Course Review: Extreme Close Quarters Concepts

The ability to shoot in confined spaces is critical to self-defense with a handgun.

One of my first forays into firearms training was a few years ago. I attended a summit here in New Hampshire put on by a group called NEShooters. This summit brought together a handful of instructors across a wide variety of disciplines. The benefits of a training opportunity like this are obvious: train with a variety of trainers in multiple skills and identify who and what to seek out to train on your own. Of these instructors one in particular impressed me head and shoulders above the rest.

This one instructor, Craig Douglas (Southnarc as he goes on the internet), taught a module called MUC or Managing Unknown Contacts. Not only was the material well thought out and expertly taught, but it was more contextually relevant than most material I have experienced. Four years later, I’m now on my fourth class taught by Craig. Clearly his material speaks to me.

This past weekend I attended ECQC: Extreme Close Quarters Concepts. ECQC is Craig’s flagship course, and the foundation for everything else. Theoretically this weekend was my third time taking this course, but more accurately it is my first. The same NEShooters group that invited him to instruct at the summit has brought him up regularly for years. The two other times I took an ECQC-like course it was actually a combination of modules covering slightly more material.

Day 1:

The first day was a short one, lasting only four hours. The course started very simply by characterizing criminal assault. As always Craig brings his diverse experience to the table. Once the weekend was framed, we started with the same material that drew me to Craig’s instruction in the first place: MUC.

MUC consists primarily of dealing with an encroachment problem. An unknown person approaches and you need to deal with that through verbal skills, identifying pre-fight queues, and regaining initiative if the unknown doesn’t stop encroaching. If initiative can’t be regained, you have a big problem.

Craig focuses on non-diagnostic responses. Unlike traditional martial arts that have a decision tree a mile long to come to the ideal solution to a given problem, Craig prefers the simple solution: a single default position to handle an incoming blow. The goal: stay conscious and stay mobile. If there is any one piece of material everyone should study and be exposed to, it is MUC.

After MUC we started working on grappling skills, starting with Craig’s famous “mountain goat” drill and a few other center of gravity and body posturing drills. Everything Craig does follows a gradual building approach: crawl, walk, then run. This was no different. Craig’s lineup of drills and exercises all work toward one unified goal.

Day 2:

Day two began on the range. Craig started with what always impresses me as one of the most thought out safety briefings I have ever heard. He really makes those safety rules his own. What stands out the most is his interpretation of the trigger finger rule. Rather than the negative of keep the finger off the trigger, he uses the positive: keep the finger on a hard register. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes a huge difference in the mindset around the rule.

Once we got shooting, we started with a diagnostic drill so Craig could gauge where the class stood, followed by work on the draw-stroke. Craig is a strong proponent of a linear four count draw-stroke. It is linear because instead of coming straight out of the holster and driving the gun forward, the gun comes up high before driving forward. This is important because it supports shooting in a confined space.

We also worked on ‘shooting from the 2’ or shooting from the second position in the draw-stroke (indexed at the pectoral) with your head on the cardboard backing of your target. This isn’t the first time I have shot this way, but getting more reps in is great for correcting deviations that have occurred since the last time. We also shot at various positions between the third and fourth counts of the draw-stroke (three is prior to extending and four is at full extension). We practiced this by moving backwards one step/shot at a time and shooting from appropriate extension for that distance.

Shooting in a compressed position like this is vital for close quarters gun fights. Fully extending the gun towards the target is great when the target is far away, but up close you are basically giving the gun to the bad guy. Appropriate extension isn’t always full extension.

Overall the work on the draw-stroke was great for me. The past few months I have been playing with my draw-stroke a lot after going through various iterations of changes trying to find the optimal solution. The height of count 3 in Southnarc’s approach corrects some of the challenges I have been facing, so it will be great to take this new insight home with me and start working on it with a timer.

After shooting we broke for lunch. After lunch we got right back to working on various grappling skills starting from where we left off Friday. Craig added some more tools for gaining and maintaining a dominant position in the standing clinch. To help reinforce these skills, we used FIST helmets and sims guns to help add pressure to the problem.

Next we went to the ground. On the ground your goal is the same as when you are standing: stay conscious and stay mobile. Craig taught techniques to make encroachment by a standing adversary more difficult and some methods for dealing with someone who does get within arm’s reach. Just like with the standing clinch work, skills were covered for controlling our opponent’s hands to help prevent them from accessing and employing weapons, while we practiced accessing our own.

Craig likes to use ‘evolutions’ as a method of pressure testing the skills he teaches. Just because something works with a consenting partner doesn’t mean it will work on the street when things aren’t quite so cooperative.

Saturday’s evolution? Basically what we were just doing with one guy on the ground and the other trying to engage him – but both of us had FIST helmets and the defender got a sims gun. In my evolution I managed to mostly prevent my opponent from limiting my mobility but couldn’t get the dominant position I really wanted. Despite this setback, I was able to secure him with my legs, allowing for a fancy behind the back draw and a left-handed 2 position mag dump into my opponent.

Then we swapped roles. During his turn things didn’t go as well for me. One moment I seemed to know what was where, the next he was shooting me and we were wrestling for the gun.

Day 3:

Day three started back on the range. We worked on some more shooting from appropriate levels of extension as well as shooting from two fending positions: a vertical elbow shield and a horizontal elbow shield. We put these new fending positions into use while getting additional practice at shooting from appropriate extension.

After the shooting we took a break and went to lunch. When we came back, Craig had us jump right into a 2 on 1 evolution. In this evolution the participant was armed with a sims gun, and one other guy would advance while role-playing some sort of scenario. A third guy was held back by Craig and inserted later. He could have been a concerned citizen, the potential bad guy’s friend, or just about anything else.

These evolutions really drive home two things for me. Firstly, how important MUC skills are. It really sucks to have two other guys trying to take your gun from you and whacking you over the head. If you can avoid a violent encounter like this, then do it!

The second is the discovery of how ambiguous real life can be. It can be pretty hard to piece together what is happening during one of these scenarios as it unfolds, and even harder to really take charge and escape. Thankfully training should be harder than real life in a lot of cases, but I really don’t want to end up in these kinds of fights.

After the evolution we worked on firearm retention, both in and out of the holster, as well as techniques to disarm. We practiced these skills with partners before a final evolution.

The final evolution was the infamous car evolution. In this evolution two people start in a vehicle with the FIST helmets and sims guns. The driver has his in the holster while the passenger usually keeps his under his leg. The passenger at some point pulls his gun and holds the driver at gunpoint. Then it’s on.

This is a great evolution because it really emphasizes how everything turns sideways quickly in a car. After doing this in the past, I have become a lot more conscious of not wanting to drive places with people I don’t know. Wrestling in a vehicle is totally different than wrestling on the ground, while at the same time being exactly the same.

Conclusion:

This was my third time taking this type of class from Craig, but even so I learned a lot from it. Craig says the class is in many ways an audit of your skills, telling you what you need to work on – and he is definitely right.

One thing I do notice is that, for the most part, veterans of the class do better, but no one dominates someone just for being an ECQC vet. I’ve done this three times and I still got tossed around by first timers. At the same time, it was obvious that repeated exposure to this material greatly increases your comfort level in dealing with these situations. If you can attend this class more than once (perhaps annually), then go for it. If not then one exposure to the material will definitely have a profound impact on your ability to defend yourself if that day ever comes.

Ultimately this was a great class, and I would recommend it without reservation for anyone who has the opportunity to take it. Craig knows his material, and he knows how to teach it. He is a warrior scholar in the truest sense.

Have you experienced ECQC? Post a comment below!

Course Review: Larry Vickers Carbine/Pistol I

Photo Credit: Neshooters

A couple weekends ago I attended Larry Vickers’ Three Day Carbine/Pistol I class hosted by NEShooters in Pelham, NH. I have been looking for a class covering the Carbine locally, so when I saw this class become available I jumped on the registration.

To give you a little background about me, I have zero carbine training to date. I have plenty of rifle marksmanship experience, but nothing with running a long-gun in a combative manner. I also have fairly little pistol training. I took a few handgun modules at a summit a few years ago and have a little bit of handgun training from an ECQC perspective, but otherwise I’m self taught with the pistol.

Course Overview

Larry Vickers is definitely a proponent of marksmanship over speed. Look at his slogan if you need proof: speed is fine – accuracy is final. That pretty much sums up the theme of the class. This class wasn’t a bunch of slow shooting by any means, but the emphasis was definitely on not going faster than you could make mostly good hits.

This three day class followed a fairly simple format: day one was all about shooting the pistol, day two was mostly about the carbine, and day three was a 50/50 split. The trend throughout all three days was to cover a subject, shoot a variety of drills designed to practice and test that skill, followed by a competitive team drill or two.

The class consisted of 18 shooters who were broken into 3 teams of 6. For all of the team and individual shooting drills, Larry likes to use a scoring system that isn’t all that different from what is used in IDPA. Shots in the black are -0, on the paper but out of the black -1, on the target backer -3 and shots not taken or off the backer are -5.

One benefit of a system like this is it institutes a good method of measuring your performance. For the vast majority of skills, Larry has some sort of drill that can be used to measure your performance.

Day 1

The first day started with what Larry considers the most important fundamental: trigger control. A variety of partner drills were used to perfect trigger control. Throughout the day we also covered sight picture, shooting from the low ready position, draw-stroke, emergency reloads and “follow through, scan, and assess.”

Day 2

The second day started with the carbine, and included some pistol work later in the day. We started with zeroing before covering a variety of topics: prone, sitting, kneeling, standing, shooting from low ready, reloads, transitioning to the weak side and transition to sidearm.

Day 3

Day three was about 50/50 between the pistol and the carbine. The morning was a review of the previous material followed by malfunction drills on both pistol and carbine, and shooting on the move.

My Thoughts

I took a lot away from this course, specifically in the carbine realm. Not having had any previous instruction in this area, I had a lot to gain by taking this class. I now have a good starting point upon which I can base my own continuing training regime.

Larry definitely has mastered the shooting skills that he is trying to teach, and he also has strong opinions about various methods and equipment. If your method or equipment falls outside of what he prefers, you’re going to catch some flak for it. I shot the course with stock sights on my Glock 17 and Larry didn’t miss out on the chance to give me crap for it.

Don’t show up to a class like this if you are worried about getting your feelings hurt. If he tells you your equipment sucks, you can take his advice or turn the other cheek. Either way, any instructional situation like this is a chance for you to take in new material and opinions and filter them with your knowledge and experience.

Ultimately when you take any class, you’re likely to differ in opinion on something with the instructor. The key is to build a strong understanding of the subject matter and compile a variety of experiences and opinions so you can make an informed decision.

The one thing that disappointed me about this class was what I perceived as a sensation of limited instruction. Part of this hinged on the limited one-on-one time. Being in a class with 18 students for one instructor basically means you might get a few corrections over the course of the weekend. Unless you had a question to ask, you got limited assistance. This could simply be an effort to not over-coach people, but based on the free distribution of equipment criticisms, I have a feeling that isn’t the case.

The material covered seemed rather thin, especially on Friday. At times I couldn’t tell what skill level this class was really targeting. We covered basic topics but without the level of depth that I expected. For example on Friday we went over trigger control and sight picture with little discussion on stance or grip. Larry might not consider these aspects important in his view of pistol shooting, but to really cover the subject matter completely I think they should have been discussed. But perhaps my expectations were unrealistic since I don’t have a lot to compare this to.

This was also an expensive course compared to the several others I have taken. $700 for a three day class (plus range fee) seems a bit high in my book. If the class was in the $500-$600 range, it would have been more competitively priced, and a little easier to swallow. If you are looking for a basic carbine course, there are certainly cheaper options available that would probably get the job done for you.

In the end, this was an enjoyable class taught by an experienced instructor. If you can afford a class like this, and are willing to pay the premium for Larry’s expertise, you’ll definitely learn something new.

Course Review: Bill Lewitt’s Basic Trauma Management for Shooters

A couple of weeks ago I discussed reasons why you should get medical training. What it basically comes down to is being prepared for the situations you hope never to be in. I carry a gun hoping I never need to use it. Knowing how to deal with trauma, especially the trauma that results from violence, is a good skill set to have even though hopefully you will never need to use it.

Following my own advice, I thought it was time to upgrade my own medical training beyond the CPR/AED training I have. I headed down to Woburn, MA to Down Range Firearms Training which hosted Bill Lewitt and his Basic Trauma Management for Shooters (BTMS) class.

Bill Lewitt is a Paramedic and RN with over 15 years of EMS experience. He taught Tactical First Aid at Sigarms Academy for four years starting in 2001. Bill has also trained many Special Operations units and law enforcement groups. You can find out more about his background on his website here.

Class Overview

Bill started the class with the history of trauma management starting all the way back at the battle of Thermopylae and advancing to the modern day. Like everything through the class, this had a purpose, and provided some great learning moments.

Bill also had slides for many of the modern major bombings and shootings. He demonstrated how catastrophic one of these events can be, and how overloaded EMS could be as a result. Another great reason to be prepared if you ask me.

After this we moved on to the medicine. The class was geared toward trauma management, more specifically the simplest things we can do with the highest likelihood of successfully preventing death after a traumatic incident, whether that be a gunshot wound, a stab wound, or even just a car accident. The three big causes of preventable death on the battlefield after a traumatic incident are blood loss, tension pneumothorax, and loss of airway. Bill spent the rest of the class discussing these three problems, recognizing them, and more importantly techniques and algorithms to follow to handle them.

Blood Loss

We covered three methods of controlling bloodloss or hemorrhage: pressure dressings, tourniquets, and hemostatic agents. Depending on the situation, pressure dressings are generally applied first. If they don’t work, go to a tourniquet, and finally if the blood wont stop coming hemostatic agents like Quick Clot or Celox should be used.

Bill discussed his personal preferences for various equipment. He recommended the CAT-T and SOFFT tourniquets, but the SWAT-T tourniquet is a cheap and space efficient spare to keep in an aid kit. Bill also prefers Celox over quick clot. His reasons were pretty simple: Celox is all natural, and doesn’t have a history of heating up (and causing burns) when applied like Quick Clot does. Bill also recommended the Celox gauze which is a made of Celox and can be used in the same situations more precisely than the powder.

Tension Pneumothorax

Tension Pneumothorax is the second most common cause of death that is preventable. Essentially any penetrating chest wound has the potential to allow air to be sucked in and trapped with each breath. This air pushes the lungs and heart to the other side of the body cavity and makes further breathing and circulation more difficult. Basically any penetrating wound from belly button to the neck needs to be covered. The best tool for this: a chest seal. A good chest seal will allow air out but not in. Care must be taken to make sure both the entry wound and the exit wound are covered.

Obstructed Airway

Obstructed airways are the last of the three preventable killers. Essentially when someone is unconscious, he/she is unable to protect their own airway and may need assistance. This can be as simple as moving the person into the recovery position. Bill taught us how to use a nasal airway which is inserted through the nose and helps preserve a clear airway.

The last part of the class was an exercise in learning to apply tourniquets to ourselves. Bill cited research that found that tourniquets can be safely applied for up to 6 or 8 hours with no ill effects. We were able to try both the CAT-T and SWAT-T tourniquets using both one handed and two handed methods. Bill also brought out what looked like a Halloween prop to demonstrate how to tend to a traumatic leg amputation. After the demonstration students in the class were allowed to try it as well.

My thoughts on the class

Bill does a great job of taking material that is potentially very technical and making it accessible to those of us who have no background in it. Prior to this class the sum total of my medical and first aid training consisted of a CPR / AED class I took a few weeks ago. Bill broke things down and presented material with a great sense of humor that made it nearly impossible to fall asleep in the class. Quite frankly I’m amazed that after an 8 hour class, I really feel like I am armed with the skills I would need to deal with a traumatic injury if I had to.

I hope never to need these skills, but now I can feel confident that I’m prepared to use them. If you ever have the opportunity to take Bill’s class, don’t hesitate. You’ll be entertained and informed at the same time, and you will learn skills that really could be the difference between life and death for you or someone you love.

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