Friday, November 30, 2012

What the Zombie Apocalypse Means To You

Zombies - these days, they're everywhere. Not real zombies, of course, but the idea of zombies has found its way into just about everything: zombie survival kits, zombie books, zombie clothing, zombie movies and TV shows, zombie pepper spray . . . . even Gerber has made a line of zombie-themed blades. And the gun industry is no exception, as we have zombie targets, zombie bullets, zombie-themed guns, and companies such as EOTech have created zombie-specific red dot sights and other firearms equipment. It seems that people just love the idea of the undead rambling around looking to eat the brains of the living.

Zombies - why won't they just die?

Personally, I could do without all of this zombie nonsense, but it certainly does serve a purpose, and that purpose is more helpful than you may think. When the zombie craze spilled over into the gun world, I was dismayed, since I felt that it reduced the seriousness of firearms in the eyes of some people and relaxed the high level of responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with firearm ownership and usage. And while I do still somewhat believe that to be true, I've also seen something that has surprised me somewhat: the zombie craze has gotten more people into the shooting sports, and in a good way. The concept of a 'zombie apocalypse' has actually been a move in the right direction for many citizens, as they scramble to buy up and learn to use survival supplies that they normally would've never thought to own except when they were re-labeled with the word 'zombie.'

It's not hard these days to find a 'zombie survival kit' which could include everything from normal survival supplies to sharp instruments and tools with which to destroy a zombie's brain - or seriously help you in a real emergency. Like many survival kits, those that are zombie related aren't necessarily the best choice for every situation, and often include items of poor quality and things that you really wouldn't actually need - but they are better than nothing, which is what a lot of people had before all this talk of a zombie apocalypse.

 One of many 'zombie survival kits' - better than nothing!

While there may never be a real zombie apocalypse, the benefits of endorsing greater preparedness and self-reliance amongst the general citizenry are very real indeed. Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has gotten on board with a 'Zombie Preparedness' section on their website, in which the CDC director, Dr. Ali Khan, says, "If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack." Dr. Khan certainly has a good point, as the zombie apocalypse would certainly reduce access to food, water, medical supplies, fuel, tools, and means of self-defense, all of which would also be limited by just about any natural disaster or civil emergency. And in the zombie apocalypse, you've got to be able to carry your supplies, as you may have to leave your home. The same can almost always be said in a real natural disaster, such as a wildfire or hurricane, where you may need to leave your home for several days at a time, or maybe forever. Consider the most recent disaster that our country has faced, which was the devastating power of Hurricane Sandy. So many of our neighbors were forced to flee their homes, some returning home to nothing. I sincerely hope that many of them thought ahead and had some basic survival and comfort supplies, as well as important documents and family photos, stored away in a pack or bag that they were able to take with them.

A neighborhood hit by the recent Hurricane Sandy - a little
preparedness can go a long way here.

The zombie apocalypse ideas sweeping the nation certainly annoy some people, and most definitely encourage some of the weirdos to be even weirder; but it can also help us all to take a look at our emergency preparations and find the holes where we could do better. Do we really have the tools and supplies to survive a disastrous event? Do we have the training and skills to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive and safe? And if we had to leave our home, for whatever reason, can we carry the essential equipment needed and do we have the physical fitness to get the job done?

Whether or not you buy into the zombie apocalypse doesn't really matter. What does matter is that considering a major event, even something as silly as zombies, can do great things for your own mindset and preparations. As for us here at Independence Training, we're not too worried about zombies, but we're always striving to help people become more confident and self-reliant, whether for the zombie apocalypse or an actual real-life emergency. That is the way of the Sheepdog Lifestyle - to learn something new each day and to strive to become a better person each day. So once I finish typing this, I'm off to buy one of these, and then spend the afternoon practicing my hack-n-slash skills:

Gerber Gator Machete Pro - for hacking brush, large vegetables, or the undead.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Ultimate Survival Technique

I know the Ultimate Survival Technique - and I'm about to teach it to you.

Before I can reveal to you what the Ultimate Survival Technique is, however, I have to first tell you who revealed it to me. Though I had known this technique for years, it was Brent Wheat, a law-enforcement officer and writer for S.W.A.T. magazine, who really brought it to my attention as something that must be front-and-center in our lives, and because of his wisdom, I will use his words:

Gained via nearly half a century of hard knocks at the hands of criminals, enraged animals, stupid people, the weather and every other type of misfortune experienced in this vale of tears we call life, I've managed to figure out the single best method to triumph over those occasional annoyances that maim or kill.

The secret is a profound truth that some men and women have learned over the years while so many others blindly scramble about, groping for the ultimate weapon or tactic that will insure their life against all odds.

I will now present the long-awaited secret: learn how to do everything.

I hope you weren't reading Brent's words and hoping for a magic formula, earth shattering hand-to-hand technique, or kill-all-the-bad-guys weapon recommendation - if so, then I hope you're not too disappointed. Of course I understand that no one person can know everything, and of course I understand that no one person can do everything, but the fact of the matter is that you need to do everything you can do to learn everything that you can learn.

In the training community we get a lot of students, and even instructors, who focus on only one topic - it may be shooting, physical fitness, mindset, or any other skill. Now don't get me wrong - a singular focus can lead to building an amazing skill, but the problem with that singular focus is that it often doesn't leave time, desire, or energy to the development of other skills. For example, perhaps you have taken some firearms training and even reached a certain level of proficieny, but what happens after a gunfight when you or someone you love has been shot? You can make holes, but can you patch them? Perhaps you've become a true master of long-range shooting, taking out targets at 1000 meters with ease - but what about when someone grabs you by the collar and demands your wallet, your watch, and your life? Do you possess the ability to go hands-on with another human being and win?

The preparedness movement, or as we like to call it, the "self-reliance movement", has really taken hold in America these days, and as our economy and government continues to shift and change, the uncertain future drives more and more citizens into "prepper" mode. So they stock up on wheat and dehydrated foods, flashlights and generators, guns and ammo. But what about a hand-grinder for that wheat and the knowledge to make several different meals with wheat? What about the water storage required for that dehydrated food, or the knowledge and skills to use several different types of water purification? Can you fix that generator or those flashlights if they break? How about those guns - can you use them effectively, maintain them properly, and repair them if needed?

What I'm really talking about here is to stop for a second and take a step back to examine your survivability. What do you really know how to do? It's great that you can chop a cement block with your kung-fu, but can you chop wood? Few things are as impressive to me as someone who can shoot fast and still shoot well, but can you sew a shirt? Can you make basic repairs to your vehicle, or at least change the oil? Is there anything in your house that you cannot fix, and if so - what's stopping you from learning how?

As a firearms instructor, I often say that I am first and foremost a student of the gun, as anyone who wants to truly master a firearm should be, but I also believe that outside of that realm I am really just a student of life. And I propose that you follow that path, as well. Find something that interests you and start there. It doesn't matter if it's rock-climbing, shoe making, carpentry, or bee-keeping. Don't know where to start? Google is your friend - there is no topic, no activity, no skill that has not been fully documented, written about, and slapped on the internet for your viewing pleasure. YouTube is full of videos (someof them good, some of them not do good) that can teach you about your chosen new skill. Then seek out professional instruction on that topic and really listen to and learn from the instructor or teacher. Learn as much about your topic as possible, Practice what you learned, Apply it to your life, and then Repeat the process. Learn, Practice, Apply, Repeat - do this until you die.

Remember, the true Sheepdog learns something new everyday, and sharpens their primary weapon everyday. What's your primary weapon? It's your mind, and once it starts to rust it gets harder to sharpen. The edge gets dull, and the quality becomes weak. Soon, without any maintenance, without any sharpening or honing of your weapon, it breaks down, and soon, the rest of your tools follow, and then you are weak. We never know the time or the place when the Wolf will attack, and just because he hasn't attacked yet, doesn't mean that he won't ever attack. The Wolf is not always a big bag bruiser who wants to kick in your front door and eat you for lunch, either. The Wolf can be that broken washing machine when your paycheck is already stretched thin - if only you could use some hand tools, you could fix it yourself. The Wolf is a tear in your favorite pants that you could sew if only you knew how. The Wolf can even be becoming lost in a different town or a foreign country, and lost you will remain with no knowledge of maps, compasses, or the local dialect or customs. The Wolf is adversity, and you can only overcome adversity with knowledge and the willpower to use that knowledge.

I know that you cannot learn everything - but why not try? Start today.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Home Security: Harden Your Target

'It was a Tuesday morning at 8:30 - he came right into my garage as I was getting in my car headed for work.'

'Last night, someone tried to break in through a window I had left open for some fresh air.'

'In the middle of the day they burglarized my entire house, and stole all of the electronics, jewelry, and guns they could get their hands on.'

'I woke up when I heard a crash, like something had fallen off of the counter downstairs. Then the dog started barking like crazy.'

'I knew the moment I came home and saw the broken glass that they had come for my guns, and when I saw that my safe was gone, my stomach churned.'

Each one of the above statements comes from an Independence Training student within the last 3 months. For some, their experience was the catalyst that encouraged them to begin training; for others, it was a wake-up call to spend more effort on hardening their target. For those of us who have not had this terrible thing happen to us, it is an opportunity to learn from what has happened to others so that we can try to prevent it from happening to us.

First things first - try to think like a criminal. I know this may be hard for some of you, but give it a shot. Take a walk around your own home and try to figure out what would make you want to break in. Drive by your house and try to spot things that may be tell-tale signs of an easy target or that there may be nice things inside worthy of a pawn shop or a street deal. Now observe the other homes in your neighborhood - which homes in your area make the juiciest targets? Look at the house in the picture above: sure, it's a nice house and there are probably nice things inside, but look at how well it is lit up and how low the bushes are trimmed, leaving no hiding spots or concealment areas. Here's a few things to look for at your house:
  • Are there kids' toys spread all over the yard? I wonder what kind of electronics they have?
  • Are there newspapers stacked up on the driveway or left in the ditch, boxes from a delivery service left overnight on the porch, service flyers tucked into the front door, undisturbed leaves or unshoveled snow in the driveway?
  • Do you have gun stickers on your vehicle, home windows, or visible gun safes from a front room or through a side window? Do you visibly leave your home dressed in camouflage, or carrying gun cases or ammo cans?
  • Sure, your front door may have a security screen, but what about the back door?
  • Are your windows locked and blocked with rods? Are there thick bushes under them that would enable someone to hide?
  • Do you have an active security system, and could a casual passerby see that?
  • Do you or your neighbors have a dog that likes to make noise when someone gets too close?
  • When the blinds on your windows are open, what can you see from the street?
  • Are there lights on inside and out when it's dark? When you're gone, is there noise coming from the house, such as a radio or TV?
  • Do your neighbors get suspicious when someone is poking around or an unknown vehicle drives down the road? Do you know your neighbors?
  • Are your doors locked during the day? How about your windows?
  • Does your home have the nicest looking paint job, the best manicured lawn, and the newest vehicles in the driveway?
Those are just a few of the things to look for, and your main goal is to figure out what would make your home a target, and then try to figure out to make it less appealing. There are four D's to home defense, and the first three are Deter, Detect, and Delay. Visible security measures such as security company signs and security doors can Deter most criminals, and for those that persist, active security often works - things like motion lights, noisy dogs, and blaring alarms can Detect them and therefore help with deterrence. For those who are persistent, you'll need to Delay them with difficult locks, secondary locking systems, window rods, and things as simple as putting door stops behind swinging doors or toys or other small objects at the top of the stairway in the dark.

And then there are those criminals who cannot be deterred, who do not fear detection, and have overcome your delay tactics - these are the true wolves, and there is only way to deal with them. The fourth D of home defense is to Defend. For this you must have the tools and the training to get the job done right - seek out professional instruction on the effective selection and proper use of whatever defensive tools you have selected for you family. This is not the place to pinch pennies, especially if you have already done so under the Deter, Detect, and Delay processes. This may be your last resort, and more than just tools and training are required - the proper survival mindset is a necessity. Again, professional instruction should be sought out and completed for not just you but every member of your household. After all, criminals don't just come knocking while you are at home cleaning your guns; rather, they tend to show up when your kids just got home from school or your spouse is home alone while you are out of town.
As much as I wish it weren't true, home invasions, property damage, and personal assaults are on the rise. As our nation continues to struggle through a down economy, some people out there choose to take the easy way out and take from others to provide for their own needs, sometimes injuring those they are stealing from, or worse. Here are a few additional things to consider when you are evaluating your personal security: 
  • How much personal information do you put on your social media pages? Do you post that you are going on vacation or that you just got back from vacation? Can someone figure out where you work or where your kids go to school?
  • Are your safes bolted to the floor, and are the hinges on the inside of the safe?
  • Do you allow just anyone, such as service people or sales personnel, to see inside your home? If they took a look in your front room through the doorway, what would they see of value?
  • Do you know who is in your home and the information they may have access to? Who are the people in their lives that they may tell? I casual observation such as "Billy's dad sure has a lot of guns" can go a long way down a bad chain.
  • When was the last time you participated in a neighborhood watch program or a community policing program? Do you have such a program in your area - if not, why not?
  • Do you have a list of your valuables, including pictures, video, and serial numbers?
  • Does your homeowner's policy or renter's insurance cover all of your property, even your most expensive items?
  • How do you exit or enter your car or garage? Do you leave an opening for someone to come into your home, such as closing the garage door without watching it until it hits the ground? Are there windows in your garage door which would allow someone to see in?
Again, these are just a few of the things to consider. And while I am certainly not promoting a life of paranoia or the mistrust of other citizens, what I am trying to get across is that you need to pay attention and harden your target. Something as simple as an alarm system, which can be had with free installation and remote access through a smartphone at an average rate of $50 per month, can very easily make your home unappealing to those looking for an easy score. And for those true wolves who will not take 'no' for an answer, well . . . . we Sheepdogs know how to speak their language.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Get Your Hits - shot placement is everything

Anyone who has taken courses with Independence Training has most likely heard me say that in a defensive or offensive situation you should shoot a lot and shoot often, and that shot placement trumps all other factors. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from the instructor world comes from Kyle Lamb, of Viking Tactics (VTAC): "Anything worth shooting once is worth shooting 30 times." We say these things not to say that you should spray & pray or carelessly engage your opponent; we say these things to get the point across that if 1 solid hit is good, then 2, 5, or 10 solid hits would be better. Before you get all excited about spreading lead downrange, however, let's take a look at what proper shot placement actually looks like.

First of all, forget about caliber for the remainder of this discussion. There is no handgun or rifle that you are going to easily carry around or keep ready in your home that can 100% guarantee the incapacitation of an aggressor. There are too many real-world instances where a .22LR dropped one bad guy in their tracks but several .45ACP rounds to the chest did not do the job on another bad guy. Factors such as the physical and mental state of the involved combatants play a much larger part in survival and fatality rates than the ballistic charts of the involved bullets. Your job is to make leaks in the hydraulic system - leaking air in and leaking fluid out. Breaking bones, removing mobility, or causing large wounds are all bonuses, but don't count on them.

Let's start our assessment of shot placement by taking a look at some of the standard targets being used in training today:

Have you seen the above target before, or something similar to it? Chances are that you have, and that your overall goal was to hit the 'X'. You may have even heard it referred to as "Center Mass", or the center of available mass. But think of anatomy, and where that 'X' is located. Putting all of your shots in that location would certainly make most attackers think twice about continuing their actions, but we're not looking to make most bad guys reconsider their attack - we want to train to do everything in our power to make all bad guys cease all aggressive action as soon as possible. Shooting them a bunch of times in the mid-section is not the way to get this done, nor is scoring our hits based on a numerical value. I don't care about a high-score in a defensive situation, I care about stopping the threat, which means putting my shots in the 'Juicy Goodness' - that area in the high chest where lungs, heart, and spine are located. Notice that there are also no target areas outlining the head or neck area, which are sometimes the best or even the only available shots. This is not a target that I would consider to be a good target for use in training.

On the other hand we have the VTAC targets, or 'Skeletor', as we lovingly refer to them.

There are several reasons why a target such as this is a good choice for effective shot placement training. First of all, even though it shows the standard scoring rings in dashed lines, it clearly highlights putting your shots in a small, concentrated area right in the location where you are most likely to make holes in the hydraulic system. Training to keep your shots tight and also to keep them in the high chest will increase your chances of being able to do that in the real world. You will also notice the presence of bones and also that the target is realistically shaped, therefore showing and not giving credit for hits outside of the Juicy Goodness which would not be effective, or which may over-penetrate due to their lack of hitting anything substantial. A scoring box around the head is also shown, and while it does not include the neck (which it should) and is a little large for the actual neutralization zone of the head, it is one of the more realistic target areas when compared to the target areas of most other paper torsos. Shots to the head can certainly be effective if done correctly, which means to place them between the eyes or into the eyes to increase the chances of a round entering the frontal lobe of the brain and potentially shutting down the central nervous system,which stops the body altogether. The downside to head shots, as we're about to discuss, is that when they may not penetrate the hard skull, and can even ricochet off of the curvature of the skull. Shots to the face - mouth, cheek, chin, etc. - may not stop an attacker at all, while similarly placed shots to the Juicy Goodness would most certainly have a greater effect. As for the box around the pelvis, that's another discussion for another time.


Let's look at the case of Daniel Tice, an Akron, Ohio resident who shot and killed his wife back in 2009 and then holed up in his basement with his 4-year-old son. SWAT officers were eventually forced to make entry on the house, and after failing to subdue the 6'1", 280 pound man with beanbag rounds fired from a shotgun, they went to lethal force as Tice raised his own weapon towards police officers. A SWAT officer fired a single round from his 9mm MP5 sub-machine gun, which struck Tice in the forehead, subduing him long enough for officers to make the arrest. The amazing part, however, is that the round did not enter Tice's head - instead, it just glanced off. It could have been the angle of the shot, or it could have been a plain ol' hard-head, but either way, this guy survived a 9mm round to the forehead - a few inches lower, however, and the shot would have put this scumbag into the dirt for good. He recovered from the wound and was convicted of the murder of his wife.

So without proper shot placement, head shots are not necessarily the way to go. The skull is a small target, a hardened target, and it moves around easily, so the answer is to shoot Center Mass when possible, right? It's a larger target, often it is also a softer target, and shots there increase your chance to incapacitate a target - assuming that you get your shots in the right part of Center Mass, or what we call the Juicy Goodness. Now consider the case of Angel Alvarez, who survived 21 shots to the body by NYPD officers back in 2010. Bullets fired by officers struck Angel's hands, arms, legs, jaw, and abdomen, but not one single shot struck anything vital, such as the heart, lungs, brain, spine, or any arteries. These are officers who are trained to shoot for Center Mass, which by all accounts they managed to hit, but what they failed to do was strike anything that mattered. Was the suspect incapacitated? Absolutely, and after he healed up in the hospital he went to trial for his crimes. But that's not the point - the point is that if were just you against Alvarez, and you only had the chance to fire a few rounds into the Center Mass of your attacker, and they did not strike anything vital, then your attacker may not be swayed by your measly show of force. In the case of Angel Alvarez, a forensic pathologist was quoted as saying, "More than 20 gunshot wounds is a record. Of course, the real issue is where you get shot. One bullet can kill you, but believe it or not, a body can survive a lot of bullet wounds." Here's Alvarez, alive and well just a few weeks later, on his way to court.

Shot placement is everything. In the end, it doesn't matter how many shots you fired, how quickly you fired them, or what caliber you used. What does matter is whether or not the shots that you fired were placed effectively into an area where they would do the most damage and have the greatest chance of telling your attacker or attackers that you'd rather just buy more ammo than be a victim. You will fight like you train, so train like you want to fight.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Navy SEALs and Soccer Moms - the Importance of Fundamentals

"I want to learn how to shoot out of my car and fight my way to better cover in case I find myself trapped in a crazy urban riot." That's what I heard from a potential student on the other end of the phone earlier this summer. What he wanted to be ready for was not an unrealistic scenario by any means, but I think what I asked him next caught him a little off guard: "When was the last time you did any marksmanship training? How are you at getting effective hits on target at 3 to 15 yards?" After a short conversation on his level of proficiency with the shooting fundamentals, he was enrolled in our Defensive Handgun course instead of our Advanced Handgun course so that he could get some additional work on his marksmanship and manipulation before taking it to the next level. The point of this story isn't that I don't think this student needs to learn how to shoot out of his car and fight his way to better cover - in fact, after completing our Defensive Handgun course, he's now enrolled for an Advanced Handgun course. What I'm getting at here is that none of those 'hi-speed techniques' amount to squat if he wasn't able to get his hits. The problem we face everyday as intructors is that everyone wants to learn how to duck, dive, and roll, but precious few want to spend time on the most basic aspect of shooting: getting your hits.

Let's face it - to most people, there is nothing sexy or cool about practicing marksmanship. But to me, there are few things more beautiful than watching a student, or any shooter for that matter, place shot after shot right where they want them, regardless of circumstance or conditions. Someone who has made the investment of time, money, and sweat to increase their proficiency in shooting is someone who really "gets" what the point of training is: to push yourself to your failure point, get there, back off and re-assess your skills, and then jump back in and push yourself to a new level. There is no end to this process.

Additional techniques and concepts should be preceded by the proper utilization of the
fundamentals, the most important of which are front-sight/optic focus and trigger control!

There have been several instances where people have asked me, "What is the most dangerous thing a student has ever done in class?" They expect a story of someone getting muzzle swept or maybe even having the greatly feared negligent discharge. But what I will tell them is, "Shooting too fast to get effective hits!" And why is this so dangerous? Because in addition to wasting good ammo, it really only accomplishes two things in the real world: First, it may not neutralize your threat, which is of course why you are firing your weapon in the first place. Second, you are responsible - legally, ethically, and financially - for every round that leaves your barrel, which is compunded when those rounds do not strike their intended target. This can have a much bigger impact on someone's life than the first issue, assuming that you managed to survive the initial incident. While shooting quickly, moving, and manipulation of your firearm are often skills that can turn the tide of any encounter and keep you at the top of the power curve, they are worth nothing without the marksmanship to back it all up.

So how do you avoid falling into what I refer to as the "John Woo Trance"? Know where you stand with marksmanship and have a training plan. Start shooting closer to your targets - 3 yards is a good place to begin. Once you can get your hits as fast as you can shoot, step back to 5 yards, then 20 yards, then 50 yards, and so on until you've reached a distance that you feel fits your standard environment with the weapons platform that you are working with. Now work your way back in to 3 yards - and this process shouldn't be done in a single day. This is several training sessions, maybe even several months, of trigger time. Oh, and did I mention that you can practice this without live ammunition? That's right: dry practice really is the key to success, and the best part is that it can be done on the shooting range or in the comfort of your own home. Just make sure that you follow the proper unloading procedures, remove all live ammunition from your body and from the area, double-check that chamber, and adhere to all of the firearm safety rules!

Now that you can get your hits at the desired ranges, start your movement techniques, add in your malfunction drills, work from behind cover, and so on. Once you've reached the level of proficiency that you desire, start over and work harder, because there is always someone out there who is faster and stronger and wants victory more than you do, and you do not want to meet that person on a dark and rainy night in an alley when they've decided that they want what you have. And remember this: Hits are always fashionable. Shot placement trumps all factors. 1 slow hit beats 5 fast misses. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Anything worth shooting once is worth shooting thirty times. Aim small, miss small. And there is a lawyer attached to every bullet you fire - get your hits.

It's a beautiful thing: marksmanship practice may not always be "hi-speed",
but shot placement trumps all factors, including caliber, circumstance, and how
much you paid for your gun.

In the course of my professional and recreational shooting experience, I've had the chance to be around a lot of fantastic individuals. Several months ago, while training alongside an active duty Navy SEAL, I asked him what the most important aspect of his training was to him. He replied, "When I shoot someone, I want them to stay down, and shot placement is key." Last month, I was talking with a woman who had just purchased her first handgun and wanted to sign up for a course to learn more about protecting her home and family. When I asked her what her primary goal for training was, she replied, "If I have to shoot someone who is trying to hurt me or my family, I want them to stay down." It seems that no matter who you are, shot placement is still the most important factor - and in the real world, no one is going to wait for you to get that lucky shot.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Think About, Train With, and Re-Evaluate Your Gear!

Most of us have gone to a training class where there was one student who looked like he just stepped out of a tactical gear catalog. Now ask yourself this: did he perform well or did he fall behind? The odds are not in favor of him performing well. There is a very basic concept behind this: he did not think about, train with, or re-evaluate his gear.  Here at Independence Training we like to think long and hard before we add something to our kit; be that our EDC items or our SHTF kit, and if we add something new then we train with it to ensure that it is going to be valuable to us. Think about the equipment you buy, and then train with that equipment and constantly re-evaluate it.

Once upon a time I had a very nice chest rig that I received from a friend of mine. At the time I had no want or need for armor of any type so I was very happy with this rig. I spent a bit of time building what I thought I wanted without any thought to weight or practical use. In the end I was carrying 8 AR mags, 2 pistol mags, IFAK, GP pouch (full of stuff I did not need), a multi-tool, fixed blade knife and a folding knife.  When I got it all set up it looked really nice hanging in my garage. However, I never really trained with it for almost a year, and then one day I decided that it was time to see how effective this setup would be. Let's just say that it was very heavy and I could not get to my pistol. The whole rig really turned out to be completely useless, and so I had to sit down and do some thinking. Thankfully this was not an instance where I spent hundreds of dollars and needed this kit to save my life. I simply had to sit down and re-evaluate what I had and what I needed. After many days of thinking about it I decided it was time to try a completely different kit. What I decided on was a plate carrier, and I spent some time thinking about what features I wanted in this new kit. After looking around I decided on a custom built rig from Coyote Tactical here in Arizona. This kit has six internal rifle magazine pockets and just the right amount of MOLLE webbing on it to add the additional things I need. The items I added are an IFAK, two pistol magazines, and a dump pouch. Turns out that this kit is actually slightly heavier (including front and back plates) than my previous chest rig was,  but I am very happy with the setup of the kit and intend to keep re-evaluating it to make sure it continues to meet my needs.

In conclusion, the great instructor Pat Rogers once said something to the effect of, "If you show up looking like an operator and can effectively run your gear then no one notices. But if you can't get the job done than you just look stupid." We had a student several months ago that showed up to class looking like he just stepped out of a photo shoot for Operators-R-Us but no one in the class noticed because he effectively ran his equipment, and each piece of his kit was put there for a specific reason. The bottom line is:

Think about your gear, Train with your gear, Re-evaluate your gear and Repeat as necessary.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Only Tool That You Always Have

The sheepdog should be prepared for as many different things as possible. However, I see that many individuals, be they students or friends, ignore one very important aspect of self-defense: unarmed combat. As red-blooded gun toting Americans we feel safe and secure with that tool on our side - but remember that your firearm is just a tool, and there is no tool out there that will do all jobs. Since you are reading this I am going to assume that you have received some training in the use of that firearm. Now, why wouldn’t you get some training in the use of your hands for defensive purposes? The one thing that you always have with you is your body. How will you defend yourself, your family and friends if you are somewhere that firearms are prohibited, or in a situation where the use of a firearm is not justified?

In the tactical training world hand-to-hand skills are often overlooked. Why would you overlook something so vitally important? The answer is simple: every male I have ever met already knows how to fight, and almost every female was taught to kick dudes in their dude parts. I am almost certain that your father taught you something about fighting, and maybe you are a lucky one and your dad actually knew what he was teaching you. The majority of us were not that lucky.

There is no shortage of martial arts training out there, and it can seem daunting to try and find a style that fits you. Your choices include everything from boxing to kung fu and beyond. If you ask a practitioner of any style you will be told that their style is the best or most applicable, but of course we know that is just not true - in reality there is no perfect fighting style. The simple answer is all martial arts have something to offer, and a very short list of benefits would include: better reaction times, the ability to “read” another persons movement, knowledge that you can in fact survive getting punched in the face, and building up a certain level of physical fitness.

As I stated earlier, there is no shortage of training venues for the martial arts. How do you choose one that is right for you? Start with a little bit of self-analysis. Are you a smaller person, larger person, physically fit, and do you have physical disabilities or limitations? How much time do you have for training? How much of your budget are you willing to commit to this training? Are you willing to alter your lifestyle to accomodate new concepts? Once these questions have been answered, look up the telephone number for some of your local martial arts studios and start making some calls. Try to speak with the sensei or instructor and explain to them what are you are looking for and ask if they can provide that. If not, move on to the next facility. Once you’ve found one or two that sound promising go and watch a couple of classes, and talk to the students after class if you can. Then ask the instructor if you can come back and try a class for free - most reputable schools will do this. After all of this is done, sign on the dotted line and keep with it as long as it continues to provide you with the training that you seek. 

You do not have to become some kind of ninja just to learn to defend yourself without using your gun or a similar tool. But you might find yourself one day in a crowded airport or a government building and some wolf may decide that he wants something from that you are not willing to give him. How will you defend yourself then?

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Friday, April 13, 2012

How to Select a Training Course

There's no such thing as too much training. Even when we're hot, tired, hungry, and beatdown, we want more. There's always something new to learn, but often when the word 'training' comes up, many just associate it with firearms or self-defense. There's more to it than that, though. You may need or want to become better at fitness, business, biking, or even knitting, and when that simple want to improve a skill becomes a burning desire, you'll seek out professional instruction. But how do you choose? There are often so many choices, and so many price points and time requirements to consider. How do you get the most bang for your buck?

Every member of the team here at Independence Training has a shared goal of continuing our educations, both professionally or recreationally. To help you choose your instructors and training organizations for whatever skillset you may be pursuing, several of our team members put together a short list of what they look for.

Glen Stilson
Referrals from friends, family, or associates are really important to me. Fancy marketing does little when someone I know and trust won't recommend the instructor. I also want to know if the instructor has a solid knowledge base of the subject. As an example, I recently got some rock climbing instruction from a guy who could hands down do everything he was teaching me to do, but didn't need to do it every minute of the time we were out there to impress me. Which brings me to another point, and that's humility. I appreciate that an instructor may be well on their way to mastering a certain skill, but if my training dollars are just to pay them to show off, then I'm not interested. Student reviews can tell me a lot about that.

The availability of information concerning an organization's or certain instructor's classes is also very important. We are in the age of email, websites, Facebook, and online discussion forums. If someone doesn't have a 'digital presence,' how am I supposed to find student reviews, current course offerings, information about other members of the cadre, class pictures, or contact information? I like to try and speak with an instructor or at least a representative of the organization before putting my money down, and if all I get everytime I call is a voicemail or they never respond to my emails, then I'll pass. I also want to make sure they are actively instructing on whatever skill I am seeking to improve so that I know they are up-to-date on the current methods and equipment.

John Pinnix
Here is a bullet-point list of what I look for:
  • Reputation of the Organization - what do others have to say about it
  • Price Point of the Entire Training Package - it's got to be affordable
  • Student Reviews - I like to actually communicate with prior students
  • Instructor Attitude - when possible, I speak with the instructor ahead of time
  • Instructor Credentials - I'm more concerned about whether the instructor can effectively teach me their skills, not where they learned it

Matt Shozda
I start my search for anything on the internet.  The website doesn't have to be professional but if it looks like crap, then I figure that's a good indication of the customer service I'm going to get.  I start with the course offerings to see if they have something of interest and are fairly priced (compared to their competitors and for the time and material covered).  At that point, I'll take a look at the instructor bios and company info.  I'm not concerned with an extensive military or law enforcement background, as long as what is there is in line with the training offered.  I'm not going to take a SWAT class from a guy that spent four years in the Special Forces.  I'm also looking for an indication that they are passionate about the subject, and blogs, forum discussions and similar venues can tell me that.  Depending on the cost of the training, I might give them a call to get a better idea of how they handle people.  Referrals from people I know would also be very important.  I'm a big proponent of learning by doing and trial and error, and I'm most likely to seek outside training when I hit a wall or when I have a good foundation and want to take it to the next level with some new techniques and ideas.

Steve Dorothy
When I'm looking to spend money on additional training, in the back of my mind I remember the value of the money I'm planning to spend.  It took blood and sweat to make those funds, so I want to make certain I get equivalent (or better) value from the training. My goals with firearms training, for example, are generally to improve proficiencies in weapon handling, malfunction clearing, utilization of cover, and speed of deployment.  I don't head to a training course specifically focused on shot accuracy, what I look to do is face as much adversity as possible in the course because I have the benefit of an educated instructor to help me come up with more efficient, speedy or safe ways to overcome those adversities.

Once I've decided what type of training or course I need, the first (and most important) step I take is to get on the telephone and speak with the instructor directly.  From this I can glean much of the other information I'll need to make the decision as to whether or not I'll be happy handing over my cash.  I'm not overly concerned with letters behind someone's name on the business card.  Are they NRA certified?  Great - all that other stuff is nice to have, but my primary goal during a call is to discern 3 things: 

Attitude:  Does the instructor have a gleam in the tone of his or her voice?  Does he seem happy and excited to speak with a potential client, or does he give the impression that he's just going through the motions and you're wasting his time?  Do you detect any condescension?  If so, eject now, as it's likely a prelude to his rangeside manner. 

Aptitude:  Have a very short list of a few questions about the course, and provide an abbreviated background of any previous training you may have had if any.  How are your questions answered?  Does he really sound like he practices what he preaches, or are you getting vague answers when you pose questions about the course or weapon handling? 

Intelligence: A bit more subjective, but this speaks to how creatively the instructor will be in helping you overcome some of the adversity you may face in the course.  A quick wit and ability to answer a question without fumbling around too much for the answer shows me the instructor is comfortable in what he does and will likely teach me some new skills.

One final note on choosing instructors and courses: it doesn't matter how much you pay, or how big the organization is, or where the instructors have been or what they have done - if they treat you like a paycheck and not a person, then take your money somewhere else.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dangerous Misinformation

As a shooter, a hunter, and an instructor, I have heard many crazy statements concerning the use of firearms. Any of you reading this could say the same, I'm sure. Everything from "all you have to do is rack the shotgun to scare bad guys away" to "I carry .22LR because when I shoot the bad guy in the head the round will bounce around his skull and destroy his brain." Somethings you hear are just crazy nonsense, while others are based on something that really happened at some point but have since been diluted and are now passed around as fact.

As an example, here's a few things that we've heard from our students, which have been relayed to them by any combination of the above mentioned sources:

- You should load the first two rounds of your revolver with blanks, so that in case your kid or someone else startles you at night and you draw down on them, the first two rounds won't do anything, and you'll notice it before you fire the third round, which is live. If, by chance, it is actually a bad guy, then those first two blank rounds will probably scare him off.

- If you don't have an Arizona Concealed Carry Permit (CCW), you cannot carry a handgun with a round in the chamber.

- A shotgun will spread shot patterns so big that you just have to aim anywhere in the area of a bad guy to take him down.

We are not saying that people who help to spread these misconceptions are stupid, they are simply victims of dangerous misinformation, and it's important that we all understand how this can affect us.

Let's take a look at the casual shooter. Without much or even any formal training, it is quite possible that there are things this person "knows" that are not true. Perhaps advice from a gun counter, a trusted friend, or even an old retired police acquaintance. It all sounds reasonable enough, and so they pass it on to their friends, over their email, etc. The problem with misinformation given about firearms and lethal force is that is not the same as misinformation given about an iPod or a car paint job, though it is often treated with the same casual attitude. Such misinformation can cause the loss of life or freedom of law-abiding citizens and cause the continued breathing of bad guys, two things we want to avoid.
Consider this: your friend tells you that you should put birdshot in your shotgun to prevent penetration to your walls, keeping your kids safe. And you don't have nothin' for a handgun if you don't have a .357 Magnum, but you can just practice with .38 Specials so that it's cheaper and only load .357 Magnum when you carry it. And you should definitely get that little pink .22LR for your wife, because just having a gun scares bad guys away. Until bad guys show up. Because that birdshot that won't penetrate walls? Turns out it doesn't penetrate bad guys either. And that .357 Magnum that you never fired? It's got quite a bit more recoil and muzzle flash than those .38 Special target loads, and making a follow-up shot in the dark (something your friend said you'd never have to do with a .357 Magnum) turns out to be next to impossible for you. And that .22LR? Yeah, it's laying on the ground several feet from your wife as she gets assaulted, because she never trained with it and loaded it up with Federal Bulk Pack ammo from Wal-Mart. The two poorly placed shots she did manage to get off were barely felt by her attackers.

And how about this: You want to save a few bucks to get some training, and that guy who fixed your water heater or coached your kid's soccer team also teaches CCW courses on the weekends to make some extra money. He charges less than everyone else, and his course seems easy enough. So you attend, and he's a good teacher and you enjoy the class, plus you get your CCW. And this guy tells you some interesting tactics, things like you should drag a body back into your house after you shoot a bad guy breaking in, because you don't want the body outside when the cops show up. And if he doesn't have a knife in his hand, you should put one there. Sounds reasonable enough, or so you think. Now you find yourself in a lethal force situation, and there on the stand at your trial sits your weekend instructor. He's being questioned about you, your performance, and his material. Oops - he didn't really inform you about those new laws that got passed, because he didn't have time between working 40 hours a week and hanging out with his buddies to update his course information. And he's not even teaching anymore, once he discovered how much work it really was. And there you sit, your freedom on the line, having saved a few bucks years ago and spending thousands more now trying to make up for it. And unfortunately for you, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

And lastly, consider this: your friend deployed overseas 4 times in defense of freedom, and he's a seasoned combat veteran. He even spent the last deployment attached to some high-speed low-drag Special Ops unit. This guy knows tactics, and he knows how to shoot. So you go out and train with him, and he teaches you to be a man-killer. Along the way, he imparts some of the great wisdom he learned while in uniform, such as how to close-with and destroy, and how to lay down suppressive fire while moving to a position of advantage. You feel awesome - you can reload in 2 seconds and put rounds downrange almost as fast. Then you get involved in a real force-on-force incident, and you realize that this ain't Fallujah, and you operate under a whole other set of Rules of Engagement than your buddy did overseas.

These are just a few examples of the things I come in contact with every single day, and I'm sure several of you have had similar experiences. The point I want to make here is to be careful of who you take advice from and the information that you pass on to others. Your life, the life of your family, your financial future, and the lives of innocent bystanders may be on the line. Misinformation can be very dangerous - question everything. How does it apply to you, or does it apply to you? What are you trying to learn, and who can teach you? And not just show you, but teach you. Believe it or not, everything you read on the internet is not true (gasp!) so the best thing to do is to learn for yourself, through research, study, and training with those who have a like-minded approach. Only then can you be sure that the techniques you plan to use and the laws you plan to abide by are correct and the most effective and up-to-date.

UPDATE 03/28/2012: I found a story today that gives a great example of what I am talking about. This kind of advice could potentially get a good person killed:

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Blinded by Sweat

Thank goodness it's over - the coughing, that is. For a couple of weeks in January, I had a cough that only struck when it was time to sleep. And when it was gone during the daylight hours, the body aches, sore throat, and pounding in my head would remind me of the joy that was to come when I laid down again that night. My doctor told me it was a virus, something I just had to "get through" and that it was going around and lots of people had it. For what it's worth, lots of people did have it, and each one I talked to seemed to experience the same symptoms I had. It was torture, and yet I trained. Because the wolf still had no sympathy for me, and no mercy. Throughout me being sick, bad guys did not stop being bad guys.

So through the coughing and the head pounding, I headed to the range to complete shooting drills and wind sprints. I spent hours in my office completing iterations of dry practice. I even did some overnight backpacking into rugged country. And I learned more about what my body is capable of than I do when I train under ideal conditions. It's why we here at Independence Training don't cancel courses because of a little cold or a little rain. Mud? Time to get dirty. Hot temperatures? Bring on the sweat.

No, we're not gluttons for punishment, but as our own John Pinnix says, "Real training sucks, EMBRACE the suck." You do not know when that moment will arrive where your skills will be needed. Will it be a sunny 70 degree day after a restful's night sleep when the wolf comes to your door? Do car accidents only happen when you are 100% healthy and the ground is nice and dry? Do emergencies only happen during the daylight hours? How you train is how you'll respond in a stressful situation, when fine motor skills are lost and your mind and body switch on to auto-pilot and rely on pre-existing muscle memory. Regardless of what you may have heard, it is seldom that anyone "rises to the occasion" - you will always, however, sink to your highest level of training, and if that is nothing, then that is what you will have to handle your emergency.

Now this isn't to say that you should go out and get yourself hurt (or worse) by training or practicing when you haven't slept in 48 hours. You need to know your limits; that is, what you can handle based on your experience level and your competency with your equipment. But you should always be pushing yourself to the limit - doing only that which you are comfortable with will not advance your skill sets. If all you do is stand in front of a target with a handgun and blow the center out of it, for example, and in real-life you have to do that on the move, how do you think you will do? Now imagine it's raining. Now imagine it's dark, you've been shot, and you have a nasty head cold that kept you up the night before. Have you thought about this? And more importantly, have you trained for this?

It is true that most people will likely never have to use their firearms in a self-defense situation, or use their first-aid kit beyond bandaging up a skinned knee. But every day, every single day, someone out there does have to fight off an attacker or plug a wound or respond to an emergency of some kind. Maybe today is not your day, but tomorrow may be. Or 10 years from now. Or maybe never - but is that a bet you're willing to make?

Keep in mind that there is no learning in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the learning zone. You must push yourself beyond the limitations in your mind. The human body is a powerful and amazing piece of machinery, but you will not know your limits until just before you punch through them. Be sure to maintain safety and a good situational awareness, however, as pushing yourself or someone else into a hospital bed or a grave is quite counter-productive.

I'd like to sum up this concept with a story from when I was in Basic Training. We were on a company run, the total distance was unknown, and it was hot. The platoon guide from my platoon was leading us in a running formation, and he asked our drill instructor how far we were going to run. Our DI replied by saying, "When you get blinded by sweat, you're still a mile out."

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pinching Pennies

One of the most commonly asked questions after we demonstrate a piece of gear or a firearm in one of our courses is "How much does that cost?" Let's face it: budget plays a larger role in more purchasing decisions than most people would like to admit. There is some fantastic equipment out there for survival, emergency preparedness, shooting, and self-defense that is very expensive (and often over-priced), and therefore not feasible for a lot of average citizens. One of the reasons that Independence Training was created was to deliver cost-effective training options to the average person, and in doing so the instructors here all try to maintain a certain level of affordable gear that we use in class and on a daily basis. In fact the vendors and manufacturers that we do business with are specifically chosen based on the quality of their gear as well as the price point of their merchandise.

With all that said, there is some equipment out there that is just not quality-built, and I wouldn't bet my life on it, or the lives of my loved ones on it. With the "tactical" movement so huge, there are a plethora of companies out there who produce packs, vests, holsters, ammunition magazines, and even firearms that are just not worth the money you will put down for them. There are many people out there who will buy equipment that will never get used - it sits in closets or in cabinets and provides a certain "peace of mind" to the owner that they'll "have it in case they need it." They won't train with it, and they likely won't need it, so the particular build quality of that $20 backpack from eBay or the $10 holster from the swap meet isn't necessarily of particular interest to them. But the sheepdog doesn't think that way.

You see, the sheepdog knows that there's a time and a place to pinch pennies. Training ammunition is a great example of a place where you can save a few dollars and get a product that is just as effective as the more expensive stuff. But when it comes to buying equipment that your life may depend on - such as medical supplies, firearms, or quality load bearing equipment - now is not the time to debate over $20. As an example, there's a company out there called BLACKHAWK! and they make many different packs, vests, holsters, and various other types of quality equipment. You know how they got their start? Former Navy SEAL Mike Noell, founder of BLACKHAWK!, was operating overseas and working his way through a minefield. The straps on his pack suddenly busted, dropping his gear to the ground . . . . in a minefield! Luckily nothing happened, but Mike swore then and there that he would create a quality pack for soldiers, sailors, and Marines so that they would never have to worry about that kind of equipment failure from his gear. And when he got home he designed a new rock-solid pack and his now international company was born.

Now this is the part where most people say "But I'll never be navigating a minefield, so I don't need a $200 pack!" And they're probably right - they don't need a $200 backpack. But the chance is very good that they'll need more than that $20 backpack if they have to carry anything further than a few miles, or under adverse conditions, or have it last more than a few months. In my time in the outdoors, in the training world, and also operationally, I have broken and wore out a lot of gear. Most of the time, it was because I or someone responsible for my gear was trying to save a few bucks. Luckily my life was never on the line when my equipment failed, but let me ask you this: what is your life worth? Now of course this is an impossible question to answer, because the answer isn't really realistic. But if you had to bet your life on a piece of equipment, what would you be willing to pay? Would a $40 difference matter if it meant your life could potentially be saved?

I don't want to come off here sounding like you need to buy only the best - again, one of our focuses here at Independence Training is to encourage people to maximize the use of what they have, whether that's a $200 handgun or a $1000 handgun. Work within your budget, certainly, but also put a realistic priority on your purchases. Would you want to skydive with the cheapest parachute? Climb a rock face with the cheapest harness? While those pieces of equipment would most likely still work just fine, I want to ensure that equipment that has a direct correlation to my safety is as good as I can possibly get.

Recently, I took a friend of mine out gun shopping for his very first firearms purchase. As we're standing there discussing the pros and cons of each model of shotgun, I figure that, like many other buyers, the least or second least inexpensive shotgun was probably catching his eye. Were these bad choices? Not at all. Would I bet my life on either of them? Absolutely. But the benefits of the slightly more expensive shotguns were of particular use to this friend of mine, and certainly made for a more quality shotgun. It was about this time that my friend turned to me and said "If you were buying your first shotgun, which one would you get? And don't just pick based on price, because this is a lifetime purchase for me." At this, my mouth spread into a grin - here was someone who got it! Not only will this shotgun outlast him, his kids, and his kids' kids, but his life may literally depend on its functionality one day, and he was willing to skip a few weeks of eating out for lunch in order to make sure that he got a piece of equipment that was made to last.

So I picked out a shotgun for him. It wasn't the most expensive, not by a long shot, but it wasn't the cheapest one, either. And now he has a shotgun that will take care of him as long as he takes care of it. And so it should be with you - every purchase decision which results in the procurement of gear that will or may potentially be used under extreme conditions, whether a screwdriver set, a holster, or a rifle, should be weighed against your budget but also against the potential it has to keep you breathing or living happily.

Is there anything wrong with carrying a $10 first-aid kit, or putting a $20 red dot on your $800 carbine? No - they are still functional and may meet your needs. But if one day your needs are higher than that equipment can deliver, you do not want to find yourself in an emergency where you are saying "I wish I would've spent the extra few bucks."

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.