Learning from the Sheriff of Baghdad | Accept the Wobble and be Nice

John "Shrek" McPhee is known as the Sheriff of Baghdad
| May 18, 2015
Categories: Learnin'

In his second piece with us, Winegar talks about slaying sacred cows and making yourself a better shooter–with the guidance of an experienced instructor and the judicious use of technology. If you haven’t seen Anthony’s premiere piece with us yet, you can check it out here. Read up. Mad Duo


The Camera Don’t Lie: John McPhee Video Diagnostics. Accept the Wobble and be Nice.

Anthony Winegar

I have trained with a lot of organizations and individuals over the years, most of them very good, many very technologically proficient, and a few on the edge of eccentric. A few years ago, I met a guy who was all three; a very good (former SMU) instructor using advanced diagnostic software whose been known to show up on the range dressed in a Lucha Libre costume.

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I carry a gun for a living and have for the last sixteen years. Nothing sexy at all, but the American public believes I can make an accurate shot with my weapon at any given moment, even under extreme stress. The constant question for a professional at arms is, “Can I really?”

Before further explanation, you readers should understand the most important reason I train. The simple answer is: I am training to shoot another human being, under the correct legal requirements, as quickly and efficiently as I possibly can, to preserve uninvolved human life or mine. It does not matter who made my firearm or what caliber it is.

I met John “Shrek” McPhee a few years ago through a mutual friend, and hearing his philosophy on shooting and performance under stress made me hungry for more. Only perfect practice makes perfect, and the way to practice perfectly requires investing the time upfront to obsess over details. Shrek’s intention is to help students do just that.

images_John McPhee - Sheriff of Baghdad

Video, under the watchful Coach’s Eye1 app, makes this not only possible but repeatable. I once heard one of John’s former unit leaders discussing the leveraging of technology in unique ways to further the betterment of personnel. While that discussion with DiTo* involved F3EAD**, his point remains applicable across the entire armed profession’s spectrum. When John began his concept of using the video analysis app to train shooters, I surmised that streamlined thinking and execution is a trait that contributes greatly to the success of “Tier 1” professionals.

I recently attended a one day pistol and one-day rifle video diagnostics course in Phenix City, Alabama. The results have significantly altered the way I’ve approached my individual training. While I do occasionally enjoy shooting a lot of rounds, the return on my investment if I perform poorly results in a net loss. Again, perfect practice makes perfect. Imperfect practice causes ingrained and imperfect habits.

*Tom DiTomasso   **“Find Fix Finish Exploite Analyze Disseminate”

John Shrek McPhee Sheriff of Baghdad by Anthony Winegar 3

The Pistol course: Students assembled at the range at 0900 hours and prepped for the day. I looked around and saw that everyone else was working on their concealed carry. I was the only guy with a duty holster. The rest of the students seemed like a great bunch of guys so I was anxious to see their tips/tricks from the concealed carry end. John went over the safety protocols and went directly into the purpose of the training; to teach the subconscious mind what is correct and desirable and to leverage technology so that the brain is able to see what it is actually telling your body to do. Often, your brain is wrong. Ever watched a video of yourself and felt like it looked a lot better in your head?

We started with a simple individual drill where John videoed us one at a time as we drew and fired two rounds. He then took the time with each of us to discuss grip, stance, and presentation. Though there is downtime for each student in a curriculum like that, the moments when you are specifically analyzed make it all worth it. The downtime provides more than enough opportunity to dry work your skills.


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During the course, sacred cows were slaughtered before my eyes. The grip became one of the most important lessons. Simply put, hang onto as much of the gun as you can as hard as you can, and you can get away with a sloppy trigger. John even proved it when he used a common household wrench to slam the trigger while a student gripped the gun properly. All of the rounds were killing shots. John’s case in point; your trigger finger cannot place more pressure on that trigger than the wrench did, especially in the .01 of a second that it takes the trigger to break. The solution is don’t overthink it. Grip the gun, align the sights, and jerk the trigger. If you can do that correctly, consistently, and without flinching, then you will make aggressive yet accurate shots. I have to admit that it worked for me. Instead of focusing on the trigger press, I focused on my grip and quick sight acquisition for pistol distance shots. I was a good bit more careful with my trigger finger at the 50 and 75-yard lines though.

John even proved it when he used a common household wrench to slam the trigger while a student gripped the gun properly.

Another valuable lesson that John took the time to break down and explain to me, based on his observations on the video, was the time it took to break the shot upon presentation. I have worked on this over the years and have become fairly quick, but the video did not lie. I was inefficient when it came to lining up the sights and that was causing me nearly .25 of a second. John said, “drop the front sight into the rear sight notch as you finish the presentation so that you get a little more time to adjust as you reach full presentation.” I explained that I was, or at least my brain told me that I was, so John looked at the video and discovered the issue. I was focusing on the rear sight as I presented the gun and was finding the front sight as I raised it into the rear notch. By switching the order and finding the front sight during presentation, I could then correctly “drop” it into the rear sight notch more quickly because I already had it in my view and was tracking the front sight towards the target.

John Shrek McPhee Sheriff of Baghdad by Anthony Winegar 2

Now, at this point some of the readers are probably thinking “Bro, that’s the way it’s supposed to go. I’ve been doing that all along.” I’ve been doing it backward but still managed to be faster than most. I had plateaued in my ability to draw, present, line up the sights, and break the shots. John’s correction, made possible by his watchful eye and video technology, caught the problem, correctly diagnosed it, and gave me the correct course of action to fix it. How many thousands of repetitions do I have under my belt the inefficient way?

The Carbine course: Day two of the course was video diagnostics of carbine shooting. We picked up two new students and lost a couple of others, so the class dynamics changed a bit but with no issues. John followed the same model as the day prior and we got right down to business. Because of the smaller class size, John was able to film and critique our stance, grip, presentation, and a reload. I learned that as a tall and thin guy, my weight needs to be forward and my chin two inches or so over my toes. Again, my brain told me I was already doing this even though John was correcting it. The video showed me exactly what I was doing, which wasn’t what I thought it was.

Basically, I was leaning forward at the waist and causing my strong side leg to lockout, making it an anchor when it was time to move. If your job entails that people may be shooting back at you, your mobility is everything. Who wants to move with an anchor leg? John also corrected my “c-clamp” grip that I adopted when I placed my pressure pad for the light/laser on the 12 o’clock rail. I did that to mimic a very experienced friend because his logic was sound in placing the pad there for ambidextrous shooting. I didn’t think it through far enough though as the guy that I copied has a completely different body style. In short, I could get away with my support grip until I couldn’t. I was using my shoulder to support the gun, which I already knew was quickly tiring considering the number of times that I braced on a doorjamb, etc. while working or training. I just thought that having a tired, sore shoulder was part of it.

Adopting my new style made me faster, especially over the course of the day. Since I was using my body style to my advantage, as long as I did everything correctly, I could shoot as fast as I wanted as long as I wanted. The gun didn’t have a lot of say in the matter. Yes, it was uncomfortable at first but comfort is a byproduct of habit and is thus a learned behavior. Many things that make us better are uncomfortable at first.

We fired individual shots and multiple shots to reinforce our good habits. We moved into multiple target engagements and ran the “look-shoot-look-shoot” drill for a time. Simply put, if you do it right you can be fast and accurate. If you do it wrong, you will drive past the target nearly every time. Lastly, we shot targets on the move. This is usually where it falls apart for most people but for me, it was an excellent opportunity to hone the skills, accept the wobble, and break the shots while continuing forward.

John Shrek McPhee Sheriff of Baghdad by Anthony Winegar 1

One of the most valuable takeaways that I gleaned from a conversation with John had nothing to do with guns. It is the power of positivity. If you carry a gun for living for the government, whether in the United States or overseas, you are exposed to much of the negativity that humanity has to offer. That destructive emotion has the power to influence your personal and professional life and find its way into everything you do, including shooting. The solution? Stop doing it. It costs us nothing to be nice. Being an a$$hole can cost you everything. As a firearms instructor for my agency, I instantly realized the depth of that statement and will not forget it.

If you have not signed up for one of John’s classes yet, DO IT! This includes his Gunfighter University sessions. Simply video yourself shooting with a camera phone, etc. and send in the video. John sends you back a critiqued video that you can reference at your next firearms session. The camera don’t lie.

If you want to hear more about the Sheriff of Baghdad and his class, read this article from a few months ago, when Mad Duo Nate spent a week on the range with him.

Sheriff of Baghdad online: http://sobtactical.com/

Gunfighter University: Gunfighter U

1This is entirely different from a so-called evil eye or that of a Beholder 5e.

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