Standards (Part VIII – Trainer Standards)


In the firearms training industry, butthurt is a common condition. There’s quite a bit of it going around right now. The current crop of butthurt, as usual, revolves around equipment, technique, class organization, and philosophy.

large butthurt

Yesterday, I was able to take Training Day 2 of the Rangemaster Advanced Combative Pistol course. Both Mindset and physical skills are part of the course. This is the third training class I’ve taken in the past two months, in addition to attending the Rangemaster 2017 Tactical Conference. The others were Law of Self Defense and NRA Personal Protection Outside The Home.

One of the things I get the most out of when I attend training classes is the side discussions I have with my colleagues teaching their classes. We’re all willful individuals with strong opinions based on our own experiences. More often than not now, I listen to the other trainer’s opinion without…

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Be Inquisitive

Becoming as well as remaining a student of the art is probably the most important attribute we can cultivate. I’ve been guilty, (many times), of thinking I’ve arrived at the ultimate understanding of all the things we do. In my experience this unfounded belief at worst precedes catastrophic, humiliating failure and at best simply keeps me from improving.  My ego has been a hell of a drug.  

In most professions continuing education is incentivized. Folks get tuition reimbursement, or are otherwise given incentives to attend classes that keep them abreast of the state of the art in their chosen profession. In our world the incentive is a little different. If we don’t stay on top of trends we might be missing vital, life saving information. Information that might save us or a loved one. If that doesn’t motivate us to stay on top of this endeavor nothing else will.

Think about the emergency medical side of the house, it wasn’t that long ago that some folks believed, and even taught that a tampon was something one should use to treat a wound. I’m not afraid to raise my hand and admit I attended a few courses where this information was taught. As a result I believed this was a valid response. Fortunately I’ve continued my training, and have learned newer, better, ways to do things. The same can be said for driving, shooting, jiujitsu, hiking/camping, and anything else we do under this umbrella of being self sufficient.

In a recent conversation with a friend on the subject of this lifestyle I said it amazes me that folks will go years without taking a course on any of the topics we need to be up to date on. My friend said, “If you think that’s bad… there are instructors teaching this material that haven’t taken a class in years, maybe decades. What other profession would that lack of continuing ed be acceptable except this one?” I think he has a legitimate point. If all of my continuing education came from myself, and my co-horts how delusional would I be? It’s absolutely necessary for me to regularly take classes. Taking, on average, one class every two months for years now has helped me stay current on equipment, and technique development, teaching methods, and a host of other relevant interests.

Our prime directive should be to be inquisitive. Always be curious. Never allow our quest for a deeper understanding to wane. 

I’ve found one of the biggest motivators to keep learning is my peer group. If we surround ourselves with people that are on a constant quest to learn we will be motivated to learn. The saying; “you are the sum of your five closest friends” is more truth than we might care to admit. We all would like to think we are the sole source of all the motivation we will ever need. This might be a big piece of the puzzle yet surrounding ourselves with equally motivated folks is also a big piece of the puzzle. I’ve been fortunate to find myself in the company of folks like the Shivworks Collective, the Straight Blast Gym International, The Site, and RangeMaster, as well as others that have remained inquisitive. Every one of my friends in these organizations, (and there is quite a bit of overlap), are continually taking classes, attending seminars, and working to improve themselves by staying current with the state of the art.

When Jim Kauber, SEAL team Master Chief, talks to me about a pistol class he wants to take to work on his pistol skills, or while attending Rangemasters Instructor Development Course I hear Tom Givens talk of his recent experience taking a class, or Coach Chris Haueter, one of the BJJ Dirty Dozen talk about training with the Mendes brothers? That’s inspiring. It’s also a clue. If three men as accomplished at Jim, Tom, and Chris are, with 40+ years each in the training and application of this art, talk about taking courses to improve themselves, it motivates me to find ways to continue my education, and deepen my understanding. 

So how does one find themselves surrounded by folks like this? Find classes in your area and sign up. Even something as simple as a Red Cross first aid class will bring us up to speed on recent changes in protocol for CPR, as well as introduce us to other like minded folks. Those classes are happening almost daily all over the world. We can also join or start a training group. Shawn Lupka has written quite a bit about how to start, maintain, and grow a training group.  Go to seminars, classes or courses and network. Link up with the folks you meet at these events and review the material. Share insights you’ve learned from the material and tweaks you’ve made that improved or made it more applicable to you. Fortunately we live in a time where folks can network with the click of a button via the internet. Reach out and link with like minded people. We might be surprised at how simple it is to get ourselves into the company of those that are actively looking to deepen our understanding of this art.

Above all my friends, remain inquisitive. Keep your curiosity alive, always searching for a deeper understanding of the art and ultimately ourselves. More on that next time.

Once You Go Nitrous

Once you go nitrous you can’t go back. Once you know what it’s like to run at that speed, to breathe that air, you never want to go back to how things were before. One of the best ways to reach that peak state is competition. After driving a supercar, driving a normal car pales in comparison. You find yourself counting the minutes until you can get back behind the wheel of a vehicle that has some serious horsepower. High performance becomes your new normal.

There are many solid reasons to compete in the shooting sports, MMA, Boxing, Kickboxing, Grappling/Wrestling, or Racing sports. However, for a lot of folks it’s just not feasible. Whatever the reasons might be, competition is off the table for some of us. I would still encourage those folks to participate in competition team training. Helping a team mate get ready for an event is an incredibly bonding experience. This time spent in a competition prep environment also encourages our game to evolve. We’re exposed to the cutting edge of performance, learn how to push ourselves further than we normally would, and reset the idle on our engine. After a fight camp or competition prep we walk around idling at a higher rate than we did before. I have a friend that recently did her first figure competition. She mentioned that she thought she knew how to train hard yet found that during the prep phase for this competition she trained harder than she had ever trained. She’s found it difficult to transition back to a more “normal” training schedule now. She’s had a peek behind the curtain, and has found it quite addictive. She doesn’t eat the same way she did before her prep, and certainly has a different outlook on what she knows is possible once she puts her mind to the task. This is a common occurrence for folks that compete regardless of the sport; their limitations have been pushed back. The mental state it takes to force self evolution starts to bleed over into everything else they do.

But this post isn’t about those that compete. This is about those that want a taste of that side, to see the other side without living there. Is this possible? How can one experience this altered state without competition?

Train with the comp team.

It’s as simple and as hard as that.

Look around your local gym and become an active member of the tribe. Find the person or people getting ready for a meet and jump in with them. Offer to be part of their training crew, and put yourself in the mix. Never miss a training session, go rep for rep, round for round with them, and reap the rewards. Find a running club that has members regularly competing. Link up with them, show up for every group training session, and put yourself through the same regimen they are using to prepare for their next race. You’ll note a change in your mental and physical state within a few weeks. Help the folks in your Brazilian JiuJitsu, Judo, or MMA comp team get ready by becoming part of the competition team training cadre. Show up for every session, do the strength & conditioning workouts, the technique sessions as well as the sparring sessions. Put in the time even if you’ll never walk out to the cage, ring or mat. You will dig deeper than you ever have before and you will evolve. Evolution or growth is never easy and is most often a product of will power. You will reap the rewards of this growth in other aspects of your life.

You don’t have to train with competition focused folks for your entire training journey. For a lot of folks, one 8 – 12 week prep period might be enough to permanently alter your mental and physical state for the better. So is it even necessary? Not really, but it sure can’t hurt. I’ve lost track of the number of fight camps, meet preps, and running clubs I’ve participated in to prepare myself or a teammate for competition. Having done that I know this much to be true, the confidence one feels after going through this process can’t be measured. Knowing you’ve been through some of the most challenging weeks of your life, and are still standing is a massive deposit in the hard to kill bank account. Toughness, resiliency, adaptability, grit, whatever word you use to describe that indomitable, unstoppable drive to survive, and win? You’ll have it by the boatload, and I’m not going to sugar coat it; it feels fucking good.

Basics? Nope, Fundamentals

There is a reason I don’t use the word basics to refer to techniques we learn. If I use the word basic folks will think there is some form of advanced technique. There are fundamentals. There is a beginners understanding, and there are more advanced understanding of the fundamentals however, there are only the fundamentals.

The fundamentals of sight picture, sight alignment, and trigger control are the same for a first time shooter as they are for a shooter with fifteen years of practice and application. The difference is the shooter with fifteen years of work will have a deeper understanding of what is acceptable sight alignment and trigger management given the difficulty of the shot. The fundamentals are still the fundamentals.

The fundamentals of a double leg takedown are the same for the eight year old kid just learning to wrestle as they are for the twenty year old Olympic hopeful. The difference between these two is one has a deeper understanding of how to time and set up the shoot, when to cut the corner, as well as when to bail or chain to something else if the double starts to go wrong. The fundamentals are the same, the understanding is different.

The fundamentals of a jab are the same for a kid just beginning in the local Police Athletic League as for the older athlete with a dozen pro fights under their belt. The difference is the older athlete understands how to use the jab to dictate the pace of the match, manage distance, or setup combinations. The fundamentals are the same, the knowledge as to application is not.

So let’s program ourselves to think in terms of fundamentals and understanding rather than basics and advanced. We will avoid some of the pitfalls that can happen when we start chasing the magic talisman of “advanced” rather than just getting on the mat or in the ring and digging deeper. Watch this footage of the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard and check out the progression of his knowledge and application of the fundamentals of Boxing plus it is simply a pleasure to watch a master at work.

The Way is in Training, If We Train Intelligently

On 05/14/17 Dr Fred Hatfield aka Dr Squat passed away. Over the years a number of my friends and I have attended seminars given by Dr Squat, eventually becoming certified by his organization; ISSA. We always left those events with notebooks filled with notes, ideas, and programs inspired by Dr Squat’s words. The man knew strength and conditioning. Dr Squat was well versed in theory and application. Here is the lift he is probably most famous for, 1,008 pound squat in competition.

Dr Squat’s world record squats are all the more impressive when you consider that at the age of 45 he would squat 1,014 pounds at a bodyweight of 255 pounds.

Ponder that for a moment. 255 pounds. Squatting 1,014 pounds.

The man knew what it took to train himself as well as others to a very high level. One of the constant themes everyone came away with after attending a seminar or training event with Dr Squat was this; train hard but train intelligently, and be willing to instantly adjust your training program based on performance. We also learned that keeping a training log so we can map our progress as well as how various factors influence our progress is extremely important. I learned to log everything; every supplement, meal, fluid, training session, pre-hab/rehab session, everything impacts our performance in some way therefore, everything has to be tracked so we know what works and what does not. In the beginning it seems like an intensive effort yet after over two decades of tracking my training, it’s an invaluable practice. Having tracked all this data for so long, I can more easily program my training to reach my objectives. This is a direct result of Dr Squat’s influence.

How does this apply to what we do? Train hard yet intelligently. Do not reject anything without testing it for yourself. Apply the same intensity to developing our mental game as we do to developing our physical game. Leave no stone unturned, and the way to know what is working, and what is not is to track everything; dry fire, BJJ, Boxing, strength work, conditioning work, recovery strategies, what and how much we eat, how much water we drink, massage therapy, Chiropractic treatments, anything and everything we do to improve performance must be tracked and analyzed. You might not be interested in squatting 1,000+ pounds however, a sub two second Bill Drill, or losing 50 pounds, or running a 1/2 marathon might be of interest. Regardless of your starting point training hard, yet intelligently is going to be the fastest route we can take.

Look First, part II

In part one of Look First we talked about seeing into a space before entering. In this post let’s check out some exercises we can do to increase our ability to see everything we need to see.

For the first exercise we need two post-it notes or a comparable small, yet colorful object to use as a point of focus. For the first exercise we want to work on our eye speed moving horizontally. We need a wall, and three to five yards of space. On the wall place two post-it notes at the same height, (I would suggest head height), approximately one yard apart. Standing 3-5 yards away from the wall focus on the post-it on our left, now move our eyes quickly to the second post-it, and focus on the center of the post-it. Once we are focused, shift our eyes back to the first post-it. That’s one repetition. Repeat for 25 repetitions. Let’s start with 25 repetitions, and work our way up to 50 or more.

Our next exercise is to work on vertical scanning speed. Everything is the same as the first exercise except we are going to place the two post-it notes in a vertical line approximately one yard apart with the first post-it note being about chest high from the ground and the second post-it note being about a yard above the first.  Repeat the steps as above moving only our eyes vertically for 25 repetitions, and gradually working our way up to 50 or more repetitions.

A word of caution with the eye speed exercises, take you time. The first time I worked on these I gave myself a wicked headache by trying to push too fast for too long. Progressive Overload is the key here.

The third exercise I want to share with you all is difficult to explain via text but here goes! Place one post-it note on the wall we used for the drills described above. Head or chest height will work for this exercise. Focus intensely on the post-it. Now we extend our arms straight out to our sides at shoulder height. Turning our hands so our palms face the same wall we are looking at, begin to move your fingers. The objective is to maintain visual focus on the post-it note while still seeing our fingers move in our peripheral vision. If we need to adjust our arms forward to see our fingers move do so however, our goal is to move our arms as far to the rear as possible while still seeing our fingers move, and still maintaining a laser-like focus on the post-it. Attempt to broaden your vision as much as possible.

The fourth exercise is similar to the third except now we are trying to see as high and low as possible vertically. Focus on the post-it note on the wall, now we’re going to raise one arm straight above our head, and keep our other arm straight down. Moving one arm at a time we are going to move our arms forward until we can pick up the movement of our fingers while still maintaining focus on the post-it. Again, attempt to broaden your vision as much as possible.

With the third and fourth exercises do one minute repetitions with a one minute rest. During the rest period close our eyes and relax the eyes as much as possible. Do three to five 1 minute repetitions.

Again, we should be cautious and ease into these exercises. Eye fatigue, the accompanying headache, are no joke. When I first learned to do these exercises I went all in, doing them everyday multiple times a day. In retrospect I don’t think that’s the best approach however, with the way I’m wired moderation isn’t exactly a strong point. For someone just starting I would recommend three times a week to start, and don’t be afraid to back it down to two times a week until you adapt. Ultimately our objective is to be able to do exercises three and four while moving. Sidebar; If there is one thing I would have changed about my training journey it would have been to take my time, aim for consistent incremental progression toward long term goals rather than trying to conquer everything RIGHT NOW!! That’s material for another blog post…

Look First

William Aprill of Aprill Risk Consulting advises us to look into a space before entering. While this might seem to be a simple action how many of us apply this in everything we do? I know I don’t practice this simple preventative technique as often as I should. When approaching our vehicle do we look through the windows into the interior of the car before we open the door and enter? When we are approaching a place of business do we look into the space we are about to enter by looking through the exterior windows to include the windows found in the entry doors? Doing this can gives us a glimpse into the space we are about to enter. It only takes a moment to look first, before entering however, this moment might just save us from an unwanted surprise. Surprise equals deficit, and we want to avoid ever being in a deficit.

Make it a habit to look into doorways you pass as you walk down a hallway or as you mover through a room. In the beginning it might seem a little slow, and take quite a bit of conscious effort however, over time it will become second nature. As you become more aware of your environment, and adapt to processing more information you will find yourself able to more rapidly respond to various stimulus. Practice the “what if” game as you go about your day. Think about what you will do if a situation presents itself. This is part of looking first as you are mentally “looking first” at a possible situation, and working your way through various contingencies.

Physically we have to get into the habit of practicing our wide-angle-vision, attempting to gather as much data as possible mentally and physically to best prepare ourselves for whatever we may encounter. We have to do this in as relaxed a manner as possible since walking around with a wild-eyed look might attract some negative attention… One simple exercise I was taught to develop this skill was to stand in a doorway facing into a room. Take a small step into the room so that you are just barely breaking the plane of the door frame. Without turning your head, keeping your eyes forward, attempt to widen your vision so that you can see the corners of the room to your left and right. It might take a little work, learning to relax your vision and widen your focus from whatever is in front of you but you can do it. With a little effort you will be able to see the entire room without moving your head or eyes. The next step is develop this skill to the point you can do this while walking at your normal pace, or driving your car, moving up and down stairs or across an open space. Really challenge yourself, and let’s find out just how far into a space we can be mentally and visually before we physically enter that space.

More to come on this topic.