A several weekends back I attended SouthNarc’s ECQC course, held over in Council Bluffs, IA.
Obligatory plug: If you are interested in close-quarters practice, solid realistic technique, purposeful directed instruction, and some serious force-on-force practice, you should take ECQC from Craig Douglas. I could go on, but pretty much everyone who has taken his class has raved about it so you don’t need another AAR saying the same things. So, short form: It’s a really good class. If close-quarters is something you are interested in, take it.
So, here’s the real reason for this post: How can you get practice to be realistic without sending people to the hospital? How can people get effective practice in a realistic fashion, when attempting to learn about weapons?
In the class, after one particular evolution in which I shot a couple of guys and then ended up being landed on by two attackers, Craig asked me: “So, why did you draw your gun at [point A] in the scenario? You didn’t point it at the guy, but you drew it. Why didn’t you just hit him? You’ve got all that Hapkido experience—why the gun? Surely you know enough hand-to-hand self-defense?”
At the time, demonstrating that adrenaline and stress indeed makes fools of all us, I blathered out something about the situation, and how I didn’t want to close with a guy bigger than I am because “all that experience” means that I know one good hit can finish everything, and there were two guys—but thinking upon it later, that isn’t REALLY why I didn’t do it. What I said was true—but wasn’t the actual reason. I just couldn’t articulate it at the time.
I was in evolutions in which I could have used physical striking techniques seven different times during that class. I almost never did, however, even though I certainly had plenty of opportunities. Why not?
For two reasons:
1) People were wearing cups, and FIST helmets. That’s it for protection. And I had NO idea of their level of training (or ability to take falls). As such, I could either perform techniques (non-breaking and non-throwing ones) that actually hurt but didn’t damage such as kicks/knees to the thigh or strikes to the solar plexus/abdomen, or strikes to the armored areas (head and groin)—or I could throw those same techniques but pull them so they were on target, but didn’t do damage. (Technically, I could hit any point in between those two extremes, but the effect on my training partners would be either one or the other.)
I didn’t want to hurt my training partners, and I wasn’t sure of the interaction level limits—I’ve been in minimal-padding-but-full-contact sparring sessions that hurt a lot before, but I didn’t think that everyone there had signed up for that sort of thing.
So that pretty much left pulling my techniques—performing them, but pulling them so the person struck knew they’d been hit, but weren’t actually damaged. However, the second reason would make that ineffective…
2) People weren’t reacting realistically. I saw people get louder, mouthier, and then attack in the face of a pointed gun numerous times–and I expect that’s not how reality actually goes, for the most part. Considering also that people did not react to being shot (which does happen in reality sometimes), lighting someone up with 6 rounds then not having to worry about them anymore WASN’T an option. Which ALSO meant that people taking strikes were pretty much ignoring them.
So—why didn’t I simply flatten the first guy in my evolution? Because all that would have happened would be that either I would have hurt the guy, or he’d have ignored my strikes and since I would have closed the distance it would immediately have meant an entangled situation with someone bigger than I was—who had a friend coming along soon. And my gun would have been in my holster, while I was entangled.
And if you can’t hammer on someone in an entangled situation, you have to grapple your way out. As people who’ve tried it know, handling two people larger than you in a grappling-only situation is pretty much a solidly losing proposition.
So how do you have realistic practice at this? How can you practice realistic weapons work ALONG with realistic empty-hand work in scenario training?
- Have everyone wear armor so they can strike full contact? People will just shrug off the impact since they weren’t hurt, and move on. That doesn’t really fix anything other than people will be able to actually strike with power.
- Have everyone just suck it up and take the bruises? There aren’t going to be many people able to do that training for very long—and many people won’t even try. Like I said, I did seven of these events in the ECQC class—I’m pretty sure that given full-contact with no padding, after the second or third event I’d have been unable to continue in any useful fashion. I’m good, but when two people land on you, if they can start whaling away you are in trouble.
- Have people not wear padding, and tell them they all need to react “realistically” to good strikes? …have you ever tried to do that? It is really hard to do, particularly if you have a group of people who have NOT specialized in unarmed combat practice. Most people simply do not know what “realistic” looks like. (And most males vastly overestimate their ability to take hits.)
I should note here that I’m not bagging on SouthNarc’s class—-I really appreciated the way the class was designed and taught. His class was really, really good and I say that as someone who has specialized in teaching for quite a few years, which means I’m REALLY critical of instructors and their teaching methodologies. (I’m also happy to see that what I’ve been teaching in my CQ courses is solidly in accord with the concepts, techniques, and practice of one of the acknowledged experts in the field.)
Each evolution really could be thought of as a series of interactions, not just one event:
- First, the verbal/nonverbal interaction, movement, and positioning,
- Second, the initial assault/attack (by whoever—sometimes it was intelligent for the defender to strike first) and the consequent results of whether or not the weapon could be deployed usefully due to positioning,
- Third, the entanglement that inevitably occurs if the situation continues as the attackers WILL close the distance (you can’t escape or get away) and the defender’s attempts to keep their weapon or render it nonfunctional by anyone else along with keeping themselves alive.
Each evolution is going to get to point three, almost invariably. That isn’t a failure of points one and two—it is just going to happen because the damage is going to be ignored. Points one and two can still be discussed and critiqued on their own. But you ARE going to reach point three.
In my case, if I HAD gone physical with my attacker early on during point 1 (moving myself into point 2), we simply would have reached point 3 much sooner because he would have ignored my strikes and simply grabbed me–and I knew it, and wanted to maintain my distance and weapon advantage.
So how do you fix the “realism” part so that people actually use BOTH their weapons techniques AND their empty-hand practice in a realistic fashion? Or at least get around this particular realism problem?
In a general-enrollment class, I don’t think you can. In some specialized classes with people who understand those parts due to experience, perhaps. But other than that, I think to make it work you would have to have dedicated attackers wearing armor who know how to react realistically—and that just isn’t going to happen in a majority of classes.
So: Craig—there WAS a reason why I didn’t just hit that guy when we did the two-on-one when I was the defender. I didn’t want to accidentally hurt him (I really like sweeping the leg and low kicks, and that probably would have been bad) and I didn’t want to pull my punches just so I could immediately be grabbed and tackled, either.
In real life….? I don’t know. I’ve not been in that situation. I’d like to THINK that I’d have been able to leave the situation prior to that point, but if not—dropping the first guy HARD before the second guy came up would have been a solid option, and for the most part, yes, I do think I am sufficiently trained to manage that.
Even if he was bigger than me. 🙂
Much to consider here. Had someone hit me, they would have lost their hand in my softly armored midsection. Would’ve taken days to find it. :).
Great post and thoughts. The biggest criticism of the H2H system I train is that it isn’t “realistic” because it isn’t against a resisting training partner, the partner gives realistic reactions. But…it solves all the other problems you mentioned.
I still plan on going to an ECQC course when I can swing it, but it won’t be to learn or practice unarmed combat. It will be for the ECQ shooting aspect and combining it with high stress and grappling/simunition. I’ll also learn a lot about positioning in grappling which can set up empty hand injuries if you find yourself in a bad position to start.
Excellent analysis. As a former instructor and role player in firearms-centric FoF scenarios, your words ring true. One way to address the issues you identified would be to have a dedicated cadre of role players in full protective gear and trained to react realistically to student input. Another possible approach would be to do separate blocks/phases within scenarios (but you’d still need trained role players in full protective gear): The Stand-Up Striking Block would start at arms length and end when the instructor deems the students response to have run it’s course. The Clinch/Grapple Block would start right before the clinch. This would reduce the risk that students would become conditioned to skip or abbreviate the striking phase versus going straight to guns or grappling.
Of course, not many trainers are going to have access to the funding to drag cadre of trained role players around, but it sounds as if Craig’s course is a s close as you can get to reality given the constraints.