AAR Combative Pistol, L1 Austin, TX

Trident concepts conducted their Combative Pistol, Level One (CP1) in the greater Austin, TX area. The class was made up of people from all across the country; from Utah to Minnesota and New York to Washington DC. We had both state and federal law enforcement as well as private citizens from all walks of life. There were a few returning students, but the majority were taking their first training class with us. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, cool breeze and partly cloudy. I love this time of year, I wish we would get a few extra weeks of this really mild weather before the sun just slams down on us.

This was our first pistol class of the year, and I was extremely happy to see the high enrollments given the situation with ammunition being so difficult to obtain. Many students have planned well in advance as well as some who took advantage of our ammunition augmentation program, which allows students attending class to purchase bulk ammo to be used in the training classes. It’s no secret that ammunition is by far the most challenging component to training this year and it is hard to say when things will even out. My gut tells me that around Midsummer we should start to see the resupply of ammunition and things starting to get a little bit better. While I have no definitive proof of this, discussions with the manufacturers have led me to think of that as a positive.

We started our training day by going through our warrior mindset lecture. The Level One class is the only class where you can get exposure to this lecture and while I would love to do it in every class it takes time to cover in detail. Since we are seeing so many first-time gun owners I felt it was very important that the Level One class be the first exposure to the warrior mindset, so that’s one of the huge advantages to the class. Part of the lecture discusses motivations and goals. I believe it’s very important to have identified these items before you start training. The secret is being able to establish reasonable goals balanced with measurable results. I find it hard to believe that more training organizations fail to recognize the importance of this when developing their curriculum. We start by going around the class and having each student introduce themselves and talk about their motivation. This was the first class where we had so many people whose motivation was absolutely real. We had members of the class who were the subject of home invasions, death threats, natural disasters as well as high-risk professions. I listened intently and from my point of view this was probably the best part of the class. Many of the students who truly defined their goals coupled with the motivation easily progressed through the program. Any training events will put a mental lag on you and our training classes certainly drain your mental capacity. At those low points when your concentration is not at its best, that is where your motivation comes into play and helps you stay focused towards achieving your goals. It was impressive to actually watch that taking place in front of my own eyes.

The equipment load-out was mainly made up of Glock, H&K, Sig Sauer and Springfield Armory’s XD pistols. The double action Sigs certainly didn’t help the novice shooters and even the more experienced shooters. While I love this pistol, it’s major downside is the double action feature. It requires a tremendous amount of concentration to master and for most students who do not have the luxury of weeks if not months worth of training it’s asking a lot for them to gain the competency to be confident.

Leupold DeltaPoint in action

I was also happy to see as many mini red dot sights on the pistols; they seem to be becoming more and more popular which I readily embrace. While supporting equipment such as holsters are still lagging behind, I don’t see this as an excuse to avoid the beginning stages of the transition to the mini red dots. We took time during the class to do a short data dump on the mini red dots that we see during our training classes. I am finalizing an article that will highlight many of these points and just waiting on a few more rounds down range for side-by-side comparisons. You could also see a data dump as I collaborate with Brian Black the editor of ITS. He was really excited after the brief to learn more and I believe the audience will be very happy with our observations.

Real quick, the mini red dots are not the end-all be-all, but they certainly help those of us with aging eyes to increase are accuracy under stress. The anytime view-ability of the red dot is huge, I found my accuracy to improve dramatically increased at extended ranges as well as my speed decrease at close ranges. While yes it’s another mechanical device, the durability of these units has increased over the last few years to the point that their ruggedness is on par with other accessories commonly found on pistols such as lights. The best advice that I can give somebody who is seriously looking at employing a mini red dot would be to try and find a pistol equipped with one and perform some dry fire practice. The mistake that many people make is failing to drive the sights to the target, if you drive the sights to target as if you were looking for your front sight you will see the red dot well before.

We next practiced the simple aspect of loading and unloading to give exposure to the power stroke. Some students who are new to the art didn’t have any bad habits to correct, other students how to work through some training scars. I believe any technique that has you placing your hand in front of the ejection port whether on top or underneath the slide is suboptimal and should be avoided. While a popular technique, we much prefer grabbing the slide by the slides serrations when performing a chamber verification check or any cycling of the slide. After performing several practice drills, you could see the positive gains of muscle memory taking effect. Some students would struggle for the rest of the morning trying to remember proper sequence, but by the end of the day most were able to easily work through the process. Taking the time to show the power stroke early on is a huge advantage throughout the class, students gain a higher level of competency at manipulating the weapon.

Partner preparatory marksmanship drills

We took to the range at this point to start working on preparatory marksmanship drills. These drills have the students partnering up to progress through various stages that help us isolate the individual components to marksmanship skills.  As we covered the fundamentals of stance, mount and grip we could start to see the beginning stages of improvement. One of the problems that many of the students had throughout the class was maintaining consistency with their grip integrity. Many students struggle trying to find the optimal grip balance between the pistol’s frame and their hand size. When facing the decision of grip versus trigger finger placement, it is recommended to side with trigger management. I believe adjusting the grip so the shooter has the most leverage and power to squeeze the trigger displacing the sights as minimally as possible overrides the grip. Shooting with your weak hand in a standard two-hand grip will help managed the recall impulse, which allows the student to focus more on trigger finger placement. A few students figure this out quickly and saw huge improvements while others took longer before they saw the same improvements.

After working through the various preparatory marksmanship drills we advanced too basic marksmanship drills. Our training philosophy is built around progression, by isolating individual skills and practicing them to a point of proficiency then adding new techniques on top provides the highest level of success and retention. Basically it’s a building block process that as long as the foundation is solid will ensure that the student has the highest chance of success. As we worked our way through the curriculum I was happy with the progress, step-by-step many students were starting to take ownership of their own technique. I had a few students whose greatest hindrance was there over analysis of what they were doing. Not necessarily a bad thing but you could see their frustration and in talking with them you could tell they were just over thinking things. There is a lot going on, to be accurate you have to execute several tasks in proper sequence.

There is so much to cover in a two-day program, even a basic class. It’s hard as an instructor to prioritize the needs over the wants. I want to cover a lot of things, but in a basic class I need to cover marksmanship. To us marksmanship reigns supreme on the battlefield and we work really hard to emphasize the importance of marksmanship. While learning skills such as the draw stroke is important and we don’t cover it until the end of training day one. For pretty much the entire day we focus on nothing but marksmanship and when we need to draw the pistols from the holster we simply asked the students to safely remove the pistols from the holster while maintaining muzzle discipline and keeping their finger straight. While we might create some bad habits, I feel it’s more important to focus on the marksmanship components and it’s balanced with the fact that most of the drills on day one are performed from the ready position. Once we’ve covered the draw stroke though we spend pretty much the rest of the drills beginning from the holster.

Another drill we wait and till the end of the day to perform is the diagnostics. I love performing these drills at any skill level. There is so much to be gained that I routinely jump on the line to work through them. Most of the time the shooting errors that we see are going to center around three subjects; trigger management, grip integrity and point of aim. Because were performing the drill at distance, trigger management errors are magnified and easier to diagnose. Within the errors relating to trigger management the most common one we see his trigger slapping which typically produces low left shot groups. Errors relating to grip integrity typically have shot groups that are left. Errors relating to point of aim issues are typically high. As we progress through this drill many of the training scars are identified and slowly corrected.

We finished up the day then packed it up and headed home.

Ball & dummy drills...old school, but still effective

After setting the range up, the first drill for the day would be to partner up and randomly load magazines with inert training rounds. These types of drills are so invaluable towards identifying poor trigger management. Just about every level of shooter can benefit from these types of drills. There were a couple of shooters who had the proverbial light bulb moment and were able to make steady progress towards smoother trigger squeeze. This was one of the points where a student recognized that his grip was hindering his trigger management. Through this drill he was able to adjust his grip for better purchase on the trigger thereby given him improved trigger management and overall improved accuracy. Right after this drill we stepped into a diagnostic drill and the performance was much better this go around. Many shooters were starting to put it all together and while maybe not consistent they were making progress.

Cross eye dominate student, second from the end

There were several students that had cross-eyed dominant issues, while not very common we occasionally see one or two in our classes. While many can use workarounds some have such a severe case that you are left with few options. One shooter was having an incredibly difficult time and was constantly printing his shot groups to the left. After the diagnostic drills we were able to potentially eliminate the grip integrity issue as well as trigger management issue. This really left just the aiming as the problem, the shooter was having an incredibly difficult time focusing on the front sight and registering the targets downrange. We tried everything from shifting head position to closing the week eye to no avail. Finally, I suggested that he squint his week eye and as if the problem never existed to shock groups centered up. I was relieved to see some progress as the student was very frustrated that he couldn’t see the positive gains that some of the other students were seen.

Another one of my favorite drills is a combination of live fire with dry fire where students are graded on performance and based off poor performance are required to perform dry fire practice. While the dry fire practice can get fatiguing, it certainly helps the students to improve. A complaint one of the students had was that during dry fire he performed extremely well, but then when life fire was present he always seemed to make the same mistakes. I see this quite often with students simply because dry fire comes at no cost. There’s no live round and the student knows it. As soon as a live round is introduced, the student knows it and as a result we see the poor performance. It’s really hard to get over this particular issue and about the only thing that will really help is more practice were dry fire and live fire are going hand-in-hand. Of course one must be very careful when combining dry fire and live fire to make sure that safety is always considered, but still worth the effort.

I like to introduce modest stress towards the end of the class and to do this we use a timer. The part times for the various courses the fire are very generous and the point of the drill is not necessarily to meet the part times but to feel the pressure and stay focused on the marksmanship fundamentals. I was very happy to see several students meeting the part times and maintaining the accuracy and as we worked other drills where the timer was combined with accuracy standards it was nice to see many students really doing well. One drill in particular a student achieved a perfect score, which at this level is a great accomplishment.

The last school drill was to perform a head-to-head competition versus a steel target. Another form of stress can easily be generated through competing. I was very happy to see an alumni student win the head-to-head steel competition. He showed great poise as he dueled against the very students in the class. I’m always happy to recognize excellence in performance and so the student who had a perfect score on the steel standards as well as the student who won the head-to-head steel competition were each awarded various prizes. After the head-to-head competition we got set up for our final test, which is the entry exam for our Level Two pistol class. It’s always frustrating when a student fails to positively identify target and shoots the wrong target thereby disqualifying both himself and the student whose target he shot. Unfortunately, that happened in this class and there really isn’t anything we can do about it. I feel both the students would’ve done well had it not been for the disqualification. I was also very happy to see an alumni student take the top shooter spot with the highest overall score.

An Alumni as top shooter, Bravo Zulu!

We circled back up for our debrief and it was filled with awesome lessons learned. The various students repeat many of these lessons learned from class to class. One thing that I’m particularly happy about is that this year we’ve decided to focus more on first time and new gun owners. This class is the perfect entry-level program for them and I l am looking forward to running more classes both in the Central Texas as well as the rest of the country. I highly encourage those that are considering training to look at this entry-level program, it will certainly point you in the right direction and build the proper mechanics to be successful.

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