A bit over a year ago, I wrote a post to help folks find a quality instructor. In that post, I mentioned that a Rangemaster certified instructor was a good indicator of a high quality instructor. This was based in part by the extremely positive impression I had of Tom Givens after attending the Rangemaster Combative Pistol course and noticing that most of the instructors who have had a major impact on my development happen to be Rangemaster certified instructors. I mention this because very early this year I got curious and wondered if I could manage to become a Rangemaster certified instructor myself. Initially this was simply a personal challenge to see if I had what it takes to breathe the same air the folks I look up to. I never thought it possible and I doubted myself quite a bit along the way, but I worked at it and had support along the way from folks like Karl Rehn, John Daub, and Levi Nathan (all who happen to be Rangemaster certified instructors and instructors at KR Training). Lo and behold, I successfully completed Rangemaster‘s Basic Instructor Development course.
What does this mean? I can’t answer that yet. I’m still wrapping my head around this accomplishment as I’m writing this after action report. but nonetheless here we are.
The class I attended was hosted by Red River Range in Shreveport, LA. The facilities were top notch. While I tend to prefer outdoor ranges for training since it is a lot easier to hear range commands and instruction, the air conditioned environment was a very welcome trade off given the heat and humidity one can expect during early August in Louisiana.
The class itself was three days long. Every day started on time at 9am (except the third day which started at 8:30am) and concluded right around 6pm. There was a lot of material covered and plenty of range time took place. As expected, Tom didn’t waste any time and every minute was overflowing with value. Seriously, there was a lot of ground covered. So much, in fact, that the days are somewhat blurred together. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. While I can’t speak for every student, I think the best word I can use to describe my experience is “transformative”. Something akin to a caterpillar wrapping itself up in a cocoon and emerging a butterfly. I went into class on day one immersed myself in the course and left on day three evolved in more ways than one and all in good ways. I’ll admit that this sounds very sophomoric, but I hope to make sense of it as I recount what I can to the best of my ability.
Before continuing on, let’s cover gear because more than one of you is curious and a few of those curious minds will undoubtedly inquire. The gear I used for the class was the same gear I’ve been wearing for quite some time now and have also been using for most of the courses I’ve taken for the past year or so. That gear consisted of:
- Gun: Heckler & Koch VP9 with a Trijicon RMR
- Holster: G-Code Incog Eclipse IWB holster on my strong side
- Mag pouches: Concealment Solutions Venom Single Magazine Carrier x2
- Belt: Concealment Solutions 1.5″ Python Gun Belt (Horsehide)
- Ammo: Federal American Eagle 9mm 124gr FMJ (round count for the course was roughly 800 rounds)
With that out of the way, let’s get back to the course which is intended to prepare students to become instructors capable of teaching the fundamental aspects of armed self defense with a concealed pistol to other students. This involves much more than robust practical marksmanship. It also involves helping students with developing fundamental tactics, selecting proper equipment, and establishing a suitable attitude. All of that is on top of conveying safe gun handling principles, helping folks understand when using what level of force is justifiable, and the legal aftermath that follows a use of force incident. It is all deadly serious stuff that an instructor must be a subject matter expert in while also being an effective coach. That’s a lot of ground to cover in three days.
I appreciate the way Tom conveyed the gravity of that responsibility, he said something to the effect of, “What’s the worst that can happen if one learns to golf from a bad golf coach? A person plays a bad golf game. What’s the worth that can happen if one learns about armed self defense from a bad firearms instructor? Someone who shouldn’t have winds up dead, seriously injured, or in jail.” This was further supported by the performance standards demanded from students in order to receive their certification. Those standards were:
- Completing the FBI Pistol Qualification course of fire with a score of 90% or better,
- completing the Rangemaster Firearms Instructor Qualification course of fire with a score of 90% or better, and
- passing the Rangemaster Firearms Instructor written examination with a score of 90% or better.
While the performance standards are high, Tom provided a mixture of classroom lectures and range time to equip the students with everything needed to pass. This included a 287-page workbook which included a study guide for the written exam. However, there were no exceptions to the demanding standards and not all the students made the cut.
The instructional content felt quite a bit like a condensed version of Rangemaster’s Combative Pistol course blended together with principles and supporting data contained in Tom’s Concealed Carry Class book topped with a generous helping of a how to coach effectively guide. The first day was spent mostly in the classroom where we discussed safety from gun handling and trainers perspectives. We also covered pistol anatomy and physiology – that is parts, function, and characteristics while placing an emphasis on proper nomenclature, vocabulary, and definitions. Class time was also spent on fundamental pistol skills. Eventually, we made our way to the range where the class started with little dry fire work to review drawing from and returning a pistol to a holster in addition to reviewing and practicing Lynn Givens’ Sensory Trigger Drill, all before working on a few live fire drills where students took turns acting as a coach watching for and assisting with adherence to the gun safety principles.
The ratio of range to classroom time was flipped on the following day. The class time was initially focused on understanding the reality of violence and adoption of the armed lifestyle. The focus then shifted to diagnosing pistolcraft performance problems and coaching methods to maximize improvement. Range time consisted of paired coaching as we worked our way through various drills with increasing difficulty. As the day progressed, drills turned into assessments which provided an opportunity to earn one of two challenge coins or a signed playing card.
The first challenge coin was awarded to the top performer on the Rangemaster Bullseye Course. The course consists of five (5) timed strings of fire where a total of thirty (30) rounds are fired into a NRA B-8 target at five (5), seven (7), ten (10), fifteen (15), and twenty-five (25) yards respectively. Hits inside the seven (7) ring are awarded points based on the ring they landed on for a total of three-hundred (300) possible points of which 270 points are required for a passing score. Rings outside the seven (7) ring are considered misses and award no points. If memory serves me correctly, I squeaked by with a score of 271 points. The Bullseye challenge coin was awarded to Dustin Ardoin, owner of Advantage Group Defense, who managed an impressive score of 299.
Every student had a chance to win a 3″x5″ playing card signed by Tom Givens by putting five rounds into it at five yards in five seconds from the holster. This was a drill that I was introduced to when I attended Rangemaster’s Combative Pistol course a couple of years ago where I did not walk away with a signed card. The drill, or rather assessment, was used many years ago to determine whether or not someone was “fair handed” with a revolver. In those days, a playing card was placed on a tree or a fence post, the shooter walked five paces away, and attempted to put five holes in it quickly. I was very pleased to walk away with a signed card this time around.
The final challenge coin of day was awarded to the top performer on the Rangemaster Casino drill. The drill consists of firing twenty-one (21) rounds divided into three (3) magazines into a DT-2A target in twenty-one (21) seconds or less. The target is made up of six different shapes numbered one through six. The shapes are shot in numerical sequence and are hit with the corresponding number of rounds. This drill is designed to work the shooter’s cognitive ability while working fundamental pistol skills under pressure. Each miss or sequence error adds a second to the total time.
Day two wrapped up with a trial run at the FBI Pistol Qualification Course. The course of fire consists ten (10) timed strings of fire using different starting positions where a total of fifty (50) rounds are shot into a QIT-99 or RTFS-Q target at distances of three (3), five (5), seven (7), fifteen (15), and twenty-five (25) yards. Hits inside the target’s silhouette award two (2) points. Hits outside of the silhouette are considered missed and award no points.
The final day started with the shooting tests and was followed by additional classroom time where many additional topics were covered including, but not limited to, equipment selection, goal setting, justified use of force, presentation design, finding and evaluating supporting data sources, and much more. Every topic covered in class was tested in the written examination, but were also documented in the workbook provided. Should go without saying that exploiting the study guide and the workbook during the evenings between day one and day three goes a long way in preparing for the written examination. Which brings me to the final award that was given out after all the scores were in. That award was the Top Shot certificate which was awarded to the graduating student with the highest aggregate score across the two shooting tests and the written exam. It was something akin to a valedictorian of a graduating class. Dustin Ardoin earned that well deserved honor. Not only was he a fantastic marksman, but he dedicated himself to studying the material in the evenings in the study group I got to be a part of.
This was a tough, but very rewarding course. As I mentioned, there was a lot to cover and the standards are high. Nevertheless, that is as it should be given the nature of instruction that this curriculum prepares one for. In fact an unexpected side effect of my experience is a reinforced and emboldened belief that Rangemaster certified instructors are a safe bet when it comes to finding quality instruction. This is even more so the case when I remember that this course is needed to obtain the first level of Rangemaster instructor certification which indicates the beginning of a journey as an instructor who has demonstrated fundamental competency in the subject matter.
So while it may take me sometime to completely wrap my head around the certification I earned, it is certainly one that I am proud of. I’m also delighted with the connections I made and excited about the new friendships forged with other student instructors in the class. That includes folks like Dustin Ardoin (Advantage Group Defense), Larry Fuller (an instructor in the Dallas area), David Rodriguez (Doghouse Gun Works), and a couple of lady instructors affiliated with Armed Women of America (formerly known as The Well Armed Woman).
Folks interested in this certification should check Tom Givens’ Eventbrite page for upcoming dates and get to a class sooner rather than later. I say that for two reasons. The first reason is because it is absolutely worth it for all the reasons I’ve covered in this post. The other reason is because Tom recently celebrated his 70th birthday and while I’m confident he will continue to certify instructors as long as he is able, like the rest of us, he isn’t immune to the effects of Father Time.