Self Reliance Training: What Should New Students Take First?

| September 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

This is Part Two 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.


People new to self reliance training, especially those who are unsure if they want to commit to the lifestyle, should learn about the following subjects roughly in this priority:

  • Verbal skills
  • Understanding violent criminal actors and how they select victims
  • Basic emergency trauma care skills
  • Basic proficiency in the following tools, with at least one taken more than once:
    • Handgun
    • Knife
    • Carbine or shotgun
    • OC spray, especially if this is carried in lieu of other tools in this list
  • One combatives seminar with opposed training a key component
  • Scenario based force on force training
  • Understanding the laws of self defense, at the very least in the state in which they reside

High Priority Skills

All of my recommendations are based on a rough probability of use.

In addition, the top skill should be trained and refined by every human being, and can be introduced as early as 4 years of age. Communication skills and cultivating empathy (the consideration of self in relation to the actions and considerations of others) not only makes us safer as people, but also makes us better people.

Verbal skills

Verbal skills are used every day. Understanding the motivations of others and conflict management happens in the home, at school, and at work — not just on the street.

Therefore, verbal skills are the top priority for everyone regardless if they are going to ever be in a violent encounter or pursue the self reliant lifestyle.

Landing the Plane with Mike Anderson is the best material on this topic that I’ve ever experienced. I believe in it so strongly I’ve attended it multiple times and have hosted an additional session with Mike. You can read some of our reviews here, here, and here.

Other classes that cover this material is the Managing Unknown Contacts module of the ECQC course by Craig Douglas of Shivworks (Mike took Craig’s material on “MUC” and expounded it into a full day class), and part of William Aprill’s “Unthinkable” class.

I also recommend reading “Verbal Judo” by George Thompson, Ph D & Jerry Jenkins. This doesn’t directly deal with self defense / self reliance, but the skills discussed in this book have an immediate applicability to your everyday life. The book was written by a former police officer, and has very specific techniques on how to verbally de-escalate an encounter.

This book has influenced my life more than any other.

Understanding Violent Criminal Actors

Why do people become violent, what are the different motivations for violent behavior, how do attackers select their targets, and where are violent attacks likely to occur?

The crown jewel of understanding violent criminal actors and how they operate is “Unthinkable” with William Aprill (read our review). The class is a standalone, but is often bundled with live fire classes.

I recommend that every adult take this class. When we hosted William in 2016 we had many attendees that would never consider owning — let alone carrying — a defensive tool. Unthinkable is not a self defense class as much as it is a lecture that encourages self awareness. The context of the class is how to improve posture, gait, and true “situational awareness” to diminish the chances we’ll be the targets of a violent criminal act.

However, the lessons in Unthinkable can be applied everywhere. One of the attendees realized she exhibited many of the social and physiological cues that entice violent criminal actors. She worked on diminishing these behaviors. She reported her efforts had an immediate, positive impact to how she was perceived at work, and that her colleagues took her more seriously.

If you can’t attend Unthinkable, or if you want additional material on the subject, I recommend:

Landing the Plane (discusses VCAs at a very high level)

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen

Emergency Trauma Care

I believe everyone over the age of about 12 should learn emergency trauma care.

Most of our peers will frame trauma care within the context of a violent encounter. However, these skills can be used in many other situations, such as a vehicle accident, industrial accident, or farm / home improvement accident (yay chainsaws).

The right instructor will tailor the tone and material for the audience. It is my hope that — like Landing the Plane or Unthinkable — people of all capabilities and demeanors will take a trauma care class. Seek out classes and instructors that teach trauma care without the self defense components sometimes bundled with this material. And bring a friend.

I recommend Lone Star Medics, LHGK, and QSI Training’s “Every Day Trauma Care” course. I have not trained with Dark Angel Medical, Resilience Development, and Mike McElmeel of 18Zulu but that’s due to distance or availability. I believe they would all be great resources.

Basic Tool Use

The things most people want to learn first are way down here on the list, after at least 24 or more hours of other training and skill development.

I believe that a New student should learn how to use a handgun, a knife, and a carbine and/or shotgun. They should learn how to use a chemical irritant if they already own one, and practice using it against other people with an inert spray. Chuck Haggard is my go-to resource for learning how to use OC spray.

I wrote an article about the self defense skills New and Novice shooters should focus on, and unfortunately you will find very few programs that match up with my recommendations. New and Novice students will spend a lot of time reloading, clearing malfunctions, and become Qualified Internet Experts on unimportant topics such as what stance is best, why XYZ instructor’s grip techniques are the best, “Workspace,” and if Sul is critical or turns you into a Tactical T-Rex.

The best program to learn the basics is Dynamic Focus Shooting by Mike Anderson (our review). It’s a one day course that focuses on the skills a person is most likely to use in a violent encounter. I have a big problem with the startle response material in the class (I discussed this here), but otherwise it’s fantastic.

QSI Training offers the most comprehensive courses for handgun, rifle, and shotgun (all separate classes) without a lot of the dogma you’ll find in higher-profile, higher-priced schools. Erik and the other instructors are also students themselves, and their curriculum and techniques have changed over the six or so years I’ve been training with them. That’s a good thing, and your instructors should constantly evolve their material based on their own learning and working with students.

Paul Sharp of Sharp Defense, John Murphy of FPF Training, Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training, Chris Fry of MDTS Training, and the team at Resilience Development will all offer great instruction. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a Suarez International class, but the material I learned from them is still pertinent today.

If you thought there were a lot of handgun CCW holders who never trained, the number of people who carry knives and don’t train are even higher. I’ve attended several knife seminars geared towards gun people and it’s shocking how poorly everyone performs at the beginning. It’s encouraging that with a little knowledge and great instruction you can make big improvements in a short period of time.

All of the instructors I’ve trained with are good at boiling down edged weapon essentials for gun bearers, but my favorite thus far has been the Weaponology two day seminar from Ed’s Manifesto. The overall perspective of the class is “dirty fighting,” with a perspective that is beneficial to those who have been at a physical disadvantage most of their lives. My wife The She Shepherd said it’s the most immediately useful fight focused class she’s taken in the last six years. You may read our reviews here, here, and here.

Other great instructors include Chris Fry of MDTS Training, Fletch Fuller of ReadyUp Tactical, and Craig Douglas of Shivworks. At some point I’d like to meet Scott Babb of the Libre Fighting Systems.

I recommend that a New student take one class for each type of tool that they own, and then take the same class from a different instructor. You will get a different perspective, and appreciate nuances about technique and teaching style.

Opposed Training

It is critical to start training against other students as quickly in your journey as possible. Scenario based force on force training and combatives seminars will give you context as to why you are learning what you are learning. Opposed training helps you determine what is useful and what is not, what is high probability and what is not, and what you need to work on the most to improve your overall chances of defending yourself.

I highly recommend the scenario based force on force training run by QSI Training. They offer a few different FoF classes; their core class places students in typical street situations that may or may not turn into violent encounters. You will use the techniques taught in Landing the Plane, Unthinkable, etc to “read” the behavior of other participants and act accordingly. QSI has a low light FoF class and a Mass Murder / Terrorist Interdiction class. All of their scenarios in every course are based off of real events.

I also recommend Cecil Burch of Immediate Action Combatives’ two day “Immediate Action Combatives” seminar. This will introduce you to a lot of important material about fighting from a standing or grounded position, as well as the gradual progression of opposition used by other Shivworks Cartel classes.

Paul Sharp, Cecil Burch, and Larry Lindenman teach a seminar called “Dominating the Entangled Fight,” which I hope to bring to Minneapolis in 2018.

I’ve debated whether or not Craig Douglas’s Edged Weapons Overview or Extreme Close Quarter Concepts classes are appropriate for students at this level of training. On one hand, students who attended these excellent classes will be rapidly introduced to critical material and understand the importance of pressure testing the training they receive elsewhere.

On the other hand, EWO and ECQC can be a humbling, ego busting experience and students may want just a bit more experience before trying their hands in these classes.

Laws and Ethics

Self defense laws are often confusing. Laws about self defense tools can be unclear, contradictory, and complicated. I consider the ethics of the use of force (or any skill in this article) to have far reaching consequences beyond the initial application of the skill itself. Deciding when to get involved and to what level you are willing to go is something that permeates your identity and will wind up influencing who you are as a human being.

Because of the laws and ethics around self reliance, it is important to seek out instruction, advice, and conversational peers so you are as informed as possible.

Massad Ayoob’s books on self defense encounters and trials are classic, and his updated “Deadly Force – Understanding Your Right to Self Defense” is a good starting point for New students.

Claude Werner maintains a record of “negative outcome” use of force events. Knowing how others act (and why their actions are poor) may also assist you in developing your own decision trees.

I highly, highly recommend the lectures of lawyer Dana McLendon. He gives insight into how criminal trials work, how juries are selected, and how your life will influence the media, the jury, and the trial should you ever have to defend yourself. Unfortunately Mr. McLendon is extremely busy as a lawyer and alderman, and his availability is limited.

As a side note — and I usually avoid this kind of commentary — there is another lawyer who wrote a book about the laws of self defense. The material is worth reading, but unfortunately that individual is exceptionally toxic and I can’t support him in any way. While the information he provides is important, I believe that you can obtain the essential details elsewhere.

I hope an equally qualified, but more stable and respectful individual rises to prominence soon.


Congrats on making it this far — or being enough of a lifehacker that you just jumped to the end. 🙂

The road to being self reliant is a long one, and is made up of many disciplines. Due to time, finances, and other interests, New students must be selective and efficient at how they choose to train, and by whom.

I strongly suggest that New students focus on skills most likely to be used. I also recommend that the top three skill paths are learned by everyone, even if they don’t intend to pursue a self defense lifestyle.

The goal of the New student is a wide, but shallow understanding of what it takes to be self reliant.

I also advise against taking classes from high profile instructors who aren’t continually learning from others. I have met many, many New students who spent a week at a famous school, or did a 5-day course with famous instructors. They spent an entire year’s training budget to learn the basics of one of many, many skills they need to know. Their overall shooting, gun handling, and familiarity with self defense concepts was about as equal to, or less than, students who spent $250 or less learning the same material from any of the other instructors I’ve mentioned in this article. You can get an incredible amount of value out of a $150-200 class from a regional instructor.

Lastly, if I didn’t mention your favorite trainer, it is most likely because I have not had personal experience with them. There are quite a few well-respected instructors that associate with the people I mentioned here. If they like them, they are probably good to go in my book.

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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