AAR: FPF Training (John Murphy) “Street Encounter Skills”, Culpeper, VA, 4/3/16

This was my first firearms-related class of 2016, and it was a good one.  The course was the “Street Encounter Skills” class taught by John Murphy of FPF Training.  This was a one-day class held on the FPF range just outside of Culpeper, Virginia.  The cost of the course was $175, but in the interest of full disclosure I must mention that John offered me the class free of charge. 

John met the class at a gas station near the range and then led the convoy of vehicles to the range, which is tucked away off an unpaved road a few miles away.  The class consisted of myself and five other students (4 men and 1 woman), about half of whom had trained with John in the past (several just the day before in his “Foundation Skills” class).  John taught the class himself, but had some help during the live-fire portions of the class from Gary, his assistant.  Gary mostly took care of logistical matters (hanging targets, timing us on some drills, etc.), but also possessed considerable knowledge in the area of fighting with a handgun, which he was only too happy to share with us when necessary.

John’s background is available on the FPF Training website.  He is an ex-Marine but makes no claims about being a combat veteran.  By his own admission, he has learned much more about shooting/fighting since leaving the Marines then he learned while he was on active duty.  If I had to say a few words about  John’s curriculum, I would describe it as a mix of ideas from Tom Givens, Craig Douglas, Massad Ayoob, John Farnham, Jeff Cooper, along with some others (keeping in mind that I have not trained with any of these instructors…..just basing my opinion on what I have read about them and their teachings).

We got to the range at 0800 and began in the “classroom”.  The classroom at the range is essentially a large, insulated shed, complete with folding chairs, screen and projector, and a heater (very necessary on this downright cold April morning!).  Despite these somewhat austere surroundings, it all worked very well.  I have written in past AARs about my preference for this type of format (lecture/presentation/PowerPoints first, followed by practical applications on the range), and this class delivered.  John had some very well organized PowerPoints (full color, animations, embedded videos, etc.) that outlined his training goals for us.  The “motto” of FPF Training is “Skills in Context”, and it was during this presentation that John began to hammer this home.  For example, early in the lecture he said that “skill without context is preparation for failure”, and I could not agree more.  What good does it do to shoot cloverleafs at 25 yards if you do not know WHEN to shoot?  John specified that the goals for us are to maintain our health (win the fight), our freedom (stay out of jail), and our wealth (not go bankrupt defending our actions in criminal or civil court).  There was a lot of stress on conflict avoidance and alternatives to lethal force.

The lecture (lecture is too strong a word, as it was interactive between John and the students) was an approximate three hour long block, and I am not going to go into everything that was covered.   We spent a good amount of time talking about violent criminal actors (VCAs) and how they ply their trade.  John showed us a diagram of what he called the “incident funnel”, which showed how, with more time, we have more options.  With time on our side, we might be able to avoid the problem altogether, but as time decreases, our options are reduced, so that we may have to move on to de-escalation techniques, disengagement, disruption, or, in the worst case scenario, destruction. 

John spent a good deal of time listing and describing/demonstrating an assortment of “pre-incident indicators”.  This list included at least 19 different “signs” that bad things have the potential to follow.  These could vary from anything from the sudden appearance of a person (from between cars, behind a parking garage support column, etc.), the “fanning out” of multiple “players” to try to surround you, to hidden hands, etc.  John stressed, however, that THE number one pre-incident indicator is someone making a deliberate move toward you.  Without proximity, most VCAs cannot do what they do.

It was around this point that we took a ten minute break and then met outside to do a little role playing.  We partnered up and got to each play the part of the unknown contact vs. the “good guy”.  So, as the unknown, I might ask my “good guy” partner for the time, or bus fare, or if he could “help me out”, all the while closing in on the “good guy” to give him practice on how to deal with this situation.  This included putting up our hands in the “fence” position, increasing our voice volume and the “strength” of our language, all the while trying to maintain situational awareness (is someone else coming up behind me?). 

John (caught with an awkward face!) discussing how to deal with unknown contacts on the street.

Back inside, John moved on to a discussion of the tactics employed by VCAs versus the tactics we might employ against them.  I’m not going to go into all of that (you’ll have to take the class), but suffice should be to say that John has a pretty good handle on the things bad guys do and the best ways to counter their efforts.

Through all of this, John talked about the importance of visualization.  We cannot let the shock of whatever is happening stifle our response.  Instead, we need to visualize possible things that can happen to us and then have specific “war plans” to draw upon so that we do not have to formulate a plan “in the moment”. 

One of the best parts of this portion of the class was our talk about what to do in the aftermath of an “event”.  In the classes I have so far taken this has, at best, been given lip-service, but, more often, has been completely ignored.  Some of these may seem like common sense, and is not exhaustive of everything discussed, but included:  scanning the area for more threats, improving your position (get to some cover), checking yourself for wounds, and communicating with  law enforcement. 

At around 1130, we wrapped up the major classroom work and moved outside to the range.  The range is really first-rate.  It consisted of a flat gravel area with orange lines painted at 1.5, 3, 5, 7, and 10 yards in front of 17 or so target stands.  In addition, to the side of the gravel and in the grass were a pair of reduced-size silhouette steel targets, a plate rack (six 6-inch steel plates), and a few other goodies.  John took his time going over the range safety rules, which included the traditional four along with some specifics of range commands he would be using throughout the day.  We geared up and loaded up and chose a target which we would be using for most of the remainder of the day.  Realizing that most of the other students did not have a lot of training experience, I chose target #1 so I would only have to worry about people on one side of me. 

Equipment:  I will note here the equipment I used in class.  My pistol was my Generation 3 Glock 19 9mm pistol.  This had the recently installed Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights (see my review here), a smooth-faced Glock 17 trigger, and a Vickers slide stop/release.  My holster was a relatively recently acquired (review pending) Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon holster worn in the appendix position on an Ares Aegis Enhanced belt (review pending).  Also on the belt was mounted a Raven Concealment Systems single magazine carrier (see some information on mine here).  Ammunition was Estate 115 grain FMJ and Blazer Aluminum 124 grain FMJ.  I have pretty much eschewed “tacticool” garb and wore clothing that I wear pretty much every day:  Wrangler long-sleeve shirt, Wrangler ripstop cargo pants, and Keen hiking boots.

Our first shooting drills were pretty basic and were designed to give John and Gary a chance to check out our gear, our draw, our marksmanship and weapons-manipulation skills, correct any errors early on, and, presumably, gauge how fast we could get through the material.  At this point in the class I had put my notebook away, so I do not remember every drill we shot nor the exact order of them.  But we began with single shots to the high thoracic area of our targets from 3 yards.  We also did controlled pairs from this same distance.  We repeated these shots again at 5 yards and again at 7 yards.  John came though and examined our targets, gave some constructive criticism to some and some feigned grief to others, and we shot a few more rounds doing similar drills.  We shot these drills from several different starting positions:  at rest, with arms at our sides, with arms crossed over our chests, in the “thinker” position (one hand on chin), and from the fence.  We would do utilize these positions throughout the day, rarely shooting from a low-ready starting position (“skills in context”!).  I would say I shot only about 45 rounds before lunch. 

We broke for lunch back inside the classroom, eager to warm up a bit.  John played a series of videos for us that showed some VCAs in action.  I don’t know where John finds all of these videos (a few I had seen before, but most I had not), but most were of the closed-circuit camera variety from inside convenience stores, dashcams, and similar environments.  Each illustrated a point that we had discussed earlier. 

Thirty minutes later, we moved back outside and got the chance to do some distance work on steel.  We did a variation of a walk-back drill, which John demonstrated for us.  We had to shoot at one of the reduced steel silhouettes with one round, shoot at the other with one round, and then back to the first with one round.  If, from those three rounds, we had at least two hits, we were still “in”.  We started at 10 yards and I believe everyone got their hits.  We moved back in increments of about 5-7 yards until we were all out.  I made all of my hits at 35 yards, but at 50 I missed all 3.  Only John got his hits at this distance.  In hindsight, in addition to my typical issues of trigger control, my other issue was that I am still not used to the new sights and do not know exactly where they hit at these further distances.  My guess is that I missed high due to where I was holding.  More work needs to be done!

The point of this exercise was to give us an idea of what it takes to hit at this distance.   I would say that 90% or more of our shooting was done at 10 yards and in, but, as John said, if you have to take a shot at these longer distances, it would be for a low-probability, high-impact event (think:  active shooter). 

Back to the gravel range, we worked on some movement drills, walking forward from 7 yards to 3, shooting our targets as we moved forward.  John discussed the different schools of thought on how best to do this (the heel-toe duck walk, etc.), but I am SO glad that John went with the K.I.S.S. principle:  we all know how to walk, so just walk.  Press the trigger when the sights dictate.  How refreshing!  I did pretty well at this drill, and really liked how I was seeing my sights on the move.  By the end of this drill, which we did at least three times, this is what my target looked like:

My first target of the day.

After putting up new targets, we started doing some movement drills.  John is a fan of “the sidestep”, particularly at the closer ranges (5 yards and in) as a way to get out of the VCAs field of vision (he will be amped and have tunnel vision just like you).  You draw as you shuffle over one or two steps (we practiced going right and left), get up on target as fast you can, and then we practiced shooting anywhere from one to five or so rounds.  To give us more space and help with safety, we did this in two relays (odds and evens).

If memory serves, the next thing we tried was some strong-hand only shooting.  We began by experimenting to see if we shot better with our arms straight or canted inward at a slight angle, shooting at the colored shapes in the upper right area of the target.  We then shot drills static with single rounds, then static with controlled pairs, and then sideways movement was introduced into these drills as well.  I liked the way John built this stair-stepped program, each drill building on the last.

It was around this time that we got to move over to the plate rack and work that a bit.  Again, John demonstrated for us first, with Gary controlling the shot timer.  From ten yards, we had to draw and fire and knock down the six plates.  Gary would give each of us our time to our first shot and then our overall time.  I have very little experience shooting plate racks and threw at least one round on each run.  I think the fastest I cleared the rack was 6.33 seconds, hardly blazing.

John demonstrating how to knock down the plates.
Me knocking down the plates (notice one is falling in this photo).

Next, we moved over to one of the unused targets that had a spray painted square on the gravel in front of it, with a dot in the center.  The square was about 3 feet per side, with the central dot about 2.5 yards in front of the target.  Here, we had stand on the dot and, on the beep of the timer, dash off the dot while drawing and firing two shots on the target.  Again, Gary would give us each our time to our first shot and then our overall time.  John said that the first shot record is .87 seconds, and his personal best is .89.  I tried this drill at least 5 times.  My fastest time to the first shot was 1.18, with a 1.43 overall (one of my other runs was a 1.18 with a 1.44 overall, so I was fairly consistent).  The fastest first shot time I heard a fellow student achieve was 1.10 seconds.  Not bad.

With those drills complete, we did some final drills as called out by John, shooting from anywhere from 3 to 7 yards away and as many rounds as he commanded (several times, it was “shoot as many as you need”, in an effort to not ingrain in us how many rounds to fire all the time). 

We then got our photos taken by Gary next to John and our signed targets, and then John had us do something no instructor has ever had me do before.  He said, for your final drill, “take a magazine, go to the five yard line, and then do something that will have you leave here feeling good.  You can slow fire at one of the offset colored shapes, or you can shoot for the ocular windows, or you can blaze at the high-thoracic area.  Whatever will make you feel good.”  What a great idea!  I chose to rip about 8 rounds as fast as I could control the sights at the high-thoracic area, mainly because I wanted to test one of my biggest issues over the years:  my grip.  I also chose to do this because it is frowned upon at so many of the ranges I frequent.  I surprised myself by keeping them all where they needed to go.  I finished up with some headshots. 

We then did a group photo, policed up our gear and brass, said our goodbyes, and got out of there, wrapping up at about 1650.   

Final Thoughts

I liked this class a lot.  For me, personally, there were a lot of positives.  The one day format within reasonable driving distance of my home meant that I could leave my house early, have a great day of training, and then get home in time to hang out with my kids a bit before bedtime.  It also meant no hotel expenses!

The class itself had a very practical focus.  John told us at least once that if we wanted a class on the fundamentals of marksmanship and how to shoot cloverleafs at 25 yards to train with someone else.  This was not to say there is no value in those skills, as they are important for fighting as well as for fun.  But he is all about how to, if possible, not shoot at all, and how to be very effective where the fight will MOST likely be fought, up close and personal. 

John’s presentation of material was excellent.  He knows his stuff, have no doubt about that.  He chunks the material into easily learned amounts (both in the classroom and on the range), and everything was presented in logical sequences.  His PowerPoints were eye-catching, and the many “real-life” videos we watched were well-chosen to illustrate the various concepts he was attempting to convey.

One of the things I really liked about the class was how John had us get used to using some verbiage, both before and after the shoot.  He might tell us to put our hands up in the “fence” position, and we’d have to ad lib, saying stuff like, “Don’t shoot!  You want my wallet, my watch?  Fine, here you go.”  Then, after shooting, we might cover the “suspect”, yelling loudly, “Stay down or I will shoot you again.  Someone call the police!  This guy tried to kill me!”  The importance of getting the “narrative” right for eyewitnesses in the early going could not be overemphasized. 

One thing that saddened my about the class was my classmates.  All did a great job, and everyone was safe.  But so many were new to training that I could not help but notice that I was the only one there taking notes!  John was delivering them gold, but there was no way anyone could remember it all.  Heck, I took notes and cannot remember it all!.  Note to our readers who are about to take classes:  bring a notebook and use it!

My only complaint, and it is very minor in nature, was the round count.  The advertised round count was for 200 rounds.  I ended up shooting 265.  Luckily, I stuck to my own advice when it comes to preparing for classes (see here) and brought 350 rounds, so it was not a big deal for me.  But for someone new to taking training classes and who trusts the advertised round count, it could have been an issue (however, it wasn’t for any of the students in this class, as everyone had extra).  John told me afterwards that the small size of the class gave us the opportunity to shoot a little more than usual, but he plans to update the round count for this course on his website. 

John has a pretty good thing going with FPF Training.  A perusal of his course offerings will reveal that he offers a lot of classes other instructors do not.  This “Street Encounters Skills” class is part of a series that begins with “Pistol Skills 101”, “Foundation Skills”, this course (often offered the same weekend as “Foundation Skills”, so a student can treat it as a two-day course), and then “Advanced Tactics & Techniques” (a two-day course).  In addition to these, which are somewhat unique in their own right in terms of the material covered, he also offers a one-day vehicle environment class and a two-person tactics class (great for couples!).  He also frequently hosts nationally recognized instructors like Greg Ellifritz (John hosted the class I took here), Massad Ayoob, William Aprill, Tom Givens, and Craig Douglas.  In short, John Murphy–and FPF Training–is a real asset to the northern Virginia area.  His courses are, in my opinion, very reasonably priced, offering a ton of value for what you pay.  Although John waved my course payment (thanks again for the invite and generosity, John!), I plan to train with him again in the near term, most likely in his Vehicle Environment Skills class, and I will probably return for at least one of the classes he is hosting later in the year. 

Comments or questions?  Please post them below, and thanks for reading.

11 thoughts on “AAR: FPF Training (John Murphy) “Street Encounter Skills”, Culpeper, VA, 4/3/16

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