Shivworks Extreme Close Quarters Combat Overview

| July 21, 2015 | 5 Comments

This is the most fun I’ve ever had getting my ass kicked.
— Fellow student

When I first met Craig “SouthNarc” Douglas at Rangemaster this February I had no idea who he was. I had heard the name, but did not know what Craig looked like. He was observing a class I attended, and I had a question that he helped to answer. I was a literal nobody to him, but he took a moment out of his time with Cecil Burch to answer my completely novice question.

This weekend I made good on my statement to Craig that if he came to Minnesota I would train with him.

In short, the Shivworks Extreme Close Quarters Combat (ECQC) class had an extremely profound effect on me and will change the way I live and train.

Course Overview

The ECQC class is two and half days, for a combined 20 hours. It is the most exhausting self-defense training I have ever done.

The material covered is too numerous to list, and you can read the Shivworks course description for a full bullet list of what’s covered each day.

I am going to relate the sub-set of materials covered against my prior training and life experiences. This is not a total list, just things that stuck out to me because of my prior training and experience:

  • Basic wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, and jiu-jitsu positioning and movement, especially within the reference of fighting, weapons access, weapon retention, and weapon denial
  • Basic hand to hand fighting techniques while standing and grounded
  • An analysis of criminal assault and victim selection / deselection
  • Verbal dialog as a deselection tool
  • The use of wrist, arm, and body locks to control an attacker so they cannot access weapons along the body midline, and/or prevent them from using accessed weapons
  • Shooting positions and techniques so you don’t shoot yourself during extreme close quarters shooting
  • Drawing, firing, and reholstering from extremely crowded conditions
  • Basic defensive positions that protect your head and neck and help keep you from getting knocked to the ground, such as squaring of the hips and the Default cover technique and shield techniques
  • Theories about when to access and employ tools while in a clinch or ECQC encounter
  • Weapons retention while standing and grounded
  • Weapons disarms while standing, grounded, and seated
  • Fighting back to butterfly guard and then your feet while grounded

There was a LOT more covered in the class, please read the full course description for more information.

Instructional Style

Craig has the kind of instructional style that I like. His demeanor is conversational, not confrontational or competitive. He understands that sometimes students need verbal spurring, and sometimes they need a more gentle nudge.

He also understands how people learn, as evidenced by his usual pattern for teaching a new technique:

  1. Explain why the technique is needed and what it does
  2. Explain the technique
  3. Demonstrate the technique
  4. Demonstrate the technique again (at least twice, sometimes from multiple angles)
  5. Explain the technique again
  6. Assist students in doing the technique

When an instructor teaches this way I know that they have studied how people learn, and are making a conscious effort in how they present their material. Humans learn best by establishing context (step 1), then getting an overview (best for imaginative learners), then demonstrations (best for visual learners), then a summary (repetition helps learning) and then by doing the technique (best for tactile learners).

This is something that’s very important to my job, and so when an instructor knows to do these things I know they are doing their best to pass on knowledge. It’s not something that’s taught on the range or on the ground, or in the field, and people have to deliberately seek out these teaching strategies. This makes the difference between a guy with experience teaching something, and a true instructor. I’m lucky to have several of these types of instructors in my life, but I wanted to call this out about Craig in case someone is worried about being overwhelmed going to this class.

Lastly, all of Craig’s techniques were the foundation for ones taught later in the course. This also helps learning by reinforcing prior knowledge, and providing additional context as the course progresses. Since people learn via context and repetition, this is really important.

Easy Does It, Or Not

Students interacted in four modes during this course:

  • Consensual – students offer little to no resistance during practice. This was done very rarely, and usually for when students were learning something for the absolute first time, or if the technique had a very high probability for injury if done with “enthusiasm.”
  • Non-consensual – students offered resistance at the direction of Craig, depending on the drill. Resistance varied from 25% up to 90% (I don’t say 100, because there were restraints applied to throws, blows, etc). I certainly didn’t head stomp a fellow student at full strength when he was grounded, for example.
  • Technical – one student was attempting to overcome the other student, but the partner student was only expected to provide resistance at Craig’s direction. A common pairing was “technical, non-consensual” and was a one-sided drill where the primary student was trying to do the technique
  • Competitive – both students were trying to enforce their wills on the other. This was the highest intensity mode, and “competitive, non-consensual” mode meant “be ready to be shot in the face and junk.” Effort was at 80 – 90%, with respect for other students being the only restraint. I did not stab people with my training knife with any considerable force, and for the most part people did not use a lot of force when landing blows or executing throws.

At Craig’s direction, students would do certain drills in one or a combination of these modes. More technical / dangerous activities were typically done in the “technical, consensual” mode, but this was rare. Most of the time we either practiced technical, non-consensual or competitive, non-consensual.

The reasoning for this is that Craig believes that most instruction is not pressure tested by someone actively trying to defeat the technique. I agree, and have often felt that technique XYZ I’ve learned would be far less effective if someone was actively trying to stop me.

The result of non-consensual training is harder on the body, can frustrate some, but ultimately helps you get as close to possible as a real encounter with as much safety as possible.

After attending the ECQC class from Shivworks, I will not attend any other close range / combatives classes that do not employ this model. I type this with bruises on my hands, wrists, forearms, legs, torso, and back. I am littered with bruises gifted to me by other students’s fingers, forearms, wrist bones, feet, and Simunition rounds. I am still super fucking sore, but I will not train these techniques any other way again.

Training Conditions

All training was outdoors at the wonderful police and tactical range at Ahlman’s in Morristown, Minnesota. We train there frequently, and it was really nice to have a “known” quantity in a class I was pretty scared to take.

The Shivworks ECQC class happened to fall on one of the few weeks that it’s actually hot here in Minnesota. The humidity was fairly high, and the temperatures in the 90s. The sun was bright, with little to no crowd cover, and the UV index in Minnesota is also very high.

This meant that people had to fight sunburn and heat exposure in addition to each other.

One student withdrew from class, and one had a heat-related injury on the second day but returned later that day and completed the course.

I drank over 12 pounds of water on Saturday, the most physically grueling part of the course. For those of you considering taking the class — if you make it past the second day it’s all downhill.

Be prepared!! I had a case of water and a Combat Flip Flops shemagh, as well as sunscreen and two different types of bug repellent.

Students were instructed to wear groin protection and use a mouth piece. I wore my cup on Days 2 and 3, and only used my mouth piece during certain high contact drills. I haven’t worn a mouthpiece since I was 14 years old, and it was an adjustment to breathe with it in. If you aren’t accustomed to wearing a cup and a mouthpiece you may want to wear them during your workouts or whatever ahead of time.

When students fought in the “evolution” drills, they wore FIST 703a helmets. These offer a lot of protection all the way around the head, but I don’t like how the constrict vision and how easily they fog up in humid conditions. I guess it’s the best option out there, but I don’t think it’s a great option. We had to stop drills several times due to helmets coming off or twisted around.

We also used Simunitions, which was a first for me. Getting shot by them was less painful than a green gas powered Airsoft gun and certainly less painful than a CO2 gun, but the Simunitions caused a LOT more bruising. I had one Simunition bruise bleed through the skin, but I did not experience the sheering on the skin / bleeding associated with getting shot with Airsoft.

I was very disappointed with the reliability of the Simunitions weapons, but it added to the difficulty of the drills when students had to fix misfeeds and doublefeeds while two people were trying to knock the shit out of them. I was impressed that several students executed one handed clearing techniques, my favorite was when one student used another student as a contact point for manipulating the slide. Good stuff, buddy.

However, the guns were very hardy, and survived being thrown, dropped out of a car, kicked, and stepped on. I’ve been told Airsoft magazines were fragile, and I don’t know if I’d be comfortable hucking my gun out of a truck window.

Class Compositon

The class started with 19 students. This was the highest concentration of law enforcement officers I’ve trained with outside of a seminar setting (five, and one private security officer), and it is always interesting to see how their rules of engagement effects their mindset during force on force (FoF) encounters.

Students had a range of experience, from “this is my first class ever” to students who have taken this specific course multiple times over several years.

Ages ranged from between early 20s to mid 50s. There was a wide variety of body shapes, heights, weights, and limb lengths.

There was one lady in attendance.

Some came with various levels of pre-existing injuries. One student had fused vertebrae, one had an elbow injury from an arm bar a month before, etc. While the class recognized these concerns, and tried to be respectful of each other, this did not appear to result in a diminished physical confrontation during drills.

The atmosphere was probably the best out of any class I’ve ever attended. Everyone was very helpful and kind to each other. It was very odd to go from trying to smash another human being to helping them learn a technique a few minutes later. There did not appear to be any hard feelings, even when an encounter was lopsided, or if someone went too far with strikes or throws. Everyone was very professional and courteous, and that was great.

This was also one of the few classes I’ve attended where I felt that everyone was capable of performing the material competently and safely. Yes, there were people there in over their heads (like me), but no one was a safety risk. All of the handgun manipulation was very technical and safe. Accuracy was very good across the board.

People did get frustrated, but they shrugged it off pretty quickly. No one sulked, or threw a temper tantrum. At least, as far as I could tell. I think these attributes are important to list because this class could also be a black hole for asshattery, and the non-threatening demeanor of Craig and the students made it “safe” for me to get in there and fail. I learn the most when analyzing my mistakes, so this was especially important for me.

General Thoughts

First off and most importantly, this class will change your life. The material may be new to you, so that’s one way it’ll change you. But the more important thing is the application of what you know against one or more human beings who are also trying to apply what they know to you. For some people, this might be the first time they’ve encountered another human being that’s trying to hurt them.

There was only one instance over the span of two and a half days where a small fixed blade knife carried on the body midline failed to contribute to a fight. Even when I got mounted inside of a truck and shot in the groin a BUNCH I was still stabbing the shit out of the other student.

I don’t expect to live through every encounter, but I do expect that they won’t, either. Knifes are absolutely essential for counter-attacking and defending yourself. I was very impressed with the Clinch Pick as well as how my TDI performed. It’s very difficult to keep people from getting to these small knives, especially if something else is out there getting attention, like a gun or a tidal wave of elbows.

pokey

 

The pace was physically intense, and the drills physically demanding. Everyone was tired at some point, some of us more than others. I have trained to the point of vomiting before, so it was nice I didn’t puke — but several students did. I think everyone wanted to be stronger, more flexible, more agile, and have better cardio. This class absolutely changed my priorities in the types of strength training I do, and validated some of the endurance-based fitness stuff we’re currently doing. I found that I tired quickly but recovered quickly. I need to cultivate more strength, especially in my upper body.

In general, the system of conflict resolution taught by Craig differed from the system of contact avoidance I’ve been learning for the last seven years. Contact avoidance is a “better safe than sorry” approach, where as conflict resolution has well-defined boundaries but encourages the student to attempt to solve the problem with words instead of just avoiding the problem.

It was a challenge for me to attempt to persuade someone to leave me alone instead of attempting to break contact as soon as possible. I think there are some advantages in this “conflict resolution” strategy, but I saw a lot of students stop on the X when attempting to communicate with an unknown contact, or move only in one direction, or move straight back.

 

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, and may cover in a future post. If I do, it will be controversial.

Personal Analysis

I knew that I possessed an unequal level of defense knowledge. I’ve trained the most with pistols at 3 – 40 yards, then pistols at 0 – 3 yards, then rifles, then partner tactics, then vehicle tactics, then edged weapons, and lastly grappling and ground work.

I knew that I was going to fail a lot in the class, but I told myself going in I was not going to feel defeated. I knew I had a lot to learn, and that wasn’t going to deter me.

By and large, this was a successful strategy.

That being said, I did not do as well as many of the other students when it came to grappling and wrestling. I feel like I could have gotten more out of the class if there was a precursor to this one. It probably did Craig and my fellow students a disservice to walk me through cutting corners or the difference between a Gable grip and a reverse Gable grip when they were working on more advanced techniques.

This class also illustrated that while the younger folk had the strength and stamina, the older crew (which now includes me) could be crafty as fuck. The best combination is young + skillful, followed by older + skillful. When I couldn’t get out of a wrist tie or an underhook, or whatever I just stabbed someone until they let go. I shot a lot of people in the junk, knees, and ankles. If you decide to never give up, you may be able to figure something out that enables you to win. Or at least take them with you.

I found that my ability to control others from accessing their weapons needs to improve. The worst performance was a force on force scenario inside of a truck. My training partner was able to get to his gun during our clash, and he was able to keep me from accessing mine when our roles were reversed.

Conversely, I do think that I was more patient than most other students when going for my tools. Again, a small knife along the body midline opened up a ton of options. I never once felt a panicky need to go for my gun, something that Craig described as a good indicator that you should not go for your gun. When it wasn’t expedient to go for either tool, I used my body as a weapon. I felt pretty good about that.

My strength needs to increase, as well as my cardio. True to the “burst” workouts we do now, I ran out of gas after about a minute and felt like vomiting, and then recovered quickly. However, the grueling pace was often faster than my ability to recover. At one point Craig had us work three one-minute drills, then rest for a few minutes, then work another three one-minute drills, and then the whole sequence again. This was while going at 90% effort against people of varying skill, size, and strength.

My movement was good, although I now have to fight against almost 24 years of using a bladed stance versus a hips-forward stance. When it comes to staying on your feet and grappling with an opponent, I now understand the benefits of hips-square versus bladed. Another item on the list.

Next Steps

Our workouts are already built around explosive strength over short periods of time, but I am going to add more technique / drills in as well. I feel like the best way to get stronger for doing hip escapes is to do hip escapes with a non-consensual, competitive partner. This also means we’re going to break a bunch of shit in the house, but I think it’s worth it.

I will continue to do kettlebell work for getups, swings, snatches, and deadlifts. Craig suggested I get an Olympic barbell and start working on my grip strength. Doing deadlifts with kettlebells is about reps, not overall weight, and I think it might be time for me to return to traditional weight lifting.

I am going to investigate doing more ground training. One of my instructors from QSI is also an instructor at a local Kali group that also teaches some ground work. There’s also a community of former students of Doug’s in the area, and they have invite-only informal training group. I’m not sure I’ll be asked to join, but they seem to understand the need for fight-focused versus sport-focused grappling and wrestling.

Also, despite all the bruises, abrasions, cuts and scrapes I am excited to sign up for another ECQC class.

Conclusion

If you’re the kind of person to read this blog, then you know that the basic skill set of just owning a gun and punching paper at 7 yards isn’t going to cut it.

You need to take this class.

Not a class like it, this exact class, from Craig Douglas.

After you’ve taken it, you can take similar material if you can find it, but I strongly suggest connecting with Craig. His personal experience and teaching style is something special.

I am also convinced that most of us who EDC are not in good enough physical condition. We need to be stronger, more flexible, more nimble, and faster than we are now. I spend up to 14 hours a day in a chair, and I have to get creative about how to become more physically fit.

I learned a lot (and forgot even more), and am looking forward to helping The She Shepherd and my friends learn how to defend themselves and be victorious within 0 – 5′.

Big thanks to Craig Douglas from Shivworks and my fellow students for making this a great and memorable Extreme Close Quarters Combat class.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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5 Comments on "Shivworks Extreme Close Quarters Combat Overview"

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  1. Bob P says:

    Solid write-up! I took this class with the author and found myself nodding along as I read this AAR.

    (And I really do appreciate you not dropping the head stomp on me!)

  2. Jon says:

    Another thing for grip strength are the Captains of Crush grip trainers. They are the highest quality hand squeezers I’ve ever used and are available in a variety of weights. Also, consider adding pullups to your exercise regimen. Or a set of gymnastics rings. These comments coming from a purely exercise mindset, not sure how they’ll fit in with your goals.

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Thanks for the grip recommendations. I used to have a five pull-up tax any time I wanted to use the bathroom at home. Maybe it’s time to reinstate that.

      • plant.one says:

        i hope it was a post visit tax lol

        that would be rough trying to do a few pull-ups after taco tuesdays heh!

  3. MD says:

    Nice write up. I haven’t taken ECQC, but I can recommend Craig’s Edged Weapon Overview class.

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