Training Priorities: Which Classes Should I Take?
One question I get asked frequently—at least weekly—is “John, what classes should I take?”
Really, the answer to that question is so fraught with variables that any generalized, universal answer is rendered almost useless from the start. Your personal training experience, your personal, objective life experiences, your level of dedication and drive, and the perceptions you hold, regarding the state-of-affairs in the world today and tomorrow, all play a role in that particular decision-making matrix. Nevertheless, in the interest of answering such a common question, let’s use some of the practical lessons we’ve learned in the Mountain Guerrilla experience, to try and determine some semblance of a relevant answer.
Really, it does. It underlies our entire Estimate of the Situation, in determining where we are, and where we need to be. Until we know those two things, figuring out how to get from here to there is going to be….well, difficult, at least.
What is your mission? How do YOU define it? For a “prepper/survivalist,” the answer might be “to survive.” Pretty self-evident, right? It’s also completely, utterly, hopeless. I don’t want to be all pessimistic, but ain’t a single one of us getting out of this alive. It doesn’t matter how bad ass a gunslinger you are. One of the most dangerous dudes I ever knew died instantly when he turned left, instead of right, and caught a 7.62x54R round to the face. Shit happens.
Arguably the fittest dude I ever met in my life died at 36 years old, from a brain aneurysm in his sleep. Shit happens. Survival, as a goal, is not enough. We need to get past that to “WHY do we need to survive?” From a strictly biological standpoint, we need to survive long enough to make sure we pass on our biological material—our DNA—to our children, and to ensure that they survive long enough to pass it on again.
That’s a pretty solid reason, right there. It’s really still not enough. I’ve fathered three kids (that we know about….), two of whom are still alive. Major accident or homicide withstanding, both of those will make it to breeding age, and if the oldest is any indication, neither of them will unattractive enough that breeding will be an issue. My genetic inheritance is as assured as it can be.
So, why bother? Wouldn’t it be easier to sit on the couch, watch Ink Masters or Pawn Stars, and eat pudding and cake, and get fat and nasty? Of course it would, but that’s not acceptable. I don’t just want my daughters to breed with whatever white trash hillbilly will take them to their high school prom. I want to set an example for them, of a life lived well and right, so that they aspire to greatness. In his second book, Natural Born Heroes, Christopher MacDougall writes “just because men and women of our era do not live up to the myths, does not mean no one ever has, or ever will again.”
I’ve accepted that I will never be the hero of future myth. Perhaps my children won’t either, but in the face of the Decline of Empire, I’m willing to work to inspire my future descendants to be those heroes that drag their society back out of the darkness, and into the light, because I believe in heroes.
So, I need to stay alive, as long as possible, to educate my children as a positive role model. If staying alive to teach them were all that mattered though, I could keep my head down, hide in the empty spaces, and ride the coattails of better men, and point at them as examples for my children to aspire towards. That’s not acceptable though, because Edmund Burke’s words still ring true to me, two centuries later, “all that is necessary for evil to prevail, is for good men to do nothing.”
I was taught, long ago, that good leaders lead from the front, and good teachers teach by example. So, I cannot just sit by and hide in the shadows. I want my children to have an example of what a good man is, so they know who they should look for to carry on the genetic material, but also because, I want them to live in a better world than what I live in.
My “mission” is to survive the here and now, and to protect my people; my kith and kin. Yours, hopefully, is similar. Even if you’ve aimed higher however; you aspire to lead the masses of America out of the darkness of their self-imposed collectivist utopia, back to republican liberty (more power to you, Don Quixote), you still need to survive the here and now, before you can move on to greater things.
So, we need to begin by defining our “mission” as “Survive the Threats I’m Likely to Face Today and Tomorrow.” In order to do that, we need to define the rest of the METT-TC equation.
Who is the “enemy” you face? If you listen to some of the doomsayers in the preparedness/liberty/III% community, it’s American servicemen, being forced to prepare to subject you to martial law. Others will swear on their mother’s left breast, that the “Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” in an Internet-based attempt at being the Paul Revere of our generation. While both myself and Sam Culper—amongst a host of other voices of reason—have wasted a lot of bandwidth trying to dispel that stupidity, it COULD occur. After all, provide enough thrust, and a pig can fly.
Others will insist the “enemy” is the law enforcement agencies of America, doing the bidding of their hidden masters, by falling prey to the brainwashing they receive in their morning briefings. There’s probably some validity to this. I know a lot of cops, and most of them are damned fine people, with the exact same concerns that you or I have. They’re on our side. At the same time though, there’s a lot of cops out there that really do fit the stereotype of the guy who got his ass kicked in high school, now hiding behind his badge, thinking it’s both a bulletproof shield, and a license to kick ass and stomp on puppies.
Then there is the would-be, self-proclaimed jihadi, ISIS supporter that decides to get some licks in for his fellow believers, by lighting up a shopping mall. You may agree with him that the wars in the Middle East are all a result of American Imperialism. Hell, you might even be right. It doesn’t matter though, because I can GUARANTEE you, when that dude decides to light up a Semtex vest, or mag-dump his AK-clone, while yelling “Allahu Akhbar!” he is NOT going to stop and ask first, to ensure that none of his potential victims share his geopolitical outlook. It just doesn’t matter.
Or, perhaps the enemy you should be concerned with is the sucker who has spent his entire life being told how racist America is, and he should be paid reparations because his great-great-great granddaddy got stuck on a slave ship and brought to America as a slave. Now, since he’s not getting reparations, he’s going to TAKE reparations, from you, because he’s PISSED. Guess what? It doesn’t matter that you never owned slaves. It doesn’t matter that HE has never been a slave. It doesn’t even matter that your great-great-great granddaddy was an abolitionist who participated in the Underground Railroad, and then fought for the Union Army, from Fort Sumpter all the way through to Appomattox. You’re still a target.
Or, perhaps the enemy really is a gang of Cannibalistic San Franciscans on souped-up, chopped-down Harley-Davidsons, swinging logging chains as they roll through Mayberry, USA, in a flurry of ravaging rapine and murder. It doesn’t matter that you’re white, and own a Harley-Davidson too. It doesn’t matter that you’re just as much a bad-ass as they are, in a one-on-one fistfight. It’s not about a one-on-one fistfight. It’s about gang-stomping the ever-living-fuck out of anyone that even looks cross-wise at them.
The funny thing about all these potential enemies is, you’re not going to be kitted up in head-to-toe multi-cam, with your full-on battle rattle load-out on, when you find yourself confronted with them. If you had that much warning, at this stage in the game, you’d simply not be there. We don’t go stupid places, with stupid people, doing stupid things. Right?
No, those enemies are the type of people you find yourself confronted with suddenly, because you didn’t KNOW you were in a stupid place, or you didn’t know stupid people were going to show up there. Nobody does stupid shit at the shopping mall, right?
That is what, in the detective novels, they call a “clue.”
Recognizing who the enemy is likely to be, gives us an idea of what friendly troops we’re likely to have available. Guess what? Most of the “militia” members I’ve met don’t go to the goddamned mall with their fellow militia members. In fact, for the most part, the only time they ever see, let alone hang out with, their fellow militia members, is when they get together for a training weekend. So, what are the chances, really, that when that dude decides to light up the food court at the mall, that you’re going to have a “trained,” equipped, fire team with you? Pretty slim. I’d put it somewhere between slim and not-a-fucking-chance. Worst case scenario, it’s you, all by your lonesome. Best case scenario, there happens to be an ODA of National Guard Special Forces soldiers, or a platoon of infantrymen having lunch at the food court at the same time, and they decide to join the fray….and all happen to be illicitly armed with privately owned, concealed-carry pistols. Probably not going to happen, but a guy can hope, right?
More likely, it’s going to be you, your spouse, partner, or a buddy you’re hanging out with. Really, counting on having more than one partner is asking a lot. Expecting to have more than one other person that you KNOW, and have trained with, is somewhere akin to buying lottery tickets as your retirement plan. It’d be nice, but it’s probably a shit plan.
Urban. Urban. Urban. Urban. Seriously.
Sure, there’s a chance that a gang of hard-core Mexican SF-trained banditos could raid your rural homestead/survival retreat, looking for your stash of precious metals, some semi-auto only rifles, and a box of cucumbers, but, unless you a) hang out with Mexican gangbangers, b) are a member of a criminal gang, or c) make it a point of bragging about your guns and gold and silver to random strangers who might meet one of the previous to criteria? Pretty slim chance.
Besides, if I’m a gangsta from the barrio, why in the nombre de Santo Maria, Madre de Dios, would I drive all the way out in the bumfuck back-ass end of beyond to steal your shit, when I’ve got people right down the street that I can steal it from, and not risk getting smoked by Elmer’s elk rifle, in the process?
For most people, even the most ardent survivalist/III%, in the event you have to go to guns, there is an overwhelming chance that it’s going to happen on your way to or from the goddamned grocery store, or the gym, or the movie rental place (do people still rent movies?), or the mall with the Missus.
That too, is what we call a “clue.”
Time is a big one. Far bigger than we give it credit for. How long, from the sound of the first gunshot, until the last shot rings out, does it take a dedicated jihadi to dump a magazine or two out of his Kalashnikov? How about the hood rat gangbanger with a MAC-10?
Nobody “wants” to go to a gunfight—especially against a rifle—with a pistol. How long do you really think you’re going to have to get back to your truck, grab your tricked-out AR15, don your plate carrier and war belt, and then get back to wherever the gunfire is coming from? From a standing start, with the gear sitting in the open, on the floor next to me, it takes me about 45-60 seconds to toss on my plate carrier and war belt, and run a press-check to ensure my rifle is loaded, and has a round in the chamber (if you respond with, “I don’t need to do a press-check because my rifle is already loaded,” you’re too fucking ignorant to comment, so go play with the kids, and leave the adults alone to have real conversations). I’m a reasonably fit dude. I can complete a 300 meter run in well under one minute. I can complete a 50 meter sprint in around 6 or 7 seconds. So, it really depends on how far out my truck is parked, but even at a best case scenario, we’re looking at a couple of minutes….
Do I leave my wife and kids in the danger zone, while I go get my “Rambo Gear” on, and come back? Or, do I do the right thing, and “run what I brung?” I know my answer….
“Oh, but I open carry my AR15 to the mall.” Then, you’re a fucking retard, and deserve all the grief you’re going to get. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right. Sure, people SHOULD be okay with Joe Militia walking around the mall with an M4 slung across his back. Here in the real world however, they’re not, and you shoving it in their faces is NOT going to make them okay with it. If you scare the shit out of Suzy Homemaker…and playing Bubba With A Battle Rifle at the Mall, IS going to scare the shit out of Suzy Homemaker….you deserve to get hassled by the police, because really, you’re too retarded to own a gun anyway.
You’ve also lost any element of surprise and tactical advantage you might have had. Mohammed Jihadi is NOT going to decide, “Oh, look! That guy has an AR15! I better go home and rethink the error of my decisions in life.” Instead, he’s going to go, “Oh, look! That guy has an AR15! If I smoke his stupid ass first, now I get to shoot twice as many people!”
Time is of the essence, and semi-auto rifles can do a LOT of damage, very, very quickly. That too, is what we call, a “clue.”
Ah yes, that bugger of a consideration that no one remembers, if their training consists of reading FMs
produced before around 1996. Everything you do has an impact on the people around you, for better or for worse. So, preparing for Mohammed the Solo Jihadi, by walking through the mall, kitted out in multi-cam, with an AR15 slung across your back? It IS going to impact the people around you, and those people WILL have an impact on your ability to accomplish your mission.
I walk through the mall, go to the movie theater with the wife, go to the park with the kids, and go grocery shopping at the hippie natural foods store, all the time, armed. Glock 17, Ban Tang Clinch Pick (yeah, I finally got one. Thanks, Ban! Seriously, get one. Well worth the price, if simply for ease of carry…and wicked, scary sharp!), and two spare magazines for the G17. I’m not going to say I’ve never been made, carrying—although I doubt it—but I’ve certainly never had anyone, including cops in close proximity and eye-fucking me, out me for carrying concealed. So, while my scary appearance may have a negative impact, the fact that I smile a lot, and know how to say “please,” “thank you,” and “pardon me, ma’am,” goes a long way toward mitigating that….walking around in camouflage, with a rifle over my shoulder would not be mitigated by nice words and a smile.
So, let’s look at a quick summary of what our METT-TC analysis has told us:
My mission is to survive, long enough to ensure my children’s survival, and to stay free of imprisonment long enough to set a good example for them, as they grow up.
My mission is to survive, long enough to ensure my children’s survival, and to stay free of imprisonment long enough to set a good example for them, as they grow up.
The likely culprits that I may face, who would be an impediment to mission success include: rogue LEO with an attitude of cowardice, and a desire to stomp puppies, and other assorted criminal elements. More likely than not, any confrontation will occur in a relatively crowded, populated area. I will likely be alone, or with my wife and children, and armed with my EDC/CCW loadout, unless/until I make it back to my truck.
Chances are, if you look at things objectively, your METT-TC considerations are remarkably similar, regardless of where you live, or who you are.
So, let’s look at the ideal training progression, with these considerations in mind:
1) Physical Fitness
Come on. You KNEW it was going to lead the list. If you didn’t, you’re really, really, really new here. You don’t need to be a Crossfit Games champion. You don’t need to be an Olympic decathlete, or a professional powerlifter, or any other sort of professional-level athlete.
You DO need to be strong enough to do what you need to do, and you DO need to have enough endurance to do what you need to do. How fit is fit enough? Hard to say. If we look at the instances of civilian use of firearms in personal and home defense, not very. If we start looking at other instances—say “knockout games,” and similar, being fit is certainly going to be high on the list of priorities.
Rather than taking the easy way out, and assuming the enemy will be a fat, donut-eating, pastry chef with an attitude, maybe we need to assume the enemy will be younger, stronger, faster, and fitter. If we train with the goal of being as fit as we can be, then that’s the best we can do.
My recommendations remain the same as they’ve ever been, regardless of age or physical infirmities:
Lift heavy shit, often, and repeatedly. Run fast, as far as possible.
The root word of “gunfight” is not “gun.” It’s “fight.” You need to be able to fight. Not every life-and-death situation is going to warrant “going to guns.” Maybe it starts out as shouted angry words with some dude that grabbed your wife’s ass, in front of your kids.
Now, maybe the “mature, civilized man” would let that slide. After all, if I get killed, because I decided to say something in defense of my wife’s “honor,” I’ve done a piss-poor job of surviving, right? Unfortunately, my mission requires more than just survival. I also have to set an example for my children to look up to. If you grab my wife’s ass, you can damned sure be certain, we ARE going to have a conversation about it, and that conversation is going to involve me breaking your goddamned arm.
Of course, in order to do that, I better be able to fight, right?
What if it’s not that simple. What if it’s some dude that comes around a corner, already has a gun out, and is five feet away, demanding my wallet, or trying to convince my wife to go into the alley with him, lest he shoot me? Can I go to guns, first, and win that fight?
Maybe. I’m pretty quick.
Am I willing to risk my wife or kids catching his round if I’m wrong? Maybe, just maybe, going hands-on, and trying to gain control of his weapon FIRST, is a better option? You need to be able to fight, and six months of ninjutsu at the local strip mall dojo is probably not going to cut it. Get to a boxing class, get to a grappling class. Worst case scenario, get a bunch of your buddies from the militia together, and spend a couple hours a week just beating the shit out of each other…
Even better, if you think you can’t afford the time to get to a regular boxing and/or BJJ class? Go take Cecil Burch’s Immediate-Action Combatives course. At least then, you’ll have been introduced to the basic fundamental skills/techniques of jiujitsu and boxing, in an armed environment. Go take Craig Douglas’ Shivworks/ECQC course. Go to Paul Sharp’s MDOC course. Hell, come take my Clandestine Carry Pistol course, where 2 of the 4 days are combatives-centric, focused on fighting TO the gun.
Seriously. I don’t care if you get a concealed-carry permit. In fact, in a lot of cases, I recommend against it. But, carry a motherfucking gun. EVERY. TIME. YOU. LEAVE. THE. HOUSE. I don’t care if you’re going to the neighbor’s for supper, or you’re going to church. CARRY. A. GODDAMNED. GUN. Concealed.
More importantly, don’t be deluded into thinking the gun is a magical talisman of protection. Your CCW certification class is NOT a defensive handgun course. Take a practical shooting course with pistols. Here’s the catch though, not all defensive handgun courses are created equal.
It’s cool to take a course that focuses on shooting fast, accurately. In fact, that’s probably the first pistol course you should take. It helps start developing the fundamental skill sets. In the real world though, it’s entirely possible that you’ll end up shooting TOO fast, and TOO accurately.
Too many shooting courses focus any “decision-making” on simple, binary decisions. “Gun or no gun?” is NOT a valid decision-making matrix for shoot-or-no shoot in the real world. It’s more complicated than that. Hell, even “that dude is pointing a gun at me” may not be adequate grounds to drop the hammer.
A solid, practical, real-world shooting course MUST include practical, complex decision-making processes in the course work. You’ve got to learn to SEE and PROCESS information FASTER, so you can shoot SOONER. A sub-one second shot is great…right up until it takes you two seconds to determine that the apparent target is your wife/best friend/father-in-law, coming to help.
Seriously. If you haven’t had a legitimate class in running your CCW pistol, that emphasizes rapid-fire, accurate decision-making processes, under stress, you’re legitimately not qualified to be carrying a firearm in public, regardless of what certifications you may have.
Nobody WANTS to get in a gunfight, armed with a pistol. We all get it. The reality however, is that, outside of certain law enforcement situations, or being in the military, in a combat zone, in a combat arms MOS, chances are, if you ever find yourself involved in a shooting situation, you’re going to be armed with a pistol. Deal with it.
There are times when a rifle may be a viable option. Dealing with a road-rage incident, or some sort of vehicle ambush/carjacking, or accidentally driving into the middle of a fucking riot, when you have your rifle in the vehicle, and ready-at-hand; those are situations where a rifle is not only an option, but the best option. So yeah, you should learn how to run your rifle. You should learn how to carry your rifle, at home, and in your vehicle, for the best results (note to self: add rifle in the vehicle carry methods and positions to the Combat Rifle POI).
Guess what, none of the likely situations where you’re going to have a rifle handy, and need it, involve shooting motherfuckers 500 meters away! It’s about using rifles at 0-100M, and really, anything past 50M is probably stretching credulity a little bit. Shooting tight, accurate groups is important, but shooting them “tight enough” and “fast enough” is more important. How quickly can you get your rifle out of the backseat floorboard, and into action, from the driver’s seat?
I’ve got a friend that keeps a folding stock Kalashnikov tucked between the passenger seat and the console, covered with a jacket. He can deploy that thing in less than three seconds. I keep a rifle on the rear floorboard, beneath the kids’ feet. I can deploy it in 5-6 seconds, or I can let the wife get it out, while I lay down a base of fire with the Glock (but really, as the driver, I shouldn’t be shooting. I should be driving us the fuck out of danger).
Like the pistol, shooting fast and accurate with the rifle is important, but again, good decision-making is more important. If the coursework you’re taking doesn’t cover decision-making, whether it’s because the trainer doesn’t know what that means, or doesn’t know how to teach it, beyond “shoot the guys with guns painted on them, don’t shoot the guys with hands painted on them,” find another trainer.
5) Small-Unit Tactics
The next three options are really a toss-up as to which is the most important to train first, second, and third. I put SUT first, because in my course-work, it’s really the foundation for everything else.
I teach SUT, using a patrolling format as the vehicle. Some guys just teach the basic battle drills and call it good. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either approach, I just find that using patrolling as the vehicle helps put things into context better for people.
SUT, at this level, is not about platoon or even squad-level tactics, techniques, and procedures. It should really focus on two-man and four-man team tactics. How do you conduct a “break contact” battle drill with two guys? What about four guys? Can you conduct a “hasty attack” with two guys or four guys? (Yes. It won’t be pretty with two guys, but it has been—and can be—done effectively). Can you conduct an ambush with two guys or four guys? What about fighting your way out of an ambush?
Which battle drill should you focus on? When is each applicable? Are any of them NOT applicable, in the context of the METT-TC factors we’ve established? Legitimately, I don’t know many people that are putting out good POI on SUT. Obviously, I teach a class in this. Max Velocity’s class is supposed to be good, but I haven’t taken it personally. I don’t even know who else is teaching this material, and I certainly don’t know who is teaching it reasonably well.
6) Fighting In/Around Vehicles
Americans, outside of a few major metropolitan areas, have an interesting love affair with vehicles. While I know people in New York City who have NEVER been behind the wheel of a vehicle, most of us start driving at 15 or 16, and drive daily, the rest of our working lives. I spend an inordinately large amount of time behind the wheel of the truck. Even when we’re not traveling to and from classes, we spend a lot of time driving to and from town to take care of daily business, like going to work, grocery shopping, etc.
The chances that I’m going to run into a riot in the vehicle are pretty slim. I’m more likely to have the kind of shit happen like happened today, when a dude decided to run a red light, and I was the only guy in four lanes of traffic that saw him coming and stopped, instead of almost hitting him or getting hit by him. On the road traveling though? We roll through major metro areas regularly, any of which could be host to a shit storm at a red light. Even when we go to town, which is now a University town, there’s always a chance of rolling into the midst of a shit storm.
If you live in, or spend time around, a city of any size, especially with the race-baited tensions currently running rampant in America, and you’ve not gotten some serious training in dealing with a bad situation, while in and around, your vehicle, you’re fucking yourself.
Of course, like everything else, decision-making should be a major part of the curriculum. Should I just run through the crowd, and play “Bowling for Bodies” with my rig (make sure you’ve got a LOT of ground clearance, so you don’t end up bottomed out on a body….), or should I try and back out? Should I just say “fuck it!” and start shooting motherfuckers? What happens if I wait too long, and somebody is already in the car with me before I realize that he’s got ill-intent?
7) Fighting In/Around Buildings
The one place we spend more time than in our cars, is in buildings. Whether you’re trying to get OUT of a building where there’s an “active shooter” situation going on, or you’re hunting said “active shooter,” or some skell IS coming through your front door, and you need to get to the kids, knowing how to deal with the angles in buildings is essential.
Even more than every other type of material that might be covered in any given course, decision-making HAS to be incorporated into the POI for fighting in/around buildings. The speed required to effectively clear a building, without eating a faceful of bad guy pew-pew (I’ve been trying to figure out a way to incorporate pew-pew into an article!), while also taking enough time to avoid inadvertently shooting your wife, kid, or mother-in-law, requires some serious fucking quick decision-making processes. Any CQB course work that doesn’t include decision-making in the training process is fucking you, in the long run.
Not gonna lie. Running rifle/carbine classes is pretty cake, from a trainer’s perspective. Even when you start making shit a little more…should I say…dynamic? It’s still—relatively—easier to run a straight carbine class, safely, and still get valid information across to people. That doesn’t mean we should be pushing carbine classes for students, if we’re trying to honestly help people better protect themselves and their families.
One of the most important skill sets we can develop for life in general, and survival specifically, is critical thinking and sound decision-making skills. If we legitimately develop those skills, and apply them to determining training priorities, it becomes readily apparent, what direction our training planning should follow.