Instructor Development Builds Better Instructors

Defensive firearms training is serious business. I think that most instructors have the best intentions. Unfortunately there is no single way for students to be confident they are selecting quality firearms training. A teachers background matters, but probably not as much as our industry tends to lean on that metric. I’ve had LE and mil instructors that were fabulous and others that were very weak despite their depth of experience. At the same time I’ve had amazing instruction from everyday guys who had much less experience but instead were excellent communicators.

Certifications don’t seem to hold much weight either. The majority of Instructor certifications are pay to play programs. If you pay the tuition and attend class you are likely to pass and get your cert regardless of your instructional skill level. When everyone has the piece of paper that says they can teach it’s difficult to sort quality instruction from the rest.

This leaves students in a quandary. How do you select a quality instructor? For most students they are left to cough up the dough, take a class and find out if it’s any good.

Is Professional Development the Answer?

Instructor Certification
Part of the course is reading books that help us understand how to teach and how others learn.

I think there must be a better way. A way that could be as simple as asking your instructor, “When was the last time you took a course to improve your skills as a teacher?”

Many instructors acquire the certification needed to teach the discipline they are interested in and then simply get to teaching. A lot can be learned in this way, but eventually you will reach a plateau. You will stop improving as an instructor.

There are relatively few instructors that actually invest in their skills as teachers on a regular basis. I believe that those that dedicate some time each year to become a better teacher a significantly better risk when it students are searching for quality instruction.

My Teaching Experience

I was born to teach. Since I was 13 I have always been teaching something. It has been a pleasant energizer in my life. It wasn’t apparent to me until long after I started college classes in engineering but one day it finally sank in. I’ve always enjoyed teaching even though I haven’t always been good at it. I ditched engineering and earned a B.S. in math and science education. I taught middle school math and science for 13 years.  As I’ve grown in experience and especially as I transitioned into the defensive firearms world in 2000 I realized the gravity of my role as a teacher. It is something to be taken seriously.

That meant my development as a teacher was equally as important.

Righting my Ship

Gif for ASPIC Instructor Development
The FBI Qual is a 50 round course of fire and ranges from 3 to 25 yards.

In the past couple of years I have drifted away from teaching on the range as I’ve found more regularly profitable ways to earn a living with guns. I’ve missed it and have made the decision to get back to my calling of teaching in 2020.

In order to make sure I am taking care of my students properly I have enrolled in an instructor development course to sharpen my teaching skills.

ASP Instructor Certification

Instructor Certification
Instead of learning how to shoot John and Samuel intend to help us learn to be better teachers.

The course, known as ASPIC, has been created by John Correia, the owner of Active Self Protection and his director of training, Samuel Middlebrook. I’ve known John for several years and he has been one of the personalities moving the needle in the defensive firearms world with his daily videos on ASP.

Samuel, on the other hand, is a new character in my story. I met him in person at the ASP National conference in September of 2019. Samuel, the owner of Redhawk Firearms Training and the ASP training coordinator, announced how thrilled he was to be able to get to know me because of my reputation. He volunteered to help me during the live fire courses I taught at the conference as the line was FULL.

His help was outstanding, but his feedback was even better. He had plenty of kind things to say, but I also got some valuable feedback on my communication and how I could be a better teacher. This is something that had been missing from my instruction for years.

When I saw that the ASP Instructor Certification course was open for enrollment I gave it some serious thought. I was flattered when ASP asked me to participate in the course (tuition free) so that I could provide feedback on the program and help spread the word about the course with articles like this.

Who are these guys?

I think it makes sense to know who you are training with before you spend hard earned money and maybe more importantly your time on training. That goes for instructor development as well.

John Correia

John is the owner and on screen talent for Active Self Protection. He has produced thousands of videos analyzing the use of force incidents. He holds a fist full of certifications in shooting and combative disciplines and has attended some of the most known instructor development schools in the shooting world. More importantly, John is a teacher. He has spent more than a decade as a college professor and at least as many years leading a church. Like me it seems, John is called to teach. Over the years he has dedicated his time to being a quality teacher.

Samuel Middlebrook

Instructor Certification
Samuel Middlebrook is the owner of REdhawk Firearms Training and he is the ASP Director of Training. It was his constructive feedback that drove me to enroll in ASPIC.

Samuel doesn’t hold the formal pieces of paper that John does when it comes to teaching. He does, however, have experience teaching. Samuel has been teaching in churches for more than two decades. He holds certifications from the NRA and Sig Sauer Academy, but more importantly Samuel has teaching in his blood. Samuel told me his passion is helping others build their passion to help others find the passion for training with firearms. That’s a lot of passion!

Are they Qualified?

When I talked with John and Samuel at SHOT Show I asked them if they thought others might criticize them for running an instructor development program. They both know there will be some naysayers. Neither John or Samuel have been in the gun industry for multiple decades. They aren’t and never were “operational” or serving as LE.

I don’t think that’s the point.

The ASPIC isn’t teaching doctrine. It isn’t even teaching shooting. It’s goal is to teach teaching. I am willing to bet my time that I’m going to learn something. After all, The majority of my teaching experience that has helped me to be a successful gun instructor took place as a swim coach and a middle school math and science teacher. There are certainly important differences when teaching guns, but in general the principles of quality education carry over.

I think John and Samuel will translate their knowledge of teaching in a way that their IC candidates will be able to translate it to the range.

Who is the ASP Instructor Dev Course For?

Instructor Certification
The Asp Instructor Certification uses Tod Green’s Dot Torture as one of two assessments of the candidates shooting skills.

This course isn’t designed to teach newcomers how to become shooting instructors. Instead it is set up to help those that are already active instructors improve their teaching skills. This course is for those that are already teaching on a regular basis. This pleased me. This year will be my 20th year teaching guns and my 12th year as a professional defensive firearms instructor. I always have things that I can improve, but I am not starting from scratch.

It is expected that participants will have an instructor certification from a national organization, at least 1 year of teaching experience and a minimum of 25 students taught.

From the looks of it Samuel and John have designed a course that will help experienced teachers to be better instructors.


Getting signed up for the course was simple. I headed to the registration page at and read through the information provided and then completed my registration. It wasn’t simply a matter of paying tuition. Instead there were a series of short answer questions that needed to be answered to make sure the course was a good fit for me.


Once my registration was completed an email arrived with a list of things I needed to square away before class began on Feb 1, 2020. Things like:

  • A copy of my teaching certs form a national organization.
  • 4 letters of recommendation. 2 from students, one from another certified instructor, and one from a community member.
  • A 1000 word written paper on why I want to be a better instructor
  • A 5 minute video discussing why I want to be a better instructor so the staff can view communication skills.
  • An uncut video of me shooting the current FBI Qual with a score of 90 or better and an uncut video of shooting Dot Torture at 3 yards with a score of 45 or higher.
  • Proof of medical training.
  • A willingness to travel to Phoenix for one weekend in May for in person training.
  • I also needed to acquire a selection of books that will be studied throughout the course.

I’m Fired Up About the ASP IC

I am no stranger to instructor development. I’ve participated in a bunch and even developed a quality instructor development curriculum for a training conglomerate I’ve worked with in the past. What gets me excited about the ASP Instructor Certification is that it isn’t a shooting course. The only shooting evaluation that takes place in the course is on the intake to make certain that candidates have a minimum level of proficiency. The course is actually about teaching.

I have solid confidence that I am going to walk away from this 6 month, 120 hour course as a better instructor. 

I’m even more fired up because this course is an opportunity for 30 instructors to improve as teachers. If you are an instructor you might think about jumping into one of the few remaining slots.

Final thoughts for now:

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the ASP Instructor Certification. I know I am going to learn ways that I can improve my instruction. I would imagine the rest of the candidates will experience the same. It becomes an issue of “trickle down economics.” The end result is a more educated and experienced pool of shooting instructors for students like you to call on for training. This leads to more educated defensive shooters. That is a win.

The next time you are considering signing up for a defensive shooting course look for the best instructor. Check in with your prospective instructors and ask about their last instructor development course.

Paul Carlson, owner of Safety Solutions Academy, is a Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor.  He has spent the past decade and a half studying how humans can perform more efficiently in violent confrontations and honing his skills as an instructor both in the classroom and on the range. Through Safety Solutions Academy, Paul teaches a variety of Critical Defensive Skills courses in more than a dozen states annually.  Courses range from Concealed Carry Classes to Advanced Critical Defensive Handgun Courses and include instruction for the defensive use of handguns, rifles and shotguns.  Safety Solutions Academy regularly hosts other industry leading experts as guest instructors to make sure that SSA's students have the opportunity for quality instruction across a broad range of Critical Defensive disciplines.

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