance my secondary failed. I’ve long known my secondary has a hard trigger break, but supposedly has an Apex DCAEK so I just rolled with it. Well, a couple days after class I put both guns on a trigger pull gauge. The gun I took class with? 7.25# pull. My primary? 5.25#. Heavier plus that hard break, no wonder I’ve developed a hell of a yank!

I’ve been shooting Freedom Munitions 9mm 124gr RN reman (because price). It’s generally been good ammo, but I saw a few weird fliers that made no sense. Karl used the same ammo when he shot the class, and he mentioned the accuracy issues to me as well. Light researching seems to raise enough of an eyebrow regarding this ammo (rather, these particular bullets) and its accuracy at distance. I’ve since purchased a bunch of other ammo (brands, bullet shapes, weights) to explore a bit.

Thing is: while some things could be gear – in the end, it’s still my fault. I still own it. Why? Because it was my choice to use the gear I did. Heck, start of day 2 I actually put my original gun in my holster but changed my mind a couple minutes later because the triggers have enough difference in the feel and I didn’t want to risk making that a factor. So in the end, it’s all still my choice, my problems.

But it tells me a few things.

The things that I was working on to get me to “B” class? They are not ingrained yet. I need to work on them more, and shooting drills with a more Comstock-like approach (e.g. Rangemaster Core Skills, or just taking any established COF, figuring out a Comstock par score, and tracking my progress). Time AND accuracy. Push myself, always, and trust myself.

That I do have a decent baseline. I mean, when pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion, you descend to some level. It was good to see that my descent is still pretty good. But I can also see how there are things that need more work. Things that need to become my baseline.

That I am going to be doing some gear evaluation.

I feel embarrassed by my performance.

But you know… as the late Pat Rogers said: “Learning occurs only after repetitive demoralizing failures.”

I’ve got work ahead.

Crazy thing is, I was planning for my 2017 training to go in one direction. This makes me think I may need to modify those plans. TBD.


It was wonderful to see Tom and Lynn again. They are wonderful, genuine people, with an unrivaled passion for teaching. I always look forward to time with them to learn and grow.

If you’ve passed the Rangemaster Instructor Development Course, I highly recommend taking the Advanced Course. You will learn more, be challenged more, and grow more.

5 thoughts on “AAR: Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Course, September 2016

  1. Dude you passed! I admire your high expectations but again, you passed. It’s great to re-evaluate your gear but you have a lot of hours behind the M&P. Cost of replacing all your gear, holsters,mags, mag pouches etc is significant even if you sell or trade your old stuff. I recently did the same and went from the M&P to the glock. I really didn’t want to go to the dark side and considered the PPQ and VP9 but in the end, its relative simplicity and availability of parts, won me over. It was almost like starting over. The grip is different, the point of aim is different, the trigger, the recoil impulse, etc. It has taken more than 10 months of consistent practice and I’m still not as accurate with the glock as I was with the M&P. If you do decide to evaluate other pistols, please share your methods for evaluation and results. I have a G34 gen4 you can try.

    • Thanx for the support, Luis.

      The cost factor of switching is a big reason I’m hesitant. Find the one gun, then gotta buy a second (breakage, etc.). Then trigger and sights on both. Then holsters (and multiple, redundancy), mag pouches, mags, etc etc… and it gets mighty costly. So if I’m going to switch, it better be for good reason.

      I’m aware of something that is giving me reason to hang with my M&P a little longer. If that pans out, then I’m good. If not, then I’m pretty sure I’m going to get serious about a switch. I’m tired of this. Yeah, it will be some time to relearn, especially going Glock and that different indexing you get out of it. But things are annoying enough now that I’m willing. Honestly, I am hoping the thing pans out, because I really don’t want to switch — but I will if I have to. Eh. It’ll keep life interesting. 🙂

      Certainly if I do switch, I’ll write about it.

  2. John, congrats. You passed a tough course. That is a serious accomplishment. Like you I am the hardest on myself. And I too was fairly critical of my performance at the class I took with Tom last July. (Gawd, it’s almost October now!!)

    Now, I’m not dogging on your M&P, but, there’s a reason I did not buy the M&P 9 after the class I took with you and Karl in 2014. The required work to the trigger was #1 on why I did not buy. It’s also why I settled on the PPQ M2 (it was one of Karl’s suggested guns) Great trigger right out of the box.

    Anyhow, I’ll be watching to see what your gear evolves into. I hear ya about the costs of a major change like that.

    I’m hoping that someday my shooting will be good enough to pass the IDC Tom offers.

    • I think the M&P is a good platform — the issues I’m frustrated with aren’t necessarily unique to it. But for sure, they seem to plague it a little more than some others.

      I forget what Karl’s list is now, but I think it’s something like: Glock, M&P, SIG 320, PPQ, XD… I think Glock & M&P are still 1 and 2, the SIG and PPQ are 3 and 4 or 4 and 3, can’t remember… and XD is bumped down on the list. For sure, the SIG 320 is like the current cool kid gun, which kinda makes me want to avoid it. 😉 But on the same token, that means it’s going to get a lot of use, testing, abuse, trials. So far all I’ve read and seen about it is very positive. And comparing specs against Glock… gee if it doesn’t perk my interest enough. So, I dunno.

      We’ll see how it all goes in the coming months.

      And as for passing Tom’s IDC? Just put your mind to it, and work on your 25 yard shooting. 😉 Look up the FBI Qualification test as a milestone. Actually, the shooting part of the class is “easy”. The harder part is the classroom work, the written test. Much studying there. Best advice is if you do take the class, take it very seriously and dedicate yourself to the class. Class is over, go home/hotel, read read read, study hard. You might be a little sleep deprived, but if the trade-off is 1 less hour sleep for 1 more hour studying and internalizing the classroom material, that’s good.

      • At the time the PPQ was #3 in the recommended list. I’ve never liked the feel of a Glock and per my comments earlier the M&P was out. I’m a fan of Walther so the PPQ was an easy choice.

        As for passing the IDC course… I suppose I need to decide what I want to be when I grow up first….

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