Blue Line

Redefining success: Strategies for continuous improvement in DT instruction

June 3, 2024  By Chris Mandigma

Photo: Chris Mandigma

Defensive Tactics (DT) instructors are often caught between a lot of rocks and hard places. Typically possessing A-type personalities, many DT instructors are so passionate about what they do that it often turns into a labour of love. From putting in the extra hours to improving lesson plans, organizing the training gear and proposing ideas to upper management to enhance the training program, it’s what we do.

A DT instructor is part of the evaluation process in a recruit’s onboarding, and we must write emails with recommendations to supervisors for officers who need to undergo remedial training before we can sign off during recertifications. We always want better for the officers because we care about their safety but are often constrained due to the limitations of how a DT program must be delivered.

Once an officer transitions to the training unit, there is a perception that we get to train all the time and do fun courses but in reality, it’s Groundhog Day – doing the same thing repeatedly, especially during DT recertifications. DT instructors are inundated with staying up to date on training best practices, integrating training updates, updating records, and catching up on administrative duties that can’t be done while we’re teaching. As much as we want to learn new things and attend courses for instructor development, there are challenges. Things like requesting to attend a course, waiting for approval for time off and checking to see if it’s in the training budget, all add up. I’ve seen it happen enough times where DT instructors ask to be placed on a course, get denied repeatedly and, subsequently, the instructor stops asking and further contribution in that labour of love turns into frustration.

Things can change though. It’s easy for us to give up and stop asking for approval. It’s easy to say, if it’s work-related, the service should pay for it. It’s not wrong, however, the only way we get better is to control our situation and our personal development. I know a large handful of instructors that end up paying for courses out of their pocket and use their vacation leave, myself included, because we want to invest in our development and at some point, it pays off big dividends. At a minimum, it keeps us occupied mentally because we’re learning and processing new information, and physically because we are training, practicing and rehearsing how we will deliver the material.


Let’s plan it

I know most training branches plan out their calendars well in advance, but if your unit isn’t, you really should be. This not only helps with preventing instructor burnout—and we have all been there—but it also helps with developing a training plan to submit for approval. Whether it’s for yourself or the training cadre, it would be beneficial to sit down and collectively discuss who is interested in what course, and when.

For the most part, some of the larger recognized institutions have their training calendar also laid out well in advance. This helps us plan when we can get into these courses in between teaching our own courses. Considerations should also be made for training conferences, such as the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), because these multi-day conferences offer several seminars and workshops on varying subject matters and a lot can be learned in within the short time. Attending in-person training is also a great opportunity to network, share ideas and collaborate with other agencies both for integration and mistakes to avoid.

Having an instructor’s training plan complete with how it will benefit the service, the training objectives and costing, can go a long way.

Pick each other’s brains

Assuming the training branch has multiple instructors, there will usually be varying training backgrounds. Take advantage of this opportunity to pick each other’s brains. Explore. Don’t be scared to make mistakes. Isn’t that what we tell our recruits and in-service officers? “Make your mistakes here, not out there.”

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” – Phil Collins

You might not have a deep Brazilian Jiu-jitsu background, but you might have someone on the cadre that is. Isolate that full mount escape so you not only know how to explain it but also fully understand why you are explaining all the details that you are. Develop a depth of understanding because, as we know, some of the training is regurgitated from the training manual at best. We not only need to know how to do it and how to teach it but also why we’re doing it that way, why this technique was part of the curation and the nuances. It’s a dissection of the content we are teaching. Question it all.

Pick each other’s brains in small increments. There will be a lot of information and there are only so many hours in a day; we must balance this with everything else we’re required to do as DT instructors. I personally do this with Kenny Bigbee Jr. who I co-teach with. He’s a third-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and we will spend about 20 minutes during lunch break or after the training day to go through details on one technique. Keep it simple.

Take small steps

Throughout the training calendar, there are lulls – no recruit orientations, no in-service recertifications, and we know when these generally happen throughout the year. We know that March break, summer months, and December leading up to the holidays are typically slower. These are great opportunities to host specialized instructor workshops whether in-service or interagency, such as bringing in an external guest instructor to focus on a subject matter or a sub-topic. Take the small steps of running a four-hour or a one-day workshop every month for instructor development, or even quarterly. This keeps the training branch engaged and looking forward to the next one. It builds team cohesiveness and camaraderie. It keeps the instructor cadre on the same page from the same book.

Instructor development ideas

Becoming a better DT instructor is not just about training in martial arts or attending a use-of-force-related seminar. Explore courses on enhanced communication, developing in-person presentation skills, public speaking and methods of instruction. Being able to instruct a lesson effectively and concisely using presentation strategies is better well-received. The learner is also more likely to retain the information better when our presentation is memorable.

Skills are perishable

Skills do not last forever. This not only applies to the officers; it also applies to the DT instructors. How, though, if we’re teaching this regularly? Teaching the same program consistently helps us hone our delivery but there is a point of diminishing return. Delivering the same program repeatedly tends to build complacency in the delivery, leading to shortcuts and missing teaching points. The same repetitive action/demonstration starts to diminish the ability to respond to spontaneous and dynamic events. DT instructors can mitigate this from happening by not only doing lunchtime rolls on the mat, light sparring, or flash/micro scenarios, but by also integrating instructor annual recertifications. Our firearms instructors do their annual recertifications, but why aren’t the DT instructors?

Scenarios work just as well on DT instructors as they do on officers but perhaps to a higher degree of difficulty to illicit specific techniques and tactics. Incorporate written evaluations that include legislation knowledge checks and case law. Some might even go as far as integrating a fitness component.

We can avoid the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset and culture but we must keep moving forward and not just settle.

Chris Mandigma is a subject matter specialist in close quarter combatives and defensive tactics. He is a use-of-force trainer, firearms instructor and consultant. Reach out to

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