Forgive my fandom, but to me, Tom Givens is a legend and a national treasure. There are few gentlemen remaining on this earth with his level of experience and expertise in the firearms industry. I've heard his name often since I began shooting, and never thought I'd actually find myself performing well enough to land in one of his classes.
After some gentle pressure and strong encouragement from friends and colleagues, I signed up to take the Rangemaster Firearms Instructor Development Course June 2-4, 2023. I knew it would be tough, and I understood that I'd likely be an underdog in the course, given that my career has nothing to do with firearms and I've been shooting a total of just over six years. I wasn't exactly sure how to prepare, but I know several graduates who offered pointers and tips:
Work on pistol presentation.
Practice shooting at distances up to 25 yards.
Plan to study.
Take plenty of ammunition and multiple magazines.
Stay out of your head - just shoot and have fun!
I took the three months before the course spending lots of time dry-firing and practicing drills that incorporated drawing from the holster. And before I knew it, June had arrived.
The course was hosted at Oak Hill Farms Range in Yale, VA. It was a beautiful plot of land and thankfully, the weather was pleasant. Our class had twelve students registered, but only ten were in attendance - 3 ladies (myself included) and 7 men. Experience varied, but it was clear that most of those in attendance had been shooting far longer than me, and quite a few were seeking the certification to meet a qualification standard or requirement to join a cadre. From the moment introductions were presented, the pressure was on. I knew this was going to be an intense weekend, and I knew I was poised to learn a great deal!
The first day was spent almost entirely in the classroom. Tom set the stage for the course and stressed the objective-based Rangemaster program. In short, if you pass the written exam and shooting qualifications, you pass the course. If you don't, you don't. It's as simple as that. Everyone was presented with a course manual that includes a plethora of valuable information. I must say it was very well organized and will forever be a valued part of my library. During the afternoon of the first day, we spent about two hours on the range doing some dry fire work and taking strategic shots at short distances. From the very first exercise, the Assistant Instructors (AIs) began providing valuable feedback. I quickly incorporated small tweaks that made immediate positive impacts on my performance, based on their suggestions.
The second day took place almost entirely on the range. Tom ran the class through a number of standard drills designed to challenge precision, speed, and distance shooting. We also had several opportunities to compete for class souvenirs, including challenge coins and a signed playing card.
The final day started on the range with the shooting qualifications. We returned to the classroom after about two hours and continued discussing legal considerations and the many ways we can all better serve our students. The day concluded with the written exam and an informal graduation ceremony for those who successfully completed the course.
From my perspective, the class was tough! Aside from the week-long NRA Training Counselor Program course, nothing I've ever taken was as intense as this. Most of my challenge, I will admit, was mental. And that's actually a good thing! Given that I don't have a military, law enforcement, or related background, it's rare that I'm able to experience such a demand for high performance under stress. To be a good firearms instructor, however, this is needed. And this need should be passed on to our students. After all, self-defense situations are stressful and intimidating.
The materials were solid, and Tom's ability to weave his lifelong experience into equipping us to better serve our communities was a blessing to witness. I cannot express how much I learned. The course certainly changed my mindset in regard to self-defense training and instruction, which will produce a long-term, positive effect for those I teach moving forward. In short, the course was worth every dime, and more. It's fast-paced with no room for chit-chat, equipment failures, or goofing around. "Always be ready" was a persistent theme, and there was no tolerance for anything less. There's an expectation that everyone attending is competent and understands safety. No grace is extended in these areas, and that's the way it should be.
I was exhausted when the course concluded but felt accomplished and quite improved, overall, for attending. Most of all, I was appreciative of the opportunity. The caliber of people in attendance and assisting with the course was a bit intimidating, but again, worked to my benefit in the end. As the old saying goes, "Sit at the table with winners. The conversation is different."
I did pass the course, which was my first goal. However, I do believe I could have performed much better throughout, so I left with numerous lessons learned. The stress definitely impacted me, which is a sign that I need more practice and exposure of this kind. I will be preparing for the next course in the series, the Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Development course. And the next time around, I'll simply focus a bit more on confidently running the gun. I know how to do this. Imposter's syndrome was definitely my enemy this time around.
For the course, I ran a traditional 1911 Commander with iron sights. I generally carry a Kimber Micro 9, so I wanted to run the same platform as my EDC. Between the first and second day, I switched from a Ruger SR1911 to my Bul Armory 1911 Commander. Both ran wonderfully, but the grip safety on my Ruger started rattling a bit after the first 200 rounds. I switched out the gun and finished the last two days with the Bul, just in case. Needless to say, I had the only 1911 on the line, which concerned me initially. With eight magazines, I was able to keep up with everyone else, but it took some extra effort. Tom did firmly admonish me to ensure I keep extra magazines if I'm going to carry a firearm with such a small capacity. I will heed that advice and am considering options for a larger capacity option. I used a traditional leather OWB holster, concealed by a loose shirt, and ran both Omusha and Federal 124gr ammunition (around 800 rounds) during the course.
Initially, my goal was to become a Rangemaster Certified Instructor after shooting for ten years. This was a reasonable expectation, based on all I'd heard. Yet, I'm thankful for the friends that "fast-forwarded" me into this experience. It was a challenge, but it helped me to develop some confidence and think about my role as a firearms instructor from a very different perspective. I learned a ton, and I will certainly be better for it. Challenge is good. It's what makes us better. And I can't be more appreciative of an opportunity to train with Mr. Tom Givens. So many may never experience such an opportunity. I don't take that for granted.