Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review - AAR – Final Course Development Review – 6-20-2015 . . . It’s a WRAP!


All things come to an end . . . and so does the development of coursework. I – and another trainer friend – have been developing/working/refining three individual pieces of coursework over about the past 3 years. We have finally reached the “It’s a WRAP!” stage this past weekend and I thought I’d share with you a general over view, an AAR for the final training weekend and some thoughts on training teams and associations in general.

Why develop your own coursework? For the two of us there were a number of specific reasons. First – most handgun courses are being conducted in states to fulfill a broad range of training requirements imposed by individual states. Depending on the state these may be fully non-existent due to a state being a “Constitutional Carry” state or a state may also require a minimum “safety” course requiring a minimum amount of classroom time or perhaps an on-line course of some type, that happens to be the case in my state of Iowa. Or, you may live in a state that requires a lengthy set of course work such as Illinois. In these cases custom coursework seems to be the standard evolution of things.

Most folks looking to get their Concealed Carry Permit (or whatever the heck your particular state calls it) have a fondness for going the “least training” route. I get it. I am fully on board with the whole idea of Constitutional Carry . . . but I am also not an idiot. I fully encourage new shooters to take coursework to make sure they understand the concept of becoming a defensive shooter, the gear they need, that it takes to “run the gun”, equipment they need, range gear they need and finally – course work that will actually move them from a sports shooter to a defensive shooter.

So why “my” coursework – there’s tons of stuff out there. Yep, I agree. But – that said – and knowing I am likely to get these folks only once for training, I saw there was a lack of what I describe as “Foundational” course work. Hence the migration toward our finally step in the evolution of this particular set of coursework – “Foundations of Defensive Pistol”.

Past that, there is the “next level” in a set of defensive shooting coursework whose focus is to move the defensive shooter into the realm of an individual who carries whenever/wherever it is legally possible. That task fell to another trainer – Chris Shoffner - who I have worked and trained with since I met him during a NRA Training Counselor Workshop. He had been teaching a defensive pistol set of coursework that we took as the foundation and refined it even more – building on the “Foundations” course.

Finally, specific shooting drills were extracted and combined in our “Basic Defensive Handgun Shooting Skills” course. This is a range only set of coursework and focused entirely on developing the defensive shooter’s skill set.

While it is simple to just “develop shooting classes”, creating solid coursework that has clearly defined goals and a logical path from beginning to end is not so simple. What helps with that is your willingness as an instructor to present your work to your peers – other instructors, as well as a sprinkling of new shooters. That has been part of this rather intense exercise over the past 8 months or so. I related much of this in earlier posts. The biggest challenge for the typical Type A+++++ instructor personality . . . LISTEN to what your “students” have to say in the AARs and then honestly evaluate the feedback.

The challenge for the typical Type A+++++ instructor acting as a guinea pig – be honest with your feedback and evaluate the coursework as presented . . . and not as you would have done it.

Both myself and Chris have been blessed with training peers that met the “open and honest” criteria and we took full advantage of the teaching opportunities and the resulting feedback. It’s been an interesting process.

Review - Defensive Handgun Training - get out of your box

Training - Course Development Part 2
Training - Course Development Part 3

But, as with all things, an “end” is reached. This past weekend – June 20-21, was that end and final review. Let me pop in here and say a few words about “training teams” and “training associations”. It is very difficult for a single instructor to cover all possible bases when developing and teaching defensive shooter coursework. If you look at all the big “names” in the industry you notice quite quickly they are surround by and part of a “team” whose focus is in delivering the best possible product to the customer they can. I would encourage you to develop your team and use them in both the development and teaching of your coursework.

Training Associations are a bit of a horse of a different color. These are groups of like-minded instructors with a single goal in mind . . . to become better, more educated shooting instructors. Perhaps the best example I know of to date is the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference I attended last year. I did a review of that in my post Review - Rangemaster Tac Conference 2015. It covered a broad range of both classroom and shooting range material. While not an association per say, the content of the Tactical Conference is exactly what I see the purpose of Training Associations being – providing its members with ongoing training and updated information on everything from firearms to training concepts. These associations can also lead to coursework that is continually evaluated, updated and taught in such a way to insure a high degree of quality of the “product”.

Which finally brings me to the AAR of the training weekend . . .

It’s a Wrap!

The weekend was hosted by Armed Missouri, Inc. of Mt. Sterling, MO. Our host was Chris and Nic Shoffner. They have a great range, good (air conditioned) classroom space and standard range gear that allowed for easily configuring a variety of shooting drills.

Also in attendance was . . .

Annette Chapman of Pistol Prep Academy of Atlanta, Il

Timothy Jett of Armed Patriot Defense of St. Charles, MO

Kendall Inman of Brothers N Arms of Salem, MO

Erv and Roxey Rowley of Take Time To Play of Mesa, AZ.

The purpose of the weekend was simple . . . break down different lessons and drills of both the “Foundations of Defensive Pistol” and “Essential Defensive Pistol” and then teach them to each other. Each instructor got 2 drills and a lesson to teach along with all lesson material, instructors manual and power points if appropriate. All of us were told to come ready to teach our specific course material. So, while one instructor was teaching – all others were shooting the drills. Honestly I opted out to film all lessons and range drills. Between Nic and myself we have nearly 12 hours of video for review by all those attending.

We were fortunate we had a dry weekend but to say it was hot and humid would be a profound understatement. Saturday we began at 8AM, I started with a lecture lesson meant to move new shooters from the idea of sports shooting to a mindset of a defensive shooter. From there each of the other instructors taught 2 shooting drills each.

Let me take a moment to focus on how profoundly important it is for instructors who are going to be teaching the same material within their own organizations to gather and teach it to each other. Working on a range together helps cement a personal bond between the instructors as well as insuring we are all teaching the range work the same way. While words in an instructor’s manual can help direct an instructor’s methods – nothing beats face-to-face time with each other and hands on instruction so we are all moving in lockstep before we all begin teaching it to our respective customers. This is why virtually all major training organizations have specific steps in place to make sure everyone is on the “same page”. When you develop your own coursework for your own organization remember, there are simply no shortcuts to the process – period.

Day one was hot, sweaty but just about perfect in length with all of us off the range by 3:30-ish PM and at Chris’s house clean and showered for an evening of burgers, brats, fixins and good conversation. It was a nice way to finish the day.

Day 2 began with the very real threat of heavy rain that was nice enough to slide to our south. While cooler temps prevailed for most the morning – the afternoon was quite toasty.

The first two lessons of the day were presented by Chris and Nic in their classroom. I gotta say the air felt nice but it was also gratifying to see the classroom material we had been working on for so long flowed really well. After that the remaining 5 lessons were all range work with over 20 drills meant to move a shooter up through the process of drawing and engaging a threat from concealment. Again, a very busy day with no lunch breaks since many were headed home with one flying to Arizona and me faced with a 6-ish hour drive.

Once the drills were completed, there was a debrief of the weekend and the expectation that each individual will write a comprehensive AAR. For me, there were a number of take-always . . .

Gathering together in a single spot to run the coursework with each other was simply a “have too”! There were just too many details to cover that just needed to be experienced – not just talked about or written about. Face to face range work was a must.

We all had things to learn from each other. Until this weekend we all had taught in our own little “bubble”. There is a real issue with an instructor being so far in their own “forest” that the “trees” of doing some things better or differently simply can’t be seen. Again, a training weekend with each other was of tremendous benefit to get us all on the same page.

Directness, honesty and a willingness to risk your own ego allows a training team to grow very quickly. When we reviewed our experiences of the very first range drills to the final drill – the changes in capabilities of each instructor was clearly visible. By teaching and sharing with each other – real progress was made again with the intent of getting us all on the same page.

Everyone “screwed the pooch” on a drill once in a while. And we all learned from it. I had a rather spectacular double feed on the final drill, my Glock 17 being virtually locked up tight. Other that having to recognize that I was, at that moment, a “dead man walking” – I had a real curiosity as to WHAT THE HELL!!! We finally extracted the locked rounds and I threw them in my pocket. Once home I measured them only to find one substantially out of spec . . . it was significantly longer than it should have been. This was a commercially purchased round from a new ammunition manufacturer here in Iowa. Honestly their rounds have not performed well and I suspect I will be moving back to some of my old favorites for ball ammunition. I like the idea of supporting a manufacturer from my state . . . but it’s gotta run in my gun.

There will be continued value in our gathering together – which we determined we would do semi-annually.

Doing it right” takes time and commitment on the part of the developers. As many times as we wished we could just “punch the button” and begin teaching the material, it was obvious by the weekend’s end that the time we had spent – including this final ‘training conference” were well worth it. I would encourage you, should you go down this route, to take your time, do the work, seek comprehensive feedback from your peers all to insure you will be happy with your final set of coursework.

If anyone reading this is interested in one of us coming to your area to present this coursework, drop a note. There will be a few more announcements in the very near future to do some final “knitting” of this process so the coursework will be available in the Midwest – or farther for that matter. But the development is done and final . . .

So there you have it . . . IT’S A WRAP!!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review - NRA BP Instructor Course 6-6-7-2015


REMEDIATION:  the act or process of remedying <remediation of reading problems>

This most recent NRA Basic Pistol Instructor course provided a bit more of an “opportunity” for learning/teaching than most I’ve conducted in the past. It offered an opportunity to work with a couple students to “remediate” their marksmanship with a handgun and it gave them the opportunity to experience the process on a firsthand, personal basis.

I always offer the BIT when I teach the NRA Basic Pistol course. In this case only one of the students required that – and I will teach it one-on-one if need be, but one of the other candidates came for a review and to offer a bit of support to the new candidate – and the remaining came early afternoon to round things out. It worked well.

This particular candidate was pretty interesting from a background POV. A former grunt, Blackwater operator and State Department firearms trainer in Iraq he was a unique candidate. He’d been a contractor in Iraq for the past 7 years with the State Department and had decided that it was time to return to the US and his family for good. Personally, I think it was a good choice.

His shooting skills with a pistol were exceptional shooting the first two qual targets cold from 45ft with a Glock 19. Not too shabby. And, his teaching skills were well developed as well. What he was missing was the concepts taught in the BIT coursework. As I’ve said many times – you’d think things would flow faster with a BIT class size of one or two, you’d be wrong. The material is the material and it takes what it takes. Honestly, I’ve never finished up in the 6 hours, it usually pushes a bit past that. It did here as well but for the new candidate – even with his 7 years of teaching firearms use, manipulation and care in a relatively hostile environment – you could see lights going off as we worked through BIT. That part of the NRA Instructor training program is, hands down, the most valuable part of the entirely curriculum IMNSHO.

The remaining candidates that returned for all/part of BIT also discovered they heard new things this time through as well. I always attended the BIT if it was taught by the TC when I took a new instructor course. We all present the material from our own experience, with our own selection of words. There is a great deal of value in the sitting through the BIT course whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Once BIT was complete and lunch was eaten we went through the pre-course qualification. It is a fairly simple evaluation with one exception. So, we worked through loading and unloading a revolver and semiautomatic pistol. Then we worked through clearing drills. And finally – the shooting test. Here things slipped off the rails for a couple students. The qualifying course of fire is to fire 10 rounds at a 9” diameter target from 45 feet. They must do this twice. You get 3 points per round for a total of 60 points. Passing is 48/60 or 80% It means you can shoot a total of “down 4” over both targets.

In keeping with my policy of shooting the drills first I posted a qual target and shot the drill with my carry Glock 17. I only shot the first target and was 1 down at the end of the drill. Again, the purpose of this is NOT to show off but rather to take a bit of the edge off of the process, show that you can be successful, to demonstrate I’m not asking them to do something I can’t and – finally – to keep myself honest with ME. If you, as an instructor, do not make this part of your process – I’d encourage you to consider it.

Finally, all 4 hit the range. I always begin these sessions with a basic “by the numbers” shooting drill. Yes, I know it’s the qualification round. Yes, I should be able to assume they know how to shoot a pistol. I get it. But I don’t know these things about them. So I will typically run them through around 50 rounds or so for evaluation and correction of things I want to make damn sure they know how to do before they begin to teach a Basic Pistol course. Then, once I’ve watch them shoot, made suggestions and corrections, we step back and shoot the final qualification targets.

The result? The contractor, as I said, cleared the two qual targets without dropping a single round with his carry Glock 19.

The rest didn’t fare so well. All had filled out the pre-course qualification questionnaire. All had read, and were clear, of the shooting requirement. But it was painfully obvious they had spent little time on the range. At this point it was obvious we weren’t going to “fix things” quickly so I ended the range trip and headed back to the classroom.

There are two paths forward at this point. Eject them from the class . . . or remediate their shooting skills. These guys have taken – and are – Basic Rifle and Shotgun instructors. Passing those qualification courses was easy for them because they shoot rifle and shotgun. They are not avid pistol shooters. That said, I was also confident that with an afternoon on the range, we could work through the issues. So, the plan was made to have a remediation range trip a week later and hold off submitting the course for 7 days. With that settled we plunged into the BP Instructor coursework.

I gotta say, these guys clicked like few groups do. They formulated good presentations, were clear, deliberate and made great use of the NRA material. The rest of Saturday and Sunday really flew by. By the last presentations, they very well developed and presented with as little as 3 to 5 minutes preparation. It was fun to watch!

The final exam was taken, corrected and scored with all candidates easily passing. Of course there was the little item of “remediation” remaining. That was cleared for all but one yesterday.

It has been my experience that all elements of a qualification round come into play when things go sideways. From just plain being nervous to working out foundational components – any one thing can send things off the rails. For me I always start very close to the target, but with a very small target – and work on stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press and follow through. If the shooter can successfully accomplish this – moving back becomes much less of an issue.

For a short range target I am fond of a common “Sticky Note”. They’re about 2-inches square and provide a good starting point for a shooter at about the 9-foot mark. So that is where we started. We worked through about 20 rounds “by command” – “Drive” (out to the target), “Touch” (the trigger with the end 1/3 for your finger pad) and “Press” (the trigger smoothly to the rear of the firearm). As I said, it’s ALWAYS about the fundamentals. The final “hurdle” to work through was the trigger press. It must be smooth. It must be straight back. It must be consistent from shot to shot. And then magic happens.

Once I was happy with the “by command” results at 9 feet we worked back to 21 feet, then 30 feet and finally 45 feet. By that time it became apparent that trigger press was that component that required a bit of polish.

Finally, we shot our qualification drills – both shooters in this case passed easily. One could not return for the day so we will set a date prior to my next BP Instructor course to get this work done.

So what’s the point – why not just chuck them from the course? It’s simple really, why waste a good and enthusiastic instructor because of a single component that needs work? Take the time, put in the work and fix the problem – it’s that simple. And, as an added bonus – they, the candidate, get a firsthand experience of how they can work one of their future students through this process as well. A win all the way round!

My suggestion – take the time with a student, be willing to remediate that part of their skill set that’s not working. If you’re willing to put in the time, I’m confident they will as well. I see that as our job as instructors. Not just to take the “gravy” students – but to take all comers and insure that they learn the skills we are teaching them.

If we don’t, who will?

Congrats to Colby, Heath, Garry and Don

20150607_175341 (Large)   20150614_124854 (Large)20150614_131109 (Large)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review - AAR CFS Carbine Course 6-5-2015


On June 5th of this year I participated in a one-day Combat Focus Shooting Carbine Course taught by Rob Pincus of I.C.E. at the Brownell range at Big Springs in Searsboro, Iowa.

CFS Carbine 6-5-2015 - 5  

CFS Carbine 6-5-2015 - 6

I’d attended the 2-day CFS pistol course last summer and was anxious to repeat it with a carbine as a platform. I want to chat about this AAR from a couple directions – my gear, how would the carbine be used for most defensive shooting situations, how does that effect equipment setup, thoughts on Rob and finally the course.

Me and my carbine

I have a DPMS Oracle .223 carbine. It’s a 6.4 lbs rifle less Back-Up sights, Eotech 517 and a loaded magazine . . . pushing 8 pounds fully loaded. Honestly, that’s not real noticeable for a range trip lasting a couple hours that doesn’t involve a great deal movement and actively engaging targets. Run the gun, and your body hard for half a day . . . and it takes its toll. By lunch, in 91*F heat on a crushed limestone range with 20ft berms on 3 sides . . . damn I was beat! Rob loaned me a backup gun that was probably 2-3 pounds lighter – what a difference!

CFS Carbine 6-5-2015 - 3

Next is the context of the training – the defensive use of a carbine. The most probable scenario would be a home invasion with my family behind me in a safe room where the distance to the threat would be across the room, say 15 feet-ish. So if you pick a typical range of engagement it would probably be within 0-30 feet, about the same as with a handgun. This is a little piece of reality that many defensive shooters miss when they hit the range with their carbine and spend all that time trying to make small groups at 100 yards or more . . . that is NOT a typical defensive shooting situation. Something to always keep in mind is that you will have to DEFEND YOUR ACTIONS should you engage and kill someone you view as a threat. Taking on a threat at 50-100 yards and still fulfilling all the squares under the ideas of “Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion” may well prove to be difficult. Given this – the typical distance for the CFS Carbine course was in the 15 – and some out to 30 – foot range.

The setup of my carbine when I went to the course was a 50 yard zero, a set of flip-up backup iron sights and an Eotech 517. I use a 2-point Vickers sling and 30 round MAGPUL P-Mags. I’d forgotten my mag carriers so I simply dropped the loaded magazines in my rear left pocket.

“Thoughts on Rob” . . . really nothing has changed since last year – you can read that review here. He’s one of the most passionate instructors I’ve ever met and presents virtually all material – from carbine selection to running the gun to explanation of the flow of the drills – with a great deal of depth. He is NOT a “do it my way because I said so!” He’s much more a “do it my way because of this and this and this . . . and feel free to challenge the shit out of what I say because it makes us all better” kinda guy. That is very rare in the training community.

Let’s chat a bit about the course structure. One of the elements I like most is that he begins with a solid foundation. For the carbine that meant beginning with your stance (squared up to the threat), carbine setup (sling properly mounted and slung on your body, length of the butt stock, and some conversation of your grip on the front hand guard). The goal was to be able to come up from the ready position to the firing position in such a way they you were already in alignment with where you wanted to hit and the transition to either holographic sight or iron sights was simply a matter of changing focus . . . no head adjustment on the stock was required. The geek term for this in “Kinesthetic Alignment”. This is one of the “rabbit holes” of discussion in the trainer community but my experience is that while the words used to describe the process varies, the actual existence of such a process is real – that is not in doubt IMNSHO.

The first series of drills worked specifically on Kinesthetic Alignment – learning to mount my carbine so I was already ready to shoot. In fact they were run with the optic off and the backup sights down. Once we were all being successful with kinesthetic alignment only for center mass hits, the optics were then turned on. Returning to the context of the training – a threat within a distance of 15 ft, you have little time to “find your sights”. If you are “on target” when you mount your carbine, it takes milliseconds to transition to sighted fire should you have that luxury.

20150605_133859 (Large)

From here we moved to sighted fire. Most had some type of optic mounted to their carbine. Once some idea was achieved as to where rounds where hitting while using the optic we moved back to around 30 yards and checked zero. As I described a few posts earlier, I use a 50/200 zero so at the distances we were shooting my red dot POA was about 2 inches high. As long as I kept that in mind the precision shots dropped right in.

About this time you begin to notice the reliability of your specific platform. As for mine I noticed it was more than a little “sticky”. Something I had not noticed before and something most shooters wouldn’t notice wither unless they were running multiple drills each sending 3-5 rounds down range and rolling through multiple magazines during the drill set. Honestly, most of us don’t run our carbines that hard . . . we SHOULD, but we don’t. So smoothness of the gun is easily overlooked. For me specifically once it was re-lubed over a break the next suggestion was a larger charging handle (or order) and consideration of a lighter carbine – nice but doubtful. By lunch I was dragging to be honest. Rob hefted my Oracle and suggested I might try one of their spares which I did. Probably a couple pounds lighter and ran like glass.

CFS Carbine 6-5-2015 - 4

Other shooters noticed other operational issues as well. One had a batch of 5.56 ammo what was obviously loaded “hot”, so hot that the primers were exploding in the chamber sending parts into the bolt and locking the bolt closed. More than once he had to mortar his carbine (collapsing his stock and pounding the carbine butt first into the ground to break the bolt free). I also experienced my first every double feed with my Oracle. For many drills magazines were loaded to about 1/3 capacity to force magazine changes. For some this was an eye opener as well. Moral of the story . . . if this is your PRIMARY defensive weapon for your home, you need to run it on the range during your individual training sessions like you mean it! Then fix any issues with your setup, your carbine and your skill set. There are no second chances when the bad guy comes through the door.

As in the CFS pistol course, the flow of the drills from simple to complex just makes so damn much sense. It is a very natural progression, it is incremental and the building blocks are very clear to see. His process from last year’s CFS pistol course has had a great deal of an effect on the drills I teach and their flow in my own course work. It makes teaching the drills and learning the drills nearly intuitive.

Of course I had the opportunity for a head up my butt moment this year as well. (last year is was the non-Glock magazine that caught me). We’re shooting a set of drills and the shooter to my left was supposed to be the ONLY ONE SHOOTING. Rob says UP!! . . . and I send 4 rounds down range! I catch a foot in the thigh with words something like “Billy! Am I going to have to kick you in the ass all day?!?!?” Heavy sigh . . . and from that point on I was “Billy” as well for the rest of the day! The good news . . . on more rounds down range when it wasn’t my turn.

We moved through multiple shooting positions – standing, squat, kneeling and sitting. Notice no prone position simply because the chance of you using that position for a defensive encounter within the context of the course is very slim.

These positions lead to a “flow drill”. On the “UP!” command 3-5 rounds standing, next “UP!!” command move to squat . . . next kneeling . . . next squat . . . next standing . . . next . . . until your magazines ran dry. This one kicked serious butt for me but the intent is clear, in a defensive situation in your home moving between these positions and being able to run your gun is an imperative and reflect the most probable shooting positions you would use.

CFS Carbine 6-5-2015 - 7

CFS Carbine 6-5-2015 - 1  

CFS Carbine 6-5-2015 - 2

We worked on use of cover, “leaning” out around cover, alternate ways of shouldering your carbine whether leaning left or right, the offset between the barrel and the optic . . . just a lot of meat in this section.

We also used a vehicle (DON’T SHOOT MY CAR!!!) as we shot off support of the PDN tour SUV, over the hood, through the driver/passenger windows and finally under the front and center of the vehicle using a front tire for cover.

20150605_162541 (Large)  

20150605_163337 (Large)

Add in some sprint drills, the use of a shield as a mobile point of cover, a bit of coach/pupil with the shooter in front of you during various dill sets . . . it was a very full day of coursework.

The day was wrapped with about a 30 minute feedback session to ask questions, clarify issues and to make sure we all had the opportunity to wring the last little bit of “goodness” from the day!

20150605_171637 (Large)

Some bottom lines . . .

Very well constructed course.

Very passionate instructor who comes at it from depth, not just do it because “I said so”.

It is a BUSY course but lays a solid foundation on what to work on when you return to your home range.

It will fully wring out your carbine and allow you to clearly see what is working with your setup and what you need to change.

This is one of the courses I’ve taken that I would urge you to find the time and dollars and fit it into your schedule.

It was a good day!