I spent October 23-24, 2010 with Tom Givens of Rangemaster taking his Combative Pistol 2 course, hosted at KR Training.
It was an intensive weekend of work, and fun. I’m going to do the AAR differently than I’ve done others. In the past, I’ve done AAR’s as a big long journal entry detailing everything I could think of. I did this so as to give a good report, but also to serve as my own reminder of the event. But this time well… there are a lot of things worth discussing. This entry is going to cover a basic idea of what the course is like, but I’ll follow it in the coming days with entries that discuss one-off topics.
Note as well… this is only my recollection of the experience. I may have forgotten things, I may have experienced and perceived things differently than others. I know a good number of the other students are readers of my blog (hi guys!), so if you guys remember something differently, remember something I forgot, or just wish to add your own input to all of this, I encourage you to leave a comment! BTW, it was good to see a lot of you guys again. Always a pleasure training with you.
You can read the course description, but it’s really more fundamental than that. It’s about working foundations, because really it’s all about “looking at the bumpy thing (sights) and pressing the trigger straight back”. Then it’s about giving you drills and ways to practice to work on those skills. Usually when we’re in class or practicing, we’re thinking about that thing we’ve been given. Then something new gets added, and what happens to the prior thing? It goes to crap and you typically revert back to the way you did it before (which was the wrong way). For instance, you’re working on trigger press and you get it working well, but then you add a timer which adds pressure and now your trigger press goes to crap, reverting back to the yanking you were doing before.
But you say, this is an advanced class! Why work all this fundamental stuff? Because it’s important. A handgun is hard to shoot well, especially under pressure. You need to have your mechanical skills (sights, trigger, grip, draw and present, reloading, malfunction clearing, movement, etc.) so ingrained as to be unconscious and not requiring any real effort or thought to perform. Then you need to be able to hit a very small area, especially in practice because when the fur flies your groups are going to open up. If you struggle to keep all your shots within the 8-ring of a B-27 target (i.e. the target used for Texas CHL), imagine that grouping double or tripling in size… that’s how it’ll be under pressure. So maybe you should be able to drill out that little X ring on the B-27 in a high-pressure practice/training environment, if you hope to keep ’em all within the 8-ring when the flag flies.
That’s what this class is about. Mechanical skills. Fighting skills. Mindset.
Day one was filled with a lot of building block work. First thing done? Line up at 5 yards, a 1″ dot on the target, a 5-shot slow fire group. This helped Tom figure out where people were and where to go from there. There’d be work for trigger control, work for grip, work for sight picture. Many different styles of targets were used, many different drills were run, all towards helping you get foundations tightened up. Ball & Dummy drill. Draw & Present. Use of dry fire, use of live fire. Everything Tom did was progressive, starting from the most basic of starting points, building up in skills, in application, culminating in the skills necessary for a fight (e.g. movement). Oh yeah… lots of strong-hand-only and weak-hand-only shooting too.
The other large part of day one was a lot of mental. Much discussion on mindset. Tom has the distinction of having nearly 60 students involved in self-defense shootings. It not only demonstrates what he teaches works in the realm of civilian self-defense, but it also provides a lot of data for us to learn from. Ten cases were discussed, which outlined good things and bad things… because yes, it’s wise for us to learn from the mistakes of others (not every student did the right/best things).
Oh, one important thing? There was a lot of testing. Day 1 had us run through 3 qualification courses, for time and score. We also ended day 1 with a shootoff. What’s the reason? Pressure. When you’re in a fight for your life, you’re going to be under pressure. Using testing will put pressure on you. Having to get out and perform in front of the class? Pressure. Having to shoot a course against someone else, last man is out? Pressure. Think inoculation. When we want to inoculate you against a disease, we give you a small dose to help your body get used to it and know how to cope with the infection. Pressure in the training hall helps to inoculate you against the pressure you’ll feel in a real fight.
Day 2 had even more testing. I believe only 3 qualification courses, but then a bunch of other competitions against each other. Oh sure, more advanced skills were worked on too, like shooting from behind cover, malfunction clearing techniques. But the stress of testing was big on day 2. Even while each qual course might be similar in basic structure, every time the course was shot with more and more stuff added to it. This time you just shot. Next time you added movement. Next time you added a dummy round to simulate a malfunction. Next time you add movement behind cover. And so on, continually building on what you did before. And of course, there was classroom time, with much discussion.
Since some people care about this, I reckon we went through 1200-1500 rounds. Not really sure as I was just scooping out of my cans of reloads. But Tom Hogel (another KR Training assistant instructor) was also shooting the class and happened to use one of my XD-9’s for the class, so I also gave him a can of 2000 of my reloads. He shot a couple hundred outside of class, and I figure 200-300 were left so… 1500 in the class? My can was already down a few hundred but I don’t know how many for sure. But the aside cool for me was shooting maybe 3000 rounds under pressure of class and my reloads ran smoothly. That was welcome. 🙂
So how did I do?
I am overall pleased with my performance. I can see improvement in my skills and abilities, so to me, that’s what matters. I also was pretty consistent, so that was welcome too.
How did I score on the tests? I was torn about revealing this. I felt if I didn’t reveal it people would think I have something to hide, or that I didn’t do that well. But I also felt if I did reveal it, people would take it like I’m bragging or would think this established some sort of standard of how well I shoot. Well, I reckon it perhaps does, but to me the score doesn’t really mean much. In my book it’s not a way to compare me to you, it’s only a way for me to compare me to myself. I’m not in competition with anyone other than myself, just working to improve my skills and abilities. Across all the scored tests, 98.5%. I won some of the shootoffs, I lost some. The important thing? I see what I’m good at, I see where I need work.
One thing I was pleased at was my eyeballs being glued to the front sight. With a situation like this (high-pressure, high-ego class), you really want to know how you did. You want to know, “did I hit it?” because it matters for your score, for your ego, for how other classmates view you. Do those things matter? Maybe, depends how you value it, but if nothing else, it is putting pressure on you to perform and pressure is good for training. But the reality is, if you hit it you hit it… checking for the hole now or 5 minutes from now doesn’t matter because the hole isn’t going to change. So, follow-through properly and do everything possible to get good hits… because if you work to get good hits, then you’ll get good hits, and checking for the hole doesn’t matter… it will be a hit, the hole will be where you wanted it to be, and so you can check it a year from now.. it’ll still be good. Stay on that front sight.
A pre-class goal was to NOT shoot faster than I can get good hits. Any time I didn’t get a good hit? I shot too fast. Most of the class I shot at the right speed… perhaps even a little slower than I could have shot, but my mind wanted verification: “Yes, this will be a good hit… the sights are properly lined up on target, the trigger press will be good” THEN I let it go. I know that took a little more time, but I got good hits… and a good hit slightly slower is better than a fast miss.
As for things to work on?
- One-hand shooting, especially weak-hand. Learned a little grip-trick that made a HUGE difference.
- 8-25 yard shooting, especially 15-25 yards. I got better at the 8-15 yard shooting as the weekend progressed, but I really need to shoot more at longer distances.
- Getting on the trigger sooner. My draw and present felt good, but then I wasn’t getting on the trigger fast enough. The ideal is from position 3 of the draw you push the gun out, finger goes on trigger, starts to press and by the time the gun is extended the shot breaks. Well, I was getting the gun out there, verifying my sights, then breaking the shot. That’s not right. It’s a good safe way to shoot, it’s the way to teach beginners, but at my level I need to be making it all one smooth motion. But I know why I did it: what I said above, not wanting to shoot faster than I could get good hits. I wanted to verify my sights were correct and the gun was properly on target before shooting. Once I get the smoothed out, my times should pick up considerably (another half second at least).
- Never pull the trigger unless the sight picture is on target. You’ve done it… you press the gun out and we’re so conditioned to have to break a shot before the time runs out that we know the sights were bad, we called it the moment we saw it, but yet we still pressed off a shot. Why? Bad habit. It’s one I’ve been trying to break in dry practice, but I still do it. I had a few times when I did this, and the bad thing? 1. it doesn’t stop the bad guy, 2. and now where does that round go? you’re liable for it. Every shot counts.
- Of course, work every skill from the class. Can’t forget them, must improve them. I ran the final drill in 10.7 seconds, so now I need to do it in 10 seconds, then in 9… and well, Givens ran it in 8.5 seconds so I need to be able to do it in 8.4. 😉
I will write more in the coming days discussing specific things from the class. This was just to provide an overview of the class content and small summary of my own performance.
In general I’m pleased with how I did. I see where I’ve improved, I see where I need work. To me, that’s the important thing. I got a lot out of the weekend. The course was different from I expected… I expected a lot of “fightin’ and shewtin'” type stuff, but it wasn’t. What it was was fundamentals but worked at a higher level, with more pressure, with greater expectation of performance. Is that a bad thing? No, it’s a great thing! Because in the end, it’s still all sight alignment and trigger control… doesn’t matter if you’re a rank beginner or your Rob Leatham, it’s all still the same fundamentals, just different context.
I’ll admit. For the past couple weeks I’ve been stressing over this class. While I strive to dry fire all I can, I haven’t been able to get to the range near enough what I need. Oddly, I think all of that really showed itself in my draw and present and then the delay in getting the trigger press… it was all pretty much like I did it in dry fire, so I need to refine that practice. But I just didn’t feel I was ready for the class. Honestly, I feel some pressure to perform because hey… if I’m going to wear a KR Training shirt and get up in front of people to say “this is how you do it” I need to be able to do it and perform. There’s expectation and I need to live up to it. Plus hey… last time Givens was here he complemented my shooting, so that means the baseline was set and I had to do better because I want him to have a good impression of me. Yes, ego at play, but I’m human… sue me. 🙂 After seeing how I performed? I feel a lot more confident about things. Oh sure, I’ve still a long ways to go, but I see I’m on a good, positively progressing road so I’ll be content with this journey. I’m setting goals, I’m meeting goals, I’m exceeding goals, I’m needing to set new goals and revisit other goals. Refine my plans, and press on.
Of course, the real treat of the weekend was seeing Lynn, Tom’s charming wife. She’s a sweetheart, and a hell of a shot with that M&P. She took a lot of pictures from the weekend, and I’m hoping to get a few from her. I’ll post ’em when I get ’em.
Combative Pistol 2 with Tom Givens was certainly well worth the time, money, and effort… at least for me, YMMV.
Updated: I’ve spent the morning writing up a bunch of those one-off topics and queuing the articles for future publication. As I wrote I started to wonder… gosh, should I be talking about this stuff? I mean, it feels like I’m giving away class material. Is that right?
Well… yes, there’s some material that’s being given away. But there’s a lot more that isn’t. There’s a lot of things you cannot get unless you attend the class. So many intangibles. Plus, the only way you can receive instruction and feedback and thus improvement on your skills is by having Tom Givens watching over you. Not to mention, lots of informative and enlightening anecdotes, and lots of good-natured razzing. 🙂 Honestly, we had a lot of fun in the class, especially because many of us have trained together before. You can’t get that sort of atmosphere, that sort of pressure, that sort of work, unless you attend class.
So yes, you get my thoughts on a few things. But I’m not sharing it all. You just have to go out and try it yourself.
Updated 2: Pictures added (courtesy of Lynn Givens). No, we didn’t have a lot of people with black dots for faces. For people that I don’t know if they want their faces out or not, I blacked out the faces. Any face not blacked out are people that I have permission from or are public enough already.
I’m the tall guy with the long hair and blue hat.
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