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Fight Focused Handgun III - The Reactive Gunfight with Roger Phillips

Chris Upchurch

Last weekend I attended the Fight Focused Handgun III - The Reactive Gunfight class taught by Roger Phillips. The “reactive gunfight,” that FFH III focuses on are situations where you start out behind the curve because you are surprised or your opponent initiates the action. The tool set it teaches for dealing with these situations is built around dynamic movement and point shooting.

I’ve taken FFH III before, as well as Point Shooting Progressions, Roger’s previous flagship point shooting class. While FFH III is worth taking more than once simply to build point shooting and dynamic movement skills, I had a specific reason for wanting to retake it now.

I recently switched from carrying on my strong side hip to carrying in the appendix position (with the gun about 1 o’clock on the belt). This requires a somewhat different drawstroke, including a switch from open front cover garments to closed front. Having taken FFH III before I knew this is a class where I’d get a lot of reps drawing the gun. And they wouldn’t just be static, always squared up to the target, stand and deliver reps either. They’d be very dynamic, in a variety of orientations. This class would put my new carry position to the test.

In addition to being an excellent instructor, Roger has some of the best firearms coaching skills of anyone I’ve seen. He can look at what a student is doing, pick out the mistakes they’re making or something they’re doing that’s less than optimal, then provide feedback that meaningfully increases the student’s performance. I figured that Roger would be the best person to take my new drawstroke to the next level.

Gear

This is not a very gear intensive class. All you really need is a pistol, holster, mag carrier, and a couple of mags.

For my primary handgun, I brought my new G19X “Roland Special”. A Roland Special is a Glock (usually a Glock 19) with a compensator, red dot sight, and weaponlight. This gun is a slight variation on the concept, starting out with the Glock 19X to take advantage of the longer, G17 length grip (I much prefer the way the G17 feels in the hand to a G19). It’s kitted out with a Trijicon RMR milled into the slide, a Crimson Trace Lightguard LTG-736, an Apex trigger kit, a Mayhem Syndicate Mk 2 compensator and barrel, and some nice Dale Fricke kydex to carry it in. The last piece of the puzzle, the Mayhem Syndicate comp, arrived the day before I flew out to Vegas for the class so I didn’t have a chance to run much ammo through it before bringing it.

Given how new and untested my G19X setup was, I wouldn’t bring it to a class without a backup, much less trust it as my carry gun while I was in Las Vegas. Even if that were not the case, it’s generally a good idea to bring a second handgun to a course like this. No sense having a broken or problematic pistol spoil your investment of time and money. So I also brought my usual RMRed Glock 17.

While this is not a gear intensive class, it is an ammo intensive class. Roger lists a minimum round count of 750 rounds and says “bring more if you want to shoot more”. In my experience, while the class can be done with 750 rounds, doing so requires being very conscious of your ammo consumption on each drill. I didn’t want to have to think about that (and I just like to shoot a lot), so I ordered 1500 rounds and had them shipped to Roger ahead of time.

As a corollary to the amount of ammo, this is a class that benefits from bringing lots of magazines. Since I was shipping my ammo out, I wouldn’t have the chance to load mags ahead of time, but I still wanted plenty of mags so I could just get a bunch loaded on Saturday morning and not have to worry too much about it later. A pistol magazine loader like the LULA is a huge asset in a class like this.

Preparation

This class is the culmination of a lot of effort switching to appendix carry. I made the switch back in early February and since then I’ve been doing dry practice almost every day. At this point I’ve done the drawstroke dry thousands of times. Unfortunately, given the restrictions at local ranges I have access to I hadn’t had the opportunity to do any live fire with it.

I’ve also practiced reholstering thousands of times. Given where the gun is pointing in the appendix position, safely reholstering is definitely a critical skill. Particularly when you’re working with a dry pistol, it’s easy to treat reholstering as an afterthought; just a step you need to get through to set up the next draw. I’ve put a lot of effort into fighting this tendency and reholstering slowly and deliberately. One advantage of appendix carry is that it’s easy to look down and visually confirm that the holster is clear before holstering the gun and I worked hard to ingrain that.

While most my dry practice time has been dedicated to the drawstroke, I also put quite a bit of time in practicing reloads; specifically reloading from slide lock (aka: reactive reloads or emergency reloads). When I switched to appendix, I also moved my spare mag from my left hip up to the 11 o’clock position (just to the left of the belt buckle). I wanted to get used to grabbing the magazine from there.

I decided to take advantage of all these practice reloads to make a couple of other changes as well. In the past, I’ve made my default a reload with retention (pulling the old mag out of the gun and pocketing it before inserting the new mag into the gun). When reloading from slide lock I made dropping the empty mag my default. Similarly, my previous practice was to get the gun back into battery by tugging the slide to the rear. I made the switch to using the slide lock lever (the G19X has a nice ambidextrous one). I also swapped my spare mag from a stock Glock one to one of the Magpul 21 round models and used all my practice reloading the larger mag. Between these changes to how I reload the pistol and a couple thousand reps of dry practice, I’d say my slide lock reloads are smoother than they’ve ever been.

Friday

One of the nice things about training in Las Vegas is it’s one of the few places you can get a direct flight from Wichita. Thanks to a 2-hour time difference my flight got me there in the early afternoon. I took advantage of this to stop at REI to do some shopping, make a Walmart run, and grab some dinner before retiring to my hotel.

Saturday

I was up bright and early Saturday morning. After breakfast at the hotel I got loaded up and headed out to the range. I met Roger at the range’s front gate and followed him down to the bay where we’d be shooting. He gave me my 1500 rounds, and I immediately began stuffing ammo into mags; I got all my mags loaded up before class started.

Roger started off with a short lecture explaining the context of the class. In particular, this class, and the way Roger puts it into context has evolved a bit since the last time I took it. This is largely in response to some changes in the way Roger teaches sighted fire.

In a gunfight we’d really prefer to use our most optimal skill set: shooting sighted fire from a solid, stationary position to deliver fight-ending hits as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we’re not always in a position to do that, especially as armed citizens. Our gunfight may come as a surprise. Even if we see it coming, we often aren’t the ones choosing when to initiate the action and may start out in a position of disadvantage. We’re usually reacting to the actions of a criminal adversary rather than being proactive. This class is all about fighting in those suboptimal situations.

One thing Roger placed a big emphasis on in the course was that even if we start out in a reactive mode using our suboptimal situation skill set, when we get to the point where we’ve gained the initiative, we want to transition to using our optimal skill set to finish the fight decisively. Clint Smith said, “The purpose of a pistol is to fight your way back to your rifle.” Well, the purpose of a reactive gunfighting skill set is to fight your way back to the point where you can use your optimal, sighted fire gunfighting skill set. Integrating the suboptimal and the optimal, the reactive and the proactive was a big part of this class.

This is something that Roger has been saying for as long as I’ve trained with him (even as “the point shooting guy” he still preached the importance of a sighted fire skill set). However, in this class he went much further into including it in the drills.

Since everyone in the class was fairly experienced, Roger noted that this would be more of a workshop type curriculum, exploring these concepts. This class is like a Petrie dish, an opportunity to gather information about what you can do with these skills.

With this, he segued into the safety lecture, talking about friends taking care of friends, the four rules of gun safety, etc.

Roger did a brief review of the optimal stance: support side foot well forward with the knee bent, primary side leg straight to transmit recoil to the ground. The ability to absorb recoil is more important with a rifle, but using the same stance across both provides consistency.

The grip is one area where Roger has really changed what he teaches, a process that started about three years ago in his first Fight Focused Handgun IV - Fight Focused Marksmanship course. The “locked wrist” grip is built around the idea of using leverage and skeletal support to control recoil and muzzle flip, rather than friction and muscular support.

Your primary hand should grip the gun as high as possible, with the web of the hand up on the tang of the grip and the middle finger up tight against the bottom of the trigger guard. Getting the grip as high as possible helps transmit the recoil to your body rather than flipping the muzzle upward. Squeeze tightly front to back: the work counteracting muzzle flip is being done by forward pressure from the web of your hand and rearward pressure from your pinky. These wedge the gun into place.

The support hand should be angled forward and down as much as physically possible; this is the locked wrist. It reinforces your pinky’s rearward pressure on the bottom of the gun. It can also mitigate recoil anticipation problems, since if your hand is locked out literally as far as it can go, it’s much harder to dip the muzzle in anticipation of the recoil when the gun goes off.

So far this matches what Roger was teaching in Fight Focused Handgun IV class I attended back in 2016. One new element he’s introduced since then is keeping the support side shoulder high and your elbows pointed out. This torques your hands together, pinching the upper part of the pistol’s frame tightly between your hands and making the grip much more solid. He’d talked about this in the CQB class last year, but since I skipped out on the live-fire range day in that class this was my first chance to shoot it live in one of his classes. It definitely helps further stabilize the gun and combat muzzle flip.

We started off shooting a couple of one hole drills. This was five rounds of sighted slow fire at about 5 yards, with the goal of stacking every round right on top of each other in a single hole. I did pretty well on this, getting everything into one rather ragged hole each time.

Next we started from the holster and pushed the speed a little, drawing and shooting some sighted fire groups.

Moving down the sight continuum, we did some work drawing and shooting with a flash sight picture. After a few reps of that we transitioned to “type 2 focus”. This is a flash sight picture, but rather than being focused on the front sight, you focus your eye on the target and superimpose the blurry sight picture on the target. By Roger’s definition, this is where really starts, when your visual focus shifts from the sights to the target.

Since I’m running a red dot, there’s not the same sort of distinction between hard focus on the front sight, flash sight picture, and type 2 focus that there is for the folks running irons. Instead it’s a matter of varying how much time I spend getting that dot placed precisely and settled on target. In the earlier drills where we were shooting with greater precision, I took a lot of time making sure the dot was exactly on the aiming point and as still as possible (perfectly still is impossible and part of shooting accurately is learning to accept that). With the later drills I took the shot as soon as I saw the dot near the aiming point, trading accuracy for speed.

Next up was aligning down the top of the slide. Rather than looking through the sights, you lower the gun about an inch and look over it. The sights are still there as reference points, but you’re not looking directly through them. With a red dot you have to lower the gun more and looking through the lens of the optic at an angle can have a distorting effect on those reference points. Given these complications I find I can definitely shoot faster and at longer distances aligning down the top of the slide with an iron sighted gun than I can with a red dot. The flip side of this is that the red dot allows me to use sighted fire in some circumstances where I’d be aligning down the top of the slide with an iron sighted gun. It’s a different set of tradeoffs.

After a fair amount of shooting aligning down the top of the slide, we briefly covered “metal on meat”. This is where you superimpose the entire back of the slide (“metal”) on the target (“meat”). If you can see meat all the way around the metal, press the shot. It works well out to about 4-5 yards, but beyond that the slide starts completely covering a torso sized target.

The final technique in the sight continuum is shooting off the drawstroke. Basically this involves ignoring any visual input from the gun and focusing solely on the target, relying on your body mechanics (drawstroke and stance) to deliver the hits. This works at very close ranges and can be useful in low light, but if you can get visual input from the gun, it generally makes sense to do so. Many people think that this sort of purely body mechanic based shooting is all point shooting is (“spray and pray”). They don’t realize all the other places along the sight continuum that point shooting encompasses. In a two-day point shooting class we disposed of the pure body mechanic/no visual input point shooting in about 5 minutes and I never really used it again for the entire class.

Roger uses a series of step-back drills to bring the entire sight continuum together and help students get a feel for when they need to transition from one technique to another. We started off a three yards shooting solely of the drawstroke and body mechanics. Stepping back to 4 yards, we drew from the holster and shot metal on meat. Step back again and align down the top of the slide. Keep stepping back and aligning down the top of the slide until that starts breaking down, then transition to looking through the sights with the focus on the target. Step back some more and switch to a flash sight picture. We ended up at about 15 yards shooting with a hard focus on the front sight.

Now that we’d covered the sight continuum, Roger gave a lecture on the seven concepts of reactive gunfighting: the reactionary curve, the takeoff, movement, the drawstroke, retention, the sight continuum, and the grip and trigger continuum.

While we’d been varying the amount of visual input in previous drills, we’d done all of it from full extension with the gun up in our line of sight (or just an inch below it when aligning down the top of the slide). Now, we started getting the gun further and further from our field of view.

The first step in this process was to shoot from contact ready, with the gun far enough below our line of sight that you can clearly see the adversary’s hands and waistband. You often need to see these things in order to decide whether or not to shoot them. Optimally, if we decide we need to shoot, we bring the gun up and use our sights. However, things aren’t always optimal and sometimes the need to shoot is so urgent we may need to take our initial shots with the gun several inches below the line of sight.

Here Roger explicitly introduced the idea of fighting our way from reactive to proactive, from a suboptimal situation to an optimal situation. Now, starting out pointed in and challenging someone at gunpoint isn’t that far down the reactionary curve, but it’s still a situation where we may find ourselves reacting to what the adversary does in response to being challenged.

We started out shooting with the gun below our line of sight, then after a few rounds we brought it up and used the sights to deliver another burst. Rather than making this transition based on a specific number of shots, Roger asked us to visualize the physical reaction from the bad guy that would lead us to make this transition from our reactive skill set to a more proactive one. This is what Ninpo Student describes as “knowing when you’ve got a guy”. Think of someone shifting from moving aggressively to being back on his heels in response to your gunfire. It’s important that he still legally represents a threat (otherwise we shouldn’t keep shooting) but we’ve gained enough of the initiative to shift to our proactive, optimal shooting skill set.

The other big reason to shoot with the gun below our line of sight is if we have a retention problem. Often people think about retention being just for very close ranges, but it really starts being a consideration at about 4 yards. The length of your arms put the pistol about a yard closer to the adversary, their arms put their hands about a yard closer to you, and the remaining two yards can be eaten up very quickly by a couple of big steps.

The corollary to this is that we can’t just go from full extension straight to the gun tucked up against the body in a classic “speed rock” position and think that covers all our retention needs, because the speed rock doesn’t work at 4 yards. Instead we need a continuum that allows us to gradually withdraw the gun as we get closer, trading accuracy (that we don’t need as much as the distance gets closer) for weapon retention (that we need very much as the adversary closes in).

The first step along this road is shooting from partial extension. Think of this as being part of the way through the drawstroke, about halfway between when the hands come together and full extension. When we were shooting from contact ready the gun was 5-6 inches below line of sight, now we’re talking about shooting about a foot below line of sight.

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Again, during this drill Roger had us visualize the target responding to our shots and make the transition from point shooting below the line of sight to driving the gun out to full extension and delivering a couple of headshots using the sights.

In this class I was trying to manage my ammo so that I never ran dry during a drill (reloading before reholstering, swapping out mags between drills, etc.). But as we were shooting this drill, I did run the gun to slide lock and had to reload. Roger complimented me on how smooth the reload looked, so I guess all that dry practice paid off.

Our last drill before lunch was shooting from an even more compressed position, right where the hands come together during the drawstroke with your elbows up against the rib cage. Because of the solid skeletal support this is a position that allows for very rapid fire, but the lower level of visual input on the gun means that distance is limited. Again, we shot a burst from the below line-of-sight position then drove the gun up to eye level to use the sights for a headshot.

After lunch we picked up with the zipper drill. This involves shooting during your drawstroke, starting where the hands come together and continuing all the way up to eye level. If you do a good job keeping your shots centered and the gun parallel to the ground, you end up with a vertical string of shots right up the centerline of the target. Roger emphasized that the zipper is primarily a drill for learning and practice rather than a combat technique. If we really need to go from shooting from compressed position up to eye level, it makes sense to just drive the gun all the way out and take our next shot from there rather than shooting en route. In training, however, it provides the opportunity to shoot from varied distances below line of sight and varied extensions in a single drill. Being able to use the zipper to produce a nice vertical string of shots demonstrates mastery of several important point shooting skills (shooting parallel to the ground, transitioning from one focal point to another, etc.).

The last drill of the two-handed shooting portion of the curriculum was the hammer drill. With this drill you shoot from where the hands come together and put a burst into the torso, then shift focus to the head and put a round into the head from the same basic shooting position, without extending the gun any further. The key is to hinge your arms at the elbow and go from parallel to the ground to angled upward as you change your focal point from the body to the head. Note that when setting this up it’s critical to make sure that you’re not shooting over the berm.

Moving on to one-handed shooting, Roger talked a bit about Fairbairn and Sykes and their history in Shanghai, since this material comes to us pretty much directly from their book Shooting to Live.

Given this pedigree, Roger had us shoot these drills from a combat crouch, rather than the more optimal recoil absorbing stance that we’d been using thus far. We started out with 3/4 hip, which is the one-handed equivalent of the two-handed shooting from partial extension that we’d done earlier. One difference is because you’re shooting one handed, you need to concentrate on getting the gun on the visual centerline (with two-handed shooting this happens pretty much automatically). Most people initially try to do this by angling their forearm in and articulating their wrist to get the gun pointed at the target, but the bent wrist and angled forearm don’t do a great job transmitting recoil back to your body to be absorbed. A better approach is to get your elbow on your visual centerline, directly behind the gun. This will allow you to shoot faster and more accurately.

As we did this drill my trigger started feeling “crunchy” for the lack of a better term. It was hanging up at the very end of the trigger press and requiring more and more force to get it all the way back. When we took a break to drink water and ammo up, I asked around if anyone had a Glock disassembly tool. (I had not brought one. A lesson for next time even if I’m flying out to a class). Thankfully someone had.

My initial suspect was the aftermarket trigger or connector, but after I popped the slide off, they seemed to move freely. When I detail stripped the lower and popped the trigger, trigger bar, ejector housing, and connector out they appeared pristine. Something in the lower is usually the obvious culprit for trigger issues, but having ruled those out I turned my attention to the slide. Sure enough, when I pressed the striker back it hung up about an eighth of an inch short. That would account for the feeling I got from the trigger. I popped the slide cover plate off and removed the striker. It appeared a bit gunky, but there were no obvious problems with it. I cleaned it off a bit and reassembled the gun. The trigger operated normally. I still don’t know exactly what caused it, but the problem hasn‘t reoccurred since.

Next up was the half-hip position; the one-handed equivalent of shooting from where the hands come together in a two-handed drawstroke. There are actually three variants of this: one where you brace the elbow on the front of the ribcage, one where you press it in on the point of the hip, and one where your upper arm is behind the point of the hip pressed forward against the floating rib. These allow progressively greater retention, but limit accuracy and effective distance as you get less visual input from the gun and it moves off the visual centerline. We shot all three variants.

Roger also used this as an opportunity to teach the elbow-up/elbow-down drawstroke. This is a way to get the gun out of the holster and into a half-hip shooting position very quickly. You acquire your grip, pull your elbow up and back until the gun clears the holster, then drive it down and forward until you hit the half hip shooting position. It is very fast.

Last, we maxed out the retention concept shooting with the gun braced up against the pectoral. Roger taught it with the gun angled downward, so you can have your support side arm up blocking or fending off the attacker and not risk shooting yourself in the arm. This is one take on what many instructors call “the retention position” (propagating the mistaken impression that you only need one position to cover all retention problems).

I’ll note that I had absolutely no issues shooting a pistol with a compensator on it from the retention position.

During these last few drills I was getting a few failures to feed, with the round hanging up halfway into the chamber, angled upward. Given that it only developed late in the day, my suspicion was that it was probably related to the gun getting dirty.

We packed up, loaded up the targets, and headed out. Roger let me buy him a nice dinner at Boulder Dam Brewing and we spent some time talking about the state of the training industry and some of the classes I’d taken and he’d taught recently.

After a nice soak in the tub back at the hotel I cleaned the G19X as thoroughly as I could with the gear I brought with me. I did bring some oil, so I was able to get it well lubricated.

Sunday

On Sunday morning I worked a bit on this write up. When I went down to grab the free hotel breakfast, I found it was raining lightly. I had not been expecting any rain based on the forecast, but luckily I had brought my goretex rain jacket for the wind we were expecting on Sunday.

The rain continued as I headed down to the range. It was supposed to stop not long after 8 o’clock, so we held off on setting up the targets and shooting until it did.

All of our shooting on the first day had been done squared up to the target. Today’s first block of instruction was dedicated to breaking us away from that. First up was shooting with the target towards your support side. For this Roger teaches the Center Axis Relock (CAR) positions.

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The low CAR position has the gun braced up against the chest with the barrel parallel to your shoulders. Roger emphasized that the gun needs to be braced against your support side pec, since having it on that side forces your support side elbow back and keeps the support side arm clear of the muzzle. In this position you can clamp the grip of the gun between your primary and support hands giving very good recoil control. However, being so far below the line of sight and with virtually no extension accuracy and effective range is limited.

When you need to shoot at more distant targets on your support side, you can use the high CAR position. This basically takes the low CAR position and rotates your arms up about 90 degrees, so your support side forearm is vertical and the primary side arm is horizontal at shoulder level, putting the gun just below your line of sight. Recoil control isn’t quite as good, but bringing the gun up to eye level makes hits out to 5 yards or so quite doable.

We shot both the low CAR and high CAR positions live fire, then did a drill where we started out in the low position and shot continuously as we raised the gun to the high position. The cool thing about this is that if you do your focal point transitions right, even though the gun is moving in a curved, C-shaped path the string of bullet impacts will be vertical.

This was actually the one drill where I noticed muzzle blast from the comp. In low CAR the muzzle blast was like getting slapped in the bicep. Nothing that caused any damage or that I would even notice in a fight but in training it was definitely noticeable.

During these drills one of the students got a badly stuck case in his pistol. This was a G27 with a 9mm conversion barrel, which may have contributed to the issue. He got the case knocked out with a rod, but switched over to his G19 for the rest of the class.

The next drill was focused on drawing directly towards the target. As Roger pointed out, sometimes we have to do things on the range for safety reasons that are not necessarily the most efficient in a fight. In this case, safety and combat efficiently match up perfectly. For safety reasons, when drawing the only thing we want the muzzle to cover is the dirt between us and the target. Drawing directly to the target like this also gets the gun on target quickly. Driving the gun to the target is faster, more efficient, and less likely to overshoot than swinging on to the target from the left or right. This is relatively easy when facing squarely towards the target, but if the target is off to the left or right, or even behind you it becomes more difficult.

Facing diagonally uprange with the target off your right (primary) side shoulder the most direct way to get the gun on target is to draw and bring the gun straight up towards the target. If you’re drawing from the appendix position, this can be thought of as driving the butt of the gun to the target. Coming from the hip the gun is traveling more sideways. In either case you end up shooting back behind you using the point shoulder position. One key to doing this safely on the range is to get the gun pointed at the target, then rotate it so it’s straight up and down (or angled over a bit so you can aim down the edge of the slide if that’s your preference). If you try to rotate the gun earlier, you’ll have a tendency to swing the gun up in an arc, rather than go directly to the target which is both less efficient and a potential safety problem on the range.

Facing diagonally uprange the other way, with the target on your left (support) side shoulder, you basically draw to Sul, then rotate your torso until you can raise the gun right into the CAR position (high CAR at the distances we were shooting).

We did a bunch of dry work on both of these before shooting them live, to make sure everyone could get the gun on target without covering anyone else on the line with us.

Having covered the full sight continuum, drawing directly to the target, and shooting at these extreme angles, we had all the building blocks in place to move into dynamic movement. The difference between controlled movement and dynamic movement is all about the relative priority that you’re giving to shooting accuracy and movement speed. With controlled movement you’re sacrificing movement speed to prioritize a good shooting platform. Dynamic movement sacrifices some of that shooting platform in order to move more quickly (there’s also “get out of dodge” movement where you eschew shooting on the move entirely and just book it).

With dynamic movement you’re moving too fast to use your sights effectively. Keeping the eye, sights, and target all lined up just isn’t possible beyond a certain speed (even with a red dot). Point shooting is absolutely mandatory. That said, we’re not just pounding along paying no heed to our shooting platform. The fundamentals of shooting on the move still apply: lower your center of gravity, step smoothly and shorten your stride, and absorb the impact of your footfalls. They’re just done at a faster pace than in controlled movement.

The reason we’re employing dynamic movement is usually to get off “the X”. To get off the spot where our adversary’s gun is pointed, or about to be pointed, and where his bullets are going to go (or where he’s about to hit us with some sort of contact weapon). If we want to do this effectively our initial movement has to be explosive. We need to accelerate very rapidly off of this spot. Our initial “takeoff” is critical. There are a variety of ways to do this, and which is best depends on your physical capabilities and the amount of traction you have available (stuff that works on dry asphalt is not going to work on wet grass, gravel, or ice). Roger demonstrated several possibilities, including just stepping off (“lean and push”), the Pekiti takeoff, the Russian takeoff, and the two-footed takeoff. He seems to prefer the two-footed approach most of the time, but he’ll adopt what works for the conditions. We spent some time playing around with the different takeoffs to see what worked for us (at least on this gravel range).

After a bunch of dry work, we started live fire with moving directly towards the target. While this doesn’t get us off the X the way lateral movement does, there are circumstances where going straight in is appropriate. We may need to close rapidly with an adversary to defend a loved one, because we’re facing multiple adversaries and closing on one will put us in a better position versus others, or because it’s the only available option.

One consideration when going straight in is we don’t want to charge right into a retention problem. We worked on techniques for withdrawing the gun into a more compressed position as we got closer.

Moving on to the more traditional, “get off the X” directions, we practiced moving diagonally forward to the left and right (the 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock directions). We started off running these drills from about 9-10 yards, which is really further than you’d want to use these in real life (at that sort of distance other techniques would be more appropriate). However, Roger wanted to give students enough time to do the takeoff, get the gun out, and get some shots off. Once we’d had some practice and everyone was getting the gun out and rounds on target within those first few steps, we moved up to a more realistic distance of 5 yards. At this distance things develop much more quickly, closer to the classic gunfighting “rule of threes” (3 steps, 3 rounds, 3 seconds). For all of these drills, Roger had us cap things off by switching to a sighted fire headshot when we got to the end of our movement.

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After lunch we did the rear diagonals, starting within arms reach of the target and moving back to the 5 o’clock or 7 o’clock directions. Roger put out cones at about eight yards to serve as notional pieces of cover for us to move too (it was far too windy to put out chairs or targets that we could actually use to simulate cover, so we had to use our imagination). Again, emphasizing the idea of fighting your way to your optimal skill set, when we reached this notional cover Roger had us post up and switched to delivering sighted fire.

We switched back to the forward diagonals, but this time we incorporated a directional change. After getting off the X to the 1 o’clock or 11 o’clock Roger had us visualize our shots putting the adversary back on his heels allowing us to regain the initiative. We changed direction to closing straight in with the BG, switched to controlled movement and sighted fire, and started putting headshots on board (not because you’d necessarily go for the head in this situation, but because it was a clean part of the target allowing us to see our sighted fire hits).

Switching gears like this is one of the more difficult things to do in the middle of a fight. A more traditional application would be going from delivering torso shots at a high cadence of fire to slowing down to deliver headshots. Here, we’re not only going from torso to head, but from dynamic movement to controlled movement and from point shooting to sighted fire. It’s quite a challenge.

After demonstrating our controlled movement/sighted fire accuracy this way in a couple of iterations, Roger had us run it using sighted fire on the torso and a higher cadence of fire (since it’s a bigger target).

Next up we did some drills starting diagonally to the rear while point shooing, then changing direction moving diagonally forward (think of a letter “V” with up being downrange) still point shooting, then when you get back up near the target line, stopping and delivering sighted fire headshots. The drill simulated busting off the X away from the assailant, changing direction to acquire the target’s flank, and, once you flank them, shifting to your optimal skill set and finishing the fight.

We had covered moving straight in and moving diagonally both forward and to the rear; next up was moving directly right or left (the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock directions). We did these drills moving all the way from one side of the range to the other, engaging each target on the line in turn as we moved past at about 5 yards. Again, Roger integrated the optimal, sighted fire skill set, this time by calling out one or more target numbers at the end of the drill and having us deliver headshots.

Last up, Roger covered “tactical pirouettes”. Normally when you move to the right rear (primary side) you do it using Center Axis Relock and if you move to the left rear (support side) you do it using point shoulder. The tactical pirouette allows you to switch that up. You get off the X by taking a big step to the side, then pivot on the ball of that foot. So if you take a big step to the right you can pivot and move to the rear using point shoulder and if you take a big step to the left after the pivot you end up in CAR. You might use point shoulder instead of CAR when going to the right just because you’re more comfortable with it, or because point shoulder is generally good out to longer distances than CAR. There’s less reason to use CAR instead of point shoulder, but one might be in a confined space like a hallway where you won’t be able to create distance the way you would in a more open area.

That drill wrapped up the class. Everyone loaded up their gear and helped Roger tear down the range. He handed out the certificates, and we all went our separate ways.

Concluding Thoughts

This was an excellent class. Roger does a good job adapting his courses to the student body and in this case we had a group of safe, experienced, shooters that allowed him to push the envelope and teach the class at a very high level.

As expected, Roger evolved the class considerably since the last time I took it in 2014. These changes really come to the fore in two areas: the locked wrist grip and the integration of the reactive and proactive. The locked wrist grip helps you deliver fast and accurate hits when point shooting just like it does during sighted fire. Roger did a great job integrating the transition from reactive, point shooting based skills to more proactive, sighted fire skills into the class. Many drills called for students to make that transition in various ways.

I’m pretty happy with how I performed in this class. All the dry practice I did with the draw really paid off. I was always able to get the gun out safely, quickly, and effectively. I think I acquitted myself pretty well in the point shooting and movement aspects of the class too.

One area I through was particularly interesting was how well I did doing shooting during controlled movement with the pistol, despite the fact that all of my recent controlled movement live practice and most of my dry work has been done with a rifle rather than a handgun. This is a skill that definitely crosses over from one platform to the other.

While I’ve been using the locked wrist grip in all of my dry practice, this class has helped me refine it. Keeping the elbows out and torquing the gun is the main change, but I also need to make sure I’ve got the support hand aggressively forward (particularly when coming off a reload or other situation where I have to compromise my grip on the gun).

The teething problems with my Glock 19X on Saturday were kind of concerning. I still don’t know what caused the trigger/striker issue, but it hasn’t reoccurred. The fact that the failures to feed didn’t crop up until I’d put a bunch of rounds downrange and went away after I cleaned and lubed the gun makes me think that’s the cause. I’m not really used to having to clean a Glock, but I’ve never run one with an aftermarket barrel that has tighter tolerances for any length of time. It appears this setup may be a bit more sensitive to cleaning and lubrication than I’m used to. I’ve got another two-day pistol class coming up in late June. I won’t be making a decision about whether this setup is reliable as a carry gun until after that class.

One thing that had cropped up a couple of times when I was testing the G19X was the slide locking back even when the magazine wasn’t empty yet. I was wondering if this was related to the new gun, or to running the locked wrist grip. It happened a couple of times in this class, and it seemed like it actually occurs when I’m not being as aggressive about getting that wrist cocked forward. If I want to shoot using that grip it seems like I really need to stay hardcore about it.

The Apex trigger and connector worked very nicely. I think they deserve at least some credit for the groups I was able to shoot during the one-hole drill. The short reset on the Apex trigger also contributes to the ability to take very quick follow-up shots. The comp does seem to make a difference in this department as well, though it probably makes a bigger difference during sighted fire than during point shooting since less muzzle flip makes it easier to reacquire the sights (or the red dot in my case). The Trijicon RMR ran just like any other RMR I’ve used: accurately and reliably. The Dale Fricke kydex I was using was great, as usual.

For a while there was a running joke in Roger’s class is about how “the weather will be perfect”. In this class the weather really was perfect. It was a lot cooler than we had any right to expect it to be in Vegas in May (I even wished I’d brought a long sleeve cover garment on Sunday morning). The brief bout of rain didn’t disrupt any of our shooting. About the best you could ask for. It was quite windy on Sunday, but this isn’t a class where the wind disrupts much.

Fight Focused Handgun III - The Reactive Gunfight is a great class. Roger continues to evolve it over time and I think the integration of reactive and proactive skill sets that he’s introduced takes it to another level. I’d highly recommend it (including to folks who, like me, have previously taken one of Roger’s point shooting classes).

Building a Personal Fighting System

Chris Upchurch

I’ve been taught by been-there-done-that guys that you should run your carbine stock all the way out and that you should run it as short as possible. That you should mount your sights high up, and that you should mount them low. That you should run muzzle up, and that you should run muzzle down. That you should do target identification through the sights, and that you should do it looking over the gun. That you should carry appendix and that you should carry on the hip. That you should release the slide by pulling back on it and that you should use the lever. That you should default to dropping expended mags and that you should default to retaining them. And don't even get me started on contrary opinions on handgun makes and models, much less the caliber war.

What is a student of the fighting arts to do? How can you resolve all of this contrary advice?

One solution is to pick a guru. Pick one instructor or one school whose advice you're going to follow. Take a bunch of classes, practice the techniques, and ingrain what you have learned until you can deliver it on demand.

This is probably the right approach for many, if not most people. If you pick a good instructor, you'll get a set of techniques that work and that come together in a coherent system (choosing a good instructor when you're just starting to learn this stuff is a whole other problem, but this article is long enough as it is). Frankly, knowing the basics, practicing them on a regular basis, and carrying regularly will put you miles ahead of most CCW holders.

That said, there are disadvantages to adopting an instructor's system wholesale. No matter how good the instructor their system is never going to be the best possible fit for your needs, your physical capabilities, your life. Choosing an instructor whose system is a good fit for you can help, and any good instructor will try to modify techniques to work with a student's physical limitations. There are inherent limits to this, however. The instructor can't know what you know about your lifestyle or feel what you feel when you try to perform a technique. Any preexisting system that you adopt is going to be a compromise.

There is another path, however, one that is much more difficult and demanding. Indeed, it is a project that, by its nature, will last a lifetime. Build your own personal fighting system by learning, adapting, and adopting techniques that fit your needs, your circumstances, your physical limitations.

Train widely

To start this process, you need a good grasp of the fundamentals. If you're starting completely from scratch, it's best to start with one instructor and one system until you've mastered the basics. This will give you a foundation, a point of departure from which you can begin customizing and creating your own system to meet your needs.

When you have a working knowledge of the fundamentals, it's time to branch out. Train with different instructors so you can see a variety of different takes on the same sort of material. Each new instructor will give you a chance to see some new technique, something that you didn't appreciate before, some refinement that you can add to your skill set. Sometimes, an instructor will cover a technique that you've seen before and didn't understand, but will explain it differently in a way that allows you to "get it."

If you want to get the greatest benefit out of training with different instructors, it's essential that those instructors be different. If you only train with ex-Delta guys, there's not going to be a whole lot of variation, no matter how many of them you train with. Train with instructors who have military backgrounds, train with cops, train with armed citizen instructors. Train with the competition crowd, train with those who think gun games are a waste of time. Train with traditionalists and with guys who are pushing the boundaries. Train at the big schools and train with the 1-man shops. The more diverse your teachers, the more different ideas and techniques you'll be exposed to.

This is not to say you shouldn't be discerning when selecting your instructors. Always seek out good instruction: read reviews, get recommendations from trusted students, learn what you can from what an instructor has put online. There are great instructors out there from all sorts of backgrounds. You don't have to sacrifice quality to train with a wide variety of instructors.

When in Rome

When you seek out diverse instruction, you're going to encounter techniques and approaches that seem strange to you. Maybe even uncomfortable. Keep in mind that while you're at a class, you're not there to make a judgment about whether a particular technique is good or bad, or whether it suits you or not. A class is a chance to learn as much about the technique as possible so that you can evaluate it later. Unless you are physically unable to perform the technique or think it's obviously unsafe, give it a try. Do it the way the instructor is teaching and withhold judgment until you've seen how it works.

In addition to learning the technique itself, it can be useful to understand why the instructor teaches a particular technique. What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to other ways to do it? How does it fit with the rest of their system? What situations is it strongest in and where are any shortcomings apparent? There's a fine line to be walked here. While you want as much context for what the instructor is teaching as you can get, you don't want to take the class down endless "bunny trails" and side discussions (don't be "that guy").

As anyone who's been in a class with me can tell you, I tend to take a lot of notes. This is particularly important if you're trying to build a personal fighting system. The real work when it comes to evolving your system happens after class is over, so being able to call up the details of a technique and the instructor's explanation for it are critical.

Does this have a place?

After a class, it's time to decide whether or not a new technique should become part of your system. Changes could range from minor tweaks (making sure you eject the mag while the gun is horizontal to help it clear the magwell) to major (changing from strong side carry to appendix). Regardless of how significant a change a new technique is, scrutinize it carefully before incorporating it into your system.

I often see instructors describe a new or different technique as "a tool in the toolbox." This comes with the implication that adding a technique to your toolbox is a good thing; that a new technique doesn't have to displace what you already know. I disagree with this approach. You're not trying to fill one of those big rolling tool chests, you're trying to build a system of techniques that work together and enables you to fight effectively.

When you're first starting out, you'll learn a lot of new skills that fill niches that you didn't even know existed, like the finer points of one-handed reloads, or shooting from inside of vehicles. However, as time goes on these empty niches will become rarer. New techniques will more often be alternative ways to do things already know how to do. Think carefully before you decide to adopt duplicative techniques. There are situations where it's helpful to have more than one way to do something. However, having multiple techniques to address a single problem requires more training to learn, more practice to keep current. Or more likely, you don't end up learning either of them to the level that you would if you only had one technique for this particular problem.

If adopting a new technique means dropping the old, it's clear that the new one should have to earn its way into your system. This is the appropriate point to deploy that skepticism you set aside in the class itself.

Think about how the technique fits in with the rest of your system. Is it radically different from the way you do other, related tasks? Commonality among techniques is a good thing, don't give it up unless you get a significant advantage in return.

Think about how the technique fits you physically. If it requires more mobility or more dexterity than you possess, it may not be for you, even if it works well for others.

Think about how the technique fits your training regimen. If your practice time is limited, maybe a complicated technique that requires a lot of practice to maintain isn't the right fit.

Think about how the technique fits your life. If you drive a lot, is this something that works well in or around cars? If you have young kids how does the need to manage and protect them affect things? Does living in the city (lots of bad backgrounds) or the country (lots of wide open spaces) affect the viability of this technique? How does this fit with your requirements for concealment? If your circumstances allow you to open carry or modest concealment that opens up options that aren't available if the law or your employment make deep concealment mandatory. This is not intended as an exhaustive list, everyone's life is different, and the things you should consider before adopting a new technique are going to differ too.

The one thing you shouldn't be considering at this point is how natural it feels or how fast it is compared to your existing technique. When you come out of a class, a brand new technique is almost always going to feel and perform worse than your current technique. For now, ask, "if this works as well as advertised, how would it fit into my system and my life?"

If you decide that a potential new technique isn't a fit for you, don't put it in your toolbox. That doesn't mean you necessarily forget it. Perhaps in the future, your circumstances will change, and the technique will be a better fit. Put it in your storage shed rather than your toolbox and when and if the time comes you can dust it off and pull it out (another good use for notes taken in class).

Apples to apples

If you decide that a technique is worth pursuing further, it's time to investigate whether it really does work as advertised. Put it to the test and see if it's really better than what you're doing now.

As mentioned earlier, any fresh new technique that you've just learned isn't going to feel as natural as something that you've trained with for years to the point that it has become ingrained.

A useful model for this is the four levels of competence:

  1. Unconscious incompetence - "You don't know what you don't know."
  2. Conscious incompetence - You realize the gap between what you can do and the desired level of performance.
  3. Conscious competence - You can perform the skill if you concentrate on it.
  4. Unconscious competence - The skill has become ingrained to the point where you can perform it without thinking.

Most of the time you learn a new technique you're going to come out of a class somewhere between levels 2 and 3. Hopefully, you know what doing it right looks like and feels like, but most of the time you won't have enough repetitions with the technique to do it the right every single time, even when you concentrate on it.

To get to the point where you can make an apples to apples comparison between the new technique and your existing technique, you'll need to practice until you are solidly in level 3. In my experience, this will probably require hundreds of repetitions; several weeks of regular practice. It isn't going to become ingrained to the point where it's completely natural (since you haven't made your final decision to adopt this technique, that's actually a good thing). However, it should be smooth enough when you concentrate that you can make a fair comparison with your current technique.

What form that comparison takes depends on how the new technique is supposed to be better. Is it supposedly faster? Put it on a timer. Is it supposed to be more reliable under stress? Add some stress. Put it on video, have someone watch you perform it, or even just see how it feels compared to what you've been doing.

Finally, at this point, you have enough information to decide whether this new technique is worth incorporating into your system. If you decide that it isn't, it's probably time to put in some dedicated practice concentrating on your existing technique to reinforce it.

Ingraining a technique

Once you've decided that a technique is going to become part of your system, it's time to get to that fourth level: unconscious competence. When it comes to critical lifesaving skills, it's obvious that you want to be able to perform the technique reliably; to get as close to 100% with it as possible. As John Farnam says, "An amateur practices until he can get it right, a professional practices until he can't get it wrong."

The other, perhaps underappreciated, aspect of this is being able to perform the technique without actively thinking about it. When you've truly ingrained a skill you can make a decision to act, then carry out the action while you dedicate your mental bandwidth to other tasks. You think draw, and while your gun is on the way out your mind can already be moving on to where you're going to place these shots.

Getting to this level requires a lot of practice; generally thousands of repetitions. For each new core technique you need to put in the work to reach that level, then continue putting in enough practice over time to maintain those skills.

A never-ending process

Building a personal fighting system is a never-ending process. As you get older, as your circumstances change, things that worked for you in the past aren't going to work as well. Perhaps techniques that you rejected in the past will become more relevant. It's important to exercise these skills and reevaluate them over time. No matter how much you know or how much you've trained, there's never a point where you can say, "It's done, I never need to do any more training or learn any new techniques."

We sometimes also face temporary changes. Maybe an injury means you can't perform some of your usual techniques. The classic example of this is if you break your dominant arm. While it's in a cast for weeks, you're going to have to shoot with what's normally your support side hand. Maybe a shoulder injury prevents you from drawing from a hip holster, and you're going to have to go cross draw for a while. Perhaps eye issues require shooting a rifle from the other shoulder.

This sort of thing is where the "storage shed" mentioned earlier is very important. Maybe you chose not to embrace ambidextrous shooting in the past, but as long as you have the knowledge, you turn it into skill with enough practice. Just because something didn't fit when you first learned it doesn't mean it won't fit in the future.

The payoff

Reading all this, it's easy to conclude that it sounds like a lot of work. And it is. For many people, the juice may not be worth the squeeze. For them, it may be better to find a good instructor, learn an existing system, and practice.

For those who are willing to put in the effort of building a truly personal fighting system, the benefits are significant. You get a system that fits your needs, your physical abilities, your circumstances, your life, a system that fits you. One that can evolve with you over time as your circumstances change.

Intermediate CQB with Eric Dorenbush

Chris Upchurch

In early December I attended the Intermediate CQB class taught by Eric Dorenbush of Green Eye Tactical. I took Eric's CQB Fundamentals class last spring; that left me eager to come back for the follow-on course.

Gear

My primary rifle for this class was my usual 14.5” AR with a Leupold Mark 6 1-6x variable scope. One change from the last class is that I’ve put the optic in a taller 2” mount. This allows a more upright head position and makes certain things easier in CQB, but it does compromise your cheek weld a bit for precision shooting.

I’m running my AAC Mini4 suppressor and a Viking Tactics quick adjust sling. This class has a low-light component, so for those evolutions, I’ve got a Surefire M600 scout light and a BE Meyers MAWL IR Laser/Illuminator.

Unlike the CQB Fundamentals class, which was rifle only, the intermediate class includes handguns. I brought a Glock 17 with RMR. For low light shooting, it’s got a Surefire X300 light on it.

One unique thing about the gear list for Eric’s CQB classes is his requirement for rifle rated body armor. The CQB Fundamentals class requires a rig with front and back plates, while the intermediate class adds on side plates and a ballistically rated helmet. This is not so much for ballistic protection in the class as it is a way for Eric to encourage students to equip themselves with this sort of gear.

As with the previous class, I brought a Velocity Systems Scarab Light plate carrier. It’s got Level III+ front and back plates (which are rated against .223, but not .30 AP) and Level IV side plates. I brought a couple of Tru Spec combat shirts to wear under the plate carrier.

For the helmet, I bought a Crye Airframe. Rather than use the Crye pads, which I didn’t find very comfortable, I kitted it out with a Team Wendy Epic Air helmet liner and their Cam Fit retention system. I wanted helmet mounted hearing protection, so I got a pair of MSA Sordin electronic earmuffs and attached them with the Unity Tactical MARK and SARA adapters. For the low light portion of the class, I mounted a Wilcox shroud for attaching my NVG. To provide a counterbalance to the weight of the night vision cantilevered out in front of my face, I used the Crye helmet cover to provide a place to velcro on the TNVC Mohawk (though I replaced their lead counterweights with extra batteries).

I brought a couple of options for carrying extra mags. The most minimalist option (and the one I used in the CQB Fundamentals class) is just a panel with two mag pouches and a tourniquet holder. If I needed to carry more, I could replace that with a full chest rig that can clip into the plate carrier. However, the setup I most wanted to experiment with was running a belt rig in combination with a slick plate carrier. This takes the weight of your ammo off the shoulders and supports it on the hips. In this case, I had an AWS Light Assaulter Belt, kitted out with Tyr Tactical mag pouches, a dump pouch, trauma kit, tourniquet, knife, multitool, and a dropped and offset holster.

As mentioned this class has a low-light component. For that portion of the festivities, I brought my PVS-14 night vision monocular. To attach it to the helmet I have a Norotos INVG Mount and their dual dovetail adapter.

Finally, Eric encourages students to take video during the class to help them retain the torrent of information that he puts out during the lectures and to be able to go back through what they did during the exercises. I made some upgrades from the previous class here. I’m still using a GoPro Hero 6 as my main camera. During the fundamentals class, I had some issues getting it on when I wanted it on. When it’s in a head mount, it’s hard to check to see if it’s running. In one instance I lost video by turning it off when I’d intended to start recording. Another time I had it in time lapse mode rather than video, so I ended up with a series of still images. GoPro makes a remote control that includes a small LCD that shows the camera status (whether it’s recording, what mode, battery percentage, etc.). I also got a helmet mount for it that attaches to the NVG shroud. The other upgrade I made to my video setup was to replace the old Tachyon Ops picatinny rail mounted camera with a GoPro Hero 5 Session in a Sidekick rail mount.

As you can probably gather, this is a pretty gear intensive class. That’s not even counting stuff like clothes, the cooler full of food, etc. My little SUV was loaded up pretty heavy.

Thursday

I left Wichita after lunch on Friday for the drive down to Weatherford. Driving time is about six hours, but throwing in a couple of pit stops and a WalMart run I pulled into the hotel around 9:30.

Friday

We all rendezvoused at the front gate to the range complex, and Eric led us into the area where the class would be held. The road in was kind of muddy and slippery in places, but I made it in even in my little 2WD SUV.

This was a new part of the range that I hadn’t shot at during previous classes with Eric. It’s a small bowl-shaped valley that provides a 360-degree backstop. While we had to designate a non-shootable angle where the vehicles were parked (and where the folks not participating in an exercise could stand) we would still have well over 270 degrees of shooting.

Eric handed out the waivers and had all the students introduce themselves. Probably about a third of the class were people I’d trained with before. Everyone had trained with Eric before (that’s a hard and fast requirement for this course). There was a wide variety of backgrounds, some law enforcement, some former military, but the majority of the class were armed citizens.

Before getting started on the safety brief, Eric talked a bit about his training philosophy, focusing on the core tasks associated with CQB. His strong focus on the fundamentals is one of the reasons I like the way he teaches.

He went through the four rules of gun safety. Eric has a slightly different take on some of these, and the reasons for those differences are on full display in this class. For instance, his interpretation of Rule #2 (commonly described as “Don’t let the muzzle cover anything you’re not willing to destroy”) emphasizes that you don’t unnecessarily point your rifle at your teammates.

Two elements to this would make those who follow a very strict interpretation of this rule nervous. First, people other than your teammates will get guns intentionally pointed at them a lot. (In this class, those people will be represented by paper targets, but as Eric would later emphasize in a different context, we should think of every target as a living, breathing person). Eric teaches doing target discrimination through the sights. You are pointed in at the target before you’ve decided whether or not they’re a threat that needs to be shot. Unless you only ever encounter shootable threats, that means some people who you don’t intend to shoot will get a gun pointed at them.

Second, even your teammates may get muzzled when it’s necessary. That doesn’t mean you stack up with your rifle pointed right at the guy in front of you, but it means the second guy in the stack may raise his rifle as the first guy is clearing the door, covering the first guy’s trailing leg. Or when deliberately taking a four-way intersection, the rear guy may sweep the front guys’ arms as he brings his rifle up to cover down the hallway. This is not a license to muzzle sweep the hell out of your teammates. The key is to do so as little as possible and only when necessary to accomplish the task. In a combat environment, it would be far more dangerous not to cover the hall than to briefly sweep your teammates.

Part of the reason Eric is willing to accept this risk is that he mitigates it by insisting on absolute discipline with the trigger finger and mechanical safety. You must keep the trigger finger straight and angled upward and keep the manual safety on until three conditions are met: You have identified a threat, made the decision to engage that threat, and your weapon is pointed at the target. Only then can you disengage the safety and move your finger to the trigger. This is not an impediment to speedily shooting someone. The mental process of discriminating the target and making the decision to shoot takes far longer than it does to disengage the manual safety.

Once you’ve finished shooting the target, your trigger finger comes off the trigger. The safety can remain off while you continue to scan for additional threats, relying just on trigger discipline. However, once you’ve finished clearing and reclearing your sector, before that rifle drops even one millimeter, the safety goes back on. No exceptions. Eric has found that if you allow folks to slack even a little on this, it doesn’t take long before their rifle is all the way down before they engage the safety.

Moving on to administrative gunhandling, Eric generally asks students to clear and flag rifles between drills or exercises, particularly when we’re going to be coming out of the house or off the line. When you have your rifle slung, and your firing hand is not otherwise occupied, keep it on the pistol grip with a thumb on the safety lever to confirm it’s position. Pistols can remain loaded between drills, but they must stay in the holster. The only acceptable locations for a pistol are in the holster, held in a ready position, or pointed in at a target.

Eric also mentioned the possibility of squib loads, when the primer of a round goes off, but the main powder charge does not. The primer can have just enough power to dislodge the bullet from the case and drive it into the barrel. When you try to fire a subsequent round, this obstruction can cause catastrophic damage to the gun (and the operator).

He emphasized that everyone in the class was a safety officer. Anyone can call cease fire, stop, or freeze if we see an unsafe condition. If you hear any of these, or a sustained whistle blast or air horn, freeze. Don’t take a step, don’t lower your rifle, don’t do anything except straightening your trigger finger. The call may have been made to keep you from entering someone else’s line of fire or otherwise exposing yourself (or someone else) to an unsafe condition.

Eric talked about the medical plan if someone got injured. When he asked who had trauma medicine training, more than half the class raised their hands. We had two doctors in the course, so they would be the primary medical responders for anyone who got injured.

This class would include some long days, and Eric stressed the need to stay hydrated and fed.

The “shoot house” for this class is a floor plan made up of orange construction fencing and doorframes with doors in them. This allows unobstructed visibility into the house for safety purposes. Obviously, the plastic mesh fencing isn’t going to stop any bullets, so we stepped out to the shoot house, and Eric pointed out the range fan (delineating the directions you can shoot).

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Finally, Eric finished off the safety brief with a demonstration of how to clear a rifle. We would be clearing and flagging rifles between drills and he’s got a particular procedure he likes to use. Unlike some clearing methods, it’s designed to be equally usable during the daytime and at night (gunhandling that carries over to low light is something that Eric is big on in general).

With that, we uncased and cleared our rifles and Eric came by and checked out everyone’s kit.

To start the shooting portion of the class, Eric opened it up for the students to do flat range drills for whatever skills we thought we needed to work on. This portion of the class is very student driven; it’s on us to decide what we want to work on and set up the range to work those skills. After a bit of discussion, we quickly gravitated to doing some square range shooting to check zeroes and CQB holdover and doing some lateral movement drills.

We set up a line of targets for checking zeros and holdover. A few students needed to make some adjustment to get their rifles on target, but for most of us, this was a matter of reminding ourselves how much we needed to hold over to put rounds at the exact spot on target where we need them. The rifles that everyone is using in this class have sights several inches above the barrel, so at close ranges we need to compensate for that. Eric’s preferred method to train for this is to hold your sight on a marked aiming point on the target and fire a group. Take a look at how far below your aiming point that group is, then lift your sights to compensate for that offset and shoot another group which should hopefully be right on the mark, rather than below it. This was particularly useful for me because this is the first class I’m taking with the taller optic mount, so I need to hold over a bit more than I’m used to.

For the lateral movement drills, we set things up much the same way Eric does in the Close Quarters Marksmanship class (and the compressed version of that material in the CQB Fundamentals class): a line of targets going across the range, with some cones to channel students shooting the drill. You start by moving directly downrange, but upon reaching a line of cones you start walking right to left (or left to right) down the line of targets, engaging each one as you pass. The key is to keep your toes pointed in the direction of movement while shooting the targets off to your right (or left) side. This requires a fair amount of flexibility and getting your shoulders pointed at the targets requires bending at the waist, hips, and knees. It’s particularly challenging for a right-handed shooter moving to the left since you can’t “cheat” and angle the rifle across your body the way you can moving to the right (vice versa for a left-handed shooter, of course).

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One of the new elements that Intermediate CQB introduces is transitioning to pistol in the even your rifle malfunctions or runs dry. Eric doesn’t allow pistols in the CQB Fundamentals course, in part because they are much easier to inadvertently point in the wrong direction than a rifle is. He talked through how he does a pistol transition and demonstrated the technique, then had everyone do the drill a few times. To train these, Eric has students load one round in the chamber of their rifle, then insert an empty magazine. On command, the student fires the round in the chamber, attempts to fire a second shot with the rifle, then drops the rifle and draws and shoots with the pistol. This ensures that the rifle is, in fact, empty when you drop it, so there’s no chance of it catching on some piece of gear and unintentionally discharging. After shooting with the pistol, Eric had us carry on with the drill by holstering, fixing the rifle, and firing another pair of shots with it. This emphasizes that the goal here isn’t just to get to your pistol, it’s to get the rifle back up and running. We didn’t spend a ton of time working this; it was more of a safety gate to make sure everyone could safely perform the transition and draw their pistols.

At this point, we took a break for lunch.

After lunch, we moved over to the shoot house and began reviewing some of the material from the CQB Fundamentals course. We started with the fundamental building block from that course: clearing a center fed room (one that has the door in the middle of one wall, rather than near the corner of the room). Along with reviewing how to clear a room, Eric also gave some insight into how he places targets to reinforce particular lessons. For instance, targets in the hard corners of the room (the ones to either side of the door) help ensure that the first two guys in the stack go right to those corners, rather than getting distracted by the rest of the room. I found this pretty interesting (maybe it’s the fact that I’m still an instructor at heart).

One of the big points of emphasis in the CQB Fundamentals course that carried over into this class was on slowing down. The limiting factor in a CQB environment isn’t how fast you can move; it’s how fast you can process the environment, make decisions, and discriminate targets. For those of us just learning this stuff, that’s not very fast.

Eric also reviewed pre-assault procedures. The team gathers at the Last Covered and Concealed Position (LCC), where they can conduct final gear checks (and for range safety purposes in the training environment, load rifles). Once they’re ready, the team leader reports this to command (in this case represented by Eric). When instructed, the team moves to the breach point and reports that they’re ready to breach. Command does a short countdown, which would allow coordination between multiple teams, snipers, and other elements, ending with a coordinated breach.

A significant difference between the shoot house we used in this class and the one from CQB Fundamentals is that the Fundamentals shoot house is just four rooms, with one room leading into another. This shoot house is built along a long central hallway, with six rooms and two side hallways leading off of it.

The other new element that the hallway introduced was the distinction between “push and go” doors and “pull and hold” doors. A push and go door opens inward; it’s easy for the lead man to open the door and enter. A pull and hold door opens outward. Not only does this rob you of some momentum, it can also cause the lead man to get hung up on the door. (Things get even more complicated when you introduce self-closing doors). A better way to handle this is for one team member to open the door, hold it while the other team members enter, then the door holder enters as the last guy. Eric talked about a couple of ways to stack up outside the door to facilitate this.

With this extensive review out of the way, we loaded up and did some very simple single room clearances live fire. There were twelve students in the class, which divided nicely into three 4-man teams. We worked both center fed rooms and corner fed rooms.

These clearances went fairly smoothly, so we moved back a step and practiced entering from outside the shoot house into the central corridor, and from there into the adjoining rooms. Eric talked about techniques for moving down the hall as a team and how to move smoothly from hallway movement to stacking up on a door.

When you get down to it, this class doesn’t introduce a whole lot of elements beyond the basic room clearing covered in CQB Fundamentals. The only additions are hallways, corners, and intersections (plus a few minor things like pull and hold doors). However, just these few elements can add a lot of complexity because they add options. In CQB Fundamentals there’s really only one sensible next thing you can do at a time: stack up on the door of the first room, enter the first room, clear the first room, do your post-assault procedures in the first room, stack up on the doorway of the second room, enter the second room, etc. As soon as you introduce a hallway with multiple doors, suddenly you’ve got to start making decisions about what to do next. Door on the right or door on the left? Bypass this closed door to take an open one further down the hall or take the closed door?

For a team of guys to deal effectively with these options, they need to communicate. This can be broken down into two distinct elements: calling out information to get everyone in the team on the same page and communicating a decision about what the team is going to do. Team members need to call out what they see, especially when there are team members who aren’t in a position to see these things. This could be because those team members are in the back of a stack or because they’re otherwise occupied (checking the guys you just shot, for instance).

When there are multiple possible courses of action available, someone needs to decide which one the team is going to take. Decisions may be made by the team leader or the #1 guy in the stack, depending on the situation. The one thing it can’t be is made by committee. Once the decision is made, it has to be communicated to the rest of the team.

This whole process can be very quick. It may be as simple as the #1 guy saying, “Closed door right, closed door left, going right.” What he sees, followed by what the team is going to do. Easy enough in isolation. However, when you’re trying to layer it on top of all the other stuff you’re trying to do in a stressful environment it can very quickly end up sucking up all of your available mental bandwidth. Throughout the class, communicating effectively was a struggle.

We did some dry runs, then geared up and went live, clearing the front four rooms of the shoot house. A couple of runs at this took us through the end of the day. The last team through got a jump on the night iterations; it was dark enough they used their weapon lights during target discrimination.

After debriefing what we’d done, we took a break to eat dinner and let it get dark enough to do our night exercises.

Eric talked a bit about how to do CQB at night. He emphasized the need for commonality between the way you do things in low light and the way you do them during the day. We tend to practice and train much more during the day than we do at night, so anytime you have a special nighttime procedure or technique, you aren’t going to practice it nearly as much as your daytime technique. Much better to have a daytime technique that also works in low light.

When running white light, it’s pretty simple. If you can’t see, use the light.

Eric also went through a compressed version of the lecture he does in the Night Vision Operator class. He’s a real fan of using your NVG to look through your red dot optic as your primary aiming method rather than using an IR laser (not really an option with a magnified optic like mine, so I’ve got to use the laser). Since there was some interest from the folks in the class who did not have NVG yet, he talked some about what to get and what to look for when buying night vision optics.

As far as gear setup goes, the one thing that Eric really emphasizes is that you need to be able to run your white light (and IR laser/illuminator) without compromising your normal grip on the rifle.

During dinner and the lecture, we’d watched thunderstorms roll by to the northeast. It was quite the light show. As we got geared up, we started to get a few drops of rain, so many of us thew on ran gear before donning our armor.

We started out over on the flat range where everyone tried out shooting using their weapon lights. Those of us with NVG (about half the class) were able to have a go using our night vision gear as well.

Moving over to the shoot house, each team did a dry run through the same four-room clear that we’d just finished doing during daylight, using our weapon lights for illumination. This all went pretty smoothly, so we went live clearing the same four rooms.

About the time we went live, the rain went from a few random sprinkles to fairly steady. During some of the other team’s runs, it shifted to a complete downpour (since my team wasn’t shooting, we retreated under the tailgate of an SUV). By the time we came back out to do some more shooting, it had slackened considerably.

Finally, the six of us with night vision did it as one big team under NVG. I found that my NVG had fogged up considerably during the rain, so I had to get those cleared off to see well enough to run the drill.

While we hadn’t done any multi-team exercises in the class so far, the six of us fell fairly naturally into operating as two 3-man elements, clearing rooms on either side of the hallway simultaneously. When we cleared the fourth room, Eric had us do a free flow backclear back to the breach point. This was something we’d done in CQB Fundamentals but hadn’t yet done in this class. Nevertheless, everyone remembered what to do well enough to do it pretty smoothly, even under NVG.

During the night evolutions, the higher mental load meant we saw mistakes that people probably wouldn’t have made during a daytime iteration. Lots of folks (including me) either didn’t move far enough into the room to reach our point of domination or moved beyond our point of domination putting us in the wrong spot. There were also a lot of missed calls, particularly “last man” calls to let people know that the team was leaving a room or a position (if anything these are more important at night, especially under NVG where your situational awareness is more limited).

By the time we got done with the NVG run it was close to 10 pm, so we called it a night. We agreed to reconvene at 10 am the following day, starting a bit later because of the late night. Little did we know it was about to get even later.

The recent downpour had made slippery spots in the road even worse and turned areas that had been pretty solid kind of slippery. On the way out one of the guys slowed down enough to force the guy behind him to stop. He had four-wheel drive, so he was able to get going again, but the next guy in line had a two wheel drive pickup, followed by me in my little front wheel drive SUV. Neither of us was able to get moving again. We were just spinning our wheels in the mud.

A couple of guys gave me a push, and I was able to get out of the ruts and over onto some grass where I had at least half decent traction. At that point, I figured the best thing I could do for everyone was to was to get from the little dirt track to the main, nicely graded gravel road without getting stuck again and needing another push. I tried to keep on the mowed grass on either side of the dirt track as much as possible and didn’t stop till I got to the gravel. I waited there to make sure everyone else got out, which took quite a while (in addition to the pickup that had been ahead of me, they had to push some of the folks behind me out as well).

We held up until Eric made it out as well, then headed back into town. I grabbed a burger as a late second dinner. By the time I got back to my hotel and racked out it was almost midnight.

Saturday

After the late night last night, I slept in a bit on Saturday morning. I hit Walmart for some food and headed down to the range. The road in had dried out some from the previous night, but it was still kind of sloppy. I kept to the grass as much as I could and made sure not to slow down too much in the muddiest parts. I was able to make it in OK.

When everybody had rolled in, Eric briefly summarized the day’s agenda. We’d be learning about corners, T-intersections, and four-way intersections and incorporating those into our clearing drills.

He asked everyone for two individual tasks and one team task they thought we needed to work on. Lots of people brought up communication-related issues: calling out what you see, making decisions, and generally coordinating actions among team members. There were also quite a few folks who mentioned remembering to hit their proper points of domination when clearing, which was something that had popped up multiple times in the low light exercises the previous night.

Much like on the first day, Eric gave us the opportunity to start off with some student-driven work. In this case, all of us chose to do dry work in the house, working flow drills as 4-man teams. During these drills, we worked hard on proper communication and coordinating actions among the team members.

One thing Eric pointed out is that while there were times where we weren’t communicating enough (missing calls, failing to call what we see, etc.), there were other times where we were communicating too much. You don’t really want to have an extended discussion in order to have a meeting of the minds.

One of the fundamental principles in CQB is “Find work.” It's probably #3 in importance after, “The #1 man is never wrong,” and, “Go the opposite direction of the man in front of you.” If you’re not doing anything at a particular moment, look around and see what work is available. Provide security, cover a door, if the door’s already being covered, stack up on the guy covering so that you’re ready to go. Don’t wait to be told what to do, just see what needs to be done and do it.

The corollary to this is that there shouldn’t be a bunch of discussion about what particular team members should do. They should take the initiative and find that work themselves.

One place where this approach can create a problem is when you see a job, but you think it makes sense for someone else to be doing that job. For instance, Eric mentioned that after you clear a room it often makes the most sense for the team leader to be the one covering the guy who’s searching the targets you just shot because that role provides the most situational awareness of what the whole team is doing. However, the team leader shouldn’t be micromanaging his team saying, “you search the bodies, you cover the door, you stack up on him.” Rather, the way this is supposed to unfold is that one guy takes the initiative and finds work doing the searching, a second guy then finds work covering him, a third guy finds work covering the door, and a fourth guy finds work stacking up behind him.

To solve this problem, Eric talked about the “pregnant pause.” The team leader can hold up for a moment letting another team member find work by taking up the role of the searcher. Then the team leader jumps in immediately to take the covering role. He lets the other two team members find work covering the door and stacking up. Essentially, by not jumping right on a role you’re implicitly delegating that role to someone else. The key is that this delay is only momentary. If you see work an no one else jumps on it in short order, it’s better to go ahead and take that job yourself rather than standing around waiting.

While the example above uses a team leader, other guys can use this technique as well. For instance when you come to a pull and hold door, after calling it the lead guy can hold up on the near side, implicitly inviting the guys behind him to move to the other side to provide cover down the hallway and stack up on the other side of the door.

Moving on to live fire, Eric had us do some single man entries, entering rooms as the #1 man without any #2, #3, or #4 behind us. He set up three targets, one in the hard corner, and two further into the room. The goal was to shoot the target in the corner and get rounds on the next target before you get to your corner. This required both getting rounds on the first target quickly and moderating your speed so that you’re not all the way to the corner by the time you finish engaging that first target.

Eric ran everyone through these drills in both center fed, and corner fed rooms, then we broke for lunch.

After lunch, we covered L-intersections, T-intersections, and four-way intersections. L-intersections (basically a 90-degree bend in a hallway) are the simplest case, so Eric started with those. He divides techniques for taking a corner like this into taking it deliberately and taking it dynamically.

We started with deliberate clearance. Eric showed how to get two guns pointed down the hall at almost the same moment by having one guy kneeling down and another guy standing behind him. He emphasized the need for the standing guy to get far enough forward that his rifle was directly above the kneeling guy’s head, not behind it. This way if the kneeling guy were to stand up unexpectedly, he would whack his head on the standing guy’s rifle, rather than taking a bullet to the back of the head (the possibility of getting whacked on the head with a rifle and the muzzle blast from having a gun go off directly above your head are part of the reason Eric requires helmets in this course).

One thing Eric emphasized is that the guy who’s kneeling can’t just decide to stand up. He needs to stay kneeling until someone “picks him up” by giving him an upward tug on his kit. Anytime you wind up in a lower position, whether it’s because you take a knee or slip and fall, standing up carries with it the danger of putting yourself into someone else’s line of fire. Stay down until you get picked up.

Taking a corner dynamically is much simpler. You basically just come sweeping around the corner. The only moderately tricky bit is adjusting your speeds so that the inside guy and the outside guy stay in sync.

We moved on to T-intersections. When you’re coming across the top of the “T”, a T-intersection is very much like an L-intersection. The only additional element is the need to cover any potential threats down the hallway as you handle the corner.

Coming up the stem of the “T” is rather more complicated. Here, you effectively have two L-shape intersections back to back. This creates problems of space and coordination. If the hallway is wide enough (like the hallways you find in many public buildings), you can treat it like two L-intersections, with one guy kneeling and one guy standing on either side. The coordination problem crops up because you need to get both sets of guys popping out at the same time.

In narrower hallways, typical of residential construction, you may not have room to have two guys on either side. In this case, coordination is actually easier, because one guy will be signaling both kneeling guys to pop out, then picking a side and becoming the high guy in that direction. In even narrower hallways, there may not be room for a guy to squeeze in between the two kneelers at all.

A four-way intersection is a lot like coming up the stem of the “T” at a T-intersection, with the added complication that you have to be worried about possible threats coming from down the hallway to your front.

As we were working all of these dry and live we did run into some issues. In one case we had the standing guy suffer a malfunction just as the kneeling guy ran his rifle dry. A reminder to transition to pistol was required.

At a four-way intersection, I was one of the guys kneeling down, and I got bumped and toppled into the intersection. Eric had mentioned that bending your primary side knee too much could leave you without much margin to recover if you get bumped and this was a good illustration of that. It also illustrated what can happen if you try to stuff four guys into a hallway that’s not quite wide enough for that.

After working intersections in isolation, we incorporated them into a larger exercise, clearing from the front door of the house, down a long hallway to a T-intersection, then clearing a room beyond it.

During these exercises, one of the muffs on the MSA Sordins I had attached to my helmet came loose. When we had a break, I took it apart to try to get it reattached, but I found I’d need a very small Torx bit to get the circuit board out of the way in order to do so. Since I didn’t have one, I ended up pulling the Sordins off the helmet entirely and finishing out the day with a pair of Peltors that I’d brought as a backup.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, we took a break for dinner.

Our low light work the previous night had focused on the fundamentals: from basic shooting under white light and NVG to clearing rooms. Tonight we’d be putting it all together in a larger exercise. We’d move from the far end of the parking area to the LCC via a somewhat circuitous route (getting in a bit of practice moving at night on the way), approaching the shoot house, and clearing the building.

Again, Eric divided folks up into a white light team and an NVG team. Because of the length of the exercise, each team would only get one run. The white light team went first, so the NVG crew just hung out while they were doing their run.

While Eric briefed everyone on the basic structure of the exercise beforehand, he updated with additional elements over the radio as the team was moving to the LCC and from the LCC to the breach point. As part of this, he’d previously asked another student and I (both with suppressors on our rifles) to each simultaneously put a round into the berm to simulate a sniper shot taken as the white light team was moving up to the shoot house.

Interestingly, the other guy with a can on his rifle had a failure to fire when doing this (one of the reasons you might want to have two snipers on a target in real life). At the debrief afterward, he explained that he’d done a press check after loading his rifle and didn’t get the bolt all the way back into battery. Shows how important it is to make sure you get that bolt seated and to know what a seated bolt feels like (and then feel for it) so you can be sure that you’re in battery even in low light.

Once the white light crew was done with their shooting, Eric had those of us running NVGs step off for the trip to the LCC. We had a bit of difficulty finding a good place to cross the small creek that ran along the range. Once we got across we followed the treeline back up past the shoot house to a place where a dirt road crossed the creek that served as our LCC (for once the LCC was actually covered and concealed from the shoot house). While we were moving up, we got updates on the scenario over the radio, including a hostage we were supposed to rescue (represented by a police officer target) and the possible presence of explosives.

Eric did a simulated sniper shot, similar to what he’d done with the white light crew. This time, however, he simulated a missed sniper shot, calling the miss over the radio and placing a target outside the shoot house for us to engage before entering.

The room clearing still had some issues but went more smoothly than the previous night. We ran into some trouble at the T-intersection. In low light coordinating so that the guys facing either direction pop out at the same time was a lot more difficult than during daylight. The other issue was that one of the guys kneeling and leaning out had chosen to switch shoulders (so he would expose less of himself out beyond the corner) without considering that he was running a monocular night vision setup and wasn’t equipped to shoot from the support side shoulder.

These issues aside, we were able to clear most of the shoot house reasonably effectively. When we got to the last room, which contained the hostage we were supposed to be rescuing things fell apart a bit. It also contained a target with a suicide vest. The #1 guy in that room called out the presence of an improvised explosive device (IED), but he initially used the wrong codeword, which confused things for a bit. Eventually, we got the IED call sorted, and everyone booked it out of the building. However, nobody grabbed the target representing the hostage we were supposed to be rescuing, so not exactly the strongest finish.

Both the white light and NVG teams congregated for the debrief where we talked through some of these issues. With that, we broke for the evening and headed home (about an hour earlier than the previous night). Everyone made it out without getting stuck this time. I grabbed a late dinner and headed back to the hotel for a somewhat longer night’s sleep.

Sunday

Before class on Sunday, I stopped at Home Depot and picked up a small Torx screwdriver so that I could fix the MSA Sordins on my helmet. With that, I was able to pop the circuit board out and get access to the mount that had come loose.

Out at the range, Eric started out by reviewing some of the CQB Procedures in the 3-ring binder full of written material he hands out at his classes. I've had a copy of this ever since the Night Vision Operator class I took back in 2017. Now that I've gone through CQB Fundamentals and Intermediate CQB I feel like I understand enough of the context to really grasp this material and reviewing it like that did a nice job clarifying certain details.

In addition to going over the written material, we also got onto some other topics, like permissive vs. non-permissive environments and the proper employment of flash-bang grenades.

One of the reasons Eric went through this stuff is to prepare us for free-flow CQB. Free flow is really the ultimate expression of the principle of "finding work." Rather than just finding work within your own team, you find work within the assault force as a whole. If you have four guys stacked on a door, go. It doesn't matter if they're from the same team. This helps eliminate pauses and dead time and creates a faster pace.

Many of us had been exposed to this in the CQB Fundamentals class (though Eric has said he doesn't always get to free flow in that class). After a break for lunch, we kitted up and did a dry run through of the house in free flow. Those who hadn't been exposed previously picked up the concept pretty quick.

We went live. This time rather than having everyone come up in one big conga line, Eric had the three teams move to the house from separate LCCs. We still all entered through one breach point (it's very hard to set up a non-ballistically rated shoot house for a multi-point breach), but the rendezvous at the door was still pretty slick.

On this drill, I found myself all by my lonesome out in the hall at one point. We had cleared the first room, two of my team members were checking the targets, and I moved out into the hall to find work, only to find nobody there. After a bit of indecision, I ended up tucking into a room until there were other guys ready to move on to the next room.

Talking to Eric afterward it was clear I had gotten a bit too "free" with my free flow. I should have either waited for a squeeze from the guy behind me or made sure there was a team out in the hall I could join up with.

This became the pattern for the rest of the day: multiple teams converging on the breach point followed by free flow CQB. However, Eric still had plenty of curves to throw at us.

He started putting a radio blasting music at high volume into one of the rooms. This wasn't so much intended as a distraction as it was a tool to get students to increase the volume of their verbal communication. Combat gets loud, and if you want to be heard, you have to use your command voice.

On another drill, he simulated a comms failure on the countdown. If that happens, you're supposed to keep counting in your head and go at the appropriate time. We handled it so smoothly Eric didn’t even bring it up in the debrief after the drill.

Eric also threw in a simulated casualty on one of the drills, which we handled a lot less smoothly. There was quite a bit of faffing about, both in terms of getting the casualty treated and moved, and in what the other teams should be doing to provide security. To get us moving Eric had to put some pressure on us by reporting a large enemy force closing on our position.

I think at least part of this confusion was because while we had individual team leaders, we didn't have anyone in the assault force in overall charge of the operation. Having an on-scene chain of command would have made clear who was supposed to be making decisions in situations like this.

One thing that came up several times in drills on Sunday was people interpreting accidental contact as a squeeze or a pull-up, leading them to go or stand up when that's not what was intended. It's crucial to make it squeezes and pulls distinctive. Squeezes seem to work better when they're done on the outside of someone's shoulder rather than squeezing the shoulder strap of their plate carrier. Conversely pulling up on the plate carrier is an excellent way to signal someone to get up.

On the last drill of the class, I missed a target visible through an open door when I was posted up at a 4-way intersection. This was a clear example of the tendency to look at openings like doors and windows and see the opening, rather than what's visible beyond it.

During this last drill, one student had a squib load in his rifle. Thankfully, he realized that it had felt different and didn't try to fix the malfunction and fire the rifle again. After the drill, he cleared it and had to tap the bullet out with a rod.

Eric handed out the certificates, and we did a debrief of the class. I got my stuff packed up and headed out.

As usual for Eric's classes, for Sunday night I got a hotel room north of Dallas, so I wouldn't have to deal with the Monday morning traffic on my way home.

Conclusions

As usual with Eric, this was a great class. While it only introduces a few new physical elements, like hallways, corners, and intersections, it really layers on the teamwork and communication in much more depth than the CQB Fundamentals. By the end of this class, it felt like everyone had a grasp of how to function as a team in the CQB environment.

While I may never hit a building with a team of guys, I think the team-based aspect has benefits for individual CQB skills as well. For one thing, it forces you to have your individual skills very solidly ingrained. If you don't, you'll never have the mental bandwidth necessary for communication and teamwork. Doing this with a team, especially live fire, also pushes your ability to process the environment and make decisions under a certain amount of pressure, both of which are vital skills doing this individually.

Gear

Wearing a ballistic helmet is something that takes getting used to, but I think the Airframe with the Team Wendy pads and retention system makes it as comfortable it can be. Despite the issues I ran into with the mounting system, I really like having helmet mounted ear protection.

I do think the helmet does a better job mounting NVG than the Crye Nightcap that I've used in the past. The helmet mount is more solid and stable. The Nightcap has the edge in size and weight though, so it's a tradeoff. This class emphasized again for me just how much I like the night vision and white light setup on this rifle. It ran well for both the white light and NVG iterations.

The Scarab Light plate carrier still carries nicely. I did find that I'll need to rearrange some stuff on my belt rig, so it works better when I use it in concert with the plate carrier. There were a few places where the overhang from the plate carrier interfered with drawing mags from the belt.

The higher scope mount on my rifle worked well. It definitely makes certain things easier, especially when moving laterally. I think I'm sold on the concept.

The one piece of kit I brought to this class that didn't work out was the GoPro remotes. The little displays on the remotes were difficult to see, so it was hard to use them to check the status of the camera. The intervals between exercises were long enough that the remotes went to sleep and when they work up they didn't always connect with the cameras. I ended up just using the buttons on the GoPros themselves (taking my helmet off if necessary).

Final Thoughts

I'd highly recommend Intermediate CQB (and anything else that Eric teaches). The whole sequence of Close Quarters Marksmanship, CQB Fundamentals, and Intermediate CQB does a great job layering individual skills, room clearing, and teamwork. Eric has done excellent work designing these courses to get students to a very high level in a small number of training days.