Recently, I was watching a somewhat tongue-in-cheek YouTube video about "Gunfight Rules", from Tactical Response's CEO, James Yeager...

For the record, I think the video makes some very good, and concisely delivered, points about gunfighting.  Then I came across this forum post about him: Tactical Response CEO Lists False Firearms Training Credentials Online, State Says.  I found the post because I was Googling one of the courses he's taken, which sounded interesting, and I thought I might like to find out more information or take it myself.

In that forum thread, posters are really making Mr. Yeager out to be a fool and a poser.  This got me thinking, "What actually makes a firearms training expert, or an expert of any kind?"  I believe many of the commenters assume that there is some over-arching, agreed-upon, governing body that dictates the credentialing process for firearms instructors, which there is not.  There are some national firearms instructor certification organizations, such as the NRA and state Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.), but they typically only cover very basic training.  The entire "advanced gunfighter" training world is run by committed instructors, who are essentially self-proclaimed experts (including myself, to be fair).

Use of a firearm in combat (defensive or offensive) is a complex and dynamic activity.  There are dozens of respected methodologies on the subject, with dozens more tweaks and offshoots of each, taught by a wide range of trainers.  While some theories are considered more sound than others, the fact is that almost all of them have trade-offs (pro's and con's), and there is no one, clear, best choice for all situations and purposes.  Firearms use techniques are "a set of best practices" at most.

What you really want to become more adept at, through firearms training, is problem solving.  "Problem solving consists in using generic or ad hoc methods, in an orderly manner, for finding solutions to problems."  Leading up to, during, and after, a violent crime [or combat gunfight] situation, you are going to be presented with a wide variety of problems that you must solve in order to protect your safety, or the safety of others.  Someone may attack you with a edged weapon, or be shooting at you through walls, or your gun may run empty and require a magazine change, or someone may be running after your car, or you may fall on the ground while attempting to shoot to stop an attacker... on and on.  The purpose of training is therefore to:

  1. Introduce you to a fundamental understanding of the mechanics going on around you (e.g. "bad guy" psychology, how your firearm works and malfunctions, etc.).
  2. Provide you with basic skills that can be used to solve the most common problems (e.g. weapons malfunction clearing, "proper" pistol draw technique, etc.).  This includes efforts to familiarize the student with awkward, unusual, or counter-intuitive circumstances (e.g. shooting while lying on your back), so that the first time they encounter them, and must produce a solution, is not in an unsafe environment.
  3. Foster an attitude in you that is conducive to future and continued success (e.g. perseverance, aggressiveness, discipline).

Notice that these three goals build and feed on one another.  Combined, they endow you with the tools necessary to find solutions to the difficult problems you may face.  For example, if you have a weapons malfunction, your first response will be to apply a pre-learned clearing operation, if that doesn't work, your desire to keep fighting is going to force you to use your in-depth knowledge of your firearm's internal workings to seek out the source of the malfunction and clear it in a way you have not done previously.

I have no conclusive insight into Mr. Yeager's qualifications.  He may simply have been trying to find a way to articulate his completely-relevant past firearms experience, and did so in a way some people misunderstood.  Or he may have been purposefully concocting it.  He is obviously a successful instructor, with successful students, in any case.

What should you look for when considering [firearms] instructors for your training?  Here are some of my thoughts, besides the more-obvious traits of being articulate, enthusiastic in the classroom, and personable:

  • Experience and training:  A quality instructor should have real-world experience in the field, and/or more training from trusted, established sources, than the average person.  Obviously a new/young instructor can't walk in with "20 years" under their belt, but they should start with some well-regarded training and/or experience.  Beware if their only qualification is a single "mail order" or online course.
  • A wealth of relevant knowledge:  It's not possible to know everything, but a good teacher should demonstrate that they have acquired pertinent knowledge about their trade, from many sources, including knowing other sources where they might find new information.
  • A commitment to continuing education and self improvement:  An expert must know what he does know, and what he doesn't know.  We improve ourselves by constantly seeking new training and information.  I learn something new from every course I ever take, even when I take another instructor's "NRA Basic Pistol Course".  Ask what your teacher has been learning lately!
  • Understands the advantages/disadvantages of opposing viewpoints:  As I mentioned, many topics are not "absolutes", and are a set of best practices.  A competent instructor will be able to articulate other methodologies or teachings that differ from theirs, under what circumstances those might be better or worse, and why they advocate their own methods.  This breeds confidence in both the instructor and the student, which is of especially critical importance to the topic of gunfighting.
  • They "live" their teachings ("walk the walk"):  It's easy to regurgitate information, and call it instruction.  You want an instructor that actually puts their teachings to the test, by attempting to use them in their daily life, where practical.  As the video above put it, "don't talk to me about which gun is best to carry, if you aren't carrying a gun".  A trainer should be testing their theories regularly, and be constructively critical of their own ideas.  They should have a passion for their topic of expertise, that goes home with them after class, that may be illustrated by them becoming excited to tell you how they're working on some kind of invention/improvement to solve a problem or deficiency they see.
  • Avoids shortcuts, or pressure to contradict their values:  The business world isn't easy.  There are constant pressures to provide low-quality products and courses, at low cost.  While there is some pragmatism to the fact that you can't always sell everyone the top-shelf, gold edition that is considered "best", your instructor should show dedication to avoiding this whenever possible.  This is critical when talking about life-or-death safety issues like firearms.  How good do you think that 4-hour, budget-price, "concealed carry class", given one weekday night, is going to be?  I wouldn't trust my life to it.

You now have a few things to think about, when considering if your chosen [firearms training] instructor is expert enough for you, or not.


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