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!

Best of the Web 5/11/12

Another week, and some more great posts.  Here are my favorites from the past 7 days.

Priorities (pistol-training.com) – Todd touches on a point that I strongly agree with.  Performance is good, but reliability needs to be there as well.  I think this applies for both equipment and skills.  If your equipment provides superb performance when it works, but only works a small percentage of the time, was the tradeoff worth it?  Consistency and reliability are prerequisites to performance.

Will vs Skill (thetruthaboutguns.com) – Paul Markel wrote a great post for The Truth About Guns about mindset.  The short version is that the will to succeed is more valuable than skills that aren’t backed up by the right mindset.  I can’t agree more.  High stress, high pressure training techniques help push us so we can find those weak spots in both our training and our willpower.

 

5 Benefits of Competition

Photo by dagnyg

In most areas of self-defense you can usually find some sort of competition. If you study BJJ or Karate there are tournaments for both. If you are a shooter, you can find everything from long distance rifle matches to games like IDPA and USPSA that test your ability to draw, move, and shoot under pressure.

Some people will say that games like IDPA are good training for defensive shooting. I disagree. IDPA or any of these other competitions are games that are bound by a set of rules. These rules either confine how you act and give you bad habits for the street, or they are just plain unrealistic due to the unpredictable nature of real-life.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to engage in competition.

Pressure

Competition is best for the pressure it puts on us. Competition is ultimately a test of skill, whether by ranking the competitors by their skills or by placing you head to head against another competitor. Pressure is key to making sure your training doesn’t fall apart in real life when the pressure means life or death.

Competitions add pressure in a number of ways. Some activities like IDPA put you against situations you cannot fully prepare for in advance. Being thrown into an unknown situation mimics real life and is a great way to test how you might react. Most competitions add some sort of audience. Whether it is the rest of the group you are squadded with for an IDPA stage or it is the crowd at a tournament, performing while people are watching and critiquing you can certainly add pressure. These situations are perfect for testing your ability to focus on the task at hand and ignore irrelevant distractions.

Most of these competitions also add some sort of time pressure. In the shooting sports you usually have a limited amount of time to complete a stage, or you are attempting to secure the lowest possible time. You can surely add time pressure yourself at home with a stop watch or a shot timer, but in competition you get all of these things at once.

Finding your weaknesses

Competition can be great for finding your shortcomings. IDPA for example has different stages. On one stage you might have to shoot entirely with your weak hand only. This might demonstrate your ability, or lack thereof, in that department. In a fighting competition, you might find that you lose a fight due to some area in which you were under-prepared. If your partner at the dojo favors certain tactics, you might not realize you are completely unprepared to handle a different set of tactics when confronted with them in competition. The competition helps you find these weaknesses so you can fix them.

Measuring Stick

Simply going against competitors is also a huge benefit. You may not see it this way, but competing with someone who is honestly trying to beat you can be great for your training. First and foremost this is your measuring stick. If I fight in a tournament, I generally get an idea for how well I stack up against my opponents. The same goes for shooting competition. I can compare myself to those who performed better and worse and determine how I am improving.

Watch what they do

You should see other competitors as an asset. You can always find a way to learn from someone else, whether they are at the top of their game or the bottom. Watch what the other competitors do, and you might notice things that help you improve your abilities, or things to watch out for (like bad habits). In my rifle marksmanship instruction I always learn more from watching my students shoot than I do when I myself am behind the sights. The same applies in competition.

Getting advice

Some competitions are friendly enough that you can expect to get good advice from those competitors that are better than you. Ask a Master Class shooter to critique your shooting, and you’ll be surprised that many will take you up on the offer. Take in all the advice you can, and treat these competitors as a resource.

Whatever the competition, there are benefits you can take away. Competition does not replace the need for dedicated application-specific training, nor does it perfectly test the skills and tactics you need on the street. Competition does give you many benefits and when used properly can help you develop and test your fighting skill set.

Did I miss any benefits? Do you compete? How do you benefit from competition? Post a comment below!

Train in All Wardrobes

When you train for self-defense, the goal is to be ready to defend yourself whenever or wherever you may need to. Part of ensuring this preparedness is to train in the entire variety of clothing that you may wear. Drawing a pistol while wearing a vest for concealment is far different than drawing from underneath a t-shirt. Still harder is drawing from underneath a variety of winter layers. Unless you live somewhere warm and tropical you will probably be wearing multiple layers at some point during the year.

Image by frankh

Adapt

Self-defense is all about adapting. In this case you need to either adapt your training to work with what you wear, or adapt what you wear to meet the criteria of what you train for. If option two is available for you, take it. The narrower your set of wardrobe choices, the easier it will be to train for each possible scenario.

The rest of us need to be just as prepared for the day we wear a t-shirt as we are for the day we conceal in a tuckable holster in a suit. Take some time to practice at least occasionally in all modes of dress that you use.

Go to the range in a suit, you say?

I would rather not dirty my best suit at the range, so the way I achieve this type of practice is through dry-fire. Each day I take some time to dry-fire wearing whatever clothing I happened to wear that day. If it is a weekend, I’ll be drawing from beneath a t-shirt or a sweatshirt. During the week it might be a polo or a button down shirt. If I want to practice drawing from a suit I might need to set aside a special day to do so – I don’t wear suits very often.

Not just pistol training

The same training concept applies to more than just training to use a firearm for self-defense. You should practice any self-defense skill in the type of clothing you typically wear. Many martial artists spend their time training in various dogi and other uniforms. These uniforms are usually designed for maximum mobility. Compare this to most business wear and you’ll find many differences. Most business attire will hamper mobility to some extent, so it is a good idea to consider your limitations if you need to defend yourself while going about your day. You aren’t very likely to be caught in a life or death situation while wearing a dogi.

Training occasionally in your street clothes can be enlightening. You will find that different articles of clothing all have different effects on your mobility. It is better to know you can’t throw that kick or punch now while you are training than to discover it at the worst possible moment.

Wardrobe choice is just another aspect of train like you fight, fight like you train. In order to be truly prepared for self-defense, we must identify the scenarios we are most likely to encounter and practice accordingly. Our clothing is a big factor to consider when envisioning these possibilities. Make sure you understand your limitations in all modes of dress – and then figure out how to minimize them.

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train

“Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train.” We’ve all heard this well-known slogan, and some of us even claim to live by it. What does it really mean, and how can we apply it to our training?

Fight Like You Train:

When push comes to shove, your training is what you fall back on in the real world. All of the great daydreams you’ve had about how you will deal with a given situation will remain just that – day dreams. When tested under pressure, your body will invariably return to what it knows the best. This simple fact indicates that if we end up in a violent confrontation, a fight in a tournament, or even an action pistol match, we will react exactly as we have trained. This can be good, or it can be bad.Avoid reinforcing bad habits because whatever you have practiced the most will be how you react when the pressure is turned up.

Train Like You Fight:

Because we have determined that we will react how we have trained, we need to take every precaution to make sure that the reaction that occurs in the real world is the one that we want to occur.

In the realm of shooting there are some very specific examples of “training like you fight.” With a pistol, when performing an emergency reload I do not want the habit of retaining my magazines. As a result I make sure to drop them. With a revolver, most shooters empty the cylinder onto the bench instead of dropping the shells. A bad habit in real life. Things like press-checking can also be bad habits if done in the “heat of battle.” Avoid ingraining these habits, even if it means inconveniencing yourself at the range to do so. Try to do everything the way you would in a fight, every time.

In the martial arts the same principle applies. The habit of dropping one’s guard or taking an extra step before kicking can be great ways to open yourself up for punishment against an experienced adversary. When fatigued we often revert to these habits because it is simply easier to do for most people. Incorrect repetitions like this ultimately make your unfatigued response the same.

 

The only way to verify that you are not building bad habits is to pressure test your training, find your weaknesses, and correct them. Don’t let convenience drive your training. The first part of the statement, “Fight like you train,” is an immutable truth. This is how the world works, and you cannot change it. “Train like you fight” is a recommendation, always train the way you want to fight, otherwise those bad habits will show up when you least want them.

What bad habits have you ingrained in training, and how have they cost you?

Pressure Testing

Training always falls into three major phases: preparation, testing, and recovery. Preparation is where most of the time is spent: improving conditioning, running drills, and building skills. Every so often your training should be tested. Validate what you have and make sure the approach you are taking is working. Finally you recover and plan to correct the weaknesses and points of failure in your training so far.

Pressure testing can be the most important part of training; without it your training can go on infinitely with little real progress. Without some sort of pressure or stimulus your training will take the path of least resistance, right into non-existence. Pressure forces you to evolve and learn, and without it false confidence forms instead of real skills development.

The exact methods of pressure testing will vary based on the discipline being trained. There are, however, some common concepts that can be applied to some degree in all areas.

Partner

Adding a partner is the simplest way to add pressure to your training. A non-compliant adversary who is trying to thwart your efforts can significantly crank up the pressure.

This concept is what prevents most of the grappling arts from succumbing to the common pitfalls of the striking arts. Have you noticed how much harder it is to fake it in the grappling arts? Grappling always requires a partner, and therefore the pressure testing loop is closed.

In the arena of shooting, a partner is more difficult to implement. You can’t easily shoot your buddy for the sake of training. Simunitions or airsoft are valid options, but on the range a partner can also be used with two other types of pressure.

Time

Time is one of the easiest ways to add pressure to your firearms training. When you need to complete a task within a certain amount of time or for best time, it’s easy to start making mistakes. Even just racing against your own times can be a great way to make things more difficult.

A partner can create time pressure on the range when both partners are attempting to complete the same task. The race can force you to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. Someone will come out on top. This does require both partners to be relatively close in their speed or the effect is lost. If one partner is significantly faster, try a time handicap, adding time to the stronger partner’s time until both are performing roughly equally.

Adding time pressure to hand to hand training can be harder to implement. Giving yourself a time limit to reach a goal like achieving a submission or escaping from a disadvantageous situation is a great way to do this. This simulates the need to escape chokes, for example, before oxygen or blood runs out.

Stress

Just increasing the pressure can be a great way to pressure test your training. A partner or coach screaming at you as you try to perform even the simplest malfunction clearing drill can make the task much more difficult.

Another way to aid in increasing the stress level is to always pressure test with as many unknowns as possible. When training with a group, try to make the pressure testing exercises new and unique. Give the testee only the rules needed to keep things safe and let the other participants know the rest of the scenario. The test becomes more realistic as you adapt to an unknown hostile situation.

Another great way to insert stress is to cause unexpected surprises. Load your partner’s magazines with some dummy rounds. Unexpected issues like a malfunction can raise the stress level through the roof, especially during a timed session.

 

Remember that the reason we train so hard is to make the simple tasks unconscious. The way to win in a life or death conflict is to be able to think about the big picture while your body does what you need it to do. The only way to make sure you are hitting all the necessary skills and ingraining them deep enough is by ratcheting up the pressure.

What pressure testing methods do you use? Share your tricks and tips in the comments below!

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