Imagine you had the chance to learn chess from Bobby Fischer, sculpting from Michelangelo, acting from Robert De Niro, or football coaching from Vince Lombardi. Suppose you had the chance to spend 20+ hours immersed in their worlds, learning as much as they could cram into your head in that amount of time. If you had an interest in their disciplines, you would do it, wouldn’t you?
Though a tired cliché, Massad Ayoob of Massad Ayoob Group is someone who truly needs no introduction. If you are reading this and have never heard of him, well, to borrow from the late Pat Rogers, slap yourself in the face and then visit Google. Ayoob, or Mas as he introduces himself, is the human foundation upon which virtually all other instructors have—knowingly or unknowingly—built their own structures. I have magazines in my basement containing articles he wrote 30 years ago. His reputation is, as best I can tell, unquestioned and untarnished. As far as I am concerned, the man is Yoda.
This particular class has been hosted several years in a row in Northern Virginia by a man I consider one of my mentors, John Murphy of FPF Training. If memory serves, in 2016 and 2017 the class took place on Super Bowl weekend, and, well, I just couldn’t. Shame on me. This year, the class was presented one week later. Still, I must admit, as much as I was tempted, I did not “pull the trigger”. There was nothing that sounded sexy about sitting in a hotel conference room for 20 hours listening to someone lecture about what to do after a shooting. Several of my prior instructors—including Murphy—had at least touched on this topic, and I had also done plenty of reading on this subject. Also, in planning out my 2018 training calendar, I did not necessarily have $400 to pony up to drop on this course. As I sit to write this, 24 hours after the class ended, I can confirm that there was nothing sexy about sitting in a hotel conference room for 20 hours listening to a self-professed monotone talk about these topics. But…..there is nothing sexy about shooting someone, either. And if we choose to spend so much time learning how to survive the fight, should we not also spend some time learning how to survive the fight that comes after the fight?
As luck would have it, I have a guardian angel. This angel contacted me just weeks ago and said, “How’d you like to take Ayoob’s class for free? For realz.” I am not a super-emotional person, but I am not exaggerating when I say that my eyes are welling up as I type this, for opportunities like this do not come often to me or, presumably, to many. And it is one thing to be gifted a class, but it is something else to be gifted a class that can be life-altering.
Folks, I have received lots of feedback over the last few years about the after-action reviews I have written, and I am quite certain they are a reason many people visit us here on the blog. But let me just say this: During this class, I took 21 pages (over 9000 words) of notes on my laptop, and if this was a course I had taken earlier in my journey, I could have easily doubled that. It is going to take me a WHILE to distill all of that information. Plus, about a quarter of the class was proprietary information that I most certainly will not post for public consumption here on the blog (or anywhere). Even then, I do not think that the remainder really belongs in an AAR like this.
The class was held at the Holiday Inn Express in Springfield, Virginia. Thirty students attended; I believe four of those 30 were women. I am not going to go through any of my gear (although I was carrying a Glock 26!).
Training Day One
The class began at 0815 with a brief introduction by John Murphy, and then we got to work. It was explained to us that we would be in class until about 1830-1900 both days, depending on questions, and that included a working lunch (a TRUE working lunch. If you take this class, do not count on running out to Subway for a sandwich. There is NO lunch break.). Mas provided us with a brief autobiography and explained some of the rationale for this course.
In beginning the instruction, certain themes began to emerge. First, the ability (and necessity) to document EVERYTHING we have learned in training (and when) is critical. Why? Because we will be judged by criteria you may have heard about before: was your response reasonable to the specific situation given what you knew at that time? Mas suggested documenting everything (your course notes, books you have read, articles you have read, YouTube videos you have watched, etc.), stuff all of that information into a large envelope (or box, if necessary) and send it via registered mail to your lawyer or other trusted person, to be kept unopened until needed (in court). Update via the same method as needed over time as more knowledge is gained. Incredibly, but not surprisingly, Mas did not claim credit for this idea (and throughout the course, he always gave credit when due to others).
Another theme was that of common sense. Your fate may ultimately be decided by a jury. Accordingly, your story and all of the little details have to appeal to common sense. The jury “of your peers” will not be made up of regular readers of this blog, for example, but average people who only know things about guns and crime from movies and television. So you and your team must educate them and appeal to common sense.
A third theme interwoven throughout the course was a basic rule of warfare. You must predict the attack and put appropriate countermeasures into place. This theme was pervasive. For example, if you shoot a home invader with your AR-15, you must be prepared to answer, in court, why the AR was your chosen home defense weapon. If you shot someone with Speer Gold Dot hollowpoint “man-killing bullets”, you must be prepared to explain why you chose that ammunition, all the time appealing to the common sense outlined above.
A note here about Ayoob’s teaching style. First, it might surprise our readers to learn that a large percentage of what he lectured was actually on video! Yes, that is right, we were often watching him on video even though he was right there in the room with us. I must say, as a teacher, his rationale for this was EXCELLENT. The rationale was that sometimes, as a teacher, you might be led in an important but nevertheless tangential direction in a class. Then you look at the clock and discover, “Holy crap! We never got to the stuff I wanted to cover!” This has happened to me countless times (almost daily). Mas wanted a way to ensure that a class today will definitely cover the same material as a class next week across the country and a class a year later someplace else. Given the subject matter, this is critical, and I could find no fault with it. We would watch a video lecture for 20-40 minutes, then Mas would come up for Q&A, followed by a short break, and then repeat the process.
When in front of the class, all I can say is: why wasn’t Mas one of my professors in college????? Seriously. I went to a very good college and in four years had perhaps one professor who had such encyclopedic knowledge coupled with a great delivery style. Mas may engage in self-deprecation when it comes to his deep, monotone voice, but the man changed up accents—as needed to lend authenticity to stories—from southern drawl to Brooklynese to country bumpkin to rabid thug! I possess a genuine gift in my ability to impersonate the mannerisms and voices of those I meet, but I think Mas might have me beat! At no time in all the hours we sat in class did I find my mind wandering to other things. I was riveted.
On day one, the class also went in a few directions I did not anticipate. For example, I had no inkling that we would cover topics like the psychological effects of self-defense situations. We did not just touch on post-traumatic stress disorder and then move on. We spent quite a lot of time on this topic, covering things like how your friends might treat you afterwards (and how you should treat a friend who goes through this), relationships at work, symptoms you might experience, and things to be wary about. I did not take as many notes during this segment, because the population of students with which I work is like a laboratory full of these issues. Nevertheless, I appreciated the time spent on this topic, and I am sure those less-versed on these topics got even more out of it.
Other topics covered on the first day included judicious use of force, priority of survival, standards of proof, affirmative defense, furtive movements, and shooting fleeing felons (when is this “allowable”?). This does not sound like much. It was. Each of these segments took several hours to cover, as there were examples upon examples. Mas would describe to us how one person said this or did this and how it worked, while another person screwed this up and is now serving life without parole. Like any good teacher, he did not just explain what to do; he always explained the why. Mas has been in this business a long time and has been involved (as an expert witness and consultant) on many of the most high-profile use-of-force court cases around the country over the last 30 years. It would be enough—for me–for him to simply say, “Do this. Don’t do this.” Yet he felt compelled to always tell us why, and I am sure that we all appreciated that.
If we did not cover enough on this first day, we also got homework assignments! Yes, that is correct, after ten and a half hours of lectures and Q&A, we received a bunch of handouts to read overnight.
Training Day Two
Training day two again started around 0830 with a few announcements from Murphy, and then Mas got right into it with Q&A for anyone who thought of questions from the day before. Several of these questions led to a bit of a tangent about gun control in general (culture issues, etc.), the stupidity of strolling into Starbucks with a slung AR-15 “because I can” (which is the language of a bully), why using handloaded defensive ammunition is a bad idea, and the best brands/types of ammunition for self-defense (Mas, with so many connections around the country “on the street”, can give up-to-date information on what loads are enjoying good success). Other advice included avoiding anything that could be construed as “wannabe cop syndrome”, avoiding modifications to the trigger weight or safety mechanisms of your firearms, and by all means not using Punisher skulls, zombie stuff, or other Rambo-esque designs on your firearms.
The next segment dealt with what Mas calls “Myths About Self-Defense”, and there were nine in all. These ranged from the old “stick a knife in the dead guy’s hand” to “pretend you’re having a heart attack after the shooting so you’ll go to the hospital instead of the police station.” Mas, in typical style, dispelled all of these myths and dubious advice, always focusing on that appeal to common sense. Amazing how that theme permeating all aspects of the two days.
After some more Q&A about things like the Mozambique Drill and pelvic shots, we moved into the proprietary information. This encompassed about one-fourth of the course. As noted earlier, I am not going to go into what this was, or even the overall topic of what it covered. However, there was one part of this presentation that Mas specifically stated he wanted us all to get out there, and the topic in question is how to interact with investigating officers at the scene and immediately thereafter. Five key points are:
- Establish the Active Dynamic—what happened, what led to the shooting? The basics, what the perpetrator did that forced you to use deadly force. “He is the bad guy, I am the victim.”
- Make a Statement–to the effect that you will sign a complaint. Do not say “I will press charges”. In some jurisdictions, the prosecutor is the only person who can press charges, and you might sound delusional like you think YOU are prosecutor. “I will sign a complaint” is the terminology used throughout the country.
- Point Out The Evidence—evidence disappears, can move, can be perishable, etc. “There’s the knife/gun he had, next to that car.”
- Point Out The Witnesses—people don’t always want to get involved. Witnesses will disappear. “I think that woman in the green sweater saw it all happen.”
- Politely Explain–that you’ll be happy to answer further questions and provide FULL cooperation after you’ve consulted with counsel. Politely!!!! Check your machismo. This is a lousy time to say “I know my rights!” Don’t try to beat the cops at their game.
This is not a script, but all of these boxes should get checked, using your own words, in order to help avoid issues down the road.
Mas finished out the course with some helpful information about how to choose an attorney, what to expect post-event in terms of being handcuffed, perhaps thrown to the ground, put in the jail, how bail/bond works, and, perhaps best of all, how to contact Mas if you have been thrust into this situation. For one of the side benefits of this course (as if one was really necessary) is that, if you are involved in what Mas determines was a legitimate use of force case (i.e, you did not shoot someone while you were holding up the local Stop N Rob!), he will provide free expert assistance with your case, including testimony, if needed. We did some final Q&A, had the awarding of certificates, said our goodbyes, and I was out the door at exactly 1900. Twenty-one hours of instruction. Wow.
There was one other moment of note I wanted to mention. Near the end of the class, in discussing how gun owners are now looked down upon in American media as a bunch of uneducated bumpkins, Mas did a little “experiment”. He asked all of those in the class with Doctor of Medicine or Ph.Ds to come to the front of the room. Five students self-reported as such. Thus, as he showed us, fully one-sixth of this class was made up of students with some sort of doctorate-level degree. Enter a college campus, a government office building, or even a hospital, and you will not likely find one-sixth of the adults in that location with a doctorate-level of education. The message: do not let the media cast responsible gun-owners in such a light.
I would love to be able to list and describe every little thing covered in this class (except the proprietary information, of course). However, as the reader can see, this is already quite long, and my goal was more to provide some insight into what broader topics were covered as well as some look into how Mas presents the information. Mas is as knowledgeable as anyone can be about any topic, and is a hoot to boot. There was never a doubt in my mind that he had the best interests of all thirty students in mind, and I am sure he hopes he never sees any of us again unless it’s in a future class, a competitive shooting match, or just running into one at a hotel restaurant and then enjoying a Rolling Rock together. In short, I wish I had taken this course sooner, as it would have disabused me of at least a few notions and provided a more solid framework upon which to build the rest of my training resume. If you are new to the blog and/or new to training, you truly owe it to yourself to make this (or his longer MAG 40 class, which includes live-fire instruction) one of the very first classes you take (and please note that Mas turns 70 later this year. He won’t be doing this forever.). Collectively, we need to train to avoid the fight, train to win the fight if it cannot be avoided, train to fix ourselves if injured during the fight, and train to survive the fight that takes place after the fight.
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse.