Monday, September 13, 2010

AAR: Suarez International Force On Force with Steve Collins

This is my wife's review, I did not attend as I am slated for a 2 day course in VA later this month, but next time this comes through town I'm all in.

I promise that I am not masochistic when I say that spending two days getting shot at in the Suarez International Force on Force training was both painful but fun. The instructor of our particular class was Steve Collins who I think should consider adding a bag of Epsom salts to the list of “needed” items for the class. It is at least a needed item after the class to soak your battered, cut, bruised and often bleeding welts and tenderized muscles.

When I told my mother that I was going to a two-day class where people would shoot at me with air-soft guns, attack me, scream at me and try to hit me among other things, here reaction was, “And you PAY for this?” And I must say that it is money well spent.

I won’t pretend I’m not proud that I was the first female to participate in Force on Force directed by Steve Collins. It’s a bit disappointing to find out that more women do not participate in Force on Force. It allows those select few females (like me) to really get a chance to “gunfight” with men (sometimes groups of men) which is more likely to be the case in real life. It was also useful to get the men used to taking shots at a woman. I’ve been told it’s pretty natural for men to avoid shooting women and children. Throughout the class I took the role of a wife, the female distraction, the frightened female, the panicked mother and even the unlikely shooter or assassin. In general, I provided another element to the training that would not have been present if the class were filled only with males. This made me feel pretty good about my gender.

What didn’t make me feel so good was the hand-to-hand combat we did on the first day of class. Being female and naturally weaker than my male counterparts, it was very easy to find myself tossed, feigned-stabbed with dummy knives or chocked out in second. The men I fought were gentler than I would have liked (no matter how crazy that sounds) but it was very clear to me that a full-size man going toe-to-toe with me (especially armed with a knife or club) could potentially do far more damage to me than I could to him without an equalizer of some sorts (i.e. a knife or a gun). Knowing that these things cannot always be available I have determined to get more and better training in hand-to-hand combat that caters specifically to my needs as a smaller and weaker female.

Which brings me to the outstanding and unequaled benefits of participating in Force-on-Force.
You learn. Period.

You learn what you need to work on. You learn what doesn’t work. You learn what might word. You learn what might work in one situation may not work in another. You learn to move. You learn to pay attention. You learn why you do some of the things you do, carry some of the equipment you carry or think the way you think. You learn to ignore some of the “arm-chair elitist” advice that has no basis when put to practice. And it’s experience you couldn’t get anywhere but force-on-force or in a real gunfight (which we all pray we never have to participate in.

I couldn’t possible list all of the things I’ve learned in the last two days but I will certainly list the things that seem to stand out the most in my mind.

The first great lesson is that ammo goes quickly. On average I think we were all shooting our “attackers” between two and four times. Very seldom was one shot used and when you added two, three or even four “bad guys” in some scenarios you found yourself with an empty gun REAL fast. Carrying a higher capacity firearm is often taught, preached, encouraged and recommended but until you are out there, facing three guys who are rushing at you with knifes and guns you just do not personally know how fast the ammo really goes.

Does that mean that I will NEVER AGAIN carry a j-frame, 5-shot revolver or an 8-shot .45? Not necessarily, but I will do so with the full, personal understanding that I might run out of ammo when the doo-doo hits the fan. One thing is for sure, however: I am far more committed to carrying spare magazines.

The second lesson learned is that of movement. You would think this would be an easy lesson to learn but when you spend most of your trigger time on a static range with the perfect stance and perfect grip and perfect sight alignment and absolutely no movement, it’s almost conditioning you NOT to move when shooting. Of course most ranges do not allow you to run around like a maniac when shooting your real firearm and for good reason. This is why Force on Force is so vital to training. You are encouraged to move, trained to move, dare I say FORCED to move when you have a 200 pound man with a club rushing at you from five yards away. I have by no means mastered the art of moving, drawing and shooting but I am now aware how much more I need to work on it and how vital it is to survival in a fight. Standing still will get your killed. Moving increases your chances of survival.

The third lesson learned is that of essentials. What I mean by that is a lot of the stuff you learn in your general pistol classes goes right out the window when you start shooting at moving, thinking, attacking human beings. No, you are not going to have a perfect shuffle run. No, you are not going to always get to a perfect two-handed grip. No, you aren’t even going to think about that awesome tactical reload you practiced for thirty-seven hours last week. What you ARE going to use is the basic essential to survival in a gunfight and for me that was a good, quick draw that gets your muzzle on target from the holster and as solid of a one-handed grip as you can get. Other things help and you MIGHT either have trained enough to the point that they are instinctive or miraculously found enough time to think, “Hey, I’m going to try this.” But believe me when I say that a lot of the so-called “fundamentals” you thought were so important when you first started shooting quickly get thrown out when you are trying to climb into a car with three bags in your hands and three men rush you as you are pinned against the vehicle. I do think the “fundamentals” should still be taught and practiced because they are a good basis upon which to build but that doesn’t mean they will always be possible.

The fourth lesson is that hands get hit A LOT.

The fifth lesson: have good gear. Because my cheapo air-soft gun wouldn’t fit in my holster and I forgot to bring a different holster that DID fit my gun, for the first half of the first day I borrowed a holster from another class member. My gun fell out so many times while running or moving. It ejected my magazine without my knowledge. It wasn’t secure and generally just SUCKED. Other class members experienced the same failures due to poor holster selections. Thankfully, Steve Collins had a better airsoft gun that he allowed me to borrow that fit in my actually carry holster and it completely eliminated those issues. Having that confidence that when you reach for your gun it’s going to be there and ready to fire is invaluable and if you doubt your equipment or even experience a single fail in retention or quality some serious considerations need to be put in to what you are using to hold the tools that might save your life.

I was very grateful that Steve Collins seemed to be so open-minded about scenarios. He never accused anyone of being stupid or tried to force anyone to do something they were uncomfortable with or didn’t think would work. When I suggested that I should carry a “purse” and “diaper bag” as I would normally do, his response was, “Absolutely.” So for a couple of the scenarios I found myself toting around some bags. After one particular shoot wherein I engaged two “attackers,” afterward I was brought back to reality with Steve’s laughter as he added, “And she still has her purse.” Sure enough, I was still clutching my lunch bag that was serving as my makeshift purse for the scenarios.

I was very glad I was able to make it to the low-light (which turned into the no-light) shoot at the end of the first day because that was invaluable for learning just how hard it is to identify targets (and hits) in little to no-light situations with live, moving targets that shot back. Yet another piece of valuable training you simply couldn’t get anywhere but in force on force.

Steve was a very thorough instructor who engaged us in making our own observations over just telling us what to do or expect. When we all made bad decisions and paid for it with a pellet or two to our bodies he allowed the wounds to do the reprimands for themselves and would engage us in discussion on what we could have done differently (if anything) to avoid that situation.

There were plenty of breaks for us to lick and bandage our wounds, discuss our observations and even talk about gear or just to let the stinging in our flesh to subside just a bit before we subjected ourselves to another volley of pellets.

While I know that not every single scenario can be gone over in a two-day class I thought the range of scenarios covered was very good.

If I had only one complaint about the scenarios it was that we didn’t get close enough to each other. Because we all knew that the people coming out at us were more than likely going to try to hurt us at some point we all tended to engage in even verbal commands at distances simply not realistic in our day-to-day lives. It would have been interesting and, I think, beneficial to have at least one sting of scenarios where the scenario STARTED toe-to-toe. Even if it was just with blue dummy guns or knives instead of the airsoft guns, starting the scenario with someone already within arms reach would have forced all of us to come to grips with the reality that people get close whether we want them to or not and sometimes we have to deal with them from one foot away. We did do hand-to-hand fighting with knives on the first day and three-yard drills on the second it would be good to practice a few perhaps robbery or “get in the car” scenarios where you are fighting someone who has already gotten inside your comfort zone and has the drop on you.

What I also would have loved to have seen was even just a one-page syllabus or sheet discussing a few key points from the instructor and a list of the general scenarios gone over and maybe a little three or for line space to right comments underneath and a prompting from the instructor to write down thoughts, comments, opinions and whether or not this is something you need to work on. I know I would loved to have taken something like that home just to help jog my own memory as to what was gone over in the day and what stood out to me and what I feel I may need work on. I can remember now but in a very short time I’m going to wish I had a list of things to go over and review.

Otherwise I really can’t say enough good things about this class and how much it has helped either drive home what I have already learned, enlightened areas where I need more work, taught me new things or humbled me and my opinions.

A few small welts and battered fingers is a small price to pay for the value of training received.

I KNOW I will be seeking out more force on force training in the future. I’m just going to wait for these wounds to heal first.

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