I attended the Polite Society Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference this year. It was my first time going, and I enjoyed it. As I do more training and attend more events, it strengthens my resolve to train, and to believe in the good nature of people. I met a lot of great folk, and plan on attending training with at least one of the instructors I met later this year.
I only knew a handful of people at Rangemaster. Erik Pakieser of QSI Training is my primary firearms instructor, and we know John and Vicki Farnam of Defense Training International. I also saw Steve and Kate Camp of the Ravelin Group. Other than that, there were 130+ complete strangers, mostly from law enforcement and military backgrounds. The event was held at the Memphis police academy, which was full of current and hopeful cops.
This always makes me a bit nervous. I’m not in law enforcement, and I’ve never been in the military. I have friends and family (and now thanks to you all, readers) who are, but I have always felt like an outsider talking with them and training with them. It was intimidating.
The safe bet would be to take a bunch of lecture classes and just sit quietly in the corner.
I said fuck it and took hands-on classes on subjects I knew I needed help in or areas I knew nothing about. I was very glad that I did.
Low Light Force on Force + Trauma Medicine
This combo-course was taught by Karl Rehn of KR Training and Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics, both out of Texas. There was a force-on-force component with Airsoft gear and a trauma medicine treatment aspect. Both Airsoft and trauma gear was provided, but I planned ahead and brought my own.
I acted as both a bystander (stabbing victim) and as an active participant (walked into a 2-on-2 robbery gone wrong).
I’ve done a fair amount of FoF training, and have been studying up on civilian trauma care for the last two years. I have never applied both skills at the same time, and it was eye opening. I should know this from my day job, but it’s very difficult for the human brain to tackle two different skills at the same time.
Some attendees fixated on the wounded, and forgot to check for or deal with threats. Some attendees fixated on the threats, and made poor decisions (or no decisions) when treating the wounded.
There were some students who had neither FoF nor trauma medicine experience, and they suffered. One attendee had a total meltdown during a drill and was stuck in a mental loop. He just kept doing the same wrong thing over and over again, despite clear and repeated instruction. I don’t know if this is good for students or not. I went in with the mindset of failing, and while embarrassing I’d rather learn than look cool. However, I don’t know if every student feels the same way, especially in a room with 20 strangers. I feel like this class should have had at least a recommendation of knowing basic trauma care.
I also decided to relegate the low profile Cav-Arms Slick tourniquet to backup duty. After the QSI trauma class this January and the class with Caleb and Karl, I’ve decided to adopt the SOFTT Wide tourniquet. More on that in a future post.
Enhancing Trigger Control
My first handgun was a Glock 27 chambered in .40 S&W. I spent a few years shooting on a regular basis at an indoor range with it, and the rest of my life trying to unlearn the bad habits I cultivated — including a pretty mean recoil anticipation. My trigger control has always been something I’ve been embarrassed by, and it shows when I get self-conscious in front of other students.
Wayne Dobbs of Hardwired Tactical Shooting taught this incredible lecture / live fire course that changes how I am going to shoot. I also think Erik is going to change how he teaches people about handguns. Dobbs believes that most people spend too much time concentrating on their sights and not enough time developing proper trigger control.
We did several drills with a partner. The first drill is where you hold the pistol as normal, but your partner actuates the trigger. This makes sure your sights are in alignment and the shooter problem is with trigger control and not with knowing how to use the sights. Another drill was called the “sandwich,” where your partner puts their finger on yours, and makes sure you press the trigger correctly. Wayne also taught us to catch the “link” of the trigger during recoil, not afterwards, and that should help me speed up and smooth out my shooting.
The weather was terrible by Memphis standards — just under 40°F and raining. We call that “May” in Minnesota, so Erik and I were right at home.
I look forward to putting Wayne’s techniques to use this year in training. He was also extremely nice and was also generous with his class notes and training drills.
Practical Small Knife Principles
Chris Fry of New York’s Modern Defensive Training Systems, LLC led this three hour class on using a knife with a blade less than 3″ long. Chris was (to my knowledge) the only instructor I worked with who didn’t have a military or law enforcement background. His manner of instruction seemed very familiar and almost corporate to me. It was well organized, and followed the common “warm up, setup, content, close” format taught to people in journalism or public speaking. Chris was assisted by Cecil Burch of Immediate Action Combatives and Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training.
I attended this class because my knife skills were lacking, and I knew it. I had spent time working with my assisted opening knives at home, and my prior knife training was limited to prison-style sewing machine techniques starting in the body and curling up towards the base of the skull. I already knew that folders were at a disadvantage to fixed blades, and was ready to learn more.
Chris let us know up front that we were only going to be learning a very limited amount due to the time constraints. He covered a single draw stroke, two grips, two strikes, one stance and a blocking technique.
At the end of the session, Chris asked if anyone wanted to try some edge weapon force on force training. Two students paired off at a time. One student wore a big F.I.S.T. protective helmet and trie to attack the other student. The other student had to protect themselves with a practice knife. Each drill lasted 20 seconds, and then they’d switch roles.
I participated against a lady about The She-Shepherd’s height. After watching She in other fight focused classes, I knew I was going to have my hands full. Chris taught us a groin strike that is pretty fucking scary to deal with even with just a “practice” knife. The gal used this technique on me. Repeatedly. With enthusiasm.
Some of what I learned ran counter to my own martial arts training as well as my experience in fighting other people. When I asked questions, Chris, Cecil and Greg answered them without ego in a way that didn’t make me feel dumb. I am sure that if I had more time to train with Chris or the other trainers it would be more obvious why they use the techniques they do.
The Rotator Target System
Erik and I went out into the rain the last day of the Rangemaster Polite Society conference to shoot at an absolutely demonic target. Called the “Rotator” and co-designed by our friends John Farnam and Steve Camp, the object is to cause a target to rotate by shooting two steel paddles. Causing the target to flip requires accuracy, but more importantly timing. It’s not a type of shooting I’ve ever done with a firearm in my life. All of my firearms training has been to shoot a two- or four-round burst as accurately and quickly as possible.
My timing was almost always off, and I did a great job of stopping the target instead of making it spin. I did get it to go all the around once. Emboldened, I tried again, and failed. Miserably.
My favorite part of the shooting was when they turned the Rotator sideways so Erik and I could compete with each other. We each won. He was faster at traditional shooting, I was faster at one handed shooting. The Trijicon RMR helps a lot when shooting with just one paw.
I really appreciated the chance to shoot the Rotator target and do something far, far outside my shooting comfort zone. It was a welcome warm up for the Rangemaster shooting contest that followed immediately after.
Rangemaster Shooting Contest
There were several moments at Rangemaster that made me appreciate the quality of training I’ve received over the years. The shooting contest was one of those moments. The “challenges” were all things covered in either basic or intermediate level classes I’ve taken before.
Almost all of the drills demanded a single step while drawing. One handed shooting was a component in many of the drills. The “scenario” part of the challenge was drawing from behind a car and engaging two targets in a crowd of people.
This is stuff that you should be able to do after attending most fight-focused basic classes. The one handed component may be an intermediate skill at some, but not all, schools these days. I was prepared to clear a malfunction, or deal with a hostage situation, or forced to go to a backup weapon, something more complicated. The challenge wound up being a timed shooting event with just enough movement and target identification to make it “tactical.”
Close Range Handgun Threat: Empty Hand Skills
The last class of Rangemaster was my favorite. It was taught by the very personable and knowledgeable Greg Ellifritz from Active Response Training out of Ohio. Greg is a full-time police officer and has a lot of experience on the street as well as training his fellow officers.
I have taken several CQB disarm / combatives courses before, yet similar to Mr. Fry’s knife class I knew I still had holes in my understanding. I found Greg’s techniques to be easy to learn and remember, especially compared to some of the other techniques I’d learned before.
I also liked that his techniques were not dependent on strength or even a lot of dexterity. The class was made up of students of all ages and sizes. One of the attendees was The She-Shepherd’s size and I feel like the techniques Greg taught would be just as effective when employed by either of us.
The class was another instance of validation; some of the techniques were ones I’d been taught before by Erik Pakieser from QSI Training or John Farnam from Defense Training International.
One of my favorite lessons of the class was learning — and then practicing — some body positioning / clinch positions that made it easier to control someone else’s firearm. I also was grateful to hear Greg’s experience in testing firearms taken from criminals, and how many of them were loaded with the wrong ammunition or weren’t operable. If you take a firearm from a bad guy, it may not be wise to try to use it.
Another thing I really liked was Greg’s consideration of where your body might be if you decide to shoot someone in a clinch situation. He told us of a law enforcement officer who shot his own thumb off while struggling with an attacker. The officer’s hand was behind the attacker, and as the bullet exited the attacker it still had enough force to de-thumb him.
I enjoyed going to Rangemaster. One of the best parts had nothing to do with training at all: I got to meet a whole new crop of people. I already have plans to train with Craig of Shivworks this year in Minnesota, and I hope to connect with Lone Star Medics in the near future. We have added many of the instructors I trained with to our 50 States of Fight Focused Training map. Take a look, there may be a great instructor in your area.
As a student, it’s very important to train with other instructors, and to train in areas you know little about or know you have problems with. You may not agree with everything you learn, but it’s important to be exposed to different things. I learned a lot, and was happy to embrace my shortcomings.
Special thanks to Erik for encouraging me to go, and for being a great traveling companion on the drive to Tennessee and back.