Book Review- “Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training”
by Rob Morse
How do you teach something you can’t think about?
I read this book and then got to meet the authors at their home range in central Texas. That was good luck, or perhaps fortune favors the prepared. The book is a collection of essays and it is easy to read chapter at a time. Some of the material seems like it was written earlier, while other chapter were prepared specifically for this book. The book is written for firearms instructors, range operators who set training curricula, and for serious students who want to understand armed defense and how to learn it. It does an excellent job at presenting new material and focusing our attention on what we thought we knew.
Why is this interesting?
Training people to use lethal tools in self-defense involves strong emotions and serious consequences. Much of our training methodology is carried over from the institutional training given to the military and law enforcement. That isn’t the best way to teach the material because it isn’t he best way for students to learn. You can argue that our experts in the firearms training industry have held back the instruction of self-defense almost as much as they have advanced it. Karl Rehn and John Daub peal another layer off the onion of established methods and get us closer to the truth about effective firearms instruction.
Who is the intended audience for this book?
I assumed that serious instructors have studied the field of instruction. I was wrong. It is easy to keep teaching what you were taught because of institutional bias. It is seductively easy for us to say to ourselves, “That is how I was taught, and it worked for me,” when in fact, firearms instruction doesn’t work very well for most students. I am deeply grateful to Mister Rehn and Mister Daub for their willingness to look carefully at how we were taught and how we learn. The book has application for both instructors teaching new students and for experienced competitors who want to perform at the highest levels.
What is the key content?
In a single sentence, the book describes the conflict with trying to teach unconscious self-defense. In my opinion, the fundamental problem of firearms instruction is that armed defense looks too easy. The new student asks someone who shoots at the Grand Master level, “Can you teach me to do that?” All masters make their art look simple, when that deceptive simplicity is built upon years of practice acquired minutes at a time.
Compare our expectations in a firearms class to our expectation of other activities. We won’t learn to play piano or perform gymnastics in a day, in a weekend, or in a week. The truth is that we learn a huge number of foundational skills before we can perform competently with a firearm, let alone perform at the fluid level of a Grand Master. Most students will not submit to the discipline of building their skills step at a time and forming a solid foundation.
The firearms instruction industry sells weekend or week-long wonder courses where we’re taught by an extraordinary shooter. That total-immersion approach is partially justified by the fact that most students will only take a few classes in their lifetime. The instructor is desperately trying to expose the student of self-defense to all he needs to know to save his life. Karl and John remind us to take our time as we try to go faster. Practice often, and then measure our progress.
How well does the book accomplish its goals?
I recommend this book. The authors walk us through their journey. They describe the problems they see and the solutions they propose. They wonder what a firearms trainer should do to both teach responsibly and to remain in business. How do we reach the mass of people who will never be competitors and who nonetheless need the skills of armed defense? How can we measure the critical skills of self-defense?
Without giving away secrets, we can not defend ourselves with conscious thought under stress. We need our defensive skills to be as automatic as tying our shoes or singing “Happy Birthday”. The authors bring their background in competition to evaluate the degree of automaticity we’ve learned. They compare a wide range of shooting drills and rank the performance of each one.
Buy this book if you’re a serious student and want to structure your training program. Buy this book if you’re a casual student and want to evaluate the instruction you’ve received and to choose your next instructor.
The way we teach armed self-defense is evolving rapidly. The last chapter isn’t written.
Rob Morse works and writes in Southwest Louisiana. He writes at Ammoland, at his Slowfacts blog, and at Clash Daily. Rob co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast, and hosts the Self-Defense Gun Stories Podcast each week.