MARCH 5, 2015

Editor's Notebook: Demonstration

Note: This piece originally ran in our May 22, 2012 issue. Tiger will be back with us next Thursday.
Jim Cirillo, teaching a class, demonstrates trigger reset using a checked/confirmed unloaded gun from a student.
As a serious student, I find I have to dip into instructor development to increase my own skill set. Teaching is a matter of transmitting learned behaviors through superior communication skills – communication is something critical during incidents and post-incident from immediate aftermath to courtroom testimony. I've been privy to some debates about the extent to which instructors in physical skills classes should demonstrate the skill to be learned in the presence of students. The arguments against follow the pattern of "off-days" and "show-offs." The off-day issue normally presents as "If I shoot in front of a class and I'm having a crappy day, they'll know they have a clown as an instructor." You're trying to teach them something you can't do. Without addressing the "Would you take a flying class from someone who never flew a plane" argument, this is a situation where the instructor is normally capable but having a hard day for whatever reason. It's one thing to shoot a course clean on a range. It's an ideal situation, everything is perfect; sun's shiny, comfortable breeze, not too hot, not too cold. Your mind is on the task at hand. You shoot very well. Leave the range and have a gunfight in the middle of a hostile crowd, at night, wind's howling, people pushing and shoving – going to shoot that course clean?
After shooting for zero, a student still shot off the mark. Cirillo shoots the student's gun in front of all the students to re-check zero and to demonstrate points related to accurate shooting.
The instructor has to be able to perform under pressure. I'm more impressed when he or she has some chatty patter if the shooting goes south, but a re-do to ensure everyone knows it can be done and that you can do it is even better. Instructors practice shooting under pressure by competing in shooting competitions and by shooting against other instructors for a money prize. I find the best way to really learn material is to have to teach it. This increases pressure and helps build my skills. Besides, how can a student know what is expected if all he or she has seen is re-runs of Miami Vice? Some students are visual learners. They have to see what you are saying and what you want done. Others respond better to listening. Some have to feel it and will model your behavior trying to replicate exactly your process to get your results. Most learners use some combination of learning styles with one or another style being dominant. For that reason, your demonstrations need to be done as they'll learn the skills. Some will begin empty hands, some with inert or unloaded guns – done "dry," others will go live fire. As they will do, you must do. As the teacher, you'll demonstrate various elements of shooting, say trigger re-set if that is a component of your teaching plan. You can demonstrate that dry as well as live-fire. Sometimes a student will have a gun that shoots consistently off the bulls-eye in one direction. The instructor has to be able to take that gun and check the zero by shooting it in front of the student.
Jim Cirillo believed in the backup gun. Here Jim is wearing one of his Colt Cobra revolvers worn cross-draw in support of the main holster gun he wore in class.
Finally, if a component of the teaching plan is drawing from a particular holster, don't be using another type/brand/location than the students. If part of the class is reliance on a second gun, be ready to show you follow the plan too. In the last instructor refresher I did at the agency, I wanted to do something a little different from the walk-back I normally did. I slit each backer and put one of my soon-to-be outdated business cards in the slots for each candidate to shoot edgewise from a distance of 24 feet. The resulting bellow of disbelief from the group required that I do it first. So I did. Not remarkably, every student in class then replicated the feat. -- Rich Grassi