Contemporary Private Citizen Gun Trainers – Like Drawfs on the Shoulders of Giants?

One final thought on Tom Givens’s Rangemaster Instructor Development and Certification course before I move on to considering apprenticeship, credentials, and branding in the private citizen gun training industry.

Listening to the Primary & Secondary ModCast #93 on how to find an instructor, the Rangemaster course was singled out as a high quality instructor certification course for those working in the private sector. The credit given to this course by the P&S podcasters (who spent a lot of time critiquing other firearms instructor certifications) is interesting because Givens himself doesn’t take alot of credit for what he teaching. In fact, at the outset of his course he makes clear that “much of what is taught in gun training is not novel.”

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

Givens encourages his student instructors to appreciate where the ideas and techniques they are teaching came from, as well as to understand how they evolved and continue to evolve. And be sure, Givens insists, to “give credit to other instructors.”

Givens doesn’t exempt himself from the assertion that “most gun trainers teach other people’s ideas.” In fact, he freely admits he only invented a couple of ideas that are widely used. These are, he explained to me in a follow up email:

“Survival Chain-  Illustration of a piece of chain. The links are marked Tactics, Equipment, Attitude, Marksmanship.  TEAM acronym.

Survival Stool-  Illustration of a stool with three legs. Pull any leg off and you fall. The 3 legs are labeled Mindset, Gunhandling, Marksmanship.

Both of these were designed to help get across mindset issues to new students.

I designed the Casino Drill. Intended to practice and then test a host of skills in one drill. Covers rapid presentation from the holster; fast multiple shots; fast acquisition of multiple targets, that have to be identified and engaged with the correct number of shots; keeping up with external stimuli under duress; two forced reloads under time pressure; and stress innoculation, all in one timed drill.

Lynn works with me, as you saw in class. She came up with the drills we use to teach trigger control by visual feedback. She calls this “Lynn’s STD”, which stands for Sensory Trigger Drill. By watching the trigger in taking up the slack, releasing the sear, and re-setting, the student learns trigger control better and faster than in either traditional dry fire or live fire training.”

Givens concluded his email:

“As I said, there is little true innovation. What I have done is search far and wide for best practices, then brought them together as a cohesive program.”

Lynn Givens teaching, May 2017. Photo by David Yamane

To describe his role in the grand scheme of things to his student instructors – and, hence, theirs – Givens says:

“We stand on the shoulders of giants. That’s why we are able to see so far.”

Here he is drawing on an aphorism commonly attributed to Sir Isaac Newton who said: “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

The version of this saying attributed to Newton is actually a modification in substance and meaning from the original. In his Metalogicon (1159), John of Salisbury attributes the original saying to Bernard of Chartres:

“Dicebat Bernardus Carnotensis nos esse quasi nanos, gigantium humeris insidentis, ut possimus plura eis et remotiora videre, non utique proprii visus acumine, aut eminentia corporis, sed quia in altum subvenimur et extollimur magnitudine gigantea”

“Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.”

In the original, the emphasis was on the contemporary being a drawf in relation to the giant size predecessor, while the Newtonian version accents more the contemporary’s superior vision.

Either way, in the gun training industry, the giant upon whose shoulders contemporary pygmies stand is Col. Jeff Cooper. In my travels among gun trainers, I routinely hear the prefatory clauses “As Col. Cooper said…” or “According to Col. Cooper…”

This is certainly true of Tom Givens. The “survival stool” he mentioned in his email to me offers a twist on Cooper’s “combat triad”: mindset, gun handling and practical marksmanship.

While at Gunsite Academy last month observing the contemporary incarnation of Cooper’s 250 Defensive Pistol course, I watched a video recording from 1981 of Cooper delivering his “Mental Conditioning for Combat” lecture. Several ideas presented by Cooper in that lecture live on today in the gun training industry, including in Tom Givens’s instructor development course.

Challenge coin purchased in support of the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation, Photo by David Yamane

This way of thinking about private citizen gun training stresses its communal nature, rather than the competitive dimension emphasized by the term I frequently use, gun training industry.

Thought of as a community, there are analogies that can be used to describe private citizen gun trainers other than as standing on the shoulders of giants. “Roots and branches,” for example, is a common way to describe traditions of thought and practice. From a common root, many different branches sprout and grow.

In early June, The Cornered Cat Kathy Jackson posed a question on her Facebook page: “What firearms instructor(s) have had the deepest / best impact on you as a shooter (and perhaps as a person)?” It generated a list of over 100 names. With enough of that sort of information, we could create a very interesting picture of the roots and branches in the gun training community.

Of course, the “roots and branches” analogy is very similar to another analogy: the “family tree.” This way we can think of Cooper as father of the civilian gun training industry and the many children he has spawned, and their children, and so on. Younger trainers that Tom Givens has mentored like John Hearne, Tiffany Johnson, and Lee Weems are, in this sense, Jeff Cooper’s grandchildren.

Of course, if Cooper is the father of the civilian gun training industry, then he too has ancestors. I am not an historian of shooting, but Karl Rehn has been working through historical shooting instruction books in preparation for teaching an historical handgun course. (Editorial aside: I MUST TAKE!)

Rehn has already found that a lot of what is said about shooting today has been said before.

Like Bernard of Chartres said, giants and pygmies. Or more generously, following Newton, on the shoulders of giants.


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