The class was composed of 16 students, including 3 women (who all performed very well throughout). The class had a broad range of shooting and martial arts experience. One student had done only a little handgun shooting, many had little or no empty hand martial arts experience. At the other end of the spectrum, four are handgun shooting competitors and/or instructors and two are martial arts instructors. Joe Watson (Austin custom knifemaker - Facebook, Instagram) photographed the class, so it's all recorded for posterity.
The first portion of the class was spent in the (only) purely lecture portion of the class. Here, Craig defines the problem for which the course will offer solutions. The criminal assault paradigm is discussed, along with the particular aspects of criminal assaults:
- unequal initiative
- disproportional armament
Craig defined and emphasized how small increments in inter-personal space can have an enormous difference in outcomes.
We discussed and focused on four primary pre-assault cues.
- grooming - touching the neck, face, and head
- target glancing - looking back/around for witnesses/problems during the work-up
- definitive weight shift - "loading" the rear foot, dropping the shoulder
- "picking" - furtive hand movement near the waistline; affirmative touches
We used interactive drills to detect these cues, establish a "fence" with our hands, maintain good posture (squared hips), see what was behind us by arcing away from the contact. The goal is the halt the encroachment without escalating the encounter (i.e., reduce not increase the chance of violence). Finally, we responded to persistent encroachment with escalating levels of force:
- simple requests: "Hey, could you hold up right there?"
- direct commands: "Back off."
- volume "spike" and word choice: "Back the fuck up!"
- eye jab
Finally, we practiced establishing a non-diagnostic default position to maintain conciousness and stay on our feet in reaction to being hit/struck unexpectedly, which protects the temples, jawline, sides of the neck, and back of the head.
Day Two - Morning
On the range, we worked live fire drills optimizing the drawstroke to make it more likely to work in melee and more relient against disarm attempts. Craig's understanding and ability to articulate the fine details of every aspect of the draw is among the best I've every experienced. In particular, Craig's intelligence and discretion are apparent in his precise, economical description both the desired charaterstics and physical processes of establishing grip and executing the drawstroke.
I'm a little obsessed with helping shooting students tune up the portion of the drawstroke during which the hands meet and build the final, two-handed shooting grip. This is a transition that is sometimes ill-defined and, as a result, shooters often have inconsistent methods of establishing a two handed grip. It's clear that Craig has though about those moments of the drawstroke extensively, and it was exciting to hear it described well and thoroughly.
We tuned up the body index required to make consistent hits from a thumb-pectoral index position, then worked on making shot at any point of the presentation later than that, to start breaking the habit of always pressing the pistol out to full extension.
Day Two - Afternoon
This is the physically demanding section of class, which begins with adapted positions and techniques from standing, Greco-Roman wrestling. The now infamous Mountain Goat Drill was used to teach us the importance of posture. The positions of underhook, overhook, wrist tie, bicep tie, methods to transition between them, escapes (getting behind the opponent) and arm drags (controlling the opponent's limbs), were taught and practiced incrementally, and with increasing intensity.
If you've ever practiced martial arts, there's always "that guy" who only has one setting: full speed and power. Craig has a clever system for clearly defining the type of practice that training partners should engage in.
- consensual, technical - learn the technique
- non-consensual, non-competitive - refine the technique under limited pressure
- non-consensual, competitive - test the technique under high pressure, where both parties are trying to acheive the same (mutually exclusive) winning condition
For the most part, this worked well. It's somewhat difficult to resist escalating intensity from non-competitive to competitive. I probably would have learned the techniques more thoroughly (via more intermediate-intensity repetitions and less physical and mental fatigue) had both I and my partners more carefully followed instructions during this portion of the class.
The second, and incredibly valuable technique Craig uses is forced, frequent partner rotations. Usually, each new technique was exercised with six different partners at two different intensity levels before we moved on.
We covered basics of fending off an opponent when we were on the ground, recovering when we failed to keep the opponent at bay, and how to stand back up.
The day concluded with an "evolution": a high pressure test of the skills we learned so far. This is probably the most famous aspect of ECQC; it was certainly the one I had heard most about. During the first, grounded evolution, my fending skills didn't keep my opponent off me. I succeeded in establishing a frame to keep his weight off me initially. However, in my attempt to recover to a butterfly guard position, I got rolled onto my right side. I basically flailed from that point on. I can clearly recall Craig (or someone) instructing me to roll left, but couldn't figure out how to do that. As I'm left handed, this was particularly bad: my pistol was not between me and the ground, but between me and my opponent. My recollection is not clear, but I think he got the gun out of the holster briefly before both of us lost control of it and it ended up on the ground nearby.
My partner and I traded places; he started on the ground on his back and I stood at his feet. He fended me off well, and framed up when I finally managed to pass his guard. He started to work his way back to the butterfly guard position, and decided to draw his gun. His timing was off; I was too close and he did not have a full, firm grip on the pistol in his right hand, which floated out from a pectoral index into an unsupported position away from his chest. I snatched the pistol from him, stood up, and shot him.
Day Three - Morning
We spent the morning on the range, in live fire, working more carefully through the deployment of the handgun in conjunction with vertical and horizontal elbow guards. I've shot at contact-distance from a vertical elbow guard quite a bit before, but I was surprised how unnerving it was to shoot from a horizontal elbow guard where I had my arm between my face and the pistol.
We worked moving to and from the target (as a proxy for opening and closing distance in the fight) trying to work out the kinks in shooting from every intermediate position between the thumb-pectoral index and full extension.
Finally, we worked on the drawstroke in confined spaces (e.g., sitting in a car, or at a table), in order to fine-tune our muzzle awareness during the draw stroke. This is where "cutting corners" between establishing a your grip in the holster and joining the hands becomes a serious detrement. Developing an "L" shaped drawstroke, where the gun first moves almost directly upward until the front sight is within the bottom edge of your field of view makes the mechanical skill much more transferrable into postures and positions we regularly find ourselves in as we move around in the world.
Day Three - Afternoon
The afternoon began with a second evolution. This time, groups of three rotated as players in the improvised scenario. Two were "unknown contacts", the first introduced at the start of the scenario, the latter introduced by Craig at his discretion. Somewhat to my dismay, I was the first "good guy" roleplayer.
I'll let the video speak for itself. There's a lot I could have done better, both in-fight and pre-fight. The following are a combination of Craig's critiques and my own.
I escalated verbally quickly, fence up, but I didn't initiate the fight. Just before the scenario started, I was running through the "flowchart" of escalations, trying to reinforce to myself that I had the option to start the fight with a low level of force. Under pressure, I never even considered it. There's a narrow range of time in which you can preemptively escalate to a level of physical force that will either deter an attack or allow your escape. Hesitation in this window probably means you're going to be in a serious fight. This class gives you some idea of how much it'll cost you to not escalate a little sooner, a little faster, and maybe avoid a life-and-death struggle.
I don't recall if I dropped the pistol intentionally or he knocked it from my hand and the video doesn't clearly answer the question for me, either. I should have flung the gun far away to remove it from the fight as much as possible.
I wasn't able to immediately articulate why I chose to draw the gun at all. In hindsight, there were a couple factors that I can recall: I was afraid of the initial contacts involvement as an accomplice (there was some confusion in the scenario roles -- you can see Craig pause and resume the scenario), and I recalled how much it sucked in the first evolution when I was stuck under somebody on the ground, losing my gun (and in real life, probably getting beaten unconscious).
We worked handgun disarms and retention from for both drawn and holstered weapons, and briefly touched on how to use the handgun as a striking tool.
Finally, we had a final evolution, similar to the first. This time, however, both participants had their gun in hand, with their opponent's hand around the muzzle. Craig calls the first and third evolution "non-contextual". That is, they are intended as pure physical problem solving exercises. A significant fraction of these turned into three-foot slug-fests with both participants shot repeatedly.
Most self defense training is highly scripted, and varies minimally from one specific instance of a class to the next. There's a lot of value in that kind of training. You need it to establish the mechanical skills necessary to save yourself. But once you have a solid foundation built for those skills, continuing to take the same type of classes from different instructors offers a rapidly diminishing return. This is not one of those classes.
I'm a video gamer. There's a whole family video games that, rather than completely script all content use a system of procedural generation to generate content from a vocabulary of game elements and rules/motifs to create a unique experience for each user and each play-through. This class, due to the frequent partner rotation, varying exercise intensity levels, and inherently chaotic nature of fights makes me sure that I could take this class several more times -- and perform the exercises infinitely -- and still derive a lot of value from each. Were this a video game, I'd say it has extremely high replay value.
You may have the idea that you'll be able to deploy your handgun at "bad breath distance" and solve your self-defense problem with no hand-to-hand skills. You might be right, but the deciding factors are not in your control. What matters is how the bad guy reacts to your hands making a mad dash to your waistline. If he stands there like a lump, no worries. If he reaches in to jam up your hands, even with no skill, he'll like succeed in some way:
- making your draw impossible,
- foul your draw,
- snatch your gun, or
- induce a malfunction before or after your first shot
If he has even a modicum of wrestling or empty hand fighting experience, you're going to have a bad time. ECQC defines the problems inherent in very close range fights, and provides specific guidance about when and how to deploy your handgun under those circumstances.