AAR: FFH III – The Reactive Gunfight May 18-19, 2019

By Chris Upchurch from Gunfighting 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AAR, August 3-5, 2018 – Phoenix, Arizona – Close Quarter Battle – The Study

By Chris Upchurch of Gunfighting 101

 

I recently had a chance to take Close Quarter Battle: The Study from Roger Phillips and Ninpo Student.

I’d taken a CQB class from Roger several years ago up in Las Vegas. He does a great job presenting the material and making the lessons very understandable and applicable for the armed citizen.

Ninpo Student has extensive military experience doing CQB; he’s been in a lot of gunfights over in the sandbox. This experience gives him a wealth of knowledge when it comes to CQB.

I actually first met Ninpo as a fellow student in that CQB class with Roger several years ago. It really says something about him that, despite his vast experience, he was attending a course from a civilian instructor in his area of expertise. That sort of thing is a big part of why I have such great respect for him.

Roger set this course up with both a 3-day and 2-day option. The three-day version had a live fire day on Friday at a local range, with non-shooting CQB instruction on Saturday and Sunday at a local manufacturing facility that was kind enough to host the class. The two-day version just included the non-shooting days. While I would have loved to do the shooting portion as well, I also wanted to minimize the use of my vacation days, so I went for the two-day version.

Gear
As a non-shooting class, this wasn’t nearly as gear-heavy as a lot of courses. I brought a rubber gun (one of the orange Blackhawk Glock trainers) and an extra holster for it.

Since Ninpo would be teaching some long gun stuff, I also wanted to bring a rifle. I actually went through quite a debate about what to bring. I don’t have an AR blue gun so it would have to be a real rifle. However, I was reluctant to consign an expensive rifle, optic, suppressor, and other accessories to the tender mercies of the TSA and airline baggage handlers, especially when I wasn’t even going to do any live fire with it.

In the end, I ended up slapping an Aimpoint T-1 on my simplest (and cheapest) SBR, but foregoing a suppressor or any other accessories. I did get an inexpensive Burris picatinny rail riser so that the T-1 would better match the height of the Leupold in a tall mount on my main fighting rifle.

Given that this rifle was basically going to be used as a glorified blue gun, I almost didn’t bother zeroing the optic or bringing any ammo for it. However, I found myself incapable of bringing a self-defense tool on a trip without setting it up for proper use. So I did a quick zero at the range last week and brought along 90 rounds of ammo for it.

I had intended to bring a Streamlight ProTac Rail Mount 2 that I’ve got set up on a QD mount and move between rifles that don’t have a permanent light setup. Unfortunately, that didn’t make it on to my packing list. Thankfully, Cabela’s is just a few miles from the hotel where I’m staying, so I was able to pick up an identical light and a Magpul offset mount for it.

Friday
I flew out to Arizona on Friday, arriving in the early afternoon. I lived in Phoenix for over 20 years, so the familiar furnace-blast of heat when I walked out the door at Sky Harbor Airport brought back memories.

I made a WalMart run and spent a bit of time looking around at Cabela’s before checking in to my hotel. As I was unloading my stuff, I ran into Roger in the hall and we chatted for a bit. He’d finished up the live-fire day and was just getting back from the range.

That evening I had a chance to have dinner with my cousin and his wife (they live in the Phoenix area). We had some excellent sushi and had a good time catching up after not having seen each other for a while.

Saturday
I ran into Roger and his wife again in the hotel’s breakfast room, and we had a chance to talk a bit as we ate.

The venue for the class was just a few miles down the road. It’s a manufacturing facility divided between some office space and a factory floor-type area. The office space had individual offices around the outer walls with cubicles in the middle. They were doing a production run on Saturday, so the manufacturing area was off limits to us.

Everyone arrived in pretty short order at the 8 o’clock start time. Many of the students in the class were people I’d trained with before in various classes out in Arizona and Nevada. It was great to train with them again.

We got started by signing the usual waivers. Roger and Ninpo talked through the procedures we would be using to ensure there would be no live weapons in the training environment. Most of the students had handgun replicas (either airsoft or rubber guns like the one I’d brought). For those that didn’t, we flagged the chambers using some vinyl tape. To disable long guns we pulled the bolt carrier group, leaving the gun in an unfireable condition.

All of our carry guns were unloaded and stored in a separate room, along with any knives or other weapons. At the start of the day and after people came back from lunch, Roger and Ninpo searched everyone and checked their weapons to make sure there were no live guns. Both of them emphasized the long history of incidents where people had been shot or unintentionally shot others due carelessly violating the separation between the training environment and the carry environment. This happens when either someone brings an operational weapon into what’s supposed to be a dry training environment or when they try to do *one* more training iteration after gearing up for carry.

Roger and Ninpo introduced themselves and talked a bit about their backgrounds and experience. Ninpo emphasized that he wanted us to “keep this stuff off the internet” so I will be circumspect. He served in a role where he trained extensively in CQB work and has multiple combat deployments under his belt where he spent most of his time hitting targets and clearing buildings. This wealth of real-world experience makes him an incredibly good instructor for a class like this.

He’s now in civilian life, and he mentioned that his current boss was giving him some static about outside work (like this class), which is why I’m using his online nome de plume rather than his name in this write-up.

One of the things that Ninpo and Roger emphasized was the difference between theory and practice. Ninpo talked about how much the CQB tactics of the military’s high-level units have changed since 9-11 because some of the pre-war theories did not match up with the conditions (and missions) that they encountered on the battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are hard-won lessons that a lot of guys paid for with their lives.

Roger talked about the four potential missions that a civilian might be trying to accomplish in CQB: barricade in position, search and clear, hunting and engaging, and evade and escape.

Barricade in position is the simplest and easiest to execute. The classic scenario for this is if you hear someone breaking into your house and there isn’t anyone elsewhere in the house that you need to go and protect. You can stay where you are, call 911, and be ready to defend yourself if the intruder comes to you. “Barricade in position” is the politically correct term for this, but the reality is that you’re setting up an ambush. While this is a great situation to be in if you can manage it, it’s not always possible.

For instance, what if you’re not sure there’s been a break-in? You may hear a noise, but it’s not clear that it’s an intruder. If you call 911 every time you hear something in the middle of the night, pretty soon you’re going to be the boy who called wolf. So, sometimes you have to go check things out. There’s no time pressure, you can take as long as you need to search and clear the house, but you need to verify whether or not there’s an intruder (for your own peace of mind if nothing else).

Another situation where barricading in place isn’t possible is if you hear an intruder in your home when there are other people you need to protect elsewhere in the house. If your kids or other loved ones are in danger, you’re not going to just sit there in a defensive position. Hunting and engaging relies on many of the same techniques as search and clear, but at a much faster pace. This is a trade off: it’s much more dangerous, but it gets you to the person you need to protect much faster.

Of course, not every CQB situation is a “bump in the night” scenario. You may be caught in an active shooter or similar situation where your objective is to get out. Evade and escape relies on the same fundamentals as search and clear and hunting and engaging, but the application is a bit different.

Roger talked a bit about the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) and the reactionary curve. A lot of the point shooting material that Roger is known for teaching are skills for situations where an opponent has the drop on you, and you’re behind the reactionary curve. This is a very sub-optimal situation and responding to it effectively requires some compromises. CQB is a much more proactive environment (though there may be moments when you’re in a reactive situation). A big emphasis in this class was in making sure we got away from those reactive skills and used a proactive skill set optimized for accurate, offensive shooting.

The most likely place an armed citizen will have to utilize these skills is in their own home. One advantage here is that we can “prepare the battlefield” to make things easier for us if we have to clear our own house. We talked some about stuff like -putting up mirrors to make it easier to clear difficult locations, using night lights to back light someone approaching your bedroom, and keeping certain doors closed to make clearing problems easier.

Ninpo emphasized the need to ask yourself, “Is there anything in this room worth dying for?” If your kid is in that room screaming bloody murder, then yes, that’s worth risking your life for. But if that’s not the case, once you’ve verified that there is a threat in that room, deciding not to push through that door and take on that adversary is a perfectly valid decision. In the civilian context, that might mean pulling back to a safer location and dialing 911. On the military side, if they encountered heavy opposition and didn’t have a compelling reason to fight it out (hostages to rescue, etc.), they’d often pull back and bomb the building.

Ninpo also talked a bit about speed (something that would come up repeatedly throughout the class). There’s a tendency to do everything at “hostage rescue” speed. But if you don’t have hostages to rush and save, there’s no reason to go that fast. He said a lot of guys died early on in Iraq and Afghanistan because of this. As he’s fond of putting it, “I can’t fight faster than I can process the environment.” If you move too quickly, you’re in danger of “outrunning your headlights.”

As an aside, Ninpo noted that while we tend to conflate CQB with “fighting in a structure,” technically the military regards any fight at ranges of less than 50 meters as CQB. A lot of outdoor fights (especially in terrain that restricts visibility like jungle or tight urban areas outside of buildings) take place at under 50 meters. On the flip side, fights inside structures can sometimes involve considerably greater distances. He once used a laser rangefinder to measure one of the main aisles at WalMart at 227 meters (he did this to make a point to a SWAT team he was helping train about the need for a zero that could accommodate longer shots). His preferred term for what we’re doing in this class is Fighting In Someones’ House or FISHing.

While some folks had a chance to do live fire on Friday others in the class (including me) had not, so Roger and Ninpo did some review. Roger talked through the locked wrist handgun grip. It’s been discussed quite a bit on Paragon Pride, so I won’t repeat it here. However, there was one element that was new to me (I gather this was something Ninpo introduced Roger to on Friday): torquing the hands together like you’re trying to pinch the top of the frame. Basically, you apply counterclockwise pressure with your right hand and clockwise pressure with your left hand, trapping the gun between them. This has the effect of rotating your elbows out. I’ve heard the debate between “elbows out” and “elbows down” when shooting isosceles before, but the way Ninpo described it, the elbow position is a side effect of applying this pressure to the top of the frame.

Ninpo demonstrated his preferred carbine stance: squared up to the target, stock mounted under the dominant eye, aggressive forward lean with the strong side leg back to direct recoil energy into the ground. As with the handgun grip, there’s an excellent thread on Paragon Pride describing this in a lot more detail. One thing Ninpo emphasized for this class is that your foot position may not always be optimal. You may be moving, or you may stop to engage with the “wrong” leg back. That’s okay. Better to start shooting when you can rather than waiting to assume the “perfect” stance. But once you’ve started shooting, if it looks like this is going to be a more prolonged engagement, you might take a step forward (or back, depending on the situation) to get in that optimal stance.

Ninpo talked a little about ready positions, both the high ready and the low ready. One thing he noted is that people tend to tense up when searching for BGs. They crouch down, grip the gun very hard, try to maintain a hardcore shooting stance the entire time. If you’re doing a slow, methodical search and clear this way, you’ll wear yourself out clearing the first room. Keep the gun up, but hold it more loosely and stand upright rather than crouching down. When the time comes to shoot, *then* you drive the gun into your optimal shooting position.

After a break, we started talking about corners. The corner is the building block of CQB. Almost every problem can be described as a combination of one or more corners and the same basics principles apply to all of them. Roger and Ninpo broke out the whiteboard markers and diagrammed out how you do an angular search of a corner.

Ninpo emphasized that when talking a corner, your movement should be continuous. When you’re doing a deliberate search, it may be very veeery slow, but you shouldn’t come to a complete stop. Part of this is psychological. If you stop and lose momentum during CQB, it can be difficult to get yourself started again.

He also stressed that you should expect a potential target in every danger area. You should never just be going through the motions and looking (and pointing your gun) at a danger area not expecting a threat to be there.

The flip side of this is proper target identification, and it’s something that Ninpo really emphasized. Most of the folks in this class lived in jurisdictions that are pretty permissive when it comes to home defense, but just because you can legally shoot someone doesn’t mean you should.

In the home defense context, Ninpo divided up intruders into three categories: daytime burglars plying their trade, inebriated or mentally altered neighbors blundering into the wrong house, and those who invade a home not caring or even wanting to do so when someone is at home. Intruders in the first two categories usually don’t need to be shot, while those in the third category need to be shot as soon as possible. The hard part is distinguishing between them.

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We moved out into the office area, and Ninpo and Roger demonstrated how to take a corner using an L-shaped hallway as an example. The basics were familiar: a slow, deliberate angular search, exposing as little as possible, staying as far from the corner as terrain allows, to see as much as you can before you get to the decision point where you have to commit to taking the corner. Ninpo had a couple of refinements that were new to me: one was turning in the toe of your lead foot, to make it less likely that a stray toe will be the first thing to give you away.

If you see something, some sign of an adversary, you have to make a decision whether you’re going to proceed around this corner or pull back. This gets back to your mission. If you’re searching your home for the source of a suspicious noise and everyone you need to protect is someplace safe, once you verify that there is, in fact, an intruder, pulling back to a good defensive position and calling the police to come and deal with the intruder is a perfectly valid choice. On the flip side, if this intruder is between you and your loved ones, the need to push forward and deal with him is much greater. You have to ask yourself, “Is there anything in this room worth dying for?” Sometimes the answer is yes.

Ninpo really made a point of accelerating through the area of greatest danger (as you actually round the corner) then slowing back down once you’ve bought and paid for that danger space. This theme of shifting gears, slow-fast-slow, was one that would come up again and again throughout the class. Most folks didn’t have any trouble with the “slow-fast” transition. The transition from fast back to slow, on the other hand, did not always go so smoothly. Once you start going fast and you want to keep going fast. Roger or Ninpo calling for the student to, “Stand up. Relax.”, was a fixture after almost every drill.

Ninpo noted that slowing down after clearing the danger zone applies even if you encounter an adversary around that corner. In fact, it may be even more important. You don’t want to run right up into the guy. Slow down, even stop if necessary until you’ve dealt with the adversary. This is an area where this sort of movement is different from busting off the X. We’re moving to clear a dangerous area and get to where we need to be to fight most effectively. We may be shooting as we do this, but the goal is to get out of the danger area or get to our desired fighting position.

He also pointed out how, even in training, this sort of thing is very stressful (I can only imagine how stressful it is in combat). Stress is uncomfortable, and our natural reaction to uncomfortable situations is to get them over as fast as possible. That’s a big part of what keeps pushing us to go faster and faster.

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Roger and Ninpo talked about how to shoot during controlled movement. In contrast to dynamic movement where you adapt your shooting to your movement, this is all about adapting your movement to provide a good shooting platform. Lower your center of gravity, take smaller steps, and roll the feet from the heel to the toe (the classic “Groucho” walk).

Ninpo mentioned that in combat he did very little shooting from the support side. They did quite a bit of it during training (around 40% of their practice was from the support side), but it rarely came up in the type of fighting that they were doing. While he would switch sides if he was posting up on a “wrong handed” piece of cover or concealment, he would not swap shoulders when moving or pieing a corner.

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We split into two groups, with Roger taking half the students and Ninpo taking the other half. Everyone had a chance to work both right-handed and left-handed corners.

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It took a while for some students to get the hang of exposing as little of themselves as possible while they conducted their angular search. It’s very easy to let your elbow, shoulder, foot, or even your toe become visible to the adversary before your eye gets far enough around the corner to see him.

Next up we started working T-intersections. A T-intersection is just a pair of corners, and the same principles of working a corner apply. The complicating factor is that you need to work two corners simultaneously. Since we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, that means picking one side of the T and working it while not exposing ourselves to the other side, then switching to the other side of the hall and taking a bite off of that side of the T. You alternate sides until you’ve seen everything you can see without exposing yourself to the other side of the T.

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When you get to that point, you have to pick a side and commit to it. If you haven’t seen an opponent yet, this is something of a guess. However, we can make it an educated guess. Based on the architecture of the building, which direction is the larger space? Based on the scenario, where would your adversary be coming from or where would they be hiding? If it’s still a coin flip, think about which direction you intend to continue your search in and make your initial movement in the opposite direction (this minimizes the number of times you’ll have to recross the stem of the T).

As with the L shaped hallway, you want to accelerate through the corner then slow down so you can see and engage any adversaries. If there’s no one there, immediately, turn 180 degrees and check for threats in the other direction as you cross the hallway that forms the stem of the T.

When doing that 180 turn, Ninpo demonstrated that it’s easier and more controllable to drop the gun down to Sul as you turn and bring it up when you’re facing in the new direction. Similarly, Roger demonstrated that with a handgun it’s most efficient to bring the gun into a compressed ready, turn, and drive the gun out (similar to count 4 of a 4-count draw-stroke) once you’re facing the new direction.

Again, we broke into two groups and worked the T-intersections. The most common issues related to taking too big of a “bite” and exposing themselves to an area on the other side of the T that they hadn’t cleared. The thing you expose this way is most often the muzzle of your gun so it can be mitigated by retracting the gun in to some sort of retention position, or just by taking smaller bites.

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Ninpo mentioned that operating as an individual, he would prefer to fight out of rooms, using hallways only to move between them. This is because he can only look one direction at a time and once he’s cleared a room, he can direct that focus toward the doorway rather than dividing it among multiple areas of potential threat. As part of a team, he’d prefer to fight from the hallways, only entering rooms as necessary to clear them, because a team can cover multiple directions and lock down a big chunk of a building by covering the hallways.

We took a break for a (late) lunch. After everyone ate, we moved on to dealing with open doors. Again, a door is just a pair of corners, like a T-intersection. However, they’re a special case because the way you work a door is influenced by the geography of the room beyond, and it’s going to be a narrower opening for you to work (there’s also the fact that the door may be closed, but we weren’t even getting into closed doors yet).

Coming to an open door, you want to see as much as possible from the outside, so you do an angular search, the same way you would any corner. Some previous classes that I’ve taken emphasized doing a very complete angular search, up to a full 180 if the terrain allowed it, so you can see as much as possible of the room beyond. Ninpo’s take on this was that if you’re working a door off of a hallway, usually there’s a part of that hallway that you haven’t searched, from which an adversary may emerge. When doing his angular search, he doesn’t want to swing around far enough that he has his back to this unknown threat. The point at which he decides he’s seen all he can and needs to either make entry or back off may be dictated by when he can no longer keep the unsearched portion of the hallway in his peripheral vision. So the way you handle a door is dictated both by the geography of the interior of the room and the geography outside that room.

Once you’ve seen all you can see, you have to decide whether or not you’re going to enter. Again, Ninpo emphasized, “Is there anything in this room worthy dying for?”

As with any corner, you want to accelerate quickly through the corner itself, then slow down. A door is a bit different because the aperture is generally narrower (we were working in a commercial building with 36” doors, but many residential interior doors are going to be narrower: 30” or even 24”).

Once you’re through the door you want to move towards the area of greatest unknown danger; usually a corner of the room that would weren’t able to see during your angular search. The rooms that we were working with were all corner fed rooms (meaning the door was next to a corner of the room rather than being in the middle of the wall). In a corner fed room there’s usually only one corner that you couldn’t get a look at during your angular search.

Unfortunately, the width of the door may mean you can’t take the angle going through it that you’d really like without the risk of bouncing off the door frame and throwing off your entry. If you need to radically change your angle of movement as you go through the door, Ninpo’s preferred solution is the doorjamb takeoff. You can plant your foot up against the door jam and drive off that leg to change your direction of travel.

Sometimes you don’t need to change the angle your angle of travel that much, you just need to take a sharper angle than the door allows. Ninpo showed a nice technique for sidestepping through a door like this that gets you through a narrow opening quickly, without losing your momentum.

Ninpo noted that when clearing a room against a prepared defender, our only real advantage is that we’re the ones initiating the action. We get to choose when we go. While it may not come as a complete surprise to our opponent, they are at least reacting to us rather than the other way around. Since that split second of reaction time is our biggest advantage, it’s particularly important not to allow your muzzle to precede you into the room. If you’re using a pistol, retract it into a compressed ready or even come all the way back to Sul. With a rifle Ninpo showed the short stock technique: you rotate the rifle 90 degrees to lay it flat across your chest (much like going to Sul) while you retract the rifle, pulling the stock up above your shoulder. This allows you to get the rifle in very close to your body, yet mount it very quickly (and even start point shooting before you have it fully mounted if necessary). He mentioned that this is one of the ready positions he puts a lot of practice into mounting and shooting from when he’s at the range.

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We split up into two groups and worked some of these skills. In Roger’s group, one of the things we noticed was that when he was demonstrating, several times he switched hands or went one-handed despite his intent to stick with a strong side, two-handed grip in this class. It just goes to show how ingrained some of these skills can be.

Doing doors naturally segued into a bit of work clearing the room beyond. Ninpo talked a bit about clearing underneath or behind stuff like the office furniture we had in these rooms. He talked about what the priority would be and where he would look for a hidden opponent first.

As we were doing this, JeffC, who has taken many of Roger’s classes, dropped by. He couldn’t make the entire class, but he drove all the way up from Tucson just to hang out with everyone for a little bit.

Moving on to closed doors, Ninpo talked about different approaches depending on your mission. If you’re doing a methodical search and clear and have plenty of time, the best approach is often to throw the door open (calibrating the amount of force you use so that it will stay open, which is an art in and of itself) and pull back rapidly. If the open door reveals a part of the room with an adversary in it, then you have to deal with that. If it doesn’t directly reveal an adversary, you wait, and wait, and wait. By opening the door, you’ve made your presence pretty obvious to anyone in the room. Again, if we’re the ones going in to seek out our opponent, our only real advantage is that we get to decide when to initiate the action. Give them time to get nervous, get distracted, let their guard down: five minutes, ten minutes, even longer. Then come through that door quickly and with no warning. The ability to choose when we initiate the action is a slim reed indeed, but we need to maximize that advantage any way we can.

Of course, in the training environment, we don’t want to spend five or ten minutes waiting in every drill, but we did pull back and build in a pause to simulate that wait.

The flip side is if your mission is to go rescue your loved ones or escape an active shooter you’re not going to sit there and wait for five or ten minutes. With time pressure like that you need to bust through that door the moment it opens and deal with what you find on the other side.

Entering rooms segued naturally into how you want to come out of a room when you’re ready to move back into the hallway. Even though we came down that hallway, we still need to check both directions since we’ve taken our eyes off of it. We can’t just assume that it’s safe. This means it’s basically a T- intersection. The way Ninpo advocated doing this was actually to leave the room opposite your intended direction of travel. If the next area you need to search is down the hall to the right, come out and quickly clear the left, then turn around to clear the right and continue in that direction.

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As we practiced this, again we noticed people moving faster and faster when they shouldn’t. They accelerated through the door then never slowed back down to as they continued clearing. Changing gears like this is very, very hard. When Roger asked about ways to practice this, Ninpo mentioned stuff like the transition between rapidly shooting a torso target and slowing down for a headshot, or doing a rifle to pistol transition at a distance where you have to shoot much slower with the pistol than you could with a rifle.

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Roger exiting a door. I had my camera pointed in with my finger on the shutter release and he was still able to get out the door and get pointed in before I could “shoot”.

Having gone about an hour past the scheduled end of class, Roger and Ninpo called it for the day. A few folks had to head straight home, but most of us headed over to a local restaurant for a nice dinner and some great fellowship with like-minded folks. Having been a while since I’d seen a lot of these people, it was a great opportunity to catch up with them.

Sunday
We convened again on Sunday morning. After disarming and switching over to our training guns, Roger and Ninpo asked for any questions about the material we’d covered the day before.

One of the questions was about flashlights, and Ninpo talked about his preference for very bright, high lumen tactical lights (especially rifle mounted lights). High lumen, in this case, being a minimum of 500 lumens, with 1000 or more being better. There are people out there who say this is too bright, but Ninpo thinks that used properly they’re very effective. This lead to the obvious follow-up, what’s the proper technique with a light that bright? So we all crowded into the restroom for a demonstration.

Ninpo showed how he would use a light to illuminate that space. Rather than hosing the area he’s interested in down with direct illumination, he relied on lots of indirect illumination, bouncing light off the floor, ceiling, walls, and (since this was a restroom) mirrors. This not only made good use of all those lumens, the shadows this creates can allow you to see around corners to a certain degree as well as helping conceal your position.

The restroom also had a small closet full of cleaning supplies which Ninpo took advantage of to show how he’d clear that sort of space. This lead to some discussion of the ready position he used to retract the rifle so he could reach the doorknob. He angled the muzzle up with the stock buried quite deeply underneath his armpit. As with the short stock position we discussed on Saturday, Ninpo mentioned this is another ready position he does a lot of practice shooting from.

Since the restrooms had self-closing doors, we moved on to practicing with those. They’re a real pain in the ass, but the principles are similar to any other door. Because you can’t open them and have them stay open, you have to fling them open then scan as much as you can as they swing shut. In this case, you’re not just looking for an adversary, you’re also trying to get the lay of the land of the room on the other side, so you can have a plan when you go through. As with opening a closed door, you wait (making maximum use of the advantage of initiating the action). After five or ten minutes you fling the door open and bust through, dealing with whatever you find on the other side.

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We broke up into the two groups and did some practice with the self-closing doors. Self-closers are definitely a real pain to deal with. Along with issues with the doors themselves, when coming back out, we continued to see students failing to slow down and relax after they cleared the door.

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When we were practicing room exits on Saturday, Roger noted that we generally weren’t including the quick peek in the opposite direction that Ninpo included when he came out of a room. He asked Ninpo to demonstrate this. Ninpo showed just a quick glance over his shoulder as he cleared the door frame; not really enough to assess a potential threat, but enough to see if there’s something there that needs a more thorough assessment. If there is someone there, he’ll short circuit his check of the original direction, do a quick 180 and address the potential target he spotted to the rear.

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All of our practice to this point had involved one obstacle at a time. We moved on to some practice clearing multiple rooms along a hallway in a row. If the rooms are widely separated, this isn’t much different from clearing a single room. However, if the doors are close together, the combination makes it a more complex problem. It forces you to divide your attention between the room you’re working and keeping an eye on the next room and limits how much of the first room you can get a look at during your angular search before you have to commit.

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Ninpo did some demos, and we spent some time searching multiple rooms, starting with all the doors open, the moving on to having all of the doors closed. With multiple rooms, having the doors closed can actually simplify things because it allows you to isolate one problem at a time. While we were doing the multiple room drills, we also practiced using the quick peek when coming out.

Even more than clearing individual rooms, these drills highlighted people’s tendencies to get faster and faster as they searched. They started out at a nice slow, relaxed pace for the first room, then went a bit faster coming out of that room, even faster in the second room, and faster still coming out of the second room and heading to the third. “Slow down, relax.”

Since the rooms we were clearing were all offices, one thing that came up was how to search under a desk effectively. Ninpo noted that desk surface generally isn’t going to stop a bullet, so you don’t necessarily need to get the rifle clear of the desk. If you see (and positively identify) an adversary under a desk who needs to be shot, you can start lighting him up through the desk itself.

We took a break for lunch. While we were eating, there was some great discussion about related topics, like what you can do to your house to make it less likely to be selected by criminals and easier for you to fight in. Ninpo also had some good recommendations on books about the criminal mindset and psychology.

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Thus far all of the rooms we had been working were corner-fed (the door was near one corner of the room), primarily because in this building center-fed rooms were in much shorter supply. We did have one, however, and after lunch, Ninpo did some demonstrations of clearing a center-fed room. We then had the opportunity to try it for ourselves.

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Roger and Ninpo talked a bit about 2-man teams. Having more than one person makes many CQB problems much, much easier because you can address two danger areas simultaneously. This can be as simple as having a partner to keep an eye out to the rear as you move down a hallway up to being able to address both sides of a T-intersection or center-fed room simultaneously. Even when there’s only one threat, having multiple team members means that adversary has to deal with multiple problems while you and your teammate can fill him in twice as fast.

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While I’ve done some 2-man CQB before, Ninpo demonstrated a pair of techniques that were new to me: the skid and the slide. Both are ways for two guys to take a corner or door simultaneously, rather than sequentially. In the skid, the #1 man takes the inside of the corner and slows down for a moment to let the #2 guy step around him and take the outside. In the slide, the #1 man steps to the outside, opening up a space for the #2 man on the inside.

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Ninpo and Roger also demonstrated how to move down a hallway and clear a T-intersection with a 2-man team. We had a nice broad hallway to demo with so rather than stacking up they moved down it side by side, allowing them to get two guns on the threat. They also showed how one team member can serve as the tailgunner if you have a potential threat area to the rear.

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We had a chance to pair up and practice some of the 2-man team CQB. One of the things that came up repeatedly was a gap developing between teammates. Ninpo emphasized that in this context was continuous physical contact between teammates was critical. This could be a hand on the shoulder if the guy in front of you in the stack, moving shoulder to shoulder if you’re side by side, etc. It’s crucial because the sudden lack of that contact is a signal to the #1 man that he’s either going too fast or the #2 guy had to stop and address a potential threat.

MichaelR and I were practicing using the skid and slide techniques to get around an L-shaped corner. We had run the skid several times (where the #1 man cuts inside while the #2 goes wide) with me as the #2 man. When we swapped roles, I decided that we’d try out the slide (#1 man goes wide leaving a space for the #2 man on the inside). Ninpo had said that the #2 man should be able to pick up which technique the #1 guy is doing and accommodate, so I didn’t bother to discuss this change beforehand. In this case, Michael did not pick it up, and we both tried to go to the outside, which basically ended up with me body checking him into the wall.

Ninpo thought this was about the most hilarious thing he’d ever seen. He also decided that maybe we weren’t quite at the level where the #2 guy could just roll with it, so for the rest of the drill our SOP would be that if the #1 man went muzzle up, he was doing the slide and if he went muzzle down, it would be a skid.

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After everyone had a chance to do a few reps (which did not involve anyone getting slammed into the wall), we moved on to doing 2-man room entries. This is where the slide entry really comes into its own. It basically allows you to get two people into the room almost simultaneously even through a doorway too narrow for them to enter side by side. It has some real advantages over the traditional sequential entry.

Once you’re through the door, one guy goes one direction while the second guy goes the other way. The ability to cover two separate sectors like this makes room entries far easier with a two-man team than solo. Ninpo noted that experiences in Iraq have lead to a shift in how deeply to move into the room. Insurgents were sucking guys in deep then blowing up the room (or the entire building). The response has been not to penetrate as deeply into the room to make it easier to pull back if necessary. This doesn’t mean fighting from the door, but as a general rule, it means not getting more than halfway down the left and right side walls of the room, even with a 4-man team.

Everyone had a chance to practice a few 2-man room entries before Roger and Ninpo called an end to the class. Roger handed out the certificates, and we all packed up and reluctantly went our separate ways.

I headed over to a new hotel nearer the airport for Sunday night. On the way, I stopped at a nice local Italian restaurant for dinner. Monday morning I returned my rental car and headed to the airport for my flight back home.

Conclusions
This was a fantastic class. Ninpo is a veritable fountain of information about CQB, and I picked up more stuff from this class than I have in a long time. Roger let Ninpo take the starring role for this course, but I don’t want to sell him short either. He’s the one who really provided the overall structure to the class, and his excellent coaching skills really came to the fore when we broke up into groups to practice these skills.

While I’ve taken (and even taught) CQB classes before, as I’ve broadened my horizons and trained with a more diverse group of instructors my thinking on some of this stuff has evolved. This class has definitely contributed to that.

Probably the most significant change that this course has me contemplating is when (and why) to switch hands/shoulders during CQB. I’d been moving in the direction of not swapping sides as often after some training with other instructors. This course has accelerated that process; after seeing how Ninpo runs this stuff he has me converted most of the way over to his way of doing things.

The other big lesson from this class was the need to slow down and relax. This is something that came up again and again during class. Going too fast will get you killed. Trying to stay tensed up in a hardcore shooting position the whole way through a search and clear is going to wear you out very quickly. The ability to shift gears, slow down, and relax is as critical a skill for CQB as taking a corner or making a room entry.

The corollary to this, since you’re not going to be in a shooting position the entire time, is the need to practice going to a shooting position from ready positions: contact ready, compressed high ready, Sul, and short stock ready for a rifle; contact ready, compressed contact ready, high ready, and Sul for a pistol. Start relaxed in these positions and practice driving quickly into a proper shooting stance.

In addition to these larger points, this class also provided a ton of small refinements to my CQB technique. The aforementioned short stock ready position, the way Ninpo uses doorjamb takeoffs getting into (and out of) rooms, the side slip room entry, the quick peek on exiting a room. Even tiny things like keeping the toe pointed in towards the apex of the corner so it’s less likely to be the first thing your adversary sees.

One that I did not get a chance to put into practice since I didn’t attend the live fire day was the torquing the hands inward as part of the handgun shooting grip. I need to make a trip to the range to try that out.

We also had a great group of students in this class. Many of them were folks I’d trained with before, but some were new to me. All of them asked good questions, did well practicing the skills we were learning, and served as good training partners in the 2-man team drills. They’re all great folks, and the class was a nice opportunity for fellowship with like-minded individuals.

I would highly recommend anything that Roger or Ninpo Student teach, and especially anything that they teach together. Particularly when it comes to CQB, Ninpo has a vast wealth of useful information, and I feel like this class only scratched the surface. I definitely hope that he and Roger continue to teach more classes along these lines.