Monday, March 29, 2010

Roger Phillips' Point Shooting Progressions class

Note: The Utah Polite Society will host Roger Phillips' Point Shooting Progressions class on June 10-11, followed immediately by the Advanced Point Shooting Progressions class. I had the chance to take it last weekend, so for those of you who are signed up for it, this is a bit of a preview. If any of you are still on the fence, get off it and sign up! This is a great class!

This weekend I finally had a chance to take the Point Shooting Progressions class from Roger Phillips. I've been wanting to take this class for a long time now. When I lived in Salt Lake, I was close enough to have fairly easy access to his classes in Las Vegas, but I was a poor graduate student without any money. When I got a job in South Carolina, I finally had some money, but I Roger's classes were a lot less convenient. Then I made an abortive attempt to host a class in South Carolina, but it didn't work out. Money and accessibility finally intersected when Roger scheduled a class in Montgomery, Alabama, well within a days driving distance.

I came into this class with a fairly solid grasp of the basics of point shooting. Gabe introduced me to PS in Close Range Gunfighting several years ago and I got some more instruction from Randy Harris at the Extreme Close Range Gunfighting class last year. I've kept up my skills reasonably well and spent some time at the range polishing them a bit before this class.

I shot this class with my usual carry gun, a Glock 21. I also brought a .22 conversion kit for it from Advantage Arms. Most of the rest of the students had Glocks of various descriptions, mainly in 9mm, though a few students had .40s and one shot a few of the drills with one .357 SIG. There were a few XDs in evidence, including both classic models and the XDm. One student brought a 1911 (the only other fellow in the class shooting .45), one shot an HK and one had a Taurus semi-auto. One fellow shot the first day with a Walther P22. There were a good number of appendix inside the waistband holsters in evidence (including many Dale Frike models), with the other half of the class was shooting from the classic hip position. Many folks used closed front cover. I was one of the few with an open front cover garment (an unbuttoned short sleeve shirt). Some shot the class without any cover garment, which I think deprived them of a bit of the learning experience. I had to fumble through a few miffed draws, but I think working from under a cover garment made the drills much more applicable and realistic.

I got to Montgomery Friday afternoon a few folks who were taking the class got together for dinner. These included Dr. John Meade, Don Robison, and a couple fo students from the class, including one of the hosts. We got together at Texas Roadhouse for some food and good fellowship.

Bright and early the next morning I drove out to the range for class. Most shooting classes I've been involved with tend to start around 9:00, but Roger set the start time for this class at 8:00. He also asked us to try to be there around 7:30 to get the usual paperwork out of the way before the formal start time (given the amount of material he crammed into this class, now I can see why he wanted to get a jump on things). In any case, I was very glad we were on central time.

For this class we not only had Roger to teach us, we were also graced by the presence of two other instructors. Dr. John Meade, Suarez International's new director of tactical medicine was with us for the first day. For both days we also had Don Robison, a new SI instructor. Both of them had taken PSP before and helped Roger out on the line and coached students. The class was also populated with folks I met at previous SI or Amok classes, and folks I was acquainted with online.

We filled out the usual liability waivers and promised on video not to sue anyone for any reason, nowhere, nohow. As Roger wanted, we had all that out of the way and the main event kicked off right at 8:00. He gave the usual safety briefing. In addition, he also handed out roles to various people in the event of an injury: treat the patient, call 911, go out to the road to guide the ambulance in to the bay where we were shooting, deal with the person's gun. Two people were appointed to each role, just in case one of them was the one who got shot.

With the formalities out of the way, we got started shooting. Roger started us off with sighted fire, asking us to put five rounds into as small a group as possible. We did a bit of dry fire to diagnose any flinching or trigger control problems, then another 5 rounds of live fire. There was some variation in the size of the groups, but it was clear that everyone had a fairly solid grasp of basic sighted fire skills going in.

We started out by progressing down the sighting continuum to less visual input on the gun. Roger had us fire a pair of bursts into a target using a flash sight picture. I actually found this one of the more difficult things in the class. Later on Roger said that I was once a "Modern Technique" shooter, but that isn't exactly true. My initial training came from folks who were MT shooters, but I never really had a comprehensive course of MT instruction. I learned point shooting early enough in my shooting career that I never really mastered the flash sight picture at the level the MT demands, and I haven't really kept up the level of skill with it I was able to achieve. The first burst I put into the target drifted from the flash sight picture towards more point shooting and ended up distressingly large. The second drifted more towards hard focus on the front sight and was much smaller, but slower. This is definitely a hole in my skill set. Yes folks, I went to a point shooting class and learned I need to work on my sighted fire.

At this point Roger gave a brief lecture on the focal point. Where you focus on the adversary is where bullets are going to tend to go. One of the reasons there are a lot of hits on weapons and weapon hands during gunfights (and force on force training) is that there's a natural tendency for people to focus on the dangerous thing in the assailant's hand, rather than places that may be easier to hit and more effective from a terminal ballistics standpoint.

Moving towards less visual input from the gun, we did some shooting with a Type II Focus. This is something that I don't think Gabe covered in the Close Range Gunfighting class. I'd read about it (mostly from Roger) but hadn't really grasped it. In class, he explained that it was still using your sights, but unlike a traditional sight picture, where the front sight is in sharp focus and the target is fuzzy, you focus on the target and align the now fuzzy sights with it. Less precise, but it allows you to focus on the target (which is more natural in a fight or flight situation).

Reducing the focus on the gun further, we lowered it just below the line of sight, using the top of the slight to align it with our target. This provides a lot of feedback on horizontal alignment, but not so much on vertical alignment. This is a technique that I learned from Gabe in the CRG class, but I didn't really take to it at the time. Recently, I developed a renewed appreciation for it while I was doing some point shooting to prepare for this class.

Our next technique was one of my favorites from CRG: metal on meat. Just bring the gun up and superimpose the entire thing on the target. As long as you're close enough that the target's torso is bigger than the gun, you're probably going to hit.

Finally we just drove the gun to the target without paying attention to the visual feedback at all. This is quite quick, but has some real limitations as far as accuracy is concerned.

After we had worked all the different full extension shooting techniques, Roger put them together in one drill. We started out at 2 yards and put a burst into the target, then stepped back a yard and did it again. As we moved further from the targets we transitioned from driving the gun, to metal on meat, to looking over the top of the slide, to type II focus, to using our sights.

At this point, most of our targets looked more like they were the victims of several rounds of particularly large buckshot, rather than the nice tight groups you might see with sighted shooting. Roger launched into an explanation of terminal ballistics, with the assistance of Dr. Meade. Roger went through all of the really good stuff you can hit outside of the classic hit zones in the heart and cranio-ocular cavity. Hits to these areas might not be optimal, but they can still cause fatal blood loss, incapacitating central nervous system damage, and may reset the bad guys OODA loop which may keep him from hitting you.

Previously, we did the align along the top of the slide just below the line of sight, about an inch below eye level. The next drills took this a little further, incrementally reducing the amount of visual input each time. We started out at five yards and held the gun just far enough below the line of sight that we could see the bottom of the cardboard target (equivalent to the waistband on a live assailant). This but the gun at about chin level. After firing a burst we stepped forward and lowered the gun a bit more and shot again. We keep this up down two to yards, which put the gun quite a ways below the line of sight.

Before we moved on to partial extension shooting Roger did an exercise to establish our visual centerline. Almost everyone there knew whether they were right or left eye dominant, but this isn't a binary thing. There are varying degrees of dominance, from entirely right or left eyed, to a blend of the two. Roger stood back a couple of yards, had us focus on his right eye with both of our eyes open, and bring our thumb up into our line of sight at arms length. He looked where it lined up on our face. That is our visual centerline, where we should align the gun for below line of sight point shooting.

With our centerline established we practiced shooting from the midpoint of the drawstroke. This puts your elbows against your ribcage and the gun about a foot from your chest. After we were comfortable shooting at the center of the target's chest from this position (approximately horizontal) we did some focal point drills. One square of colored tape was placed at belt level, and another in the upper chest and we moved our focus back and forth between these, using alternating shots at first, then moving on to bursts.

At this point, I decided to switch to my .22 conversion kit for my Glock, to help keep my ammo costs down. I deliberately didn't start with the .22 because I wanted to get some experience doing the below line of sight shooting where you have to get behind the gun and control the recoil with muscle rather than body structure. Now that we'd done that (and because Roger recommended shooting full power ammo for the drills on the second day) I figured this would be a good time to start saving some money.

Our last drills before lunch introduced the drawstroke zipper. Essentially, you start shooting during the draw as soon as the gun is horizontal and pointed at the target and keep shooting as you drive it up to full extension, resulting in a string of hits running up the center of the body and hopefully tearing up all sorts of good stuff, including the liver, major arteries, the heart, and the central nervous system. If the assailant is still standing, it's traditional to cap it off with a headshot. As part of this, John showed us the level at which you could hit the spinal cord and paralyze the hands, which is fairly low, about halfway between the armpits and the shoulders. The zipper basically works as an extension of the focal point drill, only instead of two discrete points you move up the centerline of the body.

On this note we broke for lunch. Our local hosts provided some sandwiches and chips as refreshments, because the range isn't really convenient to any eateries. This also gave us the opportunity to hear a brief lecture on trauma kits from John. He had invited students to bring their trauma kits to class for use as examples, which I and one other student did. Going through our kits he talked a bit about the different items. He generally seemed to approve of mine, though I did get razzed a bit for bringing it in a ziploc bag (the nice Maxpedition first aid pouch I ordered hasn't arrived yet). John's clearly got a lot of knowledge about the subject, and I look forward to the opportunity to take a tactical medicine class from him.

After lunch, we switched from two-handed to one-handed shooting. Roger started by talking about the combat crouch. The old school combat crouch has taken some abuse from Modern Technique shooters. It does look a bit silly in the pictures, but the pictures don't really do it justice. The combat crouch isn't a stance, the way Weaver and Isosceles are, it's a movement platform. It takes advantage of the natural tendency to crouch down during a fight or flight response, gives you a lower base for movement, thrusts one arm forward to shoot and the other back as a counterbalance. When you start thinking about, and more importantly, trying and using it, in this context, it starts to make a lot of sense.

Part and parcel of the combat crouch is the point shoulder technique of one handed full extension shooting. He had a very good analogy for it, particularly for wing shooters. It's like shooting a shotgun with a 32 inch barrel, and the front sight is your bead. We worked point shoulder in the combat crouch from 3 yards out to 7.

Now somewhat comfortable with one handed shooting, Roger got us uncomfortable again by having us address targets at odd angles. We stood facing uprange with the target to our right rear, then our left rear. Addressing a right rear (7:30) target wasn't that hard (for right handers, anyway). The left rear target (4:30) was much more of a challenge, particularly in drawing and getting the gun across your body to the target without sweeping yourself or the next guy down the line. Roger had us demonstrate both of these using our 'finger guns' to ensure that we could do them safely before shooting it live.

Moving on to a more comfortable position, we did a bit at 3/4 hip. This is a one handed shooting position below the line of sight, with the elbow bent and the forearm horizontal. It's very nice if you need a bit of retention and it's an intermediate point along the one-handed drawstroke zipper. In addition to facing the target, we did this at 4:30 and 7:30 as well.

Completing our one-handed below line of sight curriculum we covered the half hip shooting position. This is also known as elbow-up elbow-down when you do it from the draw (elbow up to get the gun out of the holster and elbow down to drive the gun to the target). The elbow is bent 90 degrees and planted against your side and the gun is in the bottom of your peripheral vision.

After shooting the half hip, Roger introduced the central axis relock (CAR) technique. This is actually one of the newest additions to the PSP curriculum. The low CAR position places the pistol at chest height, with the web of the support hand pressed up against the front of the grip (imagine sul, then rotate the weapon 90 degrees to point straight to your support side). High CAR brings the gun up in front of your face, canted at a 45 degree angle, with the support side arm supporting it from below. It was developed by a fellow who teaches an entire shooting system based on this style, which seems a bit inflexible to me. However, as a situational tool it really shines for shooting to the weak side rear, out the driver's side window of a car (or passenger side if you're a lefty), etc. Both positions work really well with point shooting skills, using the body index for low CAR and aligning off the slide for high CAR (particularly with a Glock or other blocky pistol that has a nice edge along the upper corner of the slide to use for alignment). We practiced shooting from both low and high CAR.

Finally, we put it all together and redid the focal point and zipper drills using one handed shooting.

This would normally be the end of the first day, but because Roger's flight was a bit tight after the class on Sunday, we stayed a bit later and started on the Day 2 curriculum so that he could get out of here a bit earlier.

The 'Day 2' stuff is essentially taking the building blocks we'd learned so far on day 1 and using them during dynamic movement. We started out with some work on the Pekiti takeoff. The Pekiti is one of those things that are much harder to explain in writing than to do, but it essentially involves using the body's natural fight or flight drop into a crouch to reposition your feet where they can drive you into movement in the desired direction. As an alternative for those who weren't so physically agile, Roger also covered 'lean and push', which is essentially taking a normal step rather than doing fancy footwork. This is a little slower, but easier for the less nimble and more suited to surfaces with dodgy footing

We worked this a bit in dry practice, then moved on to the first shot drill. The goal is to use the Pekiti takeoff or lean and push to get off the X and fire one good shot as you start the second step. The key is to hold the shot until just after the jolt from your first foot hitting the ground. If you fire as the foot hits, it will tend to drop your shot low, but holding for a fraction of a second produces much better results.

This wrapped up the first day. We headed back to our homes or hotels to clean up, then most of the class rendezvoused at Jim and Nicks, a local barbecue joint. They had some truly excellent food and the fellowship of a lot of like minded folks made it a really great meal.

The next day, we gathered again at 8:00. Unlike the warm sun of day 1, it rained off and on all morning. As Roger put it "the weather will be perfect". The clouds cleared off by the afternoon though, so we were able to wrap up in some really nice weather.

Today Roger led off with a bit of discussion of criminals' mindset. His day job has led him into contact with some . . . interesting people, and this has given him a lot of insight into how they think. His description of it was quite illuminating.

Getting back to movement, Roger talked about the importance of stretching before practicing this sort of dynamic movement. Particularly stretching out the Achilles tendon, which gets a lot of stress during the takeoff. The only serious injury I've seen in an SI class was a fellow who popped his Achilles during a force on force class last summer in Salt Lake. Roger also described the, "significant other takeoff". Basically this involves giving the person you are defending a shove in one direction why you get off the X going the other way. This gives you some separation, hopefully with the assailant's attention focused on you rather than your spouse or child. It also gets them started on getting the hell out of there.

Our first drill involved taking a sidestep then attacking along a route parallel to the original line of force. This allows you to rapidly close with the opponent, but gets you off the X and doesn't put you on a course that would bring you directly into a hand to hand conflict with the opponent if you fail to shoot him to the ground before you get to him. We did these, and almost all of the drills today, two at a time. The two students were placed quite a ways apart and moved towards each other, but kept shooting at the targets that were in front of them when they started, meaning that their shots were angled safely away from each other. Doing the drills two at a time this way takes a bit longer, but it allows much more dynamic movement than doing them with everybody lined up like in the CRG class. We did this drill starting at 12 yards, which meant most people were firing their first shot at about 9 yards. This was certainly a bit further than I would have felt comfortable point shooting before this class, let alone doing it from fairly rapid movement. Nevertheless, I, and most other folks in the class, shot this quite well, putting the hits on the target and generally in fairly good spots.

We had an injury during this drill. One shooter did something to his ankle while taking that first forward step and fell. I don't know exactly what he did (unfortunately John wasn't with us on the second day, otherwise he probably could have told us), but it wasn't good. As Roger had emphasized, he kept the pistol pointed in a safe direction with his finger off the trigger during the fall, so it wasn't compounded by an ND. He was on the ground there in pain for a while eventually got up and sat down in a chair for a while. After a while he shot a few more drills, but he was limping pretty bad for the rest of the day. I'm afraid he probably did something pretty serious.

With him sitting out, we finished up the parallel line drills and moved on to the forward obliques (1:00 and 11:00). These lines do a great job of getting you angular displacement, making it harder for the opponent to track you. For a right handed shooter, moving to the left this means shooting one-handed. Moving to the right, you can keep two hands on the gun. These are some that I was fairly good at from CRG, but in this class we took them out to a considerably longer distance.

After working the forward obliques, Roger threw in a variation. Generally, getting off the X is a good solution when you're behind the reactionary curve (and have enough distance that it's not a hand to hand problem). However, if you are effectively putting rounds on target, you'll eventually gain the initiative as the opponent takes hits and his capabilities degrade. Now you're at a different point on the reactionary curve and you can use some different tactics. To allow us to practice this, Roger had us get off the X to the 1:00 and 11:00 and put a few shots into the target before changing direction and boring directly in and shooting him to the ground.

One of the things Roger emphasized in this context is cadence. At a longer distance, you have to take more time between shots, but you shouldn't let that lull you into a fixed rhythm. As you close in, you can pick up the pace and still get your hits, so in a drill like this that has you closing on the target, the pace should pick up as you get closer. Conversely, in some of the later drills where you get further from the target, your cadence should slow down as the distance increases.

Next up were the rear obliques. The biggest problem here is avoiding backpedaling. Moving backwards is an instinctive response, from the days when we used contact weapons that required you to face your enemy to use them. Now, we can use firearms, which allow us to prioritize movement (and not getting hit) by pointing our toes in the direction we want to go and still swivel our upper bodies and arms around to get hits on the assailant. Backpedalling is going to be much slower than a charging assailant, and runs the risk of falling and going head over heels. The key to not backpedaling is to get the hips pointed in the right direction during your initial takeoff. Backpedaling is a particularly big problem for right-handed shooters moving to the 5:00 (and for lefties moving to 7:00) where they have to shoot behind their support side shoulder. The further you move, the more extreme the angle gets and the more tension there is. The natural inclination is to relive this tension by turning your body, which leads to backpedaling. This is the application of the CAR technique we learned yesterday, but there are other methods for this as well. We worked drills on both obliques, then broke for lunch.

During lunch, Roger gave us the pitch for the Advanced Point Shooting Progressions class in Blairsville, Georgia next month. He made a really good pitch, but in a sense he was preaching to the converted, more than half the folks in this class were already signed up for APSP either in Blairsville or in Salt Lake City in June.

After lunch we worked on the gun in quartata, also known as the "tactical pirouette". In quartata is a fencing term referring to a maneuver where you turn the body sideways to avoid an incoming strike. The gun in quartata does much the same thing, turning the body sideways to avoid potential incoming fire. It has applications in spaces that are too confined for traditional methods of getting off the X, like a narrow hallway. In this case, however, we are using it as an alternative to shooting over the shoulder with CAR when getting off the X to the 5:00 (for a right handed shooter). Instead of moving directly to the right rear and shooting over the left shoulder, you step to the right, pivot on your right foot to turn your body to the left and move to your right rear while shooting behind your right shoulder using the point shoulder technique. You can also do the reverse, stepping to the left and using CAR to get off the X to your left rear. Lefties, of course, do all of this backwards.

In addition to practicing the alternative methods of getting off the X, Roger also encouraged us to try to take our point shooting out to longer distances. I managed to take point shoulder out to about 11 yards on the move, whereas before this course I rarely point shot beyond 6 yards, and that was generally while stationary.

The two remaining get off the X directions at this point were directly left and right (the 3:00 and 9:00). For these drills Roger had us do something a bit different. One at a time we got off the X and moved down the entire line of targets and fired one shot at each. Now, this doesn't have much direct practical application, unless we get attacked by the Rockettes, but it did give us a chance to practice getting off the X to the 3:00 and 9:00, and focal transitions between targets, which isn't something we'd done so far.

At this point, Roger covered getting off the X to the 5:00 and 7:00 by passing the gun to the other hand. Rather than shooting CAR, or doing the gun in quartata and using footwork to deal with the problem, this just lets you use a left-handed point shoulder (or right handed if you are a left handed shooter). Learning to reliably transfer the pistol takes some work and most of us aren't as good shooting with the support hand. However, support side shooting skills are important in a lot of contexts, including a wounded gun hand, so these are skills we need to develop anyway.

The last method for getting off the X to the rear obliques is just to change your direction. When you find that tension is making it difficult to keep going the way you're going, pivot and cut back the other direction. To practice this Roger used the zig zag drill. You start out getting off the X to the right rear, then after a few steps you reverse directions and head to the left rear, going from CAR to point shoulder. After a few more steps, reverse again and go to CAR. Repeat as many times as necessary. We had about ten yards of distance to safely play around in and Roger pointed out that if you move shallowly, concentrating on lateral movement instead of moving away from the adversary, you could really stretch it out and do a lot of shooting. I managed to burn through three magazines before I got to ten yards, and was able to keep getting good hits in both point shoulder and CAR all the way out.

For our last drill, Roger lined us all up and had us do the confined space gun in quartata, shooting from half-hip. This involves the same turning of the body as we did with the in quartata before, but with a smaller step. Instead of getting off the X you draw to half hip and zipper the target.

That wrapped up the class. Roger handed out the certificates and we all packed up. Roger wasn't able to hang around and chat much, but most of the rest of us stuck around and helped push one student's van out of the mud. He was really in there pretty good, the front wheels were probably sunk in a good six inches. We ended up having to both hitch the van up to one guys truck and push it from the front, as neither pushing nor just pulling with the truck could move it. With that everyone was able to get safely on their way.

A few observations: At most of the shooting classes I've taken, the round count is an overestimate. I usually end up shooting anywhere from half to 2/3 of the recommended number. In this class you'd have to husband your rounds pretty carefully to make it in under the 700 round count. I husbanded my rounds pretty carefully on the first day, both because I didn't want to shoot a huge amount of .45, and because I only had four 10 round magazines for my .22 conversion kit. I was more generous on the second day. Despite not shooting as much as I could have on day 1, I still shot about 450 rounds of .22 and 450 rounds of .45. Several people shot well over 1000 rounds. When Roger says, "Bring more if you want to shoot more", he means it. I'd bring at least 1000 rounds to this class.

Bring lots of magazines! As mentioned earlier, I only had four magazines for my .22 conversion kit, and that wasn't really enough. Twice that number would have been appropriate. If you're not trying to conserve ammo, you can easily go through 8-10 rounds on some of these drills, and you'll run 5-8 drills before Roger calls an ammo break. When I was shooting full caliber, I used nine magazines (one in the gun, two on the belt, three in each hip pocket). That was enough to reload after every drill so I could start each one with a fresh mag.

Several of the people in the class shooting .40 S&W commented on how it got a lot more difficult when we moved to the one-handed stuff. One fellow shot his .357 SIG for a few drills, and noted how much bigger his groups were with it and how much smaller his groups got when he switched back to the 9mm. This is the reason a lot of the Suarez International guys have moved to 9mm instead of .40. For those of you who say, "I can shoot my .40 just as well as a 9mm", does that also apply one-handed? Of course, I was the oddball shooting a .45 Glock, but the .45 is a soft shooting, relatively low velocity round. It's not a 9mm, but it's still pretty easy to handle even with one hand. The more punishing nature of the .40 affected some people as well. We shot a lot of ammo in this class, especially the first day, and the .40 beat some people's hands up.

Before I close, I really ought to thank our hosts for doing a great job setting up the class. Also to John Meade and Don Robison for their part in the instruction. Don did a good job helping run the line and providing shooters a lot of feedback. John did the same during the first day and provided some nice medical insights on terminal ballistics and trauma care.

Overall, this was an excellent class. I drank the point shooting Kool Aid some time ago, so it wasn't as revelatory for me as it was for some other folks (you could see the light bulb coming on for some of them). I entered with a decent point shooting skill set, but Roger really increased my range and accuracy, and my confidence in both. He's taught this class many times, and you can really tell that he's refined his curriculum and presentation based on this experience. Roger is a great instructor and I would highly recommend taking Point Shooting Progressions. I was already signed up for Advanced Point Shooting Progressions next month, but now I'm REALLY looking forward to it.


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