On Nov 11-12, 2017 I attended the Rangemaster Instructor Conference held at the BDC Gun Room in Shawnee, Oklahoma. 49 instructors, out of the more than 800 graduates of the 3 day Rangemaster Instructor program, spent 2 days shooting and learning. I wrote an AAR about it after I returned.
One of the presentations covered Rangemaster’s 10 principles of teaching. They answer the question “what does it mean to be a Rangemaster-certified instructor?” The Rangemaster program has been a significant influence on the way we do things at KR Training. Here are my thoughts on how we apply those principles in our classes:
Understanding the limits of your own knowledge and skill are important. Early in my engineering R&D career I had a great boss who advised me (and others) that “I don’t know” is a better answer than fumbling your way through a half-guess, half-informed response just to avoid saying “I don’t know”. And I had a high school government teacher that would give students partial credit on exams for writing “I don’t know yet” and showing up at the first class after the test with answers they had looked up.
Understanding what you don’t know, and what you need to know, is incredibly useful in setting training goals, choosing trainers, and designing practice sessions.
It’s also important to have confidence in what you know, in those areas where you’ve put in the work, and gathered enough experience and expertise to be able to explain specifically why a particular kind of holster or gun manipulation technique or tactic is a bad choice. “Because my guru does it this way” doesn’t answer the “why” question as well as understanding the reasons behind the guru’s decision, or (better) your own decision based on your analysis and testing.
I teach what I know, and the topics I’ve put the most effort into learning. I host instructors that are expert in topics outside my lane, or have expertise beyond mine in topics I also teach. That’s been my approach since day one of offering classes.
I don’t own a plate carrier, a chest rig or a battle belt. I’ve never taken a class where that gear was required. As a professional musician that plays over 100 shows a year in restaurants, bars, festivals and special events, and during the 30+ years I spent working in R&D and training for the state of Texas, I’ve had to focus on practical, every day carry gear, often in non-permissive environments, sometimes with the only firearm legally accessible to me locked up in a vehicle. That’s the same context many of my students “operate” in. It’s not the same context someone carrying openly in a uniform, with body armor and armed friends a radio call away has. That’s why I offer small & pocket gun classes, unarmed, knife, medical, tactics and legal classes in addition to firearms training, and why we want students to bring their actual carry gear to classes.
Front Sight Focus
For the past several years I’ve been doing deep study of historical handgun techniques. For decades the conventional wisdom, repeated in book after book, was that there wasn’t time to aim, and all shooting had to be done with the gun at hip level, or with some form of “point” shooting. Some instructors continue to promote those ideas, citing evidence that those in gunfights do not see their sights, so we should not try to use them. Much of that evidence comes from analyzing performance of law enforcement officers that shoot less than 100 rounds a year, who do not dry fire on a regular basis.
Much has been learned in the past 100 years about being fast and accurate with a handgun. Those that have performed well in actual gunfights, for example the 60+ students Tom Givens has trained (who have a hit ratio over 90%), or the officers of LAPD Metro division (hit ratio over 85%) were trained to use a front sight focus.
Additionally, a basic understanding of geometry, applied to shooting, clearly shows that the likelihood of hitting the intended target increases as the gun is aligned more precisely with it. Sights – the front sight specifically – are the key to achieving that alignment. It can take less than 0.1 sec to read a sight picture and confirm that it’s aligned properly with the target. Part of our program is to teach shooters the relationship between sight picture quality (precision in gun alignment) and speed. As the target gets closer and larger, less perfect alignment is required – but seeing the front sight is still essential.
Unlike many schools that offer their curriculum in 2-day, 3-day or longer courses, we’ve broken our curriculum up into 1/2 day blocks, to make them more accessible to a wider audience. Many people have limited funds and time to train. The courses are organized in a logical progression, with the most important skills trained first. We often offer multiple classes on a single day or over a weekend to provide 2- and 3-day blocks of training for those able to invest more time and money, but many students complete a sequence of 16 or more hours of training over many separate classes over months or years.
The principles we teach in classes are generic to a wide variety of handgun action types, calibers, carry methods and human factors. Our defensive long gun class is unique in the training industry, because it can be taken using any long gun (AR-15, lever action rifle, pump shotgun, semiauto shotgun, pistol caliber carbine, even a .22 rifle). The curriculum is derived from how the gun will be used in a defensive incident. The targets, the time frames, and the type and quantity of hits required are the same, so that course teaches students how to use what they have effectively.
Most people that are not working on the front lines of law enforcement or the military have very limited life experience with violence. John Hearne’s studies into overcoming the “freeze” response show that those that have experienced violence (for real or in force on force simulations) are less likely to lock up in an actual incident. We’ve offered force on force (FOF) training courses for more than 20 years, pioneering the use of Airsoft guns as lower cost training tools for FOF, offering force on force scenarios as part of the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference for more than a decade. We include FoF scenarios in many courses in our program, to provide opportunities for students to experience full context scenarios. Several of our force on force graduates that have been involved in defensive incidents have commented to us afterward that they had “I’ve seen this before” moments where the situation reminded them of scenarios they had participated in.
Using force on force scenarios as part of our training allows us to teach skills beyond simply solving all problems with deadly force. Force on force training provides opportunities to “win” a scenario with avoidance, effective communication, posturing, and threats of deadly force, as well as appropriate use of deadly force when the situation requires it. In live fire shoot house training, photographic targets are used to require students to make shoot/no-shoot decisions. These approaches to training teach use of force decision making. For some students this involves restraining an over-eagerness to use deadly force, and for some it involves getting students over a natural resistance to using force at all, to get both to the reluctant willingness mindset that limits use of deadly force to a last resort, but allows full commitment to that action when no options remain.
Influenced by the Rangemaster program, we developed a simple “3 Seconds Or Less” shooting test suited to our short course format, with escalating standards for each course in the progression. In more advanced courses, and in the Historical Handgun course, we use longer, more complex shooting tests to evaluate student performance. Standards are useful for setting training goals and evaluating skills, not only for instructors but for any shooter seeking any level, from minimum competence to mastery.
Respect for Students
Early in my development as a shooter, I traveled to a major national school, spending thousands of dollars, to take a 3 day course. Despite being a Master class level USPSA competitor with several hundred hours of ‘tactical’ pistol training from other schools, I (and others enrolled in the course) were told we could not take a level 2 class because we had not taken that particular school’s level 1 course.
The class had 15 students; 13 of which were over qualified for the course, and 2 well-equipped but completely inexperienced students that would have benefited from a locally run NRA Basic Pistol course before attempting to take a tactical pistol course. The course pace was taught down to the level of the 2 beginners, with significant down time for the other 13 students as we shot remedial drills and then sat around for 4 hours, on the final day of class, as we each got a single run in the facility’s multimillion dollar shoot house (the reason I had attended the course). During that run I “cleared” 4 rooms and shot 2 targets.
What I learned from that experience shaped several components of my program. I gather enough information from students to recommend the right class for their interests and their skill level. We developed a detailed list of questions specific to our Basic Pistol 2 course that’s guided many that thought they did not need that course to take it prior to attending Defensive Pistol Skills 1. One-at-a-time drills in the shoot house or force on force scenarios are combined with other drills run by an assistant, so that students have no significant down time. I use enough range staff, particularly on lower level courses, that students needing remedial work can be taken to a separate shooting berm and given the attention they need, while the rest of the class continues learning the material in the course. Sometimes the remedial student rejoins the class after a short coaching session; sometimes the remedial student ends up getting a private version of a lower level course, bringing them up to the level necessary to attend a future session of the course they wanted to take.
The other area of respect we focus on is professional behavior. That means making the presentation of our training no different from any other adult education course. Throughout the history of KR Training, we’ve tried to make our classes inviting to everyone, regardless of politics, gender, or any other characteristic. We keep politics out of the classroom and do our best to treat students the way we want to be treated not only in firearms training classes, but as customers of any business.
Every instructor on the KR Training team attends some type of professional development training every year: taking classes, shooting matches, online training or self-study of books, videos, and other sources. Every year the team discusses changes in curriculum, making small adjustments to improve the content or the presentation, and we develop or review complete courses on a regular basis. We host traveling trainers every year, and each year I bring it at least one trainer new to KR Training to provide the team and our students access to a wide variety of credible information.
Over the past 2 decades the Rangemaster certification has become one of the most respected instructor credentials, because of their commitment to high standards. KR Training will be hosting the 3 day Rangemaster instructor development course again in April 2018. Anyone that teaches firearms, even informally to friends and family, would benefit from the material taught in the class, and raising their own level of shooting skill to the standards required to pass the course.