learning good things from bad (or at least questionable) people

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (film)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you are interested in the sort of things that I like to write about here you quickly discover all sorts of “interesting people” are out there trying to make a buck off of all things “martial”…some of them by doing questionable things.

I have posted about just a few of them here because I prefer to try and keep the blog focused on other things, but I have recently been reading/participating in a few discussions that brought the topic to the surface.

Anybody who is looking for instruction/information/training in the martial arts, firearms, etc. will quickly discover a whole cast of characters, some of them amusing, some of them dangerous and some of them simply charlatans.

People passing themselves off as Ninja masters with law enforcement, tactical and military experience can be found to teach you everything from empty hand combat to “tactical firearms”. Until you discover that while the guy has some martial arts experience, everything else was nothing but inflated security guard credentials and “homebrew” firearms credentials issued from a LEO buddy’s garage.

Then there are the guys self titling themselves “operators” . The types who claim years of military, LE and SWAT experience and tout thousands of “operational deployments” and a past as an NCO in a Combat Infantry Unit. Some of these guys were actually able to ride high…articles in Black Belt magazine, books, videos and seminars about “Reality Based Self Defense”. Then a simple google search reveals that the guy only did 8 months active duty as a radio operator before getting a politician to excuse him from his enlistment, the law enforcement was a short stint as a reserve officer, never on a SWAT team, 8 months as an Air Marshall (those thousands of “deployments” were flights..of which the actual number were probably more like “hundreds”…or less) and so on.

And then there are:

“Former Special Forces” vets opening firearms training schools….

Twenty-something year olds claiming to be “operators” who teach LE/Military/Special Forces etc….

And if you consider the fact that our (USA) country is involved in multiple military operations it seems likely the future will be full of “operators”, snipers, Spec Ops soldiers and SEALS selling their expertise in how you too can become a trained killing machine, loved and admired by women and feared by other men.

Back when I started this journey the internet didn’t exist, but I am certain that the things mentioned happened back then too, modern communications has just made them easier to spot. However, I believe the net has also given people the ability to easily promote themselves, so to some extent technology is driving and accelerating a lot of this.

Now… add to the mix people such as former LEO’s that were tried and convicted of fraud, money laundering and theft who, after getting out of jail opened a (somewhat well known) firearms training organization. Consider the well known weapons training academy who, while teaching valid techniques is also the subject of a class action lawsuit alleging fraud  over their “Amway style” training package/real estate deals.

In this group you can also add the elderly martial artists masters who spent years crafting a military record of WWII glory, covert operations, POW rescues and personal POW escapes…till the age of the internet started to unravel the whole affair. This type of person has legitimate martial arts skills but has cloaked it in a morass of non martial arts fabrications.

The question this all leads to is, “what is worth overlooking for learning valid skills”? Can you…should you…overlook a trainers “baggage” as long as you are learning “good stuff”? Is what these people have really impossible to find from a source with fewer issues?

Hoch Hochheim, a former Army Investigator, retired LEO and martial arts instructor wrote the following on his discussion board:

…Do we, should we learn things from bad people. How much? How deep?

On paper and at first blush, it is easy to simply say of course! yes! But, in reality, the situation goes deeper and becomes grey, confusing, and a moral and philosophical question. Is there a line to be drawn? Do the skills erase the background? How much will you accept? How much will you turn your head? Do you not care at all? These answers say as much about you as they do about the questionable people.

Do you take karate classes in your neighborhood karate class from a convicted child molester because, well, he is such a good karate teacher and he is so good at the katas?

Oh, that is quite clear cut, probably BUT! Some answers are not so…

Would you study from an abusive, neurotic instructor who mistreats people.

Would you take shooting courses from a convict, who kind of hides his conviction?

Would you attend seminars of someone who is a cocaine addict?

Would you take classes from known drug dealers?

Would you attend seminars of someone who you know that half of his credentials are completely fabricated? HALF! That means half are good!

Would you attend classes and seminars from someone who fabricated his military background? Even pretending to get lots of medals.

Do the skills erase the background? How much will you accept? How much will you turn your head? Where is your line?


What is the deciding factor that determines what you will overlook for that “good training”? Is it money? Is it just that the guy is close by..he’s “there”?  Is what he’s teaching really THAT much better than anybody else can show you? Is it because the instructor/style that you have invested a lot of your time, your money, and to some extent your “self” in is involved with this person?

Where do YOU draw the line?



5 thoughts on “learning good things from bad (or at least questionable) people”

  1. Tgace,
    Interesting questions posed; strangely, they intersect with a conversation I just had with my son. He’s been commissioned, but is waiting for the Army to come through with dates/orders for all of his initial training as a 2LT. In the interim, he’s working in a gun store in S. FL. He loves the job. Although he works 12 hour shifts, he stated that he’s never had a work-bloc pass faster. He loves the guns, and his enthusiasm and desire to share what he knows shines through (too bad he doesn’t work on commission).
    Anyway, because his store also has an indoor range, there are a lot of instructors that bring their clients their for training. My son has been kind of bemused and confused by some of the guys that show show up and represent themselves as subject matter experts.
    My son doesn’t engage in “stump the chump,” but his upbringing has made him conversant in some of the lexicon of SO bona fides. So, one guy showed up extolling his personal history as a US Navy SEAL. Son-of-mine innocently asked during the conversation, “so, what BUD’s class were you in?” The guy said “Oh I did that 15 years ago, I don’t remember the number.” Hmm. I (and he) have never, ever heard that answer from a real frogman.
    Another guy claimed he was Army Special Forces. When my son asked, “so, what Group were you in?” the guy said, “no, I was in ARMY Special Forces.” Right.
    Your post redounds to my son’s confusion, as he his question was, “Dad, these are good guys, and they’re squared away and know what they’re doing…but they’re full of shit. What do I do?”
    Obviously, my son hasn’t been in the world-at-large long enough to get his mind around the concept of “stolen valor.” I told him that his job was to sell highly functional sound and reliable hardware to customers who are legally qualified to purchase it. Anything else is not what he’s getting paid for, although an arched eyebrow or well-placed shrug should be enough of a hint to customers who want his opinion of a certain trainer’s veracity. It is, instead, the job of crusty old f…folks such as me to call a guy out in public and tell him that he’s a liar. Which I’ve done and seen done in the public venue a couple/three times and it’s always a hoot.

  2. Roger that.

    I have always thought that this phenomenon was due to a combination of factors; greed of course is one, people want to sell the Spec Ops/SWAT/etc image. Then there is the psychological factor, these people want to be revered, respected…there is some pathological need to fill a hole in their self-esteem/self-worth so they make up a life story that they wish they had indeed lived.

    Sounds like your son is getting a little life lesson at the gun-shop.

  3. I also think that this is an illustration of the confusion between the trappings and tools of the “warrior” and the heart of it…at least in my definition…service. Dressing up in Gi’s/uniforms/plate carriers/etc. or taking carbine courses, pistol classes etc doesn’t make you a “warrior” and in their hearts these types of people know this. So no matter how skilled they are, or how many expensive toys they own they feel that they are somehow lacking, so they manufacture a life-story to fill that gap. They would be better served by becoming a volunteer fireman, a search and rescue volunteer, a reserve LEO or just enlist in a military branch. IMO.

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