AAR: Active Response Training (Greg Ellifritz) “Extreme Close Quarters Gunfighting”, Culpeper, VA 10/29/16–PART I

Readers cannot necessarily make assumptions about how much I like or value an instructor or his work if I have only taken one course with that instructor.  It might be that I never plan to take another, or it could be that I just have not YET taken another class with that instructor.  However, with one exception (which we shall chalk up to “not knowing any better”), if I took more than one course with an instructor, one can assume that I like and value what that instructor offers.

Accordingly, the fact that I chose, for the second time this year, to spend a day working under the watchful eye of Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training, should be a clue that I regard him as among the best instructors I have taken courses with.  Indeed, schedule permitting, I plan to take two more of Greg’s classes in the near future (see here for my AAR of Greg’s one-day “Basic Knife Skills for Concealed Carry” class).

This course was Greg’s Extreme Close Quarters Gunfighting class, hosted by John Murphy of FPF Training (see AARs of two courses I took with Murphy here and here).  The class was held at the FPF Training facility in Culpeper, Virginia.  There were about 20 students in the class (two were women); among the attendees was the other founder of the Civilian Gunfighter blog, John.  John has written about some of his own thoughts on the class in an article here.  The weather for the day began at a brisk 45 degrees, but by mid-afternoon had warmed to close to 80!  Cost of the class was a very reasonable $175.  I should note here that I paid full-price for the class and am not being compensated in any way by Greg Ellifritz, John Murphy, nor either of their companies.

The class began with a brief introduction of Greg by Murphy, and then Greg gave us a bit of his personal resume.  We followed this with student introductions, and then Greg got started.  He explained from the get-go that this would not be a shooting-heavy class, saying that we might shoot from 150-250 rounds over the course of the day.

The active work by the students began in an open, grassy area off the formal portion of the range (partly so we were off the gravel, and partly to get into the sunlight to warm us up!).  Greg started with body position, and he reviewed with us the importance of keeping shoulders and hips square to the opponent, with a pronounced forward lean and legs positioned for maximum support against a push from the front.  We got to test our stances by partnering up and pushing against each other.  John and I got to know each other much better over the course of this class!  Greg stressed the importance of this as key to staying upright and not getting knocked out.

In the building-block approach that Greg utilized for the class, he then instructed us on the proper retention shooting position.  Key elements here were keeping the strong-side elbow as far back as possible, the strong-side thumb “flagged” upwards between the frame of the pistol and the side of the chest, and the barrel/slide of the pistol parallel to the ground (a downward shooting angle then being attained with the forward lean of our bodies that we covered in step one). Greg stressed throughout the class the importance of keeping the elbow—and therefore the pistol—as far back as possible.  Bad stuff happens when the pistol comes forward (malfunctions, exposure to a grab by the bad guy, etc.).  To Greg’s credit, he offered options for women (or men) with lots of extra tissue in the chest region, and also covered some of the issues (as well as how to address these issues) for lefties.

Since the point of this class was how to survive an extreme close-range ordeal, Greg next gave us techniques to use if the bad guy is punching us in the head while so close.  Greg taught us the vertical and horizontal elbow shield as default positions to keep us from getting knocked out by a strong punch from our opponent’s left or right hands.

Greg demonstrating the retention position and vertical elbow shield. He live-fire demonstrated every drill he asked us to complete.

Because our support arm would likely be involved in defense (grabbing, elbow shield, etc.), we next reviewed a few different techniques to draw our pistols one-handed.  Several techniques for clearing the cover garment were reviewed, with some better than others depending upon garment type, fabric type, etc.  I should mention here that for all of these types of manipulations, we used our actual guns, unloaded and rendered inert by removing magazines, emptying chambers, and then running a “rope” up through the magazine well and down the barrel, and then closing the slide.  We could all then see, at a glance, the bit of rope extending from the muzzle and out through the magazine well, and at any time could ask to see our training partners’ chambers to be sure they were unloaded.

My “roped” Glock 19.

Before moving on to the first live-fire portion of the class, we received a thorough safety brief from Greg with some help from Murphy.  Greg would be primary medic on the scene of any incident, with our own John and another student as backups.  Runners were also designated to access the rather large medical bag that Greg had positioned on the hood of his vehicle, and the GPS in the evacuation vehicle was set to the local hospital.

The first live-fire portion of the class had us practicing up close and personal on our targets.  I was initially concerned about the size of the class, but since we were paired up doing the physical work early on, Greg only had to watch 10 pairs of students rather than 20 individual students.  Likewise, when we moved to the live-fire portion of the class, we ran everything in two relays where each “shooter” used his partner as a personal safety officer.  If memory serves, we shot about 45 rounds during this morning session.  During this session, we exclusively operated from the vertical elbow shield retention position, shooting single rounds, then two rounds, then 2-5 rounds.  While we watched our partners and then switched off so they could watch us, Greg walked the line making corrections as needed.  One thing he wanted to pay particular attention to was malfunctions (neither John nor I experienced any malfunctions during the day).  It was mentioned early on that the combination of the awkward arm position could induce malfunctions due to limp-wristing, while having a poor thumb index (always remember the flagged thumb!) could result in the slide of our pistols catching body or clothing, causing issues.  A number of students did experience malfunctions, though the overall number seemed lower than Greg was anticipating as typical for these classes.

I should mention that we shot these live-fire drills at the targets from a slightly further distance than we would in real life (see photo of Greg above).  This was because we were using paper targets and Greg did not want the muzzle blast from our pistols destroying the targets after just a few rounds.  Who wants to spend half the day putting up new targets?  As it was, one student further up the line from us set his target on fire with his muzzle blast, so it was a legitimate concern.

After my first 5 rounds from retention from about 1 yard. In reality, we would be touching the target, and so my hits would be a few inches higher. Nice group though!
My target at the conclusion of the first live-fire session.

After a 35 minute break for lunch, we again rendered our pistols inert and moved to the grassy area for the afternoon session.  During this session, we almost exclusively worked on In-Fight Weapons Access (IFWA).  Greg outlined the three best ways to deal with a grappling, life or death situation:  shoot bad guy with your own gun, beat him up with combatives skills (or edged weapons), or shoot him with his gun (in that order of preference).

We began by working on fouling an opponent’s draw who might be drawing from appendix inside the waistband (AIWB), pocket, or behind the back (4:30-ish) carry.  These are the positions—based on Greg’s research—bad guys are most likely to utilize to carry a firearm.  Best practices for each were covered, and to Greg’s credit, he provided alternatives for situations where relative sizes between opponents might preclude certain techniques.

As the afternoon portion of the class proceeded, Greg outlined key points to remember when shooting from retention.  Among them were to never, ever, ever “float” your pistol.  The pistol must be maintained in the retention position, indexed against the side of the chest.  Floating it exposes it to a potential grab and gives you little indication about where the muzzle is pointed.  Contact shots and the issues they create (forcing semi-automatic pistols out of battery) were covered, and the advantages of revolvers in this niche were mentioned.  The importance of a clean entrance was also discussed and demonstrated, as we do not want to have any portion of our body between the muzzle and the bad guy.  Targeting was also covered; in such positioning, headshots would generally be suboptimal as compared with solid torso or even lower torso shots.  Finally, we need a safe exit for the bullets we fire should they exit the body of our opponent; we do not want to jeopardize our body parts nor those of innocents positioned somewhere behind the bad guy.

Because the possibility of malfunctions increases in these close range fights (due to poor grip characteristics, the slide hitting our bodies or clothing, or the bad guy somehow inducing malfunctions), and because one of our arms is sure to be involved with the bad guy, the necessity of dealing with malfunctions one-handed was covered.  Several methods were covered for dealing with basic failure-to-fire issues.  Greg emphasized that, while some these days eschew the “tap” portion of the classic “tap-rack”, in an entangled fight, the “tap” on the magazine bottom should not be bypassed, as there is at least a reasonable chance that the magazine release could be bumped, unseating the magazine.

That pretty much wrapped up the “how to shoot the other guy” portion of the class.  We then moved on to beating up the other guy!  Greg showed us some simple, useful, and brutal methods to utilize if we successfully foul our opponent’s draw but are either unable to access our own pistol or are perhaps unarmed at the time.  He also showed us how to utilize our pistols as an impact weapon should we not want to use deadly force or in a situation in which our pistol has malfunctioned and the bad guy needs some encouragement to stop his evil ways.  Again, the techniques seemed useful to dissuade the bad guy from continuing his assault and, at the same time, limit the risk of damaging the firearm.

Knowing that bad guys sometimes use revolvers, Greg brought out an inert old-school taper-barrel Smith and Wesson Model 10 to demonstrate some differences in how to deal with one and things about which we should be mindful.  We all took turns grabbing this pistol by the cylinder to keep it from firing, and were also shown how this is ineffective if the hammer has already been cocked (and a separate method shown to deal with this).  Issues about gasses escaping from the area between the barrel and cylinder were also discussed.

The “beating the bad guy” portion of the class complete, Greg next showed us several ways to disarm the bad guy of his gun in situations in which we might have been unable to successfully foul the draw.  If the disarm is successful, the bad guy can then be shot with his own gun.  However, readers of Greg’s blog no doubt know that he has done a study of seized “bad guy” guns, and many are dysfunctional for a variety of reasons (mechanical issues, bad ammo loaded, the wrong ammo loaded, etc.).  Accordingly, he was more in favor of simply maintaining the bad guy’s gun in one hand while drawing your own pistol as the more reliable solution.

We finished the afternoon “dry” portion of the class learning how to stop others from getting our own pistol.  Though the bad guy should not know you are armed (after all, he chose you as a target), the possibility exists that the bad guy, during a fight, could discover the holstered pistol.  Greg showed as a few simple techniques to keep the bad guy from successfully unholstering it.  As a bonus, he showed us a useful trick to employ if we try to draw but have the pistol pinned down inside the holster.

Greg dropping some knowledge early in the day. He made a lot of use of the SIRT Pistol, an invaluable tool in classes like this.

After a short break, we moved back to the firing line and practiced shooting utilizing the horizontal elbow shield.  This has you shooting essentially blind, with your head buried in the crook of your elbow with your arm across your face, so help from our partners was critical here.  Greg gave us simple directions to follow as safety officers for each other.  After practicing some simple single and two-shot groups, we finished this with a pair of rounds fired followed by a single head shot (fired from full extension).  We finished live fire with some shooting from the compressed ready position (pistol held with two hands directly in front of the sternum, what I believe Craig Douglas refers to as the Number Three position).  We did this from 5 yards, the furthest distance from which we shot in the class.  John and I were both able to keep all of our rounds in the chests of our targets.


I utilized one of my Glock 19 pistols equipped with a Glock 17 factory smooth-faced trigger and Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights.  I used my Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon AIWB holster, an IWB magazine pouch from Dale Fricke, and my Wilderness Instructor belt.  I did fire about two magazines worth of rounds during our lunch break through my Glock 43.  Greg had written just a month or so ago that he was seeing more malfunctions in other iterations of this course with the smaller guns, including the Glock 43.  Accordingly, I wanted to see how mine performed shooting from retention.  I am happy to report no issues, though this was obviously not a lengthy or exhaustive test.  I fired a total of 129 rounds during this class; clearly, it was more of a combatives than shooting class.

Final Thoughts

This was one of the best classes I have taken.  John and I had both taken a close range gunfighting class with another school/instructor, and it was amazing the difference in how little instruction we received in that other class regarding how to properly shoot from retention.  Greg, on the other hand, though he prefers simple techniques that work very well, knows every subtle nuance that allows the techniques to be successful.  At times, there is a fine line between doing things right and wrong (a slight cant to the hips here, shoulders not square to the threat there).  He has a keen eye and made subtle corrections to my stance with practiced ease.

As long as this AAR is and as detailed as it seems to be (and this was just a one day class!), in looking it over I can see that I spent more time saying what was covered rather than how it was covered.  Indeed, even if I described every last detail, the reader would really have no idea how to properly execute the techniques we were taught.  To do that, you really need to train with Greg.  The techniques he teaches are simple, easy to remember, and easy to apply.  Greg says this is because he isn’t very smart and has trouble remembering all sorts of fancy moves, but don’t buy the “not very smart” part.  I suppose it would be easy to mistake Greg for a big meathead, but to do so would be a huge mistake.  Readers of his blog (and you are reading his blog, right?) are left with little doubt about his intelligence and analytic abilities; take a class with him, and it becomes even more obvious.  Accordingly, I look forward to training with Greg again in 2017.  He offers an eclectic mix of courses, and they represent great value as well.

This course filled an important gap in my knowledge base.  I have mentioned numerous times here on the blog about my lack of combatives skills.  In fact, even a person who is involved in martial arts or other such skills may not get the chance to integrate such skills into a weapons-based environment unless they take a course like this.  I had high hopes for this course and Greg definitely delivered.

On a final note, as we were getting ready to head out at the end of class, we discovered that at least one of our classmates is a regular reader of our blog, and other classmates asked us for the name of our blog.  It was definitely cool from our end to meet some people who view the blog as a useful resource!  Thanks for the feedback!

If our readers have any thoughts or questions, please share them below or on our Facebook page.

9 thoughts on “AAR: Active Response Training (Greg Ellifritz) “Extreme Close Quarters Gunfighting”, Culpeper, VA 10/29/16–PART I

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