Find a Qualified Instructor
If you’re looking for training, you’ll quickly figure out that “instructors” are a dime a dozen.
There’s everything from your local NRA Stepford-Trainers teaching the same outdated, watered down, attorney-approved curriculum that won’t even allow you to say the W-word – “weapon”,
to the social-media celebrities who vie against each other to come up with some new kind of snake-oil they can brand and sell, along with a BFF selfie of you and them at their $900 three-day course,
where you end-up ankle-deep in brass from them shouting “now faster”, “now more accurate”, “now 3 in the head and 1 in the groin”, “now do my patented Christmas tree drill”.
If I sound jaded, I have good cause to be. There isn’t enough room on the Internet for me to list all the ridiculous things I’ve seen and heard from so-called experts. That’s not to say I can’t come up with a list of truly exceptional instructors. They’re out there.
But it’s really hard – and really expensive – to figure out who does and doesn’t have a genuine understanding of real Hand+GunTM combatives, and more importantly, who does and doesn’t know how to convey that knowledge to a student who only has a limited amount of time and money to invest in training.
Most importantly, bad instruction is dangerous! Why? Two reasons.
First, this is Hand+GunTM combatives. It isn’t target shooting, sport shooting, competitive shooting or hunting. It has nothing to do with how much you know about shooting a rifle or shotgun. And surprisingly, it’s not even very well known to SWAT cops or Tier-1 military operators. This is about the stark reality of how a single person uses their hands and a gun to protect themselves and others against the most common street and in-structure attacks.
Second, not being trained is risky. But nothing is more risky than thinking you’ve been taught how to protect yourself against a deadly-force attack when you haven’t. It could cost you your health, your life or your freedom.
For these reasons, a group of some of those exceptional instructors I mentioned above have put together a list of questions you can use to interview prospective instructors, so you can be sure you’ll get the kind of training that will actually help keep you and your loved-ones safe if you ever need it.
It’s yours for free. You don’t even need an email address. All we ask is that you use it to your benefit. Share it with your friends if you’d like. Dig into it. Do your own research. Just reviewing the questions will start the learning process for you.
Hopefully, we can raise the bar, by helping people (including instructors) better understand the realities of Hand+GunTM combatives.
The following questions are worded to make sense someone looking for instruction. But the wording isn’t that critical. Each question has an “Expected Response” and an “Explanation”, so you can understand the reasons behind the questions. You’ll also find links to parts of our glossary, blog and video library. The more you understand the principles, the more conversational you’ll become and the easier it’ll be for you to speak intelligently to prospective instructors.
What aiming method or methods do you teach in your handgun classes?
If the instructor starts talking about sights, or asks you what you mean, that’s a bad sign. Any competent instructor will immediately recognize that you’re asking about the two main types of aiming: visual aiming and proprioceptive aiming (aka: point aiming, muscle-memory aiming, meat-and-metal aiming, PEK aiming).
Relatively few instructors understand, much less teach, PEK aiming. The average person can be taught to use PEK aiming when shooting from 0 to 10 feet – where the vast majority of attacks come from. PEK aiming is faster. It improves weapon retention and it allows you to protect vital areas of your body while shooting.
What distances do you train your students at?
One of the main things you’re looking for the instructor to say is that he or she includes training to zero distance or at near contact ranges. They may not start you at zero distance but they need to get you there relatively quickly.
The best responses would be 0 to 20 feet, 0 to 7 yards or 0 to 7 meters because those distances show they understand the statistics of real attacks. (51% come from within 5 ft., 74% from within 10 ft., 87% from within 15 ft., and 93% from within 20 ft.) Training at further distances is fine but the bulk of your training needs to cover those critical ranges.
What do you think of night sights?
Night sights are very popular because of their cool-factor. But in fact, they only provide a limited benefit, because they only work in a few specific environments. There are other accessories you can add to your gun that will give you better performance over a broader range of Low-Or-No light (LON light) environments.
Three out of four attacks take place in LON light settings. There are nine different lighting environments. (Relatively few instructors even know that.) Night sights only work in two of those environments – and they actually work worse in the other seven. While we’re not against having night sights to help in those situations, for the money they cost, you are much better off starting with a compact gun-mounted light, which is a better solution in more situations.
What handgun caliber do you recommend? And Why? (You want to hear some of the explanation in the answer to this question.)
Most healthy men and women can use a 9mm handgun effectively regardless of their size. And there’s a reason why most of the law enforcement and military agencies around the world have gone to the 9mm. Given the right shooting technique, its terminal ballistics has made the modern 9mm an extremely effective man-stopper.
After hundreds of private and semi-private students and over a thousand group classes, I can count the number of people who legitimately could not handle a 9mm on my fingers. All those cases involved people with diseases such as advanced arthritis or injuries that involved muscle, bone or nerve damage in the hands or wrists.
As for the caliber’s effectiveness, best practices in armed combatives always promotes shooting multiple, rapid-fire, medium-energy rounds in groups, rather than single, slow-fire, high-energy rounds in strings. (See the video: “The Wake Affect“.)
Do you incorporate hand-to-hand combative techniques into your handgun training?
If he or she says no, our advice is to politely find a way to end the conversation and move on. If they say yes, ask more about what kind of hand-to-hand training they use.
It’s critically important that, for the purposes of learning how to defend yourself against a deadly force attack, you don’t rely on sophisticated martial arts systems, such as Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or MMA. While these are all excellent for long-term fitness, sport and non-deadly force self-defense purposes, they take much too long to learn how to use effectively with a handgun.
What you need is a more primal, limited-decision, counter-offensive technique that statistically solves the specific threats of the most common deadly force attacks, such as Tony Blauer’s SPEAR system, Gabe Suarez’s DLO technique or our TechniqueONETM approach to Hand+GunTM combatives. When combined with the proper handgun techniques, SPEAR and DLO principles can eventually give you a better than 90% survivability rate. TechniqueONETM produces the same results even faster by integrating both hand-to-hand and handgun techniques into one curriculum.
What kind of weapon retention methods do you teach?
If his or her response alludes to a “Slap and Shoot” or a “High-Elbow & One-Hand Shot” method, that’s a really bad sign. Those are completely outdated theories. Ideally, you’re looking for an instructor who talks about shooting from retention with two hands, holding the slide, or the Combat Shroud, with your off-hand.
Current best practices for weapon retention always promote a counter-offensive, rather than a defensive, approach (never stepping back), while maintaining a squared-off posture with your elbows down. It’s also critical to learn to shoot from retention with two hands using the C-Clamp, G-Wrap or Palm-Wrap grips. These grips can be used with guns that do or do not have Combat ShroudsTM However, a Combat ShroudTM will prevent your gun from jamming and save you the time needed to clear and rechamber a new round after each shot.
What kind of targets do you use?
This is kind of a fishing expedition. There are lots of answers a qualified instructor might give. What you want to hear is some indication that they use a variety of different targets for a variety of specific purposes and that they will start training you to shoot on multiple targets relatively soon.
The targets you use will determine what kind of sight pictures you will become proficient at shooting. For the most part, bullseye or dot targets are only useful for analyzing a relatively new shooter’s abilities and diagnosing problems.
Most combatives training should be done on silhouettes. This teaches shooters to aim inside boundaries, rather than at pinpoints. Silhouettes with clothing on them make shot-placement feedback much more realistic and photograph targets train students how to look at an attacker differently from how they normally look at people. While moving targets and reactive targets are fun and can be used to break up a day of training, many are of little practical value.
One of the most important skills a student must learn is how to shoot on multiple targets. Two-thirds of all attacks come from multiple attackers. Most instructors wait far too long before introducing students to multiple targets or never do it at all.
What accuracy objectives do you set for your students? How do to help them reach those objectives?
Most instructors can come up with a satisfactory answer to the first question for a couple of reasons. First, they don’t set standards too high out of fear they won’t be able to get their students to that level. Second, if they use IDPA, USPSA or other similar targets, the “A-Zones” are clearly defined.
More than anything, answers to the second question should give details about specific methods the instructor uses to teach accuracy. Responses like “Lot’s of practice, along with good feedback” should be considered a deal-breaker.
Most new shooters are surprised to learn that accuracy has relatively little to do with aiming. The two biggest factors that impact accuracy are trigger control and gun stability. Most instructors know that. The question is, how do they teach those things.
There are a few red flags to look for in answers to the first question, such as too much emphasis on precision. In combatives, your objective isn’t to keep all your shoots in a 1-inch group. That usually means you’re shooting too slow. Similarly, any mention that accuracy requirements change at different distances is a problem. The area that will stop an attacker doesn’t change at different distances, only the speed in which you are shooting does.
Any qualified instructor will have developed a method for teaching accuracy that goes beyond practice and feedback. For example, we use what we call a four-corners drill to teach shooters how much their sights can vary and still hit the A-Zone. We combine that with an exercise for feeling where your finger contacts the trigger. But these are just our tools. We’re not so arrogant to think that every instructor has to do the same thing.
The concern is that many instructors may be able to shoot accurately, but that doesn’t mean they know how to pass that skill on to a student. So they put their students through endless hours of practice (rather than instruction) thinking they’ll eventually figure it out.
What safety rules do you use?
Every experienced combatives instructor should be able to spit out the 4-Rule Combatives Safety Code without blinking an eye.
The 4-Rule Combatives Safety Code is deliberately specific. The verbiage not only keeps you and others safe from mishandling a weapon, it also prepares you to more effectively face any threat.
- Always know the status of your weapon is appropriate for your intended use.
- Never point a weapon at anything you aren’t willing to put at risk.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your weapon is oriented at your intended target.
- Be aware of what’s at your target, beyond your target and between you and your target.
Many instructors still subscribe to an outdated code, which is more appropriate for range shooting, competitive shooting or hunting.
- Always assume every gun is loaded.
- Never point a weapon at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Be sure of your target.
Any deviation from the 4-Rule Combatives Safety Code is a clear indication that an instructor is not genuinely Hand+GunTM combatives oriented.