Things I Learned At My Last IDPA Match

Shooting in cars is fun.

Shooting in cars is fun.

I have mentioned before and will likely mention again that I think competition definitely has value from a training perspective. Competition itself is not training, but competition can and often will help to pressure test your skills and point out what needs improvement.

Last week I shot my first ‘real’ IDPA match of the season (not including the classifier a few weeks ago), and I found that it helped me identify some serious weak spots in my own training. Looking back I really should have had a better idea that I needed to work on these skills, but context often helps to highlight what we don’t want to see.

The match also helped point out things that were really working for me. Hopefully I can pass on some of the lessons I learned from this match to help you with your training.

Cars Are A Special Problem

The match I shot was at Pioneer Sportsmen in Dunbarton, NH. These guys definitely know how to put on a great match. This is the second match I have shot there, and both times they have had a car as part of a stage. As you may know, I’m a proponent of training in and around vehicles. This match helped to show why training around cars is so important.

The car stage was straightforward – you started in the driver seat, hands at 10 and 2, and the pistol started loaded on the passenger seat. On the start you picked up the pistol and engaged 6 targets through the passenger side window with a round in each before making sure each target got a total of 3 rounds.

Watching the other competitors highlighted how uncomfortable many people are with shooting from a car. Some people shot one handed for lack of better positioning, and others had trouble getting the targets far to the right because of their position relative to the door column.

When you think about it, this stage was actually really simple. No seatbelts or holsters were involved, you didn’t have a passenger, and you didn’t need to debus the vehicle. All things that would make the stage even more complicated.

Lesson learned? Get some training relative to vehicles. I would recommend SouthNarc’s VCAST.

Low Light Training is a Necessity

The next lesson learned was a bit more personal. Besides having a car, the other great feature of this match was an indoor low light stage. This was actually my first time shooting in low light. While I didn’t totally bomb the stage, I did find that my low light skills were severely lacking.

I was slightly unprepared to light the targets with my pistol. I used a jaw index for my flashlight as that is how I have been practicing, and what is most natural for me. The problem with this is that holding the flashlight on my left while taking right hand corners, means that the light cast a shadow and didn’t properly illuminate my targets. Not only did the walls reflect a good amount of light back, but without good light it took me a lot longer to properly engage my targets.

To add insult to injury, my manipulations of the pistol with flashlight in hand were less than stellar. I should have turned the light off when reloading to hide my position, but I didn’t. Either way incorporating a flashlight occasionally into my dry-fire is in order, as is turning out the lights.

Using Appropriate Speed For Each Target

I did a fairly good job at not rushing the long shots, but on the other hand I probably could have engaged close targets faster than I did. Each target requires a different amount of time to engage based on its distance and position. Smoothly transitioning from close targets to far targets and vice-versa can be challenging.

I recently started spending more time shooting farther targets after my performance at my last classifier, but this match has made it clear that adding transitions between targets at a mix of ranges should also become part of my normal training routine.

Improving Confidence

The last thing I learned was that I need to work on improving my confidence at speed. I shot a relatively low number of points down, which is great, but it also means that I can probably speed up. If I can shoot a 0.3 second split on the 8” circle when shooting the F.A.S.T., then I should also be able to manage those splits on an IDPA target at a match.

This is a case of mindset and routine. I spend plenty of time drawing to low % targets like the 3×5 box on the F.A.S.T. but spend far less time drawing to and shooting 8” circles or targets at various distances (see above). The big lesson learned here is that spending time with different targets and working on pushing my limits is critical to boost my confidence so I can shoot faster.

These are the lessons I learned recently at my match. Have you competed recently? What did you learn?

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!

High Speed Low Drag…At the Gas Station.

Photo by xandert

Does the order in which we do things really matter? And how important is it to be efficient when we go about accomplishing everyday tasks? Sometimes order and efficiency won’t help you, but sometimes they can mean the difference between life and death.

The military drills into young recruits a specific order for getting dressed. The idea is to ensure preparedness by making sure the necessary items like pants and shoes get on first. These methods are ingrained in the minds of fresh recruits so when under pressure (say in a sudden attack) they make the right choices in getting dressed. Going into battle without your pants is probably a bad thing in most cases.

I would assert that this same principle applies to other facets of our lives. If not to ensure we are best prepared for a given situation, an efficient process will at the very least save time and energy.

Getting Into and Out of Vehicles

You might not currently think of them this way, but vehicles are a death trap. They confine you into a small area and, worse yet, you are often in less than ideal circumstances when you are getting into and out of them. Two things are very important with a vehicle: be able to get out of it quickly, and be able to get into it quickly.

Streamlining embus and debus (getting into and out of vehicles respectively) is important because we want to minimize the time that we are preoccupied with our vehicle instead of our surroundings. You can practice these actions until they are second nature, but we want to make sure they are quick.

For me getting out of a vehicle begins with my left hand across my chest, slipping under the seat belt. My right hand immediately goes for the belt buckle. This position should be pretty familiar to any shooter who practices their draw stroke. My goal here is to clear the seat belt quickly, and efficiently.

Once there I unbuckle the belt with my right hand while sweeping the belt away with my left. If the vehicle is running, my right hand goes for the keys while my left makes its way to the door handle. By doing this I enable myself to very quickly transition from turning the vehicle off to opening the door.

The car is turned off, and I remove the key while my left hand opens the door fairly aggressively. I secure the door with my left foot, followed by my left hand. Once the door is secured from moving I can lift myself out of the vehicle and step back from the door, closing it with my left hand.

This whole process is mirrored for the passenger side. Getting into the vehicle is similar but in reverse. If possible I have my keys in hand prior to arriving at the vehicle. My left hand opens the door, and then posts it open. I get into the car, closing the door with my left hand. My right hand engages the key, and I put on my seat belt once rolling.

Efficiency getting into and out of a vehicle is a life saving skill, and the order in which you do things certainly does matter. Ultimately you want to minimize the amount of time you sit in a stationary vehicle. Like getting dressed, the order in which we complete the tasks associated with getting in or out of a vehicle should result in us accomplishing that task quickly, while also preventing us from getting caught with our pants down. If you want to learn more about embus and debus seek out instruction from Southnarc, I cannot recommend his classes highly enough.

ATMs

You probably already realize that an ATM is a great place to get mugged. You withdraw some money, immediately making you a valuable target. I prefer to use an ATM that has a door that closes (and locks) to an exposed ATM. The order in which you should do things to access this ATM will not change a whole lot either way.

When you roll up to an ATM you want to make sure you have your card ready. Whether it is to gain access to the ATM building or just the ATM itself, you’ll need it. You want to minimize exposure, and having the card ready before you get to the ATM is a great way to do this. Stopping at the ATM and hanging out in your car is not a good solution. Every moment you are fixated on something other than being aware of your surroundings increases the likelihood of finding yourself in a bad situation.

If you arrive in a vehicle, getting out of the vehicle quickly and efficiently is key. Get the card in the machine quickly, and use the down time where it is getting ready to request a pin to scan the surroundings. If all is safe, punch in the pin and get it done. Any time the ATM is processing and you are waiting for it, take advantage of this time to keep checking your surroundings. Get that card back as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about putting the money in your wallet or your card away until you are back in your vehicle and out of there.

If you are going the safer route and using an enclosed ATM, your job is much simpler. Having the card out means you can get into the building quickly, and get the door closed. Once inside you have a safer environment to take your time getting your money. Make sure you check your route on the way back out of the ATM before leaving. When you do leave, don’t stop to do something (this is not the time to tie your shoe, answer a call from your mom, or trim your fingernails), get right back in your car or head to your next destination.

Using an ATM presents many minor challenges and risks. These risks are mitigated by the efficiency with which you act.

Getting Gas

When you stop to get gas the same principles apply. We have yet another opportunity to get out of the car quickly and efficiently. Again, having your card (or cash) ready helps to minimize how long we spend interacting with the pump and our wallets (and perhaps the cashier) and maximize the amount of time we can spend with our heads up and alert.

Getting back into the vehicle works the same way. Get in efficiently, and get the car moving ASAP. If you are like my wife and NEED to put the card and receipt away before you drive off, get the doors locked, the car on, and put the car in drive before you start fiddling with your wallet. If a bad situation arises, you are only a pedal press away from putting the car in motion.

You can apply this concept to many facets of our lives. We can usually create a better tactical situation by finding ways to do things more efficiently. Knowing how to streamline your efforts and take advantage of better efficiency can minimize your exposure to risk and give you a much better chance of making it through the day.

Training With Vehicles: Where To Start

 

Image by soldiersmediacenter

How much time do you spend training in and around vehicles? Except for the enlightened few, you probably haven’t given it much thought. If you don’t believe me that you should train in and around vehicles, check out this guest post I wrote for Low Tech Combat about Why You Need to Add Vehicles to Your Training

Skills to work on

If you want to fill the void in your training to be better prepared for dealing with vehicles there are a few skills you need to work on:

Driving skills – How to control your vehicle in both day to day driving and dealing with hazards. Defensive driving skills will help you avoid collisions and losing control.

Counter surveillance – Getting to your vehicle without being followed is an essential skill in a parking lot. The best way to avoid a fight around vehicles is to identify the threat beforehand and maneuver to a more favorable position.

Embus and debus – Getting into and out of your vehicle efficiently. When you are in a stationary vehicle you are in a disadvantaged position that should be avoided as much as possible. Learning how to deal with other people and vehicles as you get into and out of your own is also valuable.

Shooting into, out of, and around vehicles – You should be prepared to engage targets with your pistol from inside the vehicle, doing so without harming your passengers. Shooting through windshields can dramatically change your trajectory, and shooting over and around vehicles is more difficult than you think.

Close quarters fighting inside a vehicle – If you ever end up in a fight inside a car or truck you need to know how your grappling and clinching skills work inside the confines of that vehicle. Close quarters shooting skills are critical if you want to be able to fire multiple shots at your assailant without shooting yourself.

 Close quarters fighting outside a vehicle – When you get attacked in the triangle (the space created between an open car door and the door frame) you need to know how to handle it. This is a bad place to be in.

Where to get these skills

If you haven’t already started training these skills, you should either find a way to do so yourself or find someone you can learn from.

Training in and around vehicles is an important part of your self-defense palette.

One instructor I cannot recommend highly enough is Southnarc. His ECQC (Extreme Close Quarter Concepts) class briefly covers fighting in a vehicle. He calls the module of this class VBJJ or Vehicular Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You learn not only how to make use of the vehicle while grappling with your adversary, but how to make use of weapons you might be carrying while preventing your opponent from using theirs.

Another great Southnarc class is his new VCAST (Vehicle Combatives and Shooting Tactics) class, which covers the vehicle material in even greater depth – just about everything short of tactical driving. I have taken both classes and highly recommend them both if you want to learn how to defend yourself in and around vehicles.

Between these two classes you have good coverage for just about any skill you might need inside or outside of a stationary vehicle. When it comes to a moving vehicle you are likely best served by finding a good defensive or tactical driving class. While learning how to do the fancy maneuvers like reverse 180s and the PIT look like a lot of fun, what most of us really need are a few lessons on collision avoidance, and maintaining and regaining control of a vehicle.

Defensive driving lessons on things like collision avoidance are easy to find, and relatively inexpensive. Many insurance carriers will even give you a break on your premiums for having taken one of these classes. Considering the amount of time we spend in vehicles, learning these techniques is a no-brainer.

If you live in a bubble and never ride in or encounter vehicles in your life, you can safely ignore training with them. The rest of us really need to spend some time training in and around vehicles.

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