AAR: Shivworks (Craig Douglas) “Armed Movement in Structures”, Pittsburgh, PA 4/9-4/10, 2016

I first started hearing about Craig Douglas, a.k.a. “SouthNarc”, years ago, probably before I ever started taking any self-defense classes.  Over the years, I have watched countless YouTube videos—mostly of portions of his much-lauded Extreme Close Quarters Concepts (ECQC) classes—read some of his writings, listened to interviews with him on various podcasts, and even joined the Total Protection Interactive (TPI) forum.  To say that I wanted to train with him from those earliest days would be an understatement.  Unfortunately, a fear of sports-related injuries resurfacing in an ECQC evolution, together with scheduling conflicts, precluded my taking one of his classes, at least until now.

After reading on TPI many students’ positive words about the Armed Movement in Structures (AMIS) course offered by Craig via his Shivworks company, and with a few prior “tactics” courses under my belt, I felt like this would be a great course for me to take.  Such is the demand for this course—usually only offered a few times each year at a select few venues—that I signed up for it in July of 2015.  Here is the description of the AMIS course from the Shivworks website:

The ShivWorks Armed Movement in Structures (AMIS) course is a twenty hour block of instruction focusing on negotiating movement problems within structures with limited or no resources. Realizing that moving through a structure that contains armed hostiles, perhaps by one’s self, is probably the most dangerous task one can undertake, the best options for winning a confrontation are presented with the qualification that there is no safe way to do this.

Day One (12 hours): – Viewing the environment in terms of the unseen – Vertical, Horizontal, and Diagonal planes of visual obscurement – Distance variables and the visual apex – Threshold evaluation – Dynamic and Deliberate movement – Room Entry factors (known versus unknown) – Minimizing multiple exposure – Modifying the fighting platform to conform to cover and concealment – Re-setting/Disrupting the adversary’s OODA loop – Chalk board exercises – Dry-runs – FoF evolutions – Low-light module

Day Two (8 hours) – Practical Exercises for egress, search, and third-party rescue

Course fee (A facility fee may apply)


Gear Class Requirements:

-Airsoft pistol, gas, and BBs

-Appropriate head and face protection for airsoft (full mask)



As the reader can see, the fact that this course is not overly physical and is geared toward a single person clearing and moving through a structure (team tactics classes do not really fit my personal “mission”) seemed to make it ideal for me.  I also felt it would give me good insight into how Craig teaches so that I could then decide if I wanted to take more courses with him.

This particular course was held at a long-since abandoned school just outside of Pittsburgh.  The location was arranged by the class host, Shawn Lupka of Anti-Fragile Training.  This was the second course I have taken that was hosted by Shawn (see here), and I don’t know that I have ever met a guy who is more enthusiastic about self-defense training.  In addition to his stellar job as host, Shawn also served as an assistant instructor to Craig (more on that below).  As noted above, the cost of the course was $450.00, plus $20.00 for a facility fee.

The exterior of our venue

Training Day One

The first day began at 0800.  I would not normally discuss the weather for a class that took place entirely indoors, but considering we were in an abandoned building with no heat and a few holes in windows and such, it seems relevant to mention it.  Despite the date, outside temperatures probably did not crack 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind, rain, and, at times, snow.  The building seemed to hold every bit of that cold, to the point that I spent almost the entire time wearing:  T-shirt, Long Sleeve T, thick hooded sweatshirt, and then my jacket, along with a fleece hat and my Mechanix gloves….and I never felt warm!

We began the day in the gym with a brief introduction by Craig about his background (it is pretty widely disseminated elsewhere online, so I won’t bother here.  But he chose SouthNarc as a name for a reason!), and then the 20 or so students took turns introducing themselves.  Each of us included where he was from (I say “he” because there were no women attending this course), our occupations, maybe a bit about what prior training we had had, etc.  Right from the get-go, this was very revealing about the reputation that Craig Douglas has built.  Students had come to Pittsburgh from Boston, Connecticut, New York City, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and even Germany!  Also revealing was that almost every student had trained with Craig at least once before (some had trained with him many times), and I would estimate that about half the class had taken AMIS before!

Once through with his own introduction and introducing Shawn (who Craig acknowledged as having such a thorough understanding of the coursework that Craig can place full faith in his ability to teach it), Craig also introduced two other gentlemen who would be assisting for the weekend.  One was someone else I had heard of but never met, Larry Lindenman of Point Driven Training.  Larry is a 20+ year veteran of the Illinois State Police and another department in the Chicago area and is well-known from the TPI forum and his own blog.  Also assisting was Ron, a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces who, per Craig, is soon to start his own training organization.  In short, we would be in capable hands throughout the weekend.

Fortunately, one of the students had an extension cord in his truck, so Craig was able to set up his computer and projector and start rolling with the PowerPoint.  Each student found something to sit on (a five-gallon bucket would work for me all weekend, not that we did that much sitting), and Craig began outlining the basic principles and concepts of AMIS.  I will say right here that, looking back on it, there were not too many of these principles and concepts.  However, the application of them was where the rubber met the road.

The first principle was actually mentioned in the course description, and it is that there is no safe way to do this type of work as a single person.  Some tactics/techniques might be less dangerous than others, depending on the circumstances, but they are all inherently dangerous.  The second principle is a reminder that a structure is a 360 degree 3 dimensional environment, where threats can appear from any angle as well as from above or below.  It is NOT a flat range.  Finally, when doing this type of work, we must view the environment in terms of what we cannot see (because it is from those areas where we cannot see that the threats will emerge).  Defining what we cannot see is done via the three planes of visual impediment:  vertical (like a doorway), horizontal (like a couch, counter, etc.), or diagonal (like a stairway).

Some of the tactics and techniques that we would be utilizing throughout the course were then presented.  Some of these precepts were

  • Always seek depth.  If you are further from one of the above “planes of visual impediment”, you will be able to see more of what is behind or beyond it.  It will therefore require less movement on your part to see what is around it.
  • In order to provide us with the most cover, the body should conform, as much as possible, with the plane of visual impediment while clearing it.  This would mean a lot of awkward potential firing platforms and a lot of one-handed pistol work.  Key here would be maintaining a locked wrist for stability and recoil management.  Our pace through a structure was also discussed, and would be determined by the angles of potential threats as well as any outside forces that might “push” us through the structure (you hear a loved one screaming upstairs, for example).
  • Minimizing our exposure from multiple angles was emphasized (trying to keep our angle of exposure to 45 degrees or less), with the caveat that there WILL be times when one has to do this, so the best way to do it is with alacrity!  The danger that comes with moving at speed is moving too far, thus getting yourself into a second tough spot, so the importance of picking your stopping point in advance was stressed.  Likewise, due to this occasional need for speed, Craig referenced Paul Howe and his description of how he moved in Mogadishu in 1993, getting a short running start before crossing a danger area, so that each time he entered such an area he was already moving at full speed.

It was at about this point that Craig played a video for the class of a police involved shooting from Ceres, California:

I had seen this video before during some prior coursework.  Craig led the class through a Socratic questioning session about this video and all of the good tactics employed by the bad guy and the mistakes made by the responding officers.  His dissection of this incident was impressive, and it was sobering to see how relatively small movements could have huge ramifications in a fight.

After this discussion of movement, with demonstrations as needed, we moved on to briefly talk about threat neutralization.  Craig stressed the importance of being prepared to fire or be fired upon, for surrender, flight, or anything else.  Regarding the actual neutralizing of the threat, there were no real surprises:  gain the initiative and achieve positional dominance.

With that, and after a short break, we moved on to “practical applications”, which would take up the rest of the two-day course (all of the above presentation took about an hour).  Craig presented us with a white board with a pre-drawn schematic of a building interior (and exterior walls).  Students then took turns going up in front of the class and diagramming how they would clear the structure.  Craig used a Socratic method here, not so much offering answers as simply questioning each student about his choices.  Some of the students’ decisions were not necessarily the same as what Craig would do, but he could accept some of these options if the students could adequately explain the rationale for their choices.

Craig presenting the structure diagram for a number of students to problem-solve their way through.

After another short break, we returned to the gym and were told to position ourselves in one long line.  The instructors then frisked all of us to make sure that no one had any firearms or live blades, as the practical exercises were about to begin.  We were expeditiously divided into 4 groups of 5 students, and were then taken on a tour of the four “routes” that had been set up in the school.  Two each on the first and second floors, each route consisted of a hallway and the rooms off of it.  However, each route had some very unique characteristics (one had a hallway that was not actually straight, but had a kink in it.  This same hallway also had a short flight of 5 or so steps in the middle of it).  Some had small bathrooms, one had a former library, one had a former office with a secondary office off of it, etc.

Once we had seen each route, each group gathered at one of the routes with one of the instructors and started to work on the “problems”.  On our first route (I started on Route 3), each student took a turn negotiating and clearing the hallways and rooms with the instructor and the other students following.  The instructor (I started out with Ron) would then help us solve some of the issues we would encounter along the way, but would often present some of these issues as problems for all of the students on that team to work out.  Each student took a turn in this lead position.

Working Route 3 on Training Day One.

We worked this on Route 3 for about 45 minutes or so, then we rotated to the next route, and then the next, and so on.  However, over the course of the next few hours, new elements were introduced.  For example, on the next route we went “hot” with our airsoft guns, and the person doing the clearing would now be faced with one fellow student hiding somewhere along the route.  On the next rotation to the next route, there were now two “bad guys” hiding out.  It was on this route, after absorbing a barrage of airsoft pellets to my chest after not entering a room quickly and deeply enough, that Craig used me as an example for my fellow students:  “This is a classic example of what not to do.”  (hides head in shame!  What can I say?  Old habits die an awful death!)  On the final route, there were again two bad guys.  However, this time, they did not have to stay in one place.  Compounding that were two other students who were regarded as non-combatants, just wandering around with their hands raised.  If the hunter did a poor job of target identification……

It was between rotations three and four that three young ladies arrived at the venue.  If memory serves, one was Shawn’s wife, another his sister, and the other a friend.  They were bearing pies!  Though I did not partake, plenty of students were eager to get through the fourth exercise in order to eat pie, with an assortment of bad puns about “pieing the corners” exchanged!  It was nice.

We broke for dinner at around 1800 and reconvened (yes, this day did not end!) at 1900 for the low-light portion of the class.  We began in the gym where we were again frisked, and then Craig outlined for us a few key concepts about working with flashlights.  He could not emphasize enough that lights attract two things:  bullets and eyes.  I am not going to outline all of the techniques demonstrated, as some are difficult to describe with only words and I do not want to give away all of Craig’s “secrets”.  But I will say that I had never before been a fan of strobe features on lights, always finding them a bit gimmicky, but I think Craig is definitely on to something with his technique for using the strobe (I will say that one doesn’t NEED the strobe feature in order to execute some of these techniques.  A quick thumb on an instant-on pressure switch can work about as well, if more fatiguing for the thumb!).

After these quick demonstrations, we returned to our original route, Route 3.  There was still a fair amount of light filtering in through some of the windows at this point, but by the time we were done with Route 3, it was quite dark, with only the “Exit” lights near stairwells and doors providing some ambient light.  We used Route 3 to practice the different techniques taught, and then rotated through the different routes, with things getting progressively more difficult.  For my group, Route 4 had 1 stationary “bad guy”, Route 1 had one stationary and one mobile “bad guy”, and Route 2 had the same plus two mobile “good guy” non-combatants.  Overall, I felt like I actually did a little better during this portion of the class than in full light, though this distinction is dubious at best, since I pretty much sucked at all of it.

I will choose this moment to mention what to me was really the key part of this entire class.  Everything that was talked about/demonstrated down in the gym was something that we then got to test for real.  The fact that we got to play the role of bad guys even more than good guys meant that we got to see the effectiveness of all of the tactics/techniques as well as what it looks like when the good guy doesn’t use them correctly.  If the good guy did not utilize a skill correctly, a bad guy was usually right there to take advantage of it, and only our heavy clothing (due to the cold temperatures) and protective masks prevented a fusillade of airsoft pellets from making these mistakes into “self-correcting problems”.  As it was, I got lit up a number of times, and without as much padding on my legs or on the side, top, or back of my head, I received some stings.

We ended training day one at about 22:10.  I took a shower and got in bed with my notebook, intending to write a few notes.  Instead, I awakened at 0400 the next morning with all the lights in my room still on!  I was not physically exhausted at all, and I think anyone who is at all mobile, can bend down without difficulty, etc., can do well in this course.  But the mental part of this was definitely draining!

Training Day Two

Day two began at 0830 in the gym, with Craig and friends arriving with dozens of donuts and plenty of coffee for the students!  Nice!  We began the day with another frisk, and then we were divided up into new groups for the day.  We then started with a review of some of the concepts of the day before, issues people had thought about, problems they had encountered, etc.  Craig and his assistants stressed to us the importance of the eyes always leading.  Too many people were searching with arms/hands and pistols extended, telegraphing their position and movements to anyone with an angle on them.

AMIS is a class geared toward the single person moving through a structure.  However, because there were a few police officers in the class who had some team-oriented questions, Craig took a few minutes to talk about, and then demonstrate with Ron, how to move through and clear such a structure as a two-person element.  Though Craig said that he had never before worked with Ron in such a capacity, and though Craig was not necessarily impressed with his own performance, I thought watching the two of them flow, wordlessly, from room to room, each covering the other’s back, was something to behold.

We then moved into the portion of the class that Craig terms the “Don’t Shoot Yet” problem.  In such a case, you may have moved through the structure and encountered someone, but that person is not an immediate threat.  You are ready to use deadly force against this person in an instant, but at the present moment, it is not warranted.  What do you do?  Rather than explain it all here, I will instead point you to Larry Lindenman’s blog , where this problem is addressed in a series of four articles.  Suffice is to say that you must verbally (and through body language….such as aiming a pistol at the person!) impose control.   A specific sequence of simple directions is then given in order to help control this person and get at least some knowledge as to whether or not this person is armed.  I will note right here that none of this required approaching the person.  After demonstrating this, we got to separate ourselves or go out into the neighboring halls to practice these skills on the members of our group.

Next, Craig demonstrated for us how to go from this cursory control and clear procedure to how to hold, or pin, this person in place.  Again, this is covered on Larry’s blog, but I must say that I was a big fan of the techniques demonstrated here (not that I have much in my experience to compare it to!).  Again, we moved out into the hallways to practice this in our small groups, adding this new layer to the material we had practiced earlier.

Craig demonstrating how to “pin” someone.

Returning to the gym, Craig then discussed and demonstrated how to move a person.  We first talked about the circumstances where we might choose to do this versus pinning him in place.  These included, but were not limited to:  subject is right outside your child’s bedroom, you want the subject out of your house, etc.  Here, the importance of moving the subject into a space that has already been cleared was emphasized, along with the need to move in small increments and to give concise, unambiguous instructions.  Again, we practiced this in the hallways, treating the “bad guy” almost like a remote-controlled car that responds to verbal commands.  We then broke for an hour lunch around 1130.

Upon our return and after a quick frisk, the last two instructional modules were related to the need for speed.  The first was called “Porting and Bypassing”, and was a series of techniques one might utilize to quickly move through an uncleared space.  The idea behind it is that there are times when we cannot be slow and deliberate in our movements, such as if we hear a loved one screaming down the hall.  In these cases, we are moving quickly through the space (such as a hallway), giving cursory glances with eyes and muzzle into uncleared spaces along the way, the idea being to engage any obvious attempts at ambush while relying on speed to get through these spaces and to arrive at and deal with the immediate problem.  When practicing this, I still tended to move too slowly, but it was a useful exercise.

The final module was how to bypass a body (meaning a live person).  So, in this case, you have encountered someone, perhaps started to control and clear them, but then something else going on past them requires your immediate attention (screaming of a family member down the hall).  What do you do and how do you do it?  The key elements here were to get beyond this person without getting entangled, getting to the problem area quickly (essentially sprinting), and then setting yourself up in a good shooting platform before entering the problem area.  Again, we practiced this in our small groups a number of times.

This brought us to the final evolution.  All students gathered in the gym and just hung out while the instructors prepared two of the routes for these evolutions.  I am not going to go into the specifics of what we did, but I will say that we were called out one at a time, given a bare minimum of information, told where to begin, and then told that you are now “in play”.  Suffice is to say that this final evolution incorporated all of the elements in which we had been instructed.  Basic solo room clearing, encountering a “don’t shoot yet” subject, and then the need to respond to a situation that required our immediate attention.  I made one very simple, very poor decision that, as so often happens, compounded in severity over the next ten or so seconds, with the result that several airsoft pellets hit me pretty hard in the side of the head.  The evolution was then called, and Shawn and Ron, who were the instructors observing me, had ME talk about what I did and why I did it (and why it did not work out so well for me).  Shawn was great in beginning and ending with those things I did well (my initial search and the verbal commands to the first subject encountered), but made good and sure that I knew exactly what it was (and when it was) that I had screwed up.  He also assured me that probably 80% of students on their first run-though screw up in the exact same way that I did.

Even with two routes open and running simultaneously, it took nearly 3 hours to get all the students through this final evolution.  At around 1730, we gathered in a big circle and took turns talking about what we got out of the class, etc.  Craig gave each student some feedback and seemed to really be speaking from the heart when he talked about each of us, our progress, and what it means for each of us to be out there training with him.  Going through 20 students, this informal review took about an hour, and after a few private words with some of my classmates and Craig, Ron, and Shawn, I got on the road at 1830.

A Quick Note on Gear

One of the great things about this class is that you don’t need much gear.  I used my KWA Glock 19 Airsoft pistol (I had modified mine with my the old Meprolight night sights from my real Glock 19), some green gas, pellets, and my V-Force airsoft/paintball face mask.  I also used my Next Level Training SIRT pistol for those exercises that did not require us going “hot” with the airsoft guns.  For lights, I sometimes used my Streamlight ProTac 1L, and at other times used my Fenix PD 35 (I switched just to see which worked better for me).  I also utilized a Streamlight TLR-1 HL weapon-mounted light on my airsoft pistol for the low-light work.  No need for live ammunition, cleaning gear, holsters and expensive gun belts, tons of spare magazines, etc. Since I already owned most of the above gear for some prior coursework and general practice, my outlay of money for gear was minimal to non-existent.

Final Thoughts

This was an eye-opening and mentally exhausting class, and there was so much more I could write about (compression and extension of the pistol, the visual apex, speed and penetration through doorways to force traverse by those lurking in uncleared areas, etc.), but I need to wrap this up.  I learned a lot of tactics/techniques that could prove very useful as a singleton.  Though the course did not necessarily invalidate other coursework I have taken to date, it is obvious that some prior instruction I received from instructors who come from more of a “team-tactics” background may not be entirely applicable to someone in my situation.

While all of the movement portions of the class were valuable, I think that the low-light and “don’t shoot yet” portions of the class were perhaps the areas of the class from which I received the most benefit.  Really, though, it is hard to single out particular areas as “better” than others; the entire course was fantastic, and so it is no wonder that these classes always fill up quickly and are often taken by students more than once.  The consensus is that there is just SO much in this course that it is difficult to “get it” on the first go-round.

My major area of struggle in the class was simply not processing information quickly enough.  I would often “look” but not “see”, not trusting what I was visually picking up.  This caused me numerous airsoft “welts”, and was the ultimate cause of my downfall during the final evolution.  Shawn assured me that this is mostly just a question of “getting the reps”.  He even told the entire class that, once you have visually secured most of a room, you have to believe that there is a bad guy in the uncleared space that remains, so that when you enter and look into that area, you are not surprised to see a bad guy standing in that exact spot!  I cannot stress enough that this is not a “pistol” class; it is a problem-solving/decision-making class.

The only thing not addressed in the course that I would have liked to have tried was the opening of doors.  As we moved through all of the routes, I do not recall a single door that was closed that needed to be opened.  This thought did not occur to me until afterwards, which is why I did not ask about it during the class (I was in “information overload” mode at that point!), but I would have liked to have seen/heard Craig’s take on how to approach and deal with a closed door.  I cannot assume that every door I approach in such a situation would be open.  Having said that, I think we had plenty of “problems” to solve in this course, and adding closed doors to the equation might have had me jumping out second-story windows!

Now that I have finally trained with Craig Douglas, I can see why I have never read a negative review of one of his classes.  The guy knows his stuff, knows how to present it, has no qualms about telling his students what they did well and what they screwed up, and takes a genuine interest in the success of his students.  The fact that other top-notch instructors universally recommend his coursework (both Steve Fisher and Mike Pannone recommended him to me, though he was already on my radar by then) should be the ultimate testimonial.  In short, the $470 total that I spent on this class (not counting meals and travel expenses) was an absolute bargain when assessed against the work that we did.  I would recommend this class to anyone who can walk without assistance and has a few basic pistol classes under his or her belt.  I definitely plan to train with Craig again in the future.

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6 thoughts on “AAR: Shivworks (Craig Douglas) “Armed Movement in Structures”, Pittsburgh, PA 4/9-4/10, 2016

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