Skinning a Cat Always Begins With a Sharp Knife

matt graham's knife
November 7, 2014  
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

Graham Combat: ARAINDROP Environmental Manipulation AAR

Tradecraft. We’re not talking about all the skills and knowledge Robert Scott used to get the President’s daughter back or all the methods Edward Lyle used to stay off the grid. We’re talking about things you can and should do – and know, and practice – daily.

That can be summarized by the tenets represented by the acronym ARAINDROP.

 I find myself sitting in the class room, in this case a hotel suite in Arlington Virginia. Matt Graham begins to speak to the class.

“Everyone wishes to learn the tricks of the trade, I say why not actually learn the trade?”

He’s not referring to pulling triggers or kicking doors. He’s talking about this concept as something that encompasses our entire life. In all avenues, all aspects, we look for the short cut, the path of least resistance, the “Cliff Notes for Life”. We as a modern civilization desire to learn the “secrets”  of complex tasks, but demand they be provided in a summary memo. As day 1 of Graham Combat’s Environmental Manipulation /ARAINDROP kicked off, my mind was already racing with questions. Like that rare, chance conversation you have with an interesting stranger at a party, the subjects being discussed were unexpected, stimulating and mind opening.


I had first trained with Matthew Graham a few months before, having attended the Graham Combat Handgun course with many of my fellow Breach-Bang-Clear writers. Held at a very impressive private range near Virginia Beach, the facility featured a fleet of beater cars, various driving courses and a sprinkling of fired MK-19 casings littering the ground. Training in, out and through vehicles during the course was a rare luxury, but for far more reasons than that the instruction left a lasting impression. I left the course shooting at damn near my own pinnacle, with core fundamentals strengthened and principles reenforced. I had also learned a lot of new techniques, rather then just a handful. In short, it was a great learning experience. As we wrapped up that course, Matt had briefly discussed his ARAINDROP course coming in the Fall. 

The mnemonic was short and simple, and that alone was intriguing. When I asked him to explain each aspect further, Mr. Graham smiled and simply stated that he couldn’t do it justice in the span of a few minutes. He wasn’t trying to be coy or disingenuous, he was being honest. By the end of the first hour of his Environmental Manipulation / ARAINDROP course now a few months later, I was beginning to fully understand why.

Grunts: mnemonic.

The email I received confirming my course enrollment provided instructions to where to meet. It instructed me to wear what I wear everyday. This is not a shooting course, nor one requiring a parachute kit bag full of gear. Just street clothes and a notebook. Instead of “tactical” cargo pants, cool guy T-shirt and Velcro covered ball caps typical to most at similar training, I decided to wear real people clothes in form of trendy outdoor shoes, jeans and a button down short sleeve. I retained my EDC items in form of pistol, spare mag, knife and flashlight attached to my key chain. Since Arlington is full of “Young Professionals” in form of athletic, body-conscious, fashion savvy, white corporate types, I wanted to look as much the part as my own vanity would allow. The curious thing about prepping for this course was the amount of thought I was putting into it. Since I had a slight inkling what it would be composed of, I was removing as many “target indicators” and “greyman” items as possible. Since I wanted to look like “Joe Shit the Ragman” for the course. I quickly began wondering how certain items had crept into my wardrobe in the first place. This notion was later reenforced by things I picked up at the Graham Combat course.


Matt Graham opened his period of instruction by talking briefly about himself, but not by going down the standard bullet-point biography. A former cop and Federal air marshal, he has since moved on to serve as a civilian defense contractor for the DoD as a full-time firearms and tactics instructor. Personally, I don’t really care much about an instructor’s personal accolades. I care about their honesty, subject knowledge, relevant experience and ability to teach. Since Matt had displayed a solid base of these at the handgun course, I was excited to train with him again.

We started out discussing what it means to be a student (this isn’t as simple as it sounds, and it’s very important) as well as what it takes to learn and how to maximize your ability to process information. This starts with being “present” to the here and now, and how that applies to all things in life. People as a whole are reluctant to embrace change, and often we find ourselves quick to judge that which we do not understand. The ARAINDROP class is as much an environmental course as it is an inner look at yourself. Your own boundaries, reservations, fears and misconceptions in daily life keep you from processing threats that are right in from of you.

A simple example would be walking into a glass front 7/11 gas station that is currently being robbed. You visually saw what was going down before walking in, but you might not have been present enough to be aware of what you had just observed. The medium of glass creates a mental  boundary  of “this is outside” and that is “inside”. This isn’t a joke, this exact situation has happened many times to people, to include off duty soldiers and on duty cops. The course covered many principles that I have been taught over the years and many that I had never seen before. Although similar to some training I have received in the military and certain private sector courses, ARAINDROP is the first time that all of this diverse information has been consolidated into a memorable, easily grasped format. 

As a kid, my grandfather use to say that there are 1,000 ways to skin a cat, but they all start with a sharp knife. This thought resurfaced in my mind as Matt covered the DROP portion of the mnemonic, which covers breaking contact with those that wish to ruin your day. Having exercised due diligence, avoiding the threat and creating distance it might cross your path again anyway. DROP focuses on defense and exercising a more permanent  solution to the problem. In a deadly force encounter, regardless of the type or location, violence is the “knife,” the constant to the range of different “cats.” This is my own mental connection, not a Graham analogy. Graham analogies tend be more relatable to everyone, like going to Starbucks or driving a car. They are often as hilarious as they are spot on. It’s his ability to explain concepts in such an easy way, with a mix of seriousness and humor that makes him such a charismatic instructor.


The ARAINDROP course is a hard one to do justice in a single article. I think that I could write 5,000 words and barely scratch the surface. The course is heavy on mindset, but not “combat mindset.” It focuses on awareness as a whole, not “situational awareness.” It includes a lot of old school tradecraft, thinking outside the box and being fluid to the situation. The course doesn’t follow a cookie cutter pattern full of buzzwords and regimen. The observational exercises we conducted in public were eye opening, even for those of us with that type of background. It’s been a long time since I have learned so much in a 48 hour block of time, and it was enlightening to have a lot of long standing questions answered.

This summary is necessarily inadequate because of the subject matter and how it’s learned, but believe me, ARAINDROP is an extremely unique class with value to a wide spectrum of individuals. Based off the longer course Graham teaches to the government, it would answer a lot of subject related questions I hear discussed by military and police as well as switched on civilians. In a way, it’s a sort of “worst case scenario” course for life. The concepts extend into every aspect of your own daily routine. I personally gained so much from ARAINDROP…I cannot recommend it highly enough. Check out Graham Combat here, and let us know in the comment section about your experiences with the company. 

You’re also going to want to start reading THE TRADE, Graham’s blog on Graham Tradecraft.


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Mad Duo Nate Murr-NerfAbout the Author: Nathan “Mad Duo Nate” is a former USMC Sergeant who recently transitioned to being a nasty civilian. He lives largely on nicotine, whiskey and hate and can be frequently found orating Kipling poems to frightened hipsters. A graduate of the Camp Lejeune School for Wayward Boys, he was a Marine NCO, Infantry Platoon Sergeant and Scout Sniper team leader. He is a fully qualified American Jedi, handsome badass and world-renowned field barista. He has numerous deployments to the Middle East and Africa and is something of an idiot savant when it comes finger-fucking stuff to make it work better. Nate drinks every day and only chain smokes when he’s drinking. We reckon he is probably best described as a sociopathic philosopher with vestigial cutthroat (though poetic) tendencies. Thus far Murr’s writing has appeared in such places as here on Breach-Bang-Clear, on, in field shitters and portajohns on at least 3 continents, in RECOIL Magazine and of course Penthouse letters. (Grunts: vestigial)

images_Train like a Samurai - Murr on task

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Nate Murr

Nate Murr

About the Author

Nate is a former USMC Sergeant turned nasty civilian and idiosyncratic inventor. He lives largely on nicotine, whiskey, and hate and can be frequently found orating Kipling poems to frightened hipsters. A renowned procrastinator and storied adventure protagonist, Murr is a graduate of the Camp Lejeune School for Wayward Boys. A combat veteran of multiple tours in Iraq and Africa, he was a Marine NCO, Infantry Platoon Sergeant and Scout Sniper team leader. Murr is a fully qualified American Jedi, self-described handsome badass and world-renowned field barista (true story - he's brewed great coffee on at least four continents). As anyone who has spent any time talking gear with him, Murr is something of an idiot savant when it comes finger-fucking stuff to make it work better. Nate only chain smokes when he's drinking, and only drinks every day. We reckon he is probably best described as a sociopathic philosopher with vestigial cutthroat (though poetic) tendencies. Thus far Murr's writing has appeared in such places as here on Breach-Bang-Clear, on, in field shitters and portajohns on at least 3 continents, in RECOIL Magazine and of course Penthouse letters. You can follow him and his company at @frontier_resolve on Instagram.

1 Comment

  1. GG

    Dude I feel bad you have no comments on your AAR on Matt’s class. I beta tested this class for Matt along with a mixed group of civilians and LE. It was a very good class as you know. Certainly plenty of good info for survivability in whatever environs one finds him or herself. Cheers

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