Wow…what a week. I just got back from spending 5 full days at the U.S. Shooting Academy taking their Defensive Handgun Intensive 214 course. Some of you may have seen my review of their 2-day course a few months ago. It was kind of like going from Kate Moss to Bar Refaeli. The two-day course was good, but this was clearly a step up to a much more satisfying experience . . .
USSA is located on almost 100 acres in Tulsa, OK. It’s one of the nicest facilities in the country, and employs a well-respected training team led by Director of Training Steve Aryan, who was also the lead instructor for this course. I spent five 8-hour days there last week, and about 3 hours late Wednesday night. There were eight students in my class, only four of which were from the United States. We had LEOs, former military, concealed carry holders and a private defense contractor in the class and Aryan and his force on force instructors did a great job of tailoring the course to fit each student’s needs.
I got there bright and early with my trusty G19 in my Safariland Model 18 appendix holster, 5 mags and 2,500 rounds of parabellum. The course started off in one of their classrooms for introductions, a little paperwork, and a quick overview of what we could expect. Then it was right to the range.
As most training sessions start, the morning was spent primarily working on solid fundamentals. Not beginner fundamentals, things like the draw, first shot from the draw, trigger prep, scan process, etc. The whole course is designed so each skill is built by the what’s learned before it. After lunch we got into various reloading methods, malfunction clearing, speed to the first shot and follow-up shots.
Day one ended with a little contest: shooting steel torso targets at progressively longer ranges. We started at about 25 yards, and moved all the way back to 70 yards. I had never shot a handgun at that distance, so it was a struggle. In reality, there’s not a lot of practical application for this — until you realize that if you can hit a target at 70 yards consistently it means you’ve got your trigger control and sight alignment down pat.
The second day was a full one. The morning was spent working on engaging secondary target zones (i.e., head, pelvic girdle), multi-threat engagement, and shooting from cover. Aryan also had us incorporate movement during any draw, reload, or malfunction. The rest of the week we were expected to “get off the X” (move our asses) anytime we weren’t pulling the trigger — and sometimes even when we were.
Most of the afternoon had us utilizing cover and concealment and doing some one-handed shooting. We practiced everything from the draw to shooting, reloading and even malfunction clearing with both the strong and weak hands. This is something I hadn’t been able to do a lot of in the past. Drawing, putting rounds on target, and clearing a double feed with the weak hand was a challenge, but a worthwhile one.
We ended day two with another round of long range shooting to work on perfect trigger and sight fundamentals…but this time one-handed. Aryan had us competing against each other to see who could draw and put a round on target, one-handed, the fastest. We went back to 70 yards again and the shot that I was having trouble with on day 1 two-handed, without the stress of competition, was now being done in 5 seconds one-handed from the draw under a timer. I was amazed at how far my skills had come in just two days.
By the end of day three, there was a lot of spent brass on the ground. The entire day was spent incorporating more movement into our shooting. It started with working movement into the basic stuff (i.e. draws, reloads, etc.), and quickly progressed to recognizing a threat and deciding whether to draw or sprint for cover before engaging. Steve had us working some great drills that involved 5, 10, and 15 yard sprints to shooting positions, figure-eights while engaging multiple targets and handling weapon manipulations and more.
But what I was most looking forward to was night shooting, which was scheduled for that evening. It’s amazing how much more there is to think about when there’s no light. Starting up again at 9:30, Aryan had us practicing using cover at night and making sure we weren’t illuminating ourselves with light reflecting off the cover. He walked through various ways to hold a flashlight while shooting and a lot more.
One of the more interesting drills had us working figure-eight patterns around barrels while engaging two targets and handling reloads. He set it up with ambient light from a flashlight on the ground. We could also opt to hold a light or use a weapon-mounted light. Fun, to say the least. Steve spent a good amount of time explaining various things to look for in flashlights and weapon lights, as well as using night sights.
The morning of day four we met on a range at the facility with a little grey S10 parked in front of three targets. As I walked closer to the little truck it was apparent that this thing was going to be leaving the range with more lead in it than when it arrived. A fresh windshield was taped across the front pillars and she was ready to go. Yeah, we spent the entire morning working on vehicle tactics.
Aryan started out by detailing the areas of a car that can be used for cover versus concealment. He even had us shooting targets through different parts of the truck to prove how deadly even a low power target load 9mm can be through multiple sheets of steel – definite eye opener. It was amazing how accurate a handgun bullet could be through after slicing through steel and even glass. It was also a hell of a lot of fun pumping rounds into the little Chevy. Don’t ask me why…it just was.
When we got an understanding of how to use the vehicle, it was time to learn how to engage a target from the driver’s position. Steve put each of us in a scenario where we were buckled in the truck and had to quickly draw and engage two targets through the windshield. We then had to exit the vehicle and move to a point of cover behind the vehicle (behind the engine block, rear end, etc.), and engage another one. It was fun, and made me appreciate how good a decision appendix carry was.
After lunch we hit the shoot house to work with a couple of highly skilled MMA guys on close quarters combat. These guys weren’t your typical cage fighters; they knew how to fight with a gun and they would be spending the next day and a half drilling us.
The rest of that afternoon was spent on techniques to control an attacker (both while standing and on the ground) and getting in a position to where you can access your firearm and end the fight. This was totally new to me. I’d boxed for two years. I hit really really hard. I can hit most people hard enough to knock them silly and get away. But I quickly realized that means just about nothing when I’ve got someone trying to kill me with some type of weapon.
When I’m tied up with someone and need to effectively deploy a firearm, all the boxing skills in the world mean squat. These guys helped me see that, and taught me some very basic maneuvers that even I can remember in a high-stress situation.
After rolling around on the mat for a while, Steve took us out to a pneumatic steel range to have some fun plunking some 8″ plates. It was amazing how far we’d all come in only four days. I was knocking down 10 plates at 15 yards with 10 rounds pretty quickly (I’m definitely no competition shooter). And that’s not something I could have done before the course.
Finally, it all came down to this — the culmination of everything we had learned and the consistently increasing stress inoculation would be put to the test in full contact force-on-force training.
This portion of the course was led by Virgil Litterell, a guy well-versed in CQB, and a great instructor for those of us not so well-versed. We spent the morning building on the basics of day before and practicing slightly more advanced techniques, both from the clinch and on the ground from our backs. Virgil also spent some time teaching us how to fight for control of a firearm, both ours and an attacker’s. Good stuff.
After lunch is when things got real. Remember those two MMA fighters from Day 4? They were now suited up in full body protective gear and ready to work each of us in various life or death scenarios using Simunition Glocks.
Each of us worked through three scenarios, two at about 60% speed (one from our backs, and one tied up with the attacker), and the final one at 100% full force. Now, the 100% full force was from me, not from my opponent. If either of these guys went 100% on me I’d still be in a Tulsa hospital nursing bruises, contusions and broken bones. Aryan brings in fighters of that caliber so they can push even the top warriors who come through this course (Navy Seals, Army Rangers, etc.) to their limits. But they can also tone it down so people like me can feel what it’s like to navigate these scenarios effectively.
These role-players put just enough pressure on you to raise the stress level and make you think, but not so much that there’s no chance you’ll beat them. The point is for you to “win the fight” so your brain is pre-programmed, just in case that day ever comes.
For the last scenario, they put me in full headgear and stood me in a corner of a small room with my attacker in front of me. Virgil yelled “We’re hot!” and the fight was on.
The attacker popped me with a wide left that I didn’t even see because of the headgear, and we quickly tied up. I spent what seemed like 15 minutes (and was actually only about 50 seconds) fighting for control of his wrists to keep him from pummeling me into the ground while I went for my firearm. It ended with 4 sim-rounds to his stomach, and me moving to cover outside the room. Whew.
After each of us had rotated through, we went back to the classroom to watch the fight videos. Virgil and Steve gave each of us pointers on what to do better and what to work on at home. The course ended with a certificate, a thank you, and congrats from Steve and Virgil.
Overall this was an amazing week. I can honestly recommend this course to any of you (assuming you have at least a medium amount of handgun shooting experience). Steve Aryan is a top notch firearms instructor, as were Virgil and the rest of the team he recruited for the course. Just like the first course I took there, they never tried to up-sell me or push any of their products on me. The whole week was about making us better shooters, and getting us prepared for a potential life or death situation. That’s it.
Downsides? Well, the course is expensive and it requires a lot of ammo. To me, it’s a small price to pay for the fun I had and the skills I gained. It definitely beats spending four times that amount to go to a vacation destination, eat too much and spend half my time traveling both ways.
Another note about Steve; much like Mike Seeklander who I trained with previously, Aryan wasn’t afraid to demo everything he was asking us to do. I’ve seen trainers shy away from demonstrating drills for fear of showing their students that they may not be everything they claim to be. This wasn’t an issue for Aryan, which only helped all of us trust what he was telling us even more. To me, that’s a solid representation of his — and USSA’s — expertise in this field.