17-Feb-14 – 18:38 by ToddG
So as my days doing the “traveling instructor” thing appear to be coming to an end, I’ve been reflecting lately on the current state of the training community… and it’s made me a little sad. Then yesterday I met a young instructor from half way across the country and was reminded that there are still genuinely good guys out there who are more interested in teaching and shooting than money and ego.
When I first started training seriously twenty years ago, the first school I went to was a local outfit. You’ve never heard of it. You’ve never heard of any of the instructors. But they were professionals and they were enablers. They never took the “only we can teach it” attitude. They encouraged students to save up and go to Gunsite rather than take a repeat class from them.
If one of the few traveling instructors of the era — like Farnam or the incredible Ken Hackathorn — was going to be in the area they’d call around to their qualified students and say, “You should cancel your Pistol-3 with us next weekend and take this instead!” They weren’t looking to suck every possible dollar out of us. They wanted us to become the best shooters we could be… and they were humble enough to realize that meant seeking other, different ideas and instructors.
When I first started teaching seriously, it was under the auspices of first the NRA at their Headquarters range and then during my time working at both Beretta and SIG. As such, I was pretty much uninvolved in the business side of things and just showed up to teach what I was told, where I was told.
When I started out on my own in 2007, though, things were still the way I remembered them for the most part. There were a lot more instructors doing the high-end traveling road show thing now but most of us knew each other personally or at least through one another. Sure there were some cliques and some now-famous rivalries but for the most part it was still a bunch of guys who’d support one another.
The internet drives the industry now, of course, and I’m the last person who can complain about that. If not for M4Carbine.net, none of you would ever have known I existed. That site gave me the opportunity to establish myself and it was one of the former senior staff over there who invited me to teach the first pistol-training.com open enrollment class back in ’08. This blog was getting about 300 visitors a day before then. Now it sees over 7k on a typical day. I owe M4C 100% for that initial exposure.
But as training became bigger business, bigger business got involved in training. The booking houses (first Grey Group Training and now Alias) got started by one of the guys who runs M4Carbine.
There are some incredible positives to these booking houses. They bring a lot of great instructors into an area where maybe local hosts wouldn’t have the contacts to do it on their own. Instead of seeing one big name locally, now you get a chance to see a dozen. And usually only the best qualified, best vetted instructors get brought into the picture by these bookers because they can afford to be very select in whom they support. If I was going to list ten instructors off the top of my head that I’d recommend, odds are 80% of them are teaching for either Grey Group or Alias almost exclusively.
But there’s also a dark side to some of it. I ran afoul a few years back of the M4C/Alias guy and suddenly all the positive AARs about my classes got deleted from M4C. My account got deleted. Hosts trying to advertise my classes had their posts deleted and were in some cases banned from M4C.
As recently as last year there was a crazy online controversy that arose because one student in an Alias class wrote a class review on M4C that mentioned the instructor endorsed me… and the Alias guy (but not the instructor obviously) went ballistic that my name was mentioned positively. At one big facility where I’ve taught many times, Alias pushed them to stop allowing me to teach there at all! I’m thankful that they continue to invite me back regardless.
The booking houses take a percentage off every student’s enrollment (usually around 20% depending on the booker and the instructor) so they are motivated to get lots of students into classes. The amount of time and effort is pretty much the same whether it’s four students or forty but they make a lot more money with 40. Of course, on class day it makes a huge difference for the instructor… and the students!
I showed up as a guest to one once and there were more than thirty shooters in a class with just the one “name” instructor and one assistant. The booking company made thousands of dollars but the students suffered from lack of personal attention. It’s usually completely out of the instructors’ hands, too. I’ve talked to many of them and they show up amazed that their stated class limit (12, 14, whatever) was just ignored by the booking company and instead there are 20, 25 students standing around expecting miracles. Often the instructor isn’t told until the night before class how many students will be there because the booker is trying to push more students in at the last minute.
Again, that’s not to say everything about these companies is bad. As a matter of fact, just before my recent unpleasantness (see RampageForTheCure.org) I was approached by one and gave it some very serious thought. It’s very convenient for the instructor, removes a ton of administrative effort, gets you far wider exposure, and puts you in a group of good guys who are generally good at working together and promoting one another honestly and enthusiastically.
But that brings me back to the guy I met yesterday (who will remain anonymous so he doesn’t get dragged into my drama). When I met him, he didn’t act like we’re combatants in the marketplace. We’re not rivals. We’re not competitors. Sure, there may be people who pick between going to him or coming to me for a class some day. But who cares? I’m not crying over his success, nor he mine. I want more, better trained shooters out there because I love hanging out with good shooters. I don’t care how you got that way or whether I made money in the process.
I want more, better skilled instructors out there teaching students to be better shooters. They’re not rivals, they’re partners. They’re part of my community. They’re people whose ideas I can borrow and whose opinions I can solicit, and hopefully the same is true in reverse. And even if I think a guy’s certain technique in one area is stupid, we can still be friends and not talk crap about each other on the firing line in front of students.
And it’s not like any instructor has the time to teach every student available, anyway. Even at my busiest I was teaching less than 20 open enrollment classes a year. That’s about 250 students. If I can’t bring in 250 people out of the 10,000 or so who take classes each year, then I’ve got a completely different reason to hang up my instructor shirt.
Train hard & stay safe! ToddG