Self Defense

KR Training Handgun Beyond Basics

Here is my after action report of another class from KR Training's Defensive Pistol Skills program - Handgun Beyond Basics. A course focusing on developing the skills needed for engaging targets effective and efficiently at distances from 5 to 15 yards.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Handgun Beyond Basics course at KR Training which is yet another course in KR Training’s Defensive Pistol Skills Program. It also happens to be the first course KR Training ever offered back in May of 1991 when KR Training was established, albeit the curriculum has been revised a few times since then. This 4-hour class places an emphasis on developing speed and accuracy with a pistol at distances between five to fifteen yards. That emphasis boils down into two parts. The first part deals with understanding when a more refined sight picture is needed and how to avoid disturbing the required sight picture which further boils down to applying the appropriate trigger control necessary to achieve acceptable accuracy. The second part deals with using a good grip for recoil recovery while simultaneously reacquiring a sufficient sight picture and preparing the trigger for a subsequent shot. In other words, this class is predominantly focused on the technical aspects of and the relationship between three fundamental shooting skills: sight alignment, grip and trigger control.

This class was led by Karl Rehn who was assisted by Dave Reichek, Doug Greig, and Tracy Thronburg. There were thirteen students in the class including myself which resulted in a student to instructor ratio of about four to one. Given range time was split into two relays, the student to instructor ratio on the range was about two to one. This ratio, which I’ve come to expect from courses taught at KR training, is one of my favorite things about KR Training. It ensures a safe shooting environment is maintained while also ensuring each student gets sufficient attention in order to learn and level up.

Gear wise, I remained consistent with the other KR Training Defensive Pistol program courses I’ve attended (the only variable being the ammunition used). This time around my gear consisted of:

The class started in the classroom with the typical and expected safety briefing. The briefing was followed by a lecture which explored various aspects of the fundamental skills covered in this course and also covered in another KR Training course, Correcting Common Shooting Errors. I’m not going to regurgitate everything here because I wouldn’t do the lecture justice even though class notes were provided and I took copious notes myself. However, the lecture contained a wealth of valuable information and as such I’ll share a few of the items I took away.

The lecture started with a very important question: why do we miss? Fundamentally, a miss is a result of a projectile leaving the barrel when the gun is misaligned with the target. Obvious, right? I certainly thought so. However, what’s much less obvious are the reasons why the gun is misaligned with the target after we have taken the time to aim carefully prior to pressing the trigger. The reality is that a lot happens between the moment one begins pressing the trigger and the projectile hits the target which is a remarkably minuscule period of time. One of the reasons it’s not obvious is because the shooter is likely to blink as soon as the trigger breaks. The blink is an autonomic physical response to shooting. In other words, it’s a natural subconscious physical reaction that goes unnoticed by the vast majority of humans because it happens so quickly. As fast as a blink is, it is orders of magnitude slower than the time it takes for the powder in a cartridge to ignite after a primer strike and the projectile to leave the barrel of a pistol. In a sense, shots are fired with our eyes closed. It’s in those fractions of a second that the gun moves enough to be misaligned with the target which results in a miss or less than perfect hit.

So what can we do about it? The good portion of the lecture discussed this in detail starting with how to grip the gun. This included exploration of grip techniques to minimize gun movement. The lecture also examined the concept of “yanking the trigger” which translates to pressing the trigger too hard or too fast relative to grip pressure. Everything I’ve described isn’t even the tip of the iceberg as far as the lecture is concerned.

Another important topic examined was the various types of pistol shooting as categorized by Brian Enos in his book, Practical Shooting. The types are defined as:

  • Type 1: 0 to 3 yards
  • Type 2: 3 to 7 yards
  • Type 3: 7 to 15 yards
  • Type 4: 15 to 25 yards
  • Type 5: 25 yards and beyond

I found this discussion to be particularly interesting given the continued revelations I’ve experienced regarding the concept of shooting cadence. At its core, the closer (or larger) the target is the less sight picture and less careful one has to be to achieve an acceptable hit. Another way to think about that is, that we can shoot faster with less worry when targets are closer (or larger). As the distance increases (or the targets get smaller), the shot requires a more refined sight picture and finer trigger control in order to achieve an acceptable hit. Another way to think about that, is that one has to increase care and shoot more gently as the targets get further away (or smaller). Consequently, all of this means that a shooter has to adapt their rate of fire to the target size and target distance in order to shoot with the appropriate level of care necessary to make a good hit.

The last lecture topic I’ll comment on pertains to how we think about the shooting process. As humans, it is easier for us to learn things in ordered steps. This means we generally prefer to think of processes in a sequential linear manner. In fact, this is how most of us learn to shoot – first this, then that, and this other thing next. I don’t see anything wrong with this approach as it makes it easy to teach somebody a new thing and for that somebody to learn a new thing. However, speed and efficiency comes from being able to multitask and doing things in parallel. Parallelization is the essence of shooting faster addressed by the lecture. Aiming and trigger manipulation can happen concurrently, but doing those things well at the same time requires a lot of practice – which, in my opinion, was the predominant focus of the drills conducted on the range after the lecture was concluded.

Range time started with a dry fire drill. We started from the ready position, pressed out the gun to get a good sight picture while taking out the trigger slack, slowly pressing the trigger for a good break without disturbing the sight picture. I like this dry fire drill because it combines several skills: presentation, sight picture, prepping the trigger, and breaking a shot. My main takeaway was the emphasis on getting used to obtaining a good enough sight picture while also starting to manipulate the trigger. On the surface this might seem like a violation of the third rule of gun safety, however it isn’t because the finger is going on the trigger when “one is ready to shoot”. Meaning the decision to shoot has already been made and the gun is already pointed at the target. This is simply the process of taking the shot.

After the dry fire drill, the class split into two relays for the live fire drills which started at a distance of five yards.

The first live fire drill was identical to the dry fire drill, but finished with a good sight picture and the trigger slack taken out and prepped for a follow up shot after one shot was taken. My take away from this drill was similar to the dry fire drill in the sense that we worked on parallel application of skills. The first instance of this being the same parallelized sight picture acquisition and trigger preparation process from the dry fire drill for the first shot. The second instance was the repeated application of the same parallelized sight picture acquisition and trigger preparation process during recoil recovery in preparation for additional shots.

We were then introduced into the live/empty (or live/dummy) drill – which was very similar to the first live fire drill but added a couple of things. This drill added a second trigger press after recovering from the first shot. However, the second shot was taken with an empty chamber. This was accomplished by chambering a round and removing the magazine before performing the drill. While this drill continues to work on concurrently acquiring a sight picture and preparing the trigger, the second empty chamber (or dummy round) shot can expose deficiencies in trigger manipulation. More specifically, the existence of a flinch or a pre-ignition push.

The live/empty drill was followed by another drill performed which consisted of firing five shots at a five yard distance in five seconds. This drill brought together the parallelized sight and trigger process with consecutive shots. It also provided an opportunity for the student to see that a perfect sight picture was not needed at this distance to achieve good hits into an NRA B-8 sized target. We repeated this drill a couple of times and then repeated it a couple more times with the par time reduced from five to three seconds.

From there, we moved back to the ten yard line and repeated a variation of the five shot drill with par times double to ten and six seconds respectively. The additional distance demonstrated the need for a better sight picture and gentler trigger break in order to maintain acceptable hits. This further reinforced the value of parallelized application of preparing the trigger and acquiring a sight picture in order to minimize the time between good shots. Shooting with additional care is slower, but that doesn’t mean the presentation and recoil recovery process should also be done at a slower pace. Rather we take more time on the things that require more care, but keep the pedal to the metal on the things that don’t require more care.

The next drills moved the firing line up to three yards from the target. These drills were done with the rear sight taped up to prevent the shooter from being able to get a good sight picture. Students running pistol mounted optics (which was about 80% of the class) taped up the rear lens to prevent them from using the dot. These extremely short distance drills consisted of firing five shots into the target with much shorter par times than before (three and two seconds respectively). This demonstrated that nothing more than a well indexed pistol is needed to get good and incredibly fast hits at this distance on the same size target we had been working with so far.

The next two drills that I recall were modified versions of the FAST Test and the 10-10-10 drill. I can’t quite recall the order in which we performed these drills, but I recall performing them. As a side note, it might appear as though I’ve provided a lot of detail regarding the lecture content and the drills we ran. The truth is I’ve left a lot out. There were several instructor discussions that I haven’t mentioned in addition to transitional drills variations. There is a lot of depth to this course and this report, as detailed as it may seem, is a brief summary at best. But I digress.

The FAST Test drill begins from the holster with a pistol loaded with exactly two rounds while the shooter is in a relaxed stance facing down range at a FAST target located seven yards away. On a start signal, the shooter draws the pistol, fires two shots at the 3×5″ box on the target, performs a slidelock reload, and fires exactly four rounds at the 8″ circle on the target. There are time penalties and bonuses applied to the scoring for gear used and missed shots. The score can then be used to rank the shooter’s skill level as expert (5 seconds or less), advanced (5-7 seconds), intermediate (7-10 seconds), or novice (10 seconds or more). The variation we performed eliminated the draw and slidelock reload. This variant worked well to reinforce the concepts covered in the course. That being the shooter is required to carefully shoot the two rounds into the 3×5″ box and quickly shoot the four rounds into the 8″ circle in order to shoot the drill clean and beat the par times sets (5 seconds at 5 yards and 7 seconds at 7 yards).

The 10-10-10 drill consists of shooting 10 rounds in 10 seconds at 10 yards into an NRA B-8 target. Scoring is straightforward, simply add up the points corresponding to the rings hit (hits in the 10 ring are 10 points each, hits in the 9 ring are 9 points each and so on). The goal is to shoot a perfect 100 score. However, shooting a 90 or better is saying quite a lot. The class started with a variant of this drill that required 5 rounds in 10 seconds at 10 yards. Sounds easy, right? It is certainly easier than 10 rounds in 10 seconds, but it still requires consistent application of sound fundamental skills. After a few runs, students were given the option to attempt 10 rounds in 10 seconds or repeat the 5 rounds in 10 seconds variant.

The last drill consisted of engaging two IDPA/IPSC competition style targets – one placed 5 yards away and other 10 yards away. Each target presented two district good hit areas, a small head box area and a larger thoracic cavity area. Given the different distances, the front body target presented a target that could be shot quickly, the front head target and rear body target presented two targets that had to be shot carefully, and the rear head target presented a target that required precise shots. Before the go signal, Karl named two targets that would receive exactly two hits each in the order they were named. Thus requiring the student to adjust the amount of care given to each shot when transitioning between targets. Changing gears proved to be tricky and something that requires dedicated practice to do well. There were instances when I realized I maintained the same cadence after transitioning targets which resulted in missing the target area because I didn’t slow down or missed an opportunity to speed up on a target that could have been shot faster. There were other instances where I did change gears but the gear change was less than optimal.

All-in-all, I found the progressive drill difficulty to be very well planned, challenging, fun, and a great reinforcement of the topics covered in lecture. I was also extremely pleased to see all of the drills enumerated and included in the provided class notes.

While there certainly was a lot to be learned in this class, some of which I’ve shared, and plenty of drills to take home and practice, which I’ve rambled on a bit about, the most valuable aspect in taking a course like this comes from having qualified instructors observe one’s shooting techniques and providing personalized assistance to help the student get the most out of the class in speed up the improvement process. Even something as small as making a shooter aware of a subconscious habit can make a tremendous difference. In my case, I very much appreciated having Dave encourage me to “pick up the pace” and push for more speed during some drills when he noticed a few opportunities to do so that I had not noticed. I also enjoyed having Karl point out some deficiencies in how I was gripping the gun. Those are fringe benefits of attending a class that one can’t get from reading a blog post, reading a book, or watching a video.

Honestly, this was a terrific class. The mixture of discussion and range time was very well balanced. I can’t really think of anything I would have preferred to be done differently. Allowing myself to be a little pedantic given my experiences with KR Training courses so far, I would have liked the opportunity to shoot the Three Seconds or Less drill at the end of this class. The reason for this is entirely selfish as I’ve become fond of the drill and like to have an objective measurement of where I’m presently at skillswise. While I can run that drill myself, I welcome the stress from shooting that in a class in front of my peers and instructors. Granted, I’m being very nit-picky and projecting my personal preferences on a class that I found to be conducted exceptionally well. I also had a chance to catch up with Karl about why the Three Seconds or Less drill isn’t a part of the class and the reasoning is sound – the class prerequisites do not include some of the necessary skills required to perform well on the drill, namely drawing the pistol from concealment quickly.

I encourage readers who are looking for their first or next class to check out KR Training’s class schedule as they always have great options on the horizon. This particular class, Handgun Beyond Basics, is being offered again on the morning of April 2, 2022. If you are considering signing up for it, then you may also want to consider signing up for the Handgun Skill Builder class that afternoon for additional opportunities to practice what was learned in the morning course.

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