When you take instruction from different firearms trainers, you're likely to hear different philosophies on how to do something. So how do you know what to do when both instructors are well respected?
Different Instructors, Different Fundamentals:
I had the opportunity to speak with many attendees of our 3-day firearm training event called the 2021 Guardian Conference. Over the weekend, attendees received blocks of instruction from several different leading instructors in the industry. A few of the instructors teaching at the conference were Riley Bowman, Bryan Eastridge, Todd Fossey, Jeff Gonzalez, Steve Moses, and Chuck Haggard.
A bit of feedback I received from a couple of ladies sparked my desire to write this quick post. They described themselves as newer shooters.
The Challenge of Learning:
They explained how it was challenging to receive back-to-back training blocks from instructors who had different ways of doing things. One example was how much the instruction on how to grip the pistol varied between the instructors. One instructor told them to grip with differing pressure between hands. The other told them to grip firmly with both hands.
I wasn't in reporter mode, so I didn't write her statement down, but here is a paraphrase of what she said:
What are we supposed to do when we learn one way and then go to another class where the instructor essentially tells us to forget everything we've learned and makes us do it his way?
As an instructor and student, I immediately could understand the frustration and confusion. What can you do when you inevitably find yourself in this situation?
First, instructors may not necessarily be in disagreement on a particular fundamental. Instead, the difference may come from the way the instructor conveys the principle.
For example, instructor A may say, “grip the gun firmly with both hands.” Instructor B may say something like, “apply as much force to the grip without over gripping and causing the gun to shake.” These are not necessarily different concepts of how much force to apply, just another way of explaining it.
But when the instructors are actually teaching conflicting methodology, you can do a few things to help move forward.
First, realize that in some respects, different ways are equally acceptable. Unfortunately, some instructors don't understand this and are dogmatic and unchanging. It isn't that you can't learn anything from a dogmatic instructor. The problem is, you probably will only accel and grow if you have the same philosophy as they do.
If an instructor is dogmatic and says you must do everything their way, you have some options. First, you can remain in the class and try to learn the methods taught. If you are new to shooting, staying is a good idea, especially if you have shot in the past and come with bad habits.
Consider Different Methods:
If you're a more experienced shooter and the instructor tells you to change to a different way of doing things, you may still want to stay in the class and try the other methods. We all can learn something, and even if we are operating at what we believe to be a high level, we may benefit from tweaks here and there.
Even if you don't see immediate results from the change, you can benefit from applying the new methods during the class. In the long run, you may benefit from the change.
Objectively Wrong Teaching:
Even though there may be several different ways of doing some things, there are undoubtedly WRONG ways of doing some things related to shooting firearms. So how do you recognize these objectively wrong methods from just a different acceptable method?
When we want to know the truth, we don't just blindly accept, but we study. So early on, don't blindly accept everything as absolute. Seek training from many different sources. This process should include live-fire classes, written training content, DVD courses, and online instruction videos.
A fantastic course we put together is called Shooting Fundamentals and is appropriate for new and seasoned shooters.
When you apply the information you've gathered from many sources, what makes sense becomes more evident.
I want to mention that there is a difference between a different method of achieving the same goal and doing something dangerous. If you find yourself in a class where the instructor teaches disregard for standard safety practices, it's time to leave.
An example of this is when “high-level” instructors have students fire while other students are downrange. Justification is to innoculate people from the fear of being shot or instilling shoot/no-shoot discipline. There is no practical reason to expose yourself to such a high level of risk when there are alternate methods of accomplishing the same goal.
I will leave you with the same advice I gave the two ladies I spoke with on day one of the 3-day training event.
Expect to be challenged, and go in with an open mind. Absorb all you can from the instructors. Apply what they are teaching you in that class.
Importantly, if what they teach you is different than what you've learned, ask why they do what they do. The instructor should have a reason behind why they do or teach what they do. If they don't, it's a red flag.
At the same time, consider why you are doing something the way you do it.
For example, why do you grip the gun the way you do? Is it simply because someone told you? Or is it because they told you and then told you why it works? The second method will make you a better student and a much better shooter.
Spend time outside of formal instruction applying all the different methods you learned. Do this through dry fire and live fire practice. Take time to see what seems to work for you and what makes sense when you look at the reason for that success. Then when a different concept gets presented, you can better articulate your questions and discern if the instructor's reasoning makes sense.
Stay safe, ask questions, and think!