I observed a class for armed defenders in Colorado schools. These defenders put themselves between a murderer and our kids. There are obvious parallels between strength training and self-defense training. In both cases, we make the most progress when we face the right amount of resistance and are willing to fail. This is what I saw.
To start, this is biased reporting. I deeply respect the people involved. I admire their courage and dedication. Mass murderers who attack our schools do not expect to survive and they don’t care who they kill. This program to train armed school staff is called FASTER Colorado. Everyone involved is determined to protect our children.
The instructors were remarkable. Experienced military and police officers shared their hard-won wisdom. They tailored the training to fit the needs of these school staff members. School staff brought their own reservoir of skills, a courageous attitude, and a willingness to learn. The support staff did everything in their power to keep the trainers and students on track. There are over 300 qualified and armed school staff members in Colorado schools. That is a lot of training every year.
The first day of training was live-fire exercises on a range while the second day was force-on-force training in a school. I participated, and I made mistakes on the range and in the school. Like the other trainees, I took correction and learned. It was amazing to see these extraordinary men and women put best practice to the test. They got stronger and stronger after each repetition.
An expert performs the basics to a higher standard. This was an advanced class. The students had been through at least three training sessions before this one. Yes, these defenders are still learning, but most of us can’t do what they are doing.
Sure, they can shoot and move. They can also shoot under the pressure of the clock while their accuracy is measured. These civilians easily requalified on the handgun test that law enforcement officers have to pass. Those skills are solid.
Now ratchet up the pressure another notch. These defenders can search for and kill a murderer while the murderer is shooting back. Even though they are using non-lethal training munitions, few of us have made the commitment to train at that level with the sounds of gunshots echoing down a hallway. As you’d imagine, the lessons are important and the emotions are intense.
As an observer, each shot you hear both breaks your heart and propels you forward. This is a training exercise, but those could be our kids getting hurt. Those feelings are real, but you can’t spend your time or attention on those emotions when you’re trying to stop a murderer. Like blood dripping through an hourglass, time is too precious to waste.
Being a defender is work. Your brain is on overdrive as you are taking in information and deciding what to do. The school staff had already mentioned the scenarios that bothered them. Those situations were fed back to the students in measured doses, exercise after exercise. If you’re afraid of the dark, then we’re tuning off some of the lights in some of the rooms.
From my perspective, the trainers were as amazing as the students. I admire their depth of knowledge and their professionalism. They knew how to teach their material. If the first attempt didn’t sink in, then there were a dozen ways to reinforce the lesson. There is a time to race forward and a time to slow down.
When I played the roll of evil attacker, I was backed into a locker room with only one way in or out. There were many places to hide and no place to run. The defenders who used what they learned were able to overwhelm me. I didn’t shoot them. I did shoot the defenders who made poor decisions.
I can’t fault them. Learning as fast as you can means you’re going to make mistakes. They learned their lesson, and that exercise was the best possible time to make a split-second mistake. Again speaking as an observer, I didn’t learn the variety of things the trainees experienced as they ran through their entire exercise. Acting as one of the bad guys, I learned a lot about facing an armed opponent who comes around a corner.. time after time.
All of us can learn a lot from these students and instructors. The obvious lesson is that our self-defense skills come with a shelf-life, a “use-by date”. Our physical and mental skills start to degrade the moment we stop refreshing them. If you haven’t tested yourself recently, then the skills you once had might not be there for you today. How good are you at stopping a threat and treating the injured?
These defenders know what they can do. You can know also. If you’re a new beginner or an experienced expert, thank you for putting yourself to the test.
I gave you 700 words. Please share them with a friend.
Thank you to the management, support staff, trainers, and students at FASTER Colorado. They make our students safer, and they let me observe their training and their growth. We need more people like them. Please donate today. RM