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!

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