Does Real Life Experience Make For a Better Trainer?

Photo Credit: anja_johnson

If you seek training with an instructor, you will find that there are two main categories of professional trainers to choose from: some have military training and experience, and some don’t. For the purposes of this post I’m going to consider paramilitary police training and the like in the former category as well. Some people flock to those that have had military training, touting the “been there, done that” factor. Others don’t really seem to care. There are plenty of instructors in either category, but is one category definitively better than the other?

The Pros of military experience in an instructor

Military experience definitely does provide some benefits. Nothing validates your training and combatives methodologies like the two-way firing range. There is a lot of validity to saying that you have ‘done it for real’. Even older, potentially out-of-date experience can be an asset as trainers in this category have a bank of knowledge and experiences that can be applied as they consider new techniques and methods.

The military does spend a significant amount of money and time training its members, especially the elite special forces units. A trainer with experience from one of these units likely has a vast background of training, which adds to what they bring to the table.


On the other hand, just because a trainer is switched on, high-speed, low-drag doesn’t mean they were blessed with the ability to teach. Often times I have found that the best doers are not necessarily the best teachers. The instructor’s ability to teach is the most important asset when selecting an instructor. A good teacher can make challenging concepts easier to understand, which ultimately determines how much you learn from a class.

A lack of real world experience also doesn’t mean that an instructor isn’t knowledgeable. Instructors who lack time on the two-way firing range often have a diverse and also deep training background. Seeing a diverse set of training material can give an instructor good perspective not only on what works, but also a larger set of ‘options’. A good trainer should help you find what works best for you. Just because an instructor can do something one way, doesn’t mean that you can or should.

Unless you are training for the military, a military instructor might not be the best option. A background of amphibious assault and helicopter insertion tactics probably won’t be the best fit for me when I’m defending my home and family. Many aspects of military training just don’t align well with the realities you and I might face.

Ultimately, experience can help. The validity of pressure testing techniques in the real world is hard to match. At the same time, a good instructor could have learned their skills from someone who has had that experience and yet be a far better teacher. Sometimes it’s not the capabilities of the individual as a fighter or combatant that matters the most, but instead the ability of that individual to convey knowledge. You pay an instructor to teach you, not to fight on your behalf.

Military training and experience: does it help? Yes. Is it necessary for an instructor to be effective? No.

Does the instructor’s life experience matter to you?

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  1. Marc MacYoung has a great related post on the subject that complements yours:

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