"Oh, I can run with the best of them," he said, nodding seriously and fondling his e-cigarette. "I've trained cops, private investigators, everyday regular guys, you name it. I consider it imperative that I be able to out-shoot anyone who walks into my classroom. It's basic credibility."
He took a long pull on the vape, affecting a display of calculated nonchalance as a windup for his next statement.
Here it comes, I thought, knowing the guy sitting next to me, an old friend, was thinking the same thing.
"Hell, I've trained Navy SEALs," he said with a shrug and a too-dismissive hand gesture. "Makes no difference to me."
I didn't much care if he needed to be a tough guy or a secondhand hero, though it was disappointing.
I was there in the first place because I enjoy teaching, and to teach in some fields and in some places, you need specific credentials. Most of the ones I have are no good in the real world. In fact, many of the things about which I have deep knowledge and experience are not in demand, or even appropriate to teach about in the real world. But shooting? Now there's something that people want to learn about.
Unfortunately, if I want to teach anyone other than friends or family in informal sessions, I really need to concern myself with things like certifications, insurance, legal waivers, and all kinds of other laws and regulations.
In the last several years "tactical training" has become big business, a side effect of the booming public interest in shooting disciplines and techniques which were formerly the province of the military, and a few specialized police units.
As with any boom, every motherfucker out there is trying to glom on and get a piece of the action. It's a modern day gold rush, and newcomers don't know the difference between a legitimate operation and a shady back-country claimjumper.
I'm not looking to start a training academy or become a YouTube star or build a name for myself in one of the many competing shooting leagues, so jumping into the churn and boil has had zero appeal to me. But recently I got wind of a guy offering a series of instructor certification classes backed by a nationally recognized body, back to back over the weekend, and thought I might as well go for it. Dragging along a couple of buddies who were interested meant I was able to negotiate a pretty steep discount, too; about $1000 worth of classes for $200, partly for bringing the extra bodies, and partly for already having a few of the certifications being offered.
And partly for being willing to shoot on an outdoor range in the cold and wind, during a time when most people are more worried about the looming specter of a family Thanksgiving than picking up a couple instructor tickets.
He had seemed like a solid guy at first. He talked about his extensive experience as a bouncer, bodyguard for a couple big ticket musicians, and a lot of experience as a private investigator. Really, a whole lifetime of the kind of humble but gritty experience that only a fool would not respect, and from which much can be learned even secondhand.
Now, for those not familiar, the firearms training world is startlingly like the martial arts world in many respects. People tend to cling to fanciful lineages of study, tenuous connections to historically important masters, or even better, dubious ones to contemporary masters or gurus; and too many motherfuckers have dreams no more ambitious than breaking off as soon as possible and starting their own dojo, so they can call themselves Grandmaster after jamming a couple extra pieces of flair on the already established forms.
So it was refreshing for once to find someone who seemed to have their shit together, and not feel the need to make hamfisted allusions to being plugged in with SEALs or SF or "unnamed Tier 1 assets" or whatever the fuck the flavor of the month in tacticool circles is. But it didn't last long.
And you could see in his eyes the minute he said it that he knew he'd fucked up. You spend enough time as a bouncer, enough time as an entertainer, enough time in bars and you learn to read people sure enough, and he read us like magazines left out in the rain.
In that instant, he was a go-kart attendant claiming to have given Andretti one-on-one lessons, or a carney at the shooting gallery swearing he'd mentored Annie Oakley. His mistake was in not bothering to read us better, or sooner. We hadn't said a word about it before or during the class, but all three of us were vets; and all of us knew enough to know that saying it out loud was an instant bullshit flag.
Listen, friends and readers: Whether SEAL, Delta, Recon Marine, or Combat Control; the most temporary of augmentees or a career CRO; it's not something you'd ever find out from them lightly, or probably ever. It is not something mentioned in passing or as a way to command respect, except by liars and cheats.
The real operators are the ones you live next to for twenty years and never know about - at least until until your nephew comes home from his first tour and is invited over for a beer. While he's there in the guy's living room, he recognizes a trinket in a shadowbox up on the mantel, and his quiet question is answered with a nod.
They're the ones who will play endless rounds of pool in a smoky bar outside the main gates and never say a word about the guy earning free drinks and attaboys by telling stories about his classified missions into Cambodia. They'll be there for a week or so, because they're waiting to catch a submarine to somewhere we don't have an embassy. When they come back, if they're asked, if anyone even payed enough attention to them the last time they were there, they'll talk about a sloppy drive collar or a broken rotor that they were called in from the depot to repair.
So did my instructor really think he'd been tutoring SEALs? Maybe he did. Maybe he was suckered in by one of the bullshit artists that fill the void left by quiet professionals. But I doubt it.
I think he was just one more guy claiming his kung fu was the best, because he'd once beaten one of Bruce Lee's disciples in a secret duel.