Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Equipment And The Point Of Diminishing Returns

One of the most common questions I get is, "What gun should I get?"

I used to spend a lot of time responding to these inquiries because I genuinely love helping people. I loved being in gun sales. I love finding guns that fit people and I love helping them find that good fit. I love taking them to the range and helping them take their first shots even more.

Through the years, however, I've come to the conclusion that internet-based advice is more-often-than-not a waste of everyone's time. I have nothing new to add to what has already been written about what kind of gun is ideal for any number of different specific situations; be it jogging, home defense, deep concealment, etc. Without seeing someone shoot and seeing them with the firearm and having the opportunity to assess them in action, it's nothing more than a best-guess anyway.

That being said, it's still the reigning question for a few reasons:

1) The volume of options is overwhelming and people want to have it narrowed down for them, presumably by someone they consider to be an authority on the subject.
2) People generally overestimate the role of equipment in performance and therefore want to get the "best" gun, ideally at the lowest cost.

I'm going to skip over the first point for now and just hit you with a few general truths regarding the second:
  • What gun you choose doesn't make as much of a difference as you think it does. 
  • Your first gun will likely be the wrong gun, purchased for the wrong reasons.
  • You'll more-than-likely not put enough rounds through it to figure out whether or not it is right/wrong for you. 
  • You'll go on your merry way possibly advising others on what they should get based upon your limited experience training/shooting with a gun that probably isn't the right one for you.
The end.

You may be thinking that what I said was contradictory. How can your gun choice not make a difference but be wrong?

Allow me to explain...

A gun is a gun is a gun and even an ill-fitting gun put in the hands of someone who is skilled in shooting will perform adequately. He will get accurate hits at a good rate but he would perform better and more comfortably with something that fit him better. So also, if your skill were the same (or as it increases) you would be able to better assess the fit and feel of your firearm and what makes it right or wrong for you and adjust accordingly.

Skill is far more vital to performance than your equipment (presuming, of course, your equipment is quality enough to last). And eventually, as you get skilled enough, you can better gauge whether or not your performance will be augmented by your equipment and through what change--a small-handed person having better control with a single-stack firearm or having the grip reduced, a cross-dominant shooter getting better sight picture with a red dot, an individual with arthritis getting a trigger job, etc.

Most people do not seek out enough skill to where their equipment choice matters that much. There are exceptions, but that's the general truth. They buy a gun, they put maybe a box or two of ammo through it a year (if that) and whether or not it is the right one for them is irrelevant compared to their lack of skill.

So what does that mean for you? 

Well, it means nothing if you aren't committed to gaining skill. If you are committed you've likely already purchased a firearm, trained with it to the point where you've figured out what is working and what isn't (or your about to) and you might even be on your way to your next gun or a modification of the one you already have. Or you are lucky enough to be one of the few who bought a good fitting gun the first time but found you have a preference you'd like to change (sights, a cleaner trigger, an extended magazine release, etc).

I caution you! There is a point of diminishing returns. It happens all the time. A new shooter buys a gun. As he gains skill he finds what he doesn't like about his firearm and he changes it or modifies it. He gains more skill and changes or modifies his gun again. He often attributes his increase in skill to the modifications or new firearms he's purchasing. Then one day he finds out that a modification or new gun doesn't help. In fact, it hinders or he improves slightly in one area but worsens in another. The new gun doesn't shoot the way the old one did. He had better sight picture with the last sights. If he's not careful he can get stuck in a rut of cycling through gun after gun, throwing hundreds and thousands of dollars of equipment at a skill problem.

The solution? Find the gun that fits you best, make any modifications you have to (if any) and then leave the gun alone. Work on gaining more skill.

Now, there are a lot of people out there who say you should never (ever, Ever, EVER!!!!!!!) modify a carry gun. A lot has been written on that subject so go read it and make up your own mind on the matter. If you make a modification to your carry gun make sure you have a good, logical explanation for why you did it. If you have the disposable income, time and inclination to go nuts on a competition or range gun? Go. Be wild, my friend! But keep your carry gun as close to stock as feasible and avoid the equipment rut.

Finally, there are reportedly those out there who get lucky. They go into carry and shooting with a committed and realistic mindset. They wisely choose a stock firearm that fits them well, they train with it extensively and they gain in skill until they perform masterfully with the first and only gun they've ever bought. I have yet to personally catch said unicorn. Though I have met many who have been issued firearms for duty and gained skill to a very proficient degree with that duty gun that they apply to a personal firearm that fits them better when off duty. Even the best of the best out there have their stories about the guns they started out with and the changes they've made along the way.

In summation, if you're serious about this gun/carry thing, put the effort into getting a gun that fits you well. Take a class, rent, shoot with friends, ask for advice and (please, I implore you, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!!) listen to what that person tells you. Purchase a firearm and then commit yourself to gaining skill. Make note of what you like or don't like about your firearm as you train with it, talk to others about it, have an instructor critique you and make an educated decision as to whether or not it is an equipment problem or a YOU problem.

Adjust accordingly.

PS... If you are somehow misguided into thinking I have it all figured out, let me assure you that I am still struggling with my own likes, dislikes, frustrations, biases, stubbornness, changes, adaptations, learning curves, etc. If I ever figure it all out, you'll be the first to know.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Read Words

I'll share a little secret with you: I don't particularly love to read. But I love to learn. Amazingly enough, the two often coincide. Therefore, I love to read. I am a very slow reader so sometimes it takes me a while to catch up but I keep plugging away at it and I'm better off for it because I do learn a lot.

That being said, I'm always astonished how few people are interested in reading about the topics of self defense. Some may follow the occasional blog or visit forums wherein reading is presumably necessary but from time to time it's made very clear that even those are not actually read to be digested before they are commented on.

Worse still is the idea that reading is unnecessary to the understanding of the principles of self defense.

I've seen many a comment to self defense book recommendations that go a lot like the Snotlout quote from How To Train Your Dragon:

"Why read words when you can just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?"

Or, as one person commented to a Rory Miller book recommendation, "I don't need to know what makes a criminal a criminal or how he thinks, I just need to know if he's a threat."

There is a certain sort of logic to that but it's also pretty naive. I may set people up for assuming too much or too little in any given encounter and in every aspect no less.

A Mindset Aspect:
Mindset is pretty driven into people who carry guns these days. But there are still a lot of people out there who carry guns who ".. don't want to hurt anyone." They will just, "shoot someone in the leg." They have no concept of awareness, avoidance and they can't recognize a dangerous situation unfolding until it's already gone past the point of no return. Yes, you can get this information from classes but a lot of it comes from sitting down and digesting the written material of those who've already been there.

An Equipment Aspect:
Many people base their carry setup choices based upon the recommendations of those they know ("My friend, who is a cop, told me I should get..."), feelings ("I got this one because it has pink handles"), cost ("It was between this one and that one but this was cheaper") and assumed reputation ("The military carried the 1911 for 70 years (with an empty chamber, no less). If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.")

So much has been written about what makes a good, civilian fighting/carry setup it's impossible to list all of the resources. Despite that fact, many people still skip absorbing the seasoned advice of people who've been there and done it in favor of pink handles and cheap accessories.

Why read? So you don't end up with crap.

A Tactical Aspect:
You may not have $500 to go to the class you want, but you can afford a $15 book on the principles of carry or gunfighting. You may not be able to sit under an instructor who will demo for you the ways to utilize cover, set up your equipment, think about how you walk down the street, clear a room, etc. But you can get the basic gist from a good book or two on the subject.

One of the best students I've ever had came directly to our intermediate class and had never taken a firearms class in his life. All he'd ever done was read, test what he read at the range, watch a few videos online and take what he learned to heart. He was a FINE shooter and had a great rudimentary grasp of everything we were trying to teach. With a few tweaks he was flying and started competing in IDPA the next day.

A Performance Aspect:
What will your bullets do? What won't they do? How far will it travel if you miss? What is cover? What is concealment? What is the penetration of your particular caliber choice in your particular gun? What about your target? What are the best areas to target?

What about your body? How does it work with things like adrenaline? How can you expect to reasonably perform under that kind of stress?

Guess what... There are books about that.

A Potential Threat Assessment Aspect:
So, you don't think you need to know how a criminal thinks or works but when some guy comes up to you and compliments your shoes you have absolutely no concept as to whether or not this is just a nice guy paying you a compliment or a predator using charm as a way to get close enough to victimize you. You have nothing to do but wait until the situation escalates or attempt some sort of immediate shut down.

Why read? Because being able to distinguish between the types of criminals and how they operate can tell you how you might be able to assess them and even be deselected or deescalate the situation.

Why is that important? Because it's always better to deescalate than let it progress to a fight and how you deescalate a situation with one type of criminal is different from how you may deescalate from another.

An Emotional/Psychological Aspect:
So you had your day. You shot someone. There are people out there who are unaffected by this. But a lot of people go through a whole gambit of emotional and psychological stages. Knowing about and/or being prepared for them can help one process and heal. And there are lots of good books on the subject.

A Legal Aspect:
It still astounds me how many people don't care to read about self defense law in general or in their own state.

"I was in fear for my life," is not the begin-all and end-all of your defense.

You do need to know when it's legal to engage and (sometimes more importantly) when it's necessary to disengage. You do need to have a sense of the law so that you can articulate why you were justified in doing what you did.

You do that by reading. If you don't have your state statutes bookmarked on your internet browser yet, what are you waiting for? Get reading!

And I'm just scratching the surface. There are so many more subtopics and theories and principles laid out by great minds worth exploring.

If you're serious about it, you should be reading about it.

Want a good place to start? Greg Ellifritz's "Recommended Reading" link on his website and all of his "free book" links.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Are Your Beliefs/Training Valid?

--> When I was twenty I got myself in an online debate about "knockdown power." Of course I didn't know what the hell knockdown power was. But I truly and genuinely believed that if you shot someone with a handgun bullet they would instantly fall down.

No, I didn't believe they flew across rooms or anything but I remember watching a movie where a man got shot in the shoulder with a handgun, doesn't even twitch, looks down at his wound and then charges the shooter in rage and all I could think was how unrealistic that was.

I was that naive.

So when I entered this debate, I did so under the premise that knockdown power was not only real but something to be relied upon in armed confrontation.

When my opinion was not sufficient to persuade I figured I would overload my nay-sayers with data.

So, the search began. I went to the interwebz and spent non-stop hours searching for a shred of irrefutable proof that a handgun bullet would physically knock a human being off of his feet reliably.

The problem was I couldn't find any data to support my argument.

I was wrong.

And if that weren't bad enough. The people I learned that from, who I thought were more knowledgeable than me in these matters were also wrong.

And if they could be wrong about knockdown power what else were they capable of being wrong about?

Holy plastic nutcracker, they could be wrong about .... EVERYTHING!

This meant only one thing: I would have to verify everything I ever learned. I would have to test it. I would have to do my best to make sure it was valid, not only if I were going to use it or allow it to influence in my own decision making regarding my own safety but especially if I chose to pass that information on to others.

The problem with that is that it's time consuming and exhausting and sometimes there is misleading or dated information out there that needs to be updated. Another problem I've seen is with public opinion. They get used to the way it is and resist change, new ideas or tactics. Instead of looking at those things dispassionately, they resort to rejection.

How was/am I to know what's valid, what can be changed or updated, what's worth considering, what I'm willing to change my mind about and what I'm not?

1) Question everything.
Yes, even the basics, the rules, the absolutes, the truths. If they are worthy they will stand up to scrutiny. If they aren't, they will crumble or will be improved upon.

No, this doesn't mean you have to be the jerk in the back of a class who is interrupting every five seconds to ask, "Why?" (Here's a hint: Most good instructors will already tell you why.) Use some common sense, ask valid questions as they arise, take good notes and go home to research and get your second opinion.

If the information your questioning is in a written or online form use your google-fu.

2) Consider the source.
In this world where anyone can have an opinion and publish it in one forum or another or get some credentials and teach a class, it can be difficult to narrow down whether something is a trustworthy source. There are a LOT of people out there who are vary well-respected (even if that's just locally) and very wrong. There are also people out there who are generally unknown but very knowledgeable. Determining who is worth considering can be difficult. Resort to step 1 and then move on to step 3.

3) Find someone (preferably more than one someone) you can trust.
I have been very fortunate to get acquainted with and even become friends with some great instructors and leading individuals in the gun community. Perhaps one of the reasons I've been so fortunate is because I've sought these people out. I have hunted them down and not been shy about asking them questions.

They base their opinions on experience, they know how to distinguish between tactics that work for police, military and the civilian sector and they aren't intimidated when asked, "What makes you believe this is better than that?" They have been gracious enough to take my questions and give me the time of day to at least point me in the right direction when it comes to information. I've been sent books, given links, had amazing discussions, learned about biases, and even been told, "I don't know."

And that last one should be a big clue. If your trustworthy source isn't willing to say, "I don't know," I doubt their trustworthiness.

Many of these people have been around long enough to know and/or trained with a good number of other instructors and aren't afraid to recommend other classes and instruction or steer you in the right direction to meet your goals.

Be leery of instructors who discourage you from taking classes from any other source but do consider their warnings if they tell you a certain class or instructor isn't particularly up to par. Yeah, every instructor out there wants business and there are feuds so keep an open mind. Do independent research and come to your own conclusion.

But remember step 2. Every instructor and writer and trainer, no matter how good has their biases and/or flaws. Some are biased against certain types of guns or training or methods. It doesn't make them invalid sources but it may be important to see through their bias to avoid casting aside their valid information or instruction.

4) Test it.
It's really easy to take something you learn and think it's the begin-all and end-all of what you need to know, especially if it seemed to work well in a certain environment such as a classroom. I've seen this a lot in women’s' self-defense classes. A technique will be taught as "guaranteed to work" but then I go home and test it on a non-compliant partner and it falls apart.

Some things being taught are just bad all around. And some are just not right  for you. I've seen lots of techniques (or gear or ideas) that work really well for most everyone that just don't work for me. I will give it an honest try but if it doesn't work for me, it doesn't work. It doesn't mean the technique is completely invalid, just not for me. Sometimes it means that the technique just needs to be worked more to be perfected or adapted to your size and abilities. If it can't be adapted and you've given it an honest effort and it's still not working for you (or not working reliably) it might be time to ditch it.

The only way to know that, however, is to test it as often as you can.


This step goes hand-in-hand with step 1. If it's valid, it will work. If it's not it will fall apart or need changing or adapting.

5) Don't stop going through the steps... Ever.
Even if something has been tried and tested one hundred times or you've done it this certain way since the first time or you heard it from a hundred different sources, doesn't mean you stop questioning it, updating it, reevaluating it's place in how you prepare, train or think.

You may just learn a new way to apply that same principle or you might find something that works better. But you won't if you aren't willing to open up to different avenues of learning and training.

In a world where everything changes, the ones who fall behind will be the ones who think they have it all figured out.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Stripping Vs Dumping Magazines

If you train at any number of shooting schools long enough you will find that even if they agree on certain aspects of shooting where they can almost violently disagree is in the small stuff.

How many forum death matches have been waged over whether or not to use the slide release or rack the slide; whether to use to the strong side thumb to release a magazine or the support hand; whether to bring a gun to a low ready or high, SUL or something else?

Just as hotly debated is the sequence of events surrounding magazine changes.

For the first four or five years I carried and trained in firearms I traditionally hit the magazine release with my strong-side thumb while retrieving a fresh magazine and pretty much expected the magazine well of my gun to be empty by the time I got back with my fresh magazine.

When I went to the Tactical Defense Institute for the second time (the first time was a knife class so there wasn't a lot of talk about magazine changes) I was introduced to the concept of "stripping" an empty (or troubled) magazine from the gun before retrieving a fresh one.

With stripping the magazine, once the firearm is empty and the slide locks back, or if the gun jams to the point where a magazine change is required, one hits the magazine release with the strong-side thumb (or however they hit the release for lefties) and physically rips or "strips" the magazine from the auto-loader with the support hand before retrieving a fresh magazine.

The reasons the instructors gave for this were primarily three-fold:
1. Your magazine can get hung up and doesn't always drop free.
2. You could be in a strange position where gravity will not help your magazine out of the gun.
3. If your gun is jammed with what is commonly known as a "double-feed" (or, more accurately, a failure to extract). Your magazine will not fall free and you will have to physically tear it from the gun.

I've always appreciated the attitude of the TDI instructors. They don't go to any deep lengths to force you to do things their way (as long as you are being safe) but they do ask you at least try their method, see if it works for you and move on. If it doesn't, no big deal.

I can respect that. So I tried it. It was a heck of an effort to back pedal and unlearn just hitting the button.

It took some effort but it's become my standard reload to the point where I would have to unlearn the practice if I tried to change it again. I don't see that happening because I've seen the benefits of it several times, especially since I have been going to different classes that require shooting from strange positions with firearms and have higher rates of malfunctions because of said strange shooting positions.

The most glaring example was while I was at ECQ last fall. We were practicing drawing and shooting from all sorts of strange positions on the ground, one of them being flat on our back, shooting over our heads. I'd taken shots from all sorts of strange positions before so that wasn't particularly new and when my slide locked open upon empty, I didn't even think about it, I stripped the magazine, retrieved a fresh one, reloaded my gun and just kept shooting.

My husband happened to be taking video and took a quick screen shot.
Stripping the empty before retrieving a fresh magazine

Now, I'll be the first to say this isn't a perfect magazine change. I could have brought it back to my chest so I didn't have an empty gun just sticking out over my head, my hands wouldn't have had so far to travel, yada, yada, yada, but for the purpose of getting more ammo in the gun it was enough. I was reloaded and shooting again before it really even dawned on me that my newer practice of stripping a magazine vs dropping or dumping it made a change in a position like this a total non-issue.

Being able to strip my magazines more effectively (especially if really jammed up) is also why I have cutouts in the bottom of both of my Glocks.

Try it out. See what you think.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

All Is Lost

I stopped at the library on my way home from my CPR renewal class last night and picked up the movie All is Lost with Robert Redford. The librarian warned me it was boring but I wasn't looking for spectacular, just something to relax on the couch with and my son loves ship wreck movies.

She was right. It was pretty boring. My son--the lover of ship wrecks and storms--fell asleep on my lap ten minutes into it and my daughter just snuggled next to me and would rather look at text on my cell phone that she couldn't read than watch the movie.

When my husband got home I was telling him about it and though I admitted it was boring I said, "But it has some good learning points for pretty much anyone." I fell asleep thinking about them and figured I'd share this morning.

Don't worry. I won't spoil anything if you actually want to watch the movie but for those of you who don't (or have never heard of the movie), it's the story of a lone man on a sail boat who has an accident out at sea and pretty much everything that can go wrong eventually does. I'm no sailor so I can't tell you what the character did technically right or technically wrong, etc, but I can say there were a few things that stood out to me.

1. He had the equipment on-hand to handle almost every emergency he faced. 

And it wasn't a bunch of McGyver fixes either. The movie opens with a hole being smashed into the side of his boat. He is able to patch it with what looked to be a legitimate hull-patching kit. When he's forced to navigate without a computer he digs out a sextant (yep, I had to google what that was).

At every step of the way, when a new emergency arises the character rather calmly goes to this or that nook or cranny and pulls out this or that tool which was made to assist in that particular emergency situation. Yes, the movie could have been made more interesting if he had to make up all of these emergency preparations along the way but I was far more impressed with a movie portraying a prepared individual vs a clever fool.

The take away of that is, of course, to have the right tools for the job. When it comes to self defense not everything can be solved using any one tool. Having things like flashlights, spare magazines, pepper spray, medical supplies, guns, knives, give you options for all sorts of emergencies that may come up.

2. What broke he tried to fix but didn't dwell on it.

When the hull is damaged he attempts a patch, when the radio breaks he attempts a fix. This pattern repeats itself quite a few times throughout the movie. But what was interesting to me was that the character didn't obsess over one particular repair for any undue length of time. If his repairs weren't successful and it wasn't vital to life he moved on.

This has an application to many different aspects to self defense starting with the equipment we use or even the way we handle the initial contact of a potentially dangerous person.

Your gun jams. You clear the jam. It jams again. You clear it. You repeat the pattern over and over again instead of changing to something more useful.

You see someone approaching and you tell them to stop. They don't stop. So you tell them to stop again and again and again and again. You get stuck in a rut of commands instead of moving on to something that might actually put you in a better position.

You shoot an assailant in the chest 16 times but he still doesn't go down it's probably time to target another area.

When something doesn't work the way it's supposed to work or doesn't go the way you planned it to go, it's okay to try to salvage that equipment, technique, command, etc, but only a very limited number of times. Getting stuck in a rut is unproductive. Move on.

3. He prepared in advance.

When he saw the storm coming he got on his wet gear, he tethered himself to the boat, he buttoned down the hatches, he filled his emergency water container, prepped his life raft, etc.

It goes without saying that most of us carry guns because we want to be prepared in advance for a self defense and/or lethal force emergency. But there are so many more emergencies out that that we don't prepare ourselves for that pose just as much or far greater risk to us.

If you see a questionable situation, avoid or put yourself in better position to get out or respond. Don't wait until it's all crashing down around you to act.

And this goes a lot further than self defense, too.

As winter is approaching, prep that car for snow and ice. In the summer, prep your car or house for heat related emergencies. Prepare for the common natural disasters in your area.

Prep your body to withstand the rigors of running and fighting if you can.

4. He had resources on hand for and to learn skills he didn't already have.

When the main character accepted that he would no longer have modern navigation at his disposal, he retrieves a nautical navigation book and starts to read.

Lot of people like to think certain things will never happen to them or that certain information isn't relevant to them. A lot of articles and discussions, classes, etc, are ignored because they deal with issues that aren't very unlikely. A good example of this is medical issues and supplies, law, abductions, etc.

Many don't carry medical supplies because they aren't trained and think it's useless to carry supplies they don't know for certain how to use.

I remember the moment I got a tension neumothorax needle. I told my friend, "I don't think I'll put this in my bag because I don't know how to use it." He said, "That doesn't mean there won't be a paramedic or nurse or someone else on scene who does."

He had a good point.

Just because you don't have a skill doesn't mean someone else doesn't. It also doesn't mean you can't learn a few things and put them into the back of your brain for the unlikely or have some other resources on hand to learn.

We all have spare tires in our cars. Many of us have no clue how to change a tire. But in the event of a need we all know we can go in our glove boxes, get the owner's manual and figure it out.

Invest in a few self defense law books. Get yourself gunsmithing manuals for the firearms you own. Get an emergency medical textbook. Have resources on hand to learn and supplies for those who may already be educated.

5. When his survival was on the line he improvised. 

Despite all the pre-planning, the equipment, the skills and resources there were a few situations where the character had things go wrong, he wasn't as prepared or his preparations failed and he had to make it up as he went along. In which case he improvised and came up with ways to survive.

Sometimes, when it's all coming to pieces we have to make it up as we go along. It may not be perfect. It may not be pretty but it might just get us out alive.

6. He put it all on the line. 

Again, without going into any spoilers, there comes a point in the movie where the main character pretty much throws all caution to the wind and puts everything on the line to be rescued.

Sometimes, despite all of our preparations and planning and equipment we have to make a bold move that will mean life or death. When that time comes it's no one's decision but your own and you'd better have made your peace with outcome either way.

Monday, March 3, 2014


The Holster and Magazine Section of the Gear Chest
I had my carry permit for less than five months the first time I had a BAD carry day. I was working in an office and was running late for work. I grabbed a flimsy skirt off my bedroom floor, a fresh shirt out of the closet, grabbed a cheap nylon one-size-fits-most clip holster and shoved my Kimber Stainless Ultra Carry inside my waistband clipped to nothing but the side of my skirt. I wasn't even to my car before I wanted to ditch the whole setup. My skirt was digging into my side. The gun was flopping all over the place and on the verge of falling out all day. I was being poked with the muzzle and fighting concealment. If it weren't for my commitment to carry I probably would have given up concealed carry on that day. By the time I got home from work eight hours later I couldn't wait to take my gun off and don't even want to describe the raw meat my waist had been turned into.

I learned how important good gear could be to the carry experience and how bad gear can ruin everything or at least make you want to leave your gun at home or seriously compromise the security of your concealment and carry. So much has changed since that day and now I'm happy to say it's been a LONG time since I've experienced a bad carry day. I have a very good working system for myself that I can count on in a pinch and that is important to everyone who decides to carry a gun.

We all have those moments when we need to get out the door post hast. We're running late, we got a last minute appointment, there's an emergency and we need to gear up.

Finding good gear is a process that often varies by individual, gun, body type, etc, and may take some time to get perfect but eventually we should all get to a point where we have FAST gear that we can count on in a rush.

  • Fit:
The gear should fit well with a wide variety of applications, clothing styles and your general lifestyle. Sure, there are always those days and moments where things get mixed up a bit but everyone should have a setup that, for the most part, would work on any given day. For some that could be smart carry and an XD or a shoulder holster with a j-frame. For others it might be an IWB holster and a 1911.

The holster should fit the gun. Spare magazine pouches should fit the spare magazine. I know I'm preaching to the choir here but I've seen (and sold) many holster that "could" fit the gun if these few stitches were let out or if you cut this strap or cut a hole in the bottom for the sight. Ill-fit holsters will cause you nothing but trouble in the long run. Spend the extra money, get yourself a quality, well-fitting holster and spare magazine pouch.

Your belt should be fit to your body and your gear (if applicable). If you commonly wear IWB holsters with your gun you might have to have a belt with a wider range of adjustability. If OWB is your primary carry method you may need a tighter fitting belt. If you carry a heavier gun, knife and spare magazine you may need a more robust belt to support the weight of your equipment. Choose your belt carefully to support you and your needs.

Pocket knives should fit in your pockets or on body in such a way that they are comfortable and you won't be tempted to take them off. The same could also be said of flashlights and other pocket tools. If these things do not fit well into pockets or your clothing doesn't have good pockets (like a lot of female clothing) consider purchasing only those tools with clips that can attack to waistbands or belts. Most flashlights and pocket knives and even many fixed-blade knives have belt or clip attachments available.

  • Accessible
What's the point of having stuff you can't find? If you are in a hurry and can't locate a specific item you are most likely going to leave without it. We have a gear chest that sits close to the door. Everything but guns goes in that chest and I know exactly where I can find the things I need from holsters to spare magazines and pouches to knives, flashlights, ammo and even shooting glasses. Don't risk leaving something important behind by not having it accessible.

It should also be accessible on body. Your tools are only as good as their accessibility in a fight and if you have to get through several layers or into bags, etc, you might be forfeiting your use of that tool in the fight. Yes, some of us have to have deeper concealment than others but make it as accessible as possible.

  • Secure
The security of your defensive tools should be paramount. I attended a FOF class where the airsoft gun I was using did not fit my regular carry holster and I had to borrow someone else's one-size-fits-most for the first half of the first day. My airsoft gun fell out of the holster once, ejected my magazine on me once, and often moved around on my waist while I was running or fighting. These things should never happen. PERIOD! Your gear should be secure on your body so that you can run, fight, or even work and play without worrying about it.

Belt loops should be strong. Belts should be sturdy. Holsters should be in good repair. Snaps should be solid. Clips should be well-formed. Locking mechanisms should be fastened. Your gear should be secure on your body.

  • Tested
There is a time for testing your gear and as someone who reviews holsters for various individuals I sometimes take the risk of carrying in "untested" gear as a means to test it. Though I usually have a back up near by. But when it comes down to a moment that I am running out the door not willing to take on the role of reviewer or tester or don't want to make sure I have a reliable backup I will always revert to tried and true and well-tested equipment. I choose guns that have gone through hundreds (if not thousands) of rounds of accuracy and reliability. I choose holsters, belts, flashlights, knives, sheaths, pepper sprays and other tools that I have carried many times before and have proven themselves to work through trainings and experience. There is no (and should be no) doubt that, if needed, my equipment will work.

And it's always a good idea to do a quick test while gearing up. Test that flashlight and make sure it still works. Drop that magazine and make sure it's fully loaded. Check the chamber and make sure it's loaded. Pull on your holster and make sure nothing has broken or ripped. Deploy your knife to make sure the blade comes out smoothly and nothing has broken. Make sure you have disabled any major locking devises like the key-lock on your S&W revolvers or Taurus 1911s.

Having a system of FAST gear will insure you are equipped in those moments of hast.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Rangemaster Tactical Conference 2014

Every year Tom Givens puts on a conference in Memphis, TN, at his facility. It is called the Rangemaster Tactical Conference. It consists of three days of instruction by top instructors in the firearms and self defense community. At any given time there can be three to five instructors presenting on any number of topics related to self defense, particularly with a firearm. Most instruction blocks are two hours in length but from time to time and with an important enough topic it's not unheard of to see a whole four-hour block dedicated to one instructor and his information.

After years of hearing great things coming out of the conference we finally made it a priority to attend this year.

The Conference was held on Feb 21-23 and the hardest part was deciding which instruction blocks to attend vs the others.

My schedule started with Shane Gosa, instructor with CQB Services International, talking about The Mental Trigger. This entire two-hour block was largely centered around mindset. Shane had a unique perspective on Jeff Cooper's color codes of awareness, how they were intended to be used and how to apply them to daily life. We did one group visualization technique, discussed mental barriers and the aftermath of violent encounters and finished up with a training exercise on what Shane called, "Accessing State." The exercise is meant to train the mind and body to work together and to limit or completely eliminate the freeze response and allow for a faster and more efficient aggressive, defensive or offensive response. Not only did it address turning the aggression on, immediately, but also turning it off (often the hardest and most damning part of self defense). The lecture concluded with a discussion on winning vs survival, the importance of combat breathing and other tips on getting the most out of training sessions.

Next was Kathy Jackson, author and instructor for Cornered Cat. Her lecture was very bluntly titled "What Women Want" and centered around getting more women to attend professional firearms and self defense training. She opened with statistics about how many women were getting their carry permits and buying guns compared to men (hint, it's a lot more women than you think) and on the high note she dashed us down by showing the number of women who attend regular training past the basic carry class (hint, it's way less women than you'd hope). She drew parallels from other male-dominated fields and how they have fought to retain women. Her discussion on how women often feel in the firearms community (and other male-dominated fields) left my mouth agape in it's accuracy at how I have often felt. She then held back nothing as she talked about some of the common flaws in firearms training that set women up for failure or at least for being undermined in the industry. She slaughtered a few sacred cows (which I was gleeful to see butchered (there were at least two times I literally almost clapped)) and moved on to the best strategies for encouraging women. She was very frank that if you are going to teach women you have to be okay talking about and at least have a working idea of some women's issues like drawing around big breasts, discussing bra or thigh holsters, or even being able to address long fingernails and how it relates to shooting. In short, if you want women to come to your classes, you need to make them feel like they belong in a human space vs feeling like they are guests in a man's house.

After lunch I was off to Jim Higginbotham, a former instructor at Gunsite, from Riposte Training. His lecture was called "Fire for Effect" and entirely centered on how the body reacts to gunfire and how bullets may (or may not) physically stop a determined attacker. He discussed the factors that influence incapacitation, how one should train to maximize the effectiveness of their shots if they are needed and what physically needs to be achieved in order to stop a determined attacker instantly, rapidly or marginally. He addressed head-on the growing concept that it's better to spread your shots around vs making tight groups and how ineffective that can be. He addressed the issue of training scars developed through targets with poorly defined targeting zones and concluded with practice tips on improving ability to make better incapacitating shots.

My last class on Friday was Chuck Haggard, a former SWAT officer and current supervisory officer in Kansas. I had the privilege to meet Chuck at the Rangemaster Instructor Development class in September and we've kept in touch ever since. His block of instruction was on Active Shooters/Terrorist Events. Chuck has been personally involved in two active shooter events and his unique perspective was insightful when going through some of the information. A good majority of the class was going over many of the major active shooter events and discussing the tactics used by law enforcement and what worked and what didn't as far as slowing or stopping the events. He talked about what motivates active shooters and what civilians can do to better prepare for an active shooter event.

Saturday morning started with a four-hour block of instruction by John Hearne; a Rangemaster instructor, federal law enforcement officer and self-proclaimed research geek; called "Performance Under Fire." He gave the four-hour version of an eight-hour class and if I ever get the chance to take it in more depth you will find me there. A long-held belief is that humans are predestined to become quivering masses of unpredictable goo when confronted with traumatic events. John's lecture went over the brain, how it works and functions with other body systems to respond to emergencies, why it is conditioned to do what it does under stress and how it can be optimized to respond better or entirely differently. He explained the difference between the neocortex and limbic system and their roles in traumatic events and how to keep the neocortex in control. He defined what it meant to be untrained, to have learned a skill and what was an overlearned skill. My favorite part of his lecture was what he called the "Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse" that took on the concepts of heart-rate being a key factor in performance, the idea that a "natural" response is somehow superior vs an overlearned response, the famed "startle-response" we all train to start from, the supposed innate aversion we are said to have against killing other humans, and whether or not we really do loose our ability to perform fine motor skills and see something as small as a front sight when fighting for our lives. He concluded his lecture with training tips and tips for instructors on how to maximize student learning. All-in-all a very intensive and eye-opening block of instruction.

And from there I stood in line for twenty minutes waiting to attend Craig Douglas' workshop on Managing Unknown Contacts. Craig Douglas is often known through his former screen name "Southnarc." As his handle would suggest, he was an undercover narcotics officer who has since retired and started his own training company called shivworks. The man has a stellar reputation in the training community that is well-deserved. Many of his techniques were developed directly from his own experience interacting on a regular basis with the criminal element. The workshop was based around the simple premise that you are being approached by an unknown individual. You need to decide whether or not this individual is a potential threat with enough time and/or distance to do something about it if it turns out this individual means you harm. We spent most of the instruction block working his three-part interaction system of Verbalizing, Moving and preparing your Hands for action. He then went over four of the most common pre-fight indicators and we practiced identifying them in class. Lastly, we talked about what to do if we are still unsure of the genuine intent of an individual but decide we want to help them vs shutting them down. This was mostly a live-action class worked with other partners and a great exercise in staying relatively safe while deciding if someone is a legitimate threat or not.

My final Saturday class was Skip Gochenour, a retired police investigator who specialized in homicides and helped prepare cases for trial. Skip's lecture was titled "Problem Two: On Trial." In other words, you've survived a lethal encounter (problem one) but now you are being charged with a crime (typically some form of homicide). He opened his lecture with some pretty harsh facts about the law and legal system, the hardest to accept by your average gun-totter being that the truth has absolutely no relevance in a court of law. If a question cannot be clearly answered by the evidence it is what is considered "a jury question" at which point a prosecutor and defense attorney will both make a case on how they interpret the evidence and the jury makes a declaration and what they believe the evidence likely indicates what happened. He went over a lot of history of our legal system and broke down what four main questions a prosecutor will ask in order to determine whether or not someone acted in self defense. He then moved on to what criteria the jury will look at as to whether or not they will convict (or acquit) someone of the various degrees of murder. One of the quotes of the class that particularly resonated with me was, "When you decide you will take on problem one you agree to accept the bill and pay for problem two no matter what the cost." Be that emotional, financial, physical, legal or in prison. A sobering reminder of the responsibilities involved in carrying a firearm.

Sunday morning opened with Cecil Burch, a career martial artist and instructor. His block of instruction was titled Immediate Action in Extreme Close Quarters. In short, you've just been taken by surprise in a violent attack and you can't get to or don't have a gun. What do you do? This was another live-action workshop and we spent much of it on our feet working with partners to protect our most vital area (the head) and work on switching from a defensive posture to an offensive one and gaining ground to either fight, access tools or flee.

Next I attended Tom Givens' Active Shooter lecture. His lecture differed from Chuck's in that he did not spend a lot of time discussing individual cases but rather patterns across many active shooter events. He went over a lot of information that is already known in the community such as the fact that most active shooter events happen in gun-free zones, a large portion of them being schools, and that the shooters tend to be lone, white males with one gun. He went over the phases of an active shooter from fantasy all the way to the shooting and how the best time to stop an active shooting is in the planning or preparation stage. He discussed the difference in outcomes with civilian's have responded to active shooters vs law enforcement with the results being in favor of a civilian response. Lastly, he talked about what to do if caught up in an active shooter event and wrapped it up with an admonition to be armed and fight for abolition of gun-free zones.

After lunch was William Aprill's lecture titled, "Fatal Choices." William Aprill is a psychologist who works with criminals in a law enforcement capacity and a brilliant speaker. His lecture was primarily about what makes a criminal pick a particular individual to victimize. His initial task was to distinguish between those who are targeted and those who are victimized. Anyone can be targeted but only a portion of those are actually chosen to be victimized and that comes down to a criminal deciding whether or not that target is a "go" or "no go." How does he make the decision? William went into depth about what is called "thin-slicing" and it's connection to the intuitive mind that allows us to make instant and more-often accurate decisions about people based on very limited, external data. Facial expressions, gait, appearance, even the amount of multi-tasking we seem to be taking on in a particular moment, can all be factors in what makes a criminal decide whether or not to victimize a particular target. He talked about what we can do to lower our chances of being targeted in the first place or even "deselected" as a "go." Of all of the presentations at the conference, it was William's that fascinated me the most and has made me want to research much more into the topics of thin-slicing and how it relates to criminal choice.

Finally, when I thought I could cram no more into my little brain I sat down in Greg Ellifritz's "Armed Citizen Response to Terrorist Bombings." Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time has seen Greg's name before. He's one of my favorite instructors and this is my third class with him. He's the author and lead instructor for Active Response Training. He holds more instructor certifications than I care to list at the moment and his topic of the day was bombs. He went over what they are, how they work, how we might be able to identify them and how they are being used by terrorists and active shooters. After pretty much letting us all in on the terrifying reality that there's not much you can do about a bomb he dampened the mood even further by alerting us to the fact that most active shooter/terrorist bombs are homemade and unstable and it's not even a safe bet to try to shoot someone, even if you are 100% sure he has a bomb. If you choose to do so you're doing so with the expectation that you're going to die and generally not going to stop the bomb from going off anyway given the instability of the device, handlers who will set it off anyway, timers, or a hit to the device that triggers it early. He did try to end it on an upbeat note by assuming if we were involved in a bombing we were far enough away or able to get to cover quickly enough to survive. He talked about steps to take to identify secondary devices, how to manage other survivors of the blast and then talked about relative safe distances and cover from certain sizes of devices (which can vary depending on device).

On that happy note we piled in our car, went for some good bbq and just about crashed in an information-overload coma.

These were only the classes I was able to attend. There were so many more I missed and am disappointed for it.

I got to meet some of my heroes and other top-name instructors, got to network with some great people and trainers, meet some of the people who have followed me for years and generally rub shoulders with some great, like-minded individuals.

In addition to the instruction, there is an ongoing pistol match which I shot on Saturday night and learned later that out of 129 shooters I came in 22. To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

I'm not done processing the information from the conference and I fully expect to write more in depth thoughts on several of the training blocks I attended, but for now, I'll leave you all with the admonition that if you can even remotely conceive of going to a Tactical Conference you should do so!

I plan on returning often! I hope to see you there!