Self Defense

Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Development Course

The latest step in my journey to becoming a better coach involved completing the Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Development Course. The standards were higher than its prerequisite, but so are the dividends.

As some of you know, I became a Rangemaster certified instructor last August. The mere fact that I managed to earn that certification is still somewhat surreal to me. While I haven’t actually started offering training and I’m still uncertain whether that will happen or what it will look like, I decided to continue on with my development as an instructor and attend the Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Development course which took place a few days before I started writing this after action report. 

The class I attended was hosted by the Top Gun Range in Memphis, TN. Top Gun is an indoor range that is open to the public. It is a very well run range. They offer several training courses every month and host many top tier traveling instructors like Tom Givens throughout the year. One of the things that stood out to me was the selection of guns and gear available for purchase didn’t include any of the gimmicky or unsafe products (specifically holsters) that are available in the market. An added bonus is the availability of some pretty tasty BBQ in the restaurant that is right there on site. This would certainly be a range I would frequent personally were it located near where I reside.

This instructor development course was two days long. Day one started at 9am and day two started at 8:30am. Tom Givens describes this course as a two day continuation of the initial three day basic instructor development course and it most certainly felt that way. The continuity of the classroom material and skill development was seamless. There was a lot to do in the two days and, just like the initial course, the details of what was covered and skills that were developed in each day are a bit blurred together in my memory. Thankfully I took some decent notes and I’ll do my best to recount what took place while interjecting some predominant takeaways I had.

As with every after action report I write, I will begin with covering the gear I used which happens to be essentially the exact same gear I used for the basic level course and also happens to be the gear I use everyday for defensive carry with the exception of the ammunition:

Day one started in the classroom with Tom Givens providing the course overview and introduced the three assistant instructors. We were also provided with a student handbook which was about half the size of the handbook from the basic level course, but still contained a wealth of information regarding the topics of focus for this course.

Student introductions followed. Each student shared a bit about their background, when they took the basic level course, and what they have learned since taking the basic level course. It was interesting to see the diversity in time spans between the completion of the basic level course and attending the advanced course. I was happy to see some familiar faces including Gabe New, the former owner of KSG Armory and my classmate from the first time I attended Gabe White’s Pistol Shooting Solutions course, and Mindy Kay Ray, who was my classmate from the Rangemaster Basic Instructor Development course. 

The classroom lecture began with a discussion of scoring methodologies. More specifically the history, use and application of time limits, par times, and Comstock count (often called hit factor by USPSA competitors). Each method provides value in different ways since they all provide a measurement for a group or an individual which allows to track and measure skill development progress. 

The next topic delved deep into target design and selection. Most of the time was spent discussing silhouette targets and the design characteristics that are good versus those that are bad. A fair amount of time was invested in understanding why those characteristics are good or bad for defensive firearm training. Graphic and bullseye targets were also covered. 

Liability management, which is basically risk exposure minimization and mitigation, was next on the docket. At a high level it can be summarized as: document everything and don’t do stupid things. The specifics of what to document and avoiding stupid things were examined. Even with documentation and stupid things avoided, liability insurance is a good idea and it behooves instructors to know the specifics of what that insurance covers as some training activities, such as force on force training, are not equally covered or covered among all policies or insurance providers. 

The classroom lessons for the day were concluded with an exploration of training drill design which was broken down into two parts skill drills and tactics drills. Like the discussion on target design and selection, good versus bad design attributes were considered. 

Then there was a lunch break prior to hitting the range where the remainder of the day’s coursework took place. 

Range time began with some dry fire practice. The dry fire drills were brief, but before starting on live fire drills each student was assigned a relay and paired with another student of the opposite relay. This allowed the relay on the firing line to shoot the live fire skill drills while the student in the opposite relay acted as a student coach. The drills served multiple purposes. One function was to identify and unlearn bad habits that one picks up during solo practices. This is something that we all do to one extent or another which can be minimized to a certain extent with video analysis. The drills also helped each student improve upon their existing skills while consequently getting exposure coaching more experienced students. The drills also allowed us to see how the topics of scoring, target, and drill selection came together in practice. 

Rangemaster Baseline Assessment Drill – 194 out of a possible 200

One of the drills that we worked on was the Rangemaster Baseline Skills Assessment Drill. I remember this drill specifically because it was one of the three drills that offered the opportunity to earn the first of three class challenge coins (at this point we didn’t know about the two additional opportunities that would follow the next day). Furthermore at the end of the drill, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I had done well enough to find myself in a shoot off for the coin which was eventually won by Gabe New. Nevertheless, it was quite the honor to find myself having to face off against Gabe New who also won the additional two challenge coins and received the Top Shot award for being the top student in the class the following day.

The Rangemaster Baseline Skills Assessment Drill uses a B-8 repair center target which is scored as printed, requires 20 rounds of ammunition, and consists of the following strings:

  • From 5 yards – draw and fire 5 rounds in 5 seconds using two hands
  • From 5 yards – from low ready, fire 3 rounds in 3 seconds using the dominant hand only
  • From 5 yards – from low ready, fire 2 rounds in 3 seconds using the non-dominant hand only
  • From 7 yards – from low ready with only 3 rounds in the pistol, fire 3 rounds, reload, fire 3 more rounds in 10 seconds using two hands
  • From 10 yards – from low ready, fire 4 rounds in 4 seconds using two hands

The shoot off consisted of shooting a 10-10-10 Drill which also uses a B-8 repair center target which is scored as printed. There is a single string of fire where 10 shots are fired from 10 yards in 10 seconds using two hands. My score of 97 lost to a score of 99. 

10-10-10 Drill – 97 out of a possible 100

The range time was concluded after being exposed to the Rangemaster Advanced Firearms Instructor Qualification course of fire which we would shoot at the end of day in order to pass the course.

Day two began back in the classroom where we began with an overview of how firearms training has evolved due to some key watershed events in recent history. Namely the Newhall shootout in 1970, Miami-Dade shootout in 1986, and the North Hollywood shootout in 1997. This was followed by rewatching the recreation video of the Miami-Dade shootout which we watched in the basic instructor development course and a deeper analysis of the events while paying close attention to the “software” of both the perpetrators and the officers involved in the shooting.

That discussion laid the foundation for the lecture on the combative mindset which got into the physiology of the brain with an emphasis on how cognitive control which occurs in the neocortex can be overridden by instinctual control which occurs in the limbic system. We also spent quite a bit of time understanding what can be done to prevent the limbic system override based on the research and work done in this space by Dr. Paul Whitesell, Jeff Cooper, John Hearne, and Dr William Aprill. This lecture went quite deep into several facets of the topic which reminded me of several chapters I recently read in book Straight Talk on Armed Defense.

This took us right to lunch time and then back out to the range. 

This time around the live fire drills combined several different individual skills and techniques in many different combinations. A heavy emphasis was placed on making neural connections between the different mechanical skills that are very typically practiced and trained in an isolated manner.

Amidst the flurry of drills, there was an opportunity to have a little fun with a chance to earn one of the infamous 3×5 signed playing cards. Earning one of these requires successfully shooting 5 shots into the card at a distance of 5 yards in 5 seconds. I happily accepted my second card while Tom remarked, “now you’re just showing off.” 

This range session provided us with an opportunity to shoot the Casino drill, which is one of my favorite drills, and shoot different variations of it. Readers can reference the embedded video below which explains the standard configuration of the drill (it may not actually be the standard and simply the configuration I’ve been exposed to the most in training). The variants included shooting the DT2A target in specific ways in response to unexpected verbal instruction, shooting the target in reverse, shooting the target with an unknown number of rounds in each of the three magazines (which was done by loading one magazine with 6 rounds, one with 7, and one with 8 and them randomly shuffling them before beginning the drill). The Casino drill also offered students a chance to win one of the class challenge coins.

The next to last thing we did at the range was shoot the advanced firearms instructor qualification course of fire. Which is very similar to the firearms instructor qualification course where students are required to pass with a score of 90% or better in the basic instructor development course, but modified to be more difficult while still being required to score 90% or better in order to earn their advanced certification. An example of the modifications includes combining dominant hand only string and the non-dominant hand only string into a single string where the student has to transition the firearm from one hand to the other. Another example is changing a string of fire where four shots to the body are required to instead having to place three shots to the body and then transition to the head with the same time limit. 

The final range task was to shoot another course of fire using par adjusted Comstock scoring which measured each student individually against a known standard. Comparing one’s performance against this standard each student left knowing whether their skills were competent, advanced, or highly developed.

The class concluded back in the classroom where each student was awarded their completion certificate, a patch, and a sticker. The top three performing students were recognized for their performance and the best student was awarded the top shot certificate and coin. While there was no written exam this time around, the performance standards were higher and the class was not a “give me”. Every student had to work in the classroom and independently from the time they completed the basic instructor development course until this course was attended in order to meet the higher standards. 

I can’t overstate the abundance of learning that takes place in the Rangemaster instructor development courses. Not only is every student improving their own skills and learning about being an instructor, but Tom Givens also shares the rationale behind the current defensive firearms training dogma is what it is today and makes it a point that it will continue to evolve. In other words, it’s not “this is how it’s done and this is what should be taught” as much as it is “this is why these things are taught this way today and be prepared to keep up with changes as they come”. 

As is the case with every single Rangemaster course I’ve taken to date, I made new friends and new connections with some incredible people made up of both classmates and teachers. Not only did I walk with the knowledge (and notes) I managed to retain from Tom Givens, but I also learned a lot from the coaching and feedback I received from the assistant instructors which include: Aqil Qadir who is the lead firearms instructor at Citizens Safety Academy, Kjell Rosenberg and James Bennett who are both instructors at Condition Red Response

Folks who are considering becoming defensive firearms instructors should strongly consider signing up and taking the Rangemaster Basic Instructor Development course. Folks who have completed the basic instructor development course and are unsure about getting their advanced level certification should also strongly consider taking the advanced instructor development course, it will fill in a lot of blanks whose existence may not be known (as was my experience). Tom Givens has quite a few of both the basic and advanced instructor development courses coming up this year with seats available on his Eventbrite page. Get a seat while you still can.

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