Ideal Student Mindset

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.cfs3

Intellectual Curiosity

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.

Work Ethic

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.

cropped-cfs8.jpg    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.

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Is Training for Me???

A common question I get asked as an instructor and one that has to be running through the minds of many if not most average American gun owners is: “Is training for Me?” When I speak of “training”, I am not referring to the state-mandated class that you are required to take in order to legally carry concealed. Most gun owners will do what they have to in order to “get legal”. What I am referring to is training that is designed to teach you how to process information and use your pistol in the context of what is most likely to happen to you if you are ever forced to defend yourself with it. An unfortunate fact that I have found is that the average American gun owner who isn’t interested in being “tactical” or learning to “operate” tends to answer “no”. With that being the case, I want to describe the type of student that does well in my classes: see if it might describe you…

My ideal student spends his or her daily life doing what most well-adjusted Americans do. They get up every morning, maybe kiss their significant other and/or children goodbye, grab a cup of coffee, hop in the car, and go to work. They spend all day either at a desk, in a vehicle, or in the field earning a paycheck to pay the bills and put food on the table. Some of them love what they do for a living, some of cfs1them not so much; but they all do what they have to in order to be productive members of society. That may mean staying at home with the kids, running their own business, or working for “the man”. At the end of the day, they come home, run through their evening routine, hit the hay, and then wake up to do it all over again. They look forward to their next weekend, holiday, or vacation to get away from the hustle and do what they love. They may have strong opinions about what is going on in the world or they may not. However, they are at least aware enough of the evil that exists in the world that they feel compelled to be prepared to deal with it should the need arise. Some of them have been around guns for their whole lives and some maybe just got introduced to the idea of guns and self-defense very recently. They may or may not be NRA members and may or may not have ever heard of Rob Pincus, Dave Grossman, Tom Givens, or Massad Ayoob. They may spend some time on the range but they may honestly prefer to be golfing, playing with their kids or watching sports. To make a long description short: they are normal, average, everyday Americans. They are people like…. me.

None of my ideal students get up every day, put on multi-cam, combat boots, a plate carrier, and an ACH and get ready for their OPORD brief before rolling out to close with and destroy the enemy. In fact, none of them probably know what in the world that sentence even means. They are not operators nor do they aspire tcfs5o be (outside of maybe on Fortnight or COD). Their water cooler conversations probably don’t contain very many acronyms or arguments about temple index vs. sul ready positions. They aren’t particularly worried about total societal meltdown or ISIS fighters coming to their hometown; but they have heard about that burglary on 8th street, the carjacking in their office park last week, and the suspicious people they see wandering around their apartment complexes at night.

The students I am after are ordinary people who recognize that security is a personal responsibility and want to meet that responsibility by doing what they can with their limited time and resources to learn basic self-defense skills. cfs3They aren’t interested in becoming Special Forces or they probably would have joined the military instead of getting that job at the bank. They may even recognize that their prior military experience is a definite positive but that they need to develop skills that work in their current lifestyle.

So, to answer the question of “Is Training for Me?”: the answer is probably YES! If you are an average working American and you seek to become an informed armed citizen with the necessary skills to defend yourself in the context of what is most likely to happen to you: I want you in my class. I don’t care if you grew up around guns or just bought your gun yesterday. I am not going embarrass you, berate you, or attempt to make you into an “operator” in 1 or 2 days on the range. What I am going to do is teach you how to use your firearm intuitively and efficiently, as well as give you the tools you need to continue to develop your skills on your own. At no point will there be drill sergeants screaming at you or combat rolls. What there will be is a plethora of opportunities to learn and grow as a defensive shooter no matter what level you happen to be at when you arrive at the range. So don’t be afraid to come out and train just because you aren’t a ninja. This isn’t a class for ninjas: it’s a class for you. I’ll see you on the range!

Signup for a class in DFW Here!


Personal Defense Network

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Does State Mandated Training meet your responsibility as an armed citizen? I think not


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Irresponsible Flippancy

            One of the most frustrating things I see time and time again on the interwebs is irresponsible flippancy on the part of some armed citizens toward the concept of using deadly force. It usually comes in the form of chest-thumping bravado in regard to potentially taking a human life over a piece of property when the individual’s life is not actually in jeopardy. Being that I live in the great state of Texas, the level of machismo and “make my day” type attitudes are probably elevated above most of the rest of the nation because of our rich history of ass-kicking. This is understandable, but it is something that I have personally had to dial back as part of growing more mature and responsible as an armed citizen. I believe that social media and it’s relative anonymity exacerbates the problem exponentially as people will often times post things online that they would never actually say or do in the real world. That being said, the issue needs to be dealt with as it not only gives the anti’s more ammunition for stereotyping our community, it also could lead to serious, sometimes deadly consequences for individuals who carry this flippant attitude about killing into a real life shooting situation.

                Carrying a firearm for personal defense is simply that: carrying a firearm to defend one’s person from potential loss of life. To be frank and concise: firearms are for the defense of life, not stuff. Living by this simple rule of thumb will help armed citizens avoid a lot of less than stellar choices. I can think of nothing that I own that I would risk my life to defend if I had another option that would keep me safer than shooting someone. There are obviously going to be situations where you are forced to shoot someone in a “home defense” scenario but all of those situations should only occur because your life was put in jeopardy by the bad guy, and not the other way around.

        My friend and mentor Rob Pincus, author of the recent book “Defend Yourself” outlines 3 basic principles for self-defense inside the home: Evade, Barricade, Respond. To Evade means to get as far away from the bad guy as you can. If you can escape the home and totally avoid an armed confrontation, you should do that. If that is not an option, you want to have a plan to Barricade yourself by putting things between you and the bad guy inside of your home that make it harder for him to get to where you are and hurt you, such as a locked door, a dresser, etc. If you can Evade or Barricade, you can buy yourself some time to get on the phone with the police and get them in route to deal with the bad guy. To Respond with a firearm and use deadly force would only become an option if you could not Evade or Barricade, if you encounter the bad guy while attempting to do either of those two things, or if they defeat your barricade. At that point, you would be forced to defend yourself as opposed to just defending your property. I strongly believe that this is the appropriate way to approach “home defense” and that it will keep you from making very costly mistakes. As an example to the contrary: it would never be wise to investigate a “bump in the night” by arming yourself and moving toward it. The best case scenario would be that you end up pointing a gun at someone who isn’t a threat (like this guy) or at worst you have put yourself in a fight that you may in fact lose when you potentially could have avoided it altogether.

       Keeping in mind that it is really not your property that you ought to be interested in defending with deadly force, there are all sorts of situations where taking property may be the goal of the bad guy but in doing so they put you in fear for your life. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you just allow someone to carjack you or rob you at an ATM. In those situations, as in “home defense”, the property is incidental and is not the catalyst for the need to use deadly force. A bad decision would be (as was commented recently on a Facebook page I frequent) to shoot someone that you “catch” breaking into your car/home/office. In that situation, your life is not in danger until you consciously decide to make contact with the other individual. I could cite countless cases where putting oneself in danger in order to defend a piece of property has worked out poorly for the individual involved in the form of expensive and drawn out legal processes to jail time. Don’t be that guy.

         To dig just a little bit deeper into the attitude that drives these poor decisions, we need to talk a little bit about what it really means to take a human life. I believe that every armed citizen should read Dave Grossman’s book “On Killing”. In this book, he details the deep aversion that we as well-adjusted human beings have to taking another human’s life. This aversion, even if overcome in the moment, is something that manifests itself in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among other things for those who have been forced to take human lives. You may in fact have the ability to kill someone in the moment, but the effects of doing so even in a situation that warrants it can have far-reaching effects on your mental state for the rest of your life. Guys I know who took human lives while in combat with the scourge of the planet in Iraq and Afghanistan still often have to be very deliberate in learning to deal with the mental realities of having killed another human, even though that human was a terrorist! Consider that reality and then think about whether it is a good idea to potentially kill someone who you catch trying to steal your GPS or steal some copper off of your work truck. There is truly no piece of property that is worth potentially killing someone over. If you think there is, you clearly don’t understand what killing is about. This isn’t a movie, and you are not Dirty Harry. Killing is serious stuff that even professionals aren’t excited about doing.

       The psychological effect that carrying a gun ought to actually have on you is one of non-confrontation and conflict avoidance. If it doesn’t, then you clearly don’t understand the responsibility you have taken on every time you holster up and walk out the door. Going out and looking for trouble will usually lead you to trouble and when you find it, though you may win your fight, you may lose your life to psychological issues at best or jail at worst. Being an armed citizen ought to be a bit of a paradox: you ought to care so much about the sanctity of human life that you will defend your life and the lives of those you love by taking another’s if necessary. It all revolves around life and respect for it. So don’t be flippant about the idea of using deadly force, because human life is indeed precious; which is why you bought that gun in the first place. If that wasn’t your reason, then you did it wrong and you need to check yourself before you do something stupid and bring harm to yourself and the gun-owning community as a whole.

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Context and Training Methodology

During my 2 day Combat Focus Shooting class this past weekend in Kempner, Texas, I had a great question from a student that developed into a solid discussion about training methodology. He asked me why I teach kinesthetic alignment and unsighted fire prior to discussing sight alignment and sight picture during the class. His contention was that sighted fire “always works” and that it would therefore make more sense to introduce that before unsighted fire or even in lieu of it. As someone who has taken plenty of classes that follow this way of thinking by teaching some version of “front sight, press”, I can sympathize; but the methodology fails to take into account a huge problem: context.

My student’s comment about sights “always working” is true to a certain extent, especially on the square range, and that’s the problem. I can take any given handgun with any given traditional notch and blade sights and under the standard, controlled conditions of the square range; I can get hits as long as I can achieve a good sight alignment and sight picture. I could take the firearm, hold it upside down in my weak hand and press the trigger with my pinky and as long as I can hold the sights on target, I can get a hit.

With this being the case, it becomes an issue when students are able to get the hits that they need in spite of a shooting posture that is incongruent with the context of a fight. How many times have you seen a new shooter at the range who is scoring “bullseyes” with a grip, stance, and extension that is totally off balance, inefficient, and counter-intuitive? I see it all the time at my local range. If the goal is simply to get hits, I can afford to ignore all sorts of other physical and conceptual issues and call it good. But that isn’t what people are paying me for when they sign up to learn defensive shooting.

My goal for my students is to get their hits as intuitively, efficiently, and consistently as possible in the context of a fight. We take the effectiveness of a technique for granted in CFS because there are plenty of ways that I can achieve the goal of putting holes in the paper that have no bearing on the reality of a defensive encounter. If I teach students to focus on the front sight when they don’t need to, they will start doing it in lieu of getting into a proper defensive shooting stance, and the sights will cease to be precision instruments and will transform into a crutch. I don’t want students relying on sights when proper alignment will solve the same problem in a much more efficient manner.

For instance, another shooter on my line this past weekend had clearly learned to shoot in a Weaver stance. He was hitting the target just fine in that stance initially, and if I had taken that as an indication that he was good to go, I would have failed him in preparing him for a fight. Despite his getting hits, his stance was inefficient, counter-intuitive and incongruent with fighting. This idea can be confirmed by watching police officers who spent their whole lives training in Weaver stance only to improvise a fully extended posture in the fights that we see on dash cams and surveillance videos.

When you are training for a defensive shooting, context is going to provide your litmus test for evaluating a given technique or training methodology. Just because something works well on the range doesn’t mean that it will work well in a fight. I am not trying to build target shooters who will win bullseye competitions; I am training people to be as efficient as possible in a fight. Everything that I teach is aimed at that goal and if a technique or methodology doesn’t work towards that goal, effective though it may be in punching holes in paper, I’m not going to teach it.

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The Evolution of a Student and an Instructor


Hello shooters. Allow me to introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me. My name is Aaron Israel and I live in Midland, Texas with my wife Stacey and our daughter Savannah. I have a full time job as the district manager for a downhole tool rental company that services oil and gas operators and directional contractors in the Permian Basin. When I am not at work, training armed citizens to be better defensive shooters and problem solvers is my passion.

I served for 8 years in the United States Army from 2003-2011. I was first a reservist with the 345th PSYOP Company in Dallas, Texas while I was simultaneously working on my commission as a cadet at the University of Oklahoma. I graduated from OU in 2007 with a Finance Degree and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Field Artillery Branch. I did all of my basic officer training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was then stationed at Fort Hood for the duration of my career. I did one tour in Iraq from July of 2008 to June of 2009. While in Iraq I had the privilege of not only doing my job as a Fire Support Officer, but also leading an Infantry platoon and a Scout platoon along the way. I was able to experience the diversity of pretty much every combat arms job that a new officer can hold and learned a lot about leadership along the way. Once I was back stateside I did my time as a Battery Executive Officer and and Fire Direction Officer. At about the time I was ready to get out, I was asked to extend my active service in order to take the job of Rear Detachment Commander while the rest of the unit was deployed again to Iraq. I accepted the job and found it to be the most challenging 14 months of my life. During my time as Rear Detachment Commander  I got to work with the spouses of deployed soldiers, deal with the medical issues of wounded warriors, and process legal issues for soldiers with disciplinary problems. It was a very interesting experience to say the least.

One of my duties while in command was to develop and implement the marksmanship training program for replacement soldiers headed to Iraq. As part of this endeavor,due to the small NCO staff I had at the time, I found myself filling the role of instructor in M9 marksmanship. This was my first exposure to teaching people how to shoot and I enjoyed it immensely. Word got around that I was a “gun guy” in that I had my Concealed Handgun License and participated in local shooting matches. As such, I was approached by some soldiers and their spouses about becoming a Texas CHL instructor in order to put on affordable classes for the soldiers in my unit and surrounding units. I took some leave in January of 2011 and got certified to teach the class and began hosting classes on and off post about once per month. My philosophy as CHL instructor was always to put as much emphasis as possible on skill development on the range as part of my curriculum instead of just verifying that students could or could not qualify for the license. I spent more time on the range with my students than most other instructors and that really became my mantra and helped grow my business.

I got out of the Army in 2011 and came to Midland, Texas to work for an oil and gas service company. I also setup my CHL business (Hip Shoot CHL) and continued teaching my monthly classes in Midland with both public and private options. As part of my class, I would always harp on continued education and training for newly minted armed citizens. The problem was that there wasn’t really much being offered in the area in that regard. The closest reputable trainers were mostly in the DFW or Austin areas. I decided that I wanted to help fill that gap and offer something that would be a good class to take after becoming a CHL holder. As a first step, I began taking classes myself from reputable instructors to evolve as a student first, as is always the most important duty of an instructor. I sought out NRA certified courses, attended seminars, and took some more advanced courses along the way. This is a process that will continue as long as I am on this journey.

I have long been a fan of the work that Rob Pincus does with the Personal Defense Network and had even published a column that discussed the need for a higher standard of trainer in the CHL instructor community. I decided along the way that I would look into his flagship training program: Combat Focus Shooting. I watched his CFS training DVD’s, read his books, and came to the conclusion that this was something worth looking into further, though I still had some conceptual misgivings. I decided to take a class myself and was impressed with the flow of the curriculum and the effect it has on students of all skill levels. In October of 2013, I attended the CFS Instructor Development course and was absolutely blown away by the amount of knowledge behind every detail of the CFS program and the amount of mentoring and critical thinking that goes on among the cadre of instructors. All of my conceptual misgivings were answered enthusiastically with detailed explanations based on science and empirical data. To say the least, I became a believer and followed through with the rest of the process to become a certified instructor.

Combat Focus Shooting is basically just the next step in my evolution as a student and as an instructor since I began the process back during my time in the Army. I believe that the program is the best or I wouldn’t be teaching it. That being said, I’m not the type to malign other curriculum or different shooting disciplines, especially if I have not sampled them for myself. My philosophy is to put out the best information that I have and leave it to the student to decide it’s value at the end of the day. That does not mean that I will placate what I believe to be incorrect information or bad instruction when confronted with it, but I won’t ever tell a student that they shouldn’t take a class or sample another program. I believe that people who really care about personal defense will make thoughtful decisions about how to spend their time and money. For instance, I am a trainer primarily, but I also compete in USPSA and IDPA matches from time to time. I don’t think that the two shooting disciplines are mutually exclusive, only that they are different. I will never call competition training and I will never claim that the training I offer will make you a better competitor. I think it’s a good thing to develop skills in both contexts and that some of the skills obviously transfer over to both areas, while some do not. I also associate with and have participated in training under other instructors that I disagree with on certain topics. I don’ t think that being well rounded is a bad thing. I believe seeing things from other perspectives helps me to evolve, and challenges me to have a better understanding of why I teach what I teach.

I hope if you are reading this that you are interested in beginning to evolve as a student of personal defense. My goal with Fundamental Defense is to provide you with an opportunity to do that. I look forward to seeing you in an upcoming class and I thank you for making Texas a safer place to live for me and my family.

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