The desire to achieve excellence

I spent this past weekend at the Rangemaster Instructors Conference & Reunion in Watkinsville, GA. This annual event is hosted by Tom Givens and Lynn Givens and having passed the instructors course is mandatory to attend. These 2 days were split between shooting in the morning and presentations in the afternoon. Lee Weems, John Hearne, Tiffany Johnson, and John Murphy delivered a course on the “10 principles of Teaching the Rangemaster Doctrine”. There were also a couple other individual presentations. Lee Weems also presented “Police-Citizen Contacts” and John Correia presented “Lessons Learned from Watching 12,000 Gunfights”. All of this was valuable information for professional instructors.

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Tom believes that his Rangemaster certified instructors should be able to shoot at least 90% on all qualifications. In fact, Tom would prefer we shot 100%. The shooters that attend the Rangemaster Instructors Conference & Reunions are top notch and every one of us strive to live up to Tom’s high standards.

There is an air of community and professional competition on the range. We all are striving to be excellent shooters and teachers. Below are the four qualifications we shot (along with my scores).

  • Rangemaster Qualification (298)
  • 5 Yard Round Up (95)
  • Casino Version 4 (19.34 clean)
  • FBI Course (100%)

I dropped 1 shot on the Rangemaster Qualification, I dropped 5 points on 5 Yard Round Up, my Casino Drill was slow from riding the slide release, and the FBI Course was perfect. The interesting part is while these scores were very good, they were not high enough to make the top 5. The competition was incredibly good and I was very proud to be in the company of such committed and professional instructors.

People accuse me of being competitive, as if this is a bad quality. While it is true, in the generic sense of the word, but to me the only competition that matters is my own performance compared to my past performance while on the line with outstanding shooters. Competition energizes me to improve.


In a competitive environment, pressure creates mistakes & malfunctions. Even your concern with the outcome of the match can lead to a broad spectrum of experiences.

  • Can I perform under the pressure relative to my skill?
  • Can I overcome adversity?
  • Can I stay focused on the present?

This weekend answered all of those questions for me and helped me forge faith in my image of myself as a shooter.

My only concern is that I perform at the skill level I have earned in practice. Practice earns skills. Skill begets performance. Performance develops excellence.


When people accuse me of being competitive, I smile and nod in the affirmative, and I know that we are thinking about 2 different meanings of the same word. Yes, I want to be outstanding and to perform well. This is why I train at Rangemaster……to be held to a higher standard. I encourage you to be competitive and to seek excellence.


One thing at a time

brainpuzzleIs it possible to improve several skills at once or learn new tasks together? The answer, unfortunately, is no. One thing at a time.

The first thing I do, when working with clients, is ask them “what do you want to improve”. Usually, they will list 3-5 areas of improvement with each area requiring hundreds of hours of mindful practice to achieve. I understand the message, which is “I care about my skills and I want to perform everything well”.

The mind is not a multi-tasker, instead we store “skill sets” in our subconscious, which allows them to be performed without conscious thought. Mastery of a skill requires a singular pursuit of fundamentals. We need to perform each “skill set” in isolation until we deeply understand the mechanics and can execute them on demand. We have to be able to isolate the weaknesses in our performance and set a training regimen that allows us to address one thing at a time. This is pattern I use to improve my areas of weakness.


Pick one movement to improve, gather information from several trusted sources and begin to experiment.

  • Break the movement into subsets of skill.
  • Work each subset alone, until you have the most efficient movement, which allows you to do things sooner. This practice must be mindful, and we must stay on task.
  • Work through each subset in isolation until you can perform that skill well.
  • Put all of the movements together, slowly at first, with care to perform each movement with as much detail as possible.
  • Speed is next, go faster until it begins to fall apart, recognize the area of weakness, and then practice the failure point until it improves and you can execute it at greater speed.
  • Finish with a slightly slower movement with attention to what you are seeing and feeling.

This practice will take dedication to staying with your goal, maybe for several months at a time, and that is perfectly fine!

  • Pressure test with drills and competition, to see if you are improving or if you need to refine your practice.
  • You must always be mindful, and not endlessly practicing without paying attention to the information you receive from your practice. It helps to write your results down or use video to breakdown your movement.
  • The most important part is your relationship with the truth, seeing yourself clearly is absolutely essential for improvement.
  • Your improvement is relative to the amount of mindful practice you perform daily. Example: 10 minutes of focused practice is better than 1 hour of distracted practice.

Let go of tension and your expectations, and practice to improve with clarity of focus and precision. Confidence is relative to the quality of our practice, which allows us to perform at the level of our current mastery.

The Greatest Teacher

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

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There is no way to train and avoid failure. Speed of execution, complexity of the task or the combination of both can lead to failure. Pressure and stress make the simplest task difficult. Fatigue and poor nutrition can degrade our abilities. All of us will fail, and it is good that we do. The greatest lessons are built upon failure.

The only power we have is HOW we react to failure. Learning is passionate, but not overly emotional. Simply performing incorrectly teaches us. If we choose to listen without becoming angry, embarrassed, or disappointed there is power to learn and improve. Mastery requires pushing the limits of performance and knowledge. We need to know where our capabilities begin to falter. This discovery should be greeted like an old teacher, with respect and a renewed determination to improve.


Explorers are always excited to find new horizons, whether they are external or internal in nature. We are conquering our own limitations. We will rise to the level of our practice, not our expectations. Always train with people who push your limits, and never settle for being “good enough”. This road never ends, but it does lead to competence and contentment. Allow our greatest teacher, failure, to show you the way to improve and then fill your heart with gratitude. Always thank the teacher for such a valuable lesson, otherwise we are doomed to repeat it.


“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it”.                  Seneca (On The Shortness of Life – Chapter I)

seneca_on_the_shortness_of_life_it_is_not_that_we_have_so_little_timeTime, it is the only thing we have, and as Seneca points out, we often waste it. Teaching takes time, and learning takes time. Discipline is the key component for acolytes in the temple of knowledge. Wasted time is often the rule, but our recent Pistol Essentials class was a unique exception.

On a beautiful spring morning in Dahlonega, GA, every student showed up early for class. They all pitched in to help set up the range and the class started 30 minutes early.  Administrative duties were done quickly, and time for training was significantly increased. The students had spent time practicing prior to class, were ready to train, and it was apparent in their shooting skills. Due to the “saved time” we were able to run extra repetitions of the drills. Questions were answered in great detail.  The discipline of this group allowed class to flow smoothly, while still meeting and even exceeding the coaching goals and the lesson plan. Everyone treated time very precious and valuable.

As a coach, I follow a strict time table, class starts on time, the lesson plan is followed and the class ends on time. I respect time, both my own and others. It is too valuable to waste. The timeliness, discipline, and respect of this class showed that every moment is important. The dedication needed to improve is a significant investment of time. Show up early and be prepared to train. Accept the discipline of learning.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0171.JPGThis blog is dedicated to my April Pistol Essentials class. Thank you for following the advice of Seneca. It was an honor to spend our most valuable commodity with you all.



Definition of courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.


The Complete Combatant attracts a wide range of people, of all ages, shapes, sizes and gender. Often, The Complete Combatant is the first time for many to attend a professional training class. They are a bit apprehensive because they have no idea what to expect when they show up for class and sometimes they have never used the equipment they plan to train with, much less carried it on daily basis.

The world of the “self protector” is a foreign place to them but they summon the fortitude and determination to challenge themselves to learn. The courage it takes to decide “I will learn something new” is marvelous and fascinating to me. To immerse yourself in class, trying to absorb the torrent of information, and then perform it under the watchful eyes of the coaches and their peer’s takes courage.


In a short amount of time, I watch the bewildered expressions change to dawning knowledge when using the practical application of their new skills. Failure becomes victory and doubt becomes excitement while performing multiple tasks that no longer seem out of reach.

Watching this transformation is one of the great pleasures of teaching. Fear is a part of life, but learning to preserve under difficult circumstances is courage.  I want to thank everyone that courageously comes to training classes and learns the skills of the self protection. We can learn anything if we just take the first step, and then another…..


Putting it on the line….

To compete or demonstrate has a level of risk inherent to it. When challenged, you could perform perfectly or fail to demonstrate the skill necessary.


Why would any instructor or shooter take such a chance?

I recently attended the 20th anniversary Tactical Conference (Tac Con) hosted by Tom and Lynn Givens of Rangemaster. This is a smorgasbord of talented instructors from across the country where attendees can take 2-4 hours blocks of instruction in pistol, rifle, shotgun, legal, medical, combatives, and much more.

I was able to train with, or work the line with, many of the top instructors like Claude Werner, John Farnam, Ernest Langdon, and Gabe White. They all had many commonalities in their teachings, and they all demonstrated drills and skills they taught.

Many of the trainers also competed in the Polite Society tactical match where they competed with all who chose to put themselves on the line. Out of 160 men there were 38 shooters, including yours truly, that shot a perfect score of 200 on the timed paper match course. One of the most impressive “putting it on the line” moments to me was when the Tactical Professor, Claude Werner shot the course with a revolver, easily beating many of the semi-auto shooters on the reload portion.


In the semi-finals Tom Givens had us shoot the 5 Yard Round-up Drill. Mass Ayoob shot a perfect 100 and Gabe White shot a 99. I was able to shoot a 98 which was tied for 3rd top score on this particular drill. I invite you to check out this excellent article that Karl Rehn wrote about the 5 Yard Round-up Drill.

The top 16 men and the top 8 women continued on to the “man vs man shoot-off” (separate matches) where two contenders competed against each other striving for accuracy, ability to follow directions and speed using two mannequin type reactive targets and a popper. I was very happy to move on to the final match and so did my wife Shelley.  This was her first match and I am so proud of her. I do not personally know all of the shooters, but most were top level instructors. Competing against each other, pushing to be the best, and learning from our mistakes is what makes competition worthwhile. It was inspiring to watch and compete with all of these teachers that put it on the line.


Leading by example, and facing challenges, is the path of the warrior. Conducting yourself with courtesy and composure under pressure while demonstrating the mastery of the fundamentals of shooting is something we can all strive for in our training.

Compete, demonstrate, and test your skills. Some may believe that there is much to lose, but there is far more to gain by putting it on the line…..


Standards…YES YOU CAN! Personal Performance class with Claude Werner

Standards and tests are a part of everyday life. There are performance standards in school, driving, work, fitness and many other aspects of life. These tests measure skill, knowledge and ability. The benefits are numerous, and more importantly, they develop confidence when tested. Shooting should be no different.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

I had the honor of teaching a class with the Tactical Professor, Claude Werner. He is a master of his craft. It is a privilege to watch him teach and simplify the lesson to its core fundamentals and essentials. We have titled it Personal Performance and it focuses on the NRA’s Defensive Pistol Qualification’s first levels named Pro-Marksman, Marksman and Marksman 1st class. This class is for ladies only.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Each shooter earns a rocker with each successful course of fire. We did some basic coaching on the fundamentals at the beginning of class, which was some of the first professional instruction that some of the shooters have received. Then immediately to the course of fire, and having to execute the fundamentals on each course. Check the targets, and shoot it again. Fatigue, stress, and pressure all play a role in each shooter’s ability to perform the task. Having a goal to reach really helps each shooter focus on the task at hand. In a matter of 3 hours, I watched these ladies learn the fundamentals, cheer for each other, and celebrate the small victories of improved performance. Never underestimate the power of having a written standard and a system that recognizes performance.

I am often mystified by shooters that argue against performance standards. How do you know if your training works if you have nothing to measure? The most important benefit is the confidence built by ever increasing difficulty in the standards. If you carry a gun, understanding what you are truly capable of doing under pressure, leads to making better decisions and understanding your true capabilities.

KODAK Digital Still Camera    KODAK Digital Still Camera

It was a great pleasure to watch these ladies improve and build their confidence. I always enjoy working with Claude and I am looking forward to the next Personal Performance on October 7th, 2018. Several ladies have continued to practice and have earned another rocker. This is the nature of teaching, to clarify the basics, and to help others learn how to improve through proper practice.