In my previous post “Is Training for Me?” I went into detail about what type of student I like to have in my class as far as their background, lifestyle, etc. In this post I want to talk about the attitude and mindset that my ideal student possesses. I break down student attitude and mindset into two basic categories: 1.) Intellectual Curiosity 2.) Work Ethic. My ideal student gets high marks in both areas.
You will read a lot of class descriptions that ask students to show up with an “open mind”. While I certainly don’t want to train someone who doesn’t think they can learn anything from me; a lot of the time instructors say “open mind” when what they really mean is “empty skull”. Serious trainers complain a lot about the trend of fly-by-night instructors who teach ridiculous things to an uninitiated public and somehow manage to stay in business. These charlatans usually have a group of repeat clients who show up with the sort of “open minds” that allow the proliferation of their espoused nonsense. The difference between the cliché of an “open-mind” and intellectual curiosity comes in the form of discernment. I want students who are willing to learn but discerning enough to not hang on my every word as gospel truth. Whatever I am teaching, I should be able to explain why I am teaching it. The intellectually curious student will keep the instructor honest in that regard by challenging the instructor when he hasn’t explained something well enough or if he is teaching something that is just plain wrong. Good instructors who care about their craft will welcome intellectual challenges to the curriculum because it helps them learn better ways to articulate tough concepts or evolve/change when warranted.
An intellectually curious student does their homework before they show up to class. They don’t take a course just because it “sounds cool” or has a cool YouTube video associated with it. They take a course because they have researched the instructor and the material, and possibly even engaged the instructor beforehand to get a read on who they will be spending their time and money with. This type of student by their very nature will usually not be wasting their time with a bad instructor or a bad curriculum because they will have figured that out ahead of time and found something else. Intellectually curious students are not blinded by big names or long resumes. You won’t find them haplessly enrolled in a fantasy camp disguised as a defensive shooting course.
The intellectually curious student asks questions, but they don’t heckle. Everyone remembers the guy in class who raised his hand every single lecture to get face time with the professor and/or the sarcastic blow-hard. The intellectually curious student doesn’t ask questions just for the sake of hearing their own voice. Intellectually curious students think hard about their questions and ask them in very concise and pointed ways, and without any unnecessary attitude. They ask because they really want to understand, not because they think they already know. Good instructors actually enjoy their conversations with this type of student because it is beneficial for both parties.
I like having students who show up ready to do work. I’m not interested in training with a line full of students who already think they “have it”. Every student shows up with a given level of competency as it relates to different defensive shooting skills, but nobody is perfect. Every student who takes one of my classes has things that they can get better at, regardless of their starting point. The student with a good work ethic actually wants me to put them outside of their comfort zone and push their limits to find those failure points. They view every miss as an opportunity and call it a win if they walk away from class knowing what they need to work on at their next individual practice session.
No matter how many formal classes you take, if you don’t train and develop skills on your own time, you aren’t going to improve. One of the worst things that can happen is for a student to take a class, get a certificate, and then “call it good”. That would be akin to taking one piano lesson and then never practicing again, or just showing up for lecture and never doing your homework. Human beings cannot develop skills in this manner. Work ethic flows forth from passion about the subject matter. I’m never going to practice at chess because I don’t care about it. If personal defense is to you as chess is to me, you are never going to get better at defensive shooting.
That being said, you can in fact take too many classes. The biggest cliché’ in this industry is when students and instructors alike talk about amassing “tools for the toolbox”. There is nothing wrong with taking the good and leaving the bad from several different trainers, but only if you stay focused on what your realistic goals are. It will do me no good from a survival standpoint to have learned how to ice fish if I never leave the west Texas desert. It’s a “cool” skill to have, but it is irrelevant to my survival. Similarly, knowing how to clear buildings on a 4 man stack is not going to help me in my day to day life as a CHL holder. I say that to illustrate the difference between work ethic aimed at personal defense goals and simply collecting certificates. There were guys I served with in the Army who wanted to go to every elite school the Army offered but never actually learned to do their assigned job well; we called them “tab chasers”. There are similar types in the shooting industry; we call them “training junkies”. You can develop the skills that you need for self-defense mostly by maximizing your personal training time. Come to class ready to get after it, and leave class with the same approach to your own range time.
In summary: I want students who do their homework ahead of time and take my class because they see potential value in it. I want them to show up and ask questions so that they can learn and I can get better at teaching. I want my students to show up ready to work hard, push themselves to their failure points, and use those as learning opportunities. I want them to carry that same work ethic to their individual range sessions and continue to develop their skills long after the one or two day class. I don’t want a student to take my class just so they can say they got a certificate from me.