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Carbine Vitals with Daniel Shaw

Chris Upchurch

Last weekend I took the two-day Carbine Vitals class from Daniel Shaw. I'd trained with Daniel before back when he was teaching with Thunderbird Tactical, including taking Carbine Vitals I and II, but it's been several years since I had the opportunity to train with him. It's also been a while since I've taken a straight-up carbine class (most of my long gun training in the past year have been either CQB or long-range focused). So when I saw Daniel was teaching this course, I jumped on it.


My primary rifle for the class was my 14.5" AR. However, it's not exactly the same 14.5" AR that I've run in previous classes. That rifle originally sported a LaRue Stealth barrel with a fairly heavy profile. I got kind of tired of the weight, so I swapped it out for an Aero Precision upper with a lightweight barrel. To balance things out on the back end, I swapped the heavy Magpul UBR for a CTR. Along with pulling the IR illuminator off of the rifle, this lightened the gun up by about two pounds. I also swapped the trigger out for the JP Rifles modular trigger. I'm still running the Leupold Mark 6 1-6 scope in a tall mount and an AAC Mini4 suppressor.

For support gear, I ran my AWS Light Assaulter belt. This has seen a couple of changes from previous classes as well. I ditched one of the rifle mag pouches and moved some stuff around to make it easier to get into some shooting positions (especially when using it with armor). I'm down to two rifle and two pistol mag pouches, a pistol, medical gear, a multitool, and a dump pouch. I figure if I need more ammo, I can throw on a chest rig or plate carrier.

I brought the Glock 19X Roland Special that I've been testing in some recent classes, though I temporarily swapped the Lightguard out for a Surefire X300 so it would fit the Safariland holster I'm running on the war belt.

Everyone in the class was running an AR of one flavor or another. Mostly .223, though there was one in .300 Blackout. About half the guns had suppressors on them. There was a fairly even mix between red dot optics and low power variable scopes. Most students were running belt setups, though one had a chest rig. Pistols included Glocks, an M&P, and a VP9. Quite a few had red dot sights.


We started the class with some introductions. Everyone except for one student had trained with Daniel before. Most folks had some previous carbine classes under their belts as well.

With introductions out of the way, Daniel dove into the safety brief. He has a somewhat different take on some of the four rules of gun safety. He mentioned that this is in part in response to some square range bad habits he sees in classes.

In particular, his take on muzzle discipline is along the lines of, "Be relentlessly aware of your muzzle and keep it pointed in the relatively safest direction in that moment." This emphasizes both that there is not necessarily a completely safe direction and that the direction that comes closest to complete safety may change with the circumstances. Sometimes going muzzle up will be safest, sometimes muzzle down, sometimes horizontally a particular direction. It can change, and we need to be aware of when and how it changes and be adaptable in how we handle our firearm.

In a similar vein, he emphasized the dynamic nature of a target's foreground and background. It's essential not just to establish that the target's foreground and background are clear before we start shooting, but that we remain aware of any changes while we're engaging the target.

Daniel went through a medical briefing, laying out the plan in case someone got shot or otherwise injured during the class.

We began our live fire with a quick opportunity to confirm zero. I was quite grateful for this because the zero on my rifle was a bit dodgy. I'd gone out to the range to zero it earlier in the week, but at the range, I found I didn't have the right hex wrench to adjust the turrets and zero stop. So I had to do my elevation adjustment by measuring how far off I was, then making the adjustment based on that measurement once I got home. I was pretty close, but I ended up having to make a few clicks of adjustment to get my zero dead on.


Everyone was either on target or only had to make some small adjustments, so we were able to dispose of zeroing pretty quickly. Next up, Daniel talked a bit about the standing position and what makes an optimal shooting stance. He had each of us deliver some rapid fire into the target at about 3 yards, asking us to shoot as quickly as possible while keeping all the rounds in the center circle of an IDPA target. After watching each person shoot, he gave them some pointers and then had them shoot another burst. When my turn came, he suggested bearing down on the stock with my cheek more, to help lock the gun in place. I found that this did help steady the rifle during my follow-up burst.

Daniel talked a bit about rifle ready positions. In addition to the standard low ready, he spent quite a bit of time talking about the benefits of high ready (muzzle up at about a 45-degree angle, with the tip of the muzzle about eye level and the stock down near your hip). This is kind of interesting, since I've been doing more work from a high ready type position lately (though I tend to run the stock more beneath the arm than all the way down at the hip). He also covered having the gun straight up in one hand and straight down (what I'd call high noon ready and rifle Sul).

We did some shooting from the 3-yard line, alternating between mounting the gun from low ready and high ready. Then we moved back to 50 yards and did the same drill on steel torso targets, going through a full magazine. After doing all the quick, up close shooting, it was a bit of a mental gear change to shoot from 50 yards. Intellectually I knew I had to slow down, but I was definitely fighting a tenancy to rush my shots.

For the next drill, Daniel had set up cones at roughly 5-yard increments from about 25 yards up to 5 yards. He'd call out a number, and we'd have to run to that cone and shoot 2-4 rounds. Then he'd call another number, and we had to run to that cone. This is a drill that emphasizes "landing in a shooting position" as you make the transition between rapid movement and stationary shooting. The fact that you're doing this with a bunch of other guys one line with you at the same time means it also requires good muzzle discipline and situational awareness, particularly when he called the number of a cone behind us and we had to turn and run uprange, then turn again to engage.

During a break between drills, Daniel talked about what to do after the fight is (seemingly) over. Rather than the rote sort of scanning that you see taught some places he emphasized the thought process, starting with the most immediate problem: Do I need to shoot this guy some more? Are there any other threats? This can include other bad guys, but also other hazards like traffic. Is this the most survivable location? What's my next problem? (This could be medical care, calling 911, etc.)

Back out on the range, we incorporated side to side movement into the move into a shooting position drill. Rather than a number, Daniel called out "forward", "back", "left", or "right" and we had to move 4-5 steps in that direction, then shoot our 2-4 rounds. This requires an even higher level of situational awareness than the previous drill since there aren't any specific lines. You have to adjust on the fly based on how far and how fast the guys on either side of you move.

For our last subject before lunch, Daniel talked about clearing malfunctions. He went through the different type of stoppages you can get with an AR, from the common (failing to fully lock in a magazine) to the uncommon (bolt override) and how to identify and fix each of them. During the process, he emphasized setting up these malfunctions in a realistic way when you want to practice them. For instance, the way many people set up stovepipes doesn't really match how they occur in the real world, and this can lead to learning the wrong lessons about what works and what doesn't work when it comes to fixing them.

We set up bolt override malfunctions and practiced clearing them. The other malfunction types we'd get a chance to practice this afternoon.

After a break for lunch, Daniel talked a bit about communication between teammates. Specifically, he covered how to communicate when your gun goes down (due to a malfunction or running out of ammo) or when you deliberately want to take your gun offline during a fight (to perform a proactive reload, for instance). When doing this proactively, the first step is to ask your partner to cover you. There's a lot of different verbiage you can use, but he prefers a simple "cover." Your teammate replies "OK," indicating he's able to provide cover while you reload. Once he's confirmed that he can cover you, perform the reload. When you're finished, you call out "ready" to indicate your back in the fight.

If you run dry or your rifle malfunctions, you use the same verbiage, but the intent is a bit different. In this case, rather than asking for him to cover you before you start working on your gun, "cover" is more of a declarative statement. You need to fix this rifle whether he's able to cover you at that moment or not. Hearing "OK" can provide some peace of mind knowing that he can cover you, but you're not waiting until he does to get to work fixing your gun.

We paired up and did a drill where we alternated performing proactive reloads, using "cover," "OK," and "ready" to coordinate. Every so often Daniel would call out "threat," and we had to deliver 2-4 rounds to the target (if we were covering for our partner at that moment, we had to deliver 2-4 rounds to his target as well). As the drill went on and we got a bit smoother Daniel threw in a curveball by using a stick near our ejection port to induce malfunctions, giving us something else to deal with in addition to the proactive reloads.


After a break to load mags, we did the drill again, just running one pair at a time. This time we dispensed with the proactive reloads and Daniel calling "threat." Our goal was to be constantly putting rounds on target while Daniel used the stick to induce malfunctions. He's pretty good at causing malfs, so even with two shooters, we spent more time fixing the guns than putting fire on target. Frustrating as it was, I really like this drill. It involves very realistic malfunctions (exactly what you'd see if you had your ejection port too near a piece of cover and obstructed it), the need to support your teammate induces some pressure, and the requirement to communicate adds on another layer and takes up some of your mental bandwidth.

Of course, in the real world, our response to a malfunction in our rifle is going to be transitioning to pistol. We did a slow fire group at 5 yards to verify that we know how to shoot a pistol properly (I managed a one-holer).

Since not everyone has had one of his pistol classes, Daniel briefly went through the drawstroke and some pistol ready positions. He really likes the high compressed ready position (gun at chest level, pointed towards the target but angled upward at about 45 degrees). This is not a position that I've done a lot of work with (I generally prefer a compressed ready with the gun horizontal), but I can see the crossover with the high ready with a rifle. Daniel demonstrated transitioning from rifle to pistol. He favors using the support hand to guide the rifle down rather than just dropping it on the sling.


We finished up the day by setting up double feeds and attempting to shoot the target, then transitioning to pistol. After delivering our pistol shots, we had to coordinate with our teammate to maintain cover on the target while fixing both rifles and reloading our pistols.


To help beat the heat, we got going an hour earlier on Sunday morning (at 8 rather than 9). After a brief review of the safety rules and medical plan, we started off doing some shooting from standing at 50 yards. Then we did some work with the cones set up at 5-yard intervals, running forward and back as Daniel called out cone numbers and firing pairs at each distance.


With our shooting skills warmed up (and the blood pumping a bit), we picked up from where we left off on Saturday. We did the 2-man team malfunction drill again, this time incorporating pistol transitions. This introduced another, more complex layer of decision making into the drill. For a lone rifleman, if your rifle goes down and you're within effective handgun range, the transition to pistol is pretty much automatic. In a team environment, with a buddy to provide cover, you need to decide whether it makes more sense to fix your rifle right away or transition to pistol. In turn, this requires effective communication within the team and an awareness of your teammate's status.

Our next subject was shooting from the support side shoulder. Daniel demonstrated both a half shoulder transfer (moving the stock to the support side shoulder without changing hand positions) and a full transfer (moving the stock and switching the primary hand to the forend and the support hand to the pistol grip). We did some shooting to familiarize folks with the support side shooting and the process for transferring the rifle from one side to the other. Then we moved back to 50 yards and went through a magazine alternating between shoulders as we put rounds on two steel targets.

Daniel went through a couple of shooting positions including squatting, kneeling (in primary side knee down, support side knee down, and double kneeling variations) and urban prone. I had mostly thought about urban prone in terms of shooting under vehicles or perhaps over very low obstacles like curbs, but one thing Daniel pointed out is that it also provides a much greater ability to traverse left and right than more conventional prone positions.

To practice these positions, Daniel would call a position (and sometimes call for a shoulder transfer), and we had to assume that position and fire a burst, then return to standing. Daniel really emphasized that as you get back up from a lowered position, you need to scan every time you change elevation. Every time you assume a higher position, you reveal stuff you couldn't see before because it was blocked by obstacles or micro terrain (and you make yourself a taller target). You need to scan and update your information about your surroundings.

After lunch, Daniel talked a bit about using cover. He particularly emphasized coming out of cover in a shooting position, rather than peeking out and then having to raise your rifle to shoot. When moving from one piece of cover to another, he also emphasized moving explosively (and stopping the same way) so you spend as little time as possible exposed to the adversary.

Daniel set up various pieces of cover, including some at kneeling height, standing height, and a couple for urban prone (shooting both over and under the cover). The drill was to move through these pieces of cover and shooting from three different positions at each.


One thing we found during this drill was that some people's gear was not adequately secured. My iPhone popped out of my pocket, and I was not the only one to lose a phone (thankfully, mine was undamaged). Other folks lost magazines and other gear. Mag pouches that are adequate for delivering fire from a standing position may not provide sufficient retention for less conventional shooting positions.

In preparation for some subsequent drills, Daniel briefly covered pistol malfunction drills (fairly simple compared to the complexity of fixing AR malfunctions). He also covered one-handed malfunction clearance for both pistol and rifle (which was a bit of an ominous sign). He gave us some time to experiment with one-handed rifle malfunction clearance at our own pace.

The next drill had us stacking up behind our teammate and advancing toward a target. When the lead team member ran dry (or suffered a stick-induced malfunction), they peeled off and assumed the rear position while they fixed their rifle while the other man stepped up and continued to engage the target. Once we got up within a few yards of the target, Daniel had us continue the drill moving backward. The point of this drill was not so much the malfunction clearance, but rather to get us used to safely moving in close proximity to our partner, something we'd need on the next exercise.

That next exercise was really the culmination of the entire class. Daniel placed each two-man team behind a piece of wall representing cover. Our job was to deliver continuous fire on steel targets downrange. Periodically, Daniel would call "switch," and we'd have to swap the side of the cover that we were shooting around with our teammate. Of course, he was there with the stick to induce malfunctions. Partway through the drill, he told one or both shooters that they'd lost the use of their support hand and had to shoot and clear malfunctions one-handed for the rest of the drill. Just to throw in one more level of complexity, he started calling out a particular target out of the four downrange that we had to engage (rather than leaving it to the shooter's choice).


Not only did this require you to exercise all of the physical skills we covered in the class, like shooting from cover, malfunction clearance (including one-handed), transitioning to pistol, muzzle discipline, moving in close proximity to your teammate, communication, and general situational awareness; it also layered on all of these things onto your thought process. While good, safe gunhandling skills are critical, at its core, this is as much of a thinking exercise as it is a shooting or gunhandling exercise.

An interesting manifestation of this was that one the differences between more experienced shooters and less experienced ones weren't just that the more experienced shooters were more accurate or cleared malfunctions better, but that more experienced shooters were much less likely to get task fixated. For instance, less-experienced shooters tended to transition to pistol and just keep engaging with the handgun, rather than asking their teammate to cover them while they fixed their rifle. Or when they were fixing a malfunction, and their teammate's gun went down, they continued with the malfunction clearance rather than putting that on hold and drawing their pistol. They'd get started on a task and carry it through until they finish it or something prevents them from continuing.

More experienced shooters were more fluid and were able to react to changing situations. When their partner's gun went down, they stopped fixing their own rifle and drew their handgun. When the partner got their gun back up, they put their own handgun away and went to work getting their rifle up. The difference in situational awareness, communication, and task fixation was quite noticeable.

Based on some of the difficulties students had doing one-handed rifle shooting, Daniel had us do one last exercise. We worked our way through the various pieces of cover again, this time shooting our rifles one-handed. Some of these were fairly easy (plunk the forend down on a piece of low cover and use it to support your rifle) but figuring out three different one-handed shooting positions from each piece of cover was a challenge. This is one area where a red dot does better than a low power variable, but the eye box on the Mark 6 was big enough I was able to make the hits I needed to, even if it wasn't ideal.


Probably the most difficult part of this drill was the cover that simulated shooting under a vehicle. It was low enough that you had to roll the rifle over onto its side, but you couldn't rest the gun on the cover itself. There was a lot of contorting to get a leg or knee under the rifle to support it or stacking a couple of mags to support the gun. This drill and the one-handed shooting in the previous exercise make me really glad I'd switched to the lighter upper on my rifle.

To finish things off, we did a bit of shooting back at the 200-yard line. Once everybody had their fill of that, Daniel did a debrief of the class, and everyone packed up and headed out.


This was really a great class. Daniel did an excellent job teaching, and I got a ton out of it. We had a good group of students. There was quite a bit of variety in skill level and experience, but everyone was safe, and even the folks who hadn't previously taken a carbine course came into the class with a solid foundation. Accommodating a wide range of skill levels like this can be challenging. I've been in classes where more advanced students didn't get a whole lot of the instructor's attention. In contrast, Daniel did a great job of emphasizing the basics with the students who were newer to the carbine while helping more experienced students to refine their skills.

One thing I was particularly impressed with is Daniel's ability to gauge how far to push a particular student. He got everyone operating right up at their individual limit but didn't push anyone to the point where it stopped being a learning experience, or they became unsafe. Even within the same two-man team, he was able to push different shooters differing amounts.

The class dove pretty deep into some skills that I haven't spent a lot of time practicing, including rifle malfunction clearance and one-handed rifle shooting. However, I think the real take-home for me was some of the mental aspects of the fight: thinking and communicating under pressure. A lot of this material actually comes from Daniel's "Problem Solver" class. Because we had such a good group of students, we were able to get through the Carbine Vitals curriculum quickly, so Daniel incorporated the problem solver drills here. However, he's evidently got even more stuff up his sleeve when he teaches the problem solver class in a two-day format. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for next time he teaches that course.

Something I need to work on is getting into shooting positions dynamically. I found that during the drills where we were running and stopping to shoot, I often found myself in a less than optimal stance. There are certainly times where we need to shoot from suboptimal stances like this, but I think with some more practice I could get better at landing directly in a good shooting position.

The new upper ran very well. No malfunctions aside from the deliberately induced ones. Towards the end of class I did have a few instances where the trigger didn't want to reset. The lower was pretty dirty (one of the hazards of running a suppressor). Cleaning it out after class seemed to fix the problem.

I'd definitely recommend Carbine Vitals for anyone who wants to advance their carbine skills.

Full Contact Gunfighter with Eric Pfleger

Chris Upchurch

Last weekend I took Full Contact Gunfighter 1 and 2 with Eric Pfleger in Hershey, Pennsylvania. These classes teach a mix of close range shooting, empty hand techniques, knife defense, and offensive use of knives and other contact weapons.

Compared to the amount of time I’ve put into shooting with pistol and rifle, hand to hand stuff has long been a weakness of mine. I took the SI 0-5 foot class several times and did some knife training with Tom Sotis (plus any class I took from Randy Harris always seemed to end up covering grappling and knives at least in passing), so I’m not a total novice. I know enough to know just how little I know. And with what I do know I am horribly out of practice.

Knowing this was a weak spot I’ve been wanting to take a hand to hand focused course from Eric for a long while now. I was never able to make one of his Hand to Hand for CCW courses back when he was with SI, and he’s only taught this sort of thing once or twice in the past five years. When he posted this four-day extravaganza, I jumped on it, even though it was across the country.


Originally, I was just going to bring my usual RMRed G17 to Pennsylvania. However, the fact that the class would include contact distance pistol work got me thinking about bringing my Glock 19X “Roland Special.” One of the characteristics of the Roland Special is a compensator (in my case a Mayhem Syndicate barrel and comp). A common concern about comps is muzzle blast when shooting from retention or other close contact positions. While I had a chance to do some retention shooting in Roger Phillips Fight Focused Handgun III class last month, I thought this class would be a good chance to test that out even more thoroughly. I still brought the G17 as a carry gun and backup for the class.

Since we’d be doing knife work (and because I carry them anyway), I brought a Spyderco Street Beat fixed blade that I carry at about 11 o’clock, just behind my spare mag, and a Spyderco Endura that carries in my right side pocket. At Eric’s encouragement, I bought a trainer version of the Endura. I also brought a couple of NOK rubber training knives and an orange plastic dummy gun.

Pre-Class Travels in Pennsylvania

The class ran Thursday through Sunday, but I decided to take the whole week off and fly out the previous Saturday. This would give me some time to play tourist in Pennsylvania ahead of class.

After I arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, I toured the cruiser USS Olympia, which is moored down on the waterfront. On Sunday, I drove up to Scranton and saw Steamtown National Historic Site. It’s quite the destination for a train nut like me. Then on Tuesday I dove down to Gettysburg and toured the battlefield there. This is an excellent experience (I’d been there before, but that was about thirty years ago). Wednesday I saw Eisenhower National Historic Site, just west of Gettysburg, and drove up to Hershey for the class.

Another student and I got together with Eric and his family that evening for a nice dinner.


I rendezvoused with Eric at his hotel, and we drove a few minutes to the range. Once everyone was assembled, we took care of the waivers and got the medical brief out of the way.

Eric had everyone introduce themselves. Some of the folks in the class were new to me, but others I’d trained with before when I lived on the east coast. All had fairly extensive training histories, so Eric announced that he was planning to deemphasize the handgun portion of the curriculum and spend more time on the hand to hand and contact-weapon focused elements.

Nevertheless, we started with some handgun work. After a quick range safety brief, we started out working some point shooting to the body, followed by a sighted fire shot to the head (much like in Roger’s class a few weeks ago). Eric emphasized that at the sorts of distances that we’d be training in this class, headshots should be a priority. It’s close enough that they’re doable and at these distances, the situation is urgent enough that we want the instant, lights-out fight ender that a central nervous system hit provides.

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We worked some point shooting from compressed positions, initially facing the target, then incorporating turning to engage targets behind us. One thing Eric pointed out that I hadn’t appreciated before is that when you turn to look at a target over your shoulder, your weight will naturally shift to the leg on that side. That flows nicely into pivoting on the ball of that foot as you turn.

Moving on to targets to our right side we did some shooting with the pistol compressed in towards the shoulder in a “chicken wing” position. Eric emphasized that the lack of structural support in this position might cause the pistol not to fully cycle and malfunction unless you have a convulsive grip on it.

Switching over to targets on our support side, we shot cross body. Rather than something like the Center Axis Relock position that we used in Roger’s class, Eric had us work it one-handed as if the other hand was occupied fending off the opponent.

While the issues with targets to the right and left are different, they highlight a common theme in the gun portions of this class. At these sorts of distances, in a confrontation that combines firearms and physical contact, we may not get to shoot optimally. The reality of the fight will likely compromise our shooting position or grip.

Next up, Eric covered drawing a pistol using the support hand. If you’re carrying appendix, you can reach across and draw. With a hip holster, you can reach around behind your back. In either case, you’re probably going to have to start with a very compromised grip and get a better grip on the gun once you have it out of the holster. The idea of doing this in the middle of a grapple when your primary hand is tied up with your opponent seems risky. Much better to have a weapon of some accessible to your support hand: either a backup gun or a knife of some sort. We did this dry first; then once everyone was reasonably comfortable with it, we went live.

Our penultimate handgun topic For today was defending Sul. Sul is a useful, ready position when scanning behind you or moving through an environment with a lot of non-combatants. However, it doesn’t have the muzzle pointed at a potential threat. If a threat emerges suddenly at close range (as you round a corner or turn around to look behind you, for instance), you need to be able to deal with it.

Eric likes treating this as a combined gun and hand to hand problem, rather than just a gun problem. Depending on which direction the threat emerges from, the response will often start with an elbow strike before bringing the gun into play. We practiced dealing with threats from the front, sides, and rear dry, then shot all of them live.

Lastly, Eric talked about contact shooting. If you have your gun in hand when you’re in a clinch or on the ground with an opponent, you may have to shoot with the barrel physically touching the adversary. This can be a problem with semi-autos because if you’re pushing the gun into the adversary with enough force, it can push the barrel out of battery. One way to counteract this is to put your thumb on the back of the slide and hold it in battery when you shoot. You only get one shot, but that may be enough to give you the advantage and let you finish the fight by other means. Eric had us give this a try. This finished up the handgun portion of today’s class.

Moving on to empty hand work, Eric talked a bit about what he was trying to accomplish with the curriculum of this class. We’re going to be covering strikes, blocks, grapples, ground fighting, chokes, joint manipulation, and knives, sticks, and other contact weapons. He’s not able to turn anyone into a complete ninja after just four days. All he can do is provide an introduction to all four of these topics, giving us some solid basics that we can take with us and practice on our own.

Eric started out talking about footwork, including lead (which foot you have forward) and movement. He emphasized the need for fluid movement and a solid base from which to deliver and receive force.

At this point, it started pouring rain. Thankfully, we had a big ramada for overhead cover, but the rain was pounding on it so hard that Eric could barely make himself heard over the noise. Rather than shouting himself hoarse on the first day of class, we took a break for some lunch.

After the rain stopped, Eric moved on to blocking. He covered a few different techniques, including up and down windmill blocks, hubud, and a few others. He emphasized that a block is not just to prevent an incoming strike from hitting you; it’s also an attack on your opponent’s arm (or leg). You’re basically hitting him with the bony outside part of your forearm, or as Eric likes to call it, your natural ASP baton. Since you’re hitting him anyway, you might as well hit him hard.


On top of the hard block itself, Eric also encouraged following up your block by counterstriking or trapping the opponent’s arm. An option he really likes for this is a quick strike to the brachial plexus. Or, if you trap the arm, strike the back of the elbow and break or hyperextend it. If you’re getting the impression that Eric is pretty offensive-minded about this stuff, you’re right.

Moving on to striking proper, Eric covered various strikes delivered using the hands and arms: punches in roundhouse, straight, and uppercut varieties, hammer fists, palm strikes, elbows, eye rakes, and pump handle strikes (an upward strike using the top of the fist). Eric had some padded shields, and one of the students had brought out a BOB target, so we could practice hitting stuff.

One thing Eric emphasized was using strikes to set up other strikes. Hit someone in the balls, and it will tend to bring their head forward where it might make a good target for a follow-up strike. Use an eye rake to turn their head and set up a blow to the jaw hinge. Etc.

For strikes delivered by the feet and legs, Eric taught a selection of kicks, knees, stomps, and heel strikes. We had a chance to work each of these on pads.

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That wrapped up the first day of class. We headed over to a local restaurant for dinner. There was good food, good beer, and some great conversation.


When we reconvened on Friday, Eric started us off with some warm-up live fire. We worked some bursts to the body, headshots, and turns.

The meat of this morning’s live fire was the “Murphy’s t-shirt drill.” Sometimes when you’re drawing from a closed front cover garment, the muzzle of the pistol can catch on your shirt. If the adversary is at close range, you can point shoot through the shirt, then shove the pistol forward through the resulting hole (you may need to assist by grabbing the cover garment with the support hand). It’s possible that the gun will malfunction during this process because the slide gets caught on clothing or a case bounces back into the ejection port, so you need to be prepared for that. Once the gun is through the shirt, you can transfer the pistol to your other hand and get it up to eye level.

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Eric asked everyone to bring an old t-shirt so we could work this drill live. We shot it a couple of times (you can turn the shirt around or use a different spot on the shirt).

Next up was shooting from the ground. Getting knocked on your ass is a significant possibility during a fight. You need to be able to get your gun out and deliver good hits from the ground. One thing to be aware of when practicing this sort of thing is to make sure your bullets don’t go sailing over the berm. Thankfully we had a nice tall berm (more of a hillside, really) so we had some flexibility in this regard. Eric had us simulate kicking the opponent’s ankles as we got the gun out to keep him off of us.

You don’t want to just hang out on the ground if you have a choice, especially if the BG has friends. Eric demonstrated how to get up while keeping the gun on target. We ran the get-up live a couple of times.

With that, we put the guns away. Our topic for the rest of the day would be knife defense.

Eric started by describing the five lines of attack that a knife strike could take. This divides things into slashes from four quadrants (upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left), plus stabbing attacks that come straight in.

Blocking a knife is a bit different than blocking an empty hand strike. With an empty hand strike as long as we block the hard, initial strike, we’re less concerned about it slipping around our block without much force behind it. With a knife strike, if the knife slips around our block, it can do a lot of damage even if it doesn’t have a ton of oomph. The flip side is that with a knife we’re generally less concerned about the attacker’s other hand (when we got to offensive use of the knife on Sunday Eric had a lot of good suggestions for things to do with that other hand, but as the defender, it’s a secondary concern). Against an empty hand strike we might not want to tie up both of our hands blocking one of the opponent’s, but against a knife using both hands to ensure that blade doesn’t slip around our block is a good tradeoff.


All of this is why Eric strongly advocates using an X block (arms crossed about midway up the forearm) to block knife attacks. While he’s a big advocate of keeping things simple and creating consistency across different categories, there are differences between dealing with a knife and dealing with an empty hand threat (sticks and other longer contact weapons throw in yet another set of dynamics). We worked the X blocks against high line and low line knife attacks.

When you’re empty handed against a knife attack you don’t want to just stand there fending off attack after attack. Eventually, you’re going to flub a block, and he’s going to get one through. Instead, you need to do something to change the dynamics of the fight.


One option for this that Eric likes is trapping the opponent’s knife arm to neutralize the threat and going to work with empty hand strikes. Breaking elbows, brachial stuns, throwing elbows or hammer fists, etc.

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If you’re armed (whether with a gun or with your own knife), another option is to break contact long enough to deploy a weapon. The key here is to get enough time and distance to do so without getting stabbed.

With the fundamentals covered and drilled, we spent a good portion of the afternoon working these skills in less structured force on force.

Our last subject of the day was various pressure points. Having Eric demo some of these on you was quite an experience, I can tell you. However, one thing that was very evident was that the effectiveness of a given pressure point can vary quite a bit from person to person. The infraorbital pressure point under the nose is not very effective on me, for instance. If you’re not getting results from a pressure point technique, don’t get fixated on trying to get it to work; move on to something else right away.

After wrapping up, we headed out to dinner. Last night’s meal was good enough that we just went back to the same restaurant. I’ll admit that I pushed pretty hard for this option. While the steak I had on Thursday was pretty good, the bacon wrapped pork chop that some other folks ordered looked great (and it was). We had another evening of fantastic food and fellowship among like-minded individuals.


Rather than starting with live fire like we had the past two days, we dove right into ground fighting. While many fights go to the ground, few of them start there, so we started by learning how to fall. You might not think this is something that requires instruction (“easy as falling off a log”), but there are some nuances to it if we want to maximize our ability to fight once we arrive on the ground.


When falling forward, Eric is a big advocate of training to catch yourself with the back of your forearms rather than the palms. Outside the dojo, the surfaces that we fall on are likely to be unforgiving ones (think asphalt, maybe with some broken glass thrown in for good measure). Skinning the hell out of our palms and fingers is not going to do our ability to fight any good, especially our ability to use tools like guns and knives). Catching myself with my hands is something that’s so natural and that I’ve done for so many years, this is one that’s going to take a lot of training to ingrain (I sense a lot of falling in my future).

If you have enough momentum, there is the possibility of doing a forward roll and ending up on your feet or knees, but more likely if you fall forward you’ll end up on all fours. You want to get turned over on your back or rear as quickly as possible so you can get eyes on your opponent and defend yourself. As you do this, you can tuck one leg across to protect yourself from getting kicked in the crotch and throw up an arm to shield your head.

Falling to the rear we have nice big (sometimes well padded) surfaces to absorb the impact. We can also squat on the way down to lessen the impact. The critical thing is to keep the back of your head from slamming into the ground. Tuck the chin and throw your arms out to arrest your momentum.


On the ground, keep your feet towards the opponent, so you can kick and use your legs to fend him off. You can either roll onto your side and use one leg to maneuver and the other to kick, or stay on your butt and have both legs available for kicking at the cost of somewhat less mobility. We worked falling (onto some mats rather than the gravel surface of the range) and getting from there into a fighting position.


As a general rule, you want to get up as quickly as possible. However, we may be on the ground not just because we were knocked down, but because we took a round to the leg or the opponent stomped our ankle and broke it. If you’re stuck on the ground, you probably want the opponent down there with you if possible. Eric showed a couple of ways for someone on the deck to take down a standing person. All of them essentially involve fixing the foot (trapping the heel if you’re pushing them back, rolling onto the top of the foot if you’re pulling them forward) then using your body weight to push the knee back or pull it forward.


Next up we worked some two on one drills, with one guy on the ground and two trying to maneuver into a position to kick the crap out of him. Two opponents when you’re on the ground really sucks. If you can, the best course of action is going to be to go to guns as quickly as possible. Eric mentioned that part of the reason does these two on one drills is that if you ever have to do this, afterward you can articulate why you shot two “unarmed” guys. “I’ve done this in training, and I’ve experienced the disparity of force that being on the ground against two opponents creates.”

During a bit of a break, Eric did some lecture on the physiological changes the body goes through during a “fight or flight” response and how that affects our performance. He covered how we can mitigate this both before the fight (fitness, nutrition, etc.) and during the fight (breathing).

Getting back to ground fighting, we started working on what to do if the BG gets on top of you. This is kind of a shit sandwich, but the least shitty bite is if you’ve got him between your legs in the guard position. He can still hit you from here, so it’s important to keep your arms up to shield your face and to keep your head off the ground, so it’s not bouncing off the deck with every hit.


In the ring, or in a purely hand to hand confrontation, guys who do a lot of ground fighting generally want to keep their legs wrapped around the opponent to keep them from getting around to the flank. In our case, it’s probably not a purely hand to hand fight. We often want to create enough space that we can access a handgun or knife.


Some of this depends on how big you are compared to your opponent. We can create a bit of distance just by “bridging,” pushing our hips up off the ground while keeping our legs wrapped around the opponent’s midsection or torso. Often this isn’t going to be enough distance to keep him from fouling our draw, however. So another option is to use our legs to shove him back until we’ve got our knees, or better yet, our feet between him and us. This does increase the danger of him getting around our legs and coming at us from the side, so we don’t want to hang out here. Get the gun into action and fill him with 9mm or get the knife out and start filleting.

The shittier bite of the shit sandwich is if rather than being wrapped up between our legs, he’s mounted on top of our torso. This is the classic “ground and pound” position you see in MMA fights, and it’s not a good place to be.


One way to counter this is to shove your hips upward. In past classes, I’ve been taught this in the context of trying to totally buck the opponent off, but Eric pointed out that even if you can’t initially get him all the way off it can be useful to upset his balance and get him down closer to you. This is particularly important if your opponent has more reach than you do (when I was playing the BG, for instance) and from the mount, he can pound you in the face while you can’t reach him. If you can upset his balance even for a moment and force him to put a hand on the ground to stabilize himself, you can snag that arm and haul him down where you can start throwing punches, elbows, and hammer fists.


Once you’ve tenderized him a bit, then you can try to buck him all the way off you. To do this, it’s important to get his legs trapped inside your legs so he can’t just splay them out to stabilize himself. Then thrust your hips up and chuck him off. At that point, you can try to break contact (either to run away or to go to guns) or you can climb onto him and go to work.


While we would be doing more with chokes on Sunday, Eric took a break from the ground fighting to teach us the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint (a blood choke, in other words) because of its usefulness in ground fighting. This is a technique that produces unconsciousness by squeezing the sides of the neck to prevent blood from leaving the head. The body responds to increased blood pressure in the brain by fainting. As with the pressure points, the effectiveness varies from person to person. Eric demoed it on everyone, but he was not really able to get it to work well on me. When it works, it works very quickly, but you need to be prepared to move on to another option immediately if it’s not effective.

After some more practice with the ground fighting work, we moved on to weapon retention. One of the dangers of open carry is an opponent trying to grab a gun out of your holster. However, even carrying concealed a bad guy might make your gun (or try to foul your draw, which presents many of the same problems). If someone attempts to grab your gun, get your hand on top of his and jam the gun down into the holster. You really want to keep it from coming out. Eric pointed out that this is a lot easier to do in the appendix position than if you’re carrying on the hip (carry behind the hip is even worse).

While holding the gun securely in the holster, you can use your other hand to go to work on the opponent, throw elbows, brachial stuns, eye rakes, whatever you can to tenderize him a bit. If he’s grabbed with both hands, you can stick your arm between his arms and saw on one of them with the bony bottom of your forearm to get him down to one hand. Strike the elbow of the arm he’s using for the gun grab to break it down, then turn your body, moving the gun away from him. Either he’ll let go, or you’ll send him sprawling.

The worst situation is carrying on (or behind) the hip and having an opponent attempt a gun grab from the rear. You don’t have nearly as many options for striking, so throw a headbutt and elbows as you drive your body backward.

Moving on to the opposite end of the gun, we worked some drills being held at gunpoint and having to strip the weapon and disarm your opponent. The key enabler here is proximity. Unless that gun is very close (ideally within about a foot of your body) an attempted weapon strip is a losing proposition. If he’s close enough, feign compliance, then do something to distract your opponent. Even a simple question can reset his OODA loop for a moment to give you a chance.


While the details vary depending on whether the opponent is in front of you or behind, all of these disarms begin with getting the gun pointed somewhere other than you. Eric is a fan of combining both diverting the gun and moving your body out of the way. This is only going to last a moment, so you need to go right for that gun.


One difference between what Eric teaches and what I’ve done previously is that rather than being very focused on the gun Eric places a lot more emphasis on upsetting the opponent’s balance as part of the disarm. If you’re on the outside of the opponent’s gun hand (with the back of his hand towards you) bring the gun to your belt buckle and take a big step, pulling him forward and off balance. Then pivot, taking a big step back to turn the gun and his wrist, forcing it in towards his thumb, which is the weak route out of his hand.


If you’re on the inside of the opponent’s gun hand (palm towards you) turning the gun towards the thumb is not a good idea, since that would direct the muzzle right back into you. In this situation, you have to attack the gun more directly. This is more the sort of disarm that I’ve learned in the past: control the wrist and move the gun.

We did a bunch of practice, starting in various positions (opponent in front and behind, gun high and low, even the classic gun against the side of the head hostage position).


That wrapped things up for a day. Rather than going to the same restaurant a third time we hit another, somewhat more distant place that had great prime rib. In the field across from the restaurant, there was a guy giving helicopter rides over Hershey park. A couple of the guys from the class took a ride (to get me on a helicopter you’d either have to offer some spectacular scenery or a chance to to be doing something pretty cool like shooting, fast roping, or riding on the skids of a Little Bird).


On Sunday morning, we got started with some drills that combined empty hand work and live fire. Obviously having a live handgun into a drill that includes hand to hand with a training partner is potentially fraught with peril. Eric mentioned that he was only doing it in this class because he had a switched on group of students that he had confidence in (lacking that, he might run these same drills using airsoft rather than live fire). Even so, as an added safety measure, we ran these drills using an empty chamber (“Israeli carry”). This is obviously not a carry method that Eric would recommend, but in this case, it could simulate something like fixing a failure to cycle that might occur in a compromised, close-quarters shooting position.

For our first drill, the student had to divert and defeat a knife attack, spend 30 seconds wailing on the BOB target to get his heart rate up, then fall onto a mat in front of a target, draw a pistol and shoot from the ground, then get up and deliver a headshot. An extended drill like this really drives home the physical aspects of a close range fight like this. It’s a lot more work than most handgun drills.

After everyone ran this a couple of times (falling both forward and backward onto the mat), Eric switched things up by swapping out the knife attack for being held at gunpoint and having to perform a handgun disarm.

For the culmination of this series of exercises, Eric had us start on the ground with another student mounted on top of us. We had to get him off, then deal with an attack from a guy in a padded red man suit wielding a big foam stick simulating a piece of rebar or other long, contact weapon. We had to get the stick away from him and use it to beat on BOB for 30 seconds, then pick up our ear protection and handgun from the mat and shoot. This was quite the workout.

After these drills, Eric continued a discussion about weapons that one could use in environments where you can’t carry a gun or knife that had started during a break yesterday. Today he brought out some examples of stuff you can get on airplanes and in other similarly secured locations. He showed off a coin purse that makes a nice sap, a carabiner as a knuckle duster, and some long hair clips that his wife wears that she can use as stabbing implements. We’d already talked about canes yesterday and would be picking that back up when we got to stick work this afternoon.

Before that, we moved on to the offensive use of the knife. Thus far, our knife work focused on the defensive end, but sometimes legal restrictions or other obstacles mean that the blade will be our primary means of self-defense. We need to be able to use it to defeat an attacker (or, likely, attackers). The first step in this process is getting the knife out and into action. With my fixed blade, this is pretty quick and easy, clear my cover garment and draw it out, much like drawing a pistol from left-hand appendix. The pocketknife that’s more likely to be my primary in a knife-only environment takes rather longer. Seeing Eric draw some waved Spydercos makes me think maybe I need a waved Delica or Endura.

We spent quite a bit of time practicing accessing. After that, Eric talked about different knife grips and the pros and cons of each. His favorite for general use is a conventional point up, edge out grip. It’s versatile and crosses over to most of the other stuff we use a knife for: cutting food, rope, butchering animals (in Eric’s case anyway). He covered point up, edge in and reverse (point down), edge out grips, but it doesn’t seem like he’s got a ton of use for either. He does like reverse grip, edge in quite a bit, due to its usefulness in dealing with attempted blocks.

Eric covered the five different lines of attack with a knife, which correspond to the five lines of attack we talked about from a knife defense perspective on Friday. They’re downward slashes from the upper right or upper left (#1 and #2), upward slashes from the lower right and lower left (#3 and #4), and straight in stabs (#5, which can either be high line or low line).

With these in place, Eric introduced the 5x5 drill. This is essentially delivering pairs of strikes, cycling through all the different combinations. Throw a #1 followed by another #1, then a #1 and a #2, #1 and #3, and so on, until you’ve worked your way through every possible pairing (like doing the multiplication tables in school). This gets you used to throwing multiple strikes and gives a feel for how they can flow into each other.

Once we had a bit of time with the 5x5 drills, Eric had us start throwing in strikes with the support hand (he also talked about integrating kicks). After everyone worked those for a bit, Eric talked about where to direct our attacks. Specifically what areas to target with the sorts of short knives (3-4” blades) that we generally carry.

In the gun world, we often talk about “shooting to stop” versus “shooting to kill.” With the short knife, there is much more of a distinction, in part because we can’t really deliver the central nervous system hits or heart damage that produces the quickest stops. You can kill someone with these short knives, no question, but it may take him five minutes to bleed to death. We want to end the attack a lot quicker than that.


In order to do this, Eric prefers slashes rather than stabs. With knives this short it’s hard to stab deep enough to get to the really good stuff (especially if you throw stuff like thick winter clothing into the mix). He likes directing those slashes against muscles and tendons that will deny the opponent mobility and the ability to use weapons, like the tendons at the wrist or above the knee, or the muscles of the bicep or glutes. He’s not averse to going for major arteries where they get close enough to the surface to reach with our short knives, like the clavicle, armpits, inside the upper arm, and crotch. He will also deliver slashes to the belly. Spilling somebody’s intestines all over the floor will certainly impede their ability to fight.


Eric briefly covered some stick fighting basics. You can use the same basic lines as you do with knives. There are some special considerations in a stick vs. stick fight to keep from getting your fingers crushed, however, since sticks, canes, and pipes don’t have any sort of handguard. One thing Eric likes is running a stick in the right hand as the primary offensive implement with a knife in the left hand to deal with an opponent who manages to crash through the stick and get inside its swing where it the stick can’t be used very effectively. The knife and stick complement each other nicely. We worked some stick strikes on BOB.

Our last subject of the class was chokes. We’d already covered blood chokes a bit on Saturday. Eric is not a big advocate of airway chokes. Since we may often face situations involving multiple opponents, hanging out with our arms around some guys neck waiting for his air to run out is not a great place to be. A much faster application is “chokes” involving spine compression. Essentially you’re hyperextending the neck, then applying additional force to separate the skull from the spine. This is, obviously, fatal, so safely practicing these is tricky, and they should only be applied in situations where deadly force is justified.

Eric started our discussion of these spine compression techniques by demonstrating a sentry elimination application. You approach from behind, use a hip check and a strike to the neck to get in a position to hyperextend the neck and immobilize his head, piledrive him into the ground, then step through and leverage the skull off the neck. Eric demonstrated the head immobilization and hyperextension of the neck on everyone, then we drilled it very slowly, one step at a time, stopping before the final leveraging of the head.


Eric demoed a couple of other applications of the same principles from other positions that we might end up in in the course of a grapple.

With that, we wrapped things up. Eric handed out the certificates, we got all the training gear packed up, and everyone headed out.

I drove to Philadelphia and got a hotel room near the airport. The next morning I flew back to Wichita and was back at work by lunchtime.


This was a great class, one where I learned a ton of new stuff. When you’ve done a lot of training, it’s easy to become a bit jaded. Obviously, that hasn’t stopped me from taking more classes. However, it is refreshing to train in an area where I’m still very much a beginner.

Taking Full Contact Gunfighter really helped fill a couple of big holes in my fighting skill set, particularly when it comes to empty hand and ground fighting. It also provided an opportunity to train defending against and using the knife, areas where I had some limited experience but had not practiced much in the last 5-6 years.

This brings up the subject of practice. In just four days, Eric covered quite a bit of close range shooting, defending against empty hand attacks, striking and kicking, ground fighting, chokes, defending against knife attacks, ground fighting, using a knife offensively, and a bit of stick work. He did a great job of keeping things as simple as possible and focusing on fundamental principles and widely applicable techniques, but this breadth meant we didn’t get a ton of reps on any one thing. Taking these techniques and practicing them is essential.

I’ve already bought a BOB target to practice my strikes on and use for some knife targeting drills (it should make a nice dry practice target as well. On the knife side of things, I need to work on accessing and deploying my knives and do some of the 5x5 drills (same for stick). Throw in some falls, and I’ll be doing just about everything from this class that can be trained solo. What I really need is a good local training partner, but until I find that, BOB will have to do.

Based on the work we did deploying knives, I’m very happy with how quickly I can access the Street Beat. If I need to get someone off me in a clinch or ground fight, respond to an attempted gun grab, or access a weapon with my left hand because the right is otherwise occupied, it comes out very quickly. The Endura I carry in my pocket, not so much. Getting it out and flipping it open is time-consuming. I’m trying to decide between getting a waved blade or going back to something like a Cold Steel Voyager that I can inertia open (maybe both, for different clothing). I have to say I’m really glad I brought the Endura trainer since it helped make this issue obvious.

The rest of my gear worked very well. The comp on the G19X didn’t cause any issues with the close range shooting we did. NOK trainers were excellent, as usual, as was all of the Dale Fricke kydex.

We had some great weather for this class. It was a bit rainy on Thursday, but we had a ramada to retreat to. The only real downpour came around noon, so we were able to break for lunch and stay under cover. The rest of the days were sunny and clear, but not too hot or humid. Better weather than we had any right to expect in Pennsylvania in June.

Finally, this class was just filled with great students. This included a couple of more experienced guys, who made great demo dummies and training partners, as well as some folks who, like me, were relatively new to much of this material. Eric did a great job of teaching everyone, regardless of skill level. All of the students were quality training partners and did an excellent job of helping their partner learn (unlike some folks in classes like this who are just there to indulge their own egos).

All of the students at the class seemed very happy with Eric as an instructor. There was some discussion of what he might come out and teach next year, and it sounds like there’s some great stuff on tap. I may be heading out to Pennsylvania again.

Shooting in Low Light

Chris Upchurch

Recently I took a Shooting in Low Light class at Range 54, a local indoor range and training facility here in Wichita. This is a single-evening course that covers the basics of shooting in low light situations.

Trigger time in low light is not easy to get, so I try to hit as many low light courses as I can. In this case, my specific motivation for taking this class was to test some new hardware.


I've been setting up a variation on the "Roland Special": a Glock 19 with a compensator, red dot, and weaponlight. The low light applications of a weaponlight are pretty obvious, but the other hardware reason for taking this class was to see what effect the comp had on muzzle flash.

My Roland Special is a Glock 19X with an RMR, a Mayhem Syndicate Compensator, and the Crimson Trace Lightguard LTG-736. The Lightguard is a bit of a compromise. It's very compact and has a frame mounted pressure switch allowing momentary one-handed activation. However, it doesn't have the lumens of some of the larger weaponlights, is not easily removable, and it takes CR2 batteries rather than the more common CR123s.

I went with the Mayhem Syndicate comp because it's nice and compact. On a G19, it's the same length as a G17 slide (as compared to most comps that take a G19 up to G34 length).

One unexpected addition to my gear for this class was the Surefire Stiletto. A fellow student at the Longrifle/Scout Sniper class last week showed me his, and I immediately ordered one off of Amazon. The Stiletto is a is a 650 lumen light that uses a built-in rechargeable battery rather than replaceable batteries. Rather than being cylindrical, it's sort of flattened, making it easy to carry in a pocket. What really got me interested is the switch setup. It has a tail switch and a switch on the side of the light. All the tail switch does is momentarily activate the 650-lumen setting. No locking the light on, no cycling through different modes (you can get a strobe mode by triple tapping and holding, but I basically ignore that). The side button will turn on the light in the 5-lumen task light power (it will cycle through the power settings if you click it multiple times). This is the first light with multiple power settings that I really like the switchology on. The clear separation between "tactical" and "task" lighting is a great setup.


The class was scheduled from 6-8pm and kicked off a little after 6. Greg, the instructor, introduced himself, then had the students talk a bit about their backgrounds.

The first section of the class was dedicated to lecture, starting with the four rules of gun safety. With that taken care of, Greg segued into low light tactics.

The lecture was done in Range 54's very nice classroom facility, rather than on the range. This meant that it could be accompanied by a powerpoint. Unfortunately, I think this ended up detracting from the quality of the lecture. It wasn't very interactive. It also meant that all of the lecture content was done up front (in about the first 40 minutes of the class) before we got out of the range and shot. The lecture was quite the info dump; I think it would have benefited from being broken up into shorter chunks and having some of the more technique focused stuff integrated into the range portion of the class.

Greg covered some of the fundamental principles of shooting in low light, then moved on to the various light techniques. He covered Harries, FBI, Rogers, and neck index techniques. Harries has you holding the light in one hand, gun in the other, with the back of the hands pressed together. Rogers allows you to get somewhat of a support hand grip on your pistol, trapping the light between your index and middle fingers and pulling it to the rear to activate it. The FBI technique is the classic police light technique, with the light held above and to the support side. Neck index involves holding the light against your jaw, linking it to your head position rather than your gun hand.

Greg kind of poo-poohed the neck index, which I find to be one of the most useful flashlight techniques (and didn't cover reverse Harries at all, which I also like quite a bit).

He talked very briefly about point shooting, in the context of pointing in using body mechanics and using your muzzle flash to verify sight alignment for subsequent shots.

Finally, he moved on to a more general discussion of defensive shooting, talking about verbal commands, using cover, and post-fight actions to check for additional threats, injuries, and dealing with responding law enforcement. A particularly good point that he made was that in low light you may want to get much closer to your cover than you would during daylight. When you're using a light, getting closer to cover avoids bouncing light off your cover and illuminating yourself and ruining your vision.

He talked a bit about reloads, both out of battery and in battery (slide lock and proactive reloads). One thing he emphasized was stowing the light before reloading, rather than trying to reload with the flashlight in hand.

We moved out to the range and got started with some dry work, practicing each of the shooting positions. Greg pointed out that with the relatively low ceiling on the range using the FBI technique with your gun up high tended to reflect quite a bit of light back on you. Given that most of my low light shooting experience has been on outdoor ranges, this isn't something I've encountered before.

Getting started with the live fire, we began with pairs from low ready using the Harries, Rogers, and FBI positions. I had a real hard time using the Rogers position with the Stiletto. The tail switch just isn't well set up for that sort of activation. Harries and FBI were no problem, however.

We moved on to incorporating some reloads and basic movement (a sidestep) into the drills. Greg really pushed leaving the light on when sidestepping. I think leaving the light on negates one of the biggest benefits of moving in low light: concealing your position.

While I tried to follow Greg's instructions to stow the light during reloads, most of the time I ended up leaving it in my hand because that's how I've practiced. Due to its flat shape, the Stiletto actually quite good in the hand when reloading. It's much easier to accommodate alongside a magazine than a cylindrical flashlight.

We did a bit of shooting without the light, just using the muzzle flash. For these drills, I brought out a bit of my carry ammo to see how much muzzle flash it generated with the comp. It was fairly minimal. Definitely more prominent than a gun without a comp, but hardly blinding. My practice ammo was definitely a lot more flashy, though.

Moving back to 7 yards, Greg had us start giving some verbal commands ("Stop!", "Drop the weapon!", etc.) during the drills as well. Around this point, he stopped prescribing which flashlight technique to use on each drill and told us to choose what we were most comfortable with (including using a weaponlight if we had one). I had some difficulty reliably activating the Lightguard using the pressure switch, particularly while actually shooting. I definitely need to put in some more practice with it.

Greg dragged some stacked barrels out to the 15-yard line for us to use as cover and had us practice shooting around to either side of them. When he was demoing shooting from the support side, he swapped hands. I'm always up for swapping hands, so when I shot the drill, I did likewise. Since there wasn't any actual instruction on support side shooting, I couldn't help but wonder how educated some of my fellow students' left-hand trigger fingers were. We practiced both standing and kneeling, from both the right and left sides of the barricade.

For the final exercise, Greg moved one of the barricades up to the 5-yard line and had us shoot from the 15-yard barricade, then move up to the 5-yard barricade and shoot from there.

We finished up right at about 8 o'clock. Greg had us to a bit of a debrief afterward, asking us for something we liked about the class and something we didn't like.


This was a worthwhile class for me. The content was pretty basic, but in a 2-hour open enrollment class I wasn't expecting anything like one of Roger Phillips' 4-night extravaganzas. It did a good job covering the fundamentals.

The class definitely taught me some valuable things about my gear. The Stiletto worked quite well. Not really suitable for the Rogers technique, but anything that has your thumb on the tail switch works just fine. The flat shape is great for keeping it in the hand during weapon manipulations. It's also got a ton of lumens. I'm really liking this light.

The Lightguard, on the other hand, does not have a ton of lumens. However, it definitely has enough for target identification at close ranges. I don't know that I'd want to search a darkened warehouse or a big field with it, but for home defense or a close range confrontation in an alleyway or Walmart parking lot, it has enough to acquire and identify your target. However, I definitely need to put some more time into training with it. I sometimes had a hard time keeping the light on as I was shooting. Sometimes I found the light turning off as I moved my finger to the trigger. More dry practice is definitely necessary.

The muzzle flash from the Mayhem Syndicate comp was never blinding, even with my flashy practice ammo. With the carry ammo, it was downright tame. Definitely not the problem that some folks make it out to be.

One piece of gear I had some trouble with was my magazines. When I switched to appendix carry, I also switched from standard length G17 mags to the longer Magpul 21 round mags. For this class, I only brought standard length mags, and I found them difficult to dig out of my appendix mag pouch. Lesson learned, bring some 21 rounders next time.

I think this class was a very good value for my time and money. For a beginner, it does a good job covering the fundamentals, and for a more advanced student, it's a good opportunity to get some low light trigger time and shake out some gear.