On October 19 & 20, 2019, I participated in Gabe White’s Pistol Shooting Solutions course hosted at my home range, KR Training.
Who is Gabe White?
Gabe White is an accomplished shooter. You should check out his resumé so you can understand his skill and where he’s coming from. An aspect worth highlighting is Gabe’s a USPSA Master-class shooter – shooting his normal carry gear, from concealment. So basically, he’s up against other people and a classification system that rewards “gaming”, and he’s handicapping himself by his choice of gear and approach. Yet, he’s still able to play at an extremely high level.
Why would he do this?
Gabe’s interest is more in the “tactical” and self-defense world than gaming, but he finds gaming a reasonable place for one to put skills into practice, especially under pressure. As well, the gaming world is very interested in technical skill. High-levels of skill generally lead to better performance and chances of winning the game – so why shouldn’t there be such similar focus on technical skill in the tactical/self-defense world? Wouldn’t better performance in that area be more important?
Pistol Shooting Solutions is Gabe’s effort “to help established defensive handgun practitioners realize the next steps in their journey toward technical excellence to go along with the mindset, awareness, and tactics that form the foundation of self-defense with a handgun.”
Gabe’s website provides information about the class and prerequisites. It’s important to note this is NOT a beginner class. For example, “You should be able to hit a 6″x 6″ target on demand at 10 yards”. There’s a lot more that goes into it as well, and I’d argue even a bit beyond what’s printed on the website. Gabe does assume you have not just a fair level of skill, but also knowledge about the problems and realities of defensive pistolcraft. For example, Gabe referred to the concepts of “ability, opportunity, and jeopardy” and “the doctrine of competing harms” – it’s not critical you know these concepts to get something from the class, but it’s evident Gabe (reasonably) assumes a particular level of knowledge in his audience. Making this assumption, requiring this of his students/audience, allows him to speak at a particular level and move the class pace and concepts in the direction they need to go.
Class was held at my home range, KR Training, hosted by Karl Rehn. There were 14 students, all were from the KR Training instructor cadre or KR Training Challenge Coin holders – that means a high level of skill across the entire student body (and no “that guy”). This sort of environment is weird. You’re friends with all these people, so it’s a very supportive environment. It’s also one that leads to being more challenging and more pressure-filled because you know these people will push you, and you also want to perform at your best in front of them. But it’s also forgiving because these people know you – and they’re like you – because they too have similar successes and failures. When you blow a run, they’re not going to think you suck – they’re going to support you and help you get better. This makes for a great learning environment.
Class was LONG. Each day ran from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM – yup, two 10+ hour days. There are breaks, but the class is reasonably fast paced and keeps moving. I wouldn’t say it’s a highly physical class, but for sure some level of fitness helps. One interesting note is I didn’t get much sleep Saturday night. I woke up after just a few hours of sleep, I guess because I was somewhat amped from Day 1 and excited about Day 2. What’s more interesting was chatting with a number of my classmates Sunday morning and they too had abnormally less sleep. Take it for what you will.
My equipment was my normal carry gear, plus a few things for the range:
- S&W M&P9 M2.0 4″ Compact
- Always starting with a 15-round mag, but then reloads to my old “1.0” 17-round mags.
- Only mods: Apex Tactical DCAEK (but stock trigger), Dawson Precision sights (serrated black Charger rear 0.125″ notch; red fiber front 0.100″ post).
- Dark Star Gear Orion, with Dark Wing and clip. Worn AIWB.
- My old Comp-Tac dual mag pouch (then 2 more mags in my left cargo pant pocket)
- Federal American Eagle Syntech 9mm 124 grain (shot shy of 1000 rounds).
- My Lone Star Medics prototype fanny pack IFAK.
No, I did not shoot the Sig P365 (more on that later).
PSS is a highly-focused class. It’s about improvement of technical skill. Gabe structures things quite methodically. Class started in the classroom with Gabe’s safety lecture, and him discussing his background and philosophy. All good things to help establish the class, where he’s coming from, and where he intends to take us. After a couple hours inside, we headed to the range with a warm-up so Gabe could assess the student body, especially for gun handling and safety. Then a series of blocks were run to focus on specific skills.
Then we started to get into the meat of things.
When Gabe’s class is talked about, it’s often discussed in terms of the Technical Skills Tests and the resulting Pin awards. The class is so much more than that, but the tests and chance of earning a pin provide both structure and incentive to the class and students. Each “pin block” went something like:
- Discussion of concepts, including Gabe demoing.
- Dry work.
- Live work, pushing yourself to where you’d like to be.
- Live work, keeping it in the realm of your current capability (how you would shoot the test).
- 2 runs of the test for time but not score.
- 2 runs of the test for time and score.
- A steel head-to-head shoot-off.
We worked up to 2 tests the first day (Bill Drill, Failure to Stop), with the other two drills (Immediate Incapacitation, Split Bill Drill) the second day.
While the work-up to the test was a large part of things, the head-to-head shootoffs were cool. Gabe would set up a short steel course with person on the left shooting one thing and person on the right shooting another. For example, left had a steel target 10′ away and started from concealment, with right having a steel 20 yards away starting from low ready. The go-signal was left-person starting their draw, and right-person having to react. Two different tasks, but of about similar difficulty. The course of fire was related to the testing block we just completed, and became more challenging as the class progressed.
Day 2 started at 8:00 AM sharp on the range (I deeply appreciate his on-time starts), with a quick warm-up and into material. Material continued with a logical progression, eventually discussing shooting on the move. Gabe took a track that isn’t often seen: moving and shooting at speed. It wasn’t the typical gaming “slow and smooth duck walk”, nor was it necessarily the “move OR shoot” approach. You can get an idea of how this worked by watching Lucky Gunner’s video review of the class (which is also a great overview and review of the class). This eventually progressed to the use of barriers, cover, and concealment, touching on the subject in facets and depth I’ve not experienced before. Gabe’s choice to keep the class fairly narrowly focused allowed him to go into great depth (and I suspect there’s even more going on in Gabe’s mind that just can’t fit into 21 hours of class).
Class wrapped up in a usual way, returning to the classroom for thank yous, certificates, awards, and pictures.
My Assessment of Class
In a word: transformative.
When I first heard about the class and the shooting tests, I took at look at them, appreciating the times and breakdown by shot and pin-level – I like numbers and data. I knew my skills were in the Dark Pin realm, but I also knew I had a key issue: my drawstroke. It’s two parts. First, getting out of the holster is a new issue due to carrying AIWB. It’s establishment of grip, and it’s also just that last bit of hesitation because screwing up (e.g. finger enters the trigger-guard too soon) leads to disaster. So while I can clear the garment and make contact quickly, I’m still finding my best grip and then ensuring it’s secure with no screw-ups. That winds up costing a bit of time. Second, getting the gun out, on target, and being able to accept the sight picture and break the shot – it may not be textbook perfect, but is it good enough for the current context? I still hesitate slightly from wanting “just that extra bit of on-target confirmation”. As a result, my draw-to-first-shot is slower than it could be. When I would push myself, I would wind up being too tense, or would just flub things.
Another issue is… 7 yards. 7 yards is this crazy, magical distance (at least for me). At 3 yards, things are close and sloppy tends to work out. 10 yards is where things start to feel far away. Even 5 yards still feels close and you can often get away with things. But 7… it feels close, but if you shoot it like 3 yards you’ll blow it, and if you shoot it like 10 yards you take too long. It’s far yet close, close yet far. So it’s a great distance to work at, because it messes with my head. Shoot aggressively like at 3, but shoot carefully like at 10, 15, 25.
My biggest issue (or rather, the one this class had the biggest impact upon) is how I’ve long been focused on the outcome. “I need to pass this test”. “Don’t screw this up.” “Did I hit it?” or any manner of focus on the result I need to generate. And what happens? Sometimes I generate it, sometimes I do not. If I’m working well within my capacity, I usually achieve the result. But when I have to push to or get pushed to the edges, when I have to work under high-pressure, focusing (worrying?) so much about the outcome gets in the way of doing what needs to be done right now – I focus where I need to be, not on what I need to do!
I realized this some time ago and have been working on it, especially in my shooting. Every time I’m here in the now and focused on what I’m doing right now at this moment, things go well. Focus on that draw, eyes glued to the front sight, and just do what needs to be done. Don’t worry about the holes right now while shooting, because they will be there when I’m done; stay focused on the work at hand this moment, trust the process and yourself, and the results will be there. After the gun’s back in the holster and things are safe/clear, THEN I can consider the result. And what’s great is if I shut up and trusted myself to do my part, then the result happens. It’s magical. 😉
There are things Gabe did in class that helped me address all of these things.
The 7 yards is easy: all tests are at 7 yards. How to get better at X? Generally speaking, do (more of) X.
The other issues tho… it’s things Gabe said, and how he did things. He speaks with great confidence, almost to an inspiring level. He spoke of being process focused, and something about his talk, his approach, made something click in my head. Maybe it just drove me harder to focus on the process, I don’t know for sure. But something Gabe said/did clicked and helped me break through.
Furthermore, the structure of the shooting drills helped. Length, detailed explanation of the drill and concepts within it. Demonstration of the drill, including commentary on his own performance. Then we would shoot dry drills, including a few rather unorthodox ones of his own creation, that would isolate a relevant aspect of the skill to be focused on. Next we’d perform live at a level of “what we want to perform like”. This is shooting beyond our bounds, out of reach, a 110% type of thing. This is great because you might find you can actually perform faster than you think, you just needed permission to go faster. Then you dial it back to what you can perform, then you perform. This approach is somewhat novel amongst classes I’ve taken. Typically you get a drill/skill, you shoot it “as is” a few times, then move to the next thing. But here, it’s 1 “thing to shoot” and shot in a manner to help your performance of that thing. It helps you find it, it helps you dial it in under a watchful eye. But note: you yourself need to have some level of self-awareness and ability to self-correct to get the most out of the class (Gabe can’t watch every run you do).
What is the typical response/solution to shooting in a manner that’s a bit beyond your skill? “Slow down”. But that’s not Gabe’s response. Gabe basically wants you to shoot at the same speed, but address whatever is causing your problem. This is not a beginner-level solution to problems, but it sure is a way to be able to do things faster. I’ve heard this before, but again, something about how Gabe presented it. So instead of me backing off when the wheels fell off, I kept the pedal down and worked to address the wheels.
Straight up? Lee Weems’ Deliberate Speed Pistol class contributed here too. I found myself applying Lee’s deliberate techniques, which would help me keep a locked-in focus on the front sight. That kept me “in the moment” and focused on the process. Watching that front sight, being able to call my shots (just about every shot I “pulled” I knew it the moment it happened).
When I put it all together – it’s what enabled me to earn a Light Pin.
A Light Pin is: “An early stage of excellence in core technical skills of drawing and shooting”. I’ve been thinking about how to convey the significance of the pin to those who may not have the frame of reference, and I’m failing to find a way (open to suggestions!). Just know that this is well-respected amongst my peers, and is a big accomplishment.
Actually, there’s a post from Gabe on the Pistol-Training forums where Gabe not only explains the tests, but his philosophy in their design. One particular comment stands out:
One other quick comment – I think standards is the wrong word to describe these. To me, the term ‘standards’ refers to an obligated level of performance, and if you can’t do it all the time, then you are wrong. These are intended to be difficult goals to reach for. I specifically set the Turbo threshold to be difficult enough that almost no one would be able to easily walk through them at 100% without effort. I certainly can’t.
I feel like I broke through a plateau in my shooting skill. I was made aware of my performance, especially where my performance is inefficient, sub-optimal, and needs work. I also was made aware that I’m much better than I give myself credit for.
The last part feels funny for me to say. What it is is trusting myself.
I’m so focused on defensive shooting (vs. gaming). I care immensely about issues like unacceptable hits. As a result, it causes me to slow down, to confirm and confirm again. This is all good and I believe a right mentality to hold. But it also holds me back, and potentially that hold back could be costly. It’s evident I have some degree of unconscious-competence in this area, and I have to allow myself to operate in that way instead of inserting (potentially unnecessary) conscious thought into a time-critical event and risking problems and failure. When I stay “in the moment” focusing on the task at hand, everything about that moment is clearer. And since we know following this process does in fact lead to desired outcome, just… follow the process.
So it’s weird to say “trust myself”, it’s not really the right words. But there were things shown and behaviors reinforced by Gabe’s class that were positive and right.
Taking some time off because my hands need to heal up. But it’s giving me time to reflect, review class notes, and other useful things.
I see where I need to work. I want to solidify Light Pin performance. I have work on my drawstroke and “draw to first shot” to deal with. Continuing to be focused in the now.
Long term, I’m presently a B-class Production shooter in USPSA. A Light Pin can be thought of as a solid A-class performance (based off data from our book Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training). I’ve been wanting to get to A-class, because I feel that’s a pretty good level for someone that likes to shoot well but isn’t deeply interested in playing the game itself. Having broken that plateau, I feel this may be attainable now.
Remember my Sig P365 fail saga? Early on in evaluating the P365, I did think that if it passed muster and was in fact to be my daily carry, I ought to take Gabe’s class with it. I knew that was kinda crazy to do, but “train like you fight” and all that. Well, after the P365 went to crap, there was no way I was going to bother taking Gabe’s class. The replacement P365 ran 500 rounds with zero hiccups, but it needs needs to prove itself fully. Will I take Gabe’s class with a P365? Not currently in the cards, but I think when I get back to working with the P365 that I will shoot Gabe’s tests and see what I can do. Getting at least a Dark Pin level of performance with the P365 would be a nice start.
The person-on-person shoot-offs were great. Tons of pressure, immense challenge, lots of shit-talking and fun amongst friends, a bunch of laughter and high-fives. Just great stuff. It provides a different dimension to the class, contributing to the lessons but also providing a change up. What’s great is I believe everyone won some and lost some (and I believe everyone did earn a patch). A great set of classmates to shoot against – we sharpen each other.
One thing I personally liked with the steel shoot-offs was the chance to experiment more. For example, on the running drill there are a number of ways you could approach the problem. The structure of the shoot-offs allowed me to try one approach, then another, go back to the first, try it again, try it one side, try it the other side, as many times as I was able to within the time allotted for the drill. Discussing this with fellow KRT Instructor Ed on the drive home, we agreed that such structure allowing you permission to explore was quite meaningful.
It was great watching Gabe demo. He would demonstrate every skill, and demonstrate it as he wanted us to perform it. In doing so, he “failed” often – his words. Now many of us would look at a Gabe White failure run and esteem to fail so well. 🙂 But Gabe knows his level and he felt this weekend’s shooting wasn’t representative of his best. But this shows a number of important things.
- Instructors should not be afraid to demo in front of their students, but only if they can actually do what needs to be demoed in the first place. Failure doesn’t mean you suck – it means you’re human.
- Getting up to demo, just like public speaking, takes a lot of guts. It’s pressure, and being able to perform under pressure is important. The more you subject yourself to performing under pressure, the better you will become at it.
- Gabe talked about a 25% performance tax. At KR Training we tell our Defensive Pistol Skill 1 students a lesson from Paul Ford that when the flag flies you’ll perform at about 70% of your worst day on the range. Gabe can shoot really well – then under pressure and other environmental factors, he didn’t perform to HIS level, but he still performed at a very high level.
- This is why it’s so important to train well above levels of minimum competency, so when the time comes and your skills will degrade, that degraded level is still high enough to get the job done.
Class dynamics were good. Gabe has spent time not only on his curriculum, but also how to run the class. I spoke with him about some classroom management techniques he used, and it’s evident he’s put a lot into managing issues of a traveling trainer (ranges will vary in what they provide), keeping the class smooth, efficient, on time.
I will restate the classes are very long. I do wonder if the classes might be too long. People were pretty spent by early-afternoon on the 2nd day, and once the last test was completed a number of people flat out stopped shooting – myself included. Heck, I barely made it through the fourth test (Split Bill Drill), intentionally dialing it back because my hands just couldn’t take it any more. My hands were raw, blistered, and got to a point of major tenderness in my right palm (as if bruised). Shooting nearly 1000 rounds with a grippy-gun, a hard-clamp grip, aggressively driving a gun on every string of fire for 2 days – it takes a toll. I didn’t want to stop shooting, but I had to stop early. As well, I – and I know others – were just so spent towards the end of class that it was difficult to focus on his instructional block about cover/concealment and movement tactics. It was extremely informative, but I just had a hard time staying focused on his lecture and I know I didn’t register as much as I would have liked simply due to exhaustion. My feet ached, my hands were beat-up, my brain was drained, it was hot, sweaty, tired – just not a conducive environment to learn in.
Plus, I wanted to go out to dinner with Gabe one evening, but I just couldn’t. Having to wake up at 4 AM, not getting home until maybe 8-8:30 PM (then shower, supper, maybe a smidge of family time), and repeat – there was just no way (especially since I am making fixing my sleep issues a priority, even if I have to miss out on stuff). Granted, we’re not attending class for social hour, but I know I and often other intermediate/advanced students like to go out to supper with a visiting trainer – few were able to go just due to schedule.
I guess it just means I have to take the class again. 🙂 Not just because a Turbo pin would be cool, but there is so much material it would be great to hear it all again.
And yes, you should portion your training budget to train with Gabe. I cannot recommend him enough.
“Be mentally composed and focus on completing the task at hand.” – Gabe White