“Where can I get the quickest, cheapest class?”

Yes, you read that right. Here are a few of the questions I’ve seen posted on social media sites in just the past week:

  • “My mom wants to get her CCW permit for Christmas. Who offers the lowest priced course?”
  • “Can anyone tell me more about the online Virginia CCW course? I like the idea of being able to just pass an online test and get a non-resident permit, and it looks like I can get it real cheap.”
  • “Where can I get a fast, cheap CCW class in the St. Louis area?”
  • “Who has the best price on a concealed carry permit class?”

I think you get the idea. You could probably look through gun forums and gun pages on social media sites and find hundreds of similar questions from just the last couple weeks alone.

Folks, I get it. Money is tight for everyone. There are a hundred different things we have to spend our money on each month: car payments, rent, mortgage, insurance, food, clothing, gas, utilities, entertainment, etc. Add in the fact that Christmas is nearly here and money gets even tighter due to the fact that we want to buy all of our friends and loved ones such nice gifts.

Still, I think when it comes time to seek out training that, potentially, can help keep you out of (or land you in) jail, we should probably place a little more emphasis on other factors and a little less emphasis on “quick and cheap”. And this is where I believe a lot of people that are new to firearms, new to shooting, new to training, and new to the idea of carrying a firearm on their person for personal defense, go wrong. They simply have no prior experience upon which to base their decision making process, so they revert back to the same criteria they use to make many other choices in their lives – “quick and cheap”.

First, I think it’s important to have some understanding of what a “CCW class” typically consists of. While most states have some slightly different requirements, most I am familiar with mandate a very basic firearms safety class with some variety of legal presentation thrown into the mix. These classes usually involve instruction in the mechanical aspects and operation of firearms and ammunition, safe gun handling practices, basic shooting fundamentals, and in the case of the Missouri-compliant class, a pretty in-depth look at our Use of Force and Weapons laws. Oftentimes, the state will mandate the class take a certain amount of time (8 hours minimum here in Missouri) to complete, and that they include some type of live-fire qualification. The state will also generally specify what kind of credentials the instructor must have before being approved to teach the curriculum – and these credentialing requirements are often minimal.

So we’re not talking about rocket science or brain surgery here. These classes are generally designed to help ensure that the student has obtained enough competency to not shoot him/herself or another innocent party with the gun because of unsafe handling, and has a good enough understanding of the legal considerations involved with owning, operating, and using a firearm so that he or she doesn’t end up doing something negligent or unlawful with it. And while we can certainly argue the finer details of each state’s requirements, for the most part, these are exactly the kind of classes a new gun owner should avail him or herself of. It’s important for them to have at least a basic understanding of how the firearm operates, how ammunition functions, how to handle a firearm safely, and a basic understanding of legal considerations.

Next, I think we need to try to define exactly what it is that constitutes competent instruction. As we just talked about, the curriculum itself isn’t really too complex. It focuses on BASIC nomenclature, BASIC skills, and BASIC legal concepts. It doesn’t require 4 years of college and a degree to be able to properly teach this stuff. What it does take, however, is dedication, determination, desire, professionalism, and the ability to be able to truly help new shooters develop solid basic shooting skills. And this is more difficult than you may think. I’ve trained over a hundred new instructors over the past several years. Based on my observations and experience, I can unequivocally tell you that people aren’t just born with an innate ability to recognize and diagnose major flaws in execution that new shooters often exhibit – much less the ability to recognize and diagnose subtle, minor flaws in execution. And even when a trainer does recognize or diagnose a problem, that doesn’t mean he or she will understand what is needed to correct the problem, much less be able to convey what needs to be done to make the correction in a competent, easy-to-understand manner. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of experience to truly get good at working with new shooters – and you can be damn sure that it takes a lot of dedication on the part of the trainer to actually put forth the time and effort that each student in the class needs and deserves.

The same thing applies to the informational instruction that takes place in the classroom. Sure, anyone can read from a book and explain to you how to operate a firearm, but quality training involves multiple delivery methods including logical, easy-to-understand explanations, competent and accurate demonstrations, and then ample opportunities for the student to actually put the instruction into practice under the watchful eye of the trainer in order to enable the skill development process to take place. And when we start talking about the legal aspects of the class, the ability of the instructor to convey accurate, legitimate information in an easy-to-understand format is even more important. The fact is that most instructors have a fairly poor understanding of how statutory law works. They simply haven’t dedicated enough time and resources into developing a true understanding of the sections of law they are required to teach. Again, anyone can read statutes from a piece of paper, but that doesn’t equate to a practical understanding, especially when you consider the “legalese” that most statutory law is written in. It takes a lot of time and study, and typically a lot of consultation with attorneys and other legal professionals, to truly develop a good understanding of any given section of statutory law. Now some instructors avoid this trap by hiring an attorney to teach the legal portion of the class, but at the typical $150 – $200 per hour rate for a competent attorney, you’re not likely to find that in a “quick and cheap” class. Likewise, if you are dealing with an instructor who has invested the time and money that it takes to develop a good understanding of the law, you’re going to find that they place more value on their time than what “quick and cheap” allows for.

So I think it’s safe to say that competent instruction can only be provided by the dedicated professional that has obtained high-quality instructor development training, who is well practiced in the accurate delivery of the curriculum, who has enough experience under his or her belt to have developed the ability to recognize, diagnose, and subsequently correct typical problems new shooters encounter, who has invested enough time and money to develop a solid understanding of statutory law, and who continues to further his or her education so as to continue to improve and grow as an instructor. These, I believe, are the bare minimum attributes you should demand from an instructor, even when we are talking about “just a CCW class”. And they should be tangible. Your instructor should be happy to answer questions, provide references, discuss his or her qualifications, and provide you with information about his or her class PRIOR to you laying down any of your hard earned money.

So how does “quick and cheap” fit in here? In reality, it doesn’t. We’ve already concluded that, while the curriculum is fairly basic, it is still very important. Additionally, we’ve discussed what it takes to deliver this very important curriculum in a competent manner. The truth is, a high-quality instructor is going to insist on delivering a high-quality class. That means this instructor likely has thousands of dollars of his or her own money, and hundreds of hours of his or her time, invested into everything it takes to bring you that high-quality class. This instructor has high-quality firearms available to use for demonstrations and for his or her students to use on the range. This instructor provides high-quality, reliable ammunition for his or her students to use. This instructor uses the proper targets as specified by the statutory requirements. This instructor has quality eye and ear protection on hand for every student in attendance. This instructor has obtained and maintains professional liability insurance. This instructor has a legitimate, proper trauma kit on hand and has at least obtained basic first aid and CPR training. This instructor provides some variety of student manual or handbook, usually one that he or she has written and published on his or her own, to every student in the class. This instructor keeps his or her class size down to a safe, manageable size and considers that it takes additional time to provide each student with the one-on-one interaction that the student needs and deserves.

With all of that said, this is the hierarchy of considerations I recommend when trying to decide on a class to attend:

  1.  What credentials does the instructor have? Do they meet the minimum the state requires? Do they exceed the minimum? In what way? Are they relevant to the type of instruction this person is providing? When do they expire? What does it take to maintain them? Remember, minimum credentials don’t arbitrarily mean you won’t get quality training. Likewise, credentials that exceed the minimum don’t arbitrarily mean you will receive high-quality training. But it might tell you something about the emphasis this instructor places on continuing education. It might also be a good idea to check with whatever entity in your state (perhaps the local sheriff, state police, or some type of public safety administration) that is responsible for approving instructors, to make sure he or she is on that approved list.
  2. How long has the instructor been providing this kind of instruction? Just because the instructor is “new” doesn’t mean he or she is bad. Likewise, just because an instructor has “been doing this for years”, doesn’t mean he or she is good. Still, you want to get some idea as to how long this person has been providing instruction. If it’s been “years”, then it might be good to know approximately how many of these classes this person has taught and to how many students. If it’s been “only a few months”, then it might be a good idea to know who they took their instructor training from and look into that entity to try to get an idea as to what kind of quality this entity demands from it’s trainers.
  3. What relevant experience does this instructor have? Was he or she a competitive shooter? Did he or she work with a group like BSA? Was this person ever in law enforcement or the military? Do they have some other relevant experiences? Keep in mind that experience in ANY of these fields does not guarantee competent instruction, but it could tell you something about the integrity of this person.
  4. Request at least two student references and two professional references. A professional trainer should have no problem with providing a few legitimate references you can check on. In fact, a true professional likely has dozens of former students and professional colleagues that are more than happy to speak on his or her behalf and vouch for the quality of instruction that he or she provides. Do your homework and actually check these references! And if your instructor refuses to provide them or gives you the run around, that may be a good reason to start looking elsewhere.
  5. Ask about the class he or she provides. Will the curriculum meet all of the legal requirements for your state? Is the instructor qualified to teach the legal portion of the class, or does he or she hire an attorney to conduct the legal presentation? How many students does he or she normally have in these classes? Is there plenty of time for hands-on instruction in the classroom before the students are expected to begin any live-fire instruction? Does the instructor make it a point to work with each student one-on-one during the live-fire portion of the class? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, or if it seems as though the instructor is trying to cram too many people into the class, once again, it may be time to start looking elsewhere.
  6. Does the instructor have a current professional liability insurance policy? Does he or she keep a proper trauma kit nearby during the class and does he or she, or someone else who will be present for the instruction, have basic first aid and/or BLS skills, and CPR skills? If not, why? Again, perhaps it’s time to start looking elsewhere.
  7. Lastly, how much does the class cost? Expect high quality to cost more than “quick and cheap”, and not only be willing to pay it, but demand that you get it in exchange for your payment! Keep in mind that the amount of overhead varies for each instructor. An instructor that owns his or her own classroom and range facility might well be able to offer high quality instruction at a lower price than the instructor that has to pay a local gun club for classroom and range rental. That doesn’t mean you should avoid the higher priced class necessarily, but it is definitely a factor to consider. If the class seems like it is priced substantially below most of the others in the market, there is usually a reason for it, and you may want to approach it with skepticism. Likewise, if the class is priced unusually high, it might be good to ask why. If the instructor replies, “…because in my class we go way beyond the basics…”, it may be time to back up and start your search over again. Yes, you will eventually need to go “beyond the basics”, but you need to start with a solid foundation. Additionally, if the curriculum is being taught correctly, there simply isn’t enough time in a day to properly cover all of the state mandated curriculum and still go “way beyond the basics”, so you can be pretty sure this instructor is cutting some corners somewhere along the way.

Yes, I know a lot of you are probably thinking that this is an awful lot of trouble to go through just for a CCW class. And I get it. The easy thing to do is take the first “quick and cheap” class that you find, and say “to hell” with the quality of the instruction. But you are setting yourself up for potentially catastrophic future problems if you do. Additionally, you can use these same basic criteria to help you select training classes and instructors as you continue your training journey – and this can save you THOUSANDS of wasted dollars and HUNDREDS of wasted hours! Remember that a CCW class is the first baby step in what should be a life-long journey. Developing good habits of due diligence now, will provide you with big rewards as time goes on.

As always, stay safe!

Chris Shoffner
chris.shoffner@mapsitraining.com

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Is “blended learning” really the “future” of firearms training?

I recently read a blog post where the author opined that “blended learning” is the “future” of firearms training. As someone who has provided countless hours of in-person firearms training to a few thousand students, and who has also taken part in “blended learning” formatted instruction, this line of thought bothers me a bit.

Before we discuss why, let’s first talk a little about the concept of “blended learning”. “Blended learning” describes a form of instruction that involves multiple delivery methods. Usually, this consists of some form of audio/video presentation of certain portions of the coursework; perhaps a presentation recorded to DVD or, more likely in this day and age, some variety of e-learning software delivered via the internet, and then a follow-up session (or multiple sessions, depending on the coursework) with a teacher, instructor, or “test giver” at a later date. The idea behind the concept is that the student can utilize the e-learning portion of the coursework in the comfort of his or her own home, at his or her own convenience, and then not have to spend as much time at a later date attending the in-person portion of the coursework. It all sounds so good – take the training you desire to take in the comfort of your own home, whenever you feel like it, and then you only have to dedicate a limited amount of time “inconveniencing” yourself with actually having to leave your home and show up for a brief in-person session – I mean, what’s not to like?

In 2012, I attended a training seminar conducted by Rob Pincus in Kansas City, Missouri called “Counter Ambush”. This seminar was being recorded by a film crew and it was slated to later become the first Distance Learning Course ever offered by Rob and his training company. I spent about 8 hours in the class altogether. Rob covered a variety of topics throughout the day, many of them fairly complex, and he covered them in depth. There was a LOT of information taught in that class, and I learned a lot from attending. Due to the nature of the instruction (it was being filmed for a DVD production), it wasn’t possible to ask questions of Rob in real time. It would have simply been too disruptive to the flow of the content and would have created a nightmare for the editors. This presented a bit of a problem as the element of real-time Instructor/Student interaction simply wasn’t possible. Now we were largely able to overcome this problem because Rob made himself available to answer questions and engage in discussions at the completion of each segment of recording and during the lunch break, but from a pure learning standpoint, it would have been beneficial to all of the students in attendance if that interaction could have happened in real time.

A number of months after attending the class with Rob, the “Counter Ambush” distance learning course was released to the general public. Rob was kind enough to send me the complete at-home study course, including the information I needed to complete the e-learning module, take the test online, and receive a completion certificate (assuming I was able to pass the test). The home study course included a full set of 5 DVD’s that contained the recordings of the entire training class, a set of 5 audio CD’s that contained all of the audio from the class, the book, “Counter Ambush”, as well as a student work book designed to help the student prepare for the test. I have to admit that it was a few months before I finally sat down to take the online test. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my bigger priority was in truly learning all of the information presented in the course. I found myself listening to the audio CD’s as I traveled back and forth to work in the car. I probably listened to the entire set at least 20 times over the next few months (I have a fairly long commute). I also watched the DVD set a couple of times on days off. Additionally, I read the Counter Ambush book as time allowed. I finally sat down with the student work book and worked my way through all of the exercises. The next day I sat down at the computer, completed the e-learning module and took the test. I ultimately scored 98% on the test of my first time through and earned a course completion certificate.

I share this story in hopes to convey just how dedicated I was to this training program. I had a strong desire and high level of motivation to take the training. So much so that I took a day off of work and drove 4 ½ hours to Kansas City so I could attend. I took meticulous notes during the in-person class – five full pages in small print. I still have those notes and still refer to them from time to time. I asked a ton of questions at the end of the sessions and during the lunch breaks, and was provided with valuable feed back in exchange. I then spent another 50+ hours listening to the audio CD’s, watching the DVD set, reading the book, and taking the e-learning portion of the class. And I still listen to the audio set (now more conveniently loaded on my i-pod) every few months in my commute back and forth to work. In addition, I’ve conducted a considerable amount of my own study into a lot of the topics covered in the course. I also continue to consult with Rob on a regular basis and have incorporated a lot of the concepts into my own proprietary coursework.

My point here is that I truly learned a lot in this “blended learning” format. More than I can even try to convey in a blog post. Not only that, but what I learned from the coursework, I’ve actually gone on to anchor and, in my view, even master. Between the information I learned from the class and the subsequent study I’ve done on my own, I am able to speak about and teach the concepts with a high level of competency.

So why won’t the “blended learning” format work for new, inexperienced shooters when it comes time to learn the mechanical aspects and operation of firearms and ammunition, safe gun handling practices, and basic shooting fundamentals? Well, there is nothing that says it absolutely can’t work. Though there are certainly a considerable number of hurdles that would have to first be overcome. My understanding of the new “blended learning” format that is going to be rolled out by one of the most prominent training organizations in the country is that the “blended learning” courses will involve an e-learning module delivered via the internet, then will involve the student meeting in-person with an instructor at a later date who will then perform some variety of evaluation to ascertain whether or not the student actually learned the information presented in the e-learning module. Then, if the instructor is satisfied with the knowledge level of the student, he or she will conduct some variety or live-fire session and then either give a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” depending on how well the student performed, before a completion certificate will be issued.

Here are the most major problems with this proposed format as I see them:

First and foremost, in order for learning at any level to take place, regardless of format, it requires a considerable amount of dedication and motivation on the part of the student. This level of dedication and motivation is rather easy for a competent, living, breathing instructor to ascertain. It’s also fairly easy for the competent instructor to help nurture dedication and inspire motivation. As I explained in my story above, I was very dedicated and highly motivated in my “blended learning” experience, and I learned a lot. I am a “self starter”. Many people are not. In fact, from what I’ve seen in many of the beginner level courses I’ve been involved with is that most people aren’t. A lot of students seem to show up to these kinds of classes simply so they can “check off the box” and complete the training their state mandated they complete before being issued a carry permit or a permit to purchase a firearm. Oftentimes a competent, dedicated instructor can “get through” to them during the class and you can see a real change in their motivation and dedication. I simply don’t see any way an e-learning module will ever be able to do that. These “check the box” students will likely do the bare minimum needed to complete the on-line test at the end of the module with a passing grade. They will then show up to the in-person training session and waste the instructor’s time in addition to wasting the time of any other students in attendance, not to mention their own time. Of course, they will go home blaming the instructor for all of their problems and their lack of competency at the end of the day.

Secondly, we have to understand the different types of learners in order to appreciate the dynamic instruction that is provided by a professional, competent trainer. There are three primary learning styles. These include Visual Learners, Auditory Learners, and Kinisthetic Learners. Visual Learners tend to learn best through visual stimulation. They require visual access to the complete presentation – body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, and any written or multi-media presentation that goes with it – in order to get the most out of the instruction. Auditory Learners learn best by hearing, listening, and speaking. They learn best by being involved in discussions, listening to a well-presented lecture, and by participating in brainstorming sessions with other participants. Lastly, is the Kinisthetic Learner. They learn best in a hands-on learning environment. They need to be able to touch, feel, and interact with the physical world around them in order to learn best.

The problem presented by “blended learning”, specifically an e-learning system, is that it falls short with every type of learner mentioned. Recorded media, as good as it is and even in an interactive form, simply can’t provide all of the visual components that the Visual Learner requires. It fails the Auditory Learner because it can’t fulfill the need for auditory interaction. Even in its most interactive forms, it can’t involve the Auditory Learner in discussions or in brainstorming sessions. And the shortcomings it presents to the Kinisthetic Learner are innumerable. It simply fails in every way.

The third problem is accountability. I’ve yet to see this organization address this potential problem. If students are completing a significant portion of the training via an e-learning module in the comfort of their home, and scheduling the in-person session at a later date, the instructor really has no way to know for certain that the person showing up for the in-person session is the one who actually completed the e-learning module. As an instructor, I’d have a hard time giving my “endorsement” to a student whom I am uncertain actually completed the coursework in its entirety.

The fourth major problem is that it undermines the credibility of the instructor. In the case of a national training organization, students will definitely wonder why the informational part of the coursework has been taken out of the hands of the instructor and switched to an e-learning format. If the organization doesn’t trust the instructor to provide competent instruction, why should the student trust him or her? Credibility is paramount as a trainer. Without credibility, the trainer will never gain the trust of the student. Furthermore, it simply doesn’t make sense from a logical standpoint to entrust instructors to provide live-fire training, when you don’t trust them with providing informational training. I dare say the former requires considerably more competence and integrity than the later, at least in matters of liability.

The last major problem as I see it is that this format will increase the cost of training to the student. A quality e-learning system and the required software are not inexpensive. While to my knowledge a price structure has not been released, whatever the cost of the e-learning portion of the class can be added to whatever the current rate for in-person instruction is now. An instructor’s time doesn’t suddenly become less valuable just because the accrediting organization has decided to sell a portion of the training directly. So if the student can currently purchase the entire class via an in-person format for $100, the same class will now cost them $100 plus what I am guessing will be somewhere in the $50 – $75 neighborhood for the e-learning portion. This is a significant price increase. Multiply that by the number of family members that would potentially take the training, and it could be a real financial burden. And while the living, breathing instructor might be willing to provide a family discount, you can be pretty certain that the e-learning system won’t do the same.

In summary, while it might be possible for “blended learning” to work for some new, inexperienced shooters as far as teaching the basics is concerned, it is my belief that it won’t work for many based on the reasons I mentioned above. Safe, effective shooting skills can be compared to most any other set of athletic skills as far as skill development is concerned. It takes dedication and motivation on the part of the student, and requires the guidance of an experienced, competent coach or instructor if the student is to ever reach his or her full potential. While I am hoping to see better results than I expect once the “blended learning” courses are made available, I can’t help but feel as though I will be disappointed at the end of the day.

As always, stay safe.

Chris Shoffner

MAPSI Founding Member

chris.shoffner@mapsitraining.com

AAR – Suarez International “HITS-8 Defensive Knife” 08/28/2015 – By: Chris Shoffner – www.mapsitraining.com

Course Title: “HITS-8 Defensive Knife”
Instructor: Steve Collins
Date of course: 08/28/2015
Location: Armed Missouri, Inc.
Class time: 8:00 – 5:00

How do you take a person who has no experience or knowledge in the application of a knife for self-defense, and turn him or her into a knife-fighting expert in just 9 hours? You don’t. It simply can’t be done. How do you take a person who has no experience or knowledge in the application of a knife for self-defense, and provide him or her with a solid foundation from which to start utilizing the knife as a defensive tool in just 9 hours? You enroll them in the Suarez International, HITS-8 Defensive Knife class, have them show up, pay attention, and put in the work!

That is exactly what happened with me during my participation in this class. I’ve been carrying a knife for years – since I was a young man even before high school. I’ve used a knife in most any way you can imagine – as a cutting tool, as a saw, wire cutter, carving tool, deer skinner, meat processor, and even a hammer on a few occasions – but I’ve never used one as a defensive tool, at least not in a practical sense. So I came into this course a blank slate. I was ready to learn, ready to put in the work, ready to be humbled, and ready to improve.

The SI Defensive Knife class is billed as, “……a compressed version of our two day Defensive Knife program…”. The course description goes on to say, “……You will learn knife grips, angles of attack and defense, ballistic cutting and thrusting tactics, use of the live hand, footwork concepts, dynamic training drills and exercises to develop spontaneous and unplanned reactions. We will dispel the commonly held myths of the knife and leave you with a respect and a skill-set for this close range weapon that equals or surpasses your skill with the CCW pistol and allows you to begin integrating the knife and the gun…”. While this all might sound a little intimidating, the format is actually very well thought out and presented in a very logical order, so the intimidation factor drops off pretty quickly once the class begins.

The class starts out with a safety briefing and an equipment check to make sure everyone has possession of a training knife on their person, rather than a true blade. Next is a bit of lecture regarding theory and concepts of using a knife as a defensive tool. From there, it moves into some penetration and slicing demonstrations using a variety of blades and a pork roast that is wrapped in 20 or so layers of plastic rap around a broom handle. Steve lovingly referred to this as “Pork Man” throughout the demonstrations. It took no less than the very first demonstration for the students to realize just how serious of a tool a quality blade is. “Pork Man” suffered stab after stab and laceration after laceration. Even the small, 2-inch blades left nasty cuts and slices all the way to “the bone” (the broom handle). When Steve deployed what he called “the comma cut” with any of the blades, “Pork Man” sustained damage that would have taken a talented surgeon to try to piece back together.

With a good understanding of just how efficient a good knife blade can be at piercing and cutting, we then began actual work with our training blades. In all, we had 5 students enrolled in the class. Everyone was instructed to bring both their daily carry knife as well as a replica “training blade” facsimile of it. We started off with some basic fighting strokes, (5 strokes in total) which each of us practiced on our own, one type of stroke at a time, until each of us had the mechanics down pretty well.

As we progressed, we started combining the strokes together, so a practice drill would comprise of drawing the knife from the sheath, then moving into one or more fighting strokes, then eventually back to the sheath. After a little more work combining different strokes on our own, the students were paired up and used each other as compliant “sparring” partners. The bulk of the morning consisted of adding new components, practicing those new components on our own, then practicing them with a compliant partner.

At one of our hydration breaks about an hour into the class, I remember mentioning to Steve that I had “….learned more about knife fighting in 20 minutes of hands-on participation in his class, than I had in the past 43 years of my life….”. And that was the truth. I was no expert, but I already felt a lot more competent, confident, and knowledgeable than I did just an hour before.

After a short break for lunch, the group returned to the range and we began working on counter-measures to the fighting strokes we had worked on all morning. This involved all of the students partnering up in pairs and working through the drills over and over again. Similar to the fighting strokes we’d learned in the morning, the techniques Steve taught us to counter those moves were kept as simple as possible to allow for as little tie-up time with the adversary as possible. Being able to end the fight quickly and make a quick escape is definitely preferential to engaging in some kind of long, drawn out knife fight. And, just like the morning block of instruction, techniques were learned one at a time, then Steve would teach us how to start combining multiple moves and strokes for a more effective, less predictable defense.

As the day progressed, we experimented with a variety of different grips – a few different forward grips and some reverse grips. We also started working from different angles of attack and the training partners became less compliant as the day progressed. We eventually ended the class with about a half hour of discussion followed by a quick debrief as all of the students in attendance were scheduled to attend the next two days of Force on Force training together.

Takeaways

Honestly, it is rare that I take a defensive oriented class where I am not at least somewhat familiar with some of the material before it starts. In this case, however, it was like sailing into uncharted waters. Knife fighting is simply outside of my realm of experience and was definitely outside of my comfort zone. There were many times throughout this class where I felt awkward like a kid trying to ride a bike for the first time. That said, Steve has a way of keeping things simple and he doesn’t mind demonstrating something 2, 3, or even 10 times if a student needs it (and all of us required plenty of remediation throughout the day). He was quick to point out that we needed to focus on proper technique and application of technique before we worried about trying to develop more speed.

In addition, I learned a new appreciation for the capabilities of edged weapons in a defensive role. Knife fighting is up, close, personal, violent, and bloody business. It is absolutely something you do NOT want to engage in unless you have absolutely no other option. You are not insulated by distance in a knife fight – it all happens inside of two arms reach. There is no mercy from a blade – it will cut to the bone and pierce to the vital organ faster than you can imagine. Incapacitation comes from blood loss – a LOT of blood loss – or from starvation of oxygen due to a slashed wind pipe or punctured lung.

Of course, I also subsequently learned that the knife IS a viable secondary weapon to the handgun, or even as a primary weapon in non-permissive environments. A very capable blade can be in the form of an innocent looking folder in the pocket, a fixed-blade boot knife, or a hefty blade carried in a centerline position, easily accessible with either hand – and the carry options are almost limitless (though some modes of carry make for much easier access and presentation than others).

Lastly, I confirmed that, just like my choice in defensive firearms, I want my blade to be as simple to operate as possible. The guys using folding knives in this class, no matter how good they became with their presentation, simply couldn’t deploy and utilize the weapon as quickly as the guys using the fixed blade knives (all else being equal). There were times where even the assisted-opener models failed to open due to a minor mistake in the draw stroke or due to catching on some clothing. That never happened with any of the fixed blade models. They came out of the sheath ready to fight every time.

In closing, Steve Collins, once again, proved himself to be a capable and diverse instructor. He brings a deep level of experience and expertise, and always presents the material in an easy-to-understand format with a realistic level of humility and the right amount of seriousness.

As to the coursework itself, I believe it is well suited for the novice like me. Just like nearly any other discipline, there are certain fundamental skills and concepts a person must learn first before moving on. This class provided me with those fundamentals. I didn’t leave the class a knife fighting expert (nor was I supposed to), but I did leave with the confidence and competence to start carrying an edged weapon in a role that surpasses that of a common pocketknife/utilitarian mode. I will be looking forward to hosting and attending this class again, hopefully sometime next year, as a way to reinforce what I learned and as a way to evaluate the progress I’ve made.

As always, stay safe!

Chris Shoffner
M.A.P.S.I. Founding Member

chris.shoffner@mapsitraining.com

An Alternative To The Top 5 Excuses

In my work as an instructor, I get the chance to talk to a lot of people who are taking state mandated firearms training in order to qualify for a state-issued CCW permit.  My organization “polls” every student after every class in the form of a verbal “debrief” and through the use of a printed Feedback Form that is handed out for students to provide an evaluation of the training they received.  On the form, we ask them, A) if they are interested in taking more training, B) what additional classes they are interested in taking, and C) if they would like for us to contact them when those classes get added to our schedule.  Around 90% of respondents indicate that they do wish to take more training, and about 75% of those ask to be contacted when those classes come up on our schedule.  While those rather large numbers seem like something to get excited about, unfortunately, the number of those people who actually elect to take any follow-up training is much lower.  While I can’t account for students who go on to take additional training from other instructors, the number of them that return to my organization for additional training is only in the 5 – 7 percentile range, and I believe it’s reasonable to assume that, at best, only an additional 1 – 2% seek out additional training from other sources.

On that note, I’ve made it a point to ask people why they don’t take additional training, even though they, at one time, recognized the need.  While there have been a myriad of answers, I compiled the five I hear most often and have offered an alternative way to think about them in hopes that more people will consider a change to their priorities.  Remember, these are the responses I hear most often from people who have already completed the minimum, mandatory firearms safety training required to obtain a CCW permit from their state.

1.  “I don’t have the time to take any additional training.”

Alternative:  Do you really have time not to take additional training?  Time management is about priorities.  Human beings have an innate ability to “magically” make time for activities and opportunities that are a priority to them.  If we make training a priority, it stands to reason that we will find some time to make it happen.  With that said, we can simplify this process if we plan ahead.  Most instructors post their schedules a number of months in advance; some even post them for an entire year.  Find the class you want to take and reserve your spot early so it fits best with your schedule.

2.  “Training classes are too expensive.”

Alternative: Can you afford not to train?  I don’t know how many people have told me that they “can’t afford” to attend a training class, yet they are buying new guns, new holsters, and other new hardware every time you turn around.  Again, this is a matter of prioritization.  Quality training doesn’t have to be expensive.  I know of a number of quality, defensive-oriented training courses that cost under $200 (in some cases, WELL under $200 – All of the Defensive Shooting Courses my company offers are under $200) that are offered by local instructors several times each year.  Yes, it can be a bit more expensive to attend training courses at some of the national schools or with some of the nationally known instructors, though even some of them are offering fairly reasonably priced classes these days.  An investment in some new, upgraded software might well prove to be a better decision than an investment in the ever-growing pile of new hardware.

3.  “Good training is too far away.”

Alternative:  How far is too far to travel for quality training?  We are pretty fortunate here in my home state of Missouri to have a variety of good training resources spread throughout the state.  No matter where you live in this state, you are never more than a 3-hour drive from a quality training facility and program.  In addition to that, there are usually several nationally known instructors that come through the state each year to conduct classes hosted at in-state facilities.  A quick day trip is all the travel investment one needs to make in order to become better prepared to defend themselves and their families if the unthinkable was to happen.

4.  “I don’t need more training. Bad guys don’t train, so I am already better trained than they are.”

Alternative:  Are you sure that “bad guys” aren’t training?  Greg Ellifritz, from Active Response Training, recently penned an article titled, “Training vs. Experience”.  In the article, he cited an FBI study in which researchers concluded, “Nearly 40% of the criminal attackers in this study had received FORMAL firearms training (mostly in the military).  More than 80% of the criminal attackers regularly practiced with their firearms, with an average number of 23 Practice Sessions Per Year!”  (You can read the entire article here: http://www.activeresponsetraining.net/training-vs-experience). This doesn’t take into account all of the “training” that takes place each and every time one of these criminals serves another prison sentence.  How many armed citizens can honestly say they partake in meaningful, structured practice an average of twice a month?  And how many armed citizens are proactively improving skill sets and tactics by seeking out quality training at least a couple times per year?  The idea that the criminal element is untrained is romantic, but it is not reality.

5.  “The odds that I will ever have to use my gun to defend myself or my family are so low, that I’m not too worried about becoming better trained”

Alternative:  As far as statistical probability is concerned, you would be correct in saying that the odds are low that you’ll ever have to use your firearm to defend yourself or another.  However, the consequences for being ill prepared to use that firearm efficiently and decisively should the need arise, can be of the highest severity.   The truth is, we can’t afford to fail when the lives of our loved ones are at stake, or when our own life is at stake.  Defensive shooting skills are similar to life-saving emergency first aid skills, we hope we never have to use them, but if we do, it will be detrimental if we are not well rehearsed in their application.

In conclusion, I understand just as much as the next person how everyone has a limited amount of resources.  My resources are limited too.  It is not a unique situation to be in.  With that said, it IS something we can largely overcome if we exercise some due diligence, plan ahead, make some slight changes to our budget, and come to terms with the importance of the issue.  We owe nothing less to our families and ourselves.

As always, be safe!

Chris Shoffner

chris.shoffner@mapsitraining.com

Why M.A.P.S.I.? And why now?

I’ve had some folks ask me, “Why MA.P.S.I.? And why now?”. So with that in mind, I’d like to take a few lines to introduce you to M.A.P.S.I. and provide some background on the origins of the project as well as where we are headed in the future.

 
In the spring of 2014, my fellow founding member, Bill Keller, and I, began working with a team of trainers from around the country who were attempting to develop a new National Training Organization from the ground up. The idea was to develop brand new, up-to-date training curriculum that would be specifically geared towards the defensive use of handguns, shotguns, and carbines. The group was paired up in teams of two based on individual attributes. As it turns out, Bill and I were paired up to work as a team developing the handgun program for the organization. We were designated the “Handgun Program Directors” and were expected to write and develop an introductory defensive handgun program as well as an intermediate defensive handgun program.

 
Fortunately for the two of us, Bill and I were already friends. We had met a couple years prior in our NRA Training Counselor Workshop. We kept in touch and even trained together during the two year period before we were reunited to work on the new project. Bill and I were also of like mind when it came to defensive firearms training; we believed in building a solid foundational skillset, and then expanding on that foundation with simple, intuitive skill development exercises that were firmly rooted in data derived from empirical evidence. We both believed that, since everyone has fairly limited training resources – primarily time, money, and desire – a quality training program should remain focused on the types of skills, tactics, and techniques the average armed citizen is most likely to need to be able to use efficiently and effectively under the most probable types of situations, and should leave out all of the “fantasy camp” stuff that has little, if any, practical application in real life.

 
And so we began developing our coursework. While it can be a daunting task to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and develop what is supposed to become a “national standard” in defensive handgun training, Bill and I were already a step ahead. Bill had already been working on some basic defensive handgun coursework for nearly two years, and I had already been working on some intermediate level defensive handgun coursework for a year-and-a-half. In fact, we had both already run Beta tests on our respective coursework and had already run several dozen students through it in open-enrollment courses. So it didn’t take us all that long to take what we already had, make some amendments so as to meet the unique needs of the new organization, and have a basically completed, already-tested product in hand within a couple of months.

 
Bill and I eventually accepted an invitation from one of the other members of the group to take a trip out to Cleveland, Ohio to teach the coursework to a group of 20+ students and instructors over a weekend in November, 2014. This was to serve as further Beta testing for the re-worked coursework. While the weather and range conditions in Cleveland were less than ideal, it turned out to be a tremendous learning experience. We were able to obtain feedback from a wide variety of students and instructors, and the approximately 25 hours Bill and I spent traveling together across three states were absolutely invaluable. While Bill drove, I took notes from our conversation. We ended up with about 3 pages of notes and a ton of ideas just from our drive. We were energized and truly pumped up about our new coursework and could now very clearly see the direction in which the group we were involved with needed to go if they were to truly create a successful program.

Unfortunately, things don’t always work out like you want them to. While I won’t go into great detail, I will say that within a few weeks after our trip to Cleveland, the group we’d been working with for the past several months began to suffer from some internal problems. In my mind, ego got in the way of the progress that had been made, and indeed, in the way of the progress that needed to be made. Due to these internal “problems”, we went from having two basically finished pieces of coursework, to nothing. The energy and enthusiasm was gone, not just on my end, but by my observation, by nearly everyone involved. I submitted my resignation with the group the third week of December, 2014. I simply refused to allow my name and reputation to be tarnished by what I saw as a train wreck in the making – a real shame considering there were some really good people involved with the group.

 
Bill followed suit about a month later. It was at this time that we agreed we wouldn’t let all of the hard work, time, and money we invested go to waste. By now, I’d run about 100 students through my intermediate coursework, still experiencing excellent results. Bill had also continued to run more students through his introductory coursework to make sure any kinks had been worked out. I had also put together a regional group of instructors that were initially going to be my first “instructor candidates” for the (now defunct – at least in my eyes), new national training organization. This group was made up of one of my business partners and a group of instructors that obtained their initial Instructor Development training from my business partners and me. These were people I had worked with and trusted – people whom I had confidence in their abilities – people who would later become the Founding Members of M.A.P.S.I. Bill and I approached the group to see if there was interest in trying to do something with the coursework we had already developed. They were on board and work began with a renewed vigor.

Everyone in the group was in agreement that there was a lot of room for improvement within the training community. As it stands now, on one end of the spectrum, we have instructors with minimal experience who are simply ill-equipped to provide safe and effective defensive shooting instruction to a general population that requires solid, safe training. These people are basically out there “doing their own thing”, without any real sense of direction or any type of professional or ethical standard they are required to adhere to. In the middle, we have organizations that are now attempting to offer shooting instruction to students on-line because they have such little trust in their instructors to deliver the material in a safe, consistent manner – and they simply lack the resources and/or desire to address the problem at the instructor level. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have private training programs that require thousands of dollars of cash outlay from people who wish to eventually become certified to teach the programs – and some of them are using grossly outdated material to boot.

So in March, 2015, after hundreds of hours of meetings, conference calls, and online collaboration, our new group officially formed an Association called the Midwest Association of Professional Shooting Instructors, or M.A.P.S.I. for short. The coursework was, once again, modified in order to meet the new objectives of the new group. This consisted mostly of removing any traces of the now-defunct national organization, and cleaning up some of the more cumbersome aspects of the curriculum that the defunct organization insisted we have in place. With a lot of help and input from the new group, we also streamlined the coursework and “built in” more “breathing room” for individual instructors to work more closely with the individual needs of the students. Additionally, a lot of time was spent on developing the organization itself – what kind of standards we would hold ourselves to, how decisions would be made, developing an Instructor Code of Ethics that would be the cornerstone of our Instructor Development Program, and of course all of the legal and administrative aspects of the organization that were necessary.

 
We also enlisted more help. We had areas in which we needed additional “hands on deck”. We had legal concerns that needed to be addressed by someone who was actually qualified to address them. We needed additional experienced, qualified people to take a look at the coursework with an unbiased eye and help us perfect it. And we needed more input on the organizational and administrative issues that our fledgling group was encountering. This is where our three “Foundational Members” came into play. Each of them was approached due to their level of experience, expertise, and professional integrity. They have helped us continue to develop and evolve as an Association and their input has been invaluable.

 

As a group, we have already held two in-person training conferences this year; the first in March and the second in June. This has given everyone who will initially be teaching this coursework numerous hours of first-hand experience presenting it to other professional instructors who then provided feedback and objective evaluations. This is absolutely essential to proper instructor development. It’s simply not realistic to expect a trainer to just grab a copy of a lesson plan and “get it right” without actually having a chance to develop their presentation of the material in a structured, instructor-development type of setting.

 
As we move forward and continue to develop and grow as an association, we have plans to add more coursework to our training program including courses that cover advanced defensive pistol skills, defensive shotgun and carbine skills, vehicle combatives, as well as force-on-force gunfighting skills. Just as with the three initial handgun courses, you can expect this coursework will be fully vetted, peer-reviewed, and tested prior to its release for public consumption. Additionally, we intend to launch one of the most comprehensive professional instructor development programs of any organization in the country. We are looking forward to meeting you and making many new friends along the way! Thank you and welcome to M.A.P.S.I.!

As always, be safe!

Chris Shoffner

M.A.P.S.I. Founding Member

chris.shoffner@mapsitraining.com