What Everybody Ought to Know About Preparing for a carbine course

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

Next month I am signed up to take my first ever carbine course – a Carbine/Handgun course with Larry Vickers. I have great familiarity with how to get the most out of a rifle, but I really don’t have any true experience learning how to run a carbine properly.

I have taken pistol courses before, but there is a lot more going on in a carbine course. The equipment requirements are much more significant (we are after all running two guns), and the total number of skills that are involved is exponentially higher than just running a handgun.

Making preparations

When showing up to any class, it’s definitely worth investing some time upfront to make sure you arrive prepared. A three-day class like the one I am taking comes with a hefty price-tag, especially when you start adding up the ammo costs. Don’t waste the opportunity by coming unprepared.

Gear

A carbine class has much steeper equipment requirements than a simple pistol class. You need both a carbine and a pistol, some number of mags for each, a sling for your carbine, a huge pile of ammunition, a holster, and some sort of load bearing vest or belt.

When preparing for a class like this, there are four things you need to accomplish when getting your gear together.

1. Identify what you need

Scour the class listing and determine exactly what equipment is required for the class. The class instructor will generally list exactly what he or she expects you to bring. Don’t skimp on meeting these requirements.

It is also a good idea to read after-action reports and course reviews from other shooters who have taken this class in the past. Often another shooter’s insights into what they found to be useful or what they wish they had can save you a ton of pain. This also leads into the next point…

2. Research the gear

Once you have identified what equipment you need, it’s time to start selecting which products you will choose to meet your requirements. The number of holsters on the market, for example, is huge. Not all holsters are created equally so spend some solid time researching what is available and what will fill your needs perfectly.

Gear can be expensive and just adds to the already mounting cost of attending a course like this. Do your best to select items you only need to buy once. Better to spend a little extra money now than to find out your purchases were wasted on shoddy items that will need replacing. If you already have something that will adequately meet your needs, don’t buy something special just for the class.

3. Buy your gear

Now the fun part: spending money. Shop around so you don’t overpay, but definitely get your stuff on order sooner rather than later.

The last thing you want to do is to show up without your kit. The class I’m taking is in July, and I have just about everything I think I’ll need in hand and have had it in hand for a few weeks now.

4. Test your gear

Once you get your gear, make sure you set it up and test it. Don’t show up to the class and put all of your gear together for the first time.

The first goal of testing your gear is to make sure it all works from a basic level. If your gear won’t function together, or you can’t operate it, then you have a problem. Maybe something doesn’t work like you thought it would, or just doesn’t fit (for example a MOLLE mag pouch doesn’t work with the dimensions of your vest).

Once everything is on, you want to make sure the equipment is comfortable. Sure it must be functional, but remember that a three day class is a long time to be wearing uncomfortable gear. Maybe things are too heavy or just dig into you… make sure you identify and fix these issues now while you can.

Once you determine that your gear is comfortable, you want to spend some time trying to use it. Start off with dry fire/dry practice. Can you get magazines out of pouches and into your guns? Does your tactical sling work for you when you try transitioning to your pistol? Can you assume prone and kneeling positions with your gear on? All of these things matter and should be identified early.

The last thing you want is to be fighting your gear while taking your expensive class. You need to be a sponge ready to absorb all the instruction you can get. If you are distracted by failing gear, you won’t be getting the most out of the instruction you came for.

You also need to test your firearms. Don’t show up with a carbine and a pistol that have never been shot before. Put 500-1000 rounds through each and make sure they operate without issue. A semi-functional gun can do a lot to make your experience a crappy one.

Prepare your skills

Gear isn’t the only thing you need to bring with you to a class. You also need to bring some level of skill. Most instructors have a certain expectation of what you are bringing to the class. In any course beyond a basic pistol intro type class, you need to show up safe. If you can’t handle a firearm without putting everyone in the tri-state area at risk, then you need to get some help for that before you step foot on the range for your class.

Most instructors also have some basic expectations for skills. Try to identify what those skills are by reading class reviews and the class listing. Practice those skills before showing up and make sure you have them.

Don’t be that guy

Whatever you do, don’t be that guy who shows up to an intermediate or advanced level class with no skills and an inordinate need for attention and assistance.

Nothing frustrates someone more than having their expensive class squandered because some nitwit doesn’t know the basics or how their gear works.

Skills to be familiar with

Regardless of whether you have taken a class or not, you want to have some basic skills worked out. Many instructors will ‘test’ you to see what you brought to the show. Don’t be figuring these things out for the first time at the class, show up with some base level stuff:

  1. Drawing from your holster

  2. Accessing pouches

  3. Shouldering/shooting your rifle

  4. Operating your sling

  5. Adjusting your sights

  6. Malfunction clearance

  7. Any other topic that you expect to be covered in the class*

*This could be anything from low light shooting to shooting around barricades, etc. Be careful and tread lightly here. The last thing you want to do is ingrain a bad habit before taking a class. You do want to show up with enough competence to not slow the class down and have a good starting point to build from.

All of these things can and should be practiced dry, but also ideally in live fire as well.

Be prepared to enjoy your class

All of this adds up to one thing: enjoying your class and getting the most out of it. Three days (or two or one) is not a lot of time to learn a set of skills. Set yourself up to learn as much as possible and get the most from it.

You are paying for the class, why not take advantage of it?

What do you do to prepare for a carbine class?

Beginning Training Series: Putting It All Together

This will be the final post to wrap up my series on beginning training.

 Training for what could be a life or death situation requires training in many different areas. Fitness, shooting, and combatives are all pieces of the puzzle. Mastery in any one area does not ensure your survival because there are no rules in real life. You may be the best shooter in the world, but it won’t save you when someone clubs you from behind.

 Just as mastery in any one area doesn’t guarantee survival, neither does mastery in all areas. Life is unpredictable- all we really can do is give ourselves the best chance possible of survival. Part of this is learning to put all the skills together.

 Mixing colors

 The core of your training boils down to the primary skills like your shooting, grappling, and knife work for example. These primary colors need to be blended. You may find yourself needing to employ a firearm while grappling, or utilize a knife in order to protect a firearm. Finding instruction and experimenting with methods to combine all the pieces of your training is the key to maximizing your chances of survival. Don’t leave this to chance, learn how to integrate your training.

Going above and beyond

Eventually you will find your core competency will reach the point where you feel confident in your ability to protect yourself. This is an indication that you need to find a way to further challenge yourself. You can always find a class or instructor who can make you feel very weak and defenseless. Never cease in your mission to improve.

Find the edge cases of your training. You should always be pushing the envelope and finding the weak areas. For example, how do your skills apply when placed in a different environment, like a vehicle? Do your tactics still work if you are injured?

Training isn’t a one time thing, nor a short term endeavor. You must commit yourself to it, or failing that, hire a body guard. Remember, never cease in your practice. Always seek to grow your skills, and train like tomorrow might be your last day. Hopefully it won’t be.

Beginning Training Series: Getting Your Fitness Off the Ground Level

Today I will be discussing improving your base level of fitness as part of my series on beginning training.

I am a big believer that if you want to train to defend yourself in any type of confrontation, then you need to work on your fitness. Fighting is a distinctly physical activity no matter what tools you may be using. If you expect to survive the fight (or want to have any hope of surviving for that matter) then you definitely need to work on improving your body.

 For the purposes of fighting, there are five main areas that you need to work on improving: flexibility, strength, agility, endurance, and speed. Without training in each of these five attributes, you are severely limiting your performance when you need it.

 Flexibility

The most overlooked attribute is flexibility. Flexibility helps prevent injuries, and also gives you better mobility. After all, your goal in a fight is to stay conscious and mobile. This past year when I took Southnarc’s VCAST (Vehicle Combatives and Shooting Tactics) course, I had many of my older classmates jealous because of the way I could move around on the ground around the vehicle. My advantage in this arena isn’t because I’m younger (though it helps), but rather is because of my time training in Kyokushin. Not everyone needs to know how to throw high kicks, especially since they have limited practicality on the street. Everyone should, on the other hand, have functional flexibility.

The very beginning of you work on flexibility should be to work on improving range of motion in a handful of areas. Think back to the stretches you may have learned in gym class. An easy way to fit this in to your schedule is to stretch a little when you wake up in the morning. Try a stretching routine like this one, it’s a good start for basic flexibility. Another great option is yoga. Don’t knock it just because it’s a popular group exercise class for women. Many great fighters and trainers swear by it, and have great results.

Strength

Strength affects all areas of your self-defense. A contest between two technically equivalent fighters can often be decided on strength. Muscle allows you to absorb more damage and, if used correctly, deal out more as well. There are many ways to approach improving strength. This will all depend on your own exact goals.

If you have the time and resources, a full weight routine can give you excellent strength gains. If you cannot spare the time or money to hit a gym, you can do quite a bit in your home without weights. At a minimum you should be doing some basic body-weight exercises like pullups, dips, pushups, squats and crunches.

Agility

Agility directly affects our mobility. Mobility is key in any life or death situation, so you can see the value. Better agility will allow us to change directions, start moving, or stop moving very quickly.

The basics for improving agility involve performing agility-requiring movements. Work on changing directions quickly and starting movement from a dead stop. Playing some pickup games of basketball or another agility-heavy sport might be a good way to work on agility while enjoying yourself. Here is an article on improving agility you might want to check out.

Endurance

Endurance is often trained in an ineffective manner. Many people that think they are training endurance for the purpose of preparing themselves for fighting or a self-defense encounter spend significant time hitting the pavement or running on the treadmill. The reason this is so ineffective is that no fight is ever that smooth and continuous.

Fighting generally involves short periods of extreme exertion followed by other periods of milder effort. If you are attached to your running, consider adding intervals to your training. Spend 20 seconds sprinting and 20 seconds jogging or walking. You can vary the times for each. This will better simulate a fight than running at a constant speed.

The other reason that distance running tends to be a poor option for training fighting endurance is that there is minimal load. Combining strength training and interval training is a great way to push your endurance. When lifting, try using lighter weights with higher reps and decrease the time in between sets. Another option is to run, jog, or shadow box in between sets. There are plenty of options you can experiment with.

Speed

Speed is a very important attribute for us to train if we want to maximize our potential in a violent confrontation. Being fast allows us to get our sights on target faster, and hit before our adversary. Speed also allows us to out-maneuver our adversary. Remember that mobility is key to staying alive.

Speed is the lack of all extraneous movement. Believe it or not, we can improve speed by training slowly. Work on removing all unneeded motions and taking the most efficient path to where you are moving. If you want more detail on how to do this, check out my post about increasing your speed.

Improving

When you sit down to put together your plan, set goals for all five of these attributes. Set measurable goals, and choose exercises and drills that allow you to meet them. Practice as often as your schedule will allow. The only real obstacle to achieving your fitness goals is lack of training.

Do you have any suggestions for improving fitness? Please post a comment!

Beginning Training Series: Setting Goals and Making Them Happen

Today I will be discussing setting goals and how to achieve them as part of my series on beginning training.

Setting Goals

Possibly the most important thing to be thinking about when you are trying to begin your training is to make sure you have clear goals set. Not setting goals is one of the worst things you can do. With no clear target, your training will be aimless and eventually will fall into the background. Face it, we all live very busy lives, and one of the first things to get sacrificed is our training time.

Here are some things to think about when setting goals:

Limit the total number of goals:

Having 20 goals means you probably won’t achieve most of them. The more goals you have, the more divided your time will be. Keep the number down somewhere between three and seven, and focus on those.

Prioritize your goals:

If you have a lot of goals, there will be times you’ll have to sacrifice some of them due to limited time. Make sure you have an idea which ones are more important to you.

Make them attainable:

I can set a goal to be able to do one million pullups and be able to hit a quarter from 200 yards one handed with a pocket pistol. This doesn’t mean I have any chance of succeeding. Pick goals and limit them in scope to what you can achieve. When you get there you can always set a new goal. Make sure your deadlines are realistic as well.

Use measurable goals:

Not all goals are created equal. A measurable goal will always be better than an unmeasurable one. What I mean by this is that if you have no way to measure your progress against a goal, then you are wasting your time. Rather than set a goal to ‘shoot faster’ I would set a goal like shooting a clean FAST in under 5 seconds.

Set a due date:

Goals without a due date tend not to be met. If you don’t have that deadline you won’t maximize your effort to get it done. A good way to keep motivated is to set intermediate deadlines and goals that help you achieve the big one. Try not to have more than a few months to your next deadline.

Attaining your goals

Once you have set your goals, you need to make sure you have a plan to get there. Can I really expect to achieve my goals if I set them and forget them? A good way to make sure you succeed is by using a training journal. Write down your goals and track your progress. If improving your shooting is part of your goal, keep track of not only your scores and times, but where your shots hit the target. You never know when looking at months of shooting history might lead to an epiphany or help you diagnose a hardware problem.

 The most important part of reaching your goals is to map each goal to a training activity or activities. If I want to get stronger, then I should be planning on setting aside time to strength train. If I want to speed up my draw-stroke, I need to plan on spending time training that. It isn’t rocket science, but it is easy to forget that you need to set up a program based on what you want to achieve.

 Now that you know what you need to do and what your priorities are, it is time to start setting up that program.

 Creating a program

 If you have a tight schedule, this may be more difficult. If your schedule is consistent, grab your calendar when you sit down to do this. You need to break out different blocks of time, and make sure each of the activities you selected for reaching your goals is fit into each one. You can make Mondays and Wednesdays gym days and Tuesdays and Thursdays combatives days with the weekend dedicated to shooting for example. This all comes down to you, what you are trying to achieve, and when you have time to do it.

 If your schedule isn’t as predictable, you might consider determining what the blocks are without scheduling them. You can then rotate which block you do whenever you have some time. Here is where you priorities come into play. If you cannot always do everything, start at the beginning of your list again every week. Make sure your higher priority activities are at the beginning of the list, and you should always be able to make time for your highest priority.

 Tracking results

 The second half of making sure that you achieve your goals is logging your progress. The key benefit to keeping the training journal is that you can see progress. Progress is a great motivator. However, don’t be discouraged if progress is slow. Never use your journal as an excuse to change your training plans every day. Give yourself a good several weeks to several months to decide if something is or isn’t working for you.

Everything in your training ultimately begins and ends with goals. First, you select them. Second, you determine the best way to achieve them. Next, you work towards achieving them. And finally you measure your success.

 What are your goals for your training in 2012? Please post a comment and share them.

Beginning Training Series: How to Get Started

Every New Year, many people around the world set new goals and make resolutions. If your resolution is to start training, or even just refresh your training paradigm, then you are in the right place. There is a lot to talk about on this subject, so I’ll be posting a series of five posts this week. Each of these posts will cover one aspect of your training for the coming year and help you create your own training plan.

 The subjects I will be covering:

  1. Setting Goals and Making Them Happen – Everything begins with some sort of goal We’ll discuss how to set measurable and attainable goals and how you can track your progress.

  2. Getting Your Fitness Off the Ground Level – While solid skills can mitigate poor fitness, optimal performance will always come from someone in optimum shape.

  3. Hand to Hand and Traditional Martial Arts – Sometimes your weapons are not available. The skills and conditioning attained from most fighting systems can be an asset when it matters.

  4. Getting Started With Weapons – Arming ourselves can give us a definitive advantage. We will discuss various weapon options you should consider training with.

  5. Putting It All Together – All these skills are useless unless you train to put them all together.

Training Considerations When Selecting a Pistol

I strongly believe anyone who legally can should learn how to employ a pistol to its greatest effect. If you can legally carry one concealed, you should make every effort to do so. Self-defense boils down to controlling your environment. A pistol lets you control more of it when the chips are down.

 There are plenty of articles out there to compare and contrast the differences in various rounds: would the ultimate concealed carry pistol be a 9mm or a .45? There are plenty that compare sizes: should you carry a full size service pistol, or a subcompact? And there certainly are plenty of online flame wars discussing which is the best brand and model. Reliability, accuracy, and features are all points of many lengthy discussions.

 While all of those things certainly do factor into what pistol you plan to entrust your life to, there is something else that I believe is even more important: does this pistol facilitate training? The most important thing you need in a pistol is the ability to train with it. If you cannot train with your weapon of choice, it’s a toss up whether you can actually use it effectively when you need to.

 Can you train with it safely?

 This is a fairly silly question, but it does need asking. Can you train with this pistol safely? Some people decide that an inexpensive Makarov or other inexpensive classic that isn’t drop safe is the best firearm for them. I’ve heard plenty of stories about a dropped pistol discharging and injuring its owner. If you plan on training aggressively, you want something you can safely drop. If you can’t safely train with your pistol, maybe it’s time to go gun shopping.

 Do you enjoy training with it?

 While a carry firearm is a tool, if you do not enjoy training with it, you won’t train with it. Simple as that. If the gun is easy to conceal but is too small to be fun to shoot, you’ll carry it, but you’ll never spend the time with it on the range that you need to.

 Can you find an inert training replica?

 While it isn’t 100% necessary, finding an inert training replica (a blue gun for example) of your carry gun is a great way to be able to train without risk of damage to the gun, or damage to your training partners. If you practice any gun grappling, it is certainly safer to train with an inert gun than a real one. I also find that an inert replica works great for practicing presentation of the firearm.

 Can you find and afford the ammunition?

 If you cannot find ammunition or afford it, then you cannot train with the gun. I prefer a 9mm myself because the ammo is less expensive than .40 or .45 and I feel it still gets the job done. Generally it isn’t too hard to find practice ammunition in these common calibers. Some people decide to carry a small .32 or .380 and find that ammunition is scarce. I would rather carry something that doesn’t require a pilgrimage to find ammo.

 Are there .22 conversions or training models available?

 Regardless of the round your carry gun uses, it’s cheaper to practice with .22 than it is to practice in the caliber you carry. There are limitations to how these conversions and clone models can be used in your training, but they certainly can help to increase the volume of your training. Check out this article by Todd Green on the pros and cons of .22 trainers.

 Are there Airsoft replicas available?

 Another great training method is to use an Airsoft training replica of your firearm. This allows you to practice force on force scenarios without having to shoot your training partner. Training with Airsoft of course isn’t perfect, but availability should definitely be in the back of your mind when selecting a carry weapon.

 Can you dry fire it?

 Dry fire is a great way to practice your skills. It’s the cheapest practice you can get. It can do great things for your marksmanship, speed of presentation, and efficiency reloading. Not all firearms can be dry fired, but just about every modern center-fire can be. Make sure you check when deciding what pistol is right for you.

Of course there is plenty more to think about when selecting a pistol. Remember that no matter how reliable or accurate your pistol is, if you can’t train with it, you may very well be useless with it when you need it.

Back to Basics

In my training I have found quite a few parallels among the various disciplines. Some things are very consistent from one skill set to another despite being developed in greatly different environments. Today I am pointing out some similarities I have found between my karate training and defensive pistol shooting.

In the dojo

In most traditional karate systems, a great emphasis is placed on training what is called kihon, or basics. This can be implemented in many ways from standing in lines practicing each technique to a count, or moving up and down the floor performing these techniques (edo geiko). Pre-arranged groups of techniques (kata) is also employed in many traditional systems.

The other side of the coin is the training of the applications of these techniques. Sparring (kumite) and the practice of self-defense techniques (goshin-jitsu) are used. Students can very easily see how this practice is applied on the street.

As an example, think about punching. When performing kihon, I teach my students to punch from a chamber position with their fist below the armpit, palm faced upwards. They thrust outwards, turning their first until the palm is downwards while simultaneously drawing the other hand back in a straight line into that same chamber position. How could this possibly be used in real life? Our hands are not up covering our head and we are punching from a very static position – not a great stance in a fight.

Many people who train have come to their own self-realized conclusions that this type of training has no value. I strongly disagree.

While throwing punches from a fighting posture seems much different, learning to drive a strong punch in the traditional way teaches you how to generate power in ways you cannot easily see when training application. There is huge value in pursuing this type of training. By building a strong foundation on the basics you can significantly improve your speed and power. Without this foundation your technique amounts to nothing more than flailing around.

On the range

In a similar vein, many individuals shun the idea of standing and shooting for tight groups on the “square range”. Again I have to disagree. A key part to improving the effectiveness of our shooting is training the fundamentals. Any shooter must put a significant portion of their training into improving and maintaining their marksmanship abilities.

This is just like with karate in the previous example. We train the punch to be fast, straight and powerful before taking it to application. So we must also apply this with our shooting. Only once we can shoot effectively at the fundamental level can we really hope to train for more realistic applications. Without the marksmanship all other training is just an expensive way to make noise. You really cannot miss fast enough to hit your target.

It is fundamental

It really doesn’t matter what you are trying to perfect. Until you can do something at its most basic level without any form of pressure how can you expect to perform on demand? Professional basketball players practice taking unimpeded shots. Calligraphers practice singular strokes of the brush. I think it’s quite reasonable to keep going back to basics in our training too.

In what ways do you go back to basics in your training?  Post a comment below!

6 Questions to Ask Yourself When Looking For a Dojo

On Friday last week Caleb Giddings made an astute observation that even Krav Maga is heading the way of the McDojo. I would have to agree. No longer can you rely on the name of the system to indicate its validity. Unfortunately a lot of people are trying to make a living off this stuff, ultimately leading to a lowering of standards.

What’s worse is most people do not know what to look for when they are trying to find a school or instructor. It is often the flashy and unrealistic garbage that uninformed people are drawn to. Compounding the problem is the fact that there are more of these “McDojos” out there than there are good ones. So how do you actually go about finding a good instructor or school?

There are a number of factors that come in to play. Even a good school can be plagued by some of the bad traits. Choosing a dojo is a subjective decision… and I would definitely recommend looking around at multiple dojos before settling on one. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when investigating a dojo.

Does the instructor have a day job?

Most of the great instructors I have come across in life have a day job. Their art is a passion that encompasses much of their spare time, but they do not teach for a living. When teaching for a living, it is not uncommon to lower standards in order to keep students in the dojo. Students are money, and when your income comes entirely from your class enrollment, you will do what you need to in order to keep the business going.

Very few instructors can manage to teach for a living. Most of those who do it successfully without compromising their standards live and teach in a very densely populated area and happen to have very little competition.

How often are people promoted?

In order to pay the bills, most instructors in McDojos will promote people often and for a pricey testing fee. The more ranks in the syllabus, the more money they can collect from you over time. Watch out for these fees and speedy promotion, they usually indicate that the dojo exists to make someone a living.

Do the students sweat in class?

Sweat is not bad, and does not indicate that you are looking at a pure fitness class.

Fighting is a physical activity!

When you watch a class, if the students aren’t breaking a sweat, it is time to move on. I have trained with some excellent instructors who love to talk (and their students love to listen), but with every single one of them I have broken a solid sweat. If you can spend a whole class standing around you are in the wrong place.

How long are the classes?

Dojos that exist purely to extract money from their customers often have very short classes. No matter how you slice it, 45 minutes is too short for an adult martial arts class. Look for at least one hour, but 1.5 – 2 hours is better. Does the instructor try to pack many short sessions into the schedule in order to get more people through the door? This is a sure sign that you should look elsewhere.

How much does it cost?

Even the best dojos shouldn’t charge you an arm and a leg. Prices tend to be higher in the city than the rural areas as costs are higher, but if you’re being charged 200 dollars a month, odds are you need to look somewhere else. Commercial schools often charge a lot in order to pay the bills and support an instructor who doesn’t have a day job.

Do they offer specials for an accelerated black belt program?

No one should guarantee you a black belt in any amount of time… ever. The coveted black belt is somthing that is earned, not bought. While putting your time in is a big part of it, no instructor with any sense of decency will promote someone to blackbelt just for paying their dues. If you find a school with these practices you need to keep looking.

 

Many of these things should be obvious, but I have seen many people completely miss these signs of a poor school. Shop around, do your research, and watch or take a class or two before you commit to anything. This is by no means a comprehensive list of what to avoid when looking for a good dojo. Do yourself the due diligence before selecting an instructor and throwing your money away.

What would you add to this list? Post a comment and tell us!

WP Like Button Plugin by Free WordPress Templates