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Karl Rehn and Caleb Causey’s Low Light Force-On-Force

Karl Rehn and Caleb Causey’s Low Light Force-On-Force

In my overview of the 2015 Rangemaster Tactical Conference I said that I was focusing on “action based” blocks of instruction. Having taken time off to have yet another baby I wanted to use my time at the Tac Conference to gauge what I’m retaining, what I’m learning, what I’ve overlearned, what I need to work on and where I need to focus my training efforts going forward. It’s hard to do that without action-based assessments.

Karl Rehn and Caleb Causey’s Low Light Force-On-Force was not only an assessment of low light tactics but also incorporated medical scenarios. Being an EMT I was excited for the opportunity to practice and be assessed in some of the trauma skills I have been trained in but blessedly don’t have much opportunity to use.

I’d heard a lot about both Karl Rehn and Caleb Causey from other instructor friends but this was my first time meeting or training with either of them. Karl has extensive experience running force and force and Caleb is a veteran combat medic who now teaching civilians the principles of providing trauma care in hostile environments.

This would be a new experience for me. The few traumas due to violence I’ve responded to in my capacity as an EMT have all been secured prior to entry by law enforcement. The only potential criminals I’ve treated have been in handcuffs with a sheriff’s deputy standing over both of us. I’ve never had to provide both security and medical treatment or to pick priority between the two.

The class could only take 15 participants but we snuck a 16th under the door because he was a local officer who brought his own airsoft gear. The class opened with introductions and then Caleb asked how many of us carry medical gear with us everywhere we go. There were a few people who said they keep it in their car but as far as I could tell I was the only one who professed I carried it with me everywhere.

I don’t think Caleb believed me. He told me he wanted to see my bag and how I carried it and I welcomed him to do just that. In fact, I was hoping to get his take on my kit anyway to see if there was anything I needed to add or change. I can now proudly say that my med kit is Caleb Causey approved!

Karl ran the make up of the scenarios while Caleb ran the medical portions. All of the scenarios would be blind but with the same basic scene. The scene was set up as though there were a massive power outage. You were exiting your place of work into a parking garage that had automatic locks so you couldn’t retreat back into the building. Cell phones did not work and at the end of the parking garage was your car and the street. Karl would pull out a few people, take them aside and give them instructions, turn off the lights and the welcome the participants into the scene, usually in groups of threes. Injuries were indicated with strips and pieces of bright orange duck tape. Not all participants were armed and not every scenario was a fight or shooting scenario.

Those not involved as roll players were allowed to stand aside in a predetermined area in the room and watch but could not interfere in any way.

The first group of three walked into a pitch black room where four individuals were fighting. As soon as they came in, two of the individuals ran off and what was left was a man lying on the floor, unmoving, and a woman running around frantically screaming for help for her loved one.

Two of the participants had recently gone through a tactical combat medical class and while not entirely versed in the concept of triage, did quite well with their assessment and treatment of both the man on the floor and the woman who, it was later discovered, was shot in the chest.

The scenario brought up concepts like triage and focusing treatment on outcomes you can change and allocating resources and making advanced decisions about getting help vs staying and treating. When it came time to move the patients it became quite obvious to many that moving dead weight humans is a lot harder than most people anticipate and deciding to move someone vs calling in help may be an important advanced decision to make.

The next scenario had three individuals walking into an ambush. All three of them were shot–one in the upper thigh, one in the strong hand and one in the belly. Their med bag was stolen and they had to clear the area.

Had this scenario been real life it wouldn’t have boded well for any of them. None of them had medical training and clearing the room to find their med bag was difficult due to a lack of tactics and application of using lights and cover. When they did get their med bag they had to take the additional time to attempt to read the instructions on the back of packages on how to use the medical gear, all with injuries and while one of their participants bled to death. The scenario was ended early to walk through how it could have gone and to drive home the lessons of seeking training in medical skills and movement and off-hand shooting.

This scenario was designed to show the need for a security priority but also to use everyone for that means of security. We also talked about setting up a secured location where even the wounded can provide security and using cover and concealment.

When it came time for “my” scenario I was told that I’m walking to my car with my two friends. Neither of them have medical training and neither of them are armed but they both know that I’m armed. I sighed. I pretty much knew what was coming.

I was told my med kit was in the car and we were sent into the room.

Right away one of my companions blasts out ahead of us to “the car” while myself and my other companion are taking our time. Just about the time we come to our first corner, I hear her get into a tussle. She’s yelling, and there’s some popping from the airsoft guns and I push my companion behind me and into a nook behind cover, turn off my flashlight and draw my gun.

I hear, “Oh Shit,” ring out from the darkness.

It’s completely dark for a few moments. There’s no sound and no movement and I’m trying to take some time to think about what to do next. In many of the scenarios, once the initial violence was done the bad guys ran off. The bad guy could have run off or he or they (I didn’t know how many there were) could be waiting for me. My companion could be shot or hurt and needing help. Either way, help and rescue are forward and I have to move out of my relatively good position.

I step out from behind cover and turn on my light again and the moment I do the officer who brought his own air soft gear flies around the corner and shoots me in the leg while I shoot at him. I don’t know if I got any hits on him.

Caleb pauses the scenario and says, “Ok, well you weren’t supposed to be doing this so well so let’s just fast forward this and just say you are up here by the car,” he moves me into position, “and shot here” he puts a piece of tape on my left arm, “here” on my left upper thigh, ” and here” on my left upper chest. “You are having difficulty breathing and cannot stand. Go.”

I lay down on the floor, take a moment to collect myself and tell companion number 1 to go for help. He leaves to do that while I ask companion number 2 to bring me the med bag and I start walking her through treating me in order of importance. Apparently because I was helping too much Caleb then decided that I’d also been shot in my upper right arm and tells me that I now cannot speak for 20 seconds.

I’m lying on the floor, spread eagle, not able to talk or use any of my limbs and my companions are supposed to have no medical training. Goodbye, cruel world.

When Caleb told me I could talk again I had her put the med bag on my chest and show me everything in the bag one item at a time. When I identified what I wanted I talked her through applying it to include putting a tourniquet on my leg, a chest seal on my chest, searching my back for any exit wounds, putting a pressure bandage on my right upper arm and holding pressure on my left arm until help arrived.

At that point I was pretty thankful for the loads of “bystander” scenarios we did in EMT school where we had to direct clueless bystanders.

This scenario was supposed to illustrate the short-sightedness of people who say things like, “Well, my friend is armed,” or “My friend is a medic, if anything happens, we’ll just let you take care of it.” If your armed medic goes down, you might be up a creek without a paddle.

The scenario was also meant to illustrate to me the difficulty in “treating through a barrier” which is a medic having to direct someone else in providing care vs doing it themselves. In a high stress environment, trying to explain to a frightened individual what to do and get them to understand things they’ve never had to do before can be quite challenging. Placing a tourniquet or even identifying a tourniquet or defining what a windlass is can be maddeningly frustrating. It’s frustrating enough without real blood and pain and nerves. It can be fatal otherwise.

I hadn’t heard her but when my companion ran ahead of me and was accosted by the bad guy she had screamed out, “She has a gun!”

Going dark when I heard the commotion was exactly the thing to do but I exposed myself and gave away my position when I turned my flashlight back on and that directly led to me getting shot.

Flashing and moving or staying behind cover and flashing and moving to another piece of cover would have been far better for me. I need to work on my movement between cover and concealment and using my flashlight.

The next two scenarios were more along the lines of teaching wound priority and just because someone is making the most noise doesn’t mean they are the most wounded and not everyone who needs help is a good guy.

Each of the scenarios were built to illustrate a vital point and not a single one of us went away without having learned something very important from the experiences.

My biggest take-aways were security priority, maintaining that security throughout treatment and using that light to your advantage. Scene safety is drilled into anyone who attends EMT training but it means something entirely new when you are in a hostile environment that doesn’t include police officers standing by.

Another thing I found interesting was how fixated we all got during treatment to the point where guns were being completely forgotten. Some of the scenarios would end and people would be left looking around for the gun they were supposed to have during the scenario. I had lost mine because I’d been told I was shot in both arms and to drop it but others would put theirs down to treat, move and completely lose track of them. With security being a priority, keeping track of that firearm is pretty important.

I liked both Karl and Caleb. In addition to being knowledgeable they were both edifying and constructive in their criticisms. It can’t be easy teaching a class with participants from all ranges of skill but they pulled it off nicely, challenging those who needed to be challenge and instructing those who needed instruction and inspiring everyone.

I look forward to taking more training from both Karl and Caleb in the future!

Rangemaster Tactical Conference: 2015

Last weekend I attended my second Rangemaster Tactical Conference.

If you’re not sure what that is, just imagine every self defense trainer you’ve ever wanted to train with under one roof for three days and you get to choose from any number of blocks of instruction you want to go to from couples tactics to use of cover, to knife defense and more. You can also compete in a match, win door prizes, rub shoulders with some of the greatest minds in the industry and meet some amazing, like-minded new friends.

Last year I was five months pregnant and constructed my schedule around things I felt I was lacking in my training. This year, while there wasn’t a single block of instruction I did not want to go to, I chose to invest most of my time into the blocks of instruction that offered experience vs knowledge. In other words, the live-action blocks.

On Friday I attended:

Teach ‘Em A Lesson with Tiffany Johnson

Tiffany gave instruction on constructing presentations that engage students and convey your content without boring or confusing. I found this block of instruction inspirational and helpful as it showed a lot of the mistakes presenters make and how to avoid them. I realized I’d made many of those mistakes in my own presentations and immediately set about to fix them upon returning home. Bettering my presentation because of it.

Next, I attended Lethal Encounters taught by Jim Higginbotham. This entire block seemed very familiar and I realized it was because I’d attended the same block by a different name the year before. It was a good reminder, however, on what actually incapacitates attackers and how to construct your training to maximize effectiveness with something as potentially incapacitating as a handgun.

Spencer Keepers teaching Critical Handgun Skills

Spencer Keepers teaching Critical Handgun Skills

My afternoon was supposed to be Critical Handgun Skills with Spencer Keepers but ice on the range shut down the afternoon and I headed over to Paul Sharp’s Weapon Retention and Disarms. My husband, John, and I only got to stay for a few minutes, however, as it was our turn to shoot the pistol match. We were both hoping we would be right back into class but they were running behind which kept us stuck outside of the range.

It wasn’t all bad, however, because I got to spend that time listening to Claude Werner talk about his recent research into the OODA loop. I was absolutely fascinated by his research and kind of bummed when they finally called us into the range. I can’t wait to hear about the rest of his research.

After the match we headed over to Massad Ayoob’s class on Witness Dynamics. A fascinating look at how fallible people are at recalling what happened in any given situation and how their perceptions can be used in court to make it seem as though you are lying.

With that in mind we were done for the day and met up with some pretty high class people down at a local eatery for some great fun and amazing food.

I was lucky enough to get sat across from Spencer Keepers and John Hearne and got about two hours worth of shooting advice from both of them. I was just a bit start struck.

Saturday opened with Southnarc’s Experiential Learning Laboratory. Craig Douglas, known as Southnarc to many, sets up a blind scenario based upon plausible, real-life scenarios. After all live weapons are removed from participants you are given a brief scenario and a regular task. In this case, “You’re leaving WalMart. Your task is to get in your car and go home.” Along the way you are presented with a challenge that may or may not require the use of a firearm. The point, of course, is to test your ability to gauge and handle potentially life-threatening situations. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d make the cut as only about 15 people get to participate but eventually I made it into the group of 15 that would participate. The experience was enlightening as well as humbling but vital in its use for self assessing my progress on this self-defense journey.

From there I headed over to Spencer Keeper’s Critical Handgun Skills class. I’d been looking forward to this class since I’d heard he was teaching it. He had promised to challenge me and my shooting ability as I expressed to him I’d been feeling a bit like I’d plateaued. Unfortunately, it was pouring down rain and even though we worked as much as we could, the rain really hampered things like speedy work from the holster. It was a unique experience to have my gun so wet that water was running off the muzzle and down my pant legs whenever I holstered it.

I was supposed to assist Lynn Givens with the woman’s Primary Marksmanship Skills class in the afternoon but it was cancelled due to the rain and even though Spencer offered to keep working with people who were willing to stand in the rain, I was loathe to miss the end of John Hearne’s lecture on Performance Under Fire. I had attended John’s four-hour version the year before and knowing that he’d added two more hours of information was too much to pass up. I snuck in just in time to hear him talk about some of the sacred cows the shooting industry still holds on to in regards to things like fine motor skills, the inability to see sights in gunfights and heart rate dictating performance.

The med bag, approved by Caleb Causey

The med bag, approved by Caleb Causey

In keeping with my theme of wanting to focus on live, action based training and assessment, I started my Sunday morning in line for Caleb Causey and Karl Rehn’s Low Light Force-on-Force incorporating medical scenarios. I had cornered Causey in the hall way the day before, telling him I was an EMT and looking forward to his block of instruction. His response was, “Oh, good! I have a scenario I want to use you for.”

I got nervous.

Not only would this be a pseudo-assessment of my problem solving and tactics and chaos management but also my medical skills. I felt I’d left a lot of the angst in regards to scenarios behind me when I walked out of the door of Craig Douglas’ learning lab and was ready to take on this new challenge.

While these scenarios would be blind they would also be dark and be dealing with a portion of self defense that a lot of people don’t consider–how to treat yourself or those you love if you are injured in a fight.

I plan to go into further detail later. For now I’ll just say that this class was a great lesson for me as an EMT as well as a civilian. Working scene security and tactics as well as treatment and scanning was a new adjunct to the skills I got to practice, however briefly. It was also great to have Caleb there to look over my medical kit and give his suggestions. I fully anticipate seeking out training from him and Karl Rehn in the future.

To finish out my weekend I went to Greg Ellifritz’s Close Range Handgun Threat: Empty Hand Skills class. I’d attended his Extreme Close Quarters gunfighting class in October of 2013, the day before I found out I was pregnant with our third child. Feeling I didn’t have the chance to practice a lot of the skills he taught I felt this was a good opportunity to refresh as well as keep with my theme of attending action-based blocks of instruction.

My sparring partner and I did get a little rambunctious now and then (apologies to everyone we ran into) but it’s a relief to get paired with people who actually aren’t afraid to tussle with a small female.

I won a holster as a door prize and Lynn gave me a belt! I didn’t place so hot in the match but that’s okay, too.

As the conference progressed I took notes in the back of my notebook as to the things I wanted to do or improve upon in the coming year.

They are as follows:

Redo my babywearing and carrying powerpoint presentation (done)
Start carrying my spare magazine on body
Start carrying a fixed blade forward of my hips again
Get new sights on my Shield
Achieve a 1.5 second draw/shoot time from concealment with one good hit on chest of a 7-yard target
Work more strong-hand-only drawing and shooting
Work more low-light tactics and shooting
Work more movement and drawing or reloading

I also want to keep teaching, keep running EMS and continue with my hand-to-hand training as well.

AAR: The Unthinkable – Tactics and Concepts for the Gravest Extreme

AAR: The Unthinkable – Tactics and Concepts for the Gravest Extreme

The day before Christmas Greg Ellifritz, an instructor I’ve followed since taking his defensive knife class in 2010, posted on his website that he and another Instructor, William Aprill, were announcing their debut class as co-instructors on topics seldom addressed in the defensive community. The class was called “The Unthinkable–Tactics and Concepts for the Gravest Extreme” and it was scheduled for January 24th and 25th, a mere four weeks out from the announcement. As I read the course description to my husband our collective excitement grew and by the end of the day we were both registered to attend.

The course description promised instruction in the psychology of violent criminals, what to do if taken hostage, weapon retention and disarming, escaping from common restraints, citizen responses to terrorist bombings, an abbreviated tactical medical course and much more.

This course immediately appealed to me. I have a history with the “unthinkable” and there’s something cathartic about it being addressed beyond merely acknowledging it happens and that it’s bad.

I’d taken three classes with Greg prior and have always wanted to take his medical class. I was hoping for a little more instruction and play time with the trauma toys I’ve carried but been too cheap to open. In addition to that, I was really looking forward to hearing pretty much anything William had to say. I’d first heard of him on an episode of Ballistic Radio. I was so impressed with the simplicity and sense he shared on the show that I sought out his block of instruction at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference in Feb of 2014 and some further guidance since then. He’s the first person I’d ever heard speaking of the psychology of violent criminals and the concepts of deselection. I was eager to hear more.

I was also pretty invested in learning how to escape from restraints but more on that later.

We started the restraints portion with Greg saying, "Melody, come here and put your hands behind your back."  Good times.  Escaping duct tape with hands behind the back.

We started the restraints portion with Greg saying, “Melody, come here and put your hands behind your back.”
Perfect way to start the day. Escaping duct tape with hands behind the back.

It took some creative rearranging of schedules and calling in a few favors but we eventually found ourselves settled in to the ten hour drive that would take us to central Ohio.

Day 1

We arrived a half hour early to the class so I could snag my coveted front-row seat (oh, yes, I am that girl). Greg was already there with his assistant and girlfriend, Lauren, finishing set up and sign in. The class was held in the back room of a gun store that shared a building with a church. The facility was clean and neat with plenty of space for the twenty-two students, two instructors and two assistants. There was a refrigerator and cookies, enough water to drown half of the attendees and bathrooms. In other words, we were prepared!

We started promptly at 9am with William Aprill and his “Fatal Choices” lecture. In it he defines what a Violent Criminal Actor (VCA) is and the difference between targets and victims (an important distinction). We discussed criminology, the rational choices that criminals make and the constructs that allow criminals to identify targets almost instantly and allow us to identify danger at the same rate. He brought it home by giving tips on how to make yourself look less attractive to criminals immediately.

From there we jumped right into Greg Ellifritz’s “Response to Terrorist Bombings.” In this lecture we learned why terrorists and active shooters use bombs, how to identify the components of bombs and some of the common ingredients of homemade bombs (those words have now put me on a government watch list, thank you very much). After discussing some of the blast radiuses (radii?) of common bombs we discussed whether it would be possible for an armed citizen to take out a bomber without being blown up him or herself (hint: The answer is no). We learned some of the ways you might be able to identify potential bombers and then we got to play “find the bomber” in a couple of videos. More challenging than that was, “find the bomber and his handlers.”

Rounding out the bomb lecture was tips and hints for what to do if you happen to survive a bombing or are responding in the aftermath.

The next segment was William Aprill going over disarms against someone who is holding you at gun point. He took a more practical approach to disarms than those I’ve previously seen. Anyone can go to YouTube and see idiots doing fancy and elaborate disarms but they aren’t applicable to average concealed carriers due to their complexity. Worse yet, a lot of them would not actually keep someone from getting shot because the gun is left covering the body for too long. William’s disarm steps were pretty easy to understand and implement. They involved getting the muzzle of the gun off your body, controlling it, and then pretty much beating the ever living crap out of whoever was holding it on you in the first place. I’m a big fan of quick, brutal and effective.

We worked those from all angles and then broke for the day.

Somewhere in all of that we actually had breaks and ate food, too.

Day 2

The second day opened immediately with Greg teaching us how to escape from common restraints. We talked about not allowing someone to tie you up in the first place but in keeping with the “unthinkable” theme we discussed ways you might find yourself restrained. He told us about the most common restraints: zip ties, duct tape, handcuffs and rope. We went over all the cool little gadgets and gizmos on the market that can assist in escaping those common restraints (hidden keys and knifes) and then we dove right into the practical application.

The room split up into three work stations. Greg did duct tape and zip tie escapes. Lauren did handcuff shimming and another assistant, Bryan, did picking handcuffs with items like hair pins and paper clips (it’s way harder than Die Hard would have you believe).

I breezed through handcuff shimming, mostly because I have really tiny wrists which allows for lots of movement of the locking mechanism (provided the cuffs aren’t double locked but I learned how to defeat that anyway). I was able to do that pretty quickly with my hands both in front and behind my back. Picking handcuffs was far more challenging but once I got the feel for it it only took me a matter of seconds to get out of them. Bryan even showed us how cheap handcuffs can be broken.

Learning how to pick handcuff keys.

Learning how to pick handcuffs.

My big concern was escaping from the zip ties and duct tape so that’s where I spent most of my time. Interestingly enough, the same breaking technique for zip ties works most of the time for duct tape either in front or behind but it does involve a measure of strength I did not have. Greg came prepared for that contingency and had me try a couple different techniques for both zip ties and duct tape.

Let’s just say that duct tape is mush easier to escape from than people think. If you are going to restrain me, please, I beg you, use duct tape.

Zip ties, on the other hand, are a little harder and get harder the stronger the zip tie. With those, the best technique for me was to use a paracord saw. Paracord can be used to replace shoe laces or threaded with a belt or coiled in a bracelet and once anchored between your feet and hooked through the zip tie it can cut through it in a manner of seconds.

Having been abducted and restrained myself I found the escaping from restraints part to be empowering. It felt good to escape and to feel more confident in my own ability to fight against the helplessness I know can come from being restrained.

To continue with that theme we moved right into William Aprill’s lecture on surviving hostage situations. This was another topic I’d never heard addressed before and, again, due to my history I was intently interested in what he had to say. He talked about the difference between hostage situations and abductions (the former meaning you were a target of opportunity to leverage a result, the latter being an individually selected target for a specific purpose). He discussed how hostage situations develop and how things like Stockholm syndrome happen and what you can do to keep yourself from identifying with the hostage taker vs your own rescuers. Finally, we talked about ways you might be able to aide your rescuers and then what to do when the good guys make their hard entrance.

We had to move on to the next segment and that was Greg’s abbreviated tactical medicine class. There were several in the class who’d been through the full version and quite a few of us who were in the medical profession to varying degrees. There were still plenty of complete novices and this segment covered and challenged all of us. Greg talked about what kills people in combat conditions and those injuries that can be treated, at least temporarily, until getting to definitive care.

Greg had enough pressure bandages and tourniquets to go around so we all had opportunities to apply both to ourselves and each other. Then we got to practice making improvised tourniquets and talk about when to use hemostatic agents. It was a fun but quick segment and then we were on to the last lecture.

William had the closing lecture on the 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where, Why) of Risk. This lecture was designed to teach us more about VCAs and to encourage self assessment on whether you are prepared–mentally, physically, emotionally–for them. Again, keeping with the theme of the “unthinkable” we also discussed the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths and what it may mean for those who happen to cross their paths, rare though it may be.

The lecture (and therefore, class) ended on an exceptionally helpful overview on how to do a realistic self-assessment, how to get the most out of your training, mental preparation and more tips on how to make yourself a harder target from that moment forward.

Greg Ellifritz demonstrating a pressure bandage.

Greg Ellifritz demonstrating a pressure bandage.

Class was meant to go from 9am to 5pm each day but both days had us running a bit over. I think every one of us would have stayed even longer if it meant getting more instruction from either Greg or William.

This being an “unthinkable” class I would have loved to hear more about abductions but I understand why it wasn’t elaborated on as hostage taking and restraints were already covered. As unthinkable as abductions in-and-of-itself already are it’s even more unthinkable for the average participants of a class like this. Other than Lauren, I was the only female attendee and if we’re honest we’ll admit that your average adult male doesn’t have a whole lot to worry about in the way of abductions.

It didn’t really hit me until much later that active shooters weren’t discussed at all outside of their propensity to use bombs. It seems like it would have gone nicely with the theme of the class to include them but lots of other instructors are already doing loads of classes on active shooters and perhaps that’s why they left them out.

Either way, I did not go away feeling dissatisfied. On the contrary, I went away with twenty-eight pages of notes, a half-dozen book recommendations, some new learning experiences, a few more tools in my toolbox, a feeling of empowerment and a little humility, and new friends.

For two days I’ve been sitting here wondering to whom I would recommend this class. Finally, I gave up and thought, “Hell, EVERYONE!”

Lots of people throw out the phrase, “There’s something for everyone,” without a lot of thought as to what that means. I say it, now, with reserved respect for the collective “everyone” to whom the class might appeal. It will appeal to your newbies who do not understand violence because it will show them that what it is and how it is born. To survivors (or maybe even victims) of violent crime it helps us put a new perspective on what we went through. Heroes who want to save the word get the tools to be a little more effective in that task and probably brought down to earth a little, too. Seasoned veterans of the defensive world get to glean new instruction in topics seldom talked about in other classes. The medical types get to talk about blood and guts and play with trauma toys. The boy scouts get a little of their trauma data updated by a few decades. How could it not appeal to prepper types who like to think about worst case scenarios? There’s even something for the people who like to beat the crap out of people and take away their guns.

The segments are also short enough that it allows people who aren’t sure if they want to do a 2-day class on a particular topic to get their toes wet.

The participants of this class all seemed to be your dedicated self-defense types. While a few of them had never taken classes with Greg or William before there wasn’t a single person I talked to who hadn’t already attended at least one or two defensive classes of some sort. When it was time to put our guns up for the disarming portion of the class, the line of people waiting for their turn to put their guns in a locker was backed out the door. By the worn looks of the holsters, knives and other tools in the locker, it was safe to assume the majority of us were not new to being armed.

Both Greg and William are exceptional instructors and true masters of their respective fields. They are knowledgeable without making participants feel inferior. They are apt to give credit where it’s due and incorporate students’ prior training and experience provided it isn’t dangerous or detrimental. They are both very approachable and make their information relative to the common man despite their impressive resume’s.

William is a psychologist who’s spend many years working directly with violent criminals both from a mental health standpoint and in a law enforcement capacity. He is very easy to listen to and invested in making sure the information is understood. He stands ready with book recommendations, counter arguments and clarifications for everything. He’s patient and good at pulling the class back on track when we started devolving into discussions of temperament and personality.

There’s a reason I keep going back to Greg’s classes and it’s not because of his thick, flowing hair (that’s a joke.. moving on..). He truly has a command of the subjects he teaches through both study and experience. He’s very open with his knowledge and resources and is ready to challenge participants or defer to them if he feels they have more experience than he.

It really was a well-executed class on some very interesting topics. It was a fantastic way to start out my training year and I can’t thank Greg and William enough for putting it together.

AAR: Insights Two-Day General Defensive Handgun Class

This After Action Review (AAR) was originally posted on DefensiveCarry.com on Oct 2, 2007. It was my very first defensive handgun class and I still remember many things about that class. To go back and read this review was a fantastic glimpse into how far I’ve come in the last seven years. I remember the level of stress I felt taking this class and to think back on it makes me almost laugh but also reminds me what new students face and it’s an important reminder not to look critically at people who are taking their first baby steps into a new world. To read the original draft, click here. Enjoy.

Introduction:

When it comes to training someone to defend himself (lethally if need be) there are as many theories, techniques and idea as there are shooters. It can be like math, or it can be like history.

Some training is as simple as two plus two. There are simple rules that need to be applied, such as grip, stance, the draw, and so on. These things are fundamentals that can be built upon and used to solve more complicated problems later on. Other instructors may encourage their students to go about those things a different way but the principle is entirely the same: do what you need to do safely and efficiently so you can save a life.

However, there is also another side to firearms instruction and that is made up of ideas, constructed within laws, facts and other ideas. Who do I choose to protect with my firearm? When is the appropriate time to draw? How do you deal with the police? What should I do after an encounter? One can instruct on these matters within the law, based of personal experience and ideas, but it is up to the individual doing to learning to decide what they will accept and what they will not and what I may glean as true and right may be what another shooter rejects. This is neither a good not a bad thing. It’s evidence that we are individuals with individual minds, beliefs, ideas, and morals that we want to individually adapt and morph. It is up to us to decide what consequences we will accept for those beliefs and ideas.

As evidence to this fact, my husband and I both took the two-day, General Defensive Handgun Class provided by Insights Training Center and if he were to write a review of the class it would probably be a lot different than mine. While the company is based out of Washington State, they travel the country providing more localized training. This particular class was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and cost 300 U.S. dollars per student.

Day One:

Day one started with introductions of the instructor, Greg Hamilton, and the participants of the class, of which I was the only woman enrolled. After we got through firearms safety we went on to what I like to call the arithmetic of shooting, the basic rules to be built upon to make them an advanced shooter: grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, follow through and so on. Some instructors may disagree on certain techniques, but the result is the same: kill him before he kills you.

A number of these “basics” were not new concepts for me, but were modified slightly or explained and shown to me the way no one had been able to do so before. What I knew in theory finally became practice.

Finally, the instructor imparted on us poor souls the key to being a successful shooter. The principle is simple, yet profound, and it is that you never miss. You will always hit what you are aiming at, and you’re bullet will always go where it is pointed. The principles of stance, grip, sight alignment and picture and follow-through are all in place to help the shooter aim sure, putting the front sight where needed so that the bullet can follow.

We then learned the priorities of survival:
1) Mindset
2) Tactics
3) Skill
4) Equipment

We’ve all heard, dozens and probably thousands of times that mindset is the most important part of self-defense and I don’t think that anyone would argue that point. The idea is that without the will to live and to fight and to survive, it doesn’t matter if the person has a bazooka in their hands. There are little old grandmas who defeat attacks from much more able-bodied attackers just because they had the mindset that said they would not be victims. Mindset is the first priority.

Second, is tactics. Some tactics can be learned, but some are born out of the necessity of the situation. The people who are unarmed, but have the mindset to survive and to prevail will improvise their tactics to succeed, no matter what is required.

A person can be born with a measure of skill, but usually skill is learned. However, someone does not need to be skilled to survive and that is why it is more important to have mindset and tactics than it is to have skill. The little old grandmother with her bare hands can be just as effective as the skilled, training shooter, as long as she has the will to get going and the idea that sets her will in place. However, skill can help and be built upon and keep you alive longer and healthier than the lack thereof.

It’s also news to no one that a gun is not necessary to defend one’s self. In the absence of a gun anything can be used whether it be a knife, hands and feet, a fork, a chair or a gallon of milk. Those who choose to carry a gun for self-defense are a step up on the equipment scale, but a $3,000 gun will never mindset, tactics or skill, nor should it.

Then we were lectured on the two Principles of Personal Defense
1) Awareness
2) Decisiveness

You can have all the things necessary to survive a confrontation, but if you are unaware of your surroundings or undetermined as to whether you should act, you are as hindered as though you have nothing.

He also talked about expectations in a gunfight, which I found to be very helpful to me. He expressed that it is true that more than likely only a few rounds are necessary to end a fight in a personal defense situation, don’t expect that. My favorite phrase of the day was, “I expect to shoot through the entire magazine in my gun, my entire spare magazine, jump on top of him and beat him with my empty gun and then cut his head off with my knife, because everyone knows the fight isn’t over until his head is not at least three feet from his body.” It was a very unique way of looking at the situation.

Finally, after lunch we got to do some shooting. The first moments on the firing line were as terrorizing, as they were stressful, intense, confused and aggravating. Our instructor had said stress management was a key to being a good defensive shooter and that one of the ways to ensure you do not act prematurely under stress is to make sure that your practice is as stressful or worse than the real thing. He had told us he was going to make our practice stressful and he was right.

He was screaming, there was gunfire, brass was flying, the brain was going a million miles an hour trying to remember everything he just said, he was behind you, screaming, and you’re trying to act, all at the same time. Luckily there were no dropped guns, but there was a lot of cursing and startled faces. The worst part of the first few moments on the firing line was the fact that we weren’t doing very much. We weren’t drawing, we were moving, we weren’t doing anything but extending our firearms from the ready position, finding our sights, pressing the trigger and tactical reloads. Looking back I’m sure there’s not a one of us who doesn’t feel silly for how panicked we all felt in those first couple of minutes, but it was a stepping-stone to greater things.

Finally, we did get to doing some drawing, then more work on sight alignment, and we went back in for more lecture on the difference between justifiable and criminal force before we all went home to prepare for the next day.

Day Two:

On a personal note, I was sicker than a dog for the start of day two. We assembled in the classroom but started our day immediately on the range. I was sick enough to have to run to the bathroom a couple times, but determined to go on despite the pain in my gut, the nausea, and chills, and the desire to curl up in the fetal position and die. Amazingly enough, that morning while doing accuracy drills, I kicked everyone’s butt, but hardly cared at the moment. I wanted a painkiller and a bed.

From accuracy drills we moved right on to firing from the ready position, drawing and firing and rapid firing. After which we went inside for more lecture.

I sat at the table curled into a ball, clutching poor JD’s leg, trying to distract myself from the agony I was feeling in those moments but still listening intently.

Now we went into the Defensive Condition Color Codes of Awareness:
White (Unaware)
Yellow (Relaxed Alert)
Orange (Specific Alert)
Red (Fight Imminent)
Black (Fight Confirmed)
“Triggers” (Situationally Dependent)

Then we also went into the ready positions for the Color Codes of Awareness.

We also discussed guns, holsters, and other useful equipment like OC spray, flashlights, cell phones, knives and in what situation we might decide to use one over the other and how those tools can be used as deterrents so that one may never have to escalate to using a gun.

It was lunch before we went out to do more shooting and I was starting to feel a little better, so I did order a sandwich, only to regret eating it later.

I was again, in agony, while we did “identifying the target” drills.

We went back into class to discuss ballistics, gunshot wounds, shooting through the pain (which was a very appropriate lecture for me at that moment) and the aftermath of a shooting—everything from psychological, physical and legal.

We also discussed a little bit more about expectations and where to fire and to keep firing until the threat was down. And even then we should still be reloading and preparing ourselves for more while searching for secondary targets. He also warned us never to get into the idea that just because a threat is running away or on the ground the fight is over. One can still be running away and firing, or just running to cover to return more fire. He can still be on the ground with a gun. One should fire until the threat has stopped doing whatever he was doing to start it all in the first place.

When we went back out again, we did speed reloads and clearance drills. Loading up our magazines with snap caps and live ammo and going to town while still identifying out targets, drawing, firing, following up and scanning the area.

By the time we moved on to practicing the three zones of fire—the chest, head and pelvis—I was finally starting to feel like a human being again. My energy and good nature was returning and I wasn’t feeling so ill. It was a good thing too, because now we moved on to moving and shooting while doing everything we’d mentioned before. Finally, we added in communication to the mix: screaming commands to the attacker and to by-standers both before, during and after the shooting, to make sure everyone knows what’s happening and what to do next.

During that string of fire I saw a piece of brass enter my field of vision just before it clocked me a good one on the nose, bounced and hit my glasses and then left my field of vision as I kept shooting. My nose was stinging like crazy but I didn’t stop. I felt something sticky after the firing was over, turned to the instructor and asked if I was bleeding and he said I was. I now have a nice cut on the top of my nose from a piece of angrily wielded brass from the .40 caliber next to me (at least that’s where I assume it came from). I was not having a good day as far as my health was concerned.

We pretty much ended the class on that note and all went away with smiles on our faces.

When the instructor asked us if we all felt we learned something, everyone was nodding and telling their stories of what they learned. Because I was still feeling poorly and not very talkative, I was keeping to myself when he pointed at me and said, “I know you learned something.”

I was a little shocked and asked what that was and he said that by the end of the class he could see I had much better control of hands and body and more fluid control over the gun. I took that as a pretty big compliment as our instructor only gave out about six compliments the entire class. It wasn’t that he scolded people; he just spent more time moving people forward than congratulating them on what they did. He made sure to tell us to congratulate ourselves however.

What Did I Learn?

I learned that my expectations were a bit skewed and while they were not incorrect I was looking at them from a different angle.

I learned to put into practice things that I knew were correct in theory but never had anyone to instruct me on.

I learned to get angry and act when threatened (not always lethally, of course) instead of getting afraid and indecisive.

I learned that someone could bleed a LOT before they die and it can be nasty but it’s necessary to continue the fight, even if wounded. If you’re alive enough to realize you’ve been hurt, you’ll probably still be alive when you’ve returned fire and help has arrived. Even death is a lousy excuse for not fighting back.

I learned practices for better situational awareness and ways to manipulate my surroundings, even my attacker, to my advantage.

I’ll probably be figuring out all of the stuff I learned for the rest of my life and I hope I never stop learning from that class. I would strongly recommend it to anyone.

Melody Lauer

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