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Trainer Talk

There is no Mastery without Mastering the Basics

There is no Mastery without Mastering the Basics

What does it mean to be a law enforcement defensive tactics instructor? Do we learn advanced techniques that the patrol officer does not learn? Is it an opportunity to show off our skills to a class of recruits? Do we stop being thoughtful and dedicated practitioners and just become voices for training protocols? Maybe some of these things apply to some instructors—but to me, it all starts with mastering the basics.

Successfully completing an instructor course usually requires participants to show competence in their physical skills, in-depth knowledge of the subject, and the ability to teach the material. These courses lay the rudimentary foundation for the participant to start teaching his or her new skill set. But 8, 24 or  even 40 hours in a class isn’t nearly enough time to have the working knowledge needed to run a successful training course. Certification is the beginning, not the end; on an ongoing basis for participants should review course material, formulate lesson plans, and most importantly, continue to sharpen their physical skills.

So, becoming an instructor signifies nothing more than that you have mastered the basics. There are no advanced techniques that only Instructors know. The difference between instructors and “instructees” is that Instructors must practice the basic principles, tactics and fundamentals at a level far above what is expected of the people they teach. They must continue to sharpen their skills so they become second nature. Athletes become elite athletes because they have mastered the basics. Whether baseball, football or boxing, superior performers swing, catch, throw and punch thousands of times, striving for perfection. This is the difference between amateurs and professionals, and instructors and trainers are no different. We are professional law enforcement officers, tasked with teaching and leading our peers. We should have the same mentality as an elite athlete—striving for perfection, and never satisfied with our results.

As instructors, our objective is to train and teach our students effective techniques and principles that will not fail them on the street. We need police officers to learn techniques that are effective under stress, and that can be easily remembered and performed by people of all skill levels. And mastering the basics is how we get them there. It’s what will make us all better officers, instructors and trainers. It is a journey with no end. As baseball hall of famer Barry Larkin said, “what people don’t realize is that professionals are sensational because of the fundamentals.”

James Schramm

NYPD (ret.)

ASP Trainer since 2004