Trident Concepts conducted their Combative Pistol, Level Two at the Angeles Shooting Range in Los Angles, CA. The class was made up of many returning students along with several new faces; mostly private citizens with about a quarter law enforcement representation. This class in particular has become one of my favorite locations to go to as we always have great weather and a good cross section of people wanting to train seriously. This class was no different and there was a lot of camaraderie to boot.
On TD1 we started with our traditional indoc brief along with safety brief and it is always nice to start the class off with heavy medical presence. We had two ER doctors and a paramedic in the class with their gear; hard to be that for a response time. We went through the normal manipulations drills and I quickly noticed we had a lot more M1911’s than we normally see in class. For the most part they all ran fine, but they are abusive in an intense class such as ours. Students would opt to wear gloves towards the end of the class, which helps protect the hands no doubt, but during the early stages of learning also adds complications to grip and trigger management, which was something that everyone struggled with during the class.
I cannot emphasis it enough that if you are taking time off work, paying for ammunition and all the other expenses that go into a good training class then you want to plan to avoid problems or down time. We had one M1911 whose sight came loose, this shooter had a spare so he cleared to retrieve it and quickly rejoined the line. Another student had grip safety problems on the last day and it became very problematic. He had no spare and while we had a good gunsmith on sight, it is still not a replacement for a spare gun. Luckily, there was another student who graciously loaned him a spare for him to complete the class.
Another student brought one of the sub-compact Sig Sauer 9mm pistols as his primary. So, I’m not against these ultra small pistols, I’m against not training with them adequately enough to be proficient enough. Their low magazine capacity, increased recoil and small frame make them very difficult to shoot well throughout a high intensity class. I will say that a gun is better than no gun, but don’t be mislead into thinking you will perform well with it unless you train hard with it. The other problem you come to realize is how inaccurate these are at extended ranges. While not intended for these purposes you cannot predict they type of gunfight you will have and more importantly don’t reduce your response to extreme close range, distance is all around you and there are plenty of reasons why you would want to be accurate past 15 yards. The student really was at an even greater hindrance with the double action type trigger so not only was he battling a very small pistol in his large hands, but the two different style triggers. Of course, there is nothing unreliable with a quality double action system and they have been around for a long time, but I don’t see the advantage of having two different types of trigger movements. This is particularly hard for recreational shooters who may not practice often enough for the double action requirements to maintain suitable proficiency. The student opted in the afternoon of TD2 to switch to a Glock 34 and you could see immediate improvement in his performance and a change to his attitude. I’m sure he will keep the sub-compact, but probably find himself really working on the new Glock.
Another student this one a returning student worked with a P226 and it proved to be equally challenging, the double action, as it was for the other student. Just when he would get the double action down, his single action would suffer. Then focus on the single would cause some really errant double actions. He switched to a P226DAK and while it greatly helped him deal with the issue of more than one type of trigger movement it was still a heavy trigger that continued to produce errant rounds. There is a happy medium between a heavy trigger pull and lighter trigger pull. Some will comment that heavy trigger pulls are safer. I have no idea how anyone could articulate sensible justification for this claim, it is just nonsense. There is no mechanical device that can replace not having your finger on the trigger until you have consciously decided to employ lethal force. Period, end of story. A special thanks to RZ for hooking both students up with some of his spare pistols, that’s right they both came from the same guy, now that’s preparation.
We also had a wide body ParaOrdance that was finicky with its magazines. Here is one of those other sacred cows to slay, which in this case you have the higher capacity platform, but the magazines are unreliable. So, is it really all that good then? Probably not, particularly in a state that has such draconian laws as California. Wipe it down and put it away. Your pistol is only as reliable as the ammunition you feed it and the magazines they come from. That is not something many folks think about when looking to purchase their pistols…magazine situation. We also had some problems with the 10-round M1911 high capacity, I almost cannot get myself to call them high capacity, magazines. They were allowing the round to push up past the feed lips just enough to cause a problem that was solved by slamming the slide forward manually. It was frustrating for sure.
Back to reliable ammunition, we had one student who was shooting a customized Glock 30 from Salient Arms and while feeding factory ball ammunition produced no problems according to the owner his reloads were very problematic and cost him in a few drills when he had to deal with the malfunctions on the timer. While the pistol was significantly altered, I didn’t have a chance to really get a feel for it. Having said that, the reliability of a Glock isn’t really in question, the interface between it and the shooter can be difficult. There is no one size fits all and the ability to customize can be appealing. While the addition of better sights is almost mandatory or at least on all mine I don’t see any compelling need to change up or alter anything else. A note on grip reductions, I have seen them work for some people, generally people with much smaller hands or way too big a gun. For those people who have no choice it may be a good idea, but the solution is not a hardware solution alone, it is also a software solution or in this case improving your grip strength and applying it correctly.
Here is a good example of switching pistols to accommodate the student. One student was using his duty issued Glock 21, which is pretty much a brick in just about anyone’s hands. He had great difficulty correctly placing his trigger finger due to the size. He switched to the new “slim lined” G21 and he was able to better place his finger and with concentration apply better trigger control. If given the chance I encourage folks to play with different pistols to see which one allows them to best achieve a solid grip and optimal trigger finger placement. You can get a good grip or what you think is a good grip, but your finger is at such a difficult angle it makes it hard for you to apply correct trigger management techniques.
We worked through our basic marksmanship drills and quickly spotted some common problems. Grip seemed to be the big one and we worked hard to get everyone comfortable with a good combat grip. Some would get it and others would struggle. The grip should begin from the pinkies and work up to create a solid platform. Then occupy as much real estate as you can and keep your thumbs in line with the target. Even the slightest upward angle with your thumbs will create a weak point.
We continued to progress smoothly and the next major issue we were dealing with was trigger management. This we break down into three parts, trigger finger placement, trigger finger location and trigger movement. Placement is all about what part of the finger you are using to move the trigger. The prime directive is use enough finger to apply the power needed to smoothly move the trigger straight to the rear. If it is not enough you will try to muscle through it and produce errant shots. There are finer details about placement, but that is a big one. Location is all about leverage, the more leverage you can generate, the less power you need. You also want to avoid any contact with the pistol other than the trigger itself. Movement is about moving the trigger straight to the rear past the point of detention, pushing it into the frame itself. If folks can get a handle on these issues early on then it makes for a much more productive training session. All of these issues are tied together obviously and it is best to tackle one thing at a time, work on it until it is done then pick another skill and so on and so on.
Much of the afternoon was spent working drills to reinforce the basics of marksmanship and to develop consistency. A tough thing to expect someone to quickly be proficient, that is where repetitions come into play an unfettered commitment to consistency. Once folks are consistent then we can slowly tweak their technique, literally molding it into its final form. It is so cool to watch that happen in front of your own eyes. Those are the students that really make the most improvements.
Most everyone was progressing smoothly by the time we got to some weapon manipulations, but you can see where poor choices in equipment can create bad habits. Some of the M1911 had the competition based adjustable sights with sharp corners and many times you could see them using more of a dainty method of working their slide to avoid the sharp edges. How you program yourself in training will largely be how you respond under stress. Again, you can use gloves, but wearing gloves adds another dimension to your training, one that should be tempered with the consistency of quality trigger management. Otherwise you will end up creating additional bad habits you will have to sort out later down the road. These habits can be so pervasive that we have seen students aim upper right quadrant of the target to “slap” the round into the target zone. This accommodation is such a short term fix that many don’t even realize they are doing it until you setup drills that force them to aim at reduced targets illustrating their error.
As we progressed to the diagnostics drills many of the skills were coming together. These drills really help us to identify common shooting errors, but they only work when the student can aim at a consistent target. Adjusting your point of aim during the drill doesn’t help us to correct problems and this is where the ego can surface. Believe me, I know it is hard to miss when others around you are hitting, but you have to fight that urge and aim true. In this case we had a student who consistently was aiming high on the target. I continued to encourage him to adjust his aim since he was consistent. There was some push back as he tried to explain why he was aiming high. Check, I get it, but you are not following instructions. In an effort to explain a higher lethality by aiming closer to the throat area I tried to explain that if he can demonstrate marksmanship technique he could put the bullet anywhere he pleases. It took some time to get that through, but on TD2 while conducting some more diagnostic drills I was able to work with him and to his surprise he was aiming high because he was using the dot and not the top of the front sight, but he believed he was using the top of the sight. As soon as this was illustrated to him his shots centered up and he was good to go from there.
Shooting on the move was tough for this class, mainly because we saw a lot of ambushing techniques. You have to embrace the first, best sight picture and apply solid trigger management techniques for this drill. A lot of folks think this is solely about shooting while moving. Actually, it is another drill to reinforce the FBSP; you don’t have a lot of time to get the shot during these drills. Techniques that artificially have you moving or if you are working to time your shot it will eventually lead to failure. You have to break the shot when the sight is there; it is the very essence of the FBSP.
Early in the class we had many students using dummy rounds to help correct trigger control issues. To a man, it improved their performance and many realized how much effort is required to demonstrate this skill. Those who kept using the dummy rounds continued to see improvement and the whole class would benefit from similar drills where the emphasis is placed on more rapid fire engagements with dummy rounds randomly loaded. You can still move the trigger correctly very quickly, but you have to do it often to keep the skill up. Our classes are combinations of drills that focus solely on accuracy, solely on speed and then combinations of those two elements.
I asked each student to focus on a single task during some drills to emphasis the important of that task. Then I would ask them what they needed to do to guarantee the shot. To take it one step forward I asked them what yard line they wanted to perform a drill where they could guarantee the hit. I didn’t give them any details; they had to choose based on the ranges I gave them. They choose unwisely as it was very quick to see student drop out as they missed their target. I asked the question again and this time got a more reasonable response and we saw a much better performance from being honest with your skills. Live and learn, but keep practicing.
We worked on some strong hand only drills and we had one student who struggled for most of the class. As soon as he shot this drill it literally opened his eyes to what he was doing. I can tell a student what I think is going on based off their feedback and the target, and then make suggestions, but it is up to the student to enact those suggestions. In this case it wasn’t until he was forced to shoot with one hand that grip and trigger made sense. He literally saw his performance increase when we went back to a standard grip. It was really cool to see that occur and another one of those things that most think they are doing, but until you can isolate and confirm you really don’t know.
We finished off with our version of the El Presidente drill and man it was like all of sudden these guys were possessed. They shot each run hard, with some excellent scores. When it came to the graded runs we had 4 students advance to the next round and 3 who qualified as Marksman. It is always great to see folks reap the benefits of their hard work and this drill is all about the hard work you put into the class. My good friend Tony Blauer was very consistent through the whole class, but he definitely rose to the occasion producing an excellent first time score and earning his badge. Congratulations to those guys as well as the rest of the students in the class. Spirits were so high that immediately there was talk of coming back to teach another class this year. We will definitely keep that option open and if we can then it is a no brainer.
No matter when it is, I will look forward to returning back to Los Angeles, always a great time.