The Great Teacher Inspires


Some Years Ago at the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers Conference in Idaho. Vince in the middle.

“The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires.”  -William Arthur Ward

Vince O’Neill is one of the premier law enforcement instructors in the country.  He has trained cops in firearms and defensive tactics for over 30 years in every state of the union and 29 countries.  O’Neill has been the lead instructor in both of these disciplines for Oklahoma’s Council on Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers.  Listing Vince’s training and qualifications would require a separate article in itself.  He is qualified as an expert witness on uses of force in state and federal court.  He is a former state PPC champion, NRA High Master, NRA 1490 Combat Club member as well as many international instructional certifications in firearms and less lethal applications.  His copious training, impressive wealth of real world experience and teaching prowess give him the ability to effectively relate information to students in a way that few others can.

Two of the most highly-respected instructors in the industry have personally told me that O’Neill is among the finest pistol marksmen and instructors they have ever known.  Though he’s the furthest thing from a braggart or a show-off, O’Neill became renowned for amazing feats while demonstrating what is possible with a handgun during academy classes and firearms instructor development training.  It became common for students to video these events on their smart phones.  A few of those videos are linked below.  Vince was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with us.

Question:  There is a video of you online shooting a Glock at quite a distance with the pistol held upside down?  What’s the story behind that? 

VO:  Sometimes I get a little fed-up with excuses about the gun not being able to shoot straight. Rather than explode with anger, or roll my eyes, or spit sarcasm, I’ll simply say, “Give the gun to me. I’ll check it for accuracy.” So on this particular day, it was a Glock 23 in .40 S&W that was shooting to the extreme left. Nice groups, but all at nine o’clock! Sound familiar? So, I took the gun to the steel side of the range where no one could observe. I’ll shoot “suspect” pistols at the head of a fifty-yard IDPA steel target. When they hit, I know we have a fundamentals problem. Then I’ll invite the student-and sometimes the whole class-to the 125-yard line. I’ll start out like I’m going to shoot right-side up- conventionally. Then I’ll say, “Nope! Let’s do this upside down. Might as well check functioning while we’re at it, too!” So this time I shot the Glock three times upside-down. As you can tell, it was windy, so I shot on the IDPA steel. Then I did a mini-lecture review on fundamentals. This student went on to be one of the top shooters of his class.  

Question:  What would you say is your most unusual tip on basic marksmanship?

Now, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I say a Hail Mary every time I’m doing one of these demos. It gives me a “surprise break” every time. I used this sort of neuro-linguistic programming when competing in PPC back in 1992. I earned some championships, including the State Championship, Match Two of the NPSC in Jackson, in ’91, and got me to the Bianchi Cup in ’92, and a High Master Rating. Try it. You’ll like it. Here’s the deal: when you mix words with numbers as you press the trigger, you’re tapping on both sides of your brain: logical-linear (left) and spatial (right) hemispheres; verbal and visual. Just hold your cleared pistol, start pressing the trigger as you say something to yourself. You can use numbers too! It doesn’t matter.  You won’t be able to predict when the striker/hammer falls. It will just happen.

Video of O’Neill shooting a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum at 600 yards at an IPSC steel target.

Video of O’Neill shooting a three-inch-barrel model 640 at 170 yards at an IPSC steel target.

Question:  In today’s environment, what can individual officers do to better prepare themselves? 

VO:  Train! Officers need to prepare physically, and in so doing, prepare emotionally and spiritually. For every minute an officer hopes to remain viable in any confrontation, he or she needs to run at least a mile. I recommend they learn judo and/or jiu-jitsu as part of their regular regime for conditioning.

Don’t wait for your department to train you, or send you to training. Personally, I’ve spent what amounts to a full five-year college tuition in seeking my own training. When you’re thinking about going to training, do your research. You don’t want to waste your money. Take as many instructor certification courses as you can; that way when you are on the stand, you can speak as an expert witness because of your special knowledge, training, experience and education.

When attending training, remember that you are there to learn their system, not to puff-up and go back to doing what you already know. Shut-up, listen and learn. Take lots of notes. Ask intelligent questions. Leave your ego in the hallway. Back in 1982, I was at the Chapman Academy taking an advanced course. There was this one guy. We started calling him “My Town” because every time Mr. Chapman started a lecture, My Town always butted-in saying, “Well, in my town, we don’t do it that way.” At one point, Ray stopped, crossed his arms in front of him, leaned back, looked left and right, then leaned forward as if to share a secret. In sotto voce said, “Ya know (chuckle, chuckle), it’s amazing how many people pay me good money to just to come up here and tell me how to shoot.”  Once you’ve completed a school, share it! If you don’t teach what you’ve just learned, it will die with you. Qui docet, Discit: “He who teaches, learns.”

Dry fire.  Firearms training is part of defensive tactics. It’s not a separate entity unto itself. Dry fire is probably the best way to learn proper presentation from the holster, proper grip, trigger and sight control, reloads, immediate action and shooting from weird shooting positions – especially if you have a laser. Live fire validates dry fire. When you go to the range for live fire practice, live fire as if you are dry firing. Cleaning your handgun and long gun builds a bond with your weapon system – a symbiotic relationship. Confidence has stopped more fights than we care to even think about.       

Get that uniform in shape. Command presence is the first use of force application, though subtle as it is in the force matrix.

Beyond Good, Beyond Superior

            Vince O’Neill has been an an instructor and mentor to the law enforcement community for the last three decades, but his contributions as a teacher go well beyond the classroom, the mat or the range.  While serving on my department’s honor guard at a state-wide function, I spoke to one cop who survived a deadly force encounter.  He told me that, at one point during his encounter, he could actually hear Vince yelling, “Stay in the fight!”  There are dozens of cops out there with similar stories.

I reach out to Vince and other respected instructors for advice on a regular basis.  In a recent communication, he told me, “Teaching is a lot of work, but the rewards are ten-fold times ten when you get that 2 AM “Thank You” phone call. Two-hundred years will go by and no one will know your name, but what you passed down will keep the lights on in someone’s soul.”

A great teacher inspires.


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About Warren Wilson

Warren Wilson is an experienced law enforcement officer with approximately 20 years of service, specializing patrol and tactics. He is a former SWAT team leader, writer, and firearms instructor. Warren is currently the training lieutenant for a metropolitan agency in the State of Oklahoma.

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