SouthNarc ECQC, realism, and effective practice…

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  🙂

9mm vs .45 — which really IS better?

Yes, I’m diving into the “9mm vs .45” war.  No, I don’t care that you have a preference.  (I don’t care in that it doesn’t matter to me, though obviously it should matter to you.)  Yes, I realize that many people will immediately hate me no matter what I’m going to say next.

Before I jump in, though, here’s my question to you:  Do you know what current research says about ballistic effectiveness when comparing modern self-defense rounds between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP?

If the answer is “No” then your opinion is useless, whether it happens to be right or wrong.  You see, here’s the deal:  Your ignorant opinion (ignorance:  lack of knowledge, which is not the same as stupidity) is simply not as valid as someone else’s knowledgeable opinion.  This doesn’t mean that you might not be right, and the other person can’t be wrong—but it DOES mean that if you start by saying “Well, I don’t know much about it, but I think…” —-then the rest of your sentence really should be— “….that I should shut up and learn about the subject before I express my opinion.”  If you happen to be right in your opinion, it is purely due to luck, since you have already admitted you don’t know what you are talking about.

Do you have a caliber preference in terms of self-defense round?  Probably.  Is that preference based on “feel,” personal expectations, personal experience, opinions heard on the internet, opinions heard from friends, or wide-scale research data?

Because while you are welcome to go with whatever your preference is, the only reason list above that is valid for reliable results is the last one—wide-scale research data.  How it “feels” doesn’t tell you anything.  Personal expectations based on what?   Personal experience—well, once you’ve shot 1000 people with varying rounds for comparison purposes, get back to me.  Opinions heard on the internet or from friends?  Please.  I’ve heard people advocating disassembling a handgun one-handed and putting the parts in a bag on the dashboard while coming to a stop on the highway when pulled over by the state patrol in order to make the LEO more comfortable with the firearm.

(No, I’m not kidding about that.  I wish I was.)

So why should you listen to my opinion?  Because I’m right?  How about because I’m telling you not to take my opinion as gospel, and instead telling you to look at what the research says, and what it means.



I realize that is actually considered sacrilege to the “.45acp is God’s Own Round” crowd and the “9mm capacity makes all the difference” crowd and the “.40 is the best of both worlds” crowd.  (Not to mention what the 10mm Manly Man are like on this topic.)  And yet—opinions based on lack of fact mean nothing.

Oh, good lord, I forgot the .357Sig fanatics.  Yeah, them too.


I’m bringing this up because I have a friend who carries a Glock 30 in .45acp all the time.   He likes to shoot IDPA matches, but realizes that particular gun is non-optimal for the IDPA game for all that IDPA touts itself as being for “real concealed carry” training.  In SSP or CDP he is at a “compact gun” disadvantage, and in SSP he is at a serious recoil disadvantage.

He asked me about switching to a 9mm for IDPA, and I asked him (since I knew he carried his G30) if he wanted IDPA to be for trigger time with his carry gun, or instead wanted to work on winning matches.  After all, while trigger time is always good, the grip on a full-size 9mm Glock is different from the grip on a G30, and if he wanted to work with both, it was going to take even more practice.  So, did he want to mazimize his SD practice and also play at IDPA, or did he want to practice with two guns, work on SD, and work on IDPA at the same time?  He decided that was really the question, and started thinking about it.

(I realize that at this time, the people who carry 5 different guns and rotate them out weekly or have the “you should be able to handle EVERY gun!” attitude will be wondering why this is a problem.  For you folks, never mind.)

Back to what my friend was thinking about:  When I thought about it, I really wondered if that really was the right question.  What if, instead, the real question is:  are you completely wedded to the idea of a .45acp for self-defense?

You know what current research says about modern self-defense rounds in 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP?  It says that 1) all are marginal in effectiveness, 2) reliable physiological stops only occur due to disruption of the central nervous system (CNS), 3) those calibers work equally well (or rather, equally badly) for shots placed in the CNS, and 4) all calibers (including .22) work equally well for psychological stops.  Oh:  5) Heavier bullets (in pistols) work slightly better to defeat intermediate barriers, if your lifestyle happens to be such that you often have to shoot through doors and windshields.

(How many .45/.40 folks just said, “Well yeah, see, mine is better” I wonder?)

How often DO you want to be able to shoot through intermediate barriers?  (Unless you have a job that potentially requires it, of course.)  Don’t people who think about normal citizen self-defense usually worry about the exact opposite?

So here’s the thing:  unless you have a job that requires you to have slightly better than pretty bad barrier penetration, there is no effective difference between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP.  For physiological stops, they are all very bad unless you get a precise CNS hit, whereupon they all work equally well.  For psychological stops, they all work as equally well as a .22 LR out of a Beretta Bobcat.

So truthfully, my suggestion to my friend?  Think about carrying a G17 or a G19 instead of that G30, and use a G17 or a G34 in competition.  The grip, trigger, and recoil will all be similar, you’ll have more rounds for self-defense (without giving up much of anything in effectiveness), and you’ll be more competitive in IDPA all at the same time.

That isn’t to say that everyone should carry a 9mm.  You should carry whatever you like!  This merely is my solution to my friend’s problem, and YOU may not have this problem.  You may just like the feel of a 1911 in .45acp better plus you think JMB was the last True Prophet.  Or you may like the .40 because muzzle blast, recoil, AND capacity should all be maximized simultaneously.  Or maybe you like 9mm because…..well, there’s probably a reason out there somewhere to like 9mm.

Pick what you like.  But 1) don’t base your decision on some supposed “advantage” to one caliber in terms of effectiveness—there isn’t one, and 2) don’t let your personal preference get in the way of making the most logical choice for all the reasons you might need a gun.

And quit telling me that your caliber is better than the others for random nonsense reasons that have no basis in reality.


(No, I haven’t forgotten about the “How to Learn To Shoot” series—part IIA will be coming relatively soon.)

“What would you do if…”

How often have you seen the phrase “What would you do if…” in a defensive tactics forum, shooting forum, or martial arts forum?  I’m pretty sure your answer is “pretty often.”

How many times have you seen people immediately give specific, detailed answers about how they would competently handle the threat/attacker/situation?

Unfortunately, I bet the answer to that is also “pretty often.”

Why is that unfortunate?  Because most of those “what if” questions give few details, and as such, there is no way to give a definitive, solid answer.  Which means that all of the people who did so either 1) added lots and lots of details in their own minds to an open-ended question so that they could give an answer where they could use their skills (making me wonder how realistic they are in terms of their own skills) or 2) don’t know what they are talking about in terms of actual self-defense.

Or most likely both 1 and 2.

Self-defense, as a concept, is very straightforward.  Self-defense, as a set of principles, is very simple.  Self-defense, as a set of techniques, is very basic.

Self-defense, as a set of choices in an unknown situation, is extremely variable.  Yes, there are a few situations in which your reactions should be cut-and-dried.  (Example:  someone tries to force you into a car to take you someplace different.  This is a “fight immediately” trigger.)  However, most situations are highly dependent on a large number of variables.

Some basic modifiers (and in this case, confounders) with regard to decision-making:

1) are you alone, or is there someone else with you, like a spouse or a dependent?
2) what routes of egress are there in the given situation?
3) what level of threat is being presented?
4) is the threat presented directly, or indirectly (to a group including you, as opposed to specifically at you)?
5) what level of force is being presented?  (not only for legal use of force responses, but also for decisions on reaction type based on threat level)
6) what physical condition are you in?
7) what encumbrances do you have?  (are your arms full?)
8) how immediate is the threat?
9) what defensive tools are available to you?  (not merely what are you carrying, but what are the surroundings like?)
10) what is the nature of the threat to you?  (junkie in withdrawal needing juice now versus a gang of teenagers out for a “lark” versus drunken ex-boyfriend—even if they all have the same weapons, that doesn’t mean your reaction is going to be the  same for each case, particularly due to the type of actions they will present.)

….this list could go on and on and on.

Which is why it is so important to have a solid understanding of the concept of self-defense.  And a clear set of self-defense principles.  And a good, practiced set of broad-based techniques.  Because if you have those, often the choices you will need to make will be clear.  However, if you aren’t “at that time,” the chances that a random question on a discussion forum will have enough details to make said choices obvious is—-small.

And if you think the answer to “What would you do if you are being mugged?” is “I’m going to explode off the X while acquiring my firearm and shooting them to the ground until the threat is stopped, then check my 360 after which I’ll tac-load to survive this dynamic critical incident”  —-then you REALLY need to go to to a class that teaches you about realistic self-defense.

Recently, MissMichella over on the NFOA forums (in this thread:,10374.msg72925.html#msg72925 ) asked the following three questions:

1.  If you were in a business and someone was committing armed robbery, what would you do?
2.  If you were told to get in a stranger’s vehicle…and you could tell they had some evil intentions, what would you do?
3.  If you were mugged while armed, what would you do?

I was extremely glad to see that with the exception of question #2, most people’s answers were effectively “it depends.”  In the cases where people gave more specific answers, they almost always carefully added specifics of details that affected their decisions—but still left it mostly open-ended with a “it depends” tacked to the end.

As for me:  If I were in a business and someone was committing armed robbery, what would I do?

Depends.  Is it my business?  How many other people are in the store?  How many armed robbers are there?  Is there anyone with me?  Is the armed robber paying attention to only the cashier?  Is the armed robber actually pointing the weapon at anyone?  Have they already shot someone?  Have they threatened to kill anyone more than “give me the money?”    Can I simply slip out the back/side/front doors?  What are my egress points?  Is there any cover near?  Are the robbers paying any attention to me?  Who is in the line of fire?  Where will misses go (from either side)?  Is the cashier simply going to hand over the money, and the robbers are fairly calm and might just leave?  Am I being directly threatened?  Is my life in immediate danger?  If the cashier doesn’t pay, will my life move to being in immediate danger?  How am I armed?  What weapons are available?  How much attention are they paying specifically to me, and how much time would I have to access and use a weapon?  Can I just leave?  Move away from the situation?

Give me a specific situation, and I’ll answer the question—because discussing choices about these things IS important.  (And that’s why I think that scenario training is so important when learning self-defense.)

But only ask me a short question like the above, and I’ll need more details before I’ll be able to say anything.  And if YOU think you can answer the above question with a simple “I’ll just do THIS!” answer, you really need to take some different self-defense training.