Friends and Mentors
by Gila Hayes
While burning the midnight oil to wrap up this journal a few days early so I could go off and spend three days polishing long-range rifle skills under Chuck Taylor’s expert tutelage, I found myself reflecting on how many truly extraordinary men and women teaching in the firearms industry today have guided my personal evolution. It dovetails neatly with the kind of mentorship on which the Network is built. Our print ad campaign focuses on the endorsements of Massad Ayoob, Chuck Taylor, John Farnam, Tom Givens, Dennis Tueller and Tom Gresham.
Don’t quit. This lesson was delivered to my embarrassment (and admit it– isn’t that the kind of lesson we remember best?) by Chuck Taylor many years ago during a shotgun class. Now ordinarily, I am amongst the most enthusiastic when they’re divvying up the 12 gauge shot shells, but as I recall, we were at the end of a multi-day three gun program, and poor Mr. Taylor was leading students one by one through a moving and shooting drill in which we were to engage steel targets at a 90-degree angle to our path of travel, with the good instructor moving us along at a quick clip such that sometimes we had to shoot at a rather oblique angle while moving briskly past the target.
For reasons that the larger lesson has eclipsed from memory, I blew the shot pattern from my Remington 870 past three or four targets in a row—not a pellet connected. This was by no fault of the instructor–he had prepared us well for the exercise–I just wasn’t getting on the sights and trigger well enough to hit accurately on the move.
At the end of the exercise, Taylor explained to the class that they had just witnessed a demonstration of giving up mid-exercise and burning through ammo to get it over with. He and all the other students have probably forgotten the entire episode by now, but I have not, and I would like to think that from it I learned how to buckle down and do good work even when the challenges seem beyond my humble abilities! It was a good lesson, well learned. We’ll see what lessons Mr. Taylor has in store for me this weekend!
Another instructor who made a profound impression on me in so many ways was Jim Cirillo, of NYPD Stake Out Squad fame, also a sought-after instructor when he taught at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), LE conferences, and in his later years, at select private training facilities. Jim taught me a lot of skills, but the life lesson I want most to emulate was his insatiable curiosity about the world around him and his unbelievable drive to learn anything that he did not already know.
Jim was well known, even in his later years when he was indisputably a master instructor, for remarking during his classes, “Let me show you something new that I just learned from ‘So And So’ (choose any number of firearms trainer names, Jim read, listened to and learned from them all)!” Then he’d go up to the shooting line talking a blue streak in that inimitable NY accent that he had and showing how he’d made the latest thing he learned work for him.
And make it work he would! It was not always easy for Jim. Not too many years after I met him, he began to admit that he was having a lot of shoulder and arm pain, and for a while, he worked out of an old-fashioned open-fronted clamshell holster, not because it worked better than anything else on the market but because it let him draw his gun despite the limited range of motion his injury accommodated. In later years, he was one of the first people amongst my close circle to have major joint replacements, and oh, the pleasure he expressed at being able to move without pain. Another great lesson taught by example–don’t let pain stop you!
Other than Jim, I am fortunate to have not lost to death the mentors who have influenced my professional development. As is true of my memories of Cirillo, I would be hard pressed to name only one life lesson from Massad Ayoob. If I had to choose just one lesson that made the most difference for me, I think it would be Massad’s ripple in the pond lesson. In every class Ayoob teaches, he charges his students with sharing what he has taught to them with those for whom they care. That way, the lessons Ayoob plants in the student’s consciousness spread far beyond the student. The preparation to stop violence against you, understanding of the standards to which society and the criminal justice system will hold your use of force, and the sheer determination to stay safe and “keep your people safe,” ripple out from Ayoob, through his students, to the people they care about, and on and on. His lesson? Don’t keep what you learn about personal safety to yourself! No matter how humble you feel your grasp of those lessons, have the courage to discuss what you learned with people about whom you care.
Many yeas ago, while outlining my second book, I badly wanted to include a discussion of firearms use in the field, hunting game for food. At the time, Vicki Farnam was the only female hunter I knew well. I was probably asking all the wrong questions, and in Vicki’s typically direct style, she replied that I would do better if I wrote about subjects on which I had close personal knowledge. It was great advice, and I’ve acted on it over the years.
I have since then had the privilege of participating in a number of meat hunts, so perhaps I’m working up to a bit more personal knowledge of the hunter’s craft, but I don’t hold forth publicly about it because, truly, Vicki was right: writers need to focus what we know inside and out, backwards and forwards. If you doubt her wisdom, just read what passes for news reporting or editorial commentary these days!
Vicki’s husband John Farnam is another inspirational mentor. From John, I have learned how a truly humble person lives, moves through the world, and shares knowledge with others. John is extremely knowledgeable about guns and use of force for defense. Yet, when asked to make an authoritative statement on one issue or another, it is common for John to conclude his observation with, “Well, that is what I believe, but I could be wrong.” John is always questing for better ways to accomplish objectives, without getting so bogged down in contemplation that nothing ever gets done.
One of the most important lessons John ever taught me was, “Don’t dither! Get moving and do something! If what you do is not exactly the right solution, you still have got to do something, so get moving and solve the problem!”
Oh, and the other thing John taught me? “Are you having a problem? Nobody else really cares! You better get with it and solve this problem yourself, because no one else is coming to fix it for you!” Yes, most of the things I have learned from John end with an exclamation mark. If you know him, you know that he will give you the important information eloquently and with a serious face, then close it with one of his exclamations and his trademark ironic grin. Don’t sweat the little stuff, he’ll quote, then add that most of what we stress about is very minor, indeed.
Another instructor who would unpretentiously preface important principles with a humble statement is Clint Smith. I’ve had the privilege of having rifle, shotgun and pistol training with him, and learned an awful lot about shooting from positions of disadvantage, and in my mind, the most important lesson, getting the lead out and moving off the line of attack!
The other mentor to make a tremendous impression on me about the need to be able to remain composed and shoot accurately under nerve-racking stress, while moving, in crowded conditions, and always, always with accurate shot placement is Ken Hackathorn. Though classes with him always entailed a lot of different challenges, I remember that at the end of the class day, he’d have students draw a little dot or very small circle on the target, and settle down to perform the basics of sight alignment and trigger control, hopefully grouping five or six shots with all the holes on target touching, or if not, understanding what they needed to practice in order to perform at that high level of skill. We may be movin’, shootin’, and communicatin’ but we still have to hit the target where it needs to be hit.
After 25 years as a student of self defense, it is hard to keep this column at a reasonable length. From Network President Marty Hayes (yes, I have been a student in a huge number of classes he taught), I have learned that teams of people working in concert can accomplish amazing things. We continue to practice that lesson at the Network every day.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg and like Jim Cirillo, I intend to keep learning new skills until the day I die, so we will have to consider this the first chapter of many more life lessons learned in self defense training.
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