The training industry is growing at break-neck pace. The number of American citizens purchasing firearms, applying for concealed carry licenses, and seeking out additional training goes up exponentially each year. America’s gun culture is on the upswing and it is likely that it will continue to proliferate. As more people seek out quality training in the use of defensive firearms, the amount of individuals offering those services is increasing at an equal pace. As the Global War on Terror “winds down” simultaneously, droves of veterans are converting the training and real world experiences they received while fighting America’s enemies abroad into training businesses when they take off the uniform. When you combine this influx with the amount of seasoned professional trainers already occupying the market; to say that the industry is saturated would be quite the understatement. With such saturation, a high level of competition for students is only natural as in any other free market enterprise. With this level of competition, we as trainers must remember one key underlying principle if we want to positively to influence the culture: professionalism.
What is a professional? This is a question that Human Resources departments around the world have answered in many different ways. You can do a google search and there will be a plethora of definitions, bullet point lists, and case studies to illustrate what the different perspectives are on the topic. I personally believe that a professional is defined by 3 key factors: Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge, Passion for People, and Respect for Others. If you maintain focus on these three areas, you are exhibiting a high level of professionalism and will be well on your way to being considered a subject matter expert as well as a pillar in the community. When you fall short in one of these areas, you will pay a price in the way that you are perceived by peers and potential students. Now let’s break down what each factor consists of to see how you stack up.
Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge
Every individual, instructor or not, starts their pursuit of knowledge at some baseline level. Some people had the advantage of growing up in the gun culture and having firearms as a part of their lives from a very early age. On the flipside, some may have only been recently introduced to the idea of firearms ownership and personal defense. No matter what your baseline is, your goal ought to be continually increasing your knowledge through any reliable source you have available to you, especially if you are intent on passing that knowledge on to others and receiving financial compensation for it. In order to increase your knowledge, you must ask questions, develop understanding, and challenge that understanding constantly. The pursuit of knowledge is similar to upgrading a computer system. As soon as you think you have the latest and greatest PC that exists, the technology companies have already developed something better and more advanced. If you came across someone who was still using a computer from 1995 with an obsolete operating system and a gigantic monitor attached to it; that person would undoubtedly seem very silly to you. It is no different when pursuing knowledge in the context of defensive shooting. There is no real value in sticking with tired dogma that is old and obsolete just because it happens to “get the job done”. In order to be a professional you must constantly upgrade your hardware and software. With that being said, you must also be vigilant in recognizing the difference between the better mousetrap and the pet rock. You don’t want to adopt fads and convince yourself that you have evolved.
Passion for People
No matter what your product is, it ought to be geared toward helping people in society solve their problems or increase their standard of living in some tangible way. In teaching defensive shooting, we are imparting knowledge that is geared toward keeping a person alive in the event that their life is put in danger by another person intent on killing or seriously injuring them. This is a very serious subject matter: people’s lives are at stake if and when they are called upon to use the knowledge we seek to impart. With so much at stake, it would be extremely unprofessional for your main motivation to be financial gain. Unfortunately, there are too many “instructors” in this industry who are motivated by money and money alone. They teach tactics and techniques that they know to be incongruent with reality because they know people will pay them a lot of money to pretend to be a special operator for half a day. In order to be a professional, you have to be motivated by your undying passion for your student. It always amuses me when an instructor tells me that they will only teach a class if they have x amount of students or if they can clear x amount of dollars. This to me is evidence of misplaced motivation. I can understand if a given instructor can’t afford to travel unless they meet a certain financial break-even point, that isn’t what I’m talking about. What irks me is when an instructor schedules a class in their local community and then cancels it if they don’t “get enough students”. This implies that the potential students who did sign up are not worth the trouble to educate. If you have a passion for your students, you will teach one student or one hundred students with the same level of enthusiasm regardless of how much of a profit you happen to make as a result. All businesses are about people at the end of the day. If you don’t have a passion for people, especially when you are intent on providing them with potentially lifesaving survival skills, you are a charlatan, not a professional. On the contrary, if you do truly have passion for your students, they will tell other people about you and soon your classes will fill and the financial piece of it will be a foregone conclusion.
Respect for Others
As mentioned above, the training industry is saturated and continues to grow with new instructors and curriculums every day. Most of the instructors out in the industry right now are legitimately interested in putting out the best information that they have available to them. The instructors in the market who are deliberately taking advantage of people in order to make a buck are mostly outliers and the industry has been pretty good about policing itself in that area. Amongst the former group of instructors, the high level of competition for students that exists often times leads to an embarrassing level of disrespect amongst peers. You can get on social media at any given time of day and see instructors and their followers “trolling” one another over differences in opinion over this or that tactic or technique. Sometimes the discussions are civil and have the appropriate tone of an intelligent debate but too often when opposing forces meet, it results in personal attacks, unfair discrediting of a given trainer, and even petulant name-calling and other childish behavior. It is safe to say that most trainers in this industry are Type-A personalities or they probably wouldn’t be getting up in front of people in the first place. It is perfectly appropriate to be adamant about the efficacy of your curriculum and to defend it on its merits. This is something that any serious instructor worth his or her salt is absolutely going to do. However, when debates become finger pointing sessions or when one instructor suggests that another is “unqualified” to teach because they don’t agree on some minute issue; it becomes counter-productive and usually makes all parties involved look like amateurs. Nobody in this industry holds the map to the Tree of Knowledge. If we keep this fact in mind and show respect toward one another, we will all gain students and the industry will continue to grow. If we resort to petty squabbles, we will be marginalized and there will be nothing left but groups of fan-boys and girls in one camp or another while all of those people who just want to learn to defend themselves are hung out to dry. A professional respects others, friend and competitor alike.
So you have to ask yourself: where are you lacking as a professional instructor? Are you taking every opportunity that you can to learn as much as you can and continue to evolve your understanding of defensive shooting? Are you passionate about your students in such a way that seeing them better prepared is more important to you than fame or money? Do you respect others regardless of whether they disagree with you or not and avoid turning disagreements into personal vendettas? Nobody is going to be 100% in any category. Being a professional is a constant pursuit to be the best you can be. This industry needs more professionals. Be a part of the solution.