Instructor Demonstrations

25-Mar-13 – 23:03 by ToddG

To demo or not to demo, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler for the class to suffer
The Questions and Mistakes of outrageous Confusion,
Or take up Arms amid a sea of students,
And by demonstrating embarrass yourself.

Having been through somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five different shooting schools, I’ve seen both sides of the “should instructors shoot demos” debate played out many times.

The first instructors I trained under never shot demos. Years later I asked the head instructor (Chuck Davis) about it. His reasoning was twofold. First, he felt that if he made a mistake during a demonstration that it would lower students’ confidence in the class. Second, at the opposite end of the spectrum he was concerned that if the instructor shot too well, the students would be demoralized by their own performance in comparison.

In the late 90’s I took my first class from Ernest Langdon who demonstrated almost every technique and drill. Ernest’s reasoning was that demonstration made it easier for many students to understand the technique and that it also made clear that he wasn’t asking people to do something magical. He could do it, so could you.

As anyone who’s been to a pistol-training.com class can attest, I fall very squarely into the second camp. And in fairness, I’ve run into both of the pitfalls Chuck Davis warned about.

I’ve shot some absolutely horrendous demonstrations. We’re not just talking bad. We’re not just talking mistake. We’re talking colossal screw ups. For example, you can read about this one from the very first class I ever taught after going into business for myself. Hey, it happens. If you’re going to shoot demos you need to accept that fact and be prepared for it. Own it, acknowledge it, laugh about it, and move on. Your students aren’t going to walk away just because you’re human and capable of mistakes. They will walk away if you waste their time trying over and over again to assuage your hurt ego.

I’ve also had students out-shoot me. If you teach anything beyond beginners you’ll have it happen eventually. Again, the trick is not to get upset about it. I’ve been to many classes where I could outshoot the instructor, sometimes easily. But I still learned things from those instructors. Hopefully, a serious instructor loves great shooters and is happy (as opposed to threatened) when one is in his class. After all, he signed up to be there. Maybe he’s more accurate than you, or faster than you. He’s not there to compete with you. He’s there to learn whatever little nuances he can gleam from you.

You can explain something verbally until you’re blue in the face. But for many students it will be watching a demonstration that makes things click. A demonstration can make a complicated drill more easy to duplicate, or an unfamiliar technique will be better understood. So, I do believe that students really get something out of watching a drill demonstrated, at least when they come to a technical performance class like mine.

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Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

(video courtesy of JodyH)

  1. 18 Responses to “Instructor Demonstrations”

  2. As a student I prefer to see things demonstrated. I’ve seen some great instructors throw a shot, on a few occasions, and they all handled it with aplomb. Usually a little self deprecating humor and everyone forgets about it 5 seconds later as we progress into replicating the drill, hopefully without throwing the shot 😉

    I think most people who are intelligent enough to be spending their hard earned money on training are also intelligent enough to realize we’re all mortals and capable of missing the mark on occasion. In my experience people are more inclined to judge the instructor on how they handle the miss rather than their actual shooting prowess.

    By Irish on Mar 25, 2013

  3. I took a class with the famous Chuck Taylor once. It was by far the absolute worst class I have ever taken and I’ve taken a few dozen. He never once even touched a gun.

    By Emanuel on Mar 25, 2013

  4. I definitely prefer an instructor to demo–Bob Vogel, Pat McNamara, and the guys from hardwiredtacticalshooting all demo drills.

    By DocGKR on Mar 25, 2013

  5. This is a really good discussion to have. Having seen it done both ways, and having done it both ways, and doing it less than perfectly a few times, but also succeeding outrageously well a few times (it’s really good egoboo to hear someone say “that’s why he’s the instructor”); my opinion is that which method to use depends entirely on the situation.

    1. If the instructor’s skills aren’t to be trusted for some reason, it’s perhaps better not to demo.

    2. If the task is simple and 1. applies, it’s probably best not to demo.

    3. If the task is complicated but easy to see, it’s better to demo, even if you screw up a bit.

    4. If the task is hard to see when someone else does it, find a different demo that makes it more obvious.

    By Redchrome on Mar 26, 2013

  6. I think a key takeaway is what you wrote about screwing up: own it, move on.

    If you keep trying to shoot it just to prove something, that will certainly put a more negative impression in the mind of the students.

    If you move on, the students will see over the course of class that the one screw-up isn’t indicative of your abilities. And likely if they came to a class with you in the first place, your reputation preceded you and they know you’re not a screw up.

    In fact if anything, it helps them see you too are human, you too aren’t perfect, and that you are still a student of the art. It sometimes helps students feel a little more relaxed, so hey yeah… just own it, smile, and move on.

    By hsoi on Mar 26, 2013

  7. Many, perhaps most, people are visual learners. Without a demonstration, they don’t get as much out of each individual drill. I’m a firm believer in demos of each drill.

    By Claude on Mar 26, 2013

  8. I learn best from seeing how it’s done.

    I vividly remember watching Bill Rogers demo a drill. My “aha” moment wasn’t watching him hit every target (which he did), but that his eyes were so focused and he NEVER blinked once during the entire drill.
    Another skill I learned was watching him breathe prior to the shot timer beep going off. I took breathing for granted until I saw his pre-drill prep. I said to myself “if it’s important enough for him, I should definitely take a few deep breaths before each drill”. I still do that. It was burned in my memory when I saw it.

    By BobR on Mar 26, 2013

  9. I always demo the drills, as stated before a large number of people are visual learners. I have found the time spent explaining the drill or correcting people who didn’t understand the instructions takes much more time then doing the drill first. I always try to do the drill at an average speed. The point is to show them how it is done, not how fast I am. Mistakes happen, use it as a training point.

    By John on Mar 26, 2013

  10. One of the training best practices I’ve seen came from a computer/network training instructor. At the very beginning of the class, he’d ask us to briefly introduce ourselves. Then he’d say “Just look at all the variety of backgrounds. We all come from different places. We have different levels of training and experience. And we’re all here to learn from each other. There are no dumb questions here; just people who might not have been exposed to a particular concept or technique.”

    In short, no need for hurt egos, and no place for big egos. All possible arguments against instructor demos boil down to ego issues, either for the instructor or the students. Get beyond that, and it’s not even an issue. If you don’t get beyond that, you have bigger problems anyway.

    By Curby on Mar 26, 2013

  11. I always demo drills for the class I teach. While demoing I don’t try to burn the drill down to avoid embarrising the students as well as making sure I don’t stumble during the drill. Pushing hard has it’s place but not during a demo. If the drill is so hard that I have to push to the point of failure then maybe I am asking to much of my students. OF course there’s always a day when all I have for fingers is thumbs. Humor is best whenthat happens.

    By rsa-otc on Mar 26, 2013

  12. Do as I say, not as I do…doesn’t work for me. So if “you” can’t take your own good instruction and turn it into results, why should I think I it can do the same for me?

    By Matt S. on Mar 27, 2013

  13. Credit where credit is due.
    Timer is courtesy of JodyH
    I believe the video is courtesy of Atomic Jones

    By JodyH on Mar 27, 2013

  14. In my basic concealed carry classes I rarely demo live fire.
    If I do live fire it’s usually with the students gun to prove the misses belong to them and can’t be blamed on the gun.

    In my advanced carry classes where we go into more depth on shooting and gunhandling skills I demo nearly every drill.
    I usually back off to 3/4 speed so I am performing the drill mechanically perfect and I hold myself to a higher accuracy standard.

    It draws in the visual learners.

    By JodyH on Mar 27, 2013

  15. I am a VERY strong believer in shooting demos. I shoot almost all of the drills I want my students to perform. Not all because I might end up taking too much time up, but most of them, and especially the one’s that raise an eyebrow, like asking them to hit a target at 100 yards.

    By Chuck Haggard on Mar 28, 2013

  16. Great post. I just came back from a day with our SWAT team training new “Operators” on the flat range. Realized that my preferred practice is to have an Assistant Instructor (AI) demonstrate after I explain, and then swap roles once in awhile. That way while the Primary is explaining the application and then the technical execution of the drill, the AI is checking to ensure his gun is set up with the proper load and reloads, and rehearsing mentally. It makes for a seamless explanation / demonstration / execution / remediation. But I ALWAYS have someone shoot a demo for the drill unless it is painfully basic. Concerning the drill, if you nail it in terms of speed, say you were showing capabilities of the training. If you nail it in terms of accuracy, say you were ensuring you were over-emphasizing your standard. If you totally f it up, say you are human and a student of the craft.

    By M Hoffman on Mar 29, 2013

  17. I have trained with TLG, Robert Vogel, Bill Rogers and Manny Bragg in the last six months — and each of them demos. Watching them shoot the drills is incredibly valuable to me, not to mention fun for them.

    I would have to think long and hard before doing another class where the instructor does not do demos.

    By GJM on Mar 29, 2013

  18. I’ll throw out that even in his 70s Jim Cirillo shot demos, at least at the classes I attended. He wasn’t really fast, but he could still shoot scary well for accuracy.

    By Chuck Haggard on Mar 30, 2013

  19. I recall one instructor who never picked up a pistol that I can recall during the class, and even admitted that he rarely bothered to use one. He did one ‘demonstration’ trying to show how useless it was to shoot at a certain distance with a pistol by having everyone fire a shot at the target. I (fresh from another recent course) hit the target on the left edge.

    So stating that it was just a fluke and all luck, he asked me to do it again with the whole class watching. This shot was in the center.

    So don’t try embarrassing your students either!

    By cj on Apr 1, 2013

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