There’s more to going heeled than just getting a permit, as most responsible armed citizens are well aware. Here’s a Brain Dump about a class specifically tailored to such folks by American Tactical Shooting Instruction.
by Roland Thompson; Photo credit Berto Lichty, DEFCON
“The path that leads to truth is littered with the bodies of the ignorant.”
– Miyamoto Musashi
“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Training Organization: American Tactical Shooting Instruction
Instructor: Bill Rapier
Location: Chino Hills, CA
When: March 2017
Round Count: 1,000
Reviewer’s Equipment: S&W M&P Shield 9 (Warren Tactical night sights, Salient Arms sear), Geco 9mm 124gr., Blackpoint Tactical Mini-Wing IWB holster, Sayoc Kali training dagger.
Reviewer’s Background: Roland Thompson (a pseudonym) is now a self-professed desk jockey with many prior years of striking and grappling training and numerous Mil, LE and Civilian shooting and tactics schools. Past instructor certifications include California P.O.S.T., Simunitions Scenarios, SureFire Institute Low-Light Tactics, NRA Law Enforcement Tactical Handgun. [Note: To clarify in advance for those who might fuss, our editorial staff has determined that in this case a nom de plume is warranted for professional considerations. We have vetted the author. Readers who for whatever reason have questions or concerns can contact us directly via e-mail.]
Instructor Background: Bill Rapier recently retired as a Senior Chief Petty Officer from the U.S. Navy where he spent 18 years in SEAL teams with the last 14 as a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). Bill is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Gustavo Machado (Virginia Beach), has been training in Sayoc Kali since 2006, and has trained in western and Thai boxing as well. Although a dynamic instructor, Bill is a humble and relatively quiet man who will tell you just about nothing regarding what he and his teammates did for our country. What he does talk about is what works, why it works, and how to make it work for you.
Mix of students: 14 students ranging from novice to advanced: A few high-level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Sayoc Kali practitioners, 2-3 law enforcement officers, and several with minimal experience in martial arts/combatives. Interest and enthusiasm however was high. I always hope any students I attend a course with will be serious about training. Everyone in this course was.
PRECURSORS AND PREAMBLES:
I took Bill’s Integrated Combatives course last year and it was one of the most productive courses I’ve taken with regards to practical fighting with a gun. Although we fired 600 rounds over two days that course was heavily weighted towards combatives (using fists, elbows, knees and grappling in conjunction with your firearm). This course, The Responsible Armed Citizen, included a limited amount of combatives training but the primary focus was on mindset, weapon-manipulation and marksmanship under stress, and generally taking anyone who uses a gun for self-defense beyond the basics and giving them the tools needed to survive a violent confrontation.
What follows is a brief (and partial) overview of selected segments and observations from the course.
Mindset is the heart of the matter when it comes to surviving and prevailing in a violent encounter. I know from my own limited combat experience as well as many hours of force-on-force scenarios, that even a world-class shooter with an underdeveloped mindset is generally going to have less chance of surviving a deadly force encounter than a moderately skilled shooter with proper mindset. It is the latter individual who has thought through and adequately programmed himself for the realities not just of surviving but of prevailing in combat.
If you haven’t visualized and attempted to precondition yourself to how you’ll react when an IED detonates in the theatre as you’re watching a movie with your family, what rounds sound like punching through your windshield and past your head, what you’ll do when your strong-hand fingers get shot off, or the chaos, confusion and adrenalin tremors that any lethal confrontation is likely to bring with it, then how do you expect to do your best in the one moment when only your best will do? Mindset varies. Mine is simply this – if I can’t be John Wick, I plan to at least fight like the the Black Knight down to my last bloody stump. (“It’s just a scratch. I’ve had worse.”) No matter how tough you think you are, the mindset needed to prevail doesn’t happen by accident. You must develop the capability like any other skill.
Bill attributes much of his mindset lecture to Tom Kier and Sayoc Tactical Group, but he’s also faced armed opponents more times than most people could imagine. His instruction clearly incorporates those experiences as well. Discussions were realistically and memorably graphic and drove home the reality of what it might take to come out the other side of an event that suddenly turns the world upside down.
It was also unique in that his personal philosophy begins with his faith (winning the fight in the here-and-now only delays the inevitable, and it’s what happens after the inevitable that matters most). This should not scare prospective students away, whether they’re a believer, nonbeliever, or on the fence. Bill doesn’t push his faith beyond mentioning it in his mindset lecture, but it made an impression on me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Bill’s everyday carry includes a tourniquet, specifically the R.A.T.S. (Rapid Application Tourniquet System). He chooses this one because it can be applied one-handed. Like the Integrated Combatives course I attended previously, one element of the class had students self-applying TQs during the lecture and on role payers during stress course iterations of training. How many repetitions individuals perform will be dependent on the pace of the specific course, but you’ll know how to apply a tourniquet before the shooting starts.
Course instruction was predicated on the premise that fights are messy, don’t happen when you want them to, and are not always going to happen when you can access a firearm.
You won’t always be able to access your firearm. Every technique and drill was designed around the possibility of having to fight with hands, feet, elbows, knees, and head, before drawing and/or while firing. The stance taught was an aggressive, forward leaning, wider-than-your-hips stance, with the key detail of digging the toes into the ground both for traction and to activate key muscles needed for explosive movement. Many of those present were already using a similar stance, however the difference here was Bill’s rationale for its use. He did not advocate it solely for recoil management, but also as the shooting platform that most lends itself to transitioning to a blade and/or smashing with elbows and knees. As such his stance has a few modifications specifically to achieve that purpose.
[Rapier Demonstrates scanning from Strike Ready]
Call it “high ready” or whatever you care to, the principles of maintaining situational awareness during reloads, protecting the “knockout triangle” that runs from your ears to your chin from sucker punches, and always being in a position to smash your opponent with an elbow or your pistol are some of the reasons why Bill advocates it as a ready position.
He advised his take on traditional positions such as Low Ready, Compressed Ready, Position Sul and others, but suggested we being thinking of Strike Ready in terms of integrated combatives. That makes a lot of sense.
Yes, the placement of your muzzle in closer than normal proximity to the head could arguably carry more risk. However, it also allows you to deal with a threat more efficiently. From my perspective, dealing with a certain threat that definitely intends to kill me trumps the potential danger arising from personal incompetence. As with all things safety, appropriate training with adequate frequency and realism on the range (including acknowledgement of training artificialities) is key.
Anyway, if I were worried about static safety to the exclusion of all other factors, I’d be at home on the couch instead of the range.
[Retention shooting was first drilled live-fire on the range, then with S.I.R.T. laser training pistols]
SPEAR ELBOW / SHOOTING FROM RETENTION:
Assuming you don’t have time to dedicate years to boxing training, the Spear Elbow (elbow snaps up and forward with the hand wrapping fully around the back of the head for support) gives you a simple conditioned movement to protect the knockout triangle and can be deployed as a defense or an offense as needed.
I’ve shot from retention in many courses. In all of them the basic technique taught was the Speed Rock: Hips forward, torso back, weight on heels, pistol butt indexed to hip, or thumb indexed to pectoral muscle. I never really thought about it much until this class, but what happens if you don’t make that first shot because of a miss or malfunction? Since Speed Rock is almost always presented as a close contact position we can assume the opponent is already danger close as you fire your first round, and as any grappler can tell you, leaning backwards is a really bad way to start a fight. If you are leaning backwards and you haven’t incapacitated a decent grappler, your next stop is going to be on the ground with him mounted across your chest, one knee on your firing arm, an elbow smashing your face, and your pistol getting stripped out of your hand.
[Spear Elbow Practical Application]
Bill’s retention shooting position starts with a Spear Elbow from the non-drawing hand in the forward-leaning fighting stance common to every other drill, with the pistol butt indexed to the top of the hip bone (iliac crest) and the hips (not the pistol) rotated forward to change point of aim. It will feel awkward at first, but the demonstrated and proven ability to protect your face and remain mobile while allowing accurate hits from three yards has me convinced it is superior to the more traditional Speed Rock.
[Clearing a stuck magazine during malfunction drills]
IMMEDIATE ACTION / MALFUNCTION DRILLS
If directed to sum up this portion of the course in a single phrase, it would likely be “economy of motion while retaining situational awareness.” We covered the usual malfunctions but it felt different than some other courses. Most likely this is because were learning them from someone who wasn’t just imagining what those malfunctions would look like in a fight and how they might affect your ability to wake up again the next day.
The simplest techniques, condensed to the minimum number of movements–two-handed, strong-hand-only and other-strong-hand only–consisted of the the straightest line from A to B, over and over. By the way prospective students, there’s a great way (not) to shoot your Johnson off when doing one-handed slide racks on your belt. I’m sorry, however, I don’t have a picture of that technique, but it alone was well worth the price of the course).
If I could add a second sentence to describe the course it would be that, “every drill has its origin in someone screwing up.” For instance, I’m not in the habit of giving my magazines a tug after I seat them. I was taught to do so years ago but in the meantime I’ve been to plenty of courses taught by noted instructors where it wasn’t taught. Plus, I’ve been shooting USPSA matches and have let my need to win get in the way of why I carry a gun in the first place. I’ve never dropped a mag in all those years, and anyway it’s just too damn slow.
Bill’s opinion on the matter is different. He teaches a confirmation mag tug for all reloads with the exception of the normal two-handed combat reload. My guess is, reloads were taught that way at his former unit because someone learned the hard way that even the most highly trained warfighters can eventually fumble or otherwise flub a reload.
Regardless, at the beginning of the class I decided I was too salty to change everything just because he did it differently. I was determined to hang onto fast(er) reloads. As you can imagine, it was in this class that I finally dropped a magazine I thought was fully seated. Having experienced that, and then considering it for some weeks now, I’m going to start doing the confirmation tug.
My logic is thus: given the nature of my tactics and skill in general, if I need to reload and haven’t stopped the threat, I’ve likely at least gotten off the X and am either behind cover or just about there. The confirmation tug, while adding a few tenths of a second, is a heck of a lot faster than coming out around a corner, pulling the trigger, figuring out why nothing went bang, and correcting the problem with might have been my final magazine (all before reacquiring the threat).
If the threat I’m facing is skilled, he’s going to close the gap, or flank, or start putting rounds into what I mistook for cover–and saving your place at the table in Odin’s great mead hall is just not part of my life plan.
Many of us have been to courses where some of the students, maybe even those we know on the most intimate of terms, are expecting to walk away with the happy feeling that comes from shooting neat holes in paper and looking cooler than the next guy. In fact, I’d say that’s how the majority of classes go: square range gymnastics, a few moto stories, a pat on the back from the instructor, and the disclaimer that no egos were harmed during the making of this film.
Well, get over it, snowflake.
Yes you, with the designer shemagh, you know who I’m talking to. This class, and apparently all of Bill Rapier’s classes, culminates in a one-student-at-a-time stress course. It wasn’t a selection event, but unless you’re on your game with regards to fitness, you are going to come face to face with something approaching that reality. Think a fifty-yard sprint, twenty elbow smashes into the Thai pad, defending yourself from a gorilla named Bill, fighting to your pistol and then moving through a shooting course that includes thirty-yard center-of-mass hits, one-armed reloading, and credit-card box headshots from ten yards using your other-strong-hand only.
All on the timer.
Bill doesn’t yell at or belittle you. He doesn’t even cuss (true story). He’s one of the mellowest trainers I’ve experienced, but he’s serious about taking you to the next level. Maybe you’ll smoke the stress course and maybe you won’t, but if you don’t you’ll come out the other side knowing exactly what you need to work on (and what it’s going to cost you if you don’t). If this worries you, then this is the course for you. If it doesn’t worry you, then you already know this is the course for you—just make sure to let Bill know before it’s your turn, so he can throw in some training modifiers to make sure you get your money’s worth.
[Bill Rapier is committed to your success, even if he has to pull your hair out to get to it]