Crawl, Walk, Run Off a Cliff

30-Sep-10 – 08:37 by ToddG

I’ve jumped out of an airplane. Did you know that? Full on free fall, no tandem partner, just a couple of Jumpmasters going out the door with me to make sure I didn’t completely and utterly ruin my day. I did it twice, as a matter of fact.

Would you take a skydiving lesson from me? Hopefully not.

Many instructors like to talk about what students are “ready” for. We like to pigeon hole people into Basic, Intermediate, Ninja, Nightmare Level, and what have you. But how often do instructors look at themselves and make an honest assessment of their own skill level, not just in terms of shooting but in terms of teaching ability?

It’s been said so many times it’s become cliche, “Being a good shooter doesn’t automatically make one a good instructor.” But there has to be more to it than that.

Twelve years ago, I took a class from Ken Hackathorn. To my shame, at the time I didn’t even know who Ken Hackathorn was and signed up for the class solely on the advice of a friend. Needless to say, the class was incredible, Ken literally blew the doors off my concept of what an instructor should be, and I walked away a much better shooter.

And if I’d left it at that, I would have been fine.

But I didn’t. During Ken’s class, we shot an exercise called The Snake Drill. I’m not going to get into the details except to say it involves students being downrange from the shooter’s position at times. It was my first experience (a) being downrange from gunfire and (b) shooting uprange from live people. I won’t lie to you, it was just about the coolest thing I’d ever done, and Ken was just about the coolest guy I’d ever met.

And if I’d left it at that, I would have been fine.

But I didn’t. I was a pretty decent shooter back then, out-shooting most of the local instructors in my area. And since I was a good shooter, I figured I’d be a good instructor. And I’d just done this really cool drill, that made the instructor look really, really cool. And 2+2=22.

So I used the Snake Drill in a few classes. No one was hurt. But folks, I am here to tell you I was not just lucky. I was damned near blessed by the angel of mercy. I didn’t have nearly enough experience to determine whether those shooters — many of them novices by their own description — were qualified to be doing things like that. I had no experience looking for signs of a shooter getting nervous and freaking out under extreme pressure. And I had absolutely no plan on what to do if someone did, in fact, get hurt.

Knowing how the drill is explained and performed isn’t the same as understanding the drill, the how’s and why’s, the potential pitfalls, the telltale indicators that something is about to go wrong. Was it cool? Hell yeah! Did the students think it was cool? Yup. Did the students think I was cool for doing it? You bet!

Was it just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever done as an instructor? Without question. Taking a class from Ken Hackathorn — or anyone else — and watching him teach, believe it or not, didn’t somehow magically transfer all of his experience and wisdom and judgment into my little brain overnight.

There is no shame in being that local instructor who teaches marksmanship fundamentals. You had to start somewhere as a shooter, and you have to start somewhere as a teacher. It’s natural to emulate the instructors you have seen in the past. But for your own sake and your students’, remember that taking a class and seeing a drill or technique does not mean you are suddenly capable of teaching it to others. There is a long, involved road between doing and understanding.

Playing by “big boy rules” is all the rage right now in some shooting circles, and all too often we see beginner instructors with novice students trying to use those “big boy rules” because it sounds cool. The problem is that playing by “big boy rules” requires experience, understanding, and planning. Simply declaring, “We are playing by Big Boy Rules” doesn’t really cut it. Because if you think the definition of Big Boy Rules is, “No one got shot,” you are dancing on the head of a very bloody pin.

Don’t be ashamed to be the guy teaching 2+2=4 at the range. And don’t let your ego get you — or your students — hurt for the sake of looking cool. Because when your student is falling from 10,000 feet and there’s nothing you can do to save him, it’s too late to realize you were out of your lane.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

(thanks to for the image)

  1. 27 Responses to “Crawl, Walk, Run Off a Cliff”

  2. Nice post Todd, very well said.

    By Steve B on Sep 30, 2010

  3. Todd, I have also jumped out of an airplane. Some folks think it is the ultimate test of guts. It’s my take that the real test is if you have the balls to do it a second time, having been through it once. Skydiving aside, the more I learn about you as an instructor, and your classes, the more I look forward to the AFHF class in November in CA.

    By KW on Sep 30, 2010

  4. I know where the idea for this article came from!! Excellent points made, Todd. Keep up the good work. As an aside, I hope that it was a cloudy day when you were jumping, couldn’t imagine you being that close to the sun, unprotected. :-)

    By gtmtnbiker98 on Sep 30, 2010

  5. Good stuff!

    By marshalldodge on Sep 30, 2010

  6. Great post Todd!

    By MW on Sep 30, 2010

  7. “Don’t be ashamed to be the guy teaching 2+2=4 at the range.”

    Well said!

    I’ve taught some other activities at a basic level and enjoyed it. Some of my students went on to advanced training and became more skilled than I was. I took that as a compliment.

    By Lyford on Sep 30, 2010

  8. Great post. Great insights.
    Personally I want nothing to do with a snake drill unless the entire class is from an organization’s team which has already trained together and is a “known quantity”. Which by definition leaves me out and that’s fine by me. 😉
    All 5 of my static line jumps terrified the beejezus out of me. LOL YMMV

    By JoeC on Sep 30, 2010

  9. “Big boy rules” should apply first, and foremost, to you (the instructor, writer, advice giver, whatever); And primary among those rules should be staying in your lane. All the real “big boys” I know, are very familiar with their lane and staying in it.

    Great post.

    By M. Atwood on Sep 30, 2010

  10. Guess I’ll stop the plan to pass on your press out technique in class. 😉

    By Rob E on Sep 30, 2010

  11. As I may have said somewhere before: “Just so we’re clear, if I get muzzled by somebody and call them on it, and they smarm back with something like “big boy rules!”, I am going to
    pistol-whip them to their big boy knees.

    I think that we’ve done a grave disservice to ourselves by using a piece of jargon like “Muzzle” when what we really mean is “Stop pointing your %$&*ing gun at me!!!!

    By Tam on Sep 30, 2010

  12. Todd,

    This should be required reading for all instructors at all levels. I’ve been instructing NRA, CCW, Boy Scouts, and 4H Shooting Sports. I always focus on fundamentals – even when teaching advanced concepts and techniques.

    I’ve taken a lot of courses over the years from NRA basic classes to tactical “kick-in’ doors down” classes. I’ve often observed both instructors and students that were beyond their expertise or comfort zones. It is not pretty.

    A couple things I’ll add from my experience:
    – some time spent in law enforcement or the military does not make you a gun expert or SWAT ninja, and even if you are a law enforcement gun expert or SWAT member – it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be a good instructor. (although I do appreciate their service to our country and communities.)
    – the instructor that impresses me is the one that gets to know the students – BEFORE THEY’RE ON THE FIRING LINE WITH A LOADED FIREARM – and adjusts to each student’s needs – even if they have to say, go home and come back for our basic class first.
    – I also prefer instructors who would rather spend time teaching than telling war stories, unless they are directly relevant to the teaching.
    – Finally, teaching a CCW course in full SWAT/ninja gear complete with 14″ blade Rambo knife and so much gear hangin on you and your gun you have to shuffle through a regular-sized door sideways (yes, this was an instructor at a CCW course I took a while back) does not impress me.

    Just a couple of my many thoughts.

    Great post!

    By Dann in Ohio on Sep 30, 2010

  13. Todd,

    As usual, you’ve strayed outside your lane. Anyone who was in the Navy, AND can mention Ken and Larry 100 times in 5 minutes, is obviously qualified to teach all sorts of stuff. On top of that, if you have also sold tactical gear to untold numbers of high speed internet types, your CV is beyond reproach. Don’t be a hater, just open an e-store.

    By SLG on Sep 30, 2010

  14. I’m 52 years old, and was taught to shoot in the early ’70s (properly) by a San Diego Deputy Marshall, (a department since absorbed into the Sheriff’s Office).

    This, followed by a hitch in USAF Law Enforcment, participating (successfully) at the Command level with my base’s Rifle & Pistol team, followed by a few years in small town police work here in Texas.

    Add a couple of decades of concentrated range time and old fashioned PPC competition, and I’ll rightly say that I can handle most any weapon, and generally hit what I’m aiming at, rapidly, with wee tidy groups withal.

    Still, I take pride on only instructing the basics of safety and fundamental marksmanship. I have a couple of experienced, able instructors in my local area to whom I “hand off” such newbies as might desire to advance past the “9 ring +” level of competence I try to impart.

    I learned to keep it at that level, not because I ran any sort of analogue to your “snake drill”, but because I’ve had one too many “newbies” fail to ever sufficiently internalize the basics of range safety, muzzle discipline or even a basic span of attention to respond to the most recent range instruction.

    And yes, I do give ample “chalkboard” and dry fire time, well before a live range is brought into the equation.

    I’m an awfully good teacher, up to the level I care to teach. I do it for free, too, just to get ’em into the sport, or into being able to defend themselves.

    Beyond that, there’s a reason that the pros charge, and get, large bucks for their skills and expertise, and I don’t begrudge ’em a dime of it.

    The good ones sure as hell earn it!

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

    By Jim on Sep 30, 2010

  15. hits close to home for me

    I experienced both ends of the spectrum instructor wise when I was in basic training. I didn’t come from a family of shooters as mother was pretty anti gun. When we started marksmanship training with the M9 the lead instructor was a wantabe high speed low drag guy. My company as a whole did horrible the first day at the range. Only people that did well were the people that had prior handgun instruction and didn’t need the basic’s. Most of us were put in the retard/goon squad after failing the initial qual.

    I was devastated as I don’t fail and my first duty station was a combat unit which meant I had to qual in order to attend the advanced training later in the week or lose my orders. Also now no mater how I did on the second qual I would only be a marksman.

    Falling in the goon squad at the range was a godsend in a way as I got a instructor that had me shooting good in about 5 minutes. I was left handed but right eye dominate, jerking trigger like mad and crap grip. I shot the qual right hand and scored expert(only received marksman thou). The advanced training later on was easy for most the goon squad guys.

    Later in life when I met my wife she had never shot before. Instead of trying to teaching her myself I took her to a basic NRA instructor and I sat in back quietly. She doesn’t get to shoot much nowadays with the kids but when she does it’s on target. Went skeet shooting with friends of the family few years ago and the old guys wouldn’t shoot after my wife due to not wanting a women out doing them.

    By pennzoil on Oct 1, 2010

  16. Good post Todd and agree with a lot of it.

    For me personally, I have been teaching basic pistol and carbine for about 3-4 years now (crawl). Having almost been shot in a class during a Snake drill, I would never teach or do that drill. I leave that for folks that can better asses a students abilities. As Todd said, it is important for a instructor to be able to recognize when they are not ready for something like the snake drill (walk).

    For those not aware, Todd has a lot of folks that don’t think much of him or his classes. They question what right he has to be teaching classes. He was never in the Military, never a cop or any other profession that would be deemed as a good background for an instructor. Some of these people have never attended any of his classes. Some have.
    Todd was kind enough to give me a free slot in one of his classes. I actually enjoyed it AND learned some things. In fact I use a couple of his drills in the basic pistol classes I teach.
    Does Todd and his training fill a niche in the training world? Yep. Do I recommend his classes to others? Yes I do. Todd is one of the best instructors I have seen at creating a lesson plan, following it and articulating what he wants done.

    Like Todd admitted, he has made mistakes in his early training days. Did he learn from them? Yes. Will I learn from mine? Sure will!

    Some folks might question why I am teaching basic home defense classes. The honest truth is that I really enjoy the subject and believe that all Civy’s have the right to learn how to protect themselves in their own home. For the record, I never would have thought about doing these classes if it wasn’t for one of Todd’s mentors suggesting it to me. They believed (based on all the Home Defense training I have completed & done well in) that I have the knowledge and ability to teach Civy’s how to pie corners, use cover and navigate rooms. We do not teach tactics, LE, Military or anyone else that does this type of stuff for a living. We also stress to our students that they seek out professional training on the subject as ours are focused just on getting their feet wet.

    Safety in the classes we teach is very important to us. My AI for all the classes I teach (head firearms instructor for the county SO) is also an EMT. We have a plan in place in the event of a shooting with roles assigned to the students, local phone numbers listed and the address of the range along with coordinates listed. Having read the shooting at Todd’s class, it really drove home how important it is to have this stuff covered.

    Muzzling, sweeping, poor gun handling is never tolerated. Does it happen? For any of you that have logged hours in a shoot house (either 1 man or team) know that it is just a matter of time before it happens to you. As a famous instructor once told me, it’s going to happen so deal with it and drive on. Some people (students or instructors) don’t handle it well. Some do. We are all different. As the owner of a gun shop, I can tell you that most dangerous place to be in is behind the counter!

    Good commentary and discussions…


    By Grant on Oct 1, 2010

  17. Grant, STOP. You are the most immature, prideful, petty, vengeful “Christian” adult I have seen in some time.

    Don’t make people question YOUR military background. You’ve already been publicly rebuked by one of your mentors for what I warned you about months ago – name dropping. In case you didn’t read between the lines, Larry was telling you to shut up.

    Go reread the Sermon on the Mount. This is from an atheist.

    By LittleLebowski on Oct 1, 2010

  18. Grant, How much clearer does Larry need to put it?

    You screwed up, you were wrong, and you are the one who put it up on the internet for everyone to see (before you took it down in shame).

    By Jim on Oct 1, 2010

  19. I read the entire thread over on FT&T and saw the videos before they were removed. Regardless of what happened in the class Grant has made it 10 times worse for himself by deflecting blame, dragging in other instructors, throwing insults and generally acting like a child. If he would have owned up to it, took responsibility and vowed to take those lessons and apply them in the future it would have been over. But he’s created a shit storm that he’s going to be dealing with for a long time to come. Some people don’t know what to STFU and log off. Sucks to be him.

    By Kevo on Oct 1, 2010

  20. Gents — I know this isn’t my website, but it would probably be best for if this discussion wasn’t turned irretrievably personal. There are certainly lessons to be learned but those will be drowned out if it descends into a textual shoving match.

    We’re all better than that.

    By TCinVA on Oct 1, 2010

  21. Great post on a subject that has caused, for better or for worse, a lot of interesting conversation and thoughts over the last few days. Kudos to Todd G (and Rob S on some other forums) for their well reasoned responses to this situation.

    By subzero on Oct 1, 2010

  22. I am in VA prepping for a class so this will be short and sweet:

    Please keep all comments to the original post by me. Comments about my background, my qualifications, my mistakes, etc are 100% ok.

    Comments about other instructors, their backgrounds, their qualifications, and their mistakes should go elsewhere.

    I genuinely appreciate the zaniness of where this headed, but we are not getting dragged into another company’s internet drama.

    Thank you.

    By ToddG-Mobile on Oct 1, 2010

  23. TCinVA. 100% agree. We are all Pro gun, Pro 2A and should be uniting against our common enemies. None of us live in glass houses and we should all remember that (including me).

    Anyone is more than free to drop me a line, call me, etc if they would like to discuss anything I have said or done.

    This will be my last post here.

    By Grant on Oct 1, 2010

  24. “uniting against our common enemies”

    Commies? Libruls? Atheists?

    By Terry on Oct 1, 2010

  25. Man, I always miss the good stuff.

    By Rob E on Oct 1, 2010

  26. Good post Todd. I had a conversation with SN today about instructorship & some of the pitfalls we can run into. Sometimes it can be hard (as an instructor or a student) to avoid getting too far into the deep end of the pool even with the best of intentions.

    By YammyMoney on Oct 2, 2010

  27. It’s one thing to bite off more than you’re ready for and teach above your level.

    While this shows some poor judgment, you can learn from it and improve (as Todd humbly and maturely admits he did with the Snake Drill).

    Or, you can backpedal, throw stones, blame your students, blame instructors who weren’t there and invoke in vain the name of “big boy rules” when not even the biggest of the “big boys” operate that way.

    Both of these approaches reflect significantly on the character of the instructor (which is a crucial part of instruction, in my opinion). This is why I have studied under Todd’s instruction and would proudly do so again.

    By Noveske FTW on Oct 2, 2010

  28. Grant,

    Get help, seriously.

    This reminds me of the Happy Days episode (I know I am dating myself)when Fonzie simply could not say he was “wrong”.

    Admitting the truth with be liberating, really.

    By dojpros on Oct 2, 2010

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