The Modern Technique of the Pistol at Gunsite: Blessing and Curse?

Gunsite Academy is unique among gun training schools in having survived the passing of its founder. Most shooting schools, like Ray Chapman’s Chapman Academy, Chuck Taylor’s American Small Arms Academy, and Louis Awerbuck’s Yavapai Firearms Academy are shuttered once their founders move on.

It’s hard to imagine the American Small Arms Academy, Massad Ayoob Group, Defense Training International, or Thunder Ranch continuing on if and when Chuck Taylor, Massad Ayoob, John Farnam, or Clint Smith choose to retire (though I see that E.A.G. Tactical is pressing on in Pat Rogers’ absence). [Edit: Thanks to Marty Hayes for informing me that my reports of Chuck Taylor’s demise are greatly exaggerated and that he is teaching a robust schedule of courses in 2018 including at the Firearms Academy of Seattle.]

Gunsite’s persistence is all the more remarkable because it is so closely associated with its founder, Col. Jeff Cooper.

DVD cover image from http://panteao.com/product/gunsite-40th-anniversary/

I think (at least) three aspects of Gunsite account for its successful post-founder institutionalization.

First, the American Pistol Institute had grown enough in its programming early enough in its development that it wasn’t dependent upon Cooper alone to teach classes to be a viable business. (I would be interested to know how many other firearms training companies out there that fit this mold.)

Second and related, the American Pistol Institute was a valuable enough commodity separate from Cooper that someone would want to buy it. Also important is that Cooper had the foresight (or, perhaps, need?) to sell it. (Recognizing that in the original sale Cooper was supposed to stay on as a consultant to support the enterprise, but was soon pushed out by Richard Jee under the “grey” Gunsite regime [1992-1999])

Third, the curriculum being taught – the Modern Technique of the Pistol – was identified with Cooper but not identical to Cooper.

Some of this was made clear to me when the 250 Defensive Pistol Course I observed in June visited Janelle Cooper at “The Sconce” at the end of the course.

Mrs. Cooper reminded the group that her husband called what he established at Gunsite Ranch the American Pistol Institute rather than “The Cooper School.” He also talked about the Modern Technique of the Pistol rather than “The Cooper Technique.”

When I spoke to Gunsite COO Ken Campbell last month, he drew the conclusion that Mrs. Cooper suggested: Gunsite is bigger than its founder. History has borne this out.

And yet, even if you factor out the visit with Janelle Cooper, you cannot visit Gunsite without being reminded of The Colonel. He is mentioned by the instructors, his books and DVDs are sold in the pro shop, his photos and memorabilia line the classroom.

Statue and plaques in classroom at Gunsite Academy. Photo by David Yamane

As another prominent trainer told me, Gunsite has “the weight of legacy hanging over them.” It is a blessing and a curse.

Consequently, although Gunsite continues to occupy a prominent place in the gun training industry, it is often thought of as being outdated. As Ken Campbell often says, Gunsite Academy is accused of being the “Southwest Dinosaur League,” a derogatory modification of the original “Southwest Combat Pistol League” started by Jeff Cooper.

So, in two following posts, I will take up (1) what the Modern Technique of the Pistol is, simply and briefly (for those, like me, who are not already intimately familiar with it), and (2) on the evolution of the Modern Technique at Gunsite as I saw it during my observation in June 2017.

8 comments

  1. David,
    I have enjoyed your blog for the past several years and hope you will continue on your present course. I would suggest you consider the Sig Sauer Academy in Epping, NH. I have attended courses there regularly (25+) since 2011. They have been remarkably professional and I count them among my favorite places to go for firearms instruction in the Northeast.

    Liked by 2 people

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