Someone, doubtlessly smarter than me, once said that you can’t get enough training. In a knowledge base area that is as perishable as personal defense this is especially true and a recent class I took not only validated a lot of what I already knew, it opened me up to different ways of thinking about some key areas.
On the advice of Matt Haught with Sym-Tac Consulting, I signed up for a two day advanced concealed carry skills and tactics course presented by FPF Training and it’s honcho, John Murphy. While based out of Virginia and doing most of his work there, John does hit the road periodically and plans to do more of that when he hangs up his day job in the future. This session was held at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility, north of Phoenix, Arizona.
The class is labelled as being about concealed carry, but it is about a whole lot more than just drawing from concealment and putting rounds on target. Well in advance we had been provided ten hours worth of video home study covering a wide range of elements, from knowing yourself and building your mindset to managing contact while armed and third party intervention. That last element was where the most time was spent because it is fraught with the most peril; physical, moral and legal.
The first four hours on Saturday morning were spent in a classroom and from the start it was apparent that John Murphy knows exactly what he is talking about. A ten year Marine now in government service, John was at once jovial, funny and familiar. The class was at ease from the start, but the purpose was crystal clear. John has been teaching for fifteen years with more than 5000 students through his sessions. His CV reads like a who’s who of defensive firearms; he has trained with the likes of Ayoob, Auwerbuck, Bolke, Douglas, Ellifritz, Farnam, Green, Haggard and many, many others. Quite unabashedly he notes that his mentor in the training arena is Tom Givens and that he draws both inspiration and insight from Givens throughout his presentation, while folding in lessons learned from so many others. John’s take on the tone of how things would go on the range was that we would find “brilliance in the basics” in the afternoon and build on those Sunday with skill acquisition, application of tactics and what he described as full mission profile scenarios.
John’s thoroughness of preparation was also very apparent as he regularly consulted what he refers to as “the brain”; a stack of 3×5 cards with the entire course written out step by step, bound with a ring, and kept in his back pocket. He explained that each course he facilitates has different features and he writes out a full set of cards for each course and dates it specifically to that session. When done that version of “the brain” goes into his files so that, if ever called upon, he can say exactly what he taught a student in a particular session.
We began by reviewing and updating what we’d learned in our homework. John brought additional elements into play and broadened the understanding of what we had already seen. In the first departure from the average carry class, we were presented with a short course on how to stop bleeding… kind of important to know if you might get shot or cut in the course of defending yourself. The number one life saving intervention is always to make bleeding stop, and this segment stressed what a number of top shelf trainers have been saying for a while… it’s really not a bad idea to keep a very simple med kit to control bleeding on you as you never know when a situation might present itself where you find yourself having to save a life. Especially so when that life could be your own.
I’ve been certified as a first responder going back many years, so much of this material is what I already knew but presented at the next level and with the same level of importance. Discussing the basics of how to apply pressure bandages and tourniquets, each of us were loaned a North American Rescue ankle kit with a training tourniquet and pressure bandage in it. We were expected to have these on us at all times during the course, and John would periodically, and without warning, call out “tourniquet” or “pressure bandage” and a limb on ourselves or a training partner to apply it to, and within a time limit. We wrapped up the block by covering other skills and tools including use of hemostatic agents and wound packing.
My takeaway from this portion… even though I already know it and have for years, is that just knowing is not enough. I have long carried a kit with me in my truck and I never set foot on a range without a kit including essentials to treat severe bleeding. John’s presentation, mixed with hands on over the course of the two days was solid and drove the point home that a skill not used or practiced is a skill that will not hold up to the realities of a dynamic situation in the real world. Taking a Stop the Bleed course is now on my short list for this year. It should be on yours too.
We learned four basic positions of address, all with feet square. These were; Rest, hands loose at the sides, Bodyguard, arms folded across chest, The Thinker, one arm folded across chest, the other oriented for hand to chin, and Shields Up, both hands open and out front of the body at about mid torso height. All of these would be used as we went through drills on the range.
We then moved into another aspect of personal defense; the use and carry of pepper spray. At first it might seem strange to cover this in a concealed carry class but, as I learned a long time ago in police work, it’s really good to have options and if you have no options between using your hands and voice in a defensive encounter and using a gun, you can create more problems than you can solve. I’ve long advocated that a private person who carries a firearm should also be carrying something less lethal. The rationale I’ve always used is that you are far more likely to be in a physical confrontation than you are in one where you must defend yourself from someone with a lethal weapon in their hands. John used the example of a case from Florida where a parking space altercation led to one man shoving another man to the ground. The man who was shoved, a licensed concealed carrier, pulled his gun and killed the man who shoved him when there was no apparent justification to do so. He was convicted of manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing. Had he had pepper spray, or some other less lethal means it might have worked out better for both.
I’ve always used either Mark 3 or Mark 6 sized units; the latter is bulky in a pocket while the former is a law enforcement duty sized unit that commands a belt carry. The good news in that regard is that Nick Jacques, creator of the JOX speed loader pouch for revolvers, has come up with a dandy horizontal holster made of kydex for Mark 3 and Mark 4 sized canisters that conceals well under a loose shirt and provides a good, large volume of agent. I’ve never been much enamored of smaller, pocket sized units until John introduced us to the unit from POM Industries. These units are also very highly recommended by John Correia of Active Self Protection.
Each student in the class received two inert training units and we had the opportunity to hands on with them both person to person, with John playing the role of aggressor, and then later on Sunday in conjunction with our firearms on paper targets as we were run through scenarios where we had to make decisions in the moment on appropriate use of force. We learned different methods of carry and deployment, finding that these units are very easy to conceal and to unobtrusively draw. The POM unit seems to be good for 20 or so short bursts but is more than enough to wet down the face of two or even three attackers if you are forced to. It tends to get lost in my very large hands, but I intend to keep working with the training units to find my own best practices. As part of our swag for completing the course each student went home with a live unit as well. Thanks very much for that John.
After lunch we headed to the range and spent the remainder of Saturday and all day Sunday there. The Ben Avery facility, managed by the Arizona Game & Fish Department, is very large, very clean, well run and features multiple ranges of various configuration as well as private bays and clay sports. Our group was eight students, plus John and an assistant instructor and we worked in one of the private bays. When we arrived, we found a very orderly range with firing lines marked with cones and paint at 3, 5, 7, 10, 15 and 25 yards as well as 8 targets plus one in the center for John to demonstrate.
We began with simple slow fire strings of five shots at our own pace starting at 3 yards and working back to 10. As we progressed through progressively more difficult drills the phrase “brilliance in the basics” came immediately to my mind. John was an attentive instructor; he demonstrated what was expected for each course of fire, identifying strengths and areas improvement and applying appropriate coaching in the moment. Our group was mostly well experienced but as the par times decreased and drills became more complex, left bias for right handed shooters and a couple of shooters fighting the trigger began to show up. John worked with each in a way alternately instructive, funny and Marine and by the end of the course both had shown significant improvement. At one point he noticed, from the opposite end of the line, that I was getting out of sequence on the draw stroke and that my support hand appeared to be getting away from my body to join my firing hand before it should have. A quick correction and reinforcing proper sequencing took care of it.
We finished up the first day with a Round Up Drill, ten shots in four strings fired at 5 yards on a B-8 target and each string with a par time of 2.5 seconds. While I expected to be able to perform this accurately and within par, I was genuinely surprised that after four hours of basic work the drill was almost effortless.
Sunday morning, we were back on the range at 8 AM. We started with a warmup on a Dot Torture target. This is one of my more favorite drills, but I rarely shoot it cold, preferring instead to finish up a session with it. I had a good run going and was surprising myself with how I was bringing forward the previous day’s learning… right up until I pulled one of my shots on dot three, center of the top row in the photo, well down and out of the ring. I went clean the rest of the way for a 49/50 so I had that, and John’s take of “it happens”, to reassure myself with.
We moved on to a couple of runs of the Bill Drill, I clipped 2.6 seconds on a timed run, followed by the FAST test which I ran clean and at just over par. I found that I was really getting dialed in to the Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 Compact I had brought. This gun has become an everyday carry for me over the past year, and I shoot it well enough. I had been shooting traditional double action guns; S&Ws and Sigs as well as revolvers, for more than 30 years before taking up the M&P. When I started shooting IDPA a few years back I bought an M&P 9 Pro Series to compete in the stock service pistol category, and it was the very positive experience I’ve had on that gun in competition that convinced me that I could make the move to the compact for carry. Using an outside the waistband kydex shuck from Bare Arms Holsters, I was able to consistently deliver controlled pairs from concealment in 1.6-1.8 seconds, and averaging .20 splits on subsequent shots and with superb accuracy. I’m not the fastest guy who ever lived, but I’m happy with those results and working through the progression of drills that John presented made me that much more confident with the M&P Compact than I had been.
With accuracy and speed addressed we moved to the real meat and potatoes of the FPF curriculum… decision making and movement. Stressing from beginning to end the need to make proper decisions in the moment of truth we learned a lot about awareness and action, the recognition primed decision model and incorporating that into the well-known OODA loop. Speed to first shot is what is often considered paramount but, and this is John’s point, speed to decision making is critical.
It’s also well known that in a confrontation movement can be your best friend. Getting yourself off the axis of the attack, some call it “getting off the X”, disrupts the attacker’s game plan. He must react to what you did, and that reaction takes time…. the time you need to perhaps get something between you and him, apply pepper spray or apply lethal force if that’s what is necessary. In this portion we worked primarily on a target of John’s own design, shown here.
We each worked through many scenarios, always starting at one of the four positions of address we learned on day one. We also did not end each scenario with shots being fired. Randomly we would have to decide what the best course of action was to take… from simply saying thanks and leaving someone who perhaps was obnoxious but posed no threat, to using pepper spray on an attacker using fists, to shooting someone who was using lethal force on us. John provided the voice for the “opponent” and used different methods to trigger our decision making.
One of the things we get used to in training and in competition is an audible signal to start the course of fire or string. While John used verbal commands and shot timers for much of the range work when we got into decision making, he used red and green lasers on the target to signify our course of action. In the real world we will have visual cues and go signals, and if we are standing around waiting for the beep of a timer before we react, we are not going to have a happy ending.
For movement each of us went through scenarios involving lateral and angular movement. Taking one to two fast shuffle steps right or left while beginning the draw stroke or stepping off at an angle to the opponent and closing the distance a bit, will go a very long way to disrupting his plan of action. By the time his brain tells him he should be shooting you because you aren’t doing what you’ve been told, if you are not standing there anymore he can’t shoot you… but you can shoot him. In the example shown here, the student is moving laterally in a semi-circle to the target. This is also a three dimensional target, to reinforce that when you are at an angle to the target, aiming for the center of the chest is not necessarily the right thing. At an acute angle, such as we see here “shooting the ten ring” may yield a glancing or even superficial wound that leaves the attacker still very much in the fight.
It was in these movement drills that I got hung with yet another nickname; “Moose”. I’m not a small guy and it takes some effort to get me moving. Since all of Newton’s Law applies to me as much as the next person, once in motion it takes some effort to get me stopped. I found that I was having trouble stepping off correctly on the angle approach. Recognizing this, John gave me some pointers on how to pre-load the push off foot to make a positive first movement and this helped me a lot. Oh… and he gave me that nickname too.
By the time we were finished late Sunday afternoon we had each gone through close to 700 rounds of the 800 we were briefed to bring. I had expended one training canister of POM, and about half of a second, and I came away with a better skill set than I had before as well as new elements of mental preparedness to work on. The class reinforced a lot of what I knew already from my past work in law enforcement, and it validated several key elements of my own mindset and teaching on the chasm of difference between a peace officer who goes out every day looking for trouble and a private person who chooses to go armed in order to protect themselves from trouble. It put even more iron into the words of Lynn Givens…
“I do not carry a pistol so that I may impose my will on others. I carry a pistol so that others may not impose their will on me.”
If you are serious about your personal safety and you are looking for a lot more than just another shooting class, then the Advanced Concealed Carry Skills & Tactics offering from FPF Training is not a class you may want to take.
It is the class you must take.