On June 1, 2022 I was a student in the Rangemaster Practical Tactical Course presented by Tom Givens, hosted by Karl Rehn at the KR Training facility. I took this class not only because I appreciate a refresh on Tom’s doctrine, but it’s also part of my journey of the red dot pistol.
The Rangemaster Practical Tactical Course is 8 hours of intensive training in defensive marksmanship, proper gun-handling, and personal tactics. The class started in the classroom with Tom speaking on the importance of mindset. Tom dove into the 1986 FBI Miami shootout and the lessons it holds. Home security matters were addressed (tl;dr “lock your damn doors”). Staying safe in public. Who is around me? What are they doing? Active shooter realities. This classroom portion is the money of the class (or really, any class with Tom Givens) – the mechanical skill of shooting is, relatively, easy. But to have what? 5+ decades of direct knowledge, professionalism, and experience laying it down for you? People… that’s where it’s at.
I get the feeling the design of the class is half-classroom half-range. I say “feeling” because we experienced sudden, unpredicted downpours throughout the day and were confined to the classroom for a fair portion of the day. Tom of course being a wellspring of knowledge there was no shortage of things for him to teach, and so he did. Eventually the rain stopped and we went out. It’s a pleasure watching Tom run a range – I got reminded of a few places I need to tighten up.
Range work was strong on fundamentals. Note: Tom had the following prerequisite for the class:
Registration is strictly limited to students who have had any prior Rangemaster handgun course, such as Combative Pistol, Intensive Pistol, or Instructor Development. This assures that everyone is on the same page on Safety and Basic Marksmanship procedures, so we don’t have to use time in this class to cover those topics. This assures everyone of a better learning experience in this course.
(I think a KRT DPS1 grad would be minimal for this course)
In range work, Tom went over the 4-count drawstroke, refining technique. We did a lot of drawstroke, dry work, present from low ready, DTFAH, multiple hits, Parrot Drill. Good stuff. Very fundamentals, very much ensuring people have (minimum) competency.
For me, the range work wasn’t anything I couldn’t already do… but I had the dot. More on that in a moment.
I’ve taken around 150 hours of training from Tom – I’m familiar with what he teaches. I think this “Practical/Tactical” class makes a fantastic entry into the world of “The Gospel of Givens”. It is solid and well-considerate of topics for a 1-day class offering – it is rich in appropriate and relevant skills and information. I am happy people were introduced to Quickly, Carefully, Precisely. And again, the real money is the classroom material. Folks… THIS IS THE SHIT YOU NEED. And I’ll be real for a moment: I dunno how much longer Tom’s gonna keep doing this, so get your ass into one of his classes.
If you are more on the experienced side, this is still a valuable class. You can ALWAYS stand to hear the classroom stuff again – plus the way Tom tells it, well… you can tell he’s an articulate motherfucker who knows his shit. And the range time is excellent work on fundamentals – you will learn something new, that will help you along.
People go to classes because they want fun: a class has to be fun. It is a bit of an escape for most of us (e.g. I came home refreshed, actually! a day outside away from the computer…). Practical Tactical provides fun – you’ll get “pew-pew time”. But this is one of those classes where your satisfaction comes later, after class, when you realize how richer you’ve become for the experience.
Bottom line: a solid 1-day offering beneficial to those who wish to become richer in their knowledge of defensive handgun
I shot my Sig P365XL, curved trigger, Wilson Combat grip module, Holosun 507K (circle-dot), PHLster Enigma & JMCK Enigma Shell (recently adjusted).
My biggest problem was eye focus: I’m heavily myelinated on front-sight focus, so I wound up doing dot-sight focus. I’m also learning how to acquire (hunt for) the dot. I’ve been mostly working on the press-out, which implies ready positions like “high-compressed ready” (which is what is done at KRT). Tom works from the low ready – I haven’t worked that with the dot. The “on press-out” techniques to help you find/acquire the dot like starting slightly muzzle-up waving/dropping the muzzle as you get to extension to allow the dot to “drop in” – you can’t do that from low ready. So how the F do you manage low ready? What’s the trick there? Seriously, I’m asking – comment below.
I just have to continue to (un)learn it. I think I need more live-fire at this point, because recoil, sun, etc. It’s just going to take work – I need to get my eyes/brain seeing what needs to be seen here. I was thankful Doug Greig was AI’ing, as he was a solid resource for dot-specific tips.
To that… remember. The old man is 70, still uses irons, and outshoots all of us. Take that to the bank.
I was better in my grip… almost too good:
Blood blister, I reckon from a bottom-corner on the mag well. I’ll be taking some sandpaper to round off edges. I like the WC module, but it’s a trade-off for the part vs. something like a Boresight module. I have an off-the-shelf BS module, but I think to work in my hands I need a custom job, which is time and money so… yeah.
After adjusting the Enigma/JMCK setup, it’s working better. I need to get a sport belt…
It was an informative time. Things I see I could stand to do:
Do more dry work “at speed”
Think about that DTFAH skill.
Drive the gun, especially during dry work.
Small gun issues…
Continue to work on eye focus
Live work – use Gabe’s 4 technical skills, perhaps.
It was good to see Tom. I’m privileged to know and learn from him.
Individuals who successfully complete this program will be certified as Force Science Analysts. This designation attests that the holder has been trained to recognize and articulate important psychological, biological, and physiological factors that can influence human behavior and memory in force encounters and pursuit situations. Like persons trained in accident reconstruction, blood-spatter analysis, and other science-based disciplines, investigators certified in Force Science Analysis will be able to apply their grasp of human dynamics to interpret how and why a force confrontation evolved as it did. Students will also know how to mine the memories of those involved for relevant recollections. This information can be vital to authorities who ultimately must judge the encounter, such as administrators, internal affairs, chiefs, review board members, prosecutors, judges, and jurors.
For years, FSI courses were only available to people directly involved in law enforcement. But about 2 years ago, they opened it up to non-LEO. I’ve been wanting to take this course for a number of years, and am happy I was finally able to.
The course was held in the Doubletree Hotel conference room on the north side of Austin (hooray! I got to commute up and down I-35 for a week!). 8:30 to 5:30 for 4 days, and 8:30 to about 1:00 on the last day. There were 112 or so people in class. Overwhelmingly most were LEO, but I know at least 4 people were not: myself, my fellow KR Training instructor Tracy Thronburg, Marty Hayes (of Firearms Academy of Seattle, and Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network), and Andrew Branca (Law of Self Defense). I had no idea Marty was going to be there (Marty’s a friend), and no idea Andrew was either (first time meeting and speaking with him). From a quick scan of the room, most LEO were from Texas agencies, but there were others – I believe 1 attendee had flown in from Australia.
We were provided a large, printed/bound book, of all the lecture slides. That was a nice touch, making it easy to take notes as well as having a solid reference on your bookshelf for later. With 40 hours of drinking from the information firehose, there’s no way you can remember everything, so the bound notes book is a welcome touch for memory retention and future reference.
Each day was divided into topics. Some topics would receive a couple hours of treatment, such as how the brain works (to help us understand how memory works, how sensory perception works), how vision works. Some topics would receive multi-day coverage, such as biomechanics, although this was broken up to cover many sub-topics.
And yes, there is a (closed-book) test. We took it just before lunch on the 4th day. It covered all topics presented to that point, and yes it was a requirement for certification (all people in our class passed, but I am to understand there have been failures in prior classes).
I appreciated the content provided. Yes, it was mostly provided from the perspective of law-enforcement, but that stands to reason. But as someone who trains private citizens, how applicable is this to me and my students?
Fairly well, actually.
What’s studied and presented is mostly about human beings. How we work, how we function, our capabilities, our limits. It doesn’t matter if you’re a police officer, a CEO, a farmer, a software developer – humans are human. Our senses, our brains, they only can do so much and work so fast.
You see how a lot of human performance research is based in sports performance. I think that also makes it great for helping people that might not understand (or want to understand) performance in a “use of force” context understand that this isn’t just “research to help cops find excuses to murder people”. No, this is just how people work, and this research is aimed to explain how people function in the context of use-of-force. Certainly this information and research could be used to keep someone out of jail, or put someone in jail; it’s information, not agenda nor bias.
Some presented material was certainly specific to law enforcement, but it was still welcome to see that information and gain knowledge and insight into those aspects. Because still for my students, if they are involved in a use-of-force incident themselves, they will interact with law enforcement so having such insight is useful.
For me, I found the information going through two filters.
First, that of an instructor. As of this writing, I have about 850 hours of formal training in this realm and have been teaching at KR Training for about 11 years. A lot of this material isn’t new to me, but that’s fine. I always appreciate hearing such things again, because there’s always some new twist, some new detail, some new angle in the material and how it is presented that provides me with greater reinforcement, clarity, depth, and understanding of the topic. But for sure, a good deal of information was new.
I found myself thinking about our curriculum, what we teach, how we teach it. I think about the questions students tend to ask and the way they are typically answered. I found myself both affirming much of what we already do as sound and good approaches, but also making adjustments to word choice or emphasis. For example, it was frequently stressed the importance of “if you expect to perform at X, you need to train at X”. Let me explain.
Let’s say I wanted to become a top-class swimmer, like Olympic gold medalist. Well, if I want to do that, I don’t think power walking on a treadmill will get me there – I have to swim. Extreme example, but I hope you’re following the reasoning. But I shouldn’t just swim, like the seniors doing “adult swim” laps at the YMCA. I need to swim hard. I need to swim in races against other people (which is implicitly a timer). I need that sort of pressure, to have my training mirror the environment, situation, context, everything of that moment of actual performance (the actual swim meet and race).
So if I expect to be able to perform in a gunfight, I need to have my training mirror the environment, situation, context, everything about that situation that one can safely mirror in training. This means pressure, this means training like scenarios/Force-on-Force. This sort of training will help me be better prepared and improve my chances of performing well.
This isn’t then so much a realization that we need to change what we do – we’re already teaching and promoting this (my boss-man Karl Rehn is one of the modern pioneers of force-on-force training). This is more to those who don’t think you need such training, that do things like poo-poo shot-timers, yet still think they are adequately training people for “that moment”. There’s science that says you’re doing it wrong.
The second filter? I won’t go into too much detail, but my personal incident of January 2015 served as another filter and perspective through the whole week. This is the sort of thing that, if you’re curious for my thoughts here, we can talk in person. It’s not bad, it’s just nuanced and I don’t think I can adequately convey in a blog post.
It’s not all rosy
Overall I was pleased with the course, but there were a few things I didn’t find optimal.
First, it’s just a LOT of information in a short period of time. There’s no way to remember it all. The book is nice, but it’s just the presentation slides and room for notes. And you will take notes, but the note-taking process divides your attention and you miss things. I wish there was a better way to manage the information density.
Second, it is death by PowerPoint. But at least the speakers were all dynamic, engaging, good story-tellers. They certainly captured and held the interest of the audience. But again, I’m not sure there’d be any other practical way to do accomplish the goal of this training.
Third, sometimes I wondered if this was about educating us on the material, or defending the validity of the work FSI does. Many times when Dr. Lewinski was speaking, he kept making a big point about who they did the research with (the researches, the Universities), what scientific journal – and the prestige of that journal – in which the research was published. That the FSI work was accepted by this court and that court and all these things. He would frequently sound like he was trying to convince us his word, his work, was all valid sound defensible science. Now I get it: there are a lot of critics of Dr. Lewinski and FSI’s work, so I’m sure his actions come from somewhere. But it just came across as too much. If you have to get this defensive, is the criticism valid? I mean, you have a room full of paying customers – I don’t expect this is an audience you need to convince. So it was curious and a little distracting. I think the point could have been made in a more subtle way, or by simply not bothering… because if in fact it is invalid, proper science will bear that out.
Should You Take This?
This information can be vital to authorities who ultimately must judge the encounter, such as administrators, internal affairs, chiefs, review board members, prosecutors, judges, and jurors.
So if you fall into that category, it’s likely useful to you.
But how about folks in my realm: private citizens?
If you’re “just a private citizen”, I don’t see much need to take this class. If you have the money, the time, the desire, there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking it and I won’t stop you. I just would consider it something like a “grad school level elective” – far from critical to take, and your finite time/money may be better spent elsewhere. More firearms training, first aid training, improving your physical fitness, and things like that may serve you better.
If you’re someone like me, a trainer/instructor, my answer is… maybe.
It depends on what sort of instructor/trainer you would be.
If you’re someone who is content to have their NRA Instructor credentials so you can help teach Boy Scout merit badges, the FSI training doesn’t make a lot of sense. (and note: there’s NOTHING wrong with being an instructor like that). If you just like teaching basic/introductory/familiarization courses to new shooters, you might find some utility here, but again it’s probably not worth your time/trouble/expense. If you’re purely interested in competition/sports, you would probably do well to learn about human performance dynamics, but the context the FSI course presents it in isn’t the correct context for you.
This material is useful for someone like me: someone deeply and earnestly interested in helping people learn how to manage themselves and perform at a high-level in situations of self-defense.
If I extend the above analogy, I’d consider this grad-school level course work. If you don’t have your “undergrad” credentials (e.g. NRA Instructor, higher-level instructor such as Rangemaster certified, MAG certified, CSAT, etc.), that should come first. If you don’t have a few years teaching at least some hundred students, that should come first. The presentation is certainly one expecting you to have some idea and experience in the topic realm. But I also don’t think it’s critical to one’s success to attend… it’s just like getting a Masters degree: not vital, but does take you further, deeper, into topics.
I’m certainly happy to have taken it, and know it will help me be a better teacher.
I want to thank Dr. Lewinski for the work he does, and his team of researchers and lecturers for all that they’re doing to help bring better understanding to the world about this topic. It’s good and important work.
It took 20 minutes for Austin Police to respond to a deadly stabbing on January 3, 2020.
Austin police said they received a call reporting a man with a large rock was verbally threatening people at Bennu Coffee on Congress around 7:50 a.m. When an officer arrived, about twenty minutes later, the suspect was being held down by customers inside.
“According to Emergency Communications Standard Operating Procedures for Priority 2 calls, dispatchers should send the two closest available units within five minutes of the call entering the queue. This did not occur and is part of the internal review,” police said in a statement.
I’m not going to get too hard on APD, dispatch, 911, whomever. Everyone involved is human, and that means mistakes can happen. It means that sometimes things just won’t go ideally.
Police say the suspect assaulted a customer at a coffee shop “for no apparent reason,” then ran to a nearby restaurant where he stabbed two people, before climbing up and jumping off the roof of the building.
Austin police credit Bennu Coffee customers for trying to subdue a suspect who later was accused of stabbing two people Friday, possibly preventing more violence.
“It was extremely important that they intervened and got involved and detained the individual,” said APD Sgt. David Daniels. “We don’t recommend individuals getting involved in a situation, but they chose to do that. And, it was helpful.”
It’s understandable APD isn’t going to recommend it. What’s good to see is the acknowledgement that swift decisive intervention – BY THE PEOPLE RIGHT THERE RIGHT THEN – helped stop bad things from continuing to happen.
Experts at Texas State University tell KXAN the average response time for police is three minutes.
I don’t know where they got their average. Latest data (Oct 2019) on APD response time for a “lights & sirens” top-priority call is an average of 8 minutes – up 10% from last year. And that’s average… your call may take longer. Couple that with fewer officers, the fast-rising Austin population and traffic, you better expect your call WILL take longer.
I don’t know how you regard three minutes (or maybe 8 minutes), as a lot or a little bit of time. But consider it’s basically the length of a typical song. So pick your favorite song – actually, pick a pop song you don’t like so we don’t create negative association. Now play that song. Listen to it from beginning to end with no pausing, no stopping short. When the song starts playing, imagine someone punching you in the face… maybe punching along with the beat. And I don’t mean friendly punches, but say Conor McGregor or Floyd Mayweather Jr. unleashing on you. Until the song is over. When the song ends, that’s when police show up to stop the beating.
That’s a long time. How much pain do you think you’ll be in? Or maybe not pain, but in the hospital? Dead?
Let’s try the same experiment, but this time you’ve got your biggest baddest friend in the other room. As soon as the music – and the punching – starts, your friend can rush in and stop the beating. Not much time will have passed, nor many punches thrown. I don’t know how much pain you’ll be in, but I’m sure it will be far less than the first scenario.
Let’s try the same experiment again. But this time, you know how you box, or at least dodge and weave and duck and run. When the music starts, you fight back. How does that change the outcome?
The ability to respond immediately (minimization of wait time) makes a BIG difference.
ALERRT emphasizes the need for civilian response training to better respond to mass attacks, teaching tactics on how to avoid and defend yourself in such situations. Since its inception, ALERRT estimates its training has been taught to at least 400,000 civilians nationwide.
“Sometimes it’s not a decision,” ALERRT Assistant Director John Curnutt added. “The decision has been made for you, because it is happening. You are going to do something or not. You are going to own a situation, or it’s going to own you. That’s the only option you have at that point.”
We all prefer to make our own choices and dislike when choices are made for us. But well-adjusted folks know sometimes life makes choices for us – how we respond to what life throws at us is what it’s all about, and the more we can do to be prepared to handle life’s eventualities makes a big difference.
Look… I’m not saying everyone needs to buy and carry guns. If that’s not your thing, that’s fine.
What I am saying is, you’ve been on this Earth long enough to know “shit happens”. And when it does, typically the sooner it can be addressed, the better the outcome. Why do you think it’s so important to learn CPR? Why is it a good idea to have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers? Can you look back on your life and think of a time where if you were just a little better prepared, some bad situation could have turned out better?
So if this means in 2020 you finally get certified in CPR, excellent! Or if after reading this you go change the batteries on your smoke detectors, great! And if it means you want to carry pepper spray, or become proficient with firearms, that’s fine too. The bottom line is working to make yourself a better and more capable person. So when the inevitable shit happens and you’re Johnny-on-the-spot, YOU will be able to make that positive difference instead of waiting for someone else to hopefully make the save.
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.
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
Desantis pocket holster
My .38 Special reloads
HKS speedloaders (for both revolvers), TUFF speed strips (8-round)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
they know their small gun is hard to shoot
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.
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.
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.
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.
The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust. A feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
Confidence is something we all want to have, especially in areas important to us. When we are confident, we have the ability to perform under pressure – instead of crumbling. It doesn’t mean we won’t be nervous or scared, but it does mean we know we can and will perform.
There are numerous ways to achieve (a higher level of) confidence. One is to ensure a solid grasp upon and ability to apply fundamentals – the necessary base or core.
“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”
– Michael Jordan
There’s really no super-secret ninja tricks. The best out there are just the best at applying the fundamentals – and they are supremely confident in their ability to do so.
Note this requires not only having the skill, but KNOWING you have the skill AND knowing that you can apply those skills, on demand, under pressure.
When it comes to defensive pistol skills and concealed carry, there is without question a need – a requirement – to have confidence in one’s abilities. You carry because you acknowledge the possibility you may have to defend your life or the life of someone else, so this is a realm where you must have a strong self-confidence. Anything else could put your life – or the life of someone else – at risk.
Step back and think about it for a moment.
You probably think you can handle these things just fine. And maybe you can.
Going back to my 2013 article that started the minimum competency exploration I concluded:
So have I been able to define “minimum competency” required for defensive handgun use?
Maybe, maybe not – I’m sure there will be folks who take issue with what I’ve written. It seems when we look at what unfolds in a typical incident and what needs to be done to handle that typical incident, you get:
drawing from concealment
And perhaps moving on that draw (like a side-step then stop; not shoot-and-move)
getting multiple hits
in a small area
5″ circle? 6″ circle? 8″ circle? consider human anatomy
from close range
Within a car length, so say 0-5 yards
3 seconds or less
using both hands, or maybe one hand (or the other)
That’s what you need to be able to do – at a minimum.
So let’s just look at the “Bill Drill” (#4 on our list) because it’s a short and simple drill that basically covers the above 6 points.
If I walked up to you and asked you to shoot a Bill Drill, right now, in front of me, could you do it? How does the thought of that make you feel? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you feel butterflies in your stomach? Do you know for a solid fact you could shoot that cold, on-demand, and rock it – or are you not certain?
If the thought of this makes you feel even one iota of uncertainty, then you do not have the confidence you need.
If you feel confident, then shoot it. Can you shoot it to an acceptable level? And can you do it again?
Or maybe you don’t feel anything, and you just admit you don’t know. Then well, you need to know.
If you don’t have the confidence you need to work to gain it. If you don’t have the knowledge, then you need to shoot it and gain that knowledge. And once you’ve acquired that knowledge, now you have measured and quantified knowledge of your performance, which not only gives you an articulable and tangible expression of your ability, but also the confidence in knowing your level of performance.
This is one reason why we at KR Training have our Basic Pistol 2 and Defensive Pistol Skills 1 classes. These classes are not just core curriculum, but are the two most important classes we teach, as they provide the student with the necessary fundamentals for defensive pistol use. We provide you with the knowledge you need, help you establish your skills, and provide you with a quantified measure of your skills (via the “3 Seconds or Less” test).
I’ll state again: if you don’t have the self-confidence to shoot and pass “3 Seconds or Less” right now, you have work to do and knowledge to gain. This is not a time for believing you’re “good enough” with no factual basis to back it up – do not let your ego get you killed; this is not a space where you can “fake it ’til you make it”. Your life, and the lives of those you love are on the line. You need a true, honest assessment and knowledge of your skills and abilities – and the confidence that knowledge brings.
Have that confidence. For when the flag flies is not the time to wonder if you can – you must already know you can.