Self Reliance Training: Novice Students

| September 15, 2017 | 4 Comments

This is Part Three of a four part series on what I think students should take (and in rough priority) based on how long they have been living a self reliant lifestyle.

If you haven’t already, please read Part One (overview) and Part Two (what should new students take first).


Students who have acquired a broad but shallow range of skills should train the same basic material with different instructors, attend training conferences to meet like minded people and become aware of other trainers / schools, and take courses that put context around the basic skills they learned during the “New” student phase.

The majority of your training in this phase should have an element of opposition. It is critical for the Novice student to test and measure their competency via force on force encounters, hand to hand training, and scenario based training of verbal skills.

The “Novice” phase requires a lifestyle commitment that many are unwilling to make, and as such most tool-bearers will never advance beyond the “New” student range of skills and competency.

  • Emergency trauma care skills (different instructor and/or more advanced material)
  • Verbal skills
  • Basic proficiency in the following tools, from a different instructor:
    • Handgun
    • Knife
    • Carbine or shotgun
    • OC spray, especially if this is carried in lieu of other tools in this list
  • Applied classes that put an environmental and/or social context around the basic skills you have already learned
  • One combatives seminar with opposed training a key component
  • Scenario based force on force training
  • Attend training conferences
  • Consistent instruction in a fighting art that has opposed training as a core tenet.

Due to resources, time, availability, and/or desire, many of us will never progress beyond this phase. That’s okay.

Even if you are a Novice student you’ll be far better trained than just about anyone else in the world.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Take everything you took in the “New” student phase, but try to do it with someone else.

It is critical for Novice students to get different perspectives on fundamental techniques. Each instructor has their own bias, and while the majority of what you learn from everyone will be good, there will be variations that will be more relevant to you than others.

Please see the previous posts in this series for recommendations on all of the basics.

Applied Sciences

Novice students should start applying the fundamentals within the context of self defense situations. You will learn new skills on how to deal with an environment instead of the skills on how to safely and effectively use a tool.

Examples of applied classes include, but are not limited to:

Low light

You need to learn how to negotiate, and act in, the darkness. Novice students should be exposed to a spectrum of low light conditions. Dusk (where everything is sort of gray) presents different problems and advantages than acting in almost complete darkness. You should train indoors and outdoors. You should train all of your fundamental skills in low light / no light conditions.

Verbal skills, handguns, rifle, shotgun, and medical skills all take on different aspects when applied in the dark.

While I have yet to take a low light knife class, I had the opportunity to play “the bad guy” in a few low light force on force scenarios. The obfuscation techniques taught by Ed of Ed’s Manifesto plus darkness add up to a huge advantage for bad guys — or for good guys preparing to make a counter-assault.

I recommend coursework from QSI Training,, and Craig Douglas’s Armed Movement In Structures (AMIS) class.


Most of us spend a lot of time in our cars. Taking at least one course on fighting inside of and around a vehicle is important. I do think that this subject is a little over-hyped, and most of the material out there is geared towards law enforcement or military — or those who seek to emulate them.

Intellectually, it may be rewarding to learn how to bail out of a vehicle idling to a stop, cover your buddy while he heads to the trunk, and the join him there while magdumping your ARs. Car classes are also a lot of fun.

However, I recommend looking for classes that are geared more towards the types of violence a civilian in the United States might expect while in or near their car. Being ambushed while going to their car (or just getting out), how to respond after a vehicle accident, defending a car jacking, and being stuck in a protest / riot are more likely scenarios.

I’ve enjoyed the classes taught by QSI Training and the VCAST course taught by Craig Douglas. The classes are more different than similar, but they are both squarely rooted in civilian life and everyday scenarios.

By their reputation and published material on the topics, I also suggest checking out FPF Training, and Will Petty of Centrifuge Training. Be advised Petty’s material may be more geared towards law enforcement and military.

Words of caution: avoid car classes taught by those who speak about vehicles as absolutes. An easy bullshit detector is someone who says that cars are always great cover or always poor cover. A rather infamous instructor who fought overseas did some videos about vehicle glass and using a car as cover. The information in those videos is so erroneous as to be borderline dangerous for any class attendees. Be a discerning consumer.

Partners and/or Kids

Squad tactics and patrol classes may be fun, but hopefully far removed from our day to day lives. My wife The She Shepherd and I train together, and we have kids in the house, so it is important for us to take applied classes on fighting side by side as well as what to do should we have to use force while in the company of my stepkids.

QSI Training occasionally runs an advanced class for return students on Partner Tactics. Unlike most partner/group classes, it’s not based on executive protection techniques nor emulates the type of work LEO or military personnel may do.

Shivworks’s VCAST has some “defend your loved ones” components to it, but it’s within a force on force context and not really instruction on how to protect someone or work with them during a violent encounter.

Melody Lauer’s Armed Parent and Guardian class is something I really want to take, and may make the trip in 2018. The She-Shepherd took the inaugural version of the class, and while the material and format has changed I still think the instruction and tenets will be fantastic.

John over at FPF Training offers a Two Persons Tactics class. I don’t know much about this class, but I do like John’s teaching style and overall philosophies.

Fighting in Buildings

One of the biggest reasons Americans buy firearms is to protect their homes from things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, clearing a house by yourself (or even with just a single partner) is very dangerous and difficult to do well, especially combined with other factors like low light / no light conditions.

Fighting inside of structures is sometimes taught from the perspective of the military or law enforcement. Clearing a building with a squad is an important skill for those people to know, but for the rest of us it’s just for fun or intellectual stimulation.

The following instructors have programs (or parts of classes) that cover fighting in structures within the context of a single adult in the United States responding to typical encounters that may or may not involve the use of force. In my opinion, they are far more appropriate and relevant to the Novice student. Don’t worry, there will be time for the fun squad stuff with flashbangs and plate carriers once we’ve covered the more plausible stuff first.

I am attending Craig Douglas’s Armed Movement In Structures class this October. In talking to many tough individuals whom I respect, AMIS is supposed to be the most exhausting class Craig teaches. Considering that two people bailed out of my first ECQC class on day one, I find this hard to believe. The class is supposed to be emotionally and intellectually challenging. I can’t wait.

QSI Training does not have a specific home defense class, but elements of moving in and fighting in structures is covered in their Partner Tactics and Low Light classes. The low light force on force class is excellent at demonstrating the various tenets of fighting in structures, such as when and why to commit, when to use different rates of movement, the use of light in structures, how to enter and exit rooms, etc.

Chris Fry of MDTS Training has a home / business defense class. I have not taken this course. However, I believe that fighting inside, especially by yourself or with a single partner, requires brains just as much as it does physical ability and shooting skills. Chris is one of the most cerebral instructors I’ve ever met, and I am sure that his class material is top notch. Additionally, any class taken by a Shivworks Collective instructor will provide some cross over with the other instructor’s materials, notably Craig’s AMIS class.

Karl Rehn of KR Training offers a three hour at-home, non-shooting class on home defense. The class covers physical security as well as specific instruction on how to fight within the student’s own home. This is a cool service, and one that I wish other instructors would offer. I attended one of Karl’s seminars at Rangemaster, and have corresponded with him a few times for this blog. His material is definitely grounded in probability — for example some of his carbine material has a “max range” that many rifle courses would consider minimum range — because he believes most Americans will be shooting rifles indoors. This mindset is important to keep the Novice student from going down a rabbit hole of low probability specialization.

Combatives Seminar

The New student should have taken at least one of these ; as a Novice student you’ll want to take at least one in a different discipline or from a new instructor. For example, if you took a grappling class last season, take a knife fighting seminar this season.

If time and budget allows, repeat an additional, prior class. It’s important for us to see where we have improved, and improving in one area may make it easier to see a deficiency in another.

You might want to consider drill-based force on force training at this phase. Suarez International used to run a lot of these, but they aren’t offering them as of this writing. John Farnam of DTI also runs similar material. Drills include a student armed with a knife versus another student with a concealed pistol, a live version of the El Presidente drill, etc.

Novice students: turn up your bullshit detector. At this stage in your training career you may not be able to teach a New student the material, but as you make friends in the community you can help steer them towards legitimate instructors in your area.

Find Others

You are going to learn some new things at tactical conferences like The Rangemaster Polite Society Conference, or Paul-E-Palooza. The most important thing you can do there is meet new people. You will find new instructors, but you will also find like minded people (and sometimes not-so-like-minded people).

Your goal is to expand your horizons, and your peer group. Try something you haven’t done before, or try to get a different perspective on something you do know. Meet people. Help people. Encourage people. It will make you feel better when the rest of your interaction with the self reliance community is based on YouTube comments and people on Facebook.

Scenario Based Force on Force  Training

In my opinion, all learning should be motivated by interaction with opposing forces. I believe that scenario based force on force training is one of the most important experiences one can have, as it should combine everything else we have learned.

Novice students should be able to solve more encounters by using verbal skills and the environment instead of tools. The timing of the use of force should be surprising to those involved and based on the initiative of the Novice, instead of reacting to stimulus from aggressors. The Novice student’s actions and use of force should deviate from the “stand and deliver” methodologies taught by lesser schools and ingrained by chasing splits on a timer.

Consistent Training in a Fighting Art

This is a huge commitment, but has a lot of benefits. Join a Jiu-jitsu academy, or a Muay Thai gym, or an MMA club. Your choices will be limited by your area (for example, I really need help with my Greco Roman wrestling, but it’s hard to find those for non-competitive folk), but do your best.

Consider the Libre Fighting system if you are looking for something tool focused but still want to preserve the spirit of function over form and pressure testing.

Something that has a sport component/background may be useful, because someone trying to “win” is as close to a fight simulation as most of us will get. Just realize the bias and move on. Don’t over complicate it, and don’t over think it.

Most of my readers trend older, and we’re at a point in our lives where working out and being active is more about maintenance and longevity than it is about looking good in the mirror. Almost any activity will be better than no activity — not only for self reliance, but also for staying active in an era where most of us sit all day, every day.


The goals of the Novice student are to diversify from whom they learn, apply the fundamentals they have acquired, audit their performance, and commit to getting better through pressure testing and repetition.

The responsibility of the Novice student is to be an ambassador for New students. I’ve written a few articles about how the most effective thing we can do is get more people involved in self reliance training. Welcome others into our community, especially those that might feel otherwise unwelcome or threatened.

You may spend the rest of your training life as a Novice, repeating the cycle of training among the various disciplines of self reliance.

That is totally and completely okay. Going beyond this point takes you further and further away from the probable and more into the realm of the possible. It’s also where a lot of the “fun” stuff happens that probably motivated you to start training in the first place.

I’ve trained with a lot of people who are very motivated New students. Then things get more difficult, the ego gets beat up (in my case, a lot), and the novelty wears off. That’s when the Novice student needs to knuckle down and commit. The road of self reliance is long and infinite. It’s a lifestyle, not a skillset or even a mindset.

Keep walking.

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.

4 Comments on "Self Reliance Training: Novice Students"

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  1. Troy says:

    Good info. My biggest weakness is medical and I’d like to find a carbine and a knife class. Thanks for the suggestions.
    You will love Craig’s AMIS class. I’ve taken both AMIS and ECQC. ECQC is more physically demanding, AMIS is overall more exhausting. Good luck!

  2. KR says:

    A handful of private sector instructors have offered scenario based force on force training for the past 20 years or more: I ran all the FOF scenarios at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference for the first 10 years of the conference. Craig Douglas, John Benner (Tactical Defense Institute), Greg Hamilton (InSights Training), and Marty Hayes (Firearms Academy of Seattle) all offer scenario-based FOF classes on a regular basis.

    (I also offer a Force on Force instructor program, training others in how to design and run scenarios specifically for armed citizens. It’s a one day course paired with two days of scenario training that the instructor trainees assist my team in teaching.)

    Scenario based FoF is the neglected aspect of most people’s training. Learning how to interact with live opponents, integrating tactics, communication, medical and fighting skills in complete simulations teaches and tests skills that often can’t be learned or evaluated in pure live fire training. Sadly, interest in this type of training is low compared to high round count live fire classes, because it’s more fun to shoot a lot of live rounds at inanimate targets than to try to solve a scenario with the minimum force required. (Many scenarios do not require gunfire to win, similar to reality, but dissimilar to all drills in all live fire classes.)

  3. Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

    “Sadly, interest in this type of training is low compared to high round count live fire classes, because it’s more fun to shoot a lot of live rounds at inanimate targets than to try to solve a scenario with the minimum force required. (Many scenarios do not require gunfire to win, similar to reality, but dissimilar to all drills in all live fire classes.)”

    This is so very true.

    I attended an FoF class where one of the students complained that he didn’t get to shoot enough people.

    That’s … that’s not the point. :\

  4. Steve says:

    Great info. I’m hoping to take some classes with QSI when money’s not so tight. Not a lot of options down here in Des Moines.

    Still trying to figure out which infamous operator you were referring to. I was almost certain it was yeager.

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