Training with Deficits by Craig Flaherty

Preface: This is a must read. I’m taking the liberty of sharing this with my close friends who are police officers, trainers and their families. – Marc Joseph

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For years I have been a trainer in one fashion or another. From time to time I have been approached by one person or another asking if they could participate in an upcoming course. The reasoning they gave for the question was they suffered from some type of physical deficit. Always they were welcomed with open arms and what ever concession that needed to be made was made. We worked around the limitations and not only did they learn and process the information imparted, so did I having to work around several different scenarios. I must admit though, when the class was over I really did not give it a second thought. I just went along with life until the next time the question came up.

In my adult life I have been in relatively decent shape. Training as a student in combatives and firearms kept me in shape. Teaching these courses did not hurt either. I was just going through life without much of a care.

March 24, 2010 I woke up early in the morning, and as normal proceeded with the beginning of the day. I did notice a burning of the eyes and little problem focusing. I just chalked this up to being early in the morning, As I progressed I quickly lost control of the left side of my body running into a wall. Knowing this was not right I called to my wife and we went to the hospital. Within a short time after a battery of tests I was informed I had suffered a stroke.

The next few days were spent in the hospital with the normal worries that go along with this type of event. I was lucky I spent three days in the stroke floor of the hospital and four in the rehabilitation floor. This is when I had several epiphanies as to my long term ability to teach combatives and firearms.

I had lost substantial control of my left side and had no prognosis when it would return. Through rehabilitation I started to work on every day things, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking I can’t quickly grasp with my left hand I surely cannot execute a magazine change or effectively deliver a strike. I had an upcoming weekend of Suarez International courses to teach in May and was concerned that not only I may not be able to teach in six weeks; I may not be able to teach in the foreseeable future.

I now had an appreciation for all those students that I have taught that had a concern with their own deficit. Could they perform to a standard? Would they be responsible for holding back the class? Would they be risking too much and embarrass themselves? These are all valid questions, and now I had a small understanding as to how this truly affected people and their decisions to train.

Once I was able to rehabilitate at home out came the unloaded firearms. And while off work and watching television I accomplished magazine change after magazine change. Not a pretty sight at first. Many a magazine skidded across the floor from me missing the magazine well, to just plain dropping the magazine. I started with an H&K USP the handgun with the largest magazine well I had on hand. I then was able to whittle my target area down to a magazine well of a 1911.

Once I was able to make a magazine change with little effort, I struck out to test my moving skills. I had been slowly getting my walking gait back up to where it had been, but things as fatigue and the effects of the stroke held my progress back. I decided it was time to try to get off the “X” and try lateral movement. As long as I moved at a moderate pace I was fine. Unfortunately for me, if I expected to teach a Close range Gunfighting class in the coming weeks, the instructor should be able to move a little faster that moderately.

As I attempted to move at a pace close to full speed, I met terra firma several times. This led to looks of pity from the wife and kids. My understanding of folks that have some type of mobility deficit increased. I kept getting up and trying, until I wasn’t falling very much. Now I felt I was ready to teach, but still in the back of my mind a little doubt crept in.

In the days and weeks before that May class I thought a lot of what I had gone through. Though my journey in no way compares to someone who has suffered a permanent deficit for what ever reason, it did give me a small insight into the problems these folks face.

As the class came closer I had similar questions of my self as a student with a deficit would have of me. Could I perform to a standard that would teach my students what they came to learn? Would I be responsible for holding back the class? Not giving them their moneys worth of training. Would I be risking too much and embarrass myself? More importantly would I embarrass Gabe and all the other Staff Instructors? Would I be hurting The Suarez International reputation?

The dreaded weekend of the class arrived. The weekend started with Introduction to Defensive Pistol on Friday and Close Range Gunfighting on Saturday and Sunday. Friday went without a hitch, but I was really worried about the Close Range Gunfighting class. The class went well with only a couple times did I notice a problem. Verbally I would falter a time or two, but when discussing shooting on the move in general and me demonstrating moving and shooting I stumbled. Other than that it went well. My confidence was renewed. I have only gotten stronger since that class.

What this diatribe is all about; for the most part your deficit is mostly a hindrance if you allow I to be. After all it is your fight you are going fighting. You need the skills to defend you and your family. That is your responsibility. If you are as lucky as I was and the deficit is short term, great train through it and go forward. If the deficit is longer term or you are just getting older and parts don’t work as well as they did. Improvise adapt and overcome.

This is where the instructor comes in. Communicate your concerns, and if at all possible I as an instructor should tweak the course to include you as a valuable member of the class. It is incumbent on the instructor to do this. After all, the course should be about the students, not how cool I am as instructor is. Train hard no matter what your deficit. The rest of the class may not even notice that accommodations have been made. You will be able to perform to the standard. You will not hold back the class. You will not risk anything and I will not allow you to embarrass yourself. That is the promise any good instructor will give you

About the author: Craig Flaherty is a Columbus-based active duty police officer, Investigative and Tactical team member and a Suarez International Instructor.

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