It has reached the point in the training industry where there is no shortage of “Combative Handgun” or “Carbine Operator” courses. Indeed, I often have to make hard decisions between different such courses offered. However, there are not many instructors out there, in my experience, who choose to offer different things that would probably prove a lot more useful to the average civilian. Chuck Haggard of Agile Training and Consulting is one of those rare instructors who offers classes beyond the norm. Indeed, the meaning behind the name of his company is that he can maintain the “agility” to offer whatever his clients need or want.
As it happens, Chuck has developed quite the reputation as a pepper spray instructor (he is one of the only instructors I know of who offers a Pepper Spray Instructor Course, which was offered the day before this class at the same venue). By his own recollection, he has sprayed more than 300 subjects in the line of duty (Topeka Kansas Police Department), and he has been sprayed as part of various trainings over 60 times. It should not be surprising that, based on all of that experience, he has figured out which products, tactics, and techniques work and which do not.
I have heard Chuck on several podcasts over the years (he has been a guest on Ballistic Radio–including this episode specifically about pepper spray–as well as Civilian Carry Radio), and he always delivers what I would call grounded, sensible advice. My first experience with Chuck in person was at the very first seminar I attended at the 2017 Rangemaster Tactical Conference, his two-hour block on pepper spray use entitled “Between A Harsh Word and a Gun”. Pleased with his delivery but wanting even more, I jumped at the chance to train with him again when I saw he had several offerings close to home.
As just noted, Chuck offered two classes over this weekend: his Pepper Spray Instructor Course, and a separate Civilian Pepper Spray and Flashlight Use Course. I was a bit torn as to which course to take, but since I am not at this point an instructor in any self-defense matters and am always interested in more low-light instruction, I decided on the latter.
The class was hosted by Annette Evans of Race Street Range. Annette is the author of “The Dry-Fire Primer”, is a competitive shooter, training junkie (I recall her attendance at same MAG20 course I took back in February), and is becoming quite the host. Earlier this year she hosted both Tom Givens and Rob Haught (at off-site, outdoor ranges), and next year (you heard it here first!) will be hosting all of the Shivworks Collective (Craig Douglas, William Aprill, Cecil Burch, Chris Fry, Paul Sharp, and Larry Lindenman). The Race Street Range facility, located just a few minutes from the Philadelphia airport, is physically still a work in progress. The uppermost floor includes the offices and some classrooms and is largely “finished”. The basement is currently a raw, open space reminiscent of a dungeon (okay, more like a warehouse), and is where we did most of our practical exercises. I did not get a look at the main floor.
Cost of the class was $200, which I paid in full. I also purchased a signed copy of Annette’s book ($10) while I was there. I will note here that I am in no way associated with Chuck Haggard, Agile Training and Consulting, Annette Evans, or the Race Street Range except as a satisfied, paying customer.
Class got under way at 0900 with student introductions. There were 13 students in the class and among them were a few notables: Tom from Dark Star Gear, Jon from Phlster, and Jeff Bloovman of Armed Dynamics and Practically Tactical. Also among the students was at least one police officer as well as Annette’s 17 year-old cousin. Talk about a “wow” first class! This is the second time this year that I have had younger students in class (one father brought his son and daughter to this class….I cannot imagine having a Chuck Haggard or a Darryl Bolke as my first instructor….talk about starting a leg up!). All of the students in class were male.
After Chuck went through his own background, he gave us a rough outline of the day. Because more than half the class had been there the day before for the Pepper Spray Instructor course, Chuck said he would be going through the pepper spray portion of the class relatively quickly before moving on to practical exercises and then the flashlight use portion of the course. Chuck provided paper copies of the PowerPoint slides he was about to share with us.
The presentation began with the “why” of pepper spray use. Chuck went through other less lethal self-defense tools like batons, stun guns, tasers, and saps and why pepper spray is superior in nearly every way. I was also happy that he shared his rationale for why using wasp spray as a self-defense tool is misguided and foolish (see John’s article here which outlines the very same reasons Chuck shared with us.).
Chuck then went through descriptions of the different types of “riot” agents available, such as CN, CS, DM, etc., the primary uses, effects, and ingredients of each, and why, for civilian purposes, pepper spray (or OC, for Oleoresin Capsicum) is the best. Some of the history of pepper spray was also outlined, as was the fact that there is a lack of uniformity of descriptors when it comes to defining the strength of pepper spray. We also reviewed the types of solvents used in pepper spray, propellants used, the “shape” of the spray (cone, stream, gel, etc.) and the pros and cons of each. Naturally, we also covered deployment best practices as well as the efficacy of pepper spray on different people. One highlight was our viewing of a surveillance camera recording of Chuck actually pepper spraying a suspect while he was still on the street as a uniformed police officer.
While some of the above was review from the block of instruction I had received at TacCon in 2017, there was some additional information. Also, everything presented was very well-organized and quite thorough.
We broke for an hour-long early lunch at around 1130. After lunch, everyone de-armed and placed all live guns, ammunition, blades, and sprays into a locked office. We then moved downstairs to the dungeon where we took turns frisking each other to be sure no one had live weapons of any kind.
We started out with what for most people was a review of Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC), something codified over the years most eloquently by Craig Douglas. Chuck and the aforementioned Jeff Bloovman then did some demonstrations (Chuck played the guy with bad intentions) of how people approach, what cues or “tells” they provide (target glancing, grooming, plucking at clothing, weight shifts, etc.). As Chuck would feed Jeff cues, Jeff, in the middle of his verbiage (“I’ve got nothing for you”, etc.) would also call out “cue”, “cue”. We then paired up with each other and got to practice both halves of this equation.
Next, using inert, water-filled training versions of various pepper spray dispensers, Chuck and Jeff demonstrated the effective range and best usage of these devices. We then got to pair up with new partners and practice utilizing our MUC tactics with the usage of the inert pepper spray, switching roles from time to time so we all got the chance to try out our accuracy with the sprays.
After a short break, Chuck then started showing us some of what we would need to know in the second portion of the course. Chuck spent most of his law enforcement career on the night shift, which makes him particularly well-suited to covering this material. Though officially labeled “flashlight use”, the class became, in essence, a truncated version of Craig Douglas’ “Armed Movement in Structures” (AMIS) course, which I took back in 2016. So we began in the dungeon with dummy pistols reviewing how to move with a pistol in and around potential bad guys, pushing it out and pulling it in depending on our distance from the bad guy. So we did everything from pressed out at full extension all the way back into a true retention position with an elbow spear with the support-side arm while the strong hand aims the gun from a high pectoral index.
Chuck also took some time here to show us different flashlight positions, favoring the FBI or modified-FBI for searching and then the neck/cheek index or Harries positions when shooting. One of the keys when searching, as described by Chuck, is to use the light in a chaotic fashion so as to mask your own movement and be unpredictable. In so doing, the light needs to be activated in quick bursts of different durations, from different angles, with long and short pauses, etc. Too often people THINK they know what they are doing and activate the light for a second, then off for a second, then on, then off, but the light patterns are predictable and allow the “bad guy” to figure out where you are, what you are looking at, and what progress you are making. I will also note here that Chuck definitely falls into the camp of wanting “all the lumens” possible for his light.
We then moved upstairs to the classroom/office area and were able to break up into small groups to work different problems of searching and moving through a structure. Pieing corners and utilizing depth as well as unorthodox searching and shooting positions were covered. We got to take turns being good guy and bad guy on searches and practiced working both corner-fed and center-fed rooms. We used our lights a bit, but there was still plenty of ambient light filtering through the windows at this point (probably around 1430 on the clock), so it was more practice at this point. Chuck was right there to examine situations we found ourselves in and answer questions/provide demonstrations throughout. The importance of being able to operate your pistol bilaterally (with either hand) was stressed. As Chuck said, “If you can’t be effective with either hand, you have work to do.” Normally it’s not much of an issue for two-handed shooting around a piece of cover using an isosceles stance, but with a light in one hand and needing to assume all sorts of unorthodox positions, I could see his point.
We also took some time during this portion to work on what Craig Douglas refers to as the “don’t shoot yet” problem. This was something that was covered quite extensively in AMIS, and I was happy to get some more work on this. Much of this work centers on the verbal challenges and commands you will provide when you find someone who is not where he is supposed to be, and MAY need to be shot, but also may not need to be shot. The emphasis was placed on command voice and providing clear instructions that cannot be misinterpreted: “STOP!”, “DON’T MOVE!”, etc.
After another break we returned to the dungeon, lights out in pretty much complete darkness, to practice searching through a couple of doorways available down there. Again, slow movement and the chaotic light movements were stressed along with the clear verbiage outlined above. We once again each got to play the role of searcher and “searchee”. It was great to play both roles so that we could see, in near total darkness, how hard it is to pinpoint the location of the searcher if he is using the chaotic light movements properly. Chuck also took a few moments to again demonstrate how to mask movements when crossing an opening, such as a doorway, and also how to “quick peek” through an opening—using a light—without getting shot.
We finished the day with what I would call value-added: how to work a stairway. This was something I never got to in prior coursework, including AMIS, and Chuck did a great job of showing us the immense difficulties that come with trying to clear a multi-floor (by that I mean more than two) staircase as a solo operator or even as a pair. I took it upon myself, at one point, to go to the top of the stairwell and play bad guy for Chuck while he demonstrated for the rest of the class. Using the laser on my SIRT pistol, I was able several times to “laze” his feet, legs, etc., as he was trying to get into position to even SEE me. In short, stairways are a shit sandwich and there’s no eating around the edges.
With that, we headed back upstairs and got re-armed and packed up and ready to leave. I believe some students went out to dinner with Chuck, but I had to decline as I needed to get home. I rolled out of the parking lot at 1800.
Gear for the class was minimal. I brought two flashlights but only used my Fenix PD-35 as outlined in this article. I brought along some spare batteries as well, of course. I brought both an ASP Red Gun (Glock 19) as well as my SIRT gun, but only used the SIRT gun. I used my Raven Concealment Eidolon holster.
I should note that I was suffering from a pretty bad cold during this class, so I was not as talkative and social as I might otherwise have been. This was a shame as I would have liked to talk with Tom, Jon, Jeff, and Annette (not to mention Chuck!) a bit more than I did. I just did not feel like myself and also did not want to spread whatever mutant germs my daughter gave me the week before.
There was a lot packed into this 8 hour class. I thought Chuck did a great job of giving the class what they wanted, which was basically a little bit of everything. When I thought about the class during my drive home, it occurred to me that it was largely a combination of the pepper spray seminar of Chuck’s that I attended at TacCon in 2017 (with the addition of the actual spraying of each other with the training versions), Armed Movement in Structures with Craig Douglas, and the Managing Unknown Contacts information covered by instructors like Craig and John Murphy. However, though a fair amount was review for me, there was also plenty of new stuff that I took away from the course, such as how to integrate my light with pepper spray, the effective range of different types of sprays (cone vs. stream), how a narrow hallway used by a searcher can affect which parts of a room he can best see into, and how to “clear” a staircase. Throughout, much like how Craig framed AMIS, Chuck emphasized that solo-structure clearing is not “safe”. There are “safer” ways to go about things, but that does not make it “safe”. Nevertheless, there may be occasions where we are forced to do so, and knowing how to do it, how best to use our lights, and how to utilize pepper spray “on the street” all made this class very much worthwhile, and I feel like my time and money were well-spent.
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