By Diane Walls,
There is no denying the increasing interest among American citizens in defensive firearms. A look at any state’s carry permit statistics will show the steep climb in the number of concealed carry permits issued over the last few years. So, too, will a peek at the number of NICS background checks for firearm purchases. If the numbers are broken down to show the sexes of the applicants, it’s easy to see that women are taking a big interest in firearms, both for sporting purposes and self defense. Naturally, with more people owning guns, more training will be needed for these firearms owners. While this is a boon to established training organizations and schools, it also presents the problem of where are we going to get enough trainers to help all of these responsible gun owners become safe and proficient in the use of their guns?
First and foremost, the decision to become an instructor must be a serious, well-considered one. It involves a great deal of commitment, both of time and money, and comes with a large burden of responsibility. Firearms are dangerous tools and great care must be taken to model safe handling at all times, no exceptions, ever. It needs to be kept in mind that teaching people to use firearms for self defense means you are teaching deadly force techniques. People are literally trusting you to show them how to save their lives and the lives of those they love in a dire emergency. This goes for instruction on hunting and competition as well because, even though you may not be directly addressing self defense, your students will use what they learned about guns should the need arise. A thorough grounding in self-defense law and the statutes regulating firearms in general is a necessary component of any instructor’s background.
How am I qualified to speak to this, you might ask? I’ve been involved in martial arts for most of my adult life. I hold a 4th degree black belt in TaeKwonDo, and taught that discipline for many years. It followed that learning about defensive use of firearms would be another aspect of martial arts training for me. I had already made the decisions that I could use force in my own defense. Any hand to hand martial art has limitations, however, and training for realistic self defense is difficult to come by. As I aged and slowed, the use of an equalizer like the gun became more appealing. Of course, I was already committed to training and sought out a good school of the gun. To my good fortune, the Firearms Academy of Seattle was nearby and their emphasis was on self defense. With the care and mentoring of the staff of FAS, I began my journey to an apprenticeship as a trainer for them and worked my way to instructor of the handgun at this facility. This involved many hours of training in their curriculum as well as outside training from other instructors the school brought in and that I traveled to at my own expense.
I recently spoke with Marty Hayes, owner of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, to get his perspective on the firearms training industry and what it takes to be a good firearms instructor.
W&G: We’ve noticed the uptick in student enrollment at FAS recently. Are more women coming for training and why do you suppose that is?
Hayes: “Yes. We’ve noticed about 40 to 50% of students coming in for our basic courses are women and double the number of women are continuing on to more advanced courses than before. And not just women, there are more students in general. There are three reasons for this. The first is the political climate. When it gets acrimonious with one side touting gun control and the other side touting Second Amendment rights, people get uneasy. Secondly, there is a perceived uptick in crime due to news media coverage, especially of shootings with any political or racial involvement, and people become aware of the violent nature of our culture. I’ve noticed a lot more people over the age of 60 and people who never grew up around guns turning to the gun to protect themselves. Lastly, the proliferation of active shooter situations, both the domestic terrorism and the foreign jihadists, have made people in general and more women seek out training.”
W&G: Are you going to add more staff?
Hayes: “We’re a fixed facility and limited in the number of classes we can teach. We start in late February and go through the end of November when the weather gets too cruddy to go on. Every weekend has classes, with the exception of a holiday or two, but that’s all we can do. My staff has stepped up to the bar to teach these classes, so we don’t need to add a bunch more staff.”
W&G: Have you noticed more schools and more instructors coming into the field?”
Hayes: “I think the number of schools is increasing and the number of people deciding to hang out their shingle as instructors definitely increasing. I don’t know if other schools are adding instructors.”
W&G: FAS is a long established school. What was it that made you decide to teach defensive firearms to civilians as opposed to law enforcement?
Hayes: “I started out in law enforcement. I got out of it for a while and did other things but found I was still drawn to law enforcement and firearms. I was a competitive shooter starting in my mid-20s with NRA PPC shooting competitions which I enjoyed. I decided to go back to law enforcement and at that same time, a range in the Seattle area was looking for an instructor to develop curriculum and run their range for them. I worked up a proposal and took my credentials as a Washington State Law Enforcement Certified Instructor along to them and they hired me. After about 3 years, I discovered that I don’t work well with others. There were too many conflicts between their vision of what I should be doing and mine so I quit them in 1990 and started my own business. In 1995, I moved 2 hours south of Seattle to rural Onalaska and opened FAS there.”
W&G: What is it you look for in a potential instructor and what are your requirements to instruct at your school?
Hayes: “First of all, I don’t differentiate between male and female in what I look for in a potential instructor. Typically, I don’t start looking until I perceive a need for more instructors. Then, I look at the students working through the classes and see if any stand out as people with a real interest in bettering their skills. It’s sort of a self-screening process as they go through the whole handgun curriculum which is about 60 hours of training. When I see them doing that and becoming very serious about it, I decide whether I want to spend a lot of time with this person. Are they the kind of person I would want to go to dinner with, go motorcycling, spend time in a golf cart? They gotta be nice people or we don’t bother. At the staff meeting in December, one of the questions was “Who among the students might you recommend as someone you would like to bring on staff and work with?” The staff spends more time with the students than I do these days. A couple of names came out as people we might approach.”
W&G: What do you require from your apprentice instructors before they become official staff instructors?
Hayes: “We have an instructor development program like most schools that do a good volume of business but we don’t teach instructor development classes that someone could come into and leave with a certificate certifying them as an FAS instructor. It’s much more extensive than that. When the person has developed their skills, they have to pass a skills test, called our Handgun Master’s Test. I’m told it’s a difficult test and from the number of people taking it and not passing, I’d have to concur with that. I once administered it to a group of 17 law enforcement firearms instructors and only 7 were able to pass and they had multiple chances at it. That kind of validated it as a good measure of shooting skills. Once they pass that and the staff concurs that they have an acceptable level of skill, we approach them about teaching. This is a casual process, as we usually know who would be interested in joining the staff by then. After the 60 hours of training through our handgun curriculum and passing the master’s test, they come to classes and learn from the other instructors and myself how to become a good shooting coach, probably another 60 to 100 hours of volunteer work. In addition to that, as if that wasn’t enough, I require another 100 hours of advanced training from other instructors outside FAS. I don’t want people dedicated to FAS and nothing else. I want them to have a broad understanding of the industry through training with other top instructors in the field. Fortunately, I bring most of them to FAS. One of those instructors that is an absolute requirement is Massad Ayoob. My instructors must be certified graduates of his MAG-40 class so they understand the legal ramifications of deadly force. In addition to all this, they must bring instructor credentials in from NRA, SAF, Law Enforcement Instructors or something equivalent, such as our own instructor development course, which we offer every 5 years or so, to become certified instructors at FAS.”
W&G: I’ve noticed, being one of your instructors, that you have more women on staff than just about anyone else. You are blessed with your wife and partner, Gila Hayes, as an instructor and now administrator. Is this due to her influence or something else?
Hayes: “Gila doesn’t influence my decisions, except as a staff member’s voice. I knew from early on that women often learn better from other women than from men. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a male and be a good teacher for women. In fact, I cut my teeth in this industry teaching women-only classes. It was kind of weird being the only guy with a bunch of women but I would usually seek out a lady student that had been through the course to help on the range and act as a sounding board for me. This was until some women worked through the apprenticeship program and came on staff. I don’t have a lot of women, only seven have received teaching certificates from me. Of those, six are still with me. They are a very loyal group. But I feel that it’s important to have women teaching the classes, especially the beginner level where most women students come in. Some come in as victims of abuse or rape and they need a lady they can talk to. I’m a big, gruff guy and I’m told I’m intimidating. I want to have a friendlier persona there and that might be why we have so many women coming into the school. Of the 1000 or so students that come through in a year, maybe 400 will be women.”
W&G: In addition to being the director of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, you are also the founder and director of the Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network. Your curriculum is heavily weighted with the legalities around the use of deadly force. Do you feel this is being addressed enough by trainers in general and why?
Hayes: “Absolutely not. When I trained in law enforcement, I learned about ability, opportunity and jeopardy and I brought that into my program. I made myself a vow that I would not teach someone to use a gun in self defense, in other words to kill, without making a good faith effort to make sure they understand when they could justifiably kill another person. I brought ability, opportunity and jeopardy as well as state laws into my programs in 1988 and have continued to this day. I know a lot of instructors that don’t address this and that’s not necessarily bad if the students aren’t expecting to learn that when they sign up for the course. But if you take a raw new beginner and start to teach them how to use a gun in self defense, you absolutely owe it to them to teach them the rules of the road. That come’s heavily from the teaching of Massad Ayoob.
W&G: Massad Ayoob has been a mentor of yours, then?
Hayes: “He’s one of the major ones. Also the late Jim Cirillo, rest his soul. John Farnam has been influential in my development as an instructor as has Tom Givens. Lately, I’ve gone to Gunsite to take training. I have to keep my training up.”
My thanks go to Marty Hayes for his time and for the mentoring that this author, as one of his instructors, has received. My path, through apprenticeship, has been a long one and I’m one of the fortunate few that get this type of opportunity. Facilities like FAS can only do so much to meet the demand for training.
There are other ways to help train the next group of American citizens wanting to propagate our right to defend ourselves with firearms. For an excellent take on the do it yourself method of becoming a firearms instructor, I turn to Kathy Jackson, a friend that has many of my shared experiences as a fellow instructor at FAS and now head of her own training company, Cornered Cat Training. What follows is excerpted (with the author’s permission) from an upcoming book she is working on, as yet untitled, that will go in depth into her journey as a trainer and what she feels is important to the development of instructors:
The Do It Yourself Road
First of all, get certification from a reputable school or organization. Instructors credentialed from the NRA are a good place to start. No one certification is the sum total of what an instructor needs to be a good instructor.
Find someone with experience that is willing to mentor you. This can mean helping out with competitive matches or events in your area or helping with classes at the local range. Most instructors are eager to have volunteers to help out. You can learn a lot from watching others teach and coach.
Things to learn immediately:
- Get medical skills.
- Build a strong legal understanding of lethal force.
- Live with your gun.
- Develop your speaking skills.
- Shoot regularly.
- Read—a lot.
- Build a strong understanding of what self defense is and what it is not.
- Learn basic armorer’s skills.
- Document your training.
- Start an instructor’s journal.
Within a year:
- Buy liability insurance.
- Get the NRA Basic Pistol, Personal Protection in the Home and Personal Protection Outside the Home Instructors certifications.
- Take at least 60 hours of formal non-NRA firearms training (more is better) from quality professional schools.
- Regularly volunteer to coach and assist with events in your area.
- Assist with safety in classes taught by professional instructors at every opportunity.
- Practice enforcing safety protocols.
- When you are ready, meet the licensing requirements to offer concealed carry permit training to students in your state.
Within 3 years:
- Take a MAG-40 class from Massad Ayoob.
- Reach a total of at least 120 hours of formal training from non-NRA sources.
- Keep learning.
As you can see from the advice offered by both Marty and Kathy, continued training from a variety of sources is paramount to becoming a well-rounded, skilled and competant instructor. So, too, is a good grounding in the legalities of lethal force.
Learning about the tools of your craft is important as well. In order to speak authoritatively about firearms, one must know about the types of guns people will bring in to learn on. This means knowing how to operate both revolvers and semi-automatic handguns for loading and unloading, making the gun safe, basic maintenance, diagnostic troubleshooting and field repairs.
It’s also important to have a good grounding in the types of support equipment available for firearms, such as gunbelts, holsters, magazines and speedloaders, magazine and speedloader pouches, flashlights, ammunition and other items important for using, carrying and training with firearms. Fortunately, this information is available readily online, from retailers and, most importantly, from networking with other firearms enthusiasts that have experience with all that gear.
Becoming a firearms instructor is much like any other teaching profession, with the added responsibilites of keeping students safe while learning an inherently dangerous skill. This adds a medical component that I feel is vital as well. First aid knowledge for anything from cuts and scrapes to gunshot wounds is important. There is a psychological component as well. People often come to you afraid of the tool they seek to learn about or scarred by bad experiences with violence or crime. The loud noises and physical sensations of having the gun recoil in your hand during firing and the nearby explosions and flying brass of a firing line can be upsetting at first. It’s necessary to cultivate a calm, reassuring presence while balancing that with the need to keep safety protocols strictly enforced.
You have to be able to engage your students with your material and inspire them to seek more training. You must be willing to kindly mentor others along the path to knowledge while keeping your mind and heart open to the lessons your students can impart to you. It’s less about gratifying your own ego and more about strengthening and empowering others.
Over most of a lifetime in the martial arts, I’ve met very few people that have accrued much wealth training others. Most professional instructors get by and earn enough to continue their path. For many, such as myself, teaching firearms safety is a side job and a labor of love. I’ve found it to be a journey toward personal empowerment made better by the great people I’ve met along the way.