Kellene Bishop is a tireless advocate of self-defense and firearms instruction for women. While she did not grow up around weapons she took to them with ferocity later in life. It was her journey of learning self-defense and firearms technique that caused her to become an instructor herself. She felt it was important for a woman to learn from a female instructor.
According to her bio:
Kellene was one of the very first women in the nation and the only female in the Western States to receive all of the applicable self-defense instructor certifications from the NRA. She is a certified Chief Range Safety Officer, as well as a certified instructor in the NRA disciplines of Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Personal Protection Inside the Home, and Personal Protection Outside the Home. She is also one of the very few women in the State of Utah who is a certified Concealed Firearm Permit Instructor (aka Utah CFP instructor). In addition to these certifications, she also brings her ability to truly connect with women nationwide in teaching them street-smart physical self-defense techniques as well as how to expertly handle a firearm under high-stress circumstances.
In this interview we talk with Kellene about women and firearms, women and self-defense, and the biggest mistakes women make in terms of keeping themselves and their families safe. Finally, Kellene will leave us with three tips for improving our personal safety.
To learn more about Kellene, visit her website at womenofcaliber.wordpress.com.
I know from your Bio that you did not grow up around guns. How did you end up going shooting that first time? What kept you at it even though you wanted to stop?
I knew there was a place for this level of defense, but it scared the bejeebies out of me. What helped me to continue on was a very, very patient and intelligent husband. He was able to patiently educate me with accurate information that he was willing to back up and share with me slowly. He never pushed me because he believed that a person who does not know how to use a firearm is a safety hazard.
Not only did you continue shooting, but you have made it into a career. Why is teaching women to shoot so important to you?
In spite of my wonderful husband’s patience, as I became more experienced with using a variety of firearms I was made aware of some bits of information that would have been nice to know as a female while I was learning. For example, in spite of how great he did in teaching me, my husband never would have thought to advise me to not wear a shirt that allowed the hot casings to fly into and lodge in my bra. Yowza! Those hurt.
Additionally, in handling the initial stress of shooting, he communicated with me in a male vocabulary. Hearing some suggestions and cautions from a female really would have made a difference in my learning.
Also, the powerful bass reverberations are received differently in the woman’s body than a man’s. As I’m able to make women aware of this prior to shooting, it really helps women to overcome the shock of the sound and bass vibrations. It can be adjusted to and accepted, but it’s a lot easier to do when you know to expect it.
Additionally, there’s an unnecessary level of stress put into the mix of learning to shoot when you’re being taught by the man you love; the man you want approval from and kudos. I’m not trying to say every woman is stressed out when they shoot for the first few times, but when there is stress, taking instructions from a person we care about is actually more difficult; their tone seems more terse, etc. You see this phenomenon on shows such as The Amazing Race, as even long-time couples snap at each other uncharacteristically because of the added stress of the activity.
There are other things a man would really never think of advising a female shooter such as wearing make-up when shooting (the toxins stick to the make-up base, so it’s great to bring along the face wipes to use after shooting), the hair being pulled back so as not to distract or get in the way, the way a woman balances versus a man due to her cleavage, instructing a woman to stick her butt out for one of the stronger shooting positions, etc. There’s a phrase for that last one I use in my training that would be inappropriate if it came from a man.
It would have been a much better experience if I could have been taught by a knowledgeable, patient female. Unfortunately, there is a serious DEARTH of female instructors who are willing to remain female and embrace their femininity. Learning to shoot requires focus. The fewer aspects present to distract or stress initially, the better. I’ve talked to way too many women who are just plain afraid of guns. When they are finally willing to give them a try, I think it’s important that I don’t give them any reasons to regret that decision through an insensitive instruction process.
What would you say to a woman who is nervous or scared to learn how to use a firearm?
This has been the case on many occasions with my students. Understanding why a woman is typically nervous or scared really helps to overcome those fears. Women usually want to learn to use a firearm in defense of their children and loved ones. However, it’s frequently because of the presence of those children that they are afraid – they don’t want anything to accidentally happen to hurt their children. Likewise, women have a harder time with the thought of shooting and harming another human being, even if that person is their attacker. Educating a woman against this inclination to humanize their attacker and teaching them the FACTS about firearm safety really helps to break through that fear level. Also, teaching them the skills necessary so they are confident they can hit their target and ONLY their target will make a big difference too.
Why do you feel it’s best for women to be instructed by women?
See above. You eliminate so many obstacles. When I was recently featured on the morning news, teaching a female reporter how to shoot, the first thing she said to me on the break was how excited she was to see me in my “cute black fur coat and sassy red lipstick.” There is a stigma that you have to relinquish a part of your femininity if you’re going to be “tough” enough to defend yourself. This is why I think it’s important for REAL women to teach other women.
Can you tell us what’s different about your training and techniques that is unique to women?
I teach with all of the standard obstacles in mind. I lay the foundation with those obstacles in mind and eliminate them before we even lay eyes on a firearm. Too many instructors just jump right in to technique, when the fact of the matter is, technique is the second to last tool that protects a woman. (Second only to shot placement.) The mental fundamentals, coupled with the possession of competent skills so a woman can defend herself the moment she needs to, confidently, knowing she’s not going to hurt anyone else, is critical. My classes and customized technique ensure this. After an hour of range time, my students are able to quick-draw their firearm and hit a target the size of a quarter, seven to eight feet out – regardless of previous firearm experience.
What’s the best way for me to find a good firearms instructor in my area?
I think we need to be willing to do our homework. We want to know what their background is, their experience level, and what they intend to teach. If you hear the obligatory macho grunts and assurances, run away. Additionally, NO instructor should teach without addressing the emotional and mental weapon first. I once was called by an international software company to teach their women a “self-defense class.” The caller asked me how many moves I could teach the students in an hour’s time. I told her “none.” Self-defense isn’t about moves. It’s about the mental fortitude that enables you to believe you’re able and ALLOWED to defend yourself to the utmost. I got the contract over a 20 year police veteran and a highly accomplished martial arts instructor.
If I were going to purchase my first gun, to keep in my home for self-protection, what weapons would you recommend?
There are three firearms I suggest everyone owns if they are comfortable with firearm protection. The first of which is a handgun, then a shotgun, and then a rifle. The handgun gives you the element of surprise and is portable and easily concealable. It should be the first purchase, in my opinion.
You mention on your website that martial arts will not prepare you for self-defense. I am in major agreement with this – it is one of my pet peeves when people train martial arts for self-defense purposes. What do YOU see as the truly necessary components for self-defense?
Mental fortitude is the most important tool, then muscle memory. When you’re startled and adrenalin is charged you don’t have the time to waffle back and forth on whether or not you can justify taking the life of your attacker if necessary. That’s got to be already built in your mental fortitude. Then, when it comes time to take action, you don’t have time to ask yourself “should I do the crouching tiger or the spinning beetle move?” Martial arts is great for physical fitness, but when it comes to a real street fight, even seasoned instructors will have a difficult time immediately culling from their “moves” and usually requires a “too close for comfort” scenario. A firearm gives you distance and when you’re up against an enraged male distance is your friend.
I have a half-sister who was beat severely by her estranged husband who was under the influence of narcotics. He’s only 5’7” and kind of puny, whereas my sister took Tae Bo regularly as well as self-defense. After the attack which she endured for 15 minutes, she kept asking herself how she couldn’t get him off of her. She was positive she made contact over and over again with his head, but it made no difference on the attack except to get him more angry. Anything women rely on to protect us must be effective regardless of our physical strength. Firearms and other helpful weapons such as a long-distance pepper spray and perhaps an Asp are necessary to provide that distance.
Are there any other items related to self-defense I should have on hand in my home, in my car, or in my purse?
These suggestions are subject to the laws of a person’s state, but my second favorite “weapon” is my Asp. Then my long-distance pepper spray, which is a red dye like they use in bank robberies to mark the currency. The red dye will mark the perpetrator for 2 weeks, making it easier for a successful arrest. Cell phones should not be underestimated. Keep them if for no other reason than being able to call for help or lead detectives to you through triangulation.
Other than that, it’s important we learn to use what we have on hand to defend ourselves if necessary. Our car keys, the heels of our shoes, our belts, and the strap on our purses which can effectively be used to strangle in a close encounter. The mirrors and glass-covered pictures in our home can be used to our advantage as well if we rehearse with them. I also think it’s a necessary precaution to explore your home at night in the dark. A woman’s familiarity with her home will be a great advantage to her in the event of trouble – even if it’s a house fire.
I can’t say enough how important it is to do “rehearsals” with your kids as well. They can be a serious liability to mothers if they aren’t trained properly as they are usually the obvious pawn of leverage against women.
Oh, and I think there’s a lot of value to having a well-trained dog for extra security.
What are the 3 biggest mistakes you see women make when it comes to being safe?
#1 is definitely disengaging from their environment. A woman who stays aware of her surroundings is much more powerful than a woman with a body like Angelina Jolie armed to the hilt. It’s a deterrent to would-be attackers.
#2 is not creating a proactive environment of safety. Every time you come home the door should be locked behind you, for example. A knock on the door means quietly approach the door first, look through the peephole and then decide if you’re going to inquire as to who’s there. Just because a person knocks on your door doesn’t mean you’re obligated to open it.
#3 is failing to educate their children out of a fear of upsetting them. I assure you that a child having to witness the abuse or rape of his mom is a LOT more upsetting to them than seeing Mommy stand up for herself and decidedly and competently fighting back. If you don’t educate your children about real life safety, then you’ve surrendered one of them to a perpetrator before the battle even begins.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give women in terms of self-defense?
#1: Whatever you choose to be your tool of self-defense, make sure you devote at least as much time to mastering it as you would programming your new cell phone. Seriously, we simply can’t afford to underestimate the distraction of the adrenaline rush. Just as a military medic gets to the point he doesn’t even think of the bullets and the bodily fluids, because he’s trained to jump into action and do his job. If we women can turn off the noise of “Mom! Mom. Mom? Mom!! MOM!” then we can focus on defending ourselves when the time approaches.
#2: There are no victims—only volunteers. We are naturally inclined to be a little warmer, more emotional, kinder and naturally caring. Defending ourselves against harm does not change any of that. We women must take personal responsibility for our safety and protection. There’s only one consequence for denying that responsibility, and it’s not pretty. While I may be married to a modern-day Prince Charming, he simply is not around all of the time, neither are the police, etc. We simply cannot delegate to someone else to protect us and we are ENTITLED to protect ourselves. If we’re serious about loving the important people in our lives, then we need to be serious about protecting them and ourselves as well.
#3: Sadly, women are the strongest advocates against the existence of firearms in our nation, and yet they are the ones who can be best served by them when used with competence because regardless of our physical shape or health, they are the great equalizer. As long as we continue to fear and loathe them, we will continue to find ourselves the brunt of the violence as we’re viewed as a weak target. Instead of men seeing women as a target, I hope that I will live to see a day in which each and every criminal who’s pondering his next prey will stop and second-guess themselves – thinking, “Wait a minute. What if she’s prepared to kill me in protection of her life?” Our entire nation would benefit greatly by more mama bears in our communities and less frenzied little hens.