Ken Hackathorn on the American Warrior Show

Following up on my recent post about Gunsite and the early history of private citizen gun training classes, as well as previous posts based on Mike Seeklander’s American Warrior Show podcast (on Tom Givens, on Gabe Suarez, and on Seeklander himself), this post presents some insights from an interview with Ken Hackathorn (show #21 from 25 December 2015).

Hackathorn, now retired from full time gun training, is one of the most experienced living trainers in the industry (see also a print interview with him in the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network journal). He took his first course with Col. Jeff Cooper in the early 1970s, before Cooper’s founding of the American Pistol Institute. He described the experience of taking Cooper’s combat pistol course as like becoming a born-again Christian. He was later certified by Cooper and became one of the first assistant instructors at API.

Photo of Ken Hackathorn (left) posted by Roscoe Benson (middle) to

Hackathorn was an early practitioner of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) competitions organized by Cooper, a founding board member of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), and there is even a “Hackathorn Special” pistol sold by Wilson Combat (starting price: $3,750).

Photo by Wilson Combat


Hackathorn’s long history with Jeff Cooper and Gunsite gives him some unique and interesting perspectives on gun training, some of which I will quote here.

On Jeff Cooper:

Virtually everybody that is in this business today — you, me, everybody — in some way is in this business as a result of what Jeff Cooper started.

On 9mm vs. .45 ACP and real world self-defense:

If somebody showed up at Gunsite, oh my God, if they showed up with a 9mm pistol, they might as well have been a Communist [in Cooper’s eyes]. But I always tell people, life is about change . . . Everybody’s afraid that ISIS is going to show up at their local mall, so they all want a high capacity pistol. Everybody went to a pocket single-stack 5 or 6 or 7 shot pistol. All of a sudden everybody’s [saying] “Oh no, you have to have a high capacity [firearm] so you can fight off an ISIS assault at the local shopping mall.” It’s all pretty ludicrous, as you and I both know. I tell people: Fights are never won by the number of rounds you launch. They’re won by the rounds you put effectively on target. But you remember the argument, 9mm vs. .45. It’s an ongoing thing, and it makes alot of entertainment on the internet for a bunch of people who should probably never say a thing.

Most people who carry firearms for self-defense — and that’s whether they’re in the civilian sector, law enforcement, or military — for the most part (and you’ve seen this in your experience) most of the people who carry guns on this planet are incompetent with them.

Pitiful guns vs. real guns:

I’ve always believed you carry the gun you can shoot most proficiently. Again, I understand that some people have to make compromises, but I’ve always carried a real gun. Have I ever carried a J-frame Smith? I’ve carried Smith Centennial since before anyone knew what they were. But it was always a backup gun, never a primary. . . . To quote my old buddy Clint Smith, “Your self-defense sidearm should be comforting not comfortable.” And alot of people, let’s be honest Mike, most people who have a CCW in America today, deep down don’t believe they’re ever going to need it. . . . I run into people who carry what I consider pitiful guns. . . . As long as you never need it, that’s a great gun.

Training techniques replicated:

Early on I used to see other instructors, especially when this explosion of training came about in the last 8 or 10 years, actually in the last 5 years it’s amazing. When I first started seeing other instructors teaching material that I came up with, I used to get real defensive and go, “Man that guy stole my stuff.” In reality, nobody stole anything. You come and take my class, you buy that material. You buy the right to it. So alot of the training and teaching techniques out there — I’m not saying I’m the only guy that’s come up with them, but i certainly introduced alot of them to alot of people — have now been replicated and used by other instructors.

Situational awareness:

I do what I call “reality-based training.” And I tell people, look, you do not have to be a great shot to survive a real-world encounter. You don’t. A good shooter is good enough. What most people don’t understand, and I tell people this every class I do: situational awareness is probably 10 times more important than your marksmanship skills. Combat marksmanship is critical, and that’s what I’m there to teach, that’s what I’m taking their money for. But reality is, if you think just being a good shot is going to solve the world’s problems for you, you’re smoking the wrong stuff. You desperately need to understand that situational awareness is the most important thing you have, particularly in today’s world.


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