One good thing about working on the blog with John for the last year has been the opportunity to meet some cool people. Because of my involvement with the blog and my presence on a local firearms forum, John Murphy of FPF Training reached out to me in late 2015 and invited me to take his Street Encounter Skills class. Scheduling conflicts abounded, but I eventually made it to his facility in Culpeper, Virginia, back in April of this year (AAR here). I was impressed enough that I signed up for his Vehicle Environment Skills class in May. Unfortunately, the passing of the late, great, Pat Rogers occurred, and Murphy was heavily involved in the funeral arrangements, causing him to cancel the class. He told me he would refund my money, but I told him to keep it and simply enroll me in the October iteration of the same course.
The official title for the course is “Concealed Carry: Vehicle Environment Skills.” What I love about the nomenclature is there is no confusion about what the course is about. It is not a super-commando “let’s-go-shoot-a-bunch-of-cars” class. The tagline for FPF Training is “Skills in Context”, and anyone who attends a class with Murphy is constantly reminded of that. Skills are taught and practiced, but the skills are then placed into context and practiced that way as well. Unlike classes taught by some other instructors, it is not up to the students to figure out how to incorporate the skills into their lives; Murphy does that for the students.
The class was held on a beautiful Saturday at the super-secret FPF Training facility outside of Culpeper. There were a total of six students in the class, all men. Because of the small size of the class, Murphy chose to begin the class an hour later than usual, figuring we could get through all of the material quickly. We were underway in the “classroom” at the range by 09:30. Murphy was assisted by Gary Jakl, who also assisted him at the Street Encounters class I took earlier this year. Gary assisted students when needed, but also did a ton of menial tasks in order to keep the class moving. I should mention that the cost of the class was $200, which I paid in full. And I am not affiliated in any way with John Murphy or FPF Training except as a full-price paying customer.
This was not to be a “gear heavy” class. I used my usual third generation Glock 19, modified with Glock 17 smooth-faced trigger, Vickers/Tango Down Slide-stop lever, and Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights. I utilized my Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon holster set up for appendix carry (incredibly, with all the classes and all the draws I have made from appendix carry, I have still yet to shoot my manly bits or femoral artery! Imagine that!). For a bit of a change-up, I utilized a Dale Fricke inside-the-waistband single magazine carrier (thanks to my blog partner John for that gift!), positioned at about 11:00. I used my Wilderness Instructor belt for this class just as a change from my Ares Enhanced Aegis belt.
I did not do too much checking of my classmates’ gear, but I did see all of the firearms they chose to use. Two of the students were using Glock 19s, another used a Glock 43. One student used a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm, and the last used a Beretta PX4 Subcompact in 9mm.
As noted above, the class began in the FPF Training classroom, which is basically a climate-controlled shed complete with folding chairs, computer, projector, and screen. Murphy is a collector of real-life videos that illustrate different elements of the different classes he teaches, and this would be no exception (skills in context!).
Murphy began by explaining what this class is and what it is not. He then outlined the importance of a vehicle-specific class since we tend to spend so much time in our vehicles (my daily work commute is about 25 minutes each way, plus all the other times I am in my car going to stores, to my kids’ activities, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.). Combine that with the fact that we know that a lot of violent crimes happen in and around cars (watch the news tonight), and the utility of such coursework is clear.
I should mention right here that, unlike in some classes where the skills taught assume that the decision to engage has already been made, Murphy stresses avoidance before all else. So, as we reviewed the material and watched various videos, the question was often presented: “What could this person have done?”, and the answer was often, “drive away.”
Specific topics covered in the classroom included movement to and from your vehicle, operating the motor vehicle (leaving an out, what to do at a traffic light, etc.), what constitutes a threat (suddenly getting blocked in by another vehicle, etc.), when to egress the car, how to set up your gear, shooting from inside the car, and dealing with motorcycles (when they are used by criminals). Gas stations and their status as the “watering holes of the modern world” were discussed as well, which was very important when we got into the practical skills portion of the course.
After a short break, Murphy moved the class outside to begin the teaching of practical concepts. Among the things covered in this segment were how to walk to your car (from your place of work, grocery store, etc.). These “transition” times can literally be killers, and thus warrant a sensible plan. He also outlined what he regards as the best sequence of tasks once inside the car (locking doors, starting engine, etc.).
Murphy and Gary then had us render our pistols inoperable and visibly safe with short bits of thin rope run through the magazine well, chamber, and out the muzzle. We then practiced drawing, firing, and maneuvering inside the Saturn sedan provided by Murphy as our practice vehicle. We also practiced vehicle bailouts, since there may be situations where driving away or fighting from within the vehicle would not be possible or sensible.
Unlike in most vehicle classes, the Saturn Murphy provided was actually a runner, not a derelict that had to be pushed around the range to position for different drills. Accordingly, we got to take turns driving in order to practice some evasive maneuvers that might make more sense than drawing and shooting, situation-dependent.
From then on, everything we did was with live pistols. Before going live, Murphy did a full medical brief so that we knew were all medical kits were located, some roles were defined, and the route to the local hospital pre-programmed into the GPS device in Murphy’s truck, with keys on the front seat. John then had us begin with a warm-up from the seven yard line on the flat range. We shot five single shots from the draw, each student shooting solo so Murphy could watch us carefully. We followed that with 5 controlled pairs from the draw.
Murphy then positioned the car on the range and we took turns in the driver’s seat. Not wanting to shoot apart a fully-functioning, albeit beat-up, car, he had us essentially mime shooting through the windshield at a target in front of us, then had us dismount from the vehicle and fire for real at the targets. We each did this drill three times (frankly, I was amazed but pleased that no one lost concentration and let a live round go through the windshield!). After we had each done this three times, Murphy repositioned the vehicle so that we could engage a target at the driver’s side (3 times each), then repositioned again so that we could engage a target on the passenger side of the vehicle (3 times each).
Next, we did some two-person work (driver and passenger), and were introduced to the unique issues that come up for a right-hander vis-à-vis the seatbelt when sitting in the passenger seat. After demonstrating the best way to draw and maneuver inside the car without flagging the other person in the car, we teamed up with a partner and did two or three evolutions engaging targets to the front of the vehicle.
Using an ingenious system of carts, rope, and pulleys hammered into the ground with spikes, Murphy and Gary next set up some human powered moving targets. The next drill had us presented with a target to the front of the car that had forced us to stop (perhaps using a ruse of some sort), and then a mover would appear next to the driver’s side door. Through the open window we had to engage this target with 2-3 rounds.
Though it would be a rare occurrence, we also got some practice doing a quick bailout to the ground and then shooting at targets under the car. We shot at orange blocks about 4 inches on a side to simulate shooting an ankle. Once the blocks were engaged, we had to engage a suddenly appearing three dimensional human target (representing the bad guy whose ankle we just shot falling to the ground).
Our final vehicle-related drill involved the setup of a mock gas station (again, the watering holes of the modern world), where we had to get out of the car and mime going through the refueling process. Once thus engaged, another moving target would approach and, depending on the dialogue Murphy (or sometimes Gary) would provide coming from this “person”, we might have to engage the target with a few rounds.
As was done in the Street Encounters Class, Murphy let us finish by loading up a few magazines and standing at the 7 yard line, shooting anything we might want to work on. I ripped through a quick four magazines doing a combination of 5 rounds of rapid fire, some controlled pairs, and a bunch of headshots. We then policed brass, had a debrief/review, and called it quits around 1630.
I shot a total of 117 rounds in the class, and I think the furthest shot made might have been 10 yards as the moving target at the “gas station” approached me. Even for a one-day course, this was an exceptionally low number, but I was fine with that. With each student performing each drill three times each, there was a lot of down time, so there was not as much shooting. I was more interested in the tactics and techniques rather than making noise and a pile of brass, so I felt great about the low count. I must say that I was also grateful for the small size of the class.
Overall, I really liked this class. Unlike some prior coursework around vehicles (which I also liked and feel I benefited from), this class put us in realistic CIVILIAN scenarios. There was no turning of cars into Swiss cheese. Instead, the emphasis was on avoidance and evasion over spitting lead. As Murphy said early in the class, if you carry concealed you have a higher responsibility to not get involved in stupid stuff like road rage, etc. I was pleased to see that some practices that were already part of my standard operating procedures were taught by Murphy in the class. Things I learned included how to set up my pistol after belting myself in, how best to draw and operate my pistol when sitting in the passenger seat, and some techniques to use in parking lots and gas stations (I believe it is Tom Givens who often says there’s no such thing as street crime. It’s actually parking lot crime!).
I would recommend this class to anyone who carries concealed in a “typical” civilian role and who spends at least some, if not a lot of, time in and around vehicles. Murphy’s tactics and techniques have been well-thought out and he presents them simply and succinctly. He has a great sense of humor and places a strong emphasis on safety.
I will see John Murphy again in just a few weeks when he is hosting another instructor, and then I plan to return to train with him again in 2017. He is also hosting a number of top-notch instructors in 2017, so I already warned him that he is going to have to get used to my ugly mug on his range.
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