Combined Skills Course Weekend- The Review

I spent the weekend of September 12-13, 2009 in a Combined Skills class.

The premise of the class is to provide students with skills that can help you stay alive: skills to avoid violent confrontations in the first place, skills to deal with a violent confrontation should it be necessary. The reason it’s “combined skills” is because a lot of such classes are geared towards a single issue: tactics/mentality, gun handing skills, or empty-hand combatives. This class, as the name implies, combines these things into a single lengthy, advanced-level course. This is not a class for beginners.

Read on for my perspective on the class. I’ll cover who did it, what we did, how I did, what I learned. Yes, it’s a long read, but it’s a good one chock full of information. Note this is all coming from memory after two hard and exhausting days of working, so most should be correct but I may have a detail about a statistic wrong or a quote incorrect. If I do have something wrong, I hope someone will correct me. But you’ll not be able to correct me if you don’t read it all, plus if you skip any of it you might miss the awesome pictures. 🙂


The class is taught by two instructors, Tom Givens and Craig “SouthNarc” Douglas, and was hosted by Karl Rehn of KR Training. When Rangemaster themselves has hosted this class, they’ve had a third instructor in Ed Lovette. You can click the links to read up on who these guys are, and feel free to Google them to learn more about them. The key thing to know about them is they are good at what they do. Tom Givens has been a professional gun guy for about 40 years and has quite the résumé, including running a top-notch school that has an impressive track record (in a way you don’t want such a track record, but it’s also good because, as Givens says, with all the crime in Memphis it’s their laboratory for learning). Craig Douglas has been a police officer in the Southern United States for nearly 20 years, including a number of years working undercover narcotics (thus his online handle “SouthNarc”). He also has a background in many martial arts, including Filipino. What these men bring to the table is an expertise in their area; not just gun handing skills, or skills in up-closing dealing with criminals, but also taking these things, stepping back, and analyzing them to find ways that work. They take what is useful and discard the rest. They also work to apply things towards a true combative fight for your life: ways to stay alive. They discovered some years ago their approaches meshed pretty well, and so they started teaching classes together. As they said in the class, SouthNarc teaches things to deal with, as he calls it, Extreme Close Quarters Combat (ECQC) — from 0 to 2 yards, and Givens teaches from 2 yards and beyond (2 to 15, 2 to 25, whatever).

Tom Givens and Craig “SouthNarc” Douglas are two well-respected men that have the experience, passion, and knowledge to teach. If you have an opportunity to train with them, you should.

Day One

Central Texas has been experiencing one of the worst droughts in probably the past 50 years. The long-term weather forecasts say that El Niño is about and Texas is probably going to experience above-average rainfall now through May 2010. That’s awesome and we really need it. And it would seem, that rainfall decided to start this weekend. 🙂  It came down pretty heavy during the days prior, especially on Friday. This threw a bit of a wrench in the works, but SouthNarc and Givens have taught for many years and knew how best to deal with rain: just roll with it. Some things were rearranged and shuffled around and certainly we did not get to do some things due to the rain (class was to bring 800 rounds of ammo, I think I only shot around 600… we flat out had some things curtailed due to weather). Nevertheless, we did the best we could… modifying an exercise to work inside, doing what we could outside when we could, doing what we had to inside when we had to, and sometimes just being out in the rain and getting soaked. While some may say “man up, real life could have it raining” sure that’s true, but we also want to run a smooth class. We don’t need people getting injured. We don’t need guns getting caked with sand and mud and not running or needing cleaning in the middle of class because that slows things down. Givens and SouthNarc exercised their best judgment to balance hard training with the ability to keep training going so all the desired teaching could be accomplished in one short weekend.

There were 15 people in the class. All male, varying age range. I’d say probably half of the guys in the class I had seen before at prior KR Training events.

We started out in the classroom with introductions and a brief overview of what we’ll be doing. One thing included was a discussion of some statistics and data. I’d like to mention one eye-opening statistic that Givens shared with us. Some people don’t feel a need to carry their gun all the time, or don’t feel a need to prepare themselves for a violent attack (murder, attempted murder (aggravated assault), forcible rape, robbery). Why? “Oh, it’s a 1,000,000 to 1 chance something will happen.” Givens quoted a number of studies done to assess how many violent crimes happen in the USA. One study said 2 million, another said 4 million, another 750,000. Regardless of the actual number, they all amount to the same thing: with only 365 days in a year, the long division tells us that every day thousands of violent crimes occur in this country. Givens gave various other numbers, basically his methodology of coming up with his ratio, but the bottom line was that the chances are far greater. How much greater? I believe he said 1 in 50. If I have the exact number wrong I apologize, but it was something like that (1 in 50, maybe 1 in 60).

Heck of a reality check, eh?

Now, it is just statistics and data points, but the take-home is your chance of being involved in a violent crime aren’t as distant as you might think. What do you think you can do to help mitigate your chances of falling victim?

Next it was out to the gun range, while the skies were clear. The first thing done was to run us through a qualification course. This was done to provide the instructors with a baseline to know where the students are coming from, plus it gives the students a qualitative idea of where their skills lie. Unfortunately the skill levels were a little scattered and not where Givens expected them to be for such an advanced level class. Thus, we had some remedial shooting instruction for a few hours working on shooting quickly from low-ready (flash sight picture), draw, reholster (no looking, no fiddling around), reloads, trigger prep, trigger reset, etc.. In about 3 hours of working we had everyone working well and on the same page.

After a number of hours on the gun range, we had a lunch break, then began our work with SouthNarc.

SouthNarc started with a discussion of tactics for, as he calls, Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC). This is mostly verbal skills, but also body positioning and movement. This is an attempt to deal with people before they become a problem. If you check out his DVD, Practical Unarmed Combat, much of that same material was covered here, but we did go deeper. Plus that DVD strives to be mostly tactics and a bit of empty-hand skills — no guns. Naturally in this course we work firearms into the mix. We worked on the basics of MUC, in terms of verbal skills. Next we added work on “the fence.” It’s important to keep that fence high and compressed (i.e. into your own body, not reaching out to the opponent). This is critical to give you as much speed advantage as possible if you have to hit the “default position.” The default position isn’t something I can easily describe here: check out his PUC DVD or take a class.

I’ve mentioned before how I really like how SouthNarc teaches. He knows where he wants to end up and his teaching style breaks it down into fundamental blocks that build upon the previous block. That may seem like an obvious way to teach, but a lot of teachers don’t do it. Everything SouthNarc did this weekend built upon what came before (more on that in day 2). SouthNarc would talk about a concept, demonstrate the concept, then we’d break off with a partner and practice the concept. While practicing, if SouthNarc saw something he’d correct you or maybe have the class break and he’d go over it with everyone, then we’d resume working. Then we’d move to the next step, same process applied, but of course this time when you practice you need to not only work on the new thing but not forget to do what you did before. It’d be a lot to digest, but the progression was always kept in small chunks so it was never overwhelming. I should note, Givens teaches this way too.

After working with SouthNarc into the evening, we went back to work with Givens on reloads and malfunctions. I believe it would have been done as a live-fire exercise, but the rain had come back and the range had water pooling on it. Instead, we worked with dummy rounds in the classroom. Reloads was pretty simple. Sure there are lots of ways of reloading, but really the only way that matters for most situations is the “speed reload” where you just drop your current magazine to the floor and slam home a fresh magazine. Givens demonstrated the other types of reloads and gave us history behind them, like the so-called “tactical reload” which has nothing tactical about it and actually is pretty bad to use in a gunfight for your life. Malfunctions were worked, with the basic “tap, rack, bang” maneuver. What was different about Givens’ mindset and approach was keep your hands at the gun. Reloads were done in a manner that keeps your hands at the guns. Malfunctions were worked in a manner and motion that keeps your hands at the gun. It’s key to get the gun into play as fast as possible, and to then keep that gun in play as much as possible. So while the skills might have been things you’ve heard before, the approach, mindset, and subtle technique differences were different and, IMHO, better.

The last thing of the evening was listening to a presentation from Tom Givens. This was a presentation that discussed 10 select self-defense cases that Givens was intimately familiar with: they all involved his students. It’s important to know that Memphis, Tennessee is one — if not the — most crime-laiden cities in America. It provides Givens with a laboratory. To date, 50 Rangemaster students have been involved in self-defense shootings. I believe only 2 have been killed, and those were unable to carry their gun for some reason. Of those 50, 10 were selected for a presentation at the 2009 Tactical Conference. Of those 10 representative shootings:

  • 5 of 10 involved armed robbery by one or two suspects
  • 3 occurred on mall parking lots, only one occurred in the home
  • In all but one, the range was inside the length of a large car/SUV (16-18 feet)
  • 4 out of 10 incidents involved 2 or more suspects
  • Average number of shots fired: 3.8 (low-1, high-11)

Take a look at the additional data in the May 2009 Rangemaster Newsletter. Common threads:

  • Most shootings occur within the length of a car.
    • Why? The criminal needs to get close enough to talk to you.
  • You need fast access to your concealed gun.
  • There is a high probability for more than one assailant
  • Most occur in public areas, parking lots, malls. NOT at home.

The take-home? Wear your gun. If you knew something bad was going to happen at the grocery store at 7:30, what would you do? Would you wear your gun then? Maybe, but better is you just wouldn’t go there! But when was the last time a criminal made a reservation? You don’t know where evil will strike, nor do you know when. It can happen anywhere at any time. Statistics might show a trend or an average or other things, but you may wind up being that one statistical anomaly.

It’s your life. How much do you value it?

Day Two

Overnight the storm system dumped 4-6″ on Lee County. The range got a lot of rain, but thankfully the rain stopped in the early morning and the range was mostly usable. We had to make some adjustments to get away from some mud slicks, but we were able to shoot most of the morning.

We again started the day with qualification shooting. Why is this? Because in a fight you won’t have a warm-up. All that matters is what you can do cold. What’s the most important shot? The first one. What’s the easiest shot to screw up? The first one. It’s important to work hard to get this right. What’s more important? Accuracy or speed? Both. I’ve often said just that, but I also think that if you had to pick one, that accuracy wins because no matter how fast you go if you miss it doesn’t matter… but if you go slow and get a hit, at least you got a hit because only hits matter. But a slow hit does you no good, so you really do need both speed and accuracy. Once you’re getting all your hits in the target zone at a particular speed, that’s the time to go faster; you’ll probably start getting some hits outside the target zone so you work to keep the speed at that same faster level but get the shots in tighter. Continue to iterate in that manner. And so, that’s what we were working on. A little faster, a little more pressure.

I should note what is considered the target area. It’s vertically between the throat and the diaphragm and horizontally between the nipples. That’s the area you need to aim for, because in that area is where all the vitals are. Hits in any other place won’t amount to anything, if even that much. One way to think about it when you’re getting your sight picture is lining up the top edges of your sights with the target’s armpits.

We also worked on shooting at different targets and different distances. The equation is simple: if you have more target, you need less time to shoot; if you have less target, you need to take more time to shoot. We were shooting from 3 yards back to 25 yards and back in. One thing to note is that your draw and presentation, that should always be fast. It’s the actual shooting part that may need to slow down. But the faster you draw and present, the more time you have to get that shot off.

We also worked on shooting and moving. The movement is simple: sidestep. Take a big step to the side with the leg on the side you will move (e.g. move left, start with the left leg), then take a “half step” with the other leg to bring it back under your shoulders. Givens made a good point. A sidestep is really all you need. Yes there might be “gun range considerations” in why people train this movement, but even in reality it’s all you need. Why? He did a simple thing. Look at someone standing at “car length or less” distance away from you. Put your hands out in front of you, fingers up but thumbs touching (making “L”s); you wind up with a sort of U-frame around the person. Now have the person take one step to the side. They’ll be out of the frame. In a violent encounter you’ll have task fixation, you’ll be focused “here” and so when you step out of their view, it creates a “what the fuck?” moment that gives enough hesitation to the attacker that buys you a bit of additional time to do what you need to do. It’s a simple movement, and Givens relayed to us stories of his own students, both private citizens and law enforcement officers, that used the simple sidestep and it was all it took to create that “what the fuck?” moment in the criminal and give the defender the advantage to come out alive. The mantra ended up being: shoot or scoot. If you’re shooting, stand still and get fast, accurate, aimed fire. If you’re not shooting (reloading, malfunction remedy, after having take 3-5 shots, etc.), move. So we added this into our work on the range.

We shot a few more qualification courses. I’ll go over these in a bit.

Oh, at this point I noticed my first injuries of the weekend. My left thumb was blistering due to all the magazine reloading (I popped it), the outside edge of my left thumb was rubbed raw from being up against the gun’s takedown lever, the side of my right middle finger was raw (from where it rests under the trigger guard). Nothing major of course, but there.

We then moved to shooting at moving targets. What’s the key to do? Keep the front sight on the target. Think about it. If the front sight is always moving with the target and you shoot, it’s essentially like shooting a stationary target. You cannot track the target with the front sight, then when your brain thinks “shoot” you also stop moving. That will miss. You must just keep moving because in the time it takes for your brain to decide to shoot, then transmit that to your finger, finger moves, gun internals work, hammer/striker hits the primer, primer ignites, powder ignites and burns, pressure build, bullet leaves the gun, bullet travels through the air… and while that might still be a very short amount of time, it’s still time and still just enough time that if you stopped moving the gun when you decided to shoot, you will miss. Unfortunately we didn’t get too far on this drill as the rain started coming down hard so we moved inside and had lunch.

Had a wonderful conversation with Tom Givens’ lovely wife, Lynn, over lunch. Very sweet lady with quite a story of her own — very strong lady. And to all of those people who say women need “little guns,” the first thing I noticed when I saw Lynn on Saturday was the gorgeous 1911 on her hip. Big, full-sized, .45 ACP gun (she told me this particular one was a custom gun Tom had given her as a present, I think Christmas present). Very cool. 🙂

After lunch the rain had cleared up and we went back to working with SouthNarc, picking up where we left off yesterday. Today, the skills got more physical. We were working on skills from the FUT — Fucked (Fouled) Up Tangle. We started working on body mechanics: hips forward and square, knees bent, up on the balls of your feet, back straight, head up, etc.. We did a series of drills and exercises to work on this. Got some “wrestling/clinch 101” type of stuff. From that FUT, there are 4 (well 5) basic movements to use:

  1. underhook
  2. overhook
  3. bicep tie
  4. wrist tie
  5. neck hook

The neck hook is certainly usable and available, but it’s not generally recommended. This is because when you’re in the FUT, the main goal is to keep control of your opponent’s hands/arms. Why? You don’t want him to go for his knife, or his gun… or your knife or your gun. The first 4 movements all involve direct control over hands and arms. We worked on techniques for working into these positions, to work out of them and counter them. Much involves going to the inside and keeping your elbows in. I will also say that technique is vital here, but there’s no question strength is involved.

We’d work on the basic skills in a compliant manner to start, then progress to more resistence. Then as we gained more skills, we’d have more time to just free spar instead of just focusing on the one particular skill. Eventually we worked a foam knife into the mix, with a goal being to get to your opponent’s back. The reality is, if you try to break off the engagement with them facing you, you will get beaned. You need to get to their back, tie them up for a second, then peel off and do what you need to do (run, go for your gun, etc.). That’s the only way to buy yourself the time necessary, else you’ll just get decked.

The final thing we did was putting everything together. We set up a small “ring” and SouthNarc’s assistant, Ferrell put on some boxing gloves. We were given a plastic gun to keep concealed. We had to do everything we had learned this weekend. We had to manage the unknown contact, keep up our fence, hit the default position when he striked, deal with the FUT, work to his back, get off, draw the gun. I volunteered to go first. Note: Ferrell was fresh, I was gassed after hours of hard working out. Ferrell didn’t go easy on me, and our FUT went on for a while. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get his back and got beaned in the face as I was getting away, but that’s OK. I had a very good showing, and wore Ferrell out for the rest of the class. 😉

After that was done, it was back into the classroom to wind things up. In this, Givens gave us the results of the shooting qualifications. We shot 2 courses: a short course that covers all the fundamentals, and a SWAT-level course. On the short course, the average score was 97.2% with 7 of 15 clean runs. On the SWAT-level course, 97.8% with 4 clean. The aggregate median score was 98.2%. That was above average for Givens’ classes, and quite a meteoric rise from Saturday morning.

Then we wound things up with a great closing inspirational story from Tom Givens. It summed up the weekend perfectly and really helped to set the mindset. Like the police dog… “There’s bad guys out there Daddy…. let’s get ’em.”

My Comments On the Weekend

I don’t believe we were able to get to everything we were scheduled to do. Part of that was due to the rain, part of that was due to the remedial shooting time on Saturday morning. I’m a bit bummed by that, but I’ll take a few positives from that. First, it simply means I’ll have to seek Tom Givens and SouthNarc out for further instruction: not a bad thing! Second, the time spent was, I think, time well spent. Certainly some people needed it more than others, but even I benefited from the watchful eye of masterful instructors. This darn ammo shortage has kept me from going to the range as much as I’d prefer, and while I can dry fire all I want, it’s not the same. Some bad habits had crept in that I was unaware of. For some reason when drawing I was bouncing on my knees… I’d dip down, then bounce back up. I believe it’s a combination of a couple things: from slamming my hand down onto my gun in the holster to ensure good grip and my knees absorbing some shock, and also wanting to drop down into a lower and more stable slightly-bent knee stance. So putting it together, I was dipping. Extraneous movement, pointed out, corrected. I’ll have to keep an eye on it tho and ensure I don’t continue doing it. As well, when I draw my right elbow is out like a chicken wing. It should be in tight, think bowling.

As for the actual shooting part, not too bad. The last qualification we did was probably my worst shooting all weekend, but even that was still good (see the above scores). I don’t know what my exact scores were. I believe I shot one clean (or only missed once), and the other had a few misses, tho all misses were just outside the circle (still, misses). I know I was tired and that was entering into the equation. Still, tired is no excuse… evil can strike when you’re pooped and you still need to perform. I’m overall happy with my shooting. I know neither Givens nor SouthNarc are free with the complements, but they both paid me some on my shooting (and SouthNarc on my empty-hand). While there’s certainly an ego-feed with that, what it really does is build confidence. I think I’m more confident with my handgun shooting skills than I’ve ever been. I of course can’t know for sure how I’ll perform, but I have far more confidence now that I will perform and perform well. That I can do it, I don’t need to worry.

One thing that helped with that is mindset and attitude. I’ve written on mindset numerous times, and it’s important and can mean the difference in whatever you’re doing. The way the instructors, Givens especially, ran things was … well, it’s really hard to quantify. He’s funny and there’s joking around, but it’s also deathly serious. The mindset and attitude he conveys and exudes is a serious one. He helps you be in that mode. Remember, this is a fight for your life. You will fight like you train, so train like you will fight. Certainly training can’t always be “on” but there must be times in training where it is. To be able to switch that mindset on and off at will is important. There’s something about how Givens teaches that influences you in this way. I just can’t describe it. You must experience it.

Part of establishing the mindset was the use of data, statistics, and actual case stories from their work be it SouthNarc’s on the job undercover work, their time with police, or the 50 students that Givens has had involved in self-defense shootings. The reality of how likely you are to be involved in a violent crime. Or how about the adage of “safety in numbers.” It comes from biology: you get a million sardines together and when the sharks and tuna and other predators tear through the school your chances of being the one eaten are slim, but still some are eaten. Givens told of a story of a women being killed in a mall parking garage one afternoon over a diamond tennis bracelet. With the tens of thousands of people all around in the mall, the 3 days of people going in and out of that garage… that it took 3 days before the family (no help from police) to find their dead daughter… all those numbers, all those people around. It did nothing to help her. I thought about some recent activities even here in Austin where there’d be a group of people yet one person got singled out and killed. The only safety in numbers there is is number 1. There’s safety in one: you.

I had an odd thing happen to myself. When I draw from concealment I tend to draw one-handed: use my right hand to pull my garment up, use my right hand to draw. On the last exercise of Day 1 we did a drill where we were all on the line facing our target. SouthNarc walked up and down the line behind us with a timer. You had no idea who was going to go, but if he tapped you on the shoulder it was your turn… you waited for the timer to go off then you would draw and shoot twice. I had been going one-handed the whole time, but for some reason when I drew I reached over with my left hand to pull up my shirt. I surprised myself that I did that. There was no conscious decision to do it, and I suspect that my brain was processing the surprise was one reason my draw was so slow (took 2 seconds to get the first shot off: draw from concealment, present, shoot). Looking back on it, the only thing I can suspect was my body/brain knew that it was getting harder to pull up the cover garment because of all the humidity and sweat. But using the left hand to pull it up, that’s less likely to get fumbled. Granted there are disadvantages to that approach, but it gives me serious pause and reconsideration. I need to examine this.

Another thing that was interesting about the weekend. While a lot of the gun skills were things I already knew, I didn’t know them like this. There were little details in how Givens worked that provide you a different mentality and mindset of looking at things. For instance, “keep your hands at/on the gun.” Now work from there and let that principle guide you (and abandon things like “tactical reloads” because they don’t keep your hands at the gun, or maybe they are in proximity but they’re fucking around with magazines and not the gun… is it more important to shoot the asshole attacking you or to try to retain that magazine?). Or how he’d approach tap, rack, bang. It’s small hand motions (keeping the hand at the gun). You’re tapping the bottom of the magazine (doesn’t need to be a big whack), your hand is already travelling upwards so it now can wrap around the back of the slide to rack it, then your hand circles around under the gun and back into the shooting grip. Your hands are always close to the gun and working in a natural flowing manner. Subtle things like this. You just have to experience them.

BTW, focus on the front sight. Don’t care about looking at the target. If you need confirmation of your hits, watch your front sight as that will give you confirmation. If you really must look at the hole in the paper to know you hit, then wait until well after you’re done shooting to check (i.e. don’t forget your follow through). Eventually you’ll come to see that your sights will tell you all you need and you don’t need to care about the paper. I watched my front sight all weekend.

One observation was how much we, as gun guys, tend to look at our gun as the solution for everything. It’s good to get away from that. Going for your gun should not be a default behavior, but an explicit and conscious choice. When we’d do some things with FIST helmets and plastic guns, we’d work on MUC but as the pressure would escalate the solution was often to go for the gun instead of something like maybe an eye flick/poke. I was one of the guys wearing the helmet and I’d put a lot of pressure on trying to get them to apply what we were learning (often you saw very little of it being done). It was interesting to watch.

When I look at the shooting qualification scores and the sort of tests we were undergoing, a thought crossed my mind. You see, I and most everyone else in the class are just private citizens (one guy was a fire fighter). We weren’t shooting the CHL test (which is very basic). We weren’t shooting the CHL instructor test (which is harder but still not all that hard). We weren’t shooting a police officer qualifier, which is harder than the CHL instructor test. We weren’t shooting federal agent qualifiers, which are harder than your police officer qualifiers. We were shooting SWAT qualifiers, which are very very hard. How did we shoot? Very well. Then there are many instances of police having poor gun handling skills: from shooting themselves while cleaning their guns (allegedly), to patrolling their beat with an unload gun, and the list can go on. So many people tend to believe that only professionals should carry guns, private citizens should not. Their assertion is that private citizens can’t know how to safely use and deploy a gun. I assert that merely because your job requires you to carry a gun does not mean you know how to use it or use it well. The results of this class demonstrate that private citizens can be pretty damn good shots. All it takes is a dedication and desire to make yourself good at it. To have a uniform or not doesn’t matter. It’s the person that counts.

I think one of the best parts about the weekend was the simplicity of it all.

Givens and SouthNarc have been around long enough. They’ve seen it done, dealt with it all. They may not claim to be experts and know-it-alls, and to a large degree that’s just their humility: they are certainly a wealth of information and provide solid material. But what they’ve done is cut through the b.s. and eliminated things that don’t work towards the stated goal of effective self-defense. They have pared it down. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote:

Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher.

(It would seem that perfection is attained not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed.)

It’s important to strip away. And these guys have done that.

It’s fundamentals applied aggressively.

Fights are won by simple stuff done well.

That’s really all there is to it.

What I Learned

I learned a lot. It’s really hard to list everything that I learned. This article is pretty long as it is, and I have only scratched the surface of what went on. This is really something you have to experience in person.

I’ll just randomly list some things that I learned and/or need to work on.

3 rounds, 3 steps, 3 seconds. Most fights are made up of that. Time works against you, so do all you can to take best advantage of it. Get your gun out quickly. If you’re up close, you can and must shoot faster (flash sight picture). If you’re target is small, you have to shoot slower. But whatever you do, the faster you get your gun out the more time you have to do whatever you need to. There is a stopwatch in a fight: the Grim Reaper is holding it. The only way to get faster on the draw and presentation especially from concealment? Practice.

Skills are perishable. It’s not necessarily how much and what you practice that determines if you win a fight, but how long it’s been since the last time you practiced it. If we did all this work and had this great showing in our qualifications, then put the gun in the drawer and didn’t come back to it for 6 months or a year, how good would we be? But if say we practice just 10 minutes every Wednesday and Sunday night, and even just nothing more that to dry fire draw and present from concealment, we’d never be more than 2-3 days away from our last practice session. That will go further.

Awareness is so key. You must be aware. You must be mindful of task fixation (damn iPhone). If you start to see something, you need to ask yourself “What if?” That’s the most important question. It helps you jack into the situation, but it also helps you start to formulate a plan.

Be alert and aware always. Regardless of venue. Regardless of time of day. Violence happens any time any where. Always carry.

I need to work on moving. I must admit, this weekend changed my attitude about the simple sidestep. In my article about the J-hook I did say the sidestep was better than nothing, but then advocated the J-hook as better. Well, it may be better, depending upon the circumstance. But the side-step is perfect at creating that “what the fuck?” moment that can buy you all the time you ned. If it’s 3 rounds, 3 steps, 3 seconds, running a J-hook really may not enter into the equation. Shoot or scoot. I’ll want to work on this. When working on it, I need to make it an always thing. Even if I’m at the range, when I reload, move. If some malfunction creeps up on me, deal with it immediately while moving, then keep going.

Never reholster an empty gun, or even partially empty gun. Reload, bring the gun back to ready because there may be someone who needs more shooting, then once you know all is clear reholster. THEN you can pick up the magazine off the ground. Always have your gun loaded and ready to roll.

In a FUT, keep the pressure on. If you feel loss of pressure, they’re probably going for something (e.g. weapon).

I need to work on my one-handed shooting, both hands, especially my weak hand. I know a couple of my misses on the last qualification course were due to weak-hand-only shooting.

When shooting, I’m pretty much in the ballpark now on fast and accurate. I need to get faster, I need to get more accurate. I’ll want to work on just being flat out faster (and allowing myself to miss more and then bring up accuracy at that speed). I also can take the “slower” speed I’m going at now and work to really tighten up the groupings. When you’re fighting for your life, you will not perform at your best. So if your groupings are filling the 8″ circle, when the shit hits the fan they may fill a 12″ or 14″ circle, and that will mean a lot of misses. But if your groupings are hitting fast in a 4″ circle, opening up to 6″ or 8″ is most acceptable.

Practice my draws, from concealment. SouthNarc and Givens both were wicked fast. Given how we were drawing, SouthNarc believes that with practice we could all easily shave a quarter to half second off our draws. That’s quite significant. And when I draw, minimize movement: watch the knee dip, watch the chicken wing. As I mentioned above, I need to examine how I pull my cover garment: same hand or using other hand.

I need to figure out why my magazines keep dropping. Prior to the class I had noticed my magazines would randomly drop out of my gun. It happened numerous times during the weekend (gave me many opportunities to work on unexpected reloads). At first I thought magazine problems, but it seemed to happen regardless of the magazine. Maybe the mag catch is wearing? It appears to have wear, but I could even rip a seated magazine out. My guess? My Todd Jarrett kung-fu grip is getting a thumb onto the mag release button and dropping it. I need to continue to look into this.

Practice draw, presentation, keeping the gun at ready position, bring it up quickly, shooting, back down to ready (finger straight), scan, reload (move!), reholster. It’s all fundamentals, but practice it all.

The only reload style that is worth practicing is the speed reload. Get the fresh magazine up to the gun before you drop the current magazine (what if you don’t have a spare and you just dropped your partial mag on the ground?). Keep the gun up, pointed at the target. The less you move, the less you have to re-move to reestablish things. Move when reloading.

Practice my fence, especially keeping it compressed. As humans, when the pressure/danger rises, we’ll start to extend our hands to try to keep the danger away. Can’t do that as it leaves you no options. You can’t throw a punch from an extended arm. You will not be able to hit the default position fast enough to protect yourself. Gotta keep working on my fence, especially keeping it compressed.

Practice my MUC monologue. “Hey man can you stay right there?” “Stop.” “Fucking Stop!” Or something like that. Just practice the dialog. Make it something I don’t have to practice, and keep it a monologue.

Need to watch the ShivWorks PUC DVD again. And again. Good DVD to just watch every so often.

I need to be more explosive. My partners in the FUT work were both heavier than me and one was certainly stronger than me. So I can’t beat them on that, what can I do? I needed to be more explosive in my movements, which not only generates more power but also implies being quicker. I know I was tired so it was hard, but it was no excuse. During the final evolution against Ferrell I was going quite hard, despite being so tired. So I know I’ve got it. I just need to unleash it more.

Simplicity continues to be where it’s at. Fundamentals applied aggressively.


As you can see, there was a lot from the weekend. Much was done, much was learned. It was a good weekend. I got banged up a bit. Blisters, worn off skin, lots of bruising.

That’s the inside of my right arm. The bruises are from the bicep presses in the FUT. I’m sure foo.c is to blame for most of them. 😉  Speaking of which, he’s a strong guy, certainly stronger than me.

That’s my forehead. You probably can’t see the bump that takes up half my already huge forehead. Then there’s a bit of a skin rub/wear spot that’s quite obvious. One of the first FUT drills was a sort of “billy goat” drill where you and your partner went forehead to forehead, no hands. You were working on positioning your hips and body to press and resist against your partner. Good drill, but it left quite a welt and worn some skin off my forehead.

I am going to look like a mess for the next couple weeks when I go out in public. 🙂

And this morning, I’m sore. Not a terrible sore, but certainly sore. My neck is actually the most sore of anything due to all that billy goat drill and other clinch work. I think I might want to go see my chiropractor for a neck adjustment because with my neck muscles so tight I can’t adjust myself. But overall my arms and hands are sore. The bruises, the blisters, the skin rubs…. all in all, not much real damage. I look far worse than I feel.

I feel good. I think it was time and money well spent. Two top-notch instructors. Things I knew I learned more about. I picked up a lot of new skills as well. I have gained more confidence in my abilities. I know what I need to work on, I know what I need to practice. Now it’s just a matter of doing it.

If you get a chance to train with Tom Givens or Craig “SouthNarc” Douglas, I highly recommend taking the opportunity.

Updated: Ferrell sent me a few pictures from the weekend.

That’s me on the line. Looks like it’s from day 2, during shooting one of the qualifications.

12 thoughts on “Combined Skills Course Weekend- The Review

  1. did you forget to join the special forces ? or seals when you graduated HS ? LOL…

    glad you had fun, maybe one day I can play… need to catch up 🙂 just need to find time / funds to get this done. and maybe to get into shape. 🙂

    • I’ve got too much hair to do that stuff, Garnie. 😉

      First step? Sending Jean to that Basic Pistol 1 class in October. Then sign both of you up for the Basic Pistol 2 and do the class together. That will get the ball rolling.

  2. Sorry about the arms.

    At some level you know the knife isn’t real, but at another level you’re thinking, holy shit, this guy is trying to stab me!

    I was definitely going hard trying not to get perforated.

    My neck is sore as hell too, about time for another round of ibuprofen.

    • There’s nothing to apologize for about the arms. Just pointing out that much of the FUT work was done with you.

      I wonder… there’s this thing called the Shocknife:

      That’d pick up the level of “I know it’s not a real knife but fuck I don’t want to get zapped by it!!” to a whole new level. 🙂

      And yah, I need another round of Advil now too. And just think… I’m planning on going to my boxing class tonight too.

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