Men are from Mars, women are crazy. Defined: cra·zy (krāzē)- Affected with madness; insane.
Recent developments in imaging technology have revealed that the brains of men and women are physically wired differently. This could explain some of the stereotypical differences in male and female behavior. When you don’t understand a person’s logic, when their brain is constructed differently than yours, their decisions may seem incomprehensible. They will seem crazy. This has strained relations between the sexes since Adam and Eve.
I know from personal observation that the sun comes up every morning in the east and sets every night in the west. For centuries men watched this and figured that the sun went around the earth. As Copernicus later explained, even though this theory is validated twice daily, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of orbital mechanics. After a life time of study, Copernicus was never able to predict female behavior.
Misunderstanding can lead to frustration and even danger. Siegfried and Roy made a good living working with big cats. They thought they understood feline behavior right up until they were almost eaten. Alive.
If you are a female instructor, you don’t need to read this, but it may help you understand why men are so irritating and dense. This article represents my best attempt to help my brothers teach the women in their units and agencies. Any offense you may take, I attribute to the fact that from your point of view, I have male-pattern insanity.
I teach gunfighting to law enforcement officers and military members. I am supposed to teach them how to prevail in mortal combat. I take my job seriously. One third of these shooters are women. None of my instructor training dealt with that. I was told to do the safe thing, the thing that most everybody has done since women joined law enforcement and the military: Treat everyone the same. The problem with that? While it may avoid EO complaints, it doesn’t produce women who can shoot.
Not only do women have differently wired brains, they are more likely to be cross-dominant. Most women do not have absolute eye dominance. Many females experience an indeterminate eye dominance with both eyes fighting for control. There is research which indicates that the ratio of right/left eye dominance changes with different sports. This may indicate that eye dominance can be learned and changed.
Women have different body shapes: less upper-body strength, smaller hands, smaller waists, etc. The NRA says the most powerful words an instructor can say are “Let me show you.” Sadly, a left-handed, cross-dominant, five-foot-tall, 90-pound woman with tiny hands probably cannot shoot a drill the same way a right-handed, right-eye-dominate, six-foot-tall, 220-pound man with large hands does. The good news? She doesn’t have to shoot the same to shoot well. Perhaps to shoot even better.
As an instructor, you must watch your shooters and listen to them. You must know several ways to do every technique you teach, and you must be able to demonstrate it left- and right-handed. (If you are not naturally cross-dominate, shooting using your support makes you cross-dominate. Welcome to the beginnings of empathy.)
Here is a sad and ugly truth (I apologize to all police academies and basic training instructors in advance): Most women go to their initial training and watch firearms guys demonstrate techniques they cannot perform without modification. The grip doesn’t work with small hands, the holster doesn’t fit the curve of their hips, and all the demonstrations are done right-handed. She probably didn’t get her eye dominance tested. Women who pass the academy figured things out for themselves. Where is our value added? To be fair to these instructors, they were never taught how to train women. They were just doing the best they knew how. I am sure it is very frustrating when your best techniques don’t work on a third of your shooters. It is easier to just blame the student and her gender.
I was just like those instructors until I ran my first ever women’s-only range. It didn’t seem to make any difference that I was there. I wasn’t shooting. It was amazing how different things were and how much better everyone shot. I don’t understand it, but I don’t need to. I can repeat it, and the rising qualification scores validate the technique. I am not saying qualification is proof of fighting ability, but it is a starting point—a learner’s permit to learn more. Shooting is simple, but it is not easy.
Again, I don’t understand it, but after building some trust, I asked them why it works. This is a composite of their answers:
“When I went to the academy, the techniques they taught didn’t work for me. I talked to other women and figured things out. I barely squeezed by, and my classmates and the firearms instructors looked down on me because I was a girl and girls can’t shoot. Every qualification, I was worried about my performance and felt the men in my group were judging my worth. They had no confidence in me because I didn’t shoot well. Every qualification, the voice inside my head was critiquing each shot and I couldn’t focus. At an all-women’s range, with supportive firearms instructors, I feel like I am not being judged and there is no pressure. I solved my underlying issues and now I go to qualification with confidence.”
Here are some of my best tips for teaching women:
- If you are doing remedial training with women, do it individually or in a group of women shooters. Women are collaborative, not competitive. Watch a group of women shooting together and you’ll often see them cheer each other on loudly, and a lot. Watch a group of men shooting together and you’ll often see that they like to rib each other. Don’t kid women shooters! They won’t take it the way you would.
- In addition to being female, women are also adults. This means they have adult learning styles and needs. They will prefer hands-on approaches to lecture. Make your class as active as possible. Adults want to have an opportunity to ask lots of questions. They learn by processing information into their experiences and by projecting information into possible future activities.
- Women may need to use a different technique than the one in the book. For example, doing a magazine exchange, smaller hands may not be able to hold two double stack magazines simultaneously. If they can’t do it the way you do, help them work it out. In this example, they can remove the magazine from the gun, stow it, and then draw a full magazine and insert it. Mission accomplished. Ask them how they do things. You will be amazed at their work-arounds.
- Initially, create a climate where success can be easily achieved. Set the targets close. There is nothing like success to create enthusiasm for an activity. Move back as proficiency is achieved. (This works with men, too.)
- Ninety-nine percent of my shooters have one major problem: anticipation of recoil. One drill I really like for overcoming this is called “trigger overlay.” I don’t remember where I stole it from, but it goes like this: The instructor has the shooter assume a good shooting stance at the three-yard line in front of a target with a one-inch-square aiming point. The instructor then puts his hand over the shooter’s firing hand. The shooter puts her finger on the trigger but it is relaxed. The instructor pulls the trigger. This show the shooter she can ignore the motion she sees and validates her sight picture. It also models a proper steady trigger press. Normally, two of three rounds are touching. Many shooters have never shot a group like that. I say, “It is all you; just pull the trigger like that and you will shoot like that all the time.” One female deputy sheriff with five years on the job shot this drill, but had a perfect group eight inches high. As I was scratching my head, see explained that in the academy, she jerked the trigger and shot low. Their solution? Aim eight inches high. I suggested that, now that she’d had competent instruction, she should aim at the target and not jerk the trigger.
- Women come in all sizes and shapes. If the issued equipment available doesn’t fit, help them find equipment that does.
- Reduce discomfort on the part of the student by asking for permission before touching, when adjusting stance or hold. If she still seems uncomfortable, use verbal instructions instead.
- Most women (and many men) do not come from a background of gun culture. Avoid jargon and pay attention to the directions you’re giving. An example of this is the direction to “squeeze the trigger.” If I handed you a lemon and told you to squeeze it, you would probably not apply steady pressure with your index finger. A new shooter may think she is being told to squeeze the whole hand when shooting. Never be surprised when someone does exactly what you tell them to do.
- Consider eye dominance. Most instructors are right-handed and right-eyed shooters because most people are right-handed. But while 80 percent of men have dominant eyes that match their dominant hands, 80 percent of women don’t, and women are more likely to be left-handed. For all shooters, determine which eye is the dominant eye before shooting. This is frequently not detected in the academy or basic. If she’s left-eyed, have her try to shoot left-handed. It is easier to train a hand than to change eye dominance. Really, it’s okay: If a woman has never held a gun right-handed, it’s not going to feel awkward holding it left-handed. It’s just going to feel awkward, period. In some cases, though, matching trigger hand to the dominant eye may not be enough because they are either center-dominant (neither eye wins) or their dominance shifts back and forth. Some people put Vaseline or tape on the center of the lens on the support-side of the shooting glasses. It is not ideal as it blocks peripheral vision and they won’t have those glasses on the street. Closing one eye just before shooting works for most people.
- Why do so many agencies hand a beginner a gun that has a long, heavy trigger pull? With the wide variety of single-action guns on the market in 9mm and larger calibers, there is absolutely no reason to hand a beginner a double-action-only pistol. Here is a simple drill for male firearms instructors. Find a short piece of 2 x 4 board. Now pretend it is a pistol grip and try to get a shooting grip. This is like our five-foot-tall shooter with a double-stack .40 cal. That is why she can’t shoot like you.
- If allowed to set the pace, women will take breaks more frequently. Pay attention to your shooters; stop for a break before performance diminishes.
- Many women are running a constant loop in their head of negative feedback. Every criticism or comment made by past instructors is being replayed. Interrupt this with positive feedback. Look for something good to say. If there is a five shot group with two in the five ring, they look at the round farthest out. I say, “You hit the five ring twice. If you can do it twice, you can do it five times. Remember what those two felt like? Let’s work on your consistency.”
- Wiring. I’m probably not the first one who’s told you that women are wired differently than you are, but here is the key to how their wiring pertains to shooting instruction. Women are very detail-oriented and literal. Explain why things work in detail, take nothing for granted, but do not sound condescending, hurried, or distressed. Women take directions well. When learning a new skill, they actually want you to tell them what to do, preferably in a clear, easily understood manner. If they are not doing what you ask, you are either being unclear or you are asking the impossible and they are too polite to tell you. I once had a female shooter who struggled to pass basic qualification for a year. She was, quite literally, a genius and an ultra marathon runner. She took all the coaching I gave her, stance, grip, sight picture, trigger, and memorized it verbatim. She would recite it back to herself silently before each shot. While it was flattering that she paid such close attention, nobody has the time to shoot a qualification while their interior monologue reads a 100-step checklist. When I figured out what she was doing, I had to figure out something else. She was doing exactly what I said. I just said too much. She thought every step was critical. I said, “When you run, do you think about where you place your foot on each step?” She said “I could never run if I did that.” “Exactly,” I replied. There are only two mandatory things in shooting. Line the barrel up with the target and don’t move it as you pull the trigger.” Suddenly freed from her checklist, she concentrated on her trigger press. She never failed a qualification after that.
- Mindset is always important, but it is manifested differently in women. They might not have the same strong feelings of self preservation that men do, but they have a protective drive which is off the charts. They need to be prompted to find their own motivations to stay in the fight and win.
- Always end practice with a win. I never say, “This is the last drill.” I wait for something good and stop before it gets bad. I encourage the ladies to immediately make some notes on what they learned—different ways to do things. Even if they never read them, the act of writing makes it more likely they will remember.
This is not so much a how-to article as an invitation. If you can’t teach left-handed, you are only half an instructor. Learning to shoot with your non-dominant hand and eye gives you insight into how others see the world. Think of yourself more as a coach helping adults find solutions to problems. Understand that women perceive the world in fundamentally different ways. Their bodies and brains are different. Find ways to collaborate with them and support them. You will learn more from them than you teach them.
Many thanks to Lou Ann Hamblin for her help with this article. If you know a woman who is looking for female centric firearms training, send her to LouKa Tactical Training. They are the best in the business.
(Featured image courtesy of fitbelle.com)