That’s What She Said: Shivworks ECQC course with Craig Douglas

| July 6, 2016 | 6 Comments

I had some trouble starting this post. The ECQC course by Craig Douglas of Shivworks has generated a ton of technical content, both here and elsewhere.

I decided to write  from my personal point of view: a female defensive firearms student with no martial arts training and a deep seated fear of close quarter combat. I hope my experience shows other women that this type of training is valuable.

In an effort to stay concise I’m going to talk about what we did and follow it with bullet points for:

  • What I tried
  • How it worked
  • What I learned

Day 1

The first day of this three day course introduced managing unknown contacts, affectionately known as MUC.

This concept has been part of every defensive firearms class I’ve taken. I know I’ll likely be out-classed in a physical entanglement, so I’ve made de-selection and awareness my first line of defense for a very long time.

  • I tried Craig’s more conversational style
  • Veering from my “I’m sorry; I can’t help you” script was difficult, but the more I tried the easier it was to identify my partner’s non-verbal cues because I had to pay attention instead of simply evade.
  • I learned that his technique has its place. Brushing people off isn’t always an option. I hone this skill regularly at my part-time receptionist job.

Next up was getting familiar with establishing and escaping wrist and elbow ties. When you have hamster paws like mine instead of full-sized manhands it is hard to imagine pulling off these techniques.

  • I made sure to pair up with as many different bodies as I could.
  • I tried to remember the smattering of hand-to-hand concepts I’ve heard. I kept my elbows tied to my sides, and worked against my opponents thumb.
  • Body mechanics are universal. Someone of lesser strength might have to work a little smarter, they can be done successfully.

Finally, I saw the other students starting to pull out fleece caps, some even stuck squares of moleskin to their foreheads.

I knew it was time. The infamous “Mountain Goat Drill.”

This training rite of passage leaves students with an iconic bloody forehead. In some, such as my husband, it leaves a slight scar.

I don’t give a fuck about that scar. I wasn’t here for bragging rights. The Shepherd purchased a couple of fleece beanies, the method most recommended by ECQC alumn for minimizing the drill’s damage.

But my head full of long, slippery hair is smaller than his. Without the velcro-like stubble that keeps a beanie in place, I knew it would slide over my eyes.

  • I applied Monistat Anti-Chafing Gel Powder to my forehead. I never leave home without it. This clear gel keeps my shoes from giving me blisters. It can be used as make-up primer in a pinch, even marathon runners use it to keep their skin from chafing on their clothing. I figured it was worth a try.
  • Again I paired with as diverse a selection of students as possible.
  • It worked like a charm. I had zero skin breakage. The pressure of literally going head-to-head did leave a slight contusion, but that went away over a few days. Totally NBD

Beyond avoiding the head abrasion, the Mountain Goat drill itself was a unique opportunity for me.

  • “Stress inoculation” isn’t easy to practice, especially in close quarters. I was curious about how I would react to non-consentual competitive challenges. Up to this point the only training that has elicited an emotional reaction in me has been close quarter force-on-force.
  • My plan was to keep my belt-line below below my opponents, and keep circling. It was only as good when my opposition wasn’t able to do the same. This was my first taste of where my physical conditioning would need bolstering.
  • My overall mindset improved after this drill. I used my head and my body to fight someone back. I didn’t get scared. I didn’t quit. When I got sore, I knew what to fix to get better. When I got tired, I fought through it. When I was losing (which was most of the time), I didn’t panic. I got past my own head. It was one small but very important benchmark for me.

Day 2

The next day started with shooting from retention. Craig has a specific method of indexing the thumb of the shooting hand to the body on the draw-stroke.

  • As he demoed the technique, he showed how shoulder position can affect consistency.
  • My height was a factor. My first shots were too low. I adjusted my shoulder blades.  I pushed them down, and pictured trying to slide them into my back pockets.
  • As long as I used the thumb to body index and positioned my shoulders correctly, I was able to shoot consistently. This held true for contact shots, shooting from retention, and unsighted shooting from high ready.

The class moved on to more hand-to-hand, grounded escapes, expanding on head-fighting techniques, and accessing a weapon in an entangled fight. All of these drills progressed from consensual (no pressure, just getting the movements down) to competitive (some force, but not an all-out fight)

  • I tried to pair with people who had experience with the content. I looked for those most like the kind of attacker I might face in real life. So…dudes.
  • My struggle with learning choreography reared its stupid head. I put my hands in the wrong places at the wrong angles all the wrong ways. I was slow. I forgot stuff. I worried that my partners were getting gypped because I wasn’t a challenge. While all of that was happening I was grinning like a fool.
  •  I didn’t get all of the techniques. I didn’t get appreciably better at any of them. I did learn that I love trying. I didn’t feel smothered or scared . Even while getting totally pasted, and that happened a lot.

Craig is smart. He saves the non-consensual/competitive part of class for the very end of the day. Good news: your opponent has been working his/her ass off all day in the sun/rain /heat (sometimes all of the above if you’re really lucky). They are worn the fuck out. Bad news: so are you. The chances of you doing harm to your partner are lessened considerably when you face off at the end of day.

Craig sorted us into groups of three. One student started grounded and armed. The second played the upright attacker. The third watcheed over them. The drill ended when someone got shot. Then everyone switched roles.

  • Wearing the FIST helmet obstructs your vision, breathing, and hearing.
  • When I was grounded I panicked. I called the drill and removed the helmet.
  • Craig noticed my reaction and quietly came to speak to me about it. I appreciate his low-key approach. I told him that I was okay. I needed to get my mind right.

I am grateful to have been paired with two experienced students. They respected me enough not to baby me. I got back in the helmet and completed the drill both as the grounded party and as the attacker.

  • I tried to stay mobile whether I was grounded or on top.
  • Being small has advantages. I am light enough to scramble quickly. I sprawled to keep from getting thrown. When I felt my opponent shift his weight, I shifted mine. When I was grounded, I learned to move and kick.
  • You can’t evade forever. Basic Jiu-jitsu training was recommended to most of the struggling students.

The last evolution of the day was a grounded fight against a single attacker. Both students are armed. Craig calls the drill.

  • I tried to stay mobile while on my back. The key to this drill is to time your draw properly. Too soon and you’re easily disarmed. Too late and access is restricted.
  • The students formed a circle around us, watching for safety. THis made me nervous. I began to appreciate the FIST helmet’s buffering quality. My diminished sight forced me to concentrate on larger movements. The sound of my own breath became calming. I was able to focus on Craig’s voice coaching me through the drill. I planted my feet on the hips of my attacker and drew as I pushed him away. I got 4 fast shots on my attacker, and Craig called the drill.
  • After this drill the FIST helmet became just another tool. The indexing reps from the shooting block guided my draw under stress. The deficiencies in my fitness were exposed.

Day 3

After another morning of shooting we began 2-on-1 Evolutions. Students were allowed to use training knives, and inert OC spray. I had to engage with the contacts. Leaving was not an option. The drill didn’t end until Craig called it.

  • In the scenarios before mine, students tried several creative ruses to put off their assailants. As I watched I remembered some advice a woman’s forum had suggested: tell a rapist you’re pregnant and bleeding. The intent was to gross out and shame the rapist into attacking someone else.
  • My contact approached and said “Hey sweetie…” I kept moving. I told him I had an appointment. He pursued and I blurted out that I was pregnant and bleeding.  I yelled for him to get away from me. When he tried to “help” me I gave him a face full of trainer OC spray. When he kept coming I used my keys as a flail in his face. He grabbed me, and things went even further downhill from there. I accessed my TDI trainer with my left hand and managed to start stabbing, unfortunately at some point a good Samaritan  (the third contact) entered the scene. I stabbed him too. It was only once, but it was a terrible mistake.
  • I learned that if it seems like stupid advice, it probably is. I also learned that the placement and orientation of my knife works for me.

The student who followed me handled his scenario so masterfully the “assailant” finally turned to Craig with a shrug and a smile. No weapons were drawn. No voices were raised.

Managing unknown contacts isn’t about tricks, or a one-size-fits-all solution. It is about mindset and responding within context.

I remembered all of the times I’ve diffused drunks and angry customers by being calm, and respectful. I remembered the men who approached me in retail settings thinking I was an easy pick-up, or worse, easily intimidated. Requests for directions in parking lots, or casual conversations struck up in elevators.

We live our lives navigating interactions with people we don’t know. Each of them have their own agendas that they keep to themselves. Any one of those daily scenarios can turn the corner into violence. None of them are made better by prematurely drawing a weapon or bullshit tactics.

We also got to fight in a car. I pretty much fucked that up too. I didn’t mind.

I was afraid going into ECQC. I, like many other women I know in fight-focused training, have a very intimate relationship with violence in close quarters. Revisiting those fears, facing them, and fighting through them was more important to me than nailing the seatbelt technique or winning every Evo.

The fight that mattered to me was already won.

About the Author:

The She-Shepherd The She-Shepherd is a defensive firearms student, mother and advocate for pushing the boundaries of how we train. She believes that defensive training must balance context, mindset, and skill to be most effective. Her specialty has become testing alternative modes of firearms carry and best practices of less than lethal force options through rigorous force-on-force scenario based training.

6 Comments on "That’s What She Said: Shivworks ECQC course with Craig Douglas"

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  1. Wayne says:

    Wow — super-thorough and very well-written summary of your experiences. I have some similar hang-ups about fighting. All the training I’ve ever done has been at arm’s length or further and whenever an opponent gets in my face, I fall apart.

    Fortunately for me, I’m a 6′ dude and I’ve pretty much mastered the “fuck you” glare. That prevents a lot of potential trouble.

    Thank you for taking the time to do such a thorough report! (Lots of people read and appreciate without responding — you’re not just howling in the wilderness…)

  2. Janice says:

    Thank you so much for this great article. I really enjoyed your writing style. I found myself laughing and smiling through most of it, recognizing my own short comings in your words. My adult daughter is an avid jujitsu student and firearms instructor. I only wish I had recognized the usefulness of jujitsu at a much younger age for myself. Please keep writing your perspectives, I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  3. The She-Shepherd The She-Shepherd says:

    Thank you so much! My hope is that my article, and increased exposure of other women’s experiences at ECQC-style classes will encourage greater attendance.

  4. Matthew Green says:

    Even as a dude, albeit a tall, skinny, out of shape one, I feel the same way you did about the course, but I’m coming anyway. Maybe I’ll see you at Ahlmans in June.

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