Course Review: Training with a Legend! Ken Hackathorn Advanced Pistol Course; October 7th & 8th, 2017 – Los Angeles, California (Host: Aztec Training Services)

Back in late April, I spent some time with industry giant Ken Hackathorn at the NRA Annual Meetings in Atlanta and during our conversation I asked him if I could get in a course he was teaching in Couer d’Alene, Idaho in June. Ken said, “no way, the course was way oversold by the hosts” and we both said, “See you at Burro Canyon.”

Fast forward to last weekend. In between visiting family that I don’t get to see very often and meeting with some television executives about providing technical advice to them on firearms and empty hand skills for their network actors and actresses, I attended Ken’s Advanced Pistol course at Burro Canyon Shooting Park high up in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

On Saturday morning I woke up early because my body clock was still on Eastern Daylight Time, three hours ahead of the local time and because I might have been just a little excited to train with a man so well respected in the firearms training industry that everyone should do their best to get in one of his last courses before he retires full-time. So, shortly after sunrise, I found myself driving up to the range so I could be ready to learn from a man who has been on my list to train with for years.

Burro Canyon Shooting Park has nineteen bays ranging from forty-five yards to just under one-hundred ten yards in length.

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(The photo above is courtesy of the Burro Canyon Shooting Park website.)

At 0900hrs we started with Ken greeting all twenty of us and holding a short classroom session on the range before we got down to business running our handguns.

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(The photo above is of Ken giving a short classroom presentation at the back of the range on TD1.)

During the classroom presentation, Ken spoke with us about how he has been a “Student of Weaponcraft” all of his adult life. He said that current training is in decline right now due to oversaturation, and I agree. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of the firearms training community have no business instructing anything at all, they either have untested POI (Program of Instruction) or they cannot explain why they teach what they teach and how it applies to the responsibly armed citizen. Sadly, many of them cannot figure out the adult learning theorem either. These same folks are the ones that get into arguments to raise their social media status and are desperate to sell tickets to Gun School.

Ken started instructing after meeting United States Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper at a course he was teaching in Colorado a few years before the Colonel started the American Pistol Institute, you would recognize that institution now as Gunsite Academy. The story of how Ken got in that course was excellent and you will need to attend a course with Ken in order to get that story from the man himself.

By happenstance, United States Army LTC Robert K. Brown publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine was also attending that same course in Colorado back in the early 1970’s and a short time after the course Colonel Brown offered Ken the opportunity to become a regular contributor to the magazine, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just so you know, Ken is very serious about retirement. Yeah, many people have heard him say that he is retiring over the past several years; however, this year he conducted four courses and next year it will be only two and only one is open enrollment. So, fair warning to you, I suggest that if you want to train with Ken you had better find a way to get in that one open enrollment course. (There are hints all over this blog postings with links to the course registration) Ken told us that he has goals in life to see some things like Yosemite, and the Cody Museum and one can’t blame him, for Ken has been training members of the United States Special Operations community, sworn Law Enforcement Officers and of course responsibly armed citizens for over forty-three years, he’s due a break.

Once we were on the range Ken started us with a drill shooting five shots at the “A” zone of an IDPA target from the ready position of our choice. Ever the evaluator and coach, Ken doesn’t miss anything on the range and he is constantly coaching his students. He is well prepared and has a course of fire planned out in his head, I never once saw him refer to any notes, this kind of experience is what you pay for when you attend a course with an industry giant like Ken Hackathorn who was one of the founding members of both I.P.S.C. and I.D.P.A.

Over the two-day course I never once heard him “undress” a student for not doing things his way as you see with some of the “traveling road show instructors” these days. Ken showed us techniques that he has perfected over his career as a sworn Law Enforcement Officer and as an industry expert; however, while we were shooting his drills he left it up to us to us to figure out what techniques we were comfortable with.

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(The photo above is typical of the weekend, Ken on his way to give some personal coaching to one of the students on TD1.)

We were constantly evaluated by the timer and by our target. Ken’s scoring system is based on time measurements, and you must add time for misses outside the designated target area for the drill. There are two things don’t lie in the shooting world, the timer and your target.

Speaking of that, Ken told us a few stories about how some top level shooters and even some regular Joe’s would boast in his courses how they can run certain drills and score times that are absolutely over the top ridiculous. Ken said that he used to tell them, “Well, today I am from Missouri, and you’ve got to show me.” More often than not these folks would make excuses and or embarrass themselves by not being able to perform as they said they could just minutes before.

Many of the drills we shot over this two-day course are drills that you have heard of, e.g., the Bill Drill, the El Presidente’ and countless others. What made this educational was the fact that we shot just about all the drills individually on the timer in front of everyone else, talk about pressure to perform, that was some kind of pressure. We then evaluated our targets, pasting our bad memories and adding up our scores using Ken’s scoring method.

Ken’s 20-second pass/fail par time.

A = 11 seconds and under
B = 11.1 seconds to 14 seconds
C = 14.1 seconds to 17 seconds
D = 17.1 seconds to 19.9 seconds
20 seconds and above identifies the shooter as someone who needs a little more personal coaching.

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(The photo above is of Ken demonstrating his slide-lock or empty-gun reload technique on TD1.)

My scores over the weekend were consistently in the B/C range, as with everything when you apply yourself and focus on what’s important now at Gun School, you can do well. Once again, attending a course of this caliber helped me identify some things that I can work on to increase my skill level and also gave me a lot of things that I can pass on to the students that I train as well.

During the two-day course, Ken taught to the adult learning theorem of explaining, demonstrating, and then coaching students through his drills each and every time, and as I have said many times before, this style of teaching works really well for me as both a trainer and of course as a student.

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(The photo above is of Ken using his own personal Wilson Combat Lightweight Commander to demonstrate his “Strong Hand Only” shooting technique.)

My gun of choice for the course was my SIG SAUER P320 X-Carry, using a Comp-Tac OWB holster. I ordered one thousand rounds of Remington UMC 115gr FMJ ammunition from LAX Ammo and had it delivered directly to my hotel. The ammunition and the gun ran flawlessly; however, I did have a small hiccup with my X-Carry when some sand and dirt got in it from putting it on the ground to run the weak hand only shooting drills. The “Lightening Cut” in the top of the slide is certainly cool looking, but if you get any dirt inside the action, bank on it creating stoppages in the cycle of operation.

Additionally, I ran all the drills in the two-day course from concealment as did one or two other students who were from counties where the Sheriff will issue a California License to Carry.

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(The photo above is courtesy of Aztec Training Services.)

Speaking of Aztec Training Services, Chen and Andrew did a great job as hosts. You may know that when Alias Training & Security Services “closed it’s doors” Aztec was formed almost overnight and they either represent or host some of the biggest names in the firearms training industry, e.g., Ken Hackathorn, Larry Vickers, Jeff Gonzales, Buck Doyle, Daryl Holland and Matt Graham. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have been in this course without being able to speak with Ken at the NRA Annual Meetings, but Aztec Training Services played a significant role by always being there to answer questions for an out of town traveler like me. Check out their website and course schedule in the various links I have placed in this posting.

In summary, this course is all about building your skills as a combative shooter. If you apply yourself and take good notes you will take away a lot of information that you can use in your personal range training sessions when you get back home. Again I encourage you to get in Ken’s open enrollment course next year if you want to train with him before he fully retires from teaching.

 

Until next time …

As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!

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Photo Disclosure: Featured photo courtesy of Aztec Training Services.

Course Review: Rangemaster Advanced Firearms Instructor Development Course; August 26th & 27th, 2017 – Culpeper, Virginia (Host: FPF Training)

Last Friday morning I boarded a Southwest Airlines jet in Tampa, and after a plane change in Atlanta, I arrived at Dulles slightly before noon. I picked up my rental car and I sped off to the National Rifle Association Headquarters in Fairfax for two reasons; First, I wanted to see the twelve Thompson’s that were donated for display at the museum on the first day that they were put out on display. I am a big fan of the “Tommy Gun” and to see twelve of them in one location, even if they were under-glass was spectacular.

The second reason was that I wanted to get some lunch. They have a darn good cafeteria at NRA Headquarters and I thought what the heck, let me get some vittles before making the drive down to Culpeper.

The photo below says it all, just look at them beauties.

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OK, after getting my “Tommy Gun” fix and filling my belly I headed out to Culpeper. Upon my arrival, I checked in for a two-night stay at the Holiday Inn Express using my IHG reward points and then I was off to Walmart to get a few essentials for the weekend.

Friday evening, I met Tom, Tim, Ashton, and a couple other Rangemaster Graduates at Foti’s Restaurant in downtown Culpeper. Foti’s is an American, Mediterranean/Greek style restaurant and is highly rated on Trip Advisor. I enjoyed the meal and more importantly the conversation.

After dinner, it was time to get some rest; however, truth be told, I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. I just love to train with good people, so I really did not sleep all that well on Friday night.

Saturday morning (TD1) started promptly at 0900hrs with Tom welcoming us and setting our level of expectation for the weekend. Many of you have asked via email and private message why I would take this course a second time so soon after graduating from it in March 2015. Well, I can tell you that there are two very good reasons. The first is because I somehow lost my workbook and certificate of completion from the course back in 2015, and the second is because I know Tom to be progressive in evolving his curriculum. I saw this right away in the comprehensive student/instructor candidate manual that he provided us. By the way, you can find my original course review here.

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Let’s talk prerequisites, to be invited to this particular course you must have graduated from one of the three-day Rangemaster Firearms Instructor Development Courses that Tom & Lynn hold around the United States.

Assisting Tom over the weekend was Skip Gochenour. Skip is a licensed private detective and founder of S. R. Gochenour & Associates in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Skip has consulted on hundreds of civil and criminal cases involving firearms and use of force, and he has appeared as himself on documentary television shows such as Forensic Files, Autopsy, and Murder by the Book. Skip also founded and serves as the Director of the American Tactical Shooting Association (ATSA) and the National Tactical Invitational (NTI).

When Tom introduced Skip he said, “if Skip tells you to do something, it would be a good idea to just go on and do it.” That is good advice, Skip gave me several tips over the weekend that I am very grateful for. By the way, Skip wears a darn cool hat and knows a fine cigar as well.

On to our agenda for the weekend. Tom covered all of the classroom information on Saturday and that allowed us to go to the range in the afternoon, and then stay at the range for the remainder of the course.

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Let’s talk prerequisites, to be invited to this particular course you must have graduated from one of the three-day Rangemaster Firearms Instructor Development Courses that Tom & Lynn hold around the United States.

Tom had us stand up and do a little public speaking, introducing ourselves and giving our names, our training companies/where we were from, where and when we took the three-day Rangemaster Firearms Instructor Development Course. Lastly, we were asked to describe what was our biggest takeaway from that course.

What I learned from the introductions was, we had eighteen very diverse students/instructor candidates (seventeen men and one woman) many from the Northern Virginia area and several of the original thirteen colonies; however, one man made the trip all the way from Oregon, now I call that dedication to training and professional development.

I should add that one of the instructor candidates, Adam Gochenour, a very modest young man, and son of Skip is the youngest person to ever attend and graduate from the Gunsite Academy, Pistol 250 Course at the age of 10 or 11, I do not remember which. (The adult class, not the Gunsite Youth 250) What an amazing accomplishment at such a young age and one you will never see again at Gunsite. Adam is a heck of a good shooter and makes some very fine leather holsters as well. Check out his company website at Panolpy Holsters and Equipment.

After a short break, we got started with the curriculum. Tom suggested that we answer when he asked questions during the presentation, and if you have never trained with him before, think of Tom like a father figure when he suggests you do something, it’s not really a suggestion. Active participation in the learning process helps you and everyone else around you learn more from each other and adds to the overall experience.

As we discussed human anatomy as it relates to dangerous people, we all have an understanding that good hits must be made in the upper thoracic cavity on the human who is threatening your life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These hits must be in the area marked from nipple to nipple up to the collar bones. We also discussed “the vault” as it applies to the facial targeting area, and how the target stays the same when the threat turns sideways to us.

Tom also said, “If you think you’ve been shot, that’s not a good thing, and a .380ACP is just fine unless you need to shoot someone.” I have read many books on this exact subject and seen plenty of police reports where a .380ACP failed to get the job done. (That means stop the threat from doing what they are doing to you or someone that you love) This does not mean that I want to take a few shots to the upper thoracic region from a .380ACP. Remember, criminals can afford to miss or get lucky with an unintended and un-aimed shot, they do not care about you, or the devastation they cause through their felonious behavior.

You, on the other hand, cannot afford to carry a gun that does not stop “Dude” when you need to stop “Dude.” As “Old Brother” Massad Ayoob says, “Friends don’t let friends carry mouse guns.”

We then transitioned to ready positions and the pros-cons of each. Tom teaches the “Traditional Guard” better known as the “Low-Ready” position. It was popularized by Lt. Col. Cooper at Gunsite and is used by many well-known agencies across the country.

Many other Instructors have their favorites, from the “Air Marshal Ready” and “High Compressed Ready” oh, let’s not forget “Position SUL.” The last is one of the most misused ready positions of all.

“Bootlegger Ready” is a ready position that a lot of Law Enforcement Officers use in many different situations; however, as Tom pointed out, it is much slower than just having your master-hand on a holstered gun. The master-hand on a holstered gun is a popular technique taught in my Defensive Tactics courses for Law Enforcement Officers.

We covered a few other ready positions and then moved on. Remember one thing … If nobody is using the technique outside of the training courses where they are being taught, then you are just being a beta-tester.

After another short break, we jumped into the other agenda items, and cadence was up next. Finding the right cadence to use in defensive marksmanship is easy if you remember that you should only shoot as fast as you can guarantee hits and no faster. It’s quite simple when you think about it; however, teaching newbies about cadence and trigger control can be extremely difficult.

Heck, I had trouble with this new gun I am shooting over the weekend, I wasn’t taking up enough slack in the trigger and I was crashing through the break, causing my sights to deviate. That will earn you a “miss” each time, and what can we ill afford to do in a gunfight?

Creating skill drills versus tactical drills and how they can be used to train the student was one of my favorite subjects, think of the Casino Drill, the 3M Drill, and the El Presidente. With less than a full box of ammunition, you can test yourself in everything you need to be able to do competently as a defensive shooter.

Before lunch, we discussed Firearms Instructor Liability Insurance and how many Firearms Instructors dig themselves a hole by teaching outside their lane, these instructors would do much better to stay in their lane.

[On my Soapbox] In Florida we have a very serious problem with both NRA and USCCA Certified Instructors delving into legal issues as they skirt a fine line in giving legal advice which can be considered as practicing law without a license in this state. Just so you know, that is a third-degree felony, and if convicted it is punishable by five years in prison and a $5,000.00 fine. Do you want to be a test case? If you answered, no, then stop teaching the laws associated with concealed carry in Florida and stick to giving a “Firearms Safety Course” as codified in Florida Statute 790.06 2. (h) 7. By the way, many are still are teaching without having the proper certifications and some are teaching without Firearms Instructor Liability Insurance, which I find to be reckless and puts their students in danger. Always check the credentials of your Instructor and ask to see a copy of their Firearms Instructor Liability Insurance as well. [Off my Soapbox]

In this block of instruction, we discussed how the Instructor has a duty to provide a safe learning environment and to oversee training while providing a standard of care that is above the industry standard.

I asked Tom to interject as we discussed Lockton Affinity (NRA Endorsed) Insurance and how it does not indemnify Firearm Instructors when they engage in Simunitions/UTM/Airsoft/Force-On-Force type training.

Instructor Note: If you need to shop for a rider to your policy for Simunitions/UTM/Airsoft/Force-on-Force training, look at Joseph Chiarello & Company, they will give you a rider for $150.00 per year to cover you for this type of training.

After breaking for lunch, we watched and listened to a ninety (90) minute presentation by a well-known police psychologist. This was a riveting presentation that caused me to have my head down typing notes on my phone and writing them down in my notebook just as fast as I could.

The Doctor’s catchphrase was, “do you follow?” Yes, I followed, but there was so much that I missed by trying to take too good of notes. I should have brought my laptop and touch-typed my notes, lesson learned.

After the presentation was over we saddled up and headed to Stone Quarry Range about twenty minutes away.

Once at the range, we did some dry-fire work to ensure safety awareness and to polish out some wasted motion in our presentations.

Instructors Note: Remember the saying that most Gun Pretenders use? “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” – Well, I will tell you that slow is slow! You have got to get the gun out quickly and efficiently with little to no wasted motion. You can do this by dedicating yourself to diligent, deliberate, perfect practice.

Our shooting started with many drills that you would be familiar with if you have trained with Tom and Lynn over the years. We got in work from all distances and my scores improved each time we shot a qualification; however, to be candid my scores were dismal to my standards even with the “informed expectation” I had prior to the course.

Personally, I identified that I need a lot more bulls-eye work during the course. This is something known to me, and thus I see my Pact Club Timer III and a lot of timed bulls-eye target drills in my future.

We ended TD1 with “The Test” by Ken Hackathorn, you can find it by using your Google-Fu. Ending with all hits in a five-and-a-half-inch circle from 10 yards is a good thing.

The TD1 round count was somewhere just under 200 rounds.

After we adjourned, many of us headed to Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurant where this happened, the “El Gordo Burrito.” I laughed when I saw this because El Gordo means “The Fat” in Spanish. Guess what? I smashed that Fat Burrito.

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Sunday morning (TD2) Sunday started with the host, Gary Jakl from FPF Training being gracious enough to meet me at the range at 0730hrs to bench-rest my GLOCK 34 Gen 3. This is the second time I have had to push the rear sight on this gun appreciably to the right to bring my grouping over enough to be on center. It’s really getting ridiculous with this gun and I shipped it off to GLOCK for them to address the issue for me.

I forgot to mention my gear considerations for this course. Obviously, the GLOCK 34 Gen 3 was my firearm of choice, I carried it AIWB in a V-Development Group Seraph holster with the large foam wedge. (See the photo below)

The ammunition I chose for the course was CCI/Speer Blazer Brass 124gr FMJ. Because of federal law, I couldn’t fly with thirty (30) pounds worth of ammunition, so once again, our host Gary Jakel came to the rescue and accepted my ammunition shipment from Target Sports USA.

FPF Training is an excellent host, and Stone Quarry Range is also a great place to shoot. We missed you last weekend John Murphy!

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Once we had targets up and were toeing the line Tom made sure we were clear in the holster and we started on dry-fire practice using the coach/pupil method. After all, this is an Instructor Course and Tom had us coaching and instructing our new best friends.

In the photo below Tom is having a little fun with Ashton demonstrating a drill while Tim supervises.

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Here is a good suggestion that you need to commit to memory, “If you line up the bumpy things on top of the slide and press the trigger properly, you will get a hit.” – Tom Givens

After a short break to get some water in and water out, we then started working on more drills from all sorts of distances. As you see below, my target was getting better and that’s what I like to see.

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“The presentation puts the gun on target, the sights are used to verify alignment.” – Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper (No truer words ever spoken)

Next, we shot a few qualifications and afterward we had some fun shooting steel. Shooting a little friendly “mano e mano” competition on steel during a course is a good thing and makes you work for what you get.

Then it was back to more work from various distances, we worked hard on a lot of drills up until time for lunch.

When we reconvened after lunch we worked together in teams using the coach/pupil method with our coach giving us encouragement on our techniques.

See the photo below: Tom is a master at hitting the adult learning theorem and here he is demonstrating a two-handed shooting technique from position #3 of the presentation, also referred to as “high compressed ready.”

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After this we did a few movement drills, presenting our pistols and getting off the “X” so to speak.

We then shot the course qualification. I scored a dismal 239 the first go around and 245 on the second. My 245 score is posted below. Again, not my best effort; however, it is exactly what I had on Sunday afternoon. I have a lot of work to do…

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We had a lot of guns that had problems in this course. A GLOCK trigger spring broke, Winchester White Box hard primers causing a failure to failure to fire repeatedly. Another shooter had a magazine spontaneously disassemble during a load or reload, I cannot remember which, and then there were feeding problems and cycling problems in a variety of guns, it was brutal to watch. As Tim Chandler put it, “The Rangemaster Advanced Firearms Instructor Course eats guns.” [Paraphrasing]

Let this be a “teachable moment” for everyone. Bring a spare gun to #GunSchool, no matter what course you are taking and regardless of the instructor.

In summary, once again Tom Givens knocked it out of the park. He evolved this curriculum from the course I attended in Fort Lauderdale back in March 2015. I enjoy Tom and Lynn’s courses immensely and will continue to challenge myself to be the best shooter and Instructor that I can be.

TD1 & TD2 round count was just under 700, with all the dry-fire practice we got in plus the 100-150 dry-fire presses I did on Saturday night at the hotel I had to be close to 1,000 or more trigger presses.

On a personal note, attending this course allowed me to reconnect with a man I highly respect and look forward to training with again soon, Mike from Green Ops. He was our “Top Gun” last weekend and he also earned a Master Class Rating in the handgun core skills test. Nice job Mike!

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The photo above: Mike with his 250/250 on the course qualification, this man can flat out run his gun.

Finally, I’ll leave you with these nuggets. My remaining 2017 personal training schedule includes courses with:

  1. Dave Spaulding from Handgun Combatives.
  2. Ken Hackathorn Advanced Pistol Course in Los Angeles.
  3. Two courses with Patrick McNamara.
  4. The First Annual Rangemaster Instructor Reunion Conference in Oklahoma.
  5. Two closed enrollment courses for LEO Trainers only in September and October.
  6. The new three-day NRA Practical Pistol Coach School at NRA Headquarters in December.

All of this in between teaching courses throughout the week and on select weekends. Yeah, I’d say that my plate is pretty much full.

 

Until next time …

As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!

 

Join in the discussion with my over 5,800+ fans on Facebook at www.facebook.com/triggercontrol

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