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!

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