Monday, April 23, 2012

Training – Suarez International – Point Shooting Progressions with Roger Phillips

Fair warning . . . this will be a very, very, very  long post . . . . . . . . . . .

Point shooting is nothing new. From the days of the Old West, when there were far fewer really good gunfighters that you may expect, there were a double handful that were simply machines that allowed them to get solid first-hits with devastating follow-up hits in what appeared to be the blink of an eye. They didn’t acquire a solid stance, take a firm grip, attain a good sight-picture and press the trigger straight back . . . . they just drewpointedshot . . . . and dropped their enemy. Point shooting is nothing new.

In today’s training community the Modern Technique is king - modified weaver or isosceles stance, firm two-handed grip, focus on the front sight, blurred image of the target with the front sight center mass and a trigger press straight to the rear is what’s taught. And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that as part of a shooter’s skill set. It’s what I teach my students - virtually all are brand new shooters, some so frightened of a weapon it is difficult for them to even pick one up and hold it. The Modern Technique is a solid technique that is great for many shooting situations.

However, with the rise in interest in personal defense, the search for “new”, faster techniques of evading, drawing and getting the first hit on an attacker is growing. While “sighted fire” is certainly desired, the vast majority of attacks occur at very close range typically obeying a “rule of three” of . . . . 3 meters, 3 rounds, 3 seconds. This is the landscape for most gun fights. There is one additional ingredient – a stationary target has an 85% chance of a center mass hit while a moving target has only a 25% chance of a hit. Think about that very carefully . . . . . . . if you simply “stand and deliver” you stand an 85% chance of taking a round to your center mass. However, if you move, if you “get off the X”, your chances of a center mass hit drops to 25%.

So, is there a way to marry point shooting and movement that would allow me, as a person defending myself, my family and my friends to accurately engage an attacker and to reduce my chances of being shot? The answer is “yes” – and Roger Phillip’s PSP course is my first exposure to this type of defensive shooting.

Let me link to a very “unfair” video of Roger and his shooting techniques on youtube:

I say this is unfair because what you see is 1:04 minutes of our 16 hour class. It’s so easy for a traditional shooter to blow off what you see in this video because it is so radically different from the traditional “stand and deliver” type of defensive shooting. That said – here is the reality. If you are NOT the guy moving, then you are the target Roger is shooting at. All 24 of the students that took the weekend class did these exact shooting drills. My own experience was that I experienced around an 80% hit rate, minimum, while moving as fast as I was capable of. Let that sink in just a bit . . . . an 80% hit rate while running my butt off. I was shooting a Glock 17, magazines loaded with 15 rounds each with an average of 5 rounds per engagements. That means that while moving I could draw, engage and hit the bad guy’s center mass with 4 of the 5 rounds without “aiming”. Ya know, I’ll take it!

So, how did I get from a typical “Modern Techniques” shooter to a PSP student/shooter in 16 hours? It’s easier than you think.

As I stated in an earlier post – I hate the idea there is only one way to do something. If a trainer says he’s got the only answer – look for someone else. As a trainer of new shooters I believe I simply have a responsibility to search for new techniques that may help them survive a run-in with a bad guy. I want them to go home to their family and anything I can learn that helps them I need to learn. The key to Roger’s course is two-fold – leave your ego in the car (I have a jeep, it barely fits!!) and flush your mind of what you know and be willing to learn a new skill.

The mechanics:

My dealings with Suarez International were very professional. I found the PSP class from their website. The information displayed was fairly complete and accurate. My phone conversations with them were pleasant. I was assured a seat was available in the Searsboro class in Iowa, I filled out the info online, shared my CC number and received confirmation of the order quickly.

I also ordered Roger’s PSP DVD. I am a data hound and wanted a glimpse of what the hell I was getting into. It’s a great video but, again, without actually doing the exercises that he shows, it’s hard to really grasp their value. And, without seeing live demonstrations, on a very secure range, honestly they could be dangerous to the new shooter.

I followed up the DVD viewing with a general internet search of Roger and his courses. The findings were mixed. Shooters at the Warrior Talk Forum that had actually taken the course certainly found value and had great things to say. Folks that seemed to have viewed the youtube videos only but had never taken the course – not so much.  Overall, the positives far outweighed the negatives in what I found in my research.

My preparation for the class was primarily just my usual drills – all using the Modern Technique shooting. I took my standard range gear to the course – a Glock 17, Serpa holster, two magazine pouches and 10 magazines. I also took a second Glock 17 in case of a catastrophic weapon failure. I purchased 1,000 rounds of ammo – barely enough, I’d take a minimum of 1,200 to my next course. Range food (jerky, cliff bars, a bit of hard candy), WATER and a bottle of ibuprofen (unless you are one of the 20 to 30 somethings) are a must. Ears, eyes, baseball cap, light fleece and rain coat (rained for a portion of the class each day), sturdy shoes. 

The classes started promptly at 8 AM with virtually all the shooters there by 7:30 AM. The hosting instructor for Suarez was Greg Nichols. By 7 AM they were setting up the course and stapling the targets, by 7:30 AM the “meet and greet” was underway. Everyone there truly had their “head in the game” – they all came to work, to learn and to enjoy the process as well. There were cops, ex-military, a couple Vietnam vets (myself included), GWOT vets, a retired grade school teacher, a computer jock (I’ll include myself in this category as well), folks who had taken Suarez trainings in the past and newbies like my self. We ranged in age from I would estimate the late 20s to the mid 70s - quite an interesting bunch of experience and personalities.

The course started out with about an hour lecture of the Roger’s history with point shooting, the evolution of the course, the arguments for this approach to personal defensive shooting and the mechanics of the body that make so much of what we were about to learn just a natural extension of our physical abilities and capabilities.

On to the good stuff!!

Our first exercise was the “dot drill”. There was a small dot beside each ear of the silhouette. Five rounds, do your best to make a single hole from 15 feet. There were 12 shooting lanes and two shooting groups – tier 1 and tier 2. This other shooter in front or behind you was a loose partner for the two days. The dot drill bled off some of the initial tension I think we were all feeling – the “let’s get started” feeling. And then . . . . it was simply non stop!!

Brief pause here – I had 6 magazines on my person at all times. One in the Glock, two in my magazine pouches and three in my rear left pocket. Then, I would dump a box of 50 rounds in my left pocket when I had a chance. While I was waiting to shoot or listening to Roger lecture I would reload or top-off my magazines. My thumbs are still sore today. If you take a class, and don’t develop this habit VERY EARLY, you will waste too much time off the line and miss drills. The class never stops, never breaths, never ceases except for about a 20 minute lunch eaten while you top off magazines and chat about what’s next. It is a very fast course, it is a very intense course.

Second pause – safety. This was a hot range – weapons loaded at all times, topped off when you were not shooting and weapons handled in some fairly non-conventional ways. Roger reminded us over and over to “keep your head in the game”!! This is actually one of my favorite phrases for my students – a thinking shooter is a safe shooter – period. Everyone kept their head in the game, even when some of the drills were high adrenalin producers.

We began with a quick exercise in aimed shooting. Traditional shooting stance and engage with 3-5 rounds. No surprises here, especially when I look back on how I did that. The words “front sight, front sight” echoing in my ear. Next we moved to focusing on the target and allowing the sight picture to blur. We were changing our attention to the actual threat. The results were the same but we were changing our focus to the threat.

We progressed to what was called “metal on meat” where you used the rear of the weapon as the “sight” and simply placed in on the center of the target and engaged. Even here, while if you were “bull’s-eye-centric” and you could easily be flustered with the “misses”, the reality was that all rounds typically were solid combat-effective hits.

Each exercise was run multiple times, each time a bit smoother and a bit faster with safety being of primary concern. Most shooters drew from concealment as well – one more added piece of the whole experience.

Once past this, we worked on an interesting drill known as the “zipper”. The purpose of this drill was to quickly put multiple hits on the threat while simultaneously trying to take out their central nervous system – shoot out their spine. You would run a group of 3-5 rounds right up their middle, bottom to top drawing and engaging as quickly as you could while trusting that your body would aim for you. The result – by the end of the day combat effective hits were a very easy thing to attain.

Yet another interesting drill – that gave tremendous confidence in the whole idea of point shooting – was to draw to the ¾ postion (just prior to engaging your support had in a grip, elbow down, weapon parallel) put 3-5 rounds in the pelvic area and then switch focus to the head and do a head shot with a simple move of the wrist. By the end of the day this – too – was completed by virtually every student there.

There were repeats of these drills, some others that I’m not going to detail simply because I notice I’m on four pages already!!!

The day ended with everyone pretty tired, kinda sore (ok, honestly I was truly hurting – mainly my feet) and ready for supper. We ate as a team at a nearby steak house - very, very, very good food!!!
And so ended Day 1.

Morning two began with breakfast at the motel. I was fortunate enough to walk into the elevator at the same moment Roger came out of his room. We took gear to our cars and had a round of biscuits and gravy – is there a better possible way to start the day? It was a great conversation, learned a lot of the background of the course and could easily see his passion for his work. I enjoyed the time a great deal.

Again, everyone was at the range by 7:30 AM. Weapons loaded, magazines loaded, rain gear on (yep – raining lightly) and ready to rock by 8:00 AM. The first hour was used to teach how to “get off the X” just as fast as you possibly could. This is where the training begins to diverge radically from most training I have received. I suspect there are many reasons for this:

It’s dangerous. If you do something stupid while running full tilt with a loaded weapon you could shoot yourself (most likely) or shoot a team mate. Not good.

The raw liabilities that go with this type of training. Few ranges are willing to allow it on their grounds.

It takes a lot of energy. I have been to many courses, loaded with fat guys (hey, gotta be honest, I’m one of them) that are unwilling to push their bodies to their individual limits. It’s much easier to stand on a firing line, in a static position and be happy with making as small a diameter group of holes as possible.

But, survival lies both in accurate hits and . . . . . in not being hit yourself. And that is truly what the second day is all about – moving off the X.

All the static drills of Day One were repeated while the shooter moved, as fast as they could – directly towards the target, or to their 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock direction, or to their 5 o’clock or their 7 o’clock direction. These drills were run in two columns with the shooters moving closer together while shooting away from each other.

So by the end of the day I can confidently say I can engage a threat, running flat out (for me) while running directly at them, at oblique angles running towards them or at oblique angles running away from them – and achieve an 80% combat effective hit rate.

I’ll take it . . . . with many thanks to Roger and Greg!

If you can get a solid hit on an attacker first – if you can “move off the X” – and if you can place combat effective hits while doing it – you will go home at the end of the day.

In virtually any training circle this would be considered an advanced course. It’s a very intense course. And, it is very much a course that can save your life.

 PSP Class Photo

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