As noted in concluding my previous post about the Force Readiness course at The Complete Combatant, if we are not able to break the attack cycle before we are attacked, we need to actively defend ourselves.
Here is where the typical defensive gun training course begins, emphasizing gunhandling and marksmanship in response to a lethal threat. In Force Readiness, our head coach Brian Hill suggests a number of tools and skills we should develop to defend ourselves, including but certainly not limited to the gun.
In my first post I observed that the class is book-ended by a single idea: choice. “The more robust your skillset, the more choices you have,” Hill maintains. It is no accident that the “mascots” of The Complete Combatant — Joe and Jane, the “Combat Ants” – are armed not just with a gun, but also a knife, flashlight, phone, and martial arts belt.
More generally, the diverse and robust skillset encouraged by The Complete Combatant and represented by The Combat Ant reflects the overarching vision of Brian and Shelley Hill’s training company. “It’s not about guns or martial arts,” Brian insists. “It’s about you.”
In other words, as seen in the company motto, “You are the weapon.”
When your preventative defense or “PreFense” (Steve Tarani) fails, it is time for defense. In Force Readiness, we cover a wide range of defensive skills over a relatively short period of time. We are given a couple of basic ideas to practice, but really, as Hill notes, what we are doing are auditing our skillset to see what requires more work.
Hill stresses the importance of a “fighting stance” with “fenced” hands, a stance that allows us to move rather than “castle” to defend our ground. It’s remarkable, though perhaps not surprising, that people like me who spend most of their days sitting at a desk or standing in place have to (re)learn how to get our bodies into a position that will allow us to move dynamically.
From this stance, Hill teaches a “cage” position to guard our head against being struck, followed by three basic grips that can be used in an entangled fight to control the attacker: the tie, overhook, and underhook. As we practice grappling with our fellow students, Hill reminds us that “the goal here is not to win a martial arts match, it is to get away alive.”
Hill insists: “You must give yourself permission to run away. It does not make you a coward.”
To which John Correia adds with his typically wry smile, “Practice your ‘Run Fu.’”
John Correia of Active Self Protection fame is at Force Readiness taking video for his ASP Extra Channel (which has since appears in four parts: one, two, three, four). Correia had taught at The Complete Combatant the night before and his XO Stephannie Weidner is taking Force Readiness with the rest of us.
Hill is an Active Self Protection affiliated instructor which allows him to use ASP YouTube videos in his courses to demonstrate certain lessons and as points of entry to instruction. One video we watch is “Sexual Assault Stopped by Brave Victim.”
This leads into a consideration of and practice in defending against and escaping an attacker from the ground. We practice using our legs to kick off an attacker, then using a “shrimp” maneuver to create distance so we can then get up. Hill even teaches a technique for how to get up in such a way that we can continue to see and potentially defend ourselves against the attacker. I actually continue to practice this method of getting up any time I am on the ground exercising or getting up from a nap in my office.
We also learn and practice a simple method for escaping from someone who is trying to pin us against a wall.
No martial arts belts are awarded in this class for learning how to fall and how to stand up, alas.
According to Hill, the purpose of striking an attacker is to distract, disorient, and unbalance. Again, we are not trying to win a boxing or MMA match by knocking out our opponent. We are trying to buy ourselves time and space to escape.
Hill continually recalls our main mission: Get home alive.
We learn the proper way to make a fist so we don’t break our hand and practice making a few basic strikes on the heavy bags.
One of the more unsettling and potentially very useful techniques Hill discusses in this unit is how to properly gouge someone’s eye.
Speaking of eye gouges, close quarters combat expert Craig Douglas has called pepper spray “an eye jab in a can.” Like a well-placed strike, pepper spray may not completely disable someone, but it can diminish them considerably, allowing us to break contact and buy time to get away.
As part of our “kit” for the course, we are given an inert pepper spray trainer to carry and practice deploying. There is no magic here, but neither is how to use pepper spray self-evident or natural.
Having pepper spray as a tool/skill definitely expands the range of choice in self-defense scenarios. “If you only have a gun,” Hill cautions, “you only solve 1% of your problems.”
In a defensive training course in which you don’t actually fire arms, one skill that can be practiced is the draw. After all, it doesn’t matter how fast or accurate you are shooting if you can’t get the gun into the fight in the first place.
In practicing clearing our cover garments and drawing from concealment, Hill suggests we think about being efficient and gentle rather than fast (which tends to make us jerky). We want to draw with as little movement as necessary.
With efficiency comes speed, as Hill had us demonstrate to ourselves using a shot timer with a diminishing par time.
One of the goals of Steve Tarani’s “PreFense” is to keep us at a safe distance from potential attackers, because distance = time.
But as Dennis Tueller famously asked in a 1983 article in SWAT Magazine, how CLOSE is TOO close? This actual distance we need to have enough time may be much more than we think. Being able to react and evade, or to get a gun in play, in under a couple of seconds is probably not a bad skill to have in one’s repertoire. (This is one of John Correia’s lessons from watching 20,000 gunfights.)
The unsung heros of this and many training courses, our assistant instructors (Gedde Wilson, Todd Makofski, and Dylan Hirt), take turns running at us as we attempt to draw our guns before they reach us. We do this straight on, then try it while stepping off-line (busting off the X!), and using a box as “cover.”
This dynamic practice served as an excellent audit of where our skills currently are and where they need to be.
Retention and Disarms
In the event that we get into an entangled fight while armed or with someone who is armed, it is useful to have some basic techniques for retaining our firearm or disarming someone who is threatening us.
As with the combatives component of the course, here we learn just a couple of basic techniques and a host of things we need to think about and practice.
Other than weapon mounted (“tactical”) lights, flashlights are boring. And essential. Not just for when we are under attack, but for determining if we are under attack. The Tactical Professor Claude Werner repeatedly highlights the “serious mistakes gunowners make” that would have been prevented if the gun owner would have had/used a flashlight to make a proper target identification (e.g., “A father mistook his 14-year-old son for an intruder Tuesday and shot him in the neck, killing him”).
In Force Readiness, we learn one flashlight position: at our temple. We practice drawing both our guns and our pepper spray one-handed, with the flashlight in our other hand. Just a minute or two of each to see how it feels and where we are at with the skill.
Both Brian and Shelley Hill emphasize that Force Readiness is not a “medical course,” but with a growing number of people in the firearms training community they recognize the essential value of tourniquets.
Periodically during the course Shelley puts red duct tape on her body to indicate an injury and calls our name to come render assistance. The goal is to be able to deploy the tourniquet properly in under 30 seconds.
I do this twice, once on Shelley’s arm, and a second time Shelley enlists my wife as the injured party and gives her two injuries for me to deal with (with just one tourniquet).
It’s not exactly hard to quickly and properly get a tourniquet on someone, but it isn’t exactly easy, either. And here we are talking about people who are not actually injured. So we are learning to use tourniquets, which is probably more likely to save someone’s life than our gun, but the learning also serves as a reality check.
Along with pepper spray trainers and tourniquets, we are also given wooden “smart phones” to carry. As we will learn later in the course, the phone can be a first line of defense in dealing with a potential attack, as well as a vital final tool in helping us survive he immediate aftermath of an act of self-defense.
If we are ever have to use force (especially lethal force) in defense of ourselves or others, we are almost surely going to use our phones to make two calls: One to 9-1-1 and one to our attorney.
Because the first formal gun training course I took was Massad Ayoob’s MAG-40, “Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement,” the legal aspects of self-defense have always been at the forefront of my mind.
In Force Readiness, we get a brief overview of five principles of lawful self-defense:
As Massad Ayoob has said, after you succeed in surviving the fight, you need to be concerned with “CYA.” Can You Articulate that the shooting was justifiable? You also need to know what to say to the police when they arrive and what not to.
And beyond surviving physically and emotionally, can you survive a self-defense shooting financially? Can you pay a $25,000 to $40,000 retainer for an attorney? Can you post $10,000 or more to make bail?
The course wraps up by trying to bring some of the lessons learned together in different scenarios that the students are put through. As Hill describes them, “This is not real, but this is the realest fake stuff we can do.”
Each scenario is tailored to the extent possible to the student. They included a car accident followed by road rage, getting jumped in the rental car area of an airport, an armed robbery, a mass shooting in mall, a drunk guy accosting someone, and more.
As befits the broad skillset we covered in Force Readiness, the “solutions” to these scenarios varied and infrequently involved shooting the attacker. The student resolved the mass shooting incident, for example, by using the Nike Defense and running away.
My wife Sandy is a nurse practitioner and her scenario entailed her having to deal with a hostile psych patient. She called hospital security to handle it.
My scenario had me sitting at my desk in my office and someone coming in with a rifle. Although I could not have done this in real life, I immediately drew my handgun and fired at the person. He ran away, but in the process I was shot.
I began this series of posts by giving my comprehensive wish list of personal protection knowledge and abilities.
- Awareness and avoidance, criminal de-selection, de-escalation, “managing unknown contacts”
- Other than gun resources (knives, pepper spray, flashlights, empty-hand fighting)
- Basic marksmanship and gun-handling (draw, presentation, basic reloads)
- “Advanced” shooting techniques (moving and shooting, target transitions, distance)
- Thinking with a gun in hand (target discrimination, no shoot/shoot scenarios)
- Field medical skills
- Self-defense law (including shooting aftermath, police interaction)
In just 1.5 days with no live fire, the Complete Combatant’s Force Readiness course covers a lot of items on my wish list. I would say it covers aspects of 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 definitely, and perhaps also 4 and 5 depending on how you see those areas.
Not comprehensively, of course. But it serves as a basic introduction to many tools and skills and as an audit of our abilities in a number of areas to direct us where we need to go next.
In the end, we are the weapon. This course moves us toward being a more dangerous weapon and, therefore, more able to succeed in our defensive mission: get home alive or stay alive at home.
I recommend it without reservation.