AAR – Rangemaster Master Firearms Instructor Development and Certification Course, November 15-17, 2019

I recently returned from the inaugural Rangemaster Master Instructor Development & Certification Course, held November 15-17, 2019 at Shawnee Outdoors (formerly BDC Gun Room) in Shawnee, OK.

This course is part 3 in the Rangemaster Instructor Development curriculum. You must have passed both prior courses (3-Day Instructor Development, Advanced Instructor) to be eligible to attend the Master course. Interesting to note that Tom Givens announced this course a little over a year in advance (around Oct. 31, 2018), and it sold out in 5 hours. It’s been a long wait.

General Information

Shawnee Outdoors (formerly the BDC Gun Room) was an excellent facility for hosting. Good sized and outfitted classroom. A 25-yard state-of-the-art indoor shooting range (with excellent air-handling). Fantastic lunchtime catering provided by our host, Jack Barrett. And being at a good range, there were supplies and gunsmithing available if needed. Plus, Bill Armstrong provided some supplies and barricades to help support the course curriculum.

The course was 3 days, Friday through Sunday. Each day started at 9:00 AM and scheduled to end at 6:00 PM, tho we tended to finish a bit early each day.

We had 18 candidates from 7 states (with Texas and Oklahoma strongly represented). Wide variety of equipment and styles (gun make/models, red dots vs. irons, IWB vs AIWB, etc.), but a make-up one might generally expect from such a group of people. That said, the complete equipment and supply list for class was a long one. Not only your usual carry gear and about 700 rounds of ammo, but a full size and small size revolver (think both a K-frame and J-frame), about 300 rounds of ammo for it, various revolver loading tools (speedloaders, speed strips, dump pouch), holsters for the revolvers (hip, pocket, ankle, etc.), mirror image holster/setup for your normal carry gear, “tactical” flashlight, and a drill (more on on that below). And of course, note-taking material; you will take lots of notes.

My gear, since people tend to be curious:

  • S&W M&P9 M2.0 4″ Compact. Apex DCAEK. Dawson Precision sights (0.100″ red fiber optic front, 0.125″ serrated black Charger rear)
  • Dark Star Gear Orion, with Dark Wing (AIWB holster)
  • My old Comp-Tac dual mag pouch (worn 9 o’clock)
  • Sig P365 with a Dark Star Gear Hitchhiker (brought due to initial course requirements; but wasn’t used).
  • Federal Syntech 9mm 124 grain
  • S&W Model 66 3″
  • JM Custom Kydex AIWB holster for a 4″ K-frame, 1.5″ PTD loops
  • S&W 640
  • Desantis pocket holster
  • My .38 Special reloads
  • HKS speedloaders (for both revolvers), TUFF speed strips (8-round)
  • Surefire Stiletto on a RCS Pocket Shield

Drove up with Tim Reedy of TDR Training, and stayed in house (Vrbo) with him and the Legendary Lawman, Marshall Chuck Haggard of Agile Training & Consulting.


Day 1 was mostly in the classroom. Tom gave his presentation on the history of modern pistolcraft, which I’ve seen/heard before but it’s so full of information it’s one you enjoy hearing again and again. The next block was not just about holster design, but specifically the evolution of retention in holsters. This was particularly interesting because it makes it evident how many people “innovating” today are unaware of the past.

Tom spent a block on vehicle defense, but this wasn’t about shooting in or out of cars. Rather, that many people spend a lot of time in and around cars, in and around parking lots, in and around the street. What sorts of things can be done to help manage those situations – and it has nothing to do with shooting. How to park, where to park, and simple things like… lock your doors, keep your windows up.

A block then on low-light techniques. This was especially interesting because Tom didn’t just list off techniques, but he provided history and context for technique evolution. One point on techniques many don’t consider is how technology and technique went hand-in-hand. For example, the FBI technique is as it is because the flashlight technology at the time was the old Ray-O-Vac flashlights that had lots of spill and not a lot of power. Second generation techniques like Harries and Chapman/Ayoob were because of the Mag-Lite style. History and context matter.

Later in the afternoon we went to the range. Tom loves cold shooting, so we started with the FBI qual (2019 edition). Tom made it slightly more difficult, since we were using the RMTS-Q target, we scored by the rings (vs. the “hit in the bottle or not” scoring the FBI uses). Oh yeah… the score was recorded. I shot a 95.6%.

After that, we did some work with barriers and barricades. Then some work with low light. The cool part of this was being indoors, light-levels and light direction were easily manipulated. For example, we could simulate “darkness” as it might be in an urban environment (which isn’t pitch black), or simulate as if headlights were behind us.

Packed out and a number of us went out for supper. There is good Mexican food to be found in Oklahoma!


At the end of TD1, Tom told us to leave off our normal EDC and come to class wearing our revolvers. Yes, plural.

We started in the classroom, talking about revolvers. Advantages, disadvantages, and other realities of the revolver. It was evident Tom has a deep experience with revolvers and does enjoy them. But Tom also asserts they aren’t the best for self-defense – technology has evolved. I may be getting the exact words wrong, but two quotes from Tom:

Nostalgia is great, until someone is trying to kill you.

And something like: “Why do you take a revolver course? To learn why you shouldn’t carry a revolver.”

This caused a lot of “rustled jimmies” on the Internets, which I’ll talk to later.

On the range we worked revolver skills. Shooting, trigger manipulation, reloading techniques. It culminated in shooting a revolver qualification for score. We had 3 perfect scores on the qual: Michael Labonte, Lee Weems, and myself. That resulted in a 20-round shootoff. Michael had a well-deserved win.

That evening, I don’t know what everyone else did, but I got a bit of 80’s/90’s hair metal nostalgia. John Correia of Active Self Protection met the lead singer of the band Warrant, Robert Mason, on a flight home a few weeks prior. They kept in touch, and by chance Warrant was playing at a casino not too far from Shawnee. So John, myself, Ka, Chuck Haggard, Spencer Keepers, and John’s friend Mason went to the show, met with Robert after the show, had a great evening (the car-conversations were gold).

Don’t expect that perk in future runs of the class. 😉


TD3 started in the classroom, but only as a formality. Straight to the range we went.

And what did we start with?

Rangemaster Bullseye. Cold. For score. Nothing like 25 yard timed group shooting on a B-8 target to wake you up in the morning.

After that, the Super Test. Scored, but I’m not sure it was part of the class aggregate.

And no Rangemaster event would be complete without a running of the Casino Drill! We actually ran it a number of times, each run a different variation: 7-7-7, 6-7-8, reverse order, odds-evens. Then of course, we ran it for score (part of aggregate). I dropped a number of shots on 6 and it made for an embarrassing score.

After that, we ran the new Rangemaster Master Instructor qual. It’s a typical Rangemaster qual, just the toughest. I’ve got a number of RM quals, such a his old Level 5, the regular Instructor qual, now this. You can see they are all similar (the shooting problems we face don’t change, but our skill level and ability to address those problems can change), just get progressively more difficult. I shot a 91.5%, which passes, but I’m far from happy with it. This is the other score that went onto your certificate.

The afternoon was spent on candidate drills. Each candidate had to come to class prepared with a drill: could be their own invention, could be someone else’s. Doesn’t matter, just have a drill that takes about 5-15 rounds, can be run with 5-10 people in a single string (no individual runs, not enough time), and you must bring the targets (plus anything else you might need like a whistle, stopwatch, timer, etc.). Tom calls who is up. You explain your drill: background, philosophy, how we could use it in our own classes or training, the COF itself. Then you run the line and administer the drill. If after shooting there’s any post, e.g. scoring, summary discussion. And then onto the next person. With 18 candidates, this took all afternoon, but it was a ton of fun to do, shoot, and I picked up a few cool things to add to my personal drills list.

Before we left the range we had a special treat. I’m not sure if this is a normal part of class or just a lucky extra because Chuck Haggard was in class. But Chuck pulled out some ballistics gel and ran a bunch of ammo through it. He put up 4-layer denim and shot various 9mm loads like Gold Dot, HSTs, Critical Duty, some .38 loads, etc.  While it’s not a huge data set, it was fairly consistent with other data I’ve seen. It continues to affirm my choice of Speer Gold Dot 9mm 124 grain +P (Chuck’s choice too). I also have started to use Federal Gold Medal Match .38 Special 148 grain wadcutters for a snub load, and seeing the ballistic gel performance in person continues to affirm that for the sub-optimal .38, this remains probably your best bet (and it’s “low recoil” too). (Note to self: probably should have used it during the qual…)

We wrapped up in the classroom with certificates (everyone passed, which should be expected at this level), and Ed Monk of Last Resort Firearms Training took Top Shot, with Lee Weems coming in first loser (it’s a joke, Lee and I rib each other a lot; but he did shoot consistently well all weekend).

My Thoughts

I don’t know how to adequately convey the gravity of training with Tom Givens. Tom is one of the few remaining that bridges between the old guard (i.e. Jeff Cooper was his mentor) and the modern world. But he isn’t stuck in Cooper’s world; he grows, he learns, he’s still a student. He’s forgotten more than most people know. And he can still outshoot most of us too. The depth and breadth of his knowledge is impossible to capture here – you just need to train with him. And like it or not, Tom’s not a spring chicken; he won’t be doing this forever, and you will kick yourself if Tom stops teaching and you didn’t take the opportunity to train with him. I have 126 hours of formal training under Tom (out of my now 795 total firearms training hours), and I value every one of them.

In particular, the Master course felt like the right capstone to his Instructor-level training curriculum. It covered topics that aren’t fundamental, but are important in being a well-rounded and deeply-knowledged instructor. It also has the highest and toughest requirements of any single course, and consider because of the two-prerequisites it means you’ve had to pass 1 written test, 6 shooting qualifications, and a number of other qualifications, contests, and performance evaluations. You have to be able to perform, in front of others, and know your stuff. Furthermore, all of those are performed over time… years, for most people. That means you just can’t have a hot weekend, you must have and maintain that skill over a long period of time. And remember Tom does NOT give out these certificates: they are truly earned (there’s a decent wash-out rate in the first class; and I’d expect by the time you get to Master level you ought to be capable, competent, and serious enough there’s no washing out – but it’s still totally possible).

This certification has meaning. I don’t think there’s any other certification in this industry (and even in other industries) have have such rigor, such demand of knowledge and performance over time.

That out of the way…

Were there hiccups? Yup. It was the first time the course was offered so there were some kinks. But Tom was aware, and in fact one of the last thing he asked the class was for feedback on the class itself. We had honest and candid comments, and Tom took them all. Nothing too bad, just kinks worth ironing out. I’ll be curious to see how the future iterations of this class adjust and improve.


So… revolver day turned into a little fun on The Internets.

At the end of the day, John Correia posted an observation from the day. Boy, that post sure “rustled a lot of jimmies”, as John says. Numerous shares/reposts, which generated a lot of comments, and especially a lengthy response from Darryl Bolke. Lee Weems also wrote about it in part 1 and part 2. And in fact, I’m writing this about a week post-class and things are still buzzing about this matter.

As I wrote elsewhere, I think everyone got caught up in the Internet of it all.

The point was mainly this:

Today there’s still the pervasive notion that revolvers don’t break, don’t malfunction, are more reliable and easier to operate (and maintain) than semi-autos.

That is patently false. It’s a myth.

Witness our class. 18 “hobbyists”, a low round count day (no more than 300 rounds), and numerous problems. And not just our class, but in Tom’s multi-decade experience. Yes, our class may have been above average, but the point remains: revolvers aren’t this infallible thing, no matter what the guy behind the gun store counter tells you.

And that was the point of it all.

Actually, it is a little more than that.

People wanted to know what revolvers they were, if they had been gunsmithed (either backroom or gamered or whatever), what sort of ammo (in fact, most people are chalking up our day to being an ammo problem and not a well-maintained revolver problem), whatever sorts of information they could find to blow off the problems as isolated to our case and thus an anomaly to be discarded.

Folks: it doesn’t matter.

It’s key to note that when a revolver malfunctions – because the gun itself, because ammo, because simple bad luck – most likely the only corrective solution is going to involve a bench, tools, and maybe a gunsmith. Or, drawing your backup revolver. That fixing the problem is going to take more time and trouble than you will have in the middle of a gunfight. Even normal reloading is a slow endeavor. This is why “in the old west” they carried more than one gun: gun fails or runs dry, you drop it and draw your next gun. That “New York reload” is the most reliable remedial action one can take.

Technology advances. It’s why we don’t use telegraphs but now have iPhones. It’s why we don’t use horseback but drive Teslas. Indoor plumbing. Air conditioning. We have things that make our lives better. And modern semi-autos on the whole are more reliable, have greater capacity, and malfunctions are often able to be remedied in a fight and not be majorly costly.

Does this mean revolvers can’t work? No. Does this mean semi-autos can’t fail? No. None of that. In fact, if you really look at what people like John, Darryl, and most of all Tom are saying, they’re pretty much on the same page. Again… people just wanted to get caught up in the Internet of it all. Lots of conclusion jumping. Lots of assumptions and poo-pooing. Few, if any, checking with one of the 20 people actually in attendance at the event to get first-hand information (at least when the initial reactions were posted). And while people might want to dismiss the observations of 19 of the attendees, ultimately the main point was really one that Tom himself was making. And we all know Tom Givens knows nothing about revolvers…


I must admit, it’s not how I wanted to end my 2019 work.

In 2019 I chalked up 149 hours of formal training in combatives, medical, and firearms from a host of top-flight instructors. It was probably my best year of training in terms of material studied and progression of skill. Two notable classes were Lee Weems’ Deliberate Speed Pistol, and Gabe White’s Pistol Shooting Solutions courses. Those were transformative, and really broke me through some long-standing plateaus in my skill, mindset, and thinking towards my shooting. If not for Lee’s class, I don’t think I would have learned my Light Pin in Gabe’s class.

I went into the Master course expecting to continue on that upward trend, but instead I regressed.

It’s pretty simple.

I became results-oriented.

Tom’s one of the few people who can induce a high level of nervousness in me. I have a deep respect for Tom, and any time I shoot poorly, I feel I’m letting him down. Plus, being the first Master Instructor class, the desire to pass, the desire to not be the dude that failed out of the first class… then couple seeing the quals and all that we were going to do, the people I was going to be doing it in front of – people I respect deeply, new people who would be forming first opinions of me – well… it all added up to be being too focused on the results and not just on the process (and letting the results come).

But I should also have expected it. While I’ve been trying to change to being process-focused in my shooting, it really took Gabe’s class just a month prior to this to give me the breakthrough to apply it how I needed to apply it. There’s no way for that to have become myelinated in such a short period of time. So… I fell back on what I was, what was myelinated.

It was still good enough to pass, but I can see other embarrassing things throughout the weekend. John Correia has a great 10-round assessment drill, and I dropped the 2 head shots on it? I did my worst Casino run ever. I’d have 1 shot on a qual that was “out of bounds” and lose a bunch of points (the scoring of Tom’s drills are brutal on dropped shots, and rightly so). All because my head was where it shouldn’t have been.

But… it was a good learning point, and I know long-term I’m going to be thankful things went as they did. I told me where I really was, and what I need to do in my training going forward. I’ve already been formulating my plan to work on stuff.

That all said tho? Cleaning the revolver qual and going into a shootoff with Lee Weems and Michael Labonte will forever be a cool moment in my book. Two great guys, two great shooters. It was the highlight of my weekend.

All the other non-shooty things were cool too. It was great to see Tom. It was great to see my “extended Rangemaster family”, and extend it more by meeting a bunch of new people (some brand new, some known from the Internets and seeing in person the first time). Great food. A fun off-event seeing Warrant. And Tim Reedy’s never-ending bad jokes. 🙂

All in all… a good weekend. I’m fortunate to have been a part of it.

Looking forward to TacCon 2020!

AAR – Gabe White’s Pistol Shooting Solutions, October 19-20, 2019

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, talking and teaching

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.”

The Class


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.

What’s next?

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.

Other Stuff

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

What is Good Enough?

We all want to know…

What is good enough?

Am I smart enough?

Am I strong enough?

Am I capable enough?

Am I able to do what needs to be done? To achieve the thing I wish to achieve?

I can’t answer that for you.

And I’m not sure anyone really can provide a single concrete answer.

For me in my world – where I like to lift weights – what is “strong enough”? There are strength standards. And more thoughts. And other thoughts. And if you search around, you’ll find even more. But look at their bias. Do they consider sex/gender (because that matters)? Do they consider age? Do they consider capabilities (e.g., someone with one arm)?

It’s good to have some indications like these, because they help us understand what is at least possible. To go from zero to world records, that gives us the continuum of what’s possible in the realm of human capability. But we all know that world records are outliers, people with a particular gift to go along with work ethic and time invested. So still, along that continuum, where can we go?

I know a cop who is a large mammal – almost gorilla-like strength. His physical strength was a huge asset in his job. But then, he couldn’t run a foot pursuit worth a damn. He worked to be able to run well, but lost so much strength. Today he’s found a medium between the two. So do these standards consider context? do they consider situation and need?

My chief profession is a software developer. As an iOS developer, my world is narrow in a sense, but one can go quite deep within it. I see web developers, and the vast choice of technologies and approach one can take is staggering. How many languages, how many platforms, how deep, how broad – what makes one a top developer?

Or how about another part of my world, with defensive pistolcraft.  Karl and I may have spoken and written about “Top 10 Drills”, but when you think about it each one of those is a particular standard. And there are so many more. What makes this one a better standard? Which one really qualifies you as “good enough”?

I was teaching this past weekend, and this topic came up. What is “good enough”? What is “sufficient”? It doesn’t really matter the context in life, it’s a general topic that applies to anything.

And all I could think of as a good and acceptable rule?

Just be better today than you were yesterday.

What are you entrusting your life to?

What is more important? Your ego or your life?

I’ve been giving the Sig Sauer P365 a trial. You can read and see about my exploration on my Instagram feed. There’s my first thought, my first live fire session, second live fire session (including a little fun). But what was more telling? I opted to shoot it exclusively during the 2019 Rangemaster Instructor Reunion and Conference. That’s no small potatoes. You know you’re going to be shooting tough courses. You know you’ll be shooting and the eyes of a few dozen top instructors will be watching you (because you will shoot The Casino Drill solo in front of everyone). And there’s Tom Givens – a man who commands the highest respect, and you don’t want to let him down. There’s a lot of pressure to perform well – so is it really the right place to shoot a small gun? an untested gun?

I can’t think of a better place!

I am considering this gun for personal protection. I am wanting to bet my life on it. If it – and I with it – cannot perform in high pressure situations on demand? Then it’s no good.

You can read about the aftermath in 3 parts: part 1, part 2, and here’s part 3:

Here’s the thing.

I have been shooting that P365 exclusively for a good while. I have been doing daily dry fire, and then a few live-fire sessions. I had about 800 rounds through the gun before the Reunion, and total around 1200 after. Frankly, that’s more rounds than many people shoot in a year, and some guns/people see in a lifetime. That weekend I shot with a lot of people of high skill, and you can see how I performed – and with the P365.

What I found interesting was when on Sunday morning everyone switched to their small gun, I saw that I continued to shoot about the same but I watched many around me degrade in their shooting skill. The take-away?

Shooting with small guns is hard.

Even for highly-skilled people, it’s harder to shoot a small gun than a big gun. (this is not new news: see the article Karl Rehn wrote back in 2012 on this very topic)

I see it time and time again. People come to class with a big gun and a fancy rig to carry it in. I ask them if that’s what they normally carry and the answer is no, they carry a tiny gun in a pocket holster. The follow-up question is why they aren’t shooting the class with the gun they carry. And there’s lots of reasons, some I might accept and most I won’t. Whatever the specific reason is, if you peel back the layers it often comes down to a simple thing:

  1. they know their small gun is hard to shoot
  2. they don’t want to look stupid or incompetent in class struggling to shoot the small, difficult gun

I get it. My ego wasn’t happy with how the Reunion weekend went. I felt a little ego-bruised because there were a number of people I respect seeing me shoot for the first time… and this was to be their impression of me and my skills. And here I am, shooting at my home range, as the Senior Assistant Instructor of KR Training, just published the “Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training” book, all this ego investment.

So trust me – I get it.

And when the weekend and gun and my shooting didn’t go as great as my ego wanted it to? Oh yeah, I felt it.

I get it. I really do.

But here’s the thing.

What I got out of the weekend (in terms of the gun and my shooting it) was PRECISELY what I wanted to get out of the endeavor. I wanted to see if it would perform, and how I would perform with it. And I got that.

  • I feel the gun needs a little more time before I can feel the hardware is as flawless as a human-created machine can get; and that I can trust it
  • I learned I have to put in a LOT of dedicated time with it (more than I anticipated), and that I cannot (yet) shoot it to the same level as my full-size gun.

But I also got that when I put in the time, the payoff is good.

Frankly, all of the time and investment I made in shooting the P365, including shooting it during the Reunion, gave me more knowledge, more skill, more ability, and more confidence in not just the hardware, but me. I cannot stress the importance of knowing your equipment – and knowing yourself, not just your capabilities but your limits too. If an instructor is going to embarrass you, belittle you, or laugh at you because you can’t shoot – they’re not an instructor, they’re a jerk. The fact you are coming to class is acknowledgement you don’t know and you wish to learn, that you admit your shortcomings and want to improve. If anyone’s going to make you feel bad about that, they can fuck right off.

This is a clue for you folks that carry a small gun but rarely practice with it. Or that come to class with a bigger gun to “game” the class.

To what are you entrusting your life?

Is your ego more important to preserve than your life?

Set your ego aside. If you’re going to entrust your life to something, make sure you are skilled and confident in that something.

Thoughts on the CoolFire

A couple weeks ago I was at KR Training assisting in the running of a demo/evaluation event involving Walther Arms & the CoolFire Trainer. The goal was to beta-test a possible new research study on the benefit of the CoolFire Trainer vs. live fire, for shooter skill development.

Karl Rehn was host, and has posted his write-up of the event. To understand the event – see the preliminary results – and to understand the context of my comments, you do need to first read Karl’s write-up.


I was working the event as an assistant and Range Safety Officer. Given the nature of the event, there was no teaching/instruction provided to students – it was a beta-test for a study, and we needed the live-fire vs. CoolFire to be the only variable. I was paid by KR Training for my time, but I’m always paid by KR Training for my time teaching and assisting (I’m Assistant Lead Instructor @ KR Training). I have no direct relationship with CoolFire, Walther, Al Dvorak, Dr. David Paulus. I’m not getting anything out of this (e.g. there’s no free PPQ or CoolFire here). My opinions are my own.

As a result of my participation and role in the event, I was able to watch a number of people, of varying skill levels and abilities. I also got to spend some time talking with Al Dvorak (inventor of the CoolFire) and he showed me a lot about the system.

I have to say that before the event I was skeptical. After the event, I’m genuinely curious.


There are a lot of training tools out there. Like there’s a dummy magazine that has a mechanism that provides a basic trigger reset – so now every trigger press feels more like a real press, and there’s some sort of tactile and auditory (click) feedback. There’s the popular SIRT Training Pistol. I think the SIRT is an indispensable classroom teaching aid (I use one almost every time I teach to help show and explain concepts to students), but I personally do not find it useful in my own training (I get too laser/dot focused; and if I’m not looking to the dots for feedback, what does this tool offer me in my own training?). YMMV.

Here’s the kicker.

We promote the value of dry fire. It’s well established that dry fire is the true secret to success – just ask folks like Steve Anderson or Ben Stoeger. While we can do most everything in dry fire that we can in live fire, we agree there’s one thing we cannot do – recoil management.

Well, the CoolFire looks to be a way to close that gap. Maybe not a complete closure, but it’s a step.

The first time I fired a fully-charged CoolFire, I was surprised at how much kick it had! Sure, it’s not the same as a pistol firing real ammo, but it was quite ample. A little bit of noise, a little bit of blowback, hey – this is something!

It’s easy in dry fire to forget to focus on your grip. Now, not so easy to forget.

You also have the opportunity to reacquire your sights, since the CoolFire’s recoil will disturb your sight picture.

I think that’s pretty cool.

I also liked how the laser attachment only fired as a result of the air pulse – more like an actual shot. It lets you know where your shot actually went, vs. a continuous-on laser where when you finally perceive the laser it may be where you moved to to after the fact.

I do think there are some downsides.

If you don’t have a lot of hand strength, it may be difficult to operate. Look at the size of the CO2 bottles we used. They’re a bit heavy, especially when you consider you have to hold them upside down, by the nozzle end — it can be difficult to balance. Furthermore, you have to push the tank nozzle into the CoolFire’s port — that takes some oomph to do. Most of the event participants had no problem with any of this. However, as luck had it, a participant on the end of the line next to where I was stationed just didn’t have the hand strength to hold and depress/insert the canister, so I had to refill her CoolFire throughout the event.

There are only so many shots, and each subsequent shot is a little weaker than the prior shot. This is just the nature of the beast. The dropoff isn’t huge – you can get through “a magazine’s worth of shots” before things start to feel too weak to continue. But it’s still there. And if you want to use the laser? You have to unscrew it, recharge, then reattach the laser – cumbersome. CoolFire does sell an adapter that has not only a built-in laser but then a side fill-port AND extra capacity for like 50 more shots. That’s great, but adds to cost (tho you can always buy the attachment later) and will make the gun longer and a little more front-heavy. I didn’t get a chance to try out that attachment so I don’t know how it affects handling (tho I’m sure it affects holstering and drawing due to the increased length and bulk).

The up-front cost. It’s a lot of money to dish out up front. But Karl’s write-up provides a break-down of how that cost actually pans out vs. live fire. When you look at the cost over the long-term, there’s net savings – but it still doesn’t take away the up front sticker shock that many people initially feel.

Aside: PPQ

I didn’t get to spend a LOT of time working with a PPQ. They have shown up in classes, they’ve always worked fine. After the event was over, I spent a little time shooting one. I’ve dry fired the trigger before and found it quite nice for a factory trigger, and live firing was consistent with prior experience. I personally find the gun’s profile a little large for my tastes, but it was comfortable in the hand (I know a lot of people find this an important quality…), easy to get to and work the controls, nice factory trigger, and shot well. Didn’t like the 3-dot sights, but if it were my own gun I’d be changing them to Dawson Precision sights anyways. We also had to disassemble and reassemble the guns to work with the CoolFire; that was very easy to handle (tho the require pressing the trigger) and I was surprised at the plastic guide rod. Still, seemed a decent pistol in the short period I spent with it.


I can’t say the CoolFire will make you a better shooter. I can’t say that CoolFire is a worthwhile and cost-effective training aid for you. I think the results of the beta-test event are encouraging, and I think Karl provides a good and reasonable analysis of the event and the product. I do hope a more full-blown study happens.

Me? Most of the other dry fire training aids have been curious, but not motivated me enough to plunk down my own money for. But after this event, I’m giving serious thought to the CoolFire. I’d at least like an opportunity to spend more time with it.

Beware the emphatic holster

Handling a gun can be dangerous.

A lot of “accidents” happens during administrative gun handling; that is, not when shooting a gun, but when taking it out, putting it away, or otherwise fiddle-farting with the gun.

One of the more dangerous parts of administrative gun handling? Putting the gun back into a holster.


The motion is “pushing the gun forward”. When this happens, if anything comes in contact with the trigger, the gun itself is able (continues) to move forward — but the trigger does not. The trigger stops and basically is moved backwards, and that then causes the trigger to do what it’s designed to do – and the gun fires.

That’s not good.

So why might this happen?

A number of reasons.

Clothing moves and finds its way into the holster.

I’ve seen spent brass eject, bounce off stuff, and land in holsters.

Sometimes debris from the berm (bits of mud or small rocks) can fly and land in strange places.


Who knows. And really, it doesn’t matter exactly why nor exactly what. The reality is, stuff that shouldn’t be in the holster DOES wind up in the holster.

And that could cause you a world of hurt.

I see it more often than I care to. People emphatically slam their guns back into the holster. They were upset about their performance on that drill. They were really happy about their performance on that drill. They were in a hurry. It really doesn’t matter why nor what, but they just slam that gun back into the holster.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

If you slam the gun back into the holster and something is in the way, you’ll never know. Check that. You will know – when you end up with a round in your body and a trip to the hospital.

I’m sure you don’t want that to happen.

Instead, go slow.


There’s little reason to 1. not LOOK at the holster while you are holstering the gun, 2. move slowly. OK sure, there may be some times in some contexts when this is required, but those are extremely rare – and exceptions do not prove the rule.

When you holster the gun you should look at and in the holster. Look first. See if there is anything in the way. If there is, move it, fix it, clear it. If you cannot look at the holster, figure out how to make it so you can. If you must move anatomy out of the way, do so. If your holster is in a place where you can’t look (e.g. small of the back), maybe your holster needs a better place to live. Look. See. Strive to ensure the holster is safe and clear for you to place the gun into it.

When you put the gun back into the holster, MOVE SLOW. When you slowly holster, you’re able to feel if something is wrong, if something doesn’t feel right, if something might be in the way that might cause the gun to fire. This is important information! Because if you feel something it wrong, you can STOP IMMEDIATELY! I hope you can see how this could prevent something undesirable from happening.

I know it’s hard. We get into the moment and our emotions can get the better of us. But we must be better than that. We must work to control our emotions. By choosing to carry a gun we also carry a grave responsibility. We may not be perfect at it (we are human, after all), but we must strive to do better. We must work to be aware of what’s going on, and work to ingrain the habit to a level of unconscious competence so when we holster our gun, it’s always done in a safe manner.

The emphatic holster has no place in safe gun handling. Holster by looking, holster slowly. Be sure, be safe.

Answer, but don’t open your door

A couple nights ago, about 9:30 PM, there’s a ring at the front door.

It’s a young woman, holding her head, vocalizing about “being hurt” and “being in pain”. From what we could see through the peep-hole, there was a small child with her.

Oldest answered the door.

Actually, Sasha (our 100 lb Kuvasz) answered the door first.

BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK (in a most unwelcoming tone).

After we got her calmed down.

“Who is it?”

“I need help. I’m hurting.”

“Sorry, we cannot help you.”

I was fast asleep. Wife woke me up and quickly briefed me. By the time I got to the door, she was gone.

Wife mentioned seeing a car just up the road, that drove off shortly thereafter.

Yeah… it looks like someone targeted our house for burglary. Don’t know why, doesn’t really matter why.

But it’s a typical attempt.

Use a woman. Because no one would suspect a woman of being a criminal. And in this case, having a small child with them (which is particularly despicable).

Have a ruse. Something to gain sympathy. Something to cause you to open your heart and your front door. When you open the door, if they don’t rush in, at least they will survey all they can to determine if it’s a good target.

This is why it’s critical you ANSWER your door. It’s important to let them know someone is home. That’s why they are knocking – to determine if someone is home or not.

BUT this does NOT mean you have to OPEN your door. In fact, do NOT open your door (this doesn’t mean open the main door and leave the storm door locked — open NO door, so they cannot see inside and you keep as many barriers between you and them). You can speak just fine THROUGH your door. If you have one of those new video/audio doorbells, use that and speak through that. If you don’t, just project your voice and speak THROUGH the door. There is NO need to open it: answer it, but don’t open it.

You don’t need to have a conversation.

“Who is it?”

Even if you determine it’s someone to bother with, be certain of that before you open your door. If you have doubt, take precautions. Delivery people don’t need to come in. Were you expecting a pizza? Does this person have a pizza? Did they come from the place you ordered from? If you’re still in doubt, call the pizza place first and ask them who the driver is and if the person at your door matches.

Yeah, some might call you paranoid, but it’s your personal safety here. Do what you need to satisfy yourself.

If the person says “I need help” you can give a simple response:

“I will help you by calling the police to come help you.”

I reckon if someone is truly in need, they might be annoyed but will accept the help (tho of course today just about everyone has a mobile phone and could call the police themselves if they needed it). If they aren’t in need, I reckon they’ll decline and be on their way.

If needed, call the police anyways.

Don’t threaten that you have a gun. Don’t say anything about shooting. Keep things calm and polite (but firm) – don’t escalate until it’s evident it’s time to escalate. It might just be some annoying person wanting you to sign a petition (and that doesn’t understand that “No Soliciting” doesn’t just mean selling wares), and such escalation could cause you more problems.

Just be polite and firm. Answer – but don’t open – the door. Work to determine if it’s a conversation to have, and if not, break it off firmly, including an offer to call the police if needed.


Training with Spencer Keepers – May 2018

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 Keepers

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.

Class General

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.

My equipment:

  • 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.

AIWB Skills

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. 🙂

Handgun Skills

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.

My Take-Homes

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.

Get nervous.

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.

High standards.

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.

Improvement Areas.

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

In teaching, don’t criticize, condemn, or complain

In a recent class we had a scary incident.

A student got hot brass down his shirt and did the “hot-brass dance”. Unfortunately, in this version of the dance he turned 360º and muzzled everyone on the range.

Some of you aren’t going to like how I chose to handle the incident.

Thankfully one of my assistants was right on top of him, physically restraining him to stop and control the student – and his muzzle. It looked a little harsh when it happened, but it was the right response. Sorry you’re getting burned, but muzzling everyone cannot happen. Get that under control, then we can deal with the hot brass.

Yes, it sucked this happened in class. No, I’m not happy it happened on my watch. It was a scary moment for sure.

At the end of every class, we go around to each student and ask them to tell us one thing they learned. When I got to this particular student, I forgot his exact words but it was something to the effect of “no one likes having a muzzle pointed at them!”. We all had a bit of a chuckle (stressful situations can bring out odd humor), but everyone also realized the seriousness and gravity of what happened – most of all, the one student.

My response to the student was straight from Dale Carnegie:

“And I know you won’t do that again.”

And I firmly believe that. He is a young man, and I am certain this incident is going to be a bright and vivid memory in his mind for the rest of his life. He was shocked, embarrassed, apologetic, and completely fathomed the gravity of his actions.

If you haven’t read Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, you should. What I did came right out of chapter one. This website summarized a story in that chapter:

Dale Carnegie knew that any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain—and most fools do—but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.

Carnegie liked to tell the story of Bob Hoover, who was a famous test pilot and frequent performer at air shows. Hooper was returning to his home in Los Angeles from an air show in San Diego. Suddenly, both engines stopped in mid-flight on the aircraft that Hoover was flying. Using his skills and some deft maneuvering, he managed to land the plane, but it was badly damaged. Thankfully, neither Hoover nor the two passengers that were flying with him were hurt.

Hoover’s first act after the emergency landing was to inspect the airplane’s fuel. Just as he suspected, the WWII propeller plane he had been flying had been fueled with jet fuel rather than gasoline.

Upon returning to the airport, he asked to see the mechanic who had serviced his airplane. The young man was sick with the agony of his mistake. Tears streamed down his face as Hoover approached. He had just caused the loss of a very expensive plane and could have caused the loss of three lives as well.

No one would’ve blamed Hoover for ripping into the mechanic for his carelessness. But Hoover didn’t scold the mechanic; he didn’t even criticize him. Instead, he put his big arm around the man’s shoulder and said, “To show you I’m sure that you’ll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow.”

Next time you’re prone to condemning someone, try to understand him or her instead. Try to figure out why the person did what he or she did. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance, and kindness. Remember…”To know all is to forgive all.”

I could have yelled at this young man, scolding him in front of everyone. I could have expelled him from class, or maybe allow him to continue to participate but with a fake/plastic gun.

I didn’t because it was not an act of malice. He had shown a solid aptitude and willingness to learn all day, and had progressed well. The dance was a horrible mistake.

What good would have come from criticizing, condemning, or complaining about his behavior? This is a beginner/intermediate-level class, where people admittedly don’t know and are coming precisely to learn and become better. We can not expect them to be “perfect” by the very definition of the class. And yes, that sometimes (tho thankfully rarely) means the classes have a high pucker-factor; you do all you can to mitigate it but you simply cannot eliminate it. I didn’t condone his behavior; I wanted to respond in a manner where he and the other students in class would take home the proper lessons and remember those for a lifetime – because if I handled it like an asshole, that’s all they would remember.

Claude Werner often speaks that instructors would gain a lot more spending a weekend in a Dale Carnegie course than another shooting class. I’ll say it in my best Morgan Freeman: “He’s right, you know”.

A willingness

It quickly became clear it was something else. Bullets shattered the restaurant’s windows. A man collapsed onto the floor. Servers ran. A young man whom Mr. Shaw had seen minutes earlier, silhouetted in a pickup truck, was gripping an AR-15 rifle. He was squeezing the trigger, and squeezing it again as he moved toward the building.

Then the firing paused. Mr. Shaw could see the man reloading his weapon just after entering the restaurant.

He sensed a moment when he could fight back.

“I acted in a blink of a second,” Mr. Shaw said. “When he reloaded his clip, that felt like 30 minutes. I looked at him, and he wasn’t looking at me. He just had the barrel down. It was like, ‘Do it now. Go now.’ I just took off.”

He scuffled with the man, whom the police later identified as [I refuse to reprint his name], a 29-year-old construction worker with a history of brushes with authorities. Mr. Shaw managed to seize the rifle and hurled it over a countertop.

Full article.

If there’s a name worth remembering here, it’s that of James Shaw, Jr.

He saw a moment. He acted – decisively, swiftly.

I’ve been seeing some things going around about this incident countering the “what stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” trope by crossing out the “good guy with a gun” and replacing it with “good guy with bare hands”.

I get it.

It’s worth understanding a few things.

Mr. Shaw was lucky. Not every event receives such a pause, nor has a willing person in such a position to act when that pause occurs. This isn’t to say I’m not thankful for what Mr. Shaw did; just we must realize that this was a tactic from opportunity, not from planning.

This is also not a tactic suitable for all people. Mr. Shaw is a young strong man. I think about one of the students I had in class this past weekend: she was elderly, small, frail, and not strong. Are you suggesting she should go hands-on? I’m sure you’re not, but then what would you suggest she do as a means of personal protection (since I reckon you’re unable and/or unwilling to be her round-the-clock bodyguard)?

Do you know what this act demonstrates?

That sometimes violence is exactly the answer.

Violence in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It’s how that violence is applied, in what context, towards what end, that determines if it is good or bad.

Mr. Shaw made the decision to respond with violence – and thank God he did.

When a woman gouges out the eyes of someone attempting to rape her, when she kicks and punches and bites and claws her attacker – she is responding with violence. Preventing rape is quite the good reason to hit someone.

People who choose to carry a gun or simply choose to own a gun for personal protection have come to accept there are evil people in this world. They have come to understand that sometimes the right and only response is a violent one.

This doesn’t mean that a gun is the answer, always the answer. Nor does it mean that violence is always the answer.

But sometimes it is.

And it’s necessary to have the willingness to apply it.