A word that has been popping up with increasing frequency in conversations among my friends about firearms training is “derp”. It's a versatile word. It can be a verb: The prerequisites for that class were really over my head, but I derped my way through it. It can be an adjective: That new Blastomatic 2000 is pretty derpy. It can even be a noun: That firearms instructor was peddling the purest derp.
What the word lacked until recently was a consistent definition, but an internet friend recently rectified that with this: “'Derp' is enthusiasm without information.”
Many of us try to, as the kids would put it these days, #fightthederp, but that's hard to do without a coordinated action plan, and that's where my friend Kathy Jackson comes in.
Kathy got interested in learning how to shoot a pistol defensively in the 2000s and, as the mother of five young boys at the time, she sought professional instruction to better be able to protect herself and her family. Like the characters from Japanese mythology who sat in the lotus position on the master swordsmith's doorstep until he took them in to apprentice, Kathy started out cleaning spent brass off the ranges at the Firearms Academy of Seattle and doing other work in exchange for classes. It wasn't long before she graduated from brasshopper to assistant instructor and over time was eventually teaching classes herself as an FAS instructor.
Working at Firearms Academy of Seattle exposed her to the established and well-tested methods of safely and efficiently teaching new students how to run a pistol. So when she hung out her own shingle as the Cornered Cat and began traveling and instructing, she was dismayed at the state of the firearms instruction industry. Bluntly put, the firearms training industry was full of well-meaning people who had no idea what they were doing. Feeling empowered with their new-found ability to shoot a handgun without being scared of it and wanting to share this feeling with their friends, novice instructors would print business cards and start signing up classes without really knowing what they were doing.
This is what led Kathy to develop her four-day Instructor Development curriculum; a thirty-two hour immersion in how to safely and efficiently train adults in the skills needed to operate a defensive handgun. Half classroom time and half on the range, Kathy stepped us through a basic “Handgun 101” curriculum and gave us all the opportunity to experience the class both as students and instructors. The best analogy I can think of would be a ride through Disney's “Haunted Mansion”, except in each room, the ride would stop, the lights would come on, and everybody would be free to step out of the cars and have all the tricks and special effects explained, both how they worked and why they were there.
An instructor demonstrates the "exemplar drill", in which the instructor presses the student's trigger finger while they hold the sight picture so they can feel a proper trigger press.
The class started on the range on day one with the absolute basics; safely unboxing pistols on the firing line, basic safe gun-handling, and simple marksmanship drills. In a practice that would continue throughout the class, Kathy would pull one of us off the line to stand back with her while she pointed out things to watch out for while running a line. There were countless little tips; where to stand so as to be able to see the most important details, the importance of brief and unmistakeable range commands, and much more.
During the classroom time, we went over the importance of using the proper techniques for adult education, the differences in dynamics between all-female or all-male classes and classes with both genders. We all gave presentations to the class and were graded on our speaking performances.
In one of the more interesting range exercises, everyone holstered up with dummy guns and we were given whispered instructions by Kathy on how often we should mess up while drawing and reholstering. We then took turns with two students calling the line, acting as instructor and assistant, while the rest of us did everything from get on the trigger too early on the draw to try and reholster a big wad of shirttail. This exercise was quickly dubbed “The Line From Hell”, and was an excellent demonstration of how on-the-ball you have to be to run a safe line in real time.
For anyone interested in improving their performance as an instructor, I highly recommend this class. It distills a lot of the tribal knowledge that has been developed over the years at FAS, Gunsite, and other ranges and presents it in an organized package that is a boon to any instructor. Bring an open mind and an empty notebook, because you'll fill them both up with knowledge.