Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review - AAR Defensive Firearms Coach Certification Course

UPATE 8/20/2017:

"I am writing to confirm your new certification as a Defensive Firearms Coach."  


We’ve had this discussion multiple times.  In fact, it takes one form or another every time I take coursework of some type.  As instructors, it is imperative that we take coursework each and every year.  Multiple times a year if at all possible.  It is a time to learn new things and see how other instructors conduct their training.  It allows us to polish skills under the watchful eye of another training team. 

 That said, as instructors – not just shooters – instructors, it is incumbent upon us to also focus on developing our skills as an instructor by taking “Instructor Development” or “Methods of Instruction” coursework as well.

 If you are a NRA instructor this typically comes in the form as BIT – Basic Instructor Training as well as the Instructor Course for which ever of the firearms courses you wish to teach.  I’ve taken BIT as well as the Instructor Course for Basic Pistol, Basic Rifle, Basic Shotgun, PPITH, PPOTH as well as the NRA Training Counselor Development Workshop.  In my private life, I’ve been an adjunct college instructor for an intro computer science course, a corporate trainer over the past 35 years for my own software development company selling our custom software to nursing homes and hospitals and I did a 3 year stint as a personal development facilitator (don’t ask, way to complicated to explain).  I’ve had multiple instructors teach me how to teach from their individual point of view.  And I’ve spent literally thousands of hours in front of students attempting to transfer the knowledge I wanted them to know from my head and material into theirs.  I’m taking a lot of words to say that I didn’t walk into this experience blind.  I’ve taken a couple of courses from Rob as well as from a couple other instructors presenting his coursework.  Rob sets a pretty high bar . . . I wasn’t disappointed.

 As a whole, we as a community of instructors, come with a pretty good helping of ego.  Honestly, I’m no different.  I believe I’m a good instructor.  The coursework demonstrated that I have room to improve.  Where I’m going with this is that when you take coursework – be it a shooting course, tactics course or instructor development course you simply need to check your ego and what you “know” at the door.  I did my best.  Actually, I think I did a pretty good job of it.  One of the first questions we were asked on Saturday morning is “Why are you here?”  It’s a question I always ask in my classes.  My answer . . . I wanted to learn new methods of instruction.  There’s always different things you can do, say, present, demonstrate . . . and I wanted to learn a few new ones.  Our progress on our goal was checked at the end of every day including during the AAR on the last day.  That helped to make sure we were all staying focused on our primary purpose for being there.

The primary trainer was Jamie Onion.  The link provides a starting point for you to take a look at this trainer.  I must confess I’m a research hound on coursework I’m interested in taking.  I look for AARs, reviews of the instructor and I talk to folks I know and trust who have taken the coursework.  Jamie came with the highest of recommendations from these folks.  Add to that being a full time Detective with a police force near Cleveland Ohio, let’s just say I went in expecting a lot.  Again, I wasn’t disappointed.

 His training partner was Mike McElmeel of Eighteenzulu LLC.  He’s a true “been there, done that” kind of guy with a true humility that comes from knowing his stuff and a willingness to share it.  I’ve had the pleasure of taking coursework with our local PD conducted by Mike so I had I pretty good idea what to expect here as well.

 We were a course of 5 . . . me, Todd, John, Julie and Kevin.  All of us are NRA instructors and all had taken coursework from ICE.  Most, maybe all, had taken some of that coursework from Rob Pincus himself.  We had a pretty good idea where we were going.  I don’t believe any of us truly understood what the three-day journey was going to be like.  They were long-ish days.  First ran 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM.  Second – 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM.  The last was short . . . 8:30 AM to about 4 PM.  A total of 27.5 hours.  This included both classroom time and range time.  The range bolstered the concepts taught in the classroom.  Let’s say the three days were “busy”.

 This course is actually instructor development for two sets of coursework.  The first is the “Fundamentals of Home Defense Handguns Course” and the second is the “Fundamentals of Concealed Carry Course”.  Obviously there is considerable overlap when you begin to talk about handgun selection, handgun safety, shooting fundamentals and a host of other topics.  And, there are separate topics covering home defensive tactics, de-escalation techniques, equipment requirements to name but a few.

 The coursework is taught from the point of view that the student is a new and inexperienced shooter.  Everything from the type of handgun best suited for personal defense to defensive ammunition to belts, holsters, positions of carry and much much more was covered and discussed.  Just a reminder . . . when you take instructor development coursework from a company they are presenting THEIR POV.  It is your responsibility to be open, to listen, to learn what they are trying to teach you and to then . . . after you’ve gone home and worked on the range on what they taught . . . decide if you are willing to teach it.  For me, this portion was very easy . . . I believe ICE is one of the companies currently in the forefront of defensive shooting and working hard to be there.  The big thing they offer is that they can clearly articulate the “WHY” of what they do.  I may not always agree – in fact I challenged what was being taught a handful of times, but I know that I will be presented with the WHY from their POV.  Many training companies simply fall back on the “because I said so and I’m the expert here” line of reasoning.  I have little time for those folks.

 One bone I did pick on a couple of times was the “But there’s no training manual!!!!!” bone.  “Yep” Jamie said, “And I doubt there ever will be.”  But, but, but . . . I like training manuals.  It means I don’t have to take that good of notes . . . I can look at it any time . . . I can use it to review for the test . . . I can refresh before I teach a class . . . ya know????

 Here’s the good news I discovered, my notes turned out awesome.  It forced me to engage the entire day.  It forced me to ask things to be repeated or covered again if I didn’t understand, because I wasn’t going to be able to go home that night and catch up on what I didn’t hear or understand.  It forced me to be a much better student!  It was a fair trade.

 Of course, you know there’s one more kicker out there on the material, right?  The final written exam was closed book . . . with a few fill-in-the-blanks questions . . . and the remainder were short answer to short essay.  All 50 of them.  Frankly, all of us did a bit of a gut check there.  My last college level course that I took was in June of 1980 . . . and other development workshops were open books and open notes.  Crap!!!!!

 We all kept breathing . . . and then simply jumped in with both feet.  Topics came fast and furious for all three days.  While there were some power points let’s just say this was NOT a “slide-rich-environment”!  This forced us to LISTEN, ASK and WRITE . . . not simply watch a slide and copy.  Again, this worked to all of our advantage insuring we focused on what the hell was being said because there was no going back.

 How about “teach backs” . . . remember those???  These too we had in spades.  They were “graded” with phrases like “that was pretty solid” . . . to . . . “that didn’t completely suck” . . . to “Bill, ya kinda just slipped off the track there!”.  As expected we also gave each other feedback as well.  It was all direct, as clear as we could make it and always taken as “feedback”, NOT criticism (something you need to keep in mind when you take coursework).

 Depending on how old you are in my day there used to be “challenge circles” at high school dances.  The idea was that couples formed circles and then a couple would jump in an “challenge” other couples to dance better than they were.  (I DID NOT participate in these being all nerd-o-licious at that age, but it left quite an impression on me.)  Saturday night’s teach backs were exactly that.  Jamie picked a victim . . . sorry, candidate . . . to get things started presenting them with a topic to “teach back”.  At the end that candidate then chose the next . . . and so the circle went.  Pretty interesting, challenging and fun by then.

 Teach backs continued until the last day and was a cornerstone of the classroom work.

As for range work, we went through – depending on how you count things up – 8 primary shooting drills.  From a simple, by the numbers, single shot shooting drill to a multi-threat, multi-round drill.  We were all taught the fundamentals of each drill and then expected to teach it back.  Yeah . . . that was interesting.

 A side note here . . . if the request is put out on who wants to go first . . . and you wait for more than the count of 5 . . . and no one volunteers (especially early in the course) go first!  Suck it up and just do it.  A couple things will happen . . . you’ll probably screw the first one up.  As you are asked to the same one again, you’ll get better.  By the end . . . you’ll to it at least to the “Ya know, that doesn’t completely suck” level.  YOU WILL LEARN A TON DURING THE PROCESS . . . and your classmates will as well.  I did this a number of times.  Honestly, I’ve had my ass chewed by TIs, pissed off customers and . . . after 45 years of marriage . . . my wife.  In each and every case my rear has been nibbled on . . . I’ve learned.  That is NOT to say that Jamie or Mike yelled – never did they raise their voice.  But they did correct, encourage and they clearly articulated what we did wrong and what we needed to do to fix it.  The range work was all good!!

 Each course – Home Defense and Concealed Carry has a specific “end of course scenario” as a final shooting exam.  They were simple.  We all watch our fellow students perform them . . . and each of us, to a person, experienced a fair level of surprise and anxiety as the drill began.  It was a great way to end the range work!

 Jamie had a court date for a case he was working on so he needed to leave a bit early on Monday.  That meant our AAR was with lunch.  It is the time in a set of coursework that both parties are leaning.  We each got to hear Jamie’s thoughts on us and our performance.  We also got one more chance to clarify how well we had reached our goad, in my case . . . did I learn new teaching methods??  Yep, in spades.  And I got to hear feedback from him about me.  One thing I appreciated is that he initially feared I’d be “that guy” . . . and old fart that knows everything!  He was pleased that it turned out I listened and engaged rather than challenged and disputed.  I would offer those reading this that same advice.  Listen.  Engage.  And learn.

 Did I pass??  Heavy sigh, I don’t know.  It takes time to read the hand-written answers – god help them with my hand writing – and to decide if the answer is what they wanted or missed the mark.  In my heart, it felt good.  I’ll post a Pass/Fail on this post once I find out.

 One other benefit to this course . . . you can sit through it as many times as you wish.  I can see myself doing that from time to time.  Just to shake the dust off.

 Final recommendation . . . if you are looking for a set of coursework to present to your client base . . . this particular set of coursework should be on your list.

 Thanks Jamie, Mike . . . for what it’s worth you did a great job!


  1. Outstanding.
    I was actually discussing some aspects of our approach to Instructor and Curriculum Development today with a collaborator who is used to a more structured approach. Your AAR hit a few of the things I said Spot On... from you perspective as a student. It is good to see that the methodology and underlying principles are getting passed on along with the "testable" objective knowledge. Jamie has been an outstanding Director for the DFC Program and Mike is an outstanding teacher as well.
    Thanks for your thorough thoughts and commitment to professional development for yourself and our community. -RJP

  2. Excellent! This is one of the instructor development programs I've been wanting to attend for some time. Im going to try to find a way to make that happen next year!

  3. This blog is really very informative for me because i was searching for the same information. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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