Self Defense

Active Response Training Extreme Close Quarters Gun Fighting

Gun fighting at arms length is very dynamic and requires a different set of skills and tactics than when fighting when more distance is available. The Extreme Close Quarters Gun Fighting class provides a foundation for those fighting skills.

I think it was a year ago, or maybe a little bit more, when I heard that Greg Ellifritz, owner of Active Response Training, was relocating to my neck of the woods. That little bit of news got me excited. I mean really excited because the prospect of receiving instruction from a highly respected self defense trainer became much more likely. The icing on the cake was this individual who is an avid blogger that puts out fantastic self defense content that I’ve been reading for a bit longer than this blog has been around. Not only that, but a blogger who on occasion links one of my blog posts in his weekly knowledge dump posts that always results in an imposter syndrome flare up. Needless to say that when I learned that KR Training was hosting him, I immediately booked a seat in his Extreme Close Quarters Gun Fighting class which I attended a few days ago.

I’ve got to be honest. I had mixed feelings about the class. On one hand, the class focuses on gunfighting at bad breath distance. That to me indicated the pistol work would be done predominantly from a retention position. We will get to what that means later in this after action report, but I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with shooting from retention and could not imagine how an entire day of instruction could be focused on that. I’m fairly certain this mental block was due to prior training where the concept was briefly mentioned and might have included a short drill before moving on to other technical shooting topics. On the other hand, the class description mentioned that this class would be somewhat physically demanding. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but given I’m not the epitome of physical fitness I grew concerned with that warning as the class day approached. As it turned and as hopefully this post will illustrate, my concerns were unfounded. Nevertheless, I was determined to attend if for nothing more than the opportunity to meet Mr. Ellifritz and learn something from him.

I won’t regurgitate Greg’s background here as it’s readily available on the Active Response Training website with links to his training resume and curriculum vitae which is impressive. He knows a few things and his reputation precedes him. In person, Greg Ellifritz is an approachable individual with a jovial demeanor. He’s built like a tank, but wasn’t intimidating. I found him to be an extremely knowledgeable instructor who was engaging. He was well organized and very deliberate in his instruction while meeting each student where they were and giving each one a bit of individual coaching without alienating the rest of the class. While none of my classmates were complete novices and some were more advanced than others in their knowledge of combatives or marksmanship skills, it seemed to me as though every student got something out of that class.

Honestly, Greg was such a good instructor that I was so engaged that I did a piss poor job of taking pictures and video for this blog post. I did, however, take copious notes which means this post will likely be very long winded.

Let’s take a step or two back and look at the course. As I have already mentioned, Extreme Close Quarters Gun Fighting is about fighting at bad breath distance. That is within arms reach. While this is a gunfighting class, shooting is a small, if not minor component. There are so many dynamics in play at this distance that it’s really more about fighting than it is about guns. It’s about getting the gun into the fight without getting it taken from you. This class expects that students have already established a basic level of proficiency with operating a pistol, clearing malfunctions, and drawing the gun safely. With that in mind, let’s get into what happened during class.

The class started with a safety brief from Karl Rehn, owner of KR Training, who hosted Greg Ellifritz’ course. The safety brief was followed by an introduction from Greg Ellifritz and a brief historical overview of the course which was first developed and taught in 2002, but has evolved since then. Students then took turns introducing themselves where they stated their names, listing prior related training, and identifying the gun and holster they would be using in class.

What happened next caught me by surprise. We were informed that students would be pointing real guns, the ones we brought with us to class, at each other after disabling them and rendering them safe in various exercises and drills. I’ll admit that smoke alarms were going off in my head when I heard this as I couldn’t figure out how this could be done safely. However, I remembered some of what I’ve written about safe gun handling. More specifically, I’ve mentioned that every safety rule isn’t entirely absolute at all times. Sometimes, under very specific conditions, one of the four rules can, and in some cases must, be set aside to perform a particular task while the other rules remain in place to ensure the handling of the firearm remains safe. At the same time, I was curious how safety could be maintained for these drills. After all, this class had been taught numerous times over the past two decades.

The solution is elegantly simple. It was a footlong section of clothesline that is threaded through a cleared pistol with one end coming out of the muzzle and the other out of the bottom of the stock where the magazine is inserted. By doing this, there is no possible way for a magazine to be inserted into the pistol nor chamber a cartridge. Trimmer line for grass trimmers or lawn edgers is an alternative to clothesline that works well for this. Rendering a revolver safe and inoperable is a little trickier. Clothesline or trimmer line could be threaded through the cylinder, but it risks locking up the cylinder. Using this precaution, rather than using a blue or red all plastic trainer gun, allowed the students to get a more realistic feel from the drills we would run later in class and also help convey other teachable bits better.

The roped gun was only part of the equation to maintain a safe training environment. The other component involved using strict force on force training protocols that involved keeping and verifying all ammunition and other weapons, such as knives and pepper spray, out of the training environment. The protocol was strictly followed, enforced, and verified through pat downs and visual inspections when drills involving roped guns started and anytime any individual left and returned to the training environment while these drills were underway.

With introductions and safety protocols in place, we took a moment to pair up with a classmate who would be our drill partner and individual assistant safety officer for the remainder of the day. Partnering up with someone I just met is something that always causes me anxiety. I suspect this stems from college days where on more than one occasion I had a lab partner that wanted to do the minimum to get a passing grade and I ended up having to pick up the slack to do what was needed to get the grade I was looking for. To be fair, there were occasions where I was the underachieving partner, but I digress. If there is one thing I have learned from paying for and attending open enrollment firearms training courses is that, with very few exceptions, every student has skin in the game and wants to get the most out of the class. The classmate I ended up partnering with was no exception. He put in the work and made me put in the work as well. I believe the partnership was reciprocal.

At this point, the instruction and learning started with establishing and developing a fighting stance. I have to admit I found this to be a bit novel. I can’t think of another “defensive pistol” course where a notable amount of time was dedicated to the stance. Even though stance is one of the marksmanship fundamentals, most pistol courses mention stance in passing and dedicate class time to grip, trigger, and sights. However at the fighting distances this class focused on, stance became far more important to resist or avoid going to ground during entanglements where things get even more complicated. Greg wasn’t dogmatic about stance technique. Instead he encouraged us to explore the stance while sharing some common characteristics of a good stance along with the principles behind it. The exploration and development of the stance was further aided by our first drill where partners took turns pushing each other. The goal was to allow each student to apply the principles in order to adapt their stance to resist the push and thereby make it harder for them to be taken to the ground. 

The next thing covered focused on getting shots on the target at this distance while using the stance we just developed. There is a lot going on here. The “shooting” occurs from “retention”. That means the pistol is out of the holster and indexed on the target with only the strong hand while remaining anchored to our person so that it is hard for the threat to control the gun or make it theirs. The support hand and arm take on the role of protecting the head and neck which are likely to be the targets of blunt force trauma. At the same time, the support hand and arm need to be kept out of the path of the projectiles being dispensed from that retention position. Once again, the retention position is not a specific and singular technique, but rather an approach with common characteristics and principles that can be adapted to the weapon systems, supporting equipment, handedness, and body shape of the defender. The nuances here are important to minimize malfunctions while shooting from this position. 

Having a good stance and being able to shoot from retention without inducing malfunctions was obviously important, but that requires being able to get the gun into the fight. As such, the focus shifted into the draw. More specifically, the discussion shifted into drawing from concealment with one hand reliably and getting the gun into the fight safely. Drawing a pistol from concealment with one hand is an important skill to develop and it isn’t limited to fighting at the distances this class focused on where the primary function of the support hand is to protect the head and neck, but also when the support hand has something else to do. It could be that the support hand is disabled. Or perhaps it is busy keeping one’s child or other loved one behind them and out of harm’s way. The key point here, as it is for all self defense situations, is a consistent and reliable draw. Speed of the draw matters, but it is secondary to reliability. 

At this point, the class headed outside for our first set of live fire drills where we worked the stance, the draw, and shooting from retention while protecting our heads and necks with the support hand. This was also where I had my next novel experience. In just about every other class I’ve taken, a heavy emphasis is placed on getting a fight stopping hit on the target. That means hitting vital organs with every projectile in order to elicit a physiological stop. The challenge, or problem, with this approach when fighting at this distance is that “A-zone hits” require adjusting the indexed point of aim to the point where a defender risks shooting themselves. Given the stance and the pectoral-thumb index, the shots are going to go low and favor the defender’s dominant side. For right handed defenders, that means shots are low and right. For left handed defenders, that means shots are low and left. Impacts on the target are still important, but precise A-zone hits aren’t the priority. The priority, or hope, is that a few C-zone, or hits that don’t impact vital structures, create a sufficient psychological disruption to either end the fight or create sufficient space where physiological stopping hits can be made without risking self inflicted damage. 

Lunch break followed. This was an opportunity where I got to know my partner a little better while scarfing down some food.  We also got to hear a few life experiences and line of duty stories from Greg Ellifritz which I can only imagine were watered down. If nothing else, those stories were adapted to protect identities. Regardless, it was a short and brief period that was nutritional and entertaining. 

After lunch we returned to the air conditioned classroom, which was a blessing as the Texas summer heat was quickly rising to scorched Earth levels. 

The next few hours were spent working though solutions to entanglements where an assailant draws a gun on you. The solutions included:

  • Drawing your own gun and fighting with it,
  • Using physical skills,
  • Or disarming the perpetrator.

The solutions were highly contextual, but all started with the same initial step. That step was to get control of the drawn gun as quickly as possible with both hands and control it so you don’t get shot. Once that was done, the solutions were options that might be available. Availability depended on the type of gun, where it came from, how and where our hands landed on the firearm. 

Drawing our own gun assumed enough control was established on the assailant’s gun with the support hand, ideally taking it out of battery in the case of a semi auto gun or preventing the rotation of the cylinder on a revolver, so that the strong hand can draw and fight with our pistol. Backstops and angles were major concerns with this solution which required a fair amount of awareness beyond the assailant. 

Using physical skills was the solution that I found most interesting. Ideally, this solution would allow the defender to use any existing hand to hand or grappling skills they have developed. However, many of us, myself included, don’t have a lot of practical experience with hand to hand combatives. Greg provided two techniques that are easy for just about anyone to employ, regardless of skill level, age, or body type. These techniques included an eye gouge and a throat rip.

Students were provided with several tips to accomplish a disarm as the third solution to the problem. However, we were also warned that a disarm isn’t something one plans and goes for. It’s too risky. Too many things have to line up. Instead, it’s a viable option that may be used in the event that one just happens to place their hands almost perfectly on an assailant’s gun while they are drawing it. Furthermore, students were warned to avoid relying on the disarmed weapon as a viable lethal tool. Greg’s experience and research suggests that the disarmed weapon is unlikely to have a round in the chamber, there is a good chance that the wrong cartridge is loaded. This means that we are probably better served by falling back on physical skills or our own firearm should the fight persist following a disarm rather than attempting to fight with our newly acquired weapon. 

There was a fair bit of discussion around timing. When to draw. When to anchor the pistol and shoot from retention. When to float the pistol out and get those accurate fight stopping hits. There was no clear hard and fast rule. It was entirely situational. Drawing too early is as problematic as drawing too late. Timing is contextual and essential. While making a timing error can be detrimental to a defender, it is also detrimental to an assailant. That means there are opportunities, assuming we are skillful and aware enough to identify them, where we can take advantage of an assailant’s ill timed draw and stuff it. That is getting both hands on the gun and using our body weight to stop the draw before it happens. In turn, that means that an astute assailant, who happens to know a fair bit about close-quarter entangled gunfighting, might also be able to recognize our draw and stuff it. 

The class did have an opportunity to learn some counters to an assailant’s counter. For example, if we, as the defenders, draw too early and the draw was stuffed by the assailant, then we can employ a “counter stuffing” technique. It didn’t take long before a few things appeared painstakingly obvious to me. That is that the employment of the solutions, counters, and counters to counters were entirely dependent on one’s only ability. Figuring it out in the heat of a fight is the worst place and time to figure it out. Recent familiarity is key. This brings up another problem. That these things aren’t something that one can practice solo. We need a partner to practice with. We need a partner to challenge us. Otherwise, the skills and tactics presented in this class remain purely academic rather than becoming practical tools one can rely on.

Overall, I got a lot of value out of this class. If nothing else, then I learned that is a whole lot more to “shooting from retention” than I had imagined. The skills presented in the class require practice to develop. How that necessary practice is achieved depends on one’s locale, their local ranges, and individual circumstances. The biggest challenge to getting that practice in is, in my opinion, finding one or more sparring partners to practice with.  Regardless, learning, developing, and maintaining these skills are of paramount importance for an armed defender as situations where citizens need to defend themselves aren’t as rare as the average person believes they are. Along the same lines, entangled gun fights aren’t an abstract concept. They happen with enough frequency that putting some work into developing skills and tactics which are useful at these extreme close quarter distances is a worthwhile investment and endeavor. Furthermore, Greg Ellifritz’ Extreme Close Quarter Pistol course is a good place to start. 

I will encourage those who are interested in training with Greg Elliftriz or attending this particular class to take a moment to check out Greg’s upcoming class schedule and other course offerings. I will also encourage those who have read this far into the post and are not interested in learning from Greg to go checkout and subscribe to the Active Response Training blog at a minimum. His writings contain a wealth of information that we can all learn from. 

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