As Robert mentioned in Part 1, last weekend, I was able to attend the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference, held at the NOLATAC Training Center just outside of New Orleans, LA. Despite the crappy weather and hotel screw ups, I’m always happy to go down south, especially considering that my father was born and raised in Louisiana and that I still have family in Louisiana. My roots to the Deep South run deep indeed.
Robert didn’t mention it in his AAR, but we flew in the day before the conference started and spent our free afternoon visiting the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. One could easily take two days or more to fully appreciate the museum, and I plan to bring my family back someday when my kids are old enough to appreciate the exhibits and learn about an epic period of world history. We only had a few hours, but we managed to make the most of our visit as we wandered through the exhibits. If you go, definitely purchase the ticket that includes the 4D movie.
I won’t belabor the hotel SNAFU’s, but suffice to say, had we been able to find a better place, I would have changed our reservations. Robert already described the apparent aftermath that Greg Ellifritz found upon checking into a different hotel, and he did wind up changing hotels. Can’t make this stuff up. That first night, Robert and I wound up staying in what I would judge to be the worst room in the entire hotel, and despite being billed as a “no smoking” hotel, the room reeked to the point that my eyes burned. Fortunately enough, my profound fatigue from the day’s travel made the worn fold out cot irrelevant. At that point, I would have taken the couch.
Friday, March 15th
The conference proper started at 0800 on Friday, March 15th. Robert and I arrived at the gates to the facility around 0700 and had ample time to register and familiarize ourselves with the complex. Like Robert, I chose to spend the first morning listening to Dr. Sherman House discuss what he called the “MacGyver School of Medicine: Improvised Trauma Care.” I have an emergency medical background, so for me, this was more to see what Dr. House had to offer and finally get to formally meet him. We have crossed paths at previous events and somehow never met, despite being aware of each other’s blogs. I was happy to finally meet him, and I must confess a newfound appreciation of the ubiquitous triangle bandage! Please do check out his blog and the classes he offers. Prior to adopting the “Civilian Defender” moniker, Dr. House’s blog was titled “Revolver Science.” While his career is in dental surgery and medicine, he is also well acquainted with the gun side of the house, no pun intended!
Early on during his presentation, someone made the astute suggestion that we move inside into the social tent to get some relief from the wind and impending rain. This was a welcome change that was accomplished in short order. Dr. House’s presentation was well organized, easy to follow, and quite informative. Dr. House used both lecture and some interactive scenarios to teach the material. I didn’t stick around for all the hands on material, instead ducking out shortly after Robert left to shoot the match. I am comfortable with my medical skill set and really wanted to at least watch Cecil Burch’s presentation taking place next door.
Cecil Burch is a definite SME in grappling in a weapons based environment. While he was presenting multiple blocks of instruction at Tac-Con this year, the one that I was most interested in and able to watch was “Just Enough Jits.” I didn’t catch the first few minutes of introduction and wound up only watching, but I was able to take copious notes. This seminar specifically dealt with how to regain one’s footing if knocked to the ground in a scuffle. I was impressed with Burch’s ability to teach a robust skill set that relies on simple proven movements. Burch is a member of the Shivworks Collective, and his experience shows. Moreover, his presentation convinced me of the need to train with him in the future. In hindsight, I’m glad I was able to watch and take notes that I probably wouldn’t have been otherwise able to while rolling around on the ground.
After a BBQ lunch from a food truck on site, I chose to listen to Darryl Bolke’s “Mission Drives the Gear Train” presentation. I am an unabashed fan of Bolke’s teachings, and it was a priority for me on the schedule of presentations. In a nearly two hour lecture, Bolke really put gear into perspective and proper context for the armed citizen. His predictions about the future ideological environment in this country are both distressing and probably realistic. Being prepared for that potentially dystopian future is requisite. Do you know how to run a lever gun or shotgun? Do you know the manual of arms for a revolver or even own a revolver? Even today, in certain parts of the United States, the political and judicial context may dictate that those are the best tools to rely on. There were other aspects of Bolke’s presentation that I’m not going to disclose in a public forum, but it is no understatement to say that he covered the entire spectrum of gear selection for the armed citizen in a variety of environs. Good thought provoking stuff… If you’re not already, you should be following his Facebook presence at “DB’s Shooting Adventures.”
To end the day, I kept my seat in the tent for John Holschen’s “Surviving the Extreme Event.” Having been thoroughly impressed with his “Animated Targets” range session last year, this was another definite on my agenda at Tac-Con this year. Holschen laid out some best practices to rely on when confronted with extreme events such as active shooters, bombings, and CBRN events. His examples and strategies were compelling and relevant, and he included recent events to establish a framework. With a little extra time at the end, he included a second presentation on some basic tactical principles. Both Robert and I had the good fortune to spend a little time with Holschen outside of the conference, and I can unequivocally state that he is on my short list of trainers to take instruction from. Holschen owns an indoor range in Washington State, and I highly suggest that you seek out his training classes. I’m going to do so, even if I have to travel to do so.
The first night of Tac-Con, Brannon LeBouef, owner of the NOLATAC Training Center, had arranged for a free crawfish boil in the social tent, donated by U.S. LawShield. The last time I remember having crawfish was on a dive trip to Gulf Shores, AL and I was grateful for the free food and opportunity to meet other attendees. Notable for me, I was able to meet professional journalist Michael Bane, who I happen to share a hometown with. I also met Rob Morse, who writes the SlowFacts blog.
Thankfully, that night the hotel was able to move us to the room that we had originally reserved. As it was, during the day we had no less than three people familiar with the area advise us that where we were staying was indeed the best option. Use discretion if you should ever find yourself in the area!
Saturday, March 16th
The next morning found me on an inundated range for a repeat of a class that Robert had attended the day before, Paul Sharp’s “Recoil Management.” Did I mention that it had rained a lot?
Despite the weather, Sharp (another member of the Shivworks Collective) delivered an excellent block of instruction. One of the first things he demonstrated to us was that while grip strength is ideal, it is not necessarily requisite and that proper technique can go a long way. Sharp had us pair off, with one student shooting, and the other coaching the shooter. He had us do a lot of dry fire at first, to instill the concepts in a stair step approach. By virtue of where I was standing in the line, I wound up being called up for Sharp to demonstrate the drills. This was just luck, and I was happy to oblige. I definitely got to see what he was trying to impart to us up close and personal! (Photo credit to a blog reader who snapped the photos and sent them to me that night.)
One of the interesting points that Paul brought up is that he has in the past had to learn how to mitigate recoil through proper technique when he was injured and his grip strength was compromised. This was a major takeaway for me and gives me some hope given my prior shoulder injury and chronic elbow pain. The grip exercises do tend to fatigue one’s arms rather quickly, but this reinforces the concept of treating going to the range as a trip to the gym where you’re going to do work (a concept that I first took away from training with Darryl Bolke). I was fortunate to be partnered with a skilled shooter, and I definitely need to spend some more time on learning how to coach shooters. I’m not an instructor, but among many of my friends, I’m the “gun guy.” To my surprise, we fired less than 100 rounds, but I’m not terribly concerned about low round count in classes, especially given how much dry work we did at first. In the Q&A at the end of the session, a student asked about Mas Ayoob’s wedge grip that Sharp had briefly mentioned earlier. As luck would have it, Mas Ayoob was on the line and was kind enough to step forward and give a brief bonus lesson on handgun grip.
Finally, I was glad to meet Paul Gardner, another participant in Sharp’s class. If you don’t know who he is, go read this.
Also of note that morning, I was able to introduce myself to legendary trainer John Farnam as the author of this post that I wrote that caused a bit of controversy. Farnam is gracious to a fault, and a true gentleman. Anyone would do well to train with him.
Sharp’s class had ended a few minutes early, so I was able to step into the session that Robert was attending, Tom Givens’ “Home Invasions: What You Need to Know” just long enough to take note of a salient summary point, that you should make your home difficult to get into, noisy to get into, and have a gun quickly accessible for defense.
After another BBQ lunch, I was off to Dr. William Aprill’s “The Five W’s of Risk.” I can sum up this very informative lecture with one very apropos quote. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Unfortunately, my match time fell right in the middle of the presentation, so I had to step out for almost 45 minutes. But what I was able to see was enough to convince me to seek out some more training from Dr. Aprill. There is a lot of scary stuff in the world and this man excels at pulling off the blinders and educating willing participants on the dangers they face every day, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Dr. Aprill is also a member of the Shivworks Collective.
As far as the match was concerned, I did not shoot well or up to my own standards. What really cost me was dropping two shots entirely outside of the silhouette. I made all the times, but not all the hits. I was much happier with my performance last year. Nonetheless, I still managed to place 65th out of 134 shooters, and my score was overall above the average. I’ll take it. I don’t consider it particularly relevant to my shooting, but the match range was essentially a pit of mud and muck. Earlier in the morning, one of the Tac-Con attendees had been able to hop on a skid-steer and cut a drainage trench. I would have hated to see the range prior to that, for it must have virtually been underwater. While a match is not a gunfight, both are come as you are, so I don’t ascribe too much to the range conditions. I just had a bad day. While I feel a lot better about my grip these days, I do still need to work on establishing it at speed.
For the last session of the day, I chose to attend Karl Rehn’s “Correcting Common Shooting Errors.” As I am continually seeking improvement in my own abilities, this session was of particular interest to me. Rehn is a very accomplished shooter and instructor, and I have learned something from everything I’ve seen him present so far. There were several interesting takeaways for me from this session, including the opportunity to measure my own grip grip strength in both hands using a digital dynamometer grip strength meter that Rehn passed around. Much to my surprise and relief, I found that I had more than adequate grip strength to use a thumbs forward grip on a pistol (60 lbs. is the threshold identified by Rehn). There was also a representative from CoolFire Trainer in the tent, and I was finally able to pull the trigger on a gun equipped with the CoolFire device. I think there may be one in my future, as it is an awesome training adjunct. I have been aware of CoolFire for quite some time, but had never seen one in person before. I also took the opportunity to order a signed copy of Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training, Rehn’s new book that he co-authored with John Daub. The book is available on Amazon right now (follow the link above), and promises to be a good read for students and instructors of the gun.
Sunday, March 17th
I started off the last day of the conference watching the repeat of Dr. Martin Topper’s “Ammo Update: Loads for Personal & Home Defense.” Dr. Topper is obviously quite knowledgeable about the subject and has done significant research in the area of terminal ballistics and wounding profiles, and his presentation was more interesting than I initially expected it to be. I’m not necessarily going to be changing any of my carry ammo, but he shared some interesting observations that I didn’t expect. Fortunately enough, Dr. House was also in attendance and at one point recognized his own photos of x-ray imaging of one of his prior patients that had been shot in the jaw. As a result, Dr. Topper will be updating that slide based on Dr. House’s first person description of the injury and surgery. Moral of the story, bullets do not necessarily behave as expected in live tissue. Remember that one. Indeed, in my own experience in EMS, when a patient has been shot, unless it’s through and through in the soft tissue of an extremity, you really have no idea where that bullet may have gone or what organs it might have damaged in the body.
Next up for me was another live fire session, Tim Chandler’s and Ashton Ray’s “Changing Gears.” This was a dynamic class that focused on engaging different various size targets under increasingly demanding time pressure. I really enjoyed this class and got a lot out of it. Both Chandler and Ray were well organized and kept the class moving along smoothly. At one point, Ray made a slight correction on my grip. Shortly after, a major takeaway from the entire conference happened for me. Ray was observing me shoot and suggested that I put more finger on the trigger to avoid shooting to the left. I showed him how the gun (my Boresight G19) fit in my hand. Looking at the target and looking at my hand on the gun, Ray declared, “You don’t have a shooting problem, you have a gun fit problem!” This wasn’t really a major surprise to me, but it was nice to hear validation of something that I’ve suspected and struggled with for a long time. That was enough impetus for me to explore some major changes to my EDC. Stay tuned for more. Since there was no class immediately after ours, we ran into lunch a little when the students collectively voted to keep shooting. Chandler and Ray ran us through an informal shoot off to add some more pressure. The objective was to take the time you needed to shoot the course of fire clean, pitted against another shooter. There may not be a timer in a gunfight, but time matters! If you have the opportunity, I can definitely recommend that you train with either Chandler or Ray with any of the various companies that they are affiliated with. Look for classes from FPF Training, the new Justified Defensive Concepts, and 360 Performance Shooting to find them.
After a taco lunch at the social tent, I attended Chris Fry’s “Practical Folding Knife” hand-to-hand block of instruction. Fry owns M.D.T.S. in NY, and is another member of the Shivworks Collective. At one point in time, nearly the entire collective was assembled behind him observing the class and stepping in for demonstrations as needed. Fry quickly and comprehensively covered selection, deployment, and use of the folding knife in defensive encounters. This was a much needed class for me, as I do not have strong hand-to-hand skills and I carry a folding knife daily, even in places that I can’t carry a gun. While I understand that a folding knife is as Fry says, “a broken knife,” the reality is that I nearly always have a folder on my person for utility purposes and I rarely, if ever, carry a fixed blade. I wound up partnered with a gentleman who was a 20 year instructor in Hapkido that had both a height and weight advantage over me. While I basically got my ass handed to me, the experience was invaluable since that’s the likely opponent that I’ll face given my stature. I probably got more out of our interaction than he did, and I’m grateful to him for showing me some unique ways to take advantage of my size and weight deficiency. Fry had us practice accessing and deploying our training knives and then led us through a series of exercises designed to teach stance, flanking, and defense with a knife. He discussed various grips, modes of carry, and opening methods, and clearly described defensive targeting of the human anatomy as opposed to “knife fighting.” Good stuff, and I need more of it. My thanks to my blog partner Robert for the use of his Griptilian training knife.
For the final session of Tac-Con, I joined Robert in attending Steve Moses’ “Martial Arts for Middle-Agers.” Much like Robert, I was encouraged to learn that Moses only began his journey in martial arts at age 57 and did so despite having some significant pre-existing injuries. I wasn’t really planning on another hand-to-hand session, especially after being tossed around in the hours prior, so I joined Robert in conversation with John Holschen outside the tent when Moses gave the class a break to disarm if needed. This is in no way a reflection on his presentation, and indeed, I took a lot of notes during the lecture portion of the presentation. No big surprise, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was highly recommended as a path to pursue for longevity and practical application in self-defense oriented martial arts.
My general impression of the Tactical Conference as a whole is similar to Robert’s. I’m not necessarily sure if I’ll attend next year, primarily due to the time and travel commitments. What I’m actually more inclined to do is turn it into a family vacation and buy my wife a ticket to attend. This is really where the conference shines, as an opportunity for newer shooters to have access to a large pool of talent all in one place at one time.
Like Robert, I think the conference is a good opportunity to sample some of the available training from the best in the business and offers awesome networking potential. I’m just at a point where I want more than a two or even four hour class can provide. The instructors that are chosen to present at Tac-Con pack a lot into short time frames, but some subjects just require more time for a deep dive into the material. If you are a newer shooter, or someone who only attends one training event per year, or perhaps an instructor or training junkie that treats it as an annual reunion, then Tac-Con represents an incredible value. Indeed, as was pointed out by Michael Bane in his podcast immediately following this year’s Tactical Conference, much behind the scenes collaboration and progress takes place at and because of Tac-Con.
Every year, Tom Givens and Rangemaster assemble the best of the best of instructors to come together and share knowledge. Doing so provides an invaluable service to the training community. You can literally find everything you need at Tac-Con to become a well-rounded self-reliant and prepared armed citizen. At the three Tac-Cons I’ve thus far attended, there has been instruction available in nearly every aspect of self -defense that one can imagine. That alone is a testament to the value it represents. As far as I know, next year’s event will be announced in May. If you want to attend, don’t dally. The conference usually sells out well in advance.
Regarding New Orleans and the NOLATAC Training Center, the facility was more than adequate and the hosts put forth a lot of effort. The food trucks and crawfish boil were much appreciated, but more bathrooms would have been ideal and the mud was a bit much. I strongly suspect many bailed out of the match and classes due to range conditions. In many photos, you can see students and instructors standing in virtual ponds. I know they can’t control the weather, but as Robert said in his AAR, why not dump a few yards of gravel in the shooting bays? I’m no expert on range construction, but I have never encountered muddier conditions on a range. I should have taken my Muck boots with me. While the race tracks on site provided the opportunity for participants to rent exotic cars and take a few laps around, the noise was intrusive at times, especially in the tents for the lecturers. While I hold Louisiana dear for reasons I mentioned above, I would agree with Robert that the New Orleans tourism infrastructure is not really on par with other large cities that I’ve had occasion to visit.
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