Are Classes The Best Bang For Your Buck?

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Over the past few years as I delve deeper and deeper into the world of training, I have noticed a pretty obvious trend: attending more classes does not necessarily mean more skill.

Despite this trend I can’t help but to notice how many people seem to hope for the converse. Time and time again I see well-intentioned students of the gun who are in the constant cycle of bouncing from class to class.

On one hand I must applaud these guys for doing what most gun owners don’t have the stones or smarts to do: get training. But on the other hand, I can’t help but to scratch my head when I see these guys fail to improve despite spending thousands on training from top tier instructors.

Classes Does Not Equal Improvement

Quite frankly most trainers can’t make you improve by all that much… at least not in a single day or weekend class. Instead a good class should give you the tools and techniques you need to improve yourself on your own time. Receiving instruction is never a replacement for old fashioned hard work.

When I compare myself to some of these “class junkies,” I can’t help but realize that with only a few classes under my belt, I tend to fare better when it comes to skills. On a good day, I can shoot the F.A.S.T. in 6-7 seconds, and when I shot the IDPA classifier a few weeks ago I was less than 4 seconds outside of SSP Expert (I really bombed stage 3). While neither of those are amazing feats, I find that there are a lot more people who can’t match that performance than there are people that can beat it.

Guess how many classes I went to in order to get to that skill level?

The grand total of my pistol training comes down to several 2 hour blocks taken at a tactical conference a few years ago, several Southnarc Courses (ECQC and VCAST) which contain very little actual shooting time and next to no work on the fundamentals, and the pistol work at the Larry Vickers course I took last year. And quite frankly none of those courses immediately offered huge bumps in improvement at my next range session.

Compare my abilities and quantity of training with some of these guys who go out to Front Sight every year or do multiple shooting classes a year, and you’ll find that the thousands they spend on training doesn’t offer any significant improvement over where I am. So why spend the money?

Money Better Spent On Ammo

Rather than drop $500-1000 a year on classes, spend that money on more ammo. Or even better yet, just dry-fire! Work up a training routine for yourself that includes dry-fire and live-fire, and keep at it. You’ll notice more improvement than you ever would just taking expensive classes.

When you do consider taking a class, keep in mind that a solid class has two purposes. The first is when you have no skill set at all. Learning to safely draw from the holster and learning good technique for running your gun is critical to get your training off to a good start. The second is when you have been at things a while and hit a plateau. If you can’t improve yourself, it’s time to have someone else help you. Let someone else look at your technique and offer alternatives.

Ultimately it takes consistent, focused dedication to the task at hand to improve. There are no easy answers or shortcuts, just effort and time.

What’s the ratio of classes to individual training that you use? Please post a comment!

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!

Does Real Life Experience Make For a Better Trainer?

Photo Credit: anja_johnson

If you seek training with an instructor, you will find that there are two main categories of professional trainers to choose from: some have military training and experience, and some don’t. For the purposes of this post I’m going to consider paramilitary police training and the like in the former category as well. Some people flock to those that have had military training, touting the “been there, done that” factor. Others don’t really seem to care. There are plenty of instructors in either category, but is one category definitively better than the other?

The Pros of military experience in an instructor

Military experience definitely does provide some benefits. Nothing validates your training and combatives methodologies like the two-way firing range. There is a lot of validity to saying that you have ‘done it for real’. Even older, potentially out-of-date experience can be an asset as trainers in this category have a bank of knowledge and experiences that can be applied as they consider new techniques and methods.

The military does spend a significant amount of money and time training its members, especially the elite special forces units. A trainer with experience from one of these units likely has a vast background of training, which adds to what they bring to the table.

Counterpoint

On the other hand, just because a trainer is switched on, high-speed, low-drag doesn’t mean they were blessed with the ability to teach. Often times I have found that the best doers are not necessarily the best teachers. The instructor’s ability to teach is the most important asset when selecting an instructor. A good teacher can make challenging concepts easier to understand, which ultimately determines how much you learn from a class.

A lack of real world experience also doesn’t mean that an instructor isn’t knowledgeable. Instructors who lack time on the two-way firing range often have a diverse and also deep training background. Seeing a diverse set of training material can give an instructor good perspective not only on what works, but also a larger set of ‘options’. A good trainer should help you find what works best for you. Just because an instructor can do something one way, doesn’t mean that you can or should.

Unless you are training for the military, a military instructor might not be the best option. A background of amphibious assault and helicopter insertion tactics probably won’t be the best fit for me when I’m defending my home and family. Many aspects of military training just don’t align well with the realities you and I might face.

Ultimately, experience can help. The validity of pressure testing techniques in the real world is hard to match. At the same time, a good instructor could have learned their skills from someone who has had that experience and yet be a far better teacher. Sometimes it’s not the capabilities of the individual as a fighter or combatant that matters the most, but instead the ability of that individual to convey knowledge. You pay an instructor to teach you, not to fight on your behalf.

Military training and experience: does it help? Yes. Is it necessary for an instructor to be effective? No.

Does the instructor’s life experience matter to you?

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.

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?

Varied Instruction: Reducing the Toolbox

Photo by DrJimiGlide

When studying to defend yourself, there is a trade-off to be made between depth and breadth of skills. How much do you specialize in your skills, and how many different skills do you need to be sufficiently prepared? The answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes. You need enough depth to be proficient under pressure with the tools you choose to carry, yet you must also have skills to enable you to defend yourself in a variety of situations.

The real question is how much depth or breadth do you need instruction-wise?

There are a lot of great instructors out there with a lot of knowledge. Is training with a single instructor sufficient, or is there value to be had by training with a variety of instructors?

Unfortunately there is a lot more gray area here between seeking out and training with a single instructor, and training with them all.

When you start training, you have an obligation to yourself to seek out a solid variety of instructors. The goal in the beginning is to find an instructor who knows what he or she is talking about, but can also convey it in a manner that you can absorb.

There is also the matter of finding the material that is best adapted to you and your philosophies. I want to learn skills and techniques suited to my body type, and not all systems will suffice for that.

Once that first real instructor is found, do you continue to seek out other instructors and build that variety of learning experiences?

I think that ultimately depends on your goal. The problem with training with only one instructor is that no one has all the answers. The best gun guy isn’t likely to be the best knife guy, and he probably isn’t the best grappler either.

Training is your own journey and process where you collect what you have learned and take the best of each discipline or teacher and build your own system, much in the spirit of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.

The reason to train with a variety of instructors is not because you can build up the size of your skills ‘toolbox’ by constantly adding more techniques. Actually it is quite the contrary. Take the things that work from each instructor, or better yet double your focus on the things that are overlapped by the instructors.

Like the old adage goes: “In the mind of the beginner there are many possibilities, in the mind of the master there are few”.

Multiple instructors ensure you get the best from each, and allow you to throw away the worst from each as well.

How varied is the instruction you seek out?

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.

How Many Classes Is Too Many?

Last week tgace posted his thoughts about a phenomenon he sees in firearms training. He believes that some civilian shooters are spending too much time getting training. Part of his argument is that the payoff for classes after the first few greatly diminishes. He also argues that individuals should invest more of their time and funds taking classes on other skills, say tactical driving or first aid for example.

I can agree with his arguments to a point. There certainly is a huge need to diversify your skill set. I would agree that before you take your third or fourth shooting class, you should probably try and invest in some training for defensive tactics, knife work, first-aid, driving, or any number of other skills that end up taking the back seat.

I would also agree that the gain from each class can be less than the one before it. If you want the most bang for your buck, you would always be investing in skills you have little or no knowledge of.

I do think he missed several points, however, when it comes to training. Most obviously, different instructors bring different things to the table. Training with different instructors gives us an opportunity to see similar material from different viewpoints, helping us choose what works best for us. I would also like to point out three important reasons why any civilian shooter (or professional for that matter) should regularly take classes on subjects already known and understood.

State of the art

When compared to traditional martial arts systems, the practice of tactical shooting is still in its infancy. New techniques are being developed and refined at a very rapid rate. Any serious shooter should probably take a shooting class every few years to keep abreast of these changes and keep on top of their game.

For the longest time, an overhand manipulation of the slide with the weak hand was the only correct way to handle an emergency reload. More recently many top tier instructors are starting to advocate the use of the slide stop instead in an effort to increase the speed at which the pistol can be reloaded. While this might not be the best change for you, being exposed to it in a class setting is a good way to evaluate these kinds of developments objectively under the watchful eye of an expert.

Testing Ourselves

Pressure testing is an important part of our training. Some classes give us a chance to test what we have been practicing and validate our training techniques. Some would say that competition would be a better way to test our skills, but that can’t always be the best way to test. Some skill sets are not easily testable in a competition setting.

The best example I can give here is Southnarc’s ECQC class, which I have taken twice now. ECQC is an extreme close quarters combat class, focusing on a variety of skills ranging from verbal skills to grappling with guns, and even grappling with guns inside a vehicle (vehicular brazilian jiu-jitsu). No competition I know of will put you inside a vehicle with a Sims gun fighting against someone else with a Sims gun. Sure you can test the components – I could compete in IDPA and MMA and test the pieces – but sometimes testing everything together in a cooperative environment is best.

Get out of the bubble

Most civilians train individually. We may have training partners or even a small group of peers that we train with, but we don’t go to a regular weekly class like we might do to train in something like karate. This means that we as individuals are cut off from regular oversight by an experienced instructor. As a result our training will eventually deviate from what we are taught. Sometimes this can be good, but other times it can cause us to get sloppy.

It is possible to mitigate this by using video or by having a good training partner, but sometimes the watchful eye of an instructor is necessary. If for no other reason, I would argue that regularly having our skills evaluated and corrected by an experienced instructor is worth the cost of attending the occasional class.

So how many is too many?

It should be pretty obvious by now that I’m a strong proponent of regular training with instructors, whoever you are. But how often is enough, and when have we crossed the line into stroking our egos and over-training one skill?

I think this will depend on your goals and resources. If you can afford it, taking a yearly course in every subject you want to be capable in is a great goal. Of course most of us cannot afford that, so we need to find a slightly more attainable goal. I would say if you’ve attended more than two classes in a subject (say combative gun handling and tactics geared toward the pistol) without having taken any training on peripheral matters (say driving, first aid, or unarmed defensive tactics) you are probably getting too deep.

A reasonable goal might be to take one shooting class and one class from these other subject areas every year. Rotate your secondary class every year, but continue to seek instruction on the one topic that really excites you year after year. This should strike a good balance in your training.

How many classes have you taken on one subject? Post a comment and let us know your opinion!

Beginning Training Series: Hand to Hand and Traditional Martial Arts

Today I will be discussing fighting skills, specifically unarmed combat and traditional martial arts as part of my series on beginning training.

Fighting skills should be a major component of any self-defense training regimen. In order to truly be prepared for a violent confrontation, you need to be able to handle yourself with and without a weapon. We will discuss in the next post about how weapons fit into the picture, but today we are going to cover hand to hand fighting skills.

Striking or Grappling

When you break down all major martial arts systems that are intended for hand to hand combat, you essentially get two categories: striking and grappling. Some systems cross over that line more than others, but these are really the only two methods of empty-handed fighting.

Striking arts like Boxing, Karate, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai for example focus on using punches, kicks, and other strikes in order inflict damage to one’s opponent. The advantage to learning a striking art is being able to fight without becoming entangled with your opponent. On the street becoming entangled, especially on the ground, should be avoided whenever possible. Having one or both hands free improves your chances when fighting multiple adversaries. Unfortunately many real fights have a tendency to go to the ground.

Grappling arts like Jujitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Wrestling focus on fighting an opponent primarily without the use of strikes. There is an advantage to learning how to grapple. If you end up in a fight, you are likely to find yourself in a scenario where grappling may be needed. Many street fights go to the ground, a bad place to be if your opponent has friends. Knowing how to grapple is your best bet to get out of these scenarios.

Think of it this way: if your only experience is with striking, you won’t know how to handle yourself if you get stuck in a grappling situation. On the other hand, if your only experience is with grappling, you are more likely to end up grappling (the very situation you should be trying to avoid).

Which should you learn? I recommend trying to practice both. If time only allows you to practice one, find a way to spend some time cross training the other. Every little bit helps in your efforts to be prepared to defend yourself.

Traditional Martial Arts

As time goes on, the “McDojo” fad has been driving people away from studying traditional martial arts. These dojos tend to overcharge and under-train, and they give many of the martial systems a bad name. Despite this, I would still consider traditional martial arts a valuable thing to study, and something you should seriously consider learning – if a decent instructor is available to you. If you find yourself looking for a school, check out my post about finding a good dojo.

When choosing a system, note that traditional martial arts have value that you tend to miss out on when studying the non-traditional systems. Many of the traditional systems put emphasis on training the basics and practicing kata (also known as forms). My experience is that this emphasis creates a well-rounded student. I have found that my time training in Kyokushin has made much of my non-traditional learning, and even my firearms training much simpler. In these traditional systems, you learn more than just how to punch and kick, but how to use the whole body in order to get the best economy of motion.

Finding a good martial arts school should be high on your priority list if you wish to improve your capacity for self-defense. Almost any system will do as long as the instructor is good. Having some formal martial education will significantly improve your skills and pave the way for learning new ones.

Have questions or advice about hand to hand martial arts? Post them in the comments!

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!

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