HACKATHORN-MOD-0. The Original.

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I’m sitting here on my flight back to DC reflecting on the amazing weekend I’ve just had as a student under Ken Hackathorn and his two-day Advanced Handgun course. I had attended the course as a way to reconnect with an old friend that I had worked with for years after 9/11. Attending a shooting course together seemed like a great way to catch up on lost time, so we picked someone we have both admired for a number of years but never had an opportunity to train with. If I were a marketing guru and had to describe it in just one word: fundamentals.

I can’t recall the origin of the quote but the following kept running through my mind as I watched Ken teach the fundamentals, “Don’t look to find the end of the road when you are still at the very first step.”

It’s difficult to do, at least I found that it was difficult for me to do. As a student I wanted to push – I wanted “Mach 3 with your hair on fire” – and drive on. But as a teacher myself I inherently understood the need to slow down and and practice restraint. Baby steps. Ken embraces the building block approach and uses the mastery of his craft to model the EDIP learning methodology: explanation, demonstration, imitation, and practice. Let’s look at what this meant to me over the past two days.

Explanation. I have said before that if you want someone to teach you how to Stop-Drop-and-Roll it makes sense that it be a fireman – someone who has been in the fire. Ken has been passing on core gunfighter skills for over 34 years. He lacks nothing in the explanation of the progeny of not only how gunfighters do what they do but why. Within any professional community there are a lot of those that know “how”…but very few that usually know “why”. Being able to answer the “why” is a testament to a persons depth-of-knowledge and a persons depth-of-knowledge is generally a by product of their experience. Knowledge + experience = wisdom. Practicing a craft and then performing that craft for almost four decades makes a man very wise.

Demonstration. I think that it is very important for teachers to demonstrate their abilities to their students. I have a good friend that runs a police department in northern Virginia and comes from a background in tactical law enforcement and military special operations who says it best: don’t tell me, show me. Including myself there was a total of twelve students in the class and Ken showed us all. Every drill we were expected to shoot he shot first. If it required running he ran. If it required moving he moved. Accuracy? Absolute. His ability to shoot, move, and communicate – while teaching and demonstrating the necessary application of the fundamentals instilled in each of us ourselves an attitude of both confidence and ability. By the way, Ken is 68 years old. Like watches and spirits it was apparent he has only gotten better with time.

Imitation. I believe that this is probably the single most important aspect of the EDIP principles. Proper imitation sets you up for success. Imitation is defined as “the action of using someone or something as a model”. To put it in military jargon that most can understand, I spent two days with HACKATHORN-MOD-0. The original. That which acts as a model for someone or something to follow. A key component to effectively teaching someone – especially if it is a performed skill – is the ability to see the student perform the components of the skill against a backdrop of perfection. A little tweak here, a subtle movement there. It’s like watching your children begin to be able to color within the lines: pretty soon you’re not able to tell where the color stops and the line starts. Along with my cohorts we worked for two days imitating Kens smoothness of skill. When I teach I talk about it as “minimization” – the cutting away of all the unnecessary material until only the essence remains. My coworker, Ellen, describes it best: an artist doesn’t add things to their work until completion, they cut things away, like a sculptor, removing excess material, until only the finished piece remains.

Practice. This would appear to be the most simple but is often the most confounding. Practice. Practice. Practice. If I could I would replace the P of EDIP with a D that represents discipline. To practice effectively is to be self disciplined, and self discipline takes constant effort. Self discipline is a learned and practiced behavior – it is a way. As the course was winding up I felt like a kid that didn’t want to leave camp. What I realized was that the responsibility of the course and the material – and the discipline – was transferring from Ken (our teacher) to us (the students). It was now going to be up to me to ensure the transference of the skill. My mastery of the craft was becoming mine and mine alone.

Ken had set before me a big chunk of clay. Time to start cutting away.

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