Observing Tom Givens’s Rangemaster Instructor Development and Certification Course

As I noted in the first of this series of posts, this summer I began collecting data for the chapter of my book that will cover the civilian or private citizen gun training industry. My first stop was a Rangemaster Firearms Training Services instructor development and certification course conducted by Tom Givens. This course represents the non-governmental option of certification for civilian firearms trainers. (My first stop was a pilgrimage to Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, about which I’ve already written.)

Givens is an “old head” in the industry, part of the founding generation of civilian gun trainers. He is well-known for his annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference and the winning record of his students in gun fights.

Tom Givens teaching at FPF Range in Culpeper, Virginia, May 2017. Photo by David Yamane

The classroom portion of the Rangemaster course was held at the Holiday Inn Express in Culpeper, Virginia. As we approach 0900 hours on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, the meeting room at the hotel begins to fill with 14 students (13 men and 1 woman) and 5 staff. The students came from near (Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina) and far (Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin), and even further in the case of one student from Costa Rica.

Just after 9 o’clock, Givens assumes his position at the front of the class. Although he is assisted on the range by his wife Lynn, Tim Chandler, Skip Gochenauer, and Adam Gochenauer (with an occasional cameo by range owner John Murphy), no one else teaches during the classroom portion of the course.

Givens invites the students to introduce themselves, and these introductions reveal a wide range of backgrounds and aspirations. On the high end of the experience spectrum is someone like Mike Green, Director of Training at Green Ops in Northern Virginia. Green has taught AR rifle classes at the NRA Range, and not long after I met him at this course I saw him as a guest instructor on Trigger Time TV on the Pursuit Channel.

Photo of Mike Green on Trigger Time TV by David Yamane

On the low end of the experience spectrum was an attendee who had only been shooting for 2.5 years.

In terms of aspirations, 9 of the 14 attendees were seriously involved in civilian firearm training. 3 of the 14 had no concrete plans to be trainers but were taking the course for their own benefit. 2 were sort of in the middle, teaching now and then for friends but not sure if they wanted to do more than that.

At first I thought it was odd that someone who did not want to be an instructor would take an instructor development course, but at the end of the weekend I realized that a significant portion of the course is similar to other high-level defensive shooting classes I have taken or observed, like Massad Ayoob’s MAG-40 or Gunsite Academy’s 250 Defensive Pistol.

Like the MAG-40 class which combines 20 hours in the classroom with 20 hours on the range over 5 days, the Rangemaster course was almost evenly divided between 13 hours in the classroom (54%) and 11 hours on the range (46%) over 3 days.

What makes the Rangemaster instructor development and certification course different than regular shooting courses is in the title: instructor development (which I will attend to in this post) and certification (for which see my next post).

The emphasis on developing attendees as instructors was made clear by Givens at the very outset of the course: “You are here as instructors, not shooters. . . . Start thinking like instructors. What are we doing this for?”

Both the in-class portions of the course and the range sessions encouraged attendees to think like instructors.

The Adult Learning Model and Coaching

Early on in the course, Givens tells his student instructors to adopt the “adult learning model”:

  • Explain
  • Demonstrate
  • Practice
  • Test

Givens not only advocated this approach to teaching, he modeled it throughout the class.

Tom Givens teaching on the range, May 2017. Photo by David Yamane

In addition, instead of “instructing” Givens preferred the term “coaching,” perhaps because it conveys a more individualized and interactive process. The coaching process encompasses the following steps:

  • Observe problem
  • Identify problem
  • Solve problem
  • Communicate solution
  • Help incorporate change
  • Provide feedback and encouragement
  • Adjust as needed

In contrast to the old saw that “those who can do, and those who can’t teach,” Givens insists that good firearms instructors need to be both doers and teachers.

The students in the course were required not only to practice their shooting on the range but also their coaching. On several occasions, while one string shot, the other string coached.

Shooting and coaching on the range. Photo by David Yamane

Mindset is Essential

Givens also spends a good deal of time in class instructing his student instructors how to instruct their students in mindset. The bottom line, he declared in the first session on the first day, is this:

“Teaching firearms is a matter of life and death. . . . These are deadly weapons. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be useful to us at all.”

“Personal protection,” Givens continued, is a “fuzzy, amorphous euphemism.” Why carry a gun? “I might have to shoot someone.”

He repeats this in the first session on the second day. If you are teaching hunting or target shooting, you need to teach the hardware (gunhandling, marksmanship). In defensive shooting, the shooting is a small part of what is being taught. With emphasis:

“As a defensive shooting instructor you need to explain to your students: Why do you carry? Answer: You might have to shoot someone.”

Conveying this reality is intended to move students from dismay to determination — “I refuse to be a victim of violent crime” – and thereby increase their likelihood of surviving a violent interpersonal attack.

Classroom session at the Holiday Inn Express, Culpeper, Virginia. Photo by David Yamane

How to Present

In the penultimate classroom portion of the course, Givens addressed some of the nuts-and-bolts of being a good classroom instructor. Just as people can learn to shoot better and learn to be better shooting coaches, they can also learn to convey information and ideas in the classroom better. Givens stresses the importance of capturing your audience, building rapport, establishing credibility, and taking control, but also reminds student instructors to check the room, air conditioning, and equipment ahead of time. Also, avoid serif fonts in your PowerPoints and stay hydrated. Like I said, nuts-and-bolts stuff; like nuts and bolts, it is what holds things together.

Givens also reminds student instructors to be mindful of people with different learning styles. Demonstrate, for example, especially for visual learners. 75% of human sensory input is from sight, he says, so use visual aids like videos and written manuals. (Again, he practices what he preaches here.) Incorporate activity and movement, when possible.

Which brings the class back to the adult learning model Givens began with. And reminds me of a Chinese proverb I used in my book on the active process by which people learn to become Catholic:

“I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”

Of course, as noted early in this post, the Rangemaster course is an instructor development and certification course. In my next post, I discuss the latter half of this equation.



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