As a trainer, do you have a reason for teaching everything you teach? Do you have a reason for why you include every skill, concept, idea, or tactic in your curriculum? Can you articulate those reasons? Are you prepared to explain, in a detailed manner, why you teach each skill or concept in the precise manner you teach them and why, in your opinion, “your way” is the best for your students? And furthermore, are you able to articulate how you arrived at your current conclusions?

This is one aspect of teaching that I think every instructor needs to be able to do and, unfortunately, one that I believe many can’t. I say this based on the evidence I see in endless supply online – countless videos (and an occasional picture or set of pictures) of various classes where students in the same class are clearly wandering off in a multitude of different directions, where instructors are including skills or concepts in their instruction without any apparent basis and absent any explanation for why/when/how the skills or concepts are even relevant, and where no remediation is being given to students who are clearly “off the reservation”. In fact, in many of these videos, you can plainly see an instructor standing right behind a line of several students, each of them doing something completely different in their execution of a skill or set of skills, and the instructor just stands there calling out “FIRE” over and over again, as if everyone is performing flawlessly.

A friend of mine directed my attention to one such video just yesterday. The clip, which was around a minute long, was described as being from a “CCW Level 2” class that this instructor apparently taught earlier that day. In the video, an instructor was standing behind four students giving a “FIRE” command. Each time the instructor would call out the command, the students would draw their handgun from their holster, point it downrange at a target, and then fire at the target. While the video clearly started after any verbal instruction or demonstrations had taken place, it still showed a failure on the instructor’s part. Each of the four students were displaying significantly different presentations of their handgun – they accessed their guns differently, they removed them from their holsters differently, they brought them to the targets differently, and at least two of them placed empty guns back in their holsters during the exercise and were left to figure it out on their own. And of course, their processes for placing their guns back in their holsters after each sequence of shots was no less different from one student to the next.

In reality, it isn’t uncommon for four people to execute a specific task in four very different ways. We see it all the time in everyday life. Where the failure came in, however, is in the fact that the instructor in the video just stood there calling out “FIRE” over and over again, never offered any remediation, and seemed unconcerned that no semblance of a standard was being achieved by his group of students. The reality is, if this instructor had a reason for why his specific method for presentation of the handgun from a holster was important – why it was the best method for his students to use – he would have stopped the exercise the moment the students all started doing their own thing and stepped back to the beginning of his instruction. He would have provided remediation. He would have made sure that each student had a clear understanding of what it was he wanted them to do, why he wanted them to do it, and then he would have provided them with a clear demonstration for how to execute it. Allowing the students to continue to execute the skill improperly, over and over again, while he just stood there calling out the “FIRE” command, showed a clear failure on his part – either he didn’t care that they were doing it wrong, or he had such a poor grasp on the mechanics of the skill, that he didn’t recognize they were doing it wrong. A failure no matter how you slice it.

Now before you skewer me and tell me that it’s impossible for four different people to execute a given skill exactly the same – I get it. I’m not suggesting that the four students should have performed like four identical robots that had been programmed with identical software. What I *AM* suggesting is that, if a mechanical skill such as a handgun presentation from a strong-side holster is being taught to a given group of students properly, said group of students SHOULD exhibit similar technique when they execute the skill. And if they do not, it’s incumbent upon the instructor to stop the exercise, provide remediation, and start back over from the beginning. To simply stand by and allow them to continue to move off in four significantly different directions is detrimental and a failure on the part of the instructor.

I mention all of this to illustrate the point I made at the beginning of this article; if what we are teaching under the guise of “self-defense training” is so critical that we are including it in our curriculum, then we SHOULD have a valid reason (at least in our own mind) for including it. Not only that, we should be able to clearly articulate our reasons for including it in addition to being able to explain how we arrived at our conclusions. Additionally, we should be holding our students accountable for meeting our clearly-defined standards as well as making sure we are holding ourselves accountable for properly teaching to that standard.

There are a lot of valid reasons why we might include a certain skill or concept in our curriculum. Likewise, there can be a number of valid reasons why we teach a given skill in a specific way and why we expect it to be executed using a specific technique. In fact, the variables that play a part in our decision to include any given skill or our insistence on using any specific technique may well be too numerous to list, but they should most likely be based on considerations of safety, efficiency, efficacy, consistency, and how intuitive said skills are to execute in the context under which we expect them to be used. What should NOT be a consideration, on the other hand, is perhaps a little easier to quantify. Things like, “Instructor XYZ has been doing it that way for years”, or “this is how the Navy SEALS do it”, or any other line of reasoning that has no basis in fact or falls outside of the context under which we expect the skill or technique will ultimately be applied.

If you are an instructor, I challenge you to go print out your lesson plans, sit down with your coursework in front of you and clearly define your reason(s) for:

1) Why each specific component of your curriculum has been included.

2) Why you teach each component in the specific manner you teach it.

3) Why “your way” is the best possible way for your students; and

4) How you arrived at the answers you came up with for 1, 2, and 3 above.

If you find that you are unable to answer these most basic of questions with valid answers, perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board and do some soul searching. It may be that your curriculum needs some modification and/or updating.

If you are a student who is taking coursework from an instructor, I challenge you to ask the “why” questions. Why is this important? Why is this the BEST possible way to do whatever it is you are asking me to do? Why did you choose to include this specific skill or concept instead of something else? If your instructor is unable to provide you with legitimate, well-reasoned answers to these questions, it may be a good time to start looking for a new instructor and/or a new training program. Likewise, if your instructor isn’t holding the entire student body accountable to the standard he or she is teaching, it’s a pretty solid clue that he or she does not have your best interests in mind.

As always, be safe!

Chris Shoffner

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