Four rounds. Four. That’s it. Over the first four and a half hours of this class, each student had fired only four rounds. Clearly this would be a VERY different class for me.
The Course and Instructor
In this case, the class in question was the one day Pistol Video Diagnostics class, held at the Prospect Hall Shooting Club in Kearneysville, WV. The instructor was John “Shrek” McPhee, the Sheriff of Baghdad. For those readers who do not know of John McPhee, he is a veteran of the U.S. Army where he spent over a decade in Special Forces with THAT unit. A number of missions of which he was a part (in a few cases, the SINGLE participant!) were written about in popular non-fiction books about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I believe he said he retired in 2011. He has a podcast (less frequent of late), does Facebook Live broadcasts, and is a regular contributor to Trigger Time TV. Cost of the class was $375.00, which I paid in full. The usual disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with John McPhee or his company, sobtactical. I should also mention that I did a ridiculous amount of “due diligence” before I registered for this course. I watched every video I could find of John McPhee on the web, listened to most of his podcasts, and even checked with other people I know who train a lot and what they had heard.
There were a total of ten students in the class, all men and of fairly mixed ages. There was at least one member of a local LE agency in attendance, at least one competitive shooter (I do not count myself as one…..if we wish to, then at least two!). This particular class was held on a Monday (“Eclipse Monday”), and a number of the students in the class had been training with John all weekend for a two-day “Gunner Marksmanship” class (rifle and night vision-centric). I was one of the few who was just there for the pistol class.
I was, surprisingly, one of only two students who chose to shoot the class from concealment. The class was what I would term a marksmanship or fundamentals class, but because I knew from research that the class would include drawing and presenting the pistol, I thought it wise to get in the extra repetitions from my standard concealed carry gear.
Accordingly, I used my OD Generation 3 Glock 19 with Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights. I used my Raven Concealment Eidolon holster and I chose to eschew my usual Ares Gear Enhanced Aegis belt in favor of my older Wilderness Instructor belt (no real reason). Spare magazines were carried in my no-name kydex double magazine carrier. I used a mix of Glock factory and Magpul (15 round) magazines. I used PPU 115 grain FMJ ammunition.
My classmates used a mix of various 1911s, a few Glocks, a Sig 320, an HK USP Compact, and a Sig 229.
The class start time was listed as 0900. My only disappointment with the entire class was that we got started just a bit late. All the students were not even there until 0906, and then we had to caravan from the meeting site to the range we would be using (and thank goodness I have a vehicle with AWD!). By the time everyone unloaded gear and got themselves squared away, it was about 0930, and we did not fire our first rounds until 0955 by my watch. Now granted, I suffer from what I call “chronic early syndrome”, but my feeling is that if I’m paying for a 9-5 class (especially a one-day class), then I expect to be actively working/learning from 9-5. A minor gripe but a gripe nevertheless. As will be seen later, we did have a working lunch, so I guess it all evens out.
The class began with each of us (well, those of us who correctly followed instructions!) with two rounds loaded in our pistols with a spare magazine on our belts loaded with two more rounds. One at a time, with John taking video with his iPhone, we were to draw our pistols (no start signal: John just told us when he was ready and we could proceed on our own), present to the target, fire two rounds, perform a slide-lock reload, and fire two more rounds. That was it. We got through this quickly enough, and then retired to some open-sided tents where a video monitor had been hooked up. John then explained what the class was all about.
John told us that this was his fifth year doing video-based classes and talked about all the success he has had with this model. The class is built around three key principles: the sports coaching model, neuroscience, and the recording technology. The sports coaching model allows the instructor to identify specific things to address with the student. John used a lot of analogies with other sports (for example: football) and how the coaching staffs rely so heavily on film study to improve themselves and break down opponents. Neuroscience plays heavily into how John teaches, as he discussed with us the “conscious vs. the subconscious minds”, and how they work (sometimes against us!). Finally, in terms of technology, the Coach’s Eye app, which records at 240 frames per second, allows the instructor to see things frame by frame that get missed by the unaided eye. In addition, the ability of the student to see himself perform (doing all the things he believes he is NOT doing) gets back into the neuroscience, as it can “untrick” what the mind says you are doing (my words, not his, but I think he would agree).
With all the videos now uploaded, John told us he was going to break each of us down in four areas: stance, grip, presentation, and then the reload. He “warned” us that he would be giving us a lot of feedback of things that need improvement, but assured us that if we fixed 6 of 10 things, we would probably get up to 80% of our potential. That last 20%, he said, would require more work, and that last 5%, as with any athletic endeavors, an incredible amount of work.
As one could probably imagine, it took a good while to get through the videos of all 10 students (in essence, 40 videos since he would be doing stance, grip, presentation, and reload for each of us). He started breaking us down by about 1015 or so, and this continued until around 1315! I will mention here that there was no “lunch break”; it was a working lunch, and you could eat whenever you wanted.
Though it was a little tedious to go through all of the videos, it was also very useful on a number of levels. For one thing, among the ten students were a LOT of issues that John addressed. If you regularly shoot with others, there’s a good chance that you would see your friends doing some of the things that some of your classmates were doing here, and then you could address those issues as John did. Secondly, many of us had many of the same issues, so if you missed something discussed once you would catch it the next time around. Finally, it allowed for some humility. The skill level of the students varied pretty widely (I’d put myself around the high-middle of the group), but EVERYONE had issues that John pointed out.
I cannot possibly review all of the issues that I and my fellow students were having, but as John broke down all of the videos, common themes emerged and coaching points were related. John’s opinion is that 95% of shooting is grip and stance (he addressed trigger later and slayed sacred cows). For stance, he favors what I would call a pretty aggressive forward lean. Bent knees over toes, hips over knees (positioned as if mid-stride), shoulders noticeably rotated up and forward, and arms locked. For grip, he favors a high/neutral firing thumb (almost every student in the class had thumb on back of support hand thumb, pushing down on the support hand and breaking the grip….I did this and never thought it had an actual effect…until I saw the video!). Support hand was to be rotated forward, thumb pointed at the target and wrist locked. The firing hand should be pushing into the support hand, with the support hand pulling back into the firing hand, creating a push-pull effect.
A key quote I wrote down from the presentation portion of his coaching was “Good grip starts before the non-firing hand is even on the gun.” So, as the firing hand is drawing the pistol, the support hand should be on the chest with the thumb already pointed at the target, so that as soon as they meet the grip is already formed and being solidified. John favors getting the pistol up high into the plane of the eyes as quickly as possible, so that as the arms press out the sights can be aligned and the shot taken the moment full extension is reached.
On the reload, the support-hand assist method for those of us with smaller hands was recommended (using the support hand to cant the pistol slightly to allow the firing hand thumb to reach the magazine release), as was keeping the pistol level until the empty magazine is clear of the magazine well. Then point the magazine well toward the magazine pouch, index the magazine with the index finger of the support-hand on the front spine of the magazine and point it toward the magazine well. I should note that the firing arm elbow/upper arm would be indexed against the torso for stability and consistency and the pistol in the workspace just below the line of sight on the target; nothing floating “out there”. With the magazine seated, the support-hand thumb can actuate the slide-stop lever and then immediately get back on the gun.
Stance—although I always feel like I am leaning forward enough, I was not. I was too straight up and down, which in turn means that my upper body moves backwards slightly with each shot. I need to bend my knees more and lean forward more. My shoulders also needed to be rolled forward more.
Grip—I should note that I came to this class with the specific desire to work on my grip, because I knew deep down that it was in some way “flawed”. My firing thumb was pushing too hard on my support hand thumb base, my support hand was not angled forward enough and the heel of that hand was too far forward. I was also not utilizing enough of the push-pull. I would say that, based on the video (and of no surprise to me), my grip was my biggest issue.
Presentation—mine was one of the better in the class but still a little too low, making me hunt for my sights for too long at the end of the presentation. Sure enough, on the clock, from the time I cleared my holster to being at full presentation was .79 seconds. I should have taken that shot at .79 seconds. But instead I had about another .22 seconds of aligning the sights. Presenting the gun higher into what John calls the “shooting box” would allow me to align my sights during the presentation, meaning that I could take the shot as soon as I reached full extension.
Reload—Operating from concealment, I got a lousy grip on my second magazine, but still made it work. I just didn’t have the proper index with my index finger on the front spine. Usually I do, I just happened not to this time. I held the pistol a little too low, out of the “workspace”, and also used the firing hand thumb to operate the slide release, which in turn meant that my support hand had to then fight that thumb to get back into position. John advocates utilizing the support-hand thumb to actuate the slide release.
These are just a few of the issues that John found in my video. Wow. To get an idea of the type of feedback, based on the video, that the students get from John, watch this video.
After we were done with all of the video coaching, John then reviewed with us “the pie chart” and how incorrect it is and why. You know “the pie chart”, right? This one:
He then gave us a version of what is shown in this video (he didn’t write on his truck for ours!).
John then outlined the keys to success and reading a target. Almost all of our issues would come down to grip (diagonal stringing of shots due to poor push-pull), stance (vertical stringing of shots due to recoil pushing the body back and then the body fighting back), wobble (rare, but exemplified with horizontal stringing of shots), all shots to one side or other (index of the pistol in the hand) and anticipation (low shots). He gave us what was essentially this same explanation.
Now, I mentioned that this was a pure marksmanship class. Perhaps a better term would be a pure mechanics class. We were not shooting B-8s at 25 yards, and almost all of our shooting was at 3-5 yards. But, even at that distance and looking at our groups (some tighter than others), we could see how our shots would skew along the vertical or diagonal and know exactly what we were doing wrong.
Before we did any shooting, however, John wanted to put to rest the idea of jerking the trigger. John’s belief is that trigger jerk is a myth and can be explained by a combination of several different factors, none of which is actually jerking the trigger. To prove this, he had one student aim his pistol at the target using the best grip possible but with finger off the trigger. John then inserted a socket wrench into the trigger guard and hit the socket wrench as hard as he could. The result? A cloverleaf group on the target. Clearly, with a proper grip, the trigger can be pressed in any manner and still have the rounds hit where the sights are pointed. Now do you think grip is important? I do!
To further illustrate the importance of grip, John performed this drill for us as well (this video from YouTube from another SOB class). The results were one ragged hole.
John then had each of us, one at a time, draw our pistols quickly in order to check our index. From watching the videos earlier, he felt like some of us might be having index issues, but it is tough to tell from a side view. By index, he meant how the pistol actually sits in the hand, with the barrel aligned with the bones in the arm. Sure enough, most of us had index issues. To fix this, he manipulated the pistols in our hands until they were indexed correctly, and then drew a line on the web between thumb and forefinger of the firing hand right where the middle of the beavertail on the backstrap should be. I might replace that Sharpie mark with a tattoo! Why has no one ever done this for me before?
We spent the next 91 rounds shooting just a few drills. We started with slow strings of five rounds, one at a time, with John making adjustments to our grip and stance as we were shooting/about to shoot. We then shot strings of five rounds in unison with John making the rounds making further adjustments as needed. After every string, we had to diagnose our targets, which was easy enough with his coaching.
The final 40 rounds was fired in a collective walkback/walkforward drill, where we shot together and the student with the smallest overall group would win (I believe the prize was a Vertx bag). We started at about 3 yards, then 5, then 7, then 10, then 10 again, then 7, then 5, then 3, shooting 5 rounds at each position. If not for one errant round a little low-left, I would have won. That one round cost me, and two other students had better groups. He had them perform a shoot-off on a piece of steel down range, and after 2-3 rounds each, a winner was determined.
I fired a total of 135 rounds in this class. That’s it. I was taught long ago to try to learn something from every round you fire in practice. In no class I have ever taken was this put into better practice than this one. I left the class eager to get to a range to begin correctly practicing all of the things I learned. I also should note that John informed us that our videos would be emailed to us (five in all: the original video and then the four videos breaking down our stance, grip, presentation, and reload) so that we would always have it to work from and build upon. I got my videos late on Tuesday night, about 30 hours after the class ended.
I should note that the class ended with a quick roundtable discussion where we each took turns answering two questions: what did we get out of the class, and what would we change? My answers were that I wish this had been one of the first classes I had taken and that I got a TON out of the class. In answer to the second question, I would not change a thing. My expectations were met. I should note here that, pondering more on the ride home, I just wish that we had had a bit more time to get some more repetitions of each of the drills we had done in order to help solidify them in mind and body. Perhaps in a longer version of the class I would like to do more reload practice and also some single-hand work. But overall, it was a great class.
I cannot emphasize enough how great it was to work under the instruction of John. He is funny, smart, and super-duper knowledgeable. Like most of the ex-Tier One instructors with whom I have trained, I would describe him as confident but very laid back and approachable. There were no questions asked that he did not have answers for; he seems to truly be someone who has “seen it all” and, therefore, knows which answers go with which issues.
Although the course was not cheap ($375 for a single-day class), I feel like it was worth every penny, and I might look into taking the course (or its two-day version) in the future to see if I have successfully “fixed” my issues and see what new ones have appeared!
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments about this class, please comment below or on our Facebook page. We always love to hear from our readers.