I had the privilege of joining a class of 20 people at Warlizard Tactical with father-son instructor duo Joel and Michael Gaines. The name of the course was “Two-Day Pistol/Rifle Tactical Considerations.” This course was a hybrid of self-defense introductory material, intermediate, and possibly some advanced topics. The hybrid nature was due to the student population: half locals who have taken Warlizard Tactical courses and half members of Braxton’s Bunkhouse. The training location was just Northwest of Tucson, Arizona. I will state that this is a review as a layman who is a relatively new shooter. I don’t know the technical names of many of the drills or techniques, but I describe them as best I can from the perspective of a student. Where applicable I have included links if you would like to know more.
Joel’s teaching style isn’t doctrinal. He does not claim to teach the best way of doing everything, just a good way that is the best for him at his current level of knowledge. He has years of experience and had at least one example of a student doing something he hadn’t seen before and he adopted it and teaches it, as well. But his role is a teacher, not a drill sergeant and if you have your own way of doing it, “you do you, boo!” However, they will try to correct training scars so even if you’re doing things your own way you can do them correctly.
The methodology is theory, demonstration, and drill. Oftentimes there was dry fire practice before the live fire drill, especially for things most of the class would be new to. This was intended to produce a few good repetitions at slow speeds to build the CNS programming, and then progress in speed until you’re doing the action as fast as possible.
There were several RSOs and assistant instructors. I remember at least 7 but I think there were a few more. These were all volunteers, mostly people who have taken courses with Warlizard Tactical before. RSOs were attentive and we had no significant safety violations. They corrected behavior while being respectful and gave gentle reminders. I think it says a lot about the training and the people, that students enjoyed the experience so much they’re willing to come back and help others. They also feel that the drills and instruction are valuable, and worth helping out all day for the opportunity to run one or two of the drills after the students.
On the first day we paired up and had to find a buddy. Our buddy was our partner for most of the drills for the two day course. It was an excellent opportunity to build trust with someone else and to learn together, since every student has different strengths and weaknesses. It also was nice to have another set of ears to make sure we understood the lesson. We could also coach each other as we practiced.
There were mandatory water breaks at regular intervals, with bottled water and bottled Gatorade in an ice chest. There were snacks available, oranges, bananas, assorted chips, and packets of trail mix. Given so many folks were out of state and not used to the dry weather, the relatively cool mornings between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit and relatively warm afternoons around 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit we wanted to make sure no one got dehydrated.
Lunch was provided both days. Grilled up hotdogs (both regular and all-beef), a variety of single serving chips, single serving trail mix, oranges, and bananas were available. The second day one of the students brought ribs to grill up, in addition to the hotdogs and sides.
We met at a square range filled with pea gravel interspersed with a grid of cement walkways. We started with a “knowledge fragment,” the use of a tourniquet and how to stage it properly. We would drill this randomly throughout the two days so that we’d have a chance to practice placing a tourniquet under stress and on different parts of the body.
We began by discussing some basic theories regarding self defense. Joel prefers the warrior mindset to the sheepdog mindset. The criticism of the sheepdog mindset is that it drives people to danger rather than avoiding it. The warrior mindset he described as having a mission and acting in ways to accomplish that mission. His mission every day is to return home to his family. If we encounter a dangerous situation, he would assess the risk of failing to accomplish his mission to the opportunity to perform some greater “good” that puts him in harm’s way.
In keeping with the warrior mindset this was emphasized: a fight avoided is a fight won. Michael gave us an example of a man wearing a suit after attending a meeting in a non-permission (to concealed carry) environment . A hostile appearing man acting bizarrely began following him. He noticed this and immediately began doing things to evade and avoid the hostile man.
Prior to our first drill, we discussed the difference between stance and posture. Stance implies static positioning and time to set properly, whereas posture implies optimizing your body for a shot quickly. We also covered position sul and temple index. We then practiced multiple aspects of these fundamentals as a class. The students were in a line with guns drawn pointed at the berm. The student at one end of the line shouted “cover me while I move,” and the class responds “we got you covered,” and then the student says “moving” and brings gun to temple index and ran to the other end of the line where they reset into their shooting stance and once ready to shoot again yelled “set.”
After the drill it was back to didactics regarding situational awareness and noticing your surroundings, judging threats, and how to make yourself less of a target.
We practiced the 4 part holster draw. I think that Joel prefers this because in part 3 of the draw you can fire from retention or transition to center axis relock, which we covered on day 2. I think it was at this point we also did a “get off me drill” firing from retention, standing next to a cardboard IPSC/USPSA cardboard target, weak hand on our head with elbow touching the target. We drew pistol and fired a few shots from retention. We repeated this drill but added taking steps back while shooting at the target.
We then did some drills for the last ditch effort to save our skins if we’re at such a disadvantage that the decision is between us between us getting in the trunk of a car or going down fighting. Joel warned us that while these may look something like a Detroit Urban Survival Training meme, they are legitimate if unlikely to succeed. The timing of this lesson was poignant immediately after our discussion of recognizing danger, avoiding bad situations, and making ourselves unattractive targets. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and we should never allow ourselves to get put into a situation where we have to push a gun away from our face and physically disarm an attacker.
The first drill was one hand offline of a pistol. Prior to the drill we disassembled our pistols, placed a barrel block through the barrel, and reassembled them. Because we were pointing real firearms at each other we were given the opportunity to opt-out given this violates rules 1, 2, and 4 of the universal gun safety rules. The aggressor would point their pistol at the victim standing within an arm’s length, and the victim would offline the weapon, push it so the muzzle no longer pointed at the victim as well as maneuver away from the line of fire towards the aggressor’s strong side. We then added a disarm technique to this, where the victim steps to the aggressor’s strong side and attempts a disarm by pulling the weapon toward themselves while twisting the aggressor’s wrist. We then did this with the aggressor holding the pistol with two hands, with the offline being a straight UP motion with both of the victim’s hands. The disarm technique also varied slightly, as you twist the aggressor’s wrist up and towards them before pulling IN towards the belly of the victim.
Then we did prone drills. This was both with the aggressor holding a gun trying to point it at us and us with a gun and the aggressor attempting to take control of the gun. I was paired with a very small woman and despite being double her weight she was able to knock me off balance easily using the technique we practiced.
We did another knowledge fragment which was to journal our shooting and drills, set goals and attempt to accomplish them. A training journal is also useful if there is ever a self-defense situation, I think the implication is that you have demonstrated you have done due diligence to avoid a confrontation and if you were in a self-defense situation it is likely not due to you escalating it. We were encouraged to read Cleckner’s book regarding long range shooting. We had a brief discussion of some best practices, including purchasing magazines, numbering them, keeping an inventory and tracking malfunctioning magazines and potentially using a repair kit to replace the springs.
The last activities of the day involved carbine. We verified zero, and were given an opportunity to correct zero . We did some standing shots and then did drills where we dropped prone and took shots on target.
The second day was on a different range. Adjacent to the flat, square range of the first day we had a less than level area interspersed with demolished and shot out cars. Rather than pea gravel there was more dirt and random small rocks. Some of the veterans recognized components of spent CS grenades used in training exercises by local law enforcement or military units. Throughout the day we found that a chemical irritant had indeed been used at the site when some people began to cough when the dirt started to get kicked up during our exercises.
The first lesson was a discussion of cover versus concealment. We discussed that cover is far more rare than we’ve been expected to believe from movies and TV, and how most things we consider getting behind are technically concealment, including almost everything in our home.
We then integrated what we had learned with some of the medical fundamentals from day 1. We talked about the scenario in which one of our friends is down, and how we need to communicate with them. We have to know:
- Can you get to cover?
- Can you provide self-aid?
- Can you return fire?
If our colleague can’t get to cover we need to move them to cover. We talked about a few ways to transport an injured friend. This included the T-handle drag, chest drag, and placing a patient on a litter.
We then began with some of the spicy drills. We had been warned that the RSOs would be less than civil at some point in the course, presumably as a form of stress inoculation. A slightly different but adjacent concept was pain as a memory aid. We discussed one handed shooting, with some particular nuance I had not considered before. We “blade” the body , putting our shoulders in line with the extended arm holding the pistol. We canted the pistol inward slightly. And we keep the strong hand thumb up as a “flag thumb,” tensing the muscles along the bottom part of the forearm. Our buddy would slap one arm at random, and that arm was to grab the dummy gun and with our non-injured arm fire until we scored a hit on a 60% man size target.
We then went to a malfunction drill using dummy rounds. This was probably something from an intermediate class, because it involved a blind using the innovative technique of placing a cloth grocery bag over the student’s head. We would load a dummy round for our partner, they would attempt to shoot the target with the blind, then have to clear the malfunction. I suspect this is an intermediate technique because of the added complexity and difficulty in clearing malfunction by feel and CNS programming rather than visualizing the malfunction being cleared.
We then discussed center axis relock as a posture, and when it may be useful. We shot a course of fire while stationary and rotating to our left progressing into the center axis relock posture. This concept was completely new to me and while I was not effective at it I have another drill to train with in the future.
A new concept to me was clearing space from behind cover. We did this by having the class in front of the VTAC boards and one of the students going to the other side and starting to inch out while leaning to the side. The first couple of students would describe who they could see and that student would describe what they could see on the student doing the clearing. It demonstrated how from behind cover you can see quite a lot while exposing very little of our own body.
Another concept I was unfamiliar with was firing from compromised positions. We used the VTAC board and shot through the cutout portions. For many we had never had to get into the compromised position to make the shot on target. Plenty of people also misjudged height over bore and took out some chunks of plywood from the VTAC boards.
The day ended with our scenario. This is when the RSOs got to be nasty. This was essentially a 2-gun course except the directions and course of fire were secret until the student ran the course and the RSOs were yelling constantly. We began with a 50 yard sprint to a green chair, after which we got direction from the RSOs. We ran to cover, engaged targets with a pistol, moved up to cover, retrieved our carbine, and then began engaging more targets as we moved from cover to cover. At one point we had a sandbag which was a “med kit” we needed to drag back to cover.
We had multiple friendly “no shoot” targets. The most challenging shots included two 60% IPSC/USPSA targets adjacent to the head of a no shoot target.
It was worth the trip for me. I learned lots of new concepts and have inspiration to work on more drills. Writing this up was a chance for me to reflect on what I learned, share why I think it’s valuable with readers, and to plan for my next training course.
The value is excellent, with the price of training very low and the quality of the instruction very high. It was on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint. I appreciated Joel, Michael, and the RSO’s trust in us doing relatively complex things with live firearms.
One of the most important things I learned at the course was the adequacy of my gear which was tested by the physical activity, various firing positions, and being worn for 8 hours straight. Belt, holster, and magazine pouches were rock solid. Firearms were solid, as well. I did realize that my regular Peltor ear protection without electronics was inadequate for instruction because it was difficult to hear, and was also inadequate for hearing protection while firing from retention.
Folks can check out and sign up for upcoming Warlizard Tactical courses via the schedule available on the Warlizard Tactical website.