AAR: American Tactical Shooting Instruction (Bill Rapier) “Integrated Shooting and Combatives Course”, New Holland, PA 5/27-28/17

I am not sure that I can definitively say exactly when or where Bill Rapier first appeared on my radar.  I am fairly confident it was after reading an AAR of one of his classes on VoodooMan’s blog, most likely this one, which would put it around 9 months or so ago.  I bookmarked Bill Rapier’s company website, American Tactical Shooting Instruction LLC, and kept an eye out for courses in my area in 2017.  When the schedule for 2017 started to come together, I reached out to VoodooMan on one of the gun forums via private message, listed some of my training resume, and asked him about Rapier.  VoodooMan assured me that Rapier is probably soon to be recognized much more widely as one of the top instructors out there, and to expect his classes to soon be as hard to get into as Kyle Defoor’s. 

Bill Rapier’s biographical information can be found on his website.  For those too lazy:  twenty years in the United States Navy, including several years with SEAL Team 3 and 14 years with Naval Special Warfare Development Group.  He is a combat veteran, so for those out there seeking an instructor from the “been there, done that” crowd, Bill would qualify.

The two courses Bill Rapier offers that had the most interest for me were his Responsible Armed Citizen Course and the Integrated Shooting and Combatives Course.  Frankly, I would have been willing to take whichever one was closer to me as long as the date would work in my schedule.  As it happened, it was the latter one which was offered quite close by, and I am glad it was this particular course.  As noted elsewhere on the blog, I have been making 2017 my year to “fill in gaps in my training”, and the combatives elements had been sorely lacking prior to this year.  The fact that this was advertised as a class that seeks to integrate pistol shooting, blade work, and empty hands (and knees) really appealed to me.

Equipment

I brought along both of my Generation 3 Glock 19s, one OD; the other black.  The black one is currently being utilized as my concealed carry firearm, so it would only serve as a backup should something happen to the OD one.  Both are stock except for  Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights, factory Glock 17 smooth-faced triggers, grip tape on top of the slide, and Vickers/Tango Down extended slide-stop levers.  I used a combination of factory and Magpul 15 round magazines, and used PPU 115 grain FMJ ammunition.  My holster was a Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon worn appendix fashion.  I should note here that every student in the class was using a Glock 19 or 17, which pleased Bill greatly (he used a Gen 4 Glock 17). 

Other gear that was utilized included my Next Level Training SIRT Pistol, an ASP Glock 19 “red gun” (actually, I didn’t use it, but loaned it to a fellow student), and a Headhunter Blades “Rat” Knife and clone (blue) training knife. 

Logistics

The class was held at the New Holland Rifle and Pistol Club (officially in Gap, PA).  Thanks to Ron, fellow student, for hosting this class!  Weather was good both days, around 70 degrees and cloudy on day one, with day two starting out sunny and warmer/muggier, but then the clouds rolled in before lunch and kept us from burning up.  It started to rain just before I started my final drill, naturally.  Cost of the course was $500 plus another $20 for a “convenience fee”.  I should note that I paid full price for this course and am not affiliated in any way with Bill Rapier or his company, American Tactical Shooting Instruction LLC, except as a full-price paying, satisfied customer.  There were 10 students in the class, all men; among them were a student I trained with in Kyle Defoor’s class last year, another who attended a class at CSAT with me, and then my blog partner, John, was there as well!

Training Day One

The first day began at 0830 on a nice, grass-covered, 100 yard range that could easily accommodate 20 students on a line.  Bill began by thanking us all for being there and laying out the basic plan for the two days of training.  Following this overview, he outlined a brief medical plan should someone in class become injured.  He then had us get loaded and ready, explaining that all live-fire drills would be conducted based on a three magazine loadout, which was great to know.  Unlike some instructors I have had in the (now) distant past, Bill was organized enough and had the drills well thought-out that at no time did a student have to run back to our gear area to grab more ammunition.

Bill began by explaining the concept of the “circle of awareness”.  The importance of high degrees of situational awareness was stressed throughout the course, and something as “simple” as an administrative load was no different.  The pistol is brought up into the “workspace”, a magazine indexed and inserted, the pistol turned downward, the “other strong hand” pinching the rear of the slide, a push-pull with both hands sending the slide home, chambering a round.  Having trained with Kyle Defoor a year prior, and knowing that he and Bill come from similar pedigrees, I was not surprised to see this technique taught as the default.  Having said that, in THIS course—due to the goal of integrating pistols with blades and empty hands—the rationale for using this technique versus others, such as an over-the-top power stroke, was explained.  In extreme close-quarters situations, however, a power stroke was explained as the preferred method due to the necessary positioning of the hands and arms and the ability to maintain the pistol in a better position for retention.

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Bill Rapier shows us “the workspace” as part of the “Circle of Awareness”

I will note here that Bill performed EVERY drill he asked us to perform.  We began at about 5-7 yards shooting a single magazine, super slow fire, at a 3 inch diameter circle.  Bill wanted us to focus strictly on accuracy just so he could gauge our marksmanship skills.  He emphasized that this was not a fundamentals class, but he was willing and able to provide pointers to those of us who needed some assistance.  My shots were decent but strung just a little left, many of them skirting the edge of the circle.  Bill diagnosed the cause of my issue as “the three amigos”, i.e., the three lowest fingers of my strong hand tightening as I was pressing the trigger.  He suggested I focus on pulling the trigger straight back and tightening my grip with my non-shooting hand. 

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First shots of Day One on circle #1.

From here, we moved on to a discussion of stance and the importance of using an aggressive fighting stance.  This would be important for recoil management, of course, but also because this was to be a “fighting” course.  The necessity of a strong base would be vital to the integration of all the skills.

Bill also discussed grip.  No surprises here.  A high, master grip would be the goal for both recoil management as well as its better weapon-retention characteristics.  How to acquire such a grip from the draw to the presentation was also explained, focusing on how to create a crush grip by first anchoring with the non-shooting index finger under the trigger guard, and only then filling in with the rest of the fingers and then the rest of the hand. 

The last segment on fundamentals was spent on the trigger pull.  I am simplifying a bit, but Bill is a fan of putting as much or as little finger on the trigger as you need in order to not have a gap on the firing hand side of the pistol.  In short, it really depends on the size of your hands and the length of your fingers.  He is also not a fan of shooting to reset, but instead coming completely off the trigger after each shot.  I must say that, while I have seen interviews with top-level shooters on YouTube and the like, Bill is the first person to explain the “why” of this in a manner I could comprehend.  Of course, while I understood his explanation, it will take me a long time to retrain myself to shoot in such a manner. 

This is probably a good time to mention Bill’s philosophy on all of this.  He said that he believes what he teaches is the best way to do things, but that does not mean that it would be best for us when one factors in putting in the training time to “unlearn” old things.  Only we could decide if the proverbial juice would be worth the squeeze.  Thus, he said several times over the two days to take what we can and make it ours.  I like that philosophy.

Next, Bill also showed us exactly how to scan after shooting.  I know some people out there are not a fan of scanning and assessing on the range, regarding it as “tactical theater” or whatever, but I personally am a fan as I explained here.  Also of interest was that Bill was able to clearly articulate exactly why he wanted us to scan in the manner he was instructing, and I was very much pleased to see that he was the first instructor among the many I have worked with who pointed out how “ballistically altered” people, who fall and appear out of the fight, can reanimate once on the ground (blood pressure can stabilize once they fall, something I learned and saw on video in this class).  Thus, Bill favors a primary scan of the downed adversary and the area immediately around him, and then a secondary scan with finger off the trigger and pistol held in the “strike ready position”, checking to both sides and to the rear.

Regarding the strike ready position, Bill explained to us the various ready positions “out there”, including Sul, low-ready, compressed high-ready, etc., and why he prefers the strike ready position.  He finds it superior for weapon-retention, for combatives (ability to muzzle strike quickly, and also because it protects the “knockout triangle” of your head), for mobility, for the ability to quickly aim if needed, and that it just provides more options. 

The final two segments of the AM live-fire portion were on the drawstroke and reloads.  Bill explained and demonstrated three different types of drawstrokes:  the slow draw, the classic two-handed draw, and the one-handed draw.  Due to the integrated combatives nature of this course, the importance of the one-handed draw was stressed, as your other arm might be too involved in other “activities” to be able to clear the cover garment.  Regarding reloads, Bill reviewed the combat (emergency, or slide-lock) reload and the tactical reload (magazine exchange).  I would not say there were any surprises here, but there were some subtle nuances to Bill’s techniques which should prove useful.

We broke for a 30 minute lunch around 1235, and then Bill did a medical brief.  This segment was not to be confused with the medical brief at the start of class.  Rather, this segment was more of a poor-man’s TCCC, with special emphasis placed on self-care, on having a tourniquet with you at all times, on the different types of tourniquets, and, most importantly, on the necessity to win the fight first.

After the medical segment, we moved into the combatives portion of the class.  Without video or stop-action photography, putting all of this into words will prove difficult.  Accordingly, I will only hit some highlights.

I will begin with safety.  Bill had us all remove our pistols, all ammunition, all live blades, and anything else that might do our training partners harm.  We then partnered up and had our partners confirm that we had no tools or other items that could do harm.  To help emphasize the point, Bill related a story of a student (not in one of his classes) who nearly stabbed a fellow student during a training exercise. 

Bill began by explaining the Reactionary Gap.  What is it?  It’s the physical space right around us.  If someone is in that space and moves first, he or she will “win”.  Accordingly, we should do what we can to keep people outside of our Reactionary Gap, but also understand that sometimes it cannot be helped.  When it cannot be helped, then we can utilize defensive positions that do not necessarily look like defensive positions.  This is actually something I practice at work a bit, as we have some students who can get violent without much warning.  Keeping my hands up around my face area a lot of the time can help to limit how far my arms might have to move to block a blow.

From here, we moved on to a series of positions/blows that can be relied upon in extreme close-quarters situations to protect ourselves while at the same time punishing our opponents.  We began with the spear elbow, followed by a pipe strike to the neck area (using our forearm as a “pipe”), a neck grab, a head butt (or several, because why not?), and an elbow strike.  When practicing the actual strikes, we utilized Thai pads provided by Bill.

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Bill demonstrates the spear elbow in conjunction with SIRT Pistol in the retention position.

Each of these moves/blows was demonstrated one at a time, and then we got to practice with our partners.  Then the next one would be demonstrated linked to the first, and then we practiced both.  Along the way, Bill and a recently arrived VoodooMan provided explanations, corrections, pointers, etc., as they rotated among the pairs of students.  This was a great model, as it provided for the classic stair-stepped model with plenty of attention from Bill.

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Bill demonstrates with a student “volunteer” how the pistol would later be integrated with the combatives.

The combatives elements on day one probably took about two hours.  From there we moved on to blade work.  Here, Bill surprised me by first going over “blade etiquette”.  Having had some edged-weapons training in the past, I was suddenly made aware of at least one deficiency in those courses, as no one had ever reviewed with me this concept of blade etiquette.  This included how to draw a blade from a sheath in an administrative setting, how to pass a blade to someone else (and WHY to do it that way), and how to check around yourself before looking at a blade to avoid accidents.  Bill mentioned how people freak out about being muzzle-swept but don’t seem to think twice about someone pointing a live blade at them.  A great point, I thought.

The blade work was primarily sourced from Sayoc Tactical Group and featured the “3 of 9 Template”.  I have seen this demonstrated in videos on YouTube but had never practiced them myself.  I must admit that the videos I had seen made me skeptical, but this was the classic case of not understanding the context.  Once Bill explained that the template was not about hitting all nine targets in order while the opponent just stands there, I started to “get it”.  In fact, the template is simply a targeting template, but it need not be executed in any particular order, nor do all nine targets have to be addressed.  Instead, circumstances—your position in relation to your opponent, what targets have already been addressed, etc.—would help determine the next strike. 

The final segment of the day was back to live fire with a demonstration and then practice of shooting from retention.  Here, we utilized the spear elbow position with the “other strong hand” while shooting from a relatively high index position on our strong side.  Unlike other instructors who favor a more upright, only slightly canted pistol with a flagged thumb as a buffer, Bill favors indexing with the magazine baseplate against the lowest ribs, with the pistol canted at about 30 degrees.  We got some good practice shooting at 6-inch circles on our targets, though from slightly further away than we would utilize this position in real life (we didn’t want to blow the paper targets apart with muzzle blast).  It was during this drill that a student, during the scan and assess, did not just go through the motions, but saw two groundhogs running downrange towards us, attempting a sneak attack.  So much for “range theatrics”! 

We ended day one at around 1730, and then 9 of us, including Bill, VoodooMan, and others, played follow-the-leader and met for dinner at a nearby Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbord.  The food was reasonably priced and quite good, and the chance to talk at some length with Bill and my fellow students was welcome.

Training Day Two

Day two again began at 0830, this time with a mindset talk from Bill.  Rather than a straight lecture, Bill made it more interactive, and the result was a 30 minute “talk” turning into an hour-plus of valuable give-and-take.  Bill gave credit to Tom Kier of Sayoc Tactical Group as the originator of this talk (Kyle Defoor gives a similar one in his classes), but Bill has adapted it and made it his own, and I felt like I got a lot out of it. 

We then got loaded up with live ammo and performed our Cold Bore Drill on the timer.  We had to stand about a yard or so in front of a rubber dummy and, on the beep, draw and shoot 5 rounds from retention, step to the side, and then shoot two shots into the ocular windows of two targets about 7 or so yards away.  We were to then do our primary and secondary scans, execute a tactical reload, and walk away.   I don’t recall my time in this drill, but I do recall that I had two misses on the head shots.

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Bill explaining what was expected of us in the Cold Bore Drill.

 

This second day would focus on the integration of skills learned on day one, with only a few new things taught.  Accordingly, we started the day working the combatives drills from the previous day, only time, after delivering some “blows” to our opponents, we had to execute a draw for our training/SIRT pistols and shoot our opponent. 

Similarly, we worked with blades again on day two, practicing the 3 of 9 Template, but then also incorporating the draw of the knife.  In order to increase our fluidity with the Template, we not only did the full template of attacking nine different targets, but also did them in threes:  targets 1, 2, 3, then 2, 3, 4, then 3, 4, 5, etc.  This was definitely the kind of drill to take home and practice a LOT. 

We completed the morning by integrating all of these with live fire on a target.  On the go signal and standing at extreme arm’s reach from the targets, we had to execute an eye jab, a blade strike, and 2-3 shots from retention on our targets, shooting a total of about 2 magazines shooting this drill.

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My retention shots on the D circle (one of my training blade strikes can be seen just above the X in the circle above the D).

We broke for a 30 minute lunch around 1205.  After lunch, Bill lead another “classroom” discussion which he called “What does ‘right’ look like for a carbine?”  Readers may wonder what this segment had to do with the rest of the class, and the answer is that the next course Bill will teach at this location will be a carbine class.  His idea was that, for those students who want to attend but do not yet have a carbine, he could give some pointers about what to buy and what to avoid.  However, the talk involved much more than that, as he gave us his take on the pros and cons of different systems out there, including the AK platform, the FAL, the G3 and variants, the SR-25/AR-10, different calibers, and, ultimately, why to settle on an AR-15 in 5.56mm.  He also discussed accessories and what key features one should look for in the AR platform (barrel, flash hider, trigger, optics and irons, etc.).  Though outside the scope of THIS class, I found it useful to get the opinion of a guy who was downrange in the not-so-distant past.

After lunch, we moved on to the final phase of the class, the full integration of all we had learned.  We began with retention shooting with a blade in the support hand.  We practiced dry first, then live, then performed manipulations such as simulated stoppages, tactical reloads, and combat reloads, all with the pistol in one hand and the blade in another.  Due to some obvious risks, we only did this with our training knives, though we did use live ammunition. 

We once again put all live ammunition away, and did our final combatives segment.  Here, we were introduced to the power slap and the power slap as part of a combination.  We were also shown how to employ an arm drag as a means to get behind an opponent.  We also received a bit of instruction on how to stand up once on the ground, and how to stand up with either a pistol or blade in one hand.  The final new material was on the Thai plum, a type of front neck-grab/headlock, and then how to escape from this same maneuver.   The Thai plum was also a useful lead in to some knee strikes, which we practiced again on the Thai pads.

The final drill for the day was highly anticipated:  the stress course.  Bill emphasized that the stress course was not designed as some sort of tactical drill.  It is JUST a stress course, and it varies from class to class depending on the size of the available range (length and width), materials available, etc.  Once set up, the course worked like this.  The participant started at the 100 yard line and had to sprint about 25 yards to one of the other students holding a Thai pad.  Upon arrival, the participant would have to deliver 10 elbow strikes, draw his practice pistol and shoot the student from retention.  He would then have to sprint another 10-15 yards to another student with Thai pads and deliver 10 knee strikes followed by retention shots.  He would then sprint to a Pelican case and pick up his live pistol, which had been set up with striker dropped on an empty chamber, magazine already inserted but with an empty casing somewhere in the magazine.  He would chamber a round and then run about 5 yards and shoot 4 steel targets twice each, at ranges varying from about 35-25 yards away (steel targets were B/C sized).  Once all targets had been successfully engaged, he would run about 20 yards and engage the same targets twice each again.  Then, the student would move toward the steel target on the far right and engage with four shots while moving forward, then stop and hit it twice strong-hand only, and twice support-hand only.  Then he would run to the center of the range and from about 7 yards shoot two of the steel targets twice each, holster the pistol, drag a rubber dummy equipped with a plate carrier by the straps a distance of about 10-15 yards and position the dummy behind a barrel/wall.  The participant would then be told to put a tourniquet on one of his arms (I think Bill was nice and told everyone to put it on his left arm), then engage two of the targets twice each with the strong-hand.  At stake were bragging rights as well as a coupon for a free holster from BlackPoint Tactical.

If the participant got all of his hits, he would shoot a total of 32 rounds.  Needless to say, no one—including Bill, who demonstrated the drill for us—fired ONLY 32 rounds.  Bill did the course in around 123 seconds, if I recall correctly.  I was, I think, third slowest with a 220.85 (fastest student time was round 154 seconds).  This is how my stress course went:

It literally started raining just before my turn (I went last, and it started raining with probably three of us to go).  I was fast out of the gate and fine with all the combatives (I heard Bill yell something about how I was running with purpose!). My first shot at steel put a hot casing into my face behind my eye-protection next to my right eye.  I left it there and suffered.  I then had the stoppage (that everyone else had as well) induced by the empty casing in my first magazine, which I dealt with decently.  I had several misses at the longer distances which cost me time.  Then I did okay for a bit until my first strong-hand only shot, where I had a stovepipe (weak grip?).  My attempt to clear it sucked and resulted in a double-feed, which cost me more time to clear.  I was then good until I put the tourniquet on.  Here, I had to reload from behind the barrel, but my reload was in my left rear pocket, which I had trouble accessing with my right hand, and I swore this cost me at least 15 seconds!  Any questions about why this is called the stress course?

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We got everything out of the rain and had a quick circle of Q & A.  No certificates were given out, but each student got some AmTac SWAG.  We then said our goodbyes and went on our way.  I was in my car at 1815 hours.

I went to the class with 1000 rounds of ammunition and returned with 594.  Knowing I lost a few live rounds to the range monster who lives in the grass and to some malfunction clearances, I am saying that I fired a total of 400 rounds in this course, most of which was on day one.  This clearly illustrates that this was not a shooting-intensive course, as most two-day pistol classes I have attended in the past had me shooting around 600 rounds (one in particular had me firing over 1300 over two days!).  Rather, the focus was just as the title of the course describes:  the integration of shooting with combative elements.

Impressions

Readers of this blog know that I have a lot of hours of training under my belt.  As of this writing, since 2013 when I started my training journey, I have logged over 348 hours of firearms, edged-weapon, combatives, and medical training.  I have trained under a lot of instructors, most of them very good to excellent.  It is obviously difficult to compare or “rate” one instructor against another, as a lot depends on what your needs are at the time, what your experience level is at the time, etc.  But, I would rate this class as among the very best that I have taken.  Bill Rapier excels in several areas that I feel the need to mention here:

                a.  Preparation—Bill was as prepared as any instructor I have worked with.  As illustrated in the body of this review, he had all of the drills we would be performing worked out so that there were no ammunition issues, etc.  This is but one example.

                b.  Safety—though we followed “big boy rules” in terms of always knowing the status of our firearms (and blades), when it was time to tighten up on safety, Bill made good and sure that no one was asleep at the switch.  He was also a stickler for eye protection worn at all times, even during the “classroom” portions, since there were active ranges on the other side of the berm from us, and weird things happen.

                c.  Subject Matter Knowledge—though there were a few things that Bill taught that I might not incorporate into future practice (primarily because I already have certain techniques pretty well hard-wired into my brain), Bill was able to clearly articulate how to do everything and WHY he does them that particular way.

                d.  Passion—this is the real key, in my opinion.  Bill presented everything with such passion, there was never any doubt about how much he believes in what he is teaching and, more importantly, WHO he is teaching.  He brings such energy and enthusiasm to his job, and yet is quite laid-back and always approachable.  His lessons not just from his mindset talk, but in general, had me leaving class with a renewed vigor to better myself in all aspects of life.  I want to get into even better shape, train harder with my tools and in combatives, be a better father, better teacher, etc.  I am not saying Tom Cruise stepped out of his spaceship and handed out copies of Dianetics or anything like that.  I suppose I just mean that I like where Bill’s mind is at and how strongly he feels about what he is doing.

In summation, this was an excellent course and fit in perfectly with the subject matter I was seeking.  It definitely qualified in continuing to fill in the cracks in my training, and is a course that would even warrant repetition down the road.  I guess the best words I can say are these:  I had other choices of courses this same weekend, courses not far from where I live and with high-quality instructors who are highly thought-of in the training community.  After completing this course with Bill Rapier, I have no regrets about where I spent my money and time.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them here or on our Facebook page.  Because John and I are cheap, our blog page cannot accommodate videos, but I will post a few from class on our Facebook page in the coming days, so I hope that you will look for them there.  Also, if any of our classmates spot an egregious error in this review, please let me know via the comments or PM us on our Facebook page and I will rectify it.  Thanks again!

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “AAR: American Tactical Shooting Instruction (Bill Rapier) “Integrated Shooting and Combatives Course”, New Holland, PA 5/27-28/17

    1. Bobby,

      Thanks for the praise. Great training with you as well (and all the other students….great group of guys!). Regarding the carbine class, hopefully it will fit into my schedule. It would be hard to pass up, though!–Robert

      Like

    1. Brett,

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I do believe Bill is THAT good. I really like this presentation of the material. Nothing is matter-of-fact with him; he actually gets EXCITED about it. He also recognizes that some of us had some techniques hard-wired into our brains, and said that it’s up to us if the proverbial juice is worth the squeeze to change.

      In the meantime, I’m trying to work my schedule to get back down to you guys this Summer or Fall. Hope I can do it.

      Stay safe!

      –Robert

      Like

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