I finally had the opportunity to train with Spencer Keepers, taking his Appendix IWB Carry Skills course on May 26, 2018, and his Essential Handgun Skills course on May 27, 2018. It was a fantastic weekend full of learning, challenges, and fun.
Spencer is probably best known as the man behind Keepers Concealment, crafters of some of the finest holsters out there – especially for AIWB. What is AIWB? Appendix Inside the Waist Band. That means instead of carrying on the side of your hip, you’re carrying in the front. To carry there is a different approach and methodology than carrying on your side, and Spencer is known for not only making some of the best purpose-built AIWB holsters, but also for his shooting skills (he of course carries AIWB). If you watch any of his videos, if you look at his track record at the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference’s shooting match, it’s undeniable Spencer is an accomplished and talented shooter.
I’ve known of Spencer for some time, and have been Facebook friends with him for a while too. When I heard he was coming to my home range of KR Training to teach, I immediately signed up for both classes.
I’ve been AIWB-curious for many years (I’ve actually been working on an article about this that I intended to post before the class, but I wasn’t able to finish it – it’ll be published eventually). But there was always something that held me back from going all the way with it. I figured the more I could learn, the better off I could be. Even if I didn’t wind up carrying AIWB myself, that we have a growing number of students showing up at KR Training carrying AIWB, it’s good to have as much knowledge as possible to best care for students.
The classes were held at KR Training. The weather was clear but hot – I read that Austin set a record high temperature on the 26th (99º). So things were overall good on the range, but very very hot.
AIWB class was held on Saturday and sold out. Handgun Skills were on Sunday and almost a full class – a number of folks in AIWB said they would have loved to have taken both classes but as it was Memorial Day weekend they could only afford one day away from the family. Class was primarily adult males, but there were a few women in Sunday’s class (and I know one was enrolled for Saturday but had to drop last minute).
I’ll say up front that with the heat, Spencer did a fine job of managing and pacing class. We took numerous breaks to get out of the heat and ensure hydration. He stayed aware of the students and their needs, so that people could focus on learning. In fact, the breaks were great learning opportunities, because they all turned into Q&A sessions with Spencer.
- S&W M&P9 M2.0 Compact (with Apex DCAEK and Dawson sights)
- Keepers Concealment “The Keeper” holster
- The Wilderness original instructor belt
- Parabellum Research ammo (Value Line, 9mm 124gr)
Mid-way through the second day, I noticed my front sight had come loose. Karl was at the ranch and worked to repair it for me; meantime I used one of his M&P9 1.0’s to finish out the class.
First and foremost, this is not a shooting class – this is a class to help you learn about AIWB and how to “life that lifestyle” (for lack of a better term). Yes there is shooting, but that’s more because it flows naturally, not because it’s a focus. The class requirement was 350 rounds; I don’t know how many rounds I shot, but it was no where near that. Thing is, I’m good with that, because that’s not the focus of the class.
The class started in the classroom, with Spencer talking about his background and how he got to where he is today. One thing that’s clear from the onset? I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who has put as much thought and study into holsters as Spencer. That’s an important consideration. So many people today think they have a heat gun and a sheet of Kydex and viola, they can make holsters. Well, maybe they can make buckets, but like so many things in life there’s a difference between a “thing” and a “well-crafted thing”. It’s all in the details, in the fine points, and it’s very evident Spencer has spent a great deal of time and energy in consideration of what makes for a high-quality holster.
And so, the morning was spent conveying some of that knowledge to us. Note: this class is not an advertisement for his holsters. Granted, his holsters do represent the pinnacle of his thinking and research on the topic, but it’s not about his holsters – it’s about giving people the knowledge on how to understand holsters and how to be able discriminate between good ones and bad ones. Folks: these few hours in the classroom talking about holsters and theory was the real money part of the class. My only wonder? Would the class still flow correctly if this part was moved to the afternoon? Given the extreme heat, I wonder if we could have done the range work in the cooler morning and the classroom during the hotter afternoon.
Then we did hit the range. We of course learned draw technique; in fact, we learned two approaches to drawing AIWB. Interesting that what shooting we did was geared towards extreme accuracy (we shot a lot of 2″ dots at 5 yards), and accuracy at speed (e.g. 2″ dots at 5 yards with 0.5 second splits). Again, shooting wasn’t the focus of class, but what shooting we did was held to a high standard.
One cool part was showing seated draw. We sat behind a table with someone crammed on either side (think having to sit in the middle seat on a small airplane – that sort of crammed). Drawing from that position? From sitting in a car? AIWB makes it easy.
We had a couple tests in class. If you’re curious what they are, go look for Spencer’s videos (Facebook is a good place). High accuracy and speed. In fact, on one of the tests, Spencer demoed it and shot his best time ever (captured on video, that’s me running the shot timer). These tests are a great challenge, and a ton of fun to shoot. And despite their apparent simplicity, they aren’t.
The one thing I didn’t think about until after class? I’d like to have talked about the disadvantages of AIWB. Again, the class isn’t evangelizing for a particular thing or product, but rather about a conveyance of information so people can make informed and reasoned decisions. I would have loved to have gotten Spencer’s take on the downsides/weakness of AIWB. Another time perhaps, over some good bourbon. 🙂
This was a shooting class (class required 500 rounds and I’d say we shot around that many rounds). Spencer comes from more of the defensive school of shooting than competition (tho he has the skills to hang with the likes of Mike Seeklander and Rob Leatham). As such, that’s what this class was aimed towards.
While there was no formal prerequisite that I’m aware of, I would say that one should be at least a graduate of KR Training’s Defensive Pistol Skills 1 in order to manage the class (it will challenge you).
What you get in this class is not the basics, but the fundamentals. There was focus on grip – because that matters. There was a lot of focus on trigger manipulation. Of course draw, presentation, cadence, reloads, target transitions, all covered.
I think anyone could benefit from this class, because there are no advanced skills, there are no s00per-sekr3t skills – just fundamentals applied better. Yeah, maybe you’ve seen and heard these things before, but I guarantee you’ll get something out of this class.
I am so glad I spent my time and money on these two classes.
First, I’m really happy to have finally gotten to meet Spencer and spend time with him. He’s a solid man. I know there are some that might look at his online presence and write him off because sometimes his posts have typos and grammatical errors. So? If you’re going to judge this fish by his ability to climb a tree, you will miss out on the depth and breadth of knowledge he possesses. For sure, Spencer may not be a hoity-toity instructor, he may be a “good old Oklahoma boy”, but that does not take away from his abilities. He’s a top-notch shooter, and he’s a solid instructor.
One thing I’ve found as a hallmark of a good instructor is the ability to improvise. That is, you know the goals of the class, you know what the students need to walk away with, and you know that every class and every student is going to be different. As a result, you are able to read the class and change up the specifics of the class to provide these particular students with exactly what they need to achieve the goals of the class. I watched Spencer work. It was evident he had a lesson plan, a typical path to take for the class. But during the class? He was watching the students, their performance, their abilities, and he absolutely changed his approach to match the needs of the students. That’s the hallmark of someone that knows their material, that knows their goals, that knows the various roads to get there, that has the depth of knowledge to accomplish things. Seriously folks, Spencer’s got some of that unquantifiable goodness that few instructors have.
There are a few things that really hit me.
Spencer made a great comment about grip: drive the fingertips into the palm. This is one reason I like taking “the same class” from another instructor: because I am likely to hear the same thing, but said in a different way. Grip is a big deal to me, given all the time I spend in the gym lifting heavy things. But take a moment and think about his phrasing: drive the fingertips into the palm. Try it. Make a fist or grip something the normal way you do. Now think about taking the tips of your fingers — not the pads, not the fingers as a general notion, but the tops, the tips themselves, and drive them into the meat of your palm. It’s a different notion, a different approach, and creates a MUCH stronger grip! Heck, the couple days I was in the gym after class, I gave myself this cue and found myself gripping the weights in a VERY different manner, a more effective manner. Yes, it’s more tiring, it’s harder — but only because I’m not used to it. It’s a better grip tho, so I’ll keep at it.
Spencer mentioned his training with Rob Leatham (if you don’t know who that is, punch it into Google and learn why he’s called “The Great One”). He said something to the effect that we need to learn to shoot in that mode – to learn to shoot nervous. Get nervous! Get upset (if you will)! When you step up to the line to shoot, it’s not a leisurely walk in the park. If it’s competition, or if it’s someone trying to harm you, you won’t be standing there casually – you’re going to be a little ramped up, a little nervous, a little upset, a little wired (or maybe a lot). So when you step up, allow yourself to be this way; allow yourself to go into that mode — and learn to function IN that mode.
I thought that was gold, and probably one of the best things that came out of the weekend for me. Mindset is so important. Part of training is a conditioning, a preparation for events. We know the environment is artificial, so it’s easy to slack off – but we can’t, and we shouldn’t. If you’re not sure if you can perform under pressure? Then put yourself under pressure.
Case in point. During the AIWB class we did a 3-2-1 drill: 3 shots on the 8″ circle, 2 shots on a 3×5 index card, 1 shot on a 2″ circle. One time while shooting it, I missed the 2″ circle. It so happened Spencer was watching, and it was a moment to introduce a technique. So everyone was told to gather around — see what’s happening? All eyes on me. Spencer had me unload and do a bunch of dry practice to work out the flinch/yank in the trigger. Then load up and shoot again – with everyone watching. No pressure, right? 🙂 But I did it, and cleaned it. BIG SIGH OF RELIEF afterwards. 🙂 Having to perform in front of others is FAR more stress and pressure than you can imagine (many folks have said it’s more stressful to shoot in front of the class/peers than to be in a gunfight!). But you need to be able to perform in such a situation; and when you can, that helps a great deal.
Throughout the weekend, Spencer worked us to a high standard. Things like shooting 2″ dots at 5 yards under time pressure? That’s a high standard.
Why shoot to a high standard? Because when the flag flies, your skills will degrade. There’s debate as to how much, but Spencer threw out 50%. So think about that. If you can make shots on a 2″ circle, then if your skills degrade and now it’s in a 4″ circle? That’s still quite acceptable! But if you started in an 8″ circle and now go to 16″? That’s not acceptable.
First, I need to get back to regular practice, especially dry practice. I hate to admit that I’ve been lax and it came through in my performance. I’m not happy with myself, and I’ve already been working to take a few minutes before I start my day to do some dry work. It’d probably be good for me to do more, but I gotta start somewhere to regain that discipline.
Second, a standard I’m going to work on is concealment draw to a 3×5 card, 3 shots. Distance doesn’t matter: start at 3 yards, go to 5, then 7, then 10, and so on until I’m up against the gun’s mechanical limits. Work to get under 3 seconds. I think this would help me a great deal in many areas. One thing that’s been hard for me is faster draws to smaller targets – I just take too long to get the sight picture and make the shot. We were doing draws to the 2″ circle and Spencer was watching me. He told me I was taking too long so we did it again and he said “I’ll tell you when you’re ready/steady enough, and when I do make the shot”. And so I did. It was far sooner than I would have chosen, but he was correct – I remember the sight picture when he said “go” and it was where it needed to be. That told me something important, and gave me something to work towards.
Third, of course I need to work on my AIWB draw. It’s a new skill. So new that during class I got a nice case of slide-bite because doing the “slap” technique I landed too high. 🙂 Just needs more practice.
I’m glad I took these classes. I learned a great deal and have homework ahead.
The more I carry AIWB the more I like it. Given my past struggles with it I didn’t think I’d end up liking it this time around, but it’s growing on me. There’s still some kinks to work out, but so far so good.
If you have an opportunity to train with Spencer, I recommend it. He’s a man with a great deal of knowledge and a strong desire to share it with others. You don’t have to be an AIWB person to learn from him, and for sure if you want to learn about AIWB he’s going to be a great resource towards that end.
Spencer, thank you for coming down and spending the weekend with us. I look forward to more range time with you.
Spencer and I spoke and he responded to a few things. The easiest way for me to do this is to just copy/paste his response from pistol-forum.com:
Thanks for the write up man!!! It was a pleasure to spend time on the range with you.
A few reasons why I do the lecture first in AIWB Skills
1, I normally have folks use loaner hostlers so I want to talk about them before folks use them so they will have an idea of the why’s
2, It gives students a chance to adjust their holsters better if needed before we shoot
3, It lets them see the theory and how it applies to the shooting part.
Down sides of AIWB, I kinda mention them but don’t have like a segment on them per se. 1. done improperly it’s very uncomfortable, folks that try a strong side holster in the AIWB position for example.
2, If you don’t use proper re-holstering procedures you will cover yourself. (that’s why we spend so much time on hips forward) 3 AIWB isn’t for everyone; some body types will not be able to make it work well for them and that’s OK.
Next time let’s do this in like December…. LOL