Since I began training in earnest back in 2013, I have made it a point to take at least one dedicated handgun class per year. A look back at my AARs will reveal such classes with Steve Fisher, Tom Perroni, Jeff Gonzales, Kyle Defoor, John McPhee, John Murphy, Tom Givens, and Darryl Bolke. After having to give up the chance to again train with Givens this year (due to a family issue), I was pleased to see that John Murphy of FPF Training would again be hosting Karl Rehn of KR Training for a one-day Advanced Handgun class.
The class was held at John Murphy’s secret range outside Culpeper, Virginia. Cost of the course was $250, which I paid in full. My blog partner John made the trek to attend this class with me (he also paid in full).
The weather was beautiful but very hot, 90+ degrees, sunny, but with almost no breeze. Not quite as humid as one might typically find in the mid-Atlantic region this time of year, but the weather was definitely a bit of an issue. More on this later.
After meeting up at a gas station/convenience store a few miles from the range, we did the convoy over to the range and took a little time to get settled in. Tables under E-Z-Up open-sided tents had already been set up so as to provide at least rudimentary protection from the strong sun.
I didn’t use anything too crazy in this course. I relied on my usual training gun, my OD Third Generation Glock 19, equipped with KKM barrel, Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights, and otherwise modified per this article. I utilized my usual Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon holster worn AIWB on a Wilderness Instructor belt. Magazines (mostly factory with some Magpul mixed in) were carried in my no-name kydex double magazine pouch. I shot the course from concealment from under a button-down short-sleeve plaid shirt (Wrangler brand from Wal-Mart). I used Blazer Brass 115 grain FMJ ammunition and suffered no malfunctions of any kind.
Unlike so many instructors I have trained with over the years, Karl Rehn does not hail from the law enforcement or military backgrounds. He is most well-known as a competitive shooter (Grandmaster in five USPSA divisions) and has been teaching about firearms since 1991. I also recently purchased and read Rehn’s excellent book that he co-authored with fellow instructor John Daub (that John reviewed here).
Rehn is a regular presenter at the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference, and John has attended his seminars at those events several times (though I always attended others’ sessions). In asking John and others about Karl Rehn, the universal praise I have heard heaped about him tends to be summed up as follows: “Karl is a SMART dude!”
I will also add here that it is quite serendipitous that one of the seminars Rehn often presents at TacCon is what he calls “Beyond the 1%”, a reference to the small number of gun owners who attend regular training. Of the 16 total students in this class, I recognized at least five from other classes I have taken (not including my blog partner John).
The course description as listed on the FPF Training website:
This intensive, fast paced course will cover the full spectrum of handgun skills required for defensive and competition pistol shooting. Many drills will be shot for score to baseline student abilities, with analysis and recommended training goals provided to students.
This class is highly recommend for shooters at the USPSA B-C class level, or IDPA Sharpshooter/Expert level that want to identify what to change in their techniques, goals and practice plans to improve with efficient use of training time.
Those at USPSA A class/IDPA Master level or higher can also benefit from the material in this course. Lead instructor Karl Rehn is a Grand Master in 5 USPSA divisions (Production, Carry Optics, Limited, Limited 10 and Pistol Caliber Carbine).
Topics: group shooting at 7-25 yards, presentation from holstered and ready positions, multiple shots/single target, multiple targets, targets at varying ranges, one handed shooting (left and right hand), reloads, shooting on the move, shooting from kneeling and prone, shooting from cover, drawing and shooting from seated positions, and more.
In short, this seemed like the perfect course for me to try to push my skills, as although I continue to enjoy some improvement, I feel like I might be plateauing a bit. John has expressed to me this same concern about his shooting recently, and so he identified it as an appropriate course for him as well.
With Rehn putting the finishing touches on the first targets we would be using, Murphy got us started around 0930 with a medical brief and a short introduction of Rehn. Rehn then joined us and gave us a brief outline of what we would be doing that day as well as what efforts he would make to speed us along to get us out of the hot sun as early as possible.
The basic outline of the course borrowed heavily from Rehn’s recent book. In essence, we would be shooting drills described in his book first in a practice format and then for score. Before each drill Rehn might demonstrate or at least explain the drill, and in between the practice and the scored versions we might receive individual or group “tweaks” from Rehn to help us improve along the way.
I am sure there were a few groans when it was announced we would be starting the day by shooting from the 25 yard line. Here, Rehn did something I had never seen before. Rather than have us shoot at a bullseye (B-8 or similar) or silhouette target, Rehn simply flipped a large white target and put a giant “+” sign on each one made of 1.5” wide blue painter’s tape. Our goal here was to see where our rounds hit in relation to our sights. Put the tops of the front and rear sights along the bottom of the tape, with the front sight centered on the vertical piece of tape, shoot five rounds, and see where we hit and the size of our groups.
Ideally, this would be done off a benchrest of some sort, but we shot it freestyle. I will note here that Rehn provided everyone with scoresheets in order to collect data throughout the day. The scoresheets, printed front and back, had places for us to record times and accuracy for every drill we would shoot all day.
I will say right here that, for whatever reason, I was a complete disaster at 25 yards on this day. A week or so before—using the same gun–I shot 5 round groups and was keeping them all in the A zone of a USPSA target at that distance. I was using different ammunition, but I do not think that explains my issues this time. My groups varied from 7-10”, and on one occasion I somehow managed to shoot my neighbor’s target (to be fair, John shot my target with one round, but otherwise John shot much better than me at 25 yards). We did this exercise a few times, and I got some tweaks from Rehn along the way.
This accounted for the 25 yard shooting for the day, with the rest from 15 yards and in (most from 10 yards and in). I do not recall the exact order of all the drills we shot, but I will share what I remember as well as some of the pointers we got along the way. I will mention here that some of the drills we did collectively, but some we did one at a time to get our true scores. I would have loved to have shot every drill individually to get my times/scores for all, but given time constraints and the heat I am fine with having shot many as a group. The point is to work on these during personal practice sessions anyway.
We shot the classic “Bill Drill” (6 rounds at 7 yards as fast as possible on a USPSA target). Rehn gave us all a par time of 5.0 seconds. I did this one well under time (not sure of the time, as this was one we did as a group) with all A zone hits. We then shot the same drill strong-hand only, with a par time of 8.0 seconds. I again shot it clean under time. Next came the same but support-hand only, and I made the time but threw three shots to the right into the C zone. Finally, we shot it at 15 yards, two-handed, with a par time of 8.0 seconds, and I again made time and shot it clean.
Why these different versions and par times? Rehn explained that if you double the distance, you should double the time. Likewise, if you change a parameter (such as going from two-handed to strong-hand only), you should also double the time. In describing how to go faster, Rehn said the best strategy he has seen is to shoot it as you are supposed to (e.g., 7 yards two-handed), record your time, then halve the distance and try to blaze it but still maintain hits. Once this level can be maintained, start backing it out again. Like a number of others with which I have trained, Rehn said that the only way to learn to shoot faster…..is to shoot faster. So by moving the target closer, the shooter can see what it takes to get hits at speed, and then back it up again.
Another drill we shot collectively was the short IDPA Classifier, otherwise known as the “Bill Wilson 5×5”. I have written about this before and have shot this drill fairly often (it is a stage at virtually every IDPA match I have attended the last two years). I missed a total of 3 shots into the C zone (oddly, one of the misses was in the initial two-handed string). My time was much faster than the allotted 38 seconds (I typically shoot it around 22 seconds, plus any penalties).
Other drills that we shot that I had shot previously included “The Test” (I shot a 94 and 95 on my two runs for score during this class): the 5 yard version of “The Test” (which I think is usually called “The Half Test”: 10 rounds in 5 seconds at 5 yards), in which I scored a 95 with a time of 3.26 seconds; the “Five Yard Roundup” (scored a 97 and 95, unusually high for me), the “F.A.S.T.” (raw score of 6.28 but 2 seconds of penalties, so 8.28), and the “Wizard Drill” (shot it clean once and -1 low into the C zone the other time).
Here is a video I found of Rehn shooting the above-mentioned “Five Yard Roundup” Drill:
One new (to me) drill was the “Four Aces” drill. Shot on a USPSA target, the shooter shoots two rounds, performs a slide-lock reload, and then shoots two more. We were given a par time of 6.0 seconds. When doing it individually for score, I did it in 4.34 seconds (clean), with a draw to first shot in 1.43 and a 2.25 second reload. I was pretty happy with those numbers.
Another new drill to me was the “3 Seconds or Less” drill. This one is the brainchild of Rehn and is featured in his book. It is shot in 9 different strings at distances ranging from 3-7 yards, with a total of 20 rounds fired. Each string must be completed in 3.0 seconds (hence the name…..Rehn said he came up with this drill because he hates changing the par time on shot timers during classes! Hey, it works). I did not have any issues making the time constraints. The first time through I shot a 17, the second time I shot a clean 20.
The last drill that was new to me was a killer: the “16x16x16”. It is shot using the KRT-1 Target (which makes the DT-2a Target used in the Casino Drill seem simple). Similar to the Casino Drill, the shooter has to shoot the number of rounds into each shape as the number that is on each shape. However, unlike the Casino Drill, the shooter gets to shoot the shapes in any order. The kicker, however, is this: you start with a magazine in the pistol and another in your preferred reload position. Together, the magazines have a total of 16 rounds in them. However, you have to have someone else load the magazines with an unknown number of rounds in each. Thus, the shooter has no idea when he will have to reload. The target is shot from ~5 yards (16 feet!) and must be completed in 16 seconds, with any misses counting as a 1 second penalty. The first time we shot it, we did so collectively, and I missed only one round high and under the time. When we did it solo, I did it in 14.19 seconds but had issues hitting the two smallest circles, and with 4 seconds in penalties ended up with 18.19.
We were also introduced to a drill Rehn referred to only as “The Farnam 3M”, which I had read about before but never tried. We did not perform this drill because neither Murphy nor Rehn had enough dummy rounds available, and part of the drill involves clearing a malfunction. I was hoping to get to do this drill because the indoor range to which I belong does not allow any movement (within the little 3 foot wide booth is fine, but I would rather perform some more pronounced movements if doing this drill). The gist is that the shooter starts with 6 rounds in the gun plus one dummy round somewhere in the magazine. He or she draws while sidestepping, shoots until the “malfunction” occurs, then sidesteps while clearing it, then shoots to slide-lock, sidesteps and reloads, and then finishes the drill with four more rounds.
It would be easy to stop reading at this point and say, “Hey, you just spent $250 shooting drills that are in Rehn’s $20 book! Why would you do that?” The “gold” in this class was the instruction that took place before and/or during each drill, not the shooting of the drills themselves. So it was that I received some personal instruction from Rehn on the proper speed at which to press the trigger when shooting at 25 yards as well as how to clear my cover garment when drawing (we tried it a few different ways to figure out what worked best for me).
In group instruction, Rehn spent a lot of time covering proper grip (and though he favors the thumbs forward grip, he is not against other variants if they work better for the students, particularly those who lack enough grip strength). Proper fitment of pistol to shooter based on hand size/finger length was also covered, and Rehn acknowledged that those with smaller hands need to forego high-capacity double-stack pistols in favor of thinner pistols that actually fit their hands (he is among them).
I feel like the largest blocks of instructional time were spent on the draw and on the reload. For both competitive purposes and self-defense, the draw is obviously of tremendous importance, but Rehn specified for this topic (as well as a few others) that, particularly for self-defense, he would rather use a slightly slower technique that works 100% of the time than a blazing fast technique that only works 80% of the time. Save those for social media videos where mistakes can be edited out.
Rehn broke down the draw in steps but not in what I would call the “typical” four-count draw stroke. After reviewing ways to clear the cover garment most efficiently and reliably, we practiced (dry) MANY repetitions of just clearing the garment and getting our hand on the grip (I am going to conservatively estimate that I did this forty times in class). We then practiced going from that position to the meeting of our hands in front of our bodies, again practicing many times.
The reload was broken down in similar ways. Here, Rehn emphasized how most shooters spend the initial moments of the reload trying to drop the empty magazine, when the priority should be getting to the spare magazine and getting it up to the gun, as this is the part of the reload that takes the longest amount of time. We again performed many repetitions just getting a magazine up and positioned at the entrance to the magwell. Later, we performed many repetitions going from that point to seating the magazine and getting the pistol back into the proper firing position. I must say that, although I realize reloads in civilian defensive encounters are quite rare, I really liked how Rehn presented this block of instruction and am looking forward to including it in my dry practice regimen.
I have only two criticisms of the class, and they are minor. The first was the aforementioned inability to perform the “Farnam 3M” drill due to the lack of dummy rounds. Rehn said he is not necessarily a fan of these types of rehearsed drills with movement anyway, since “in real life” the person is going to be moving a lot more than a single step in each direction. However, the primary purpose of the drill is to test automaticity with shooting and manipulations (shooting accurately, clearing malfunctions, executing a slide-lock reload) while the shooter is thinking and moving. If I was a member of a range that allows a lot of free movement (like John is), not shooting this drill on this day would be no big deal. For someone like myself who does not often get these opportunities, I would have liked to try it.
The only other criticism is that of the course description, primarily round count. The description called for 800 rounds of ammunition, and I shot 363 (I think John shot 360). Not doing a pair of “Farnam 3M” drills accounted for another 20 rounds not fired, but at that point I would not have even been at the halfway point of the stated round count. Perhaps the course description was originally for a two-day course (?). Either way, I am glad I did not fly to the class, as I would have had to ship ammunition and then figure out what to do with 400+ rounds afterwards. Considering the structured nature of the class with a scoresheet that included all the drills we shot, it should have been pretty easy to figure out how much ammunition each student would have needed.
I must admit, however, that it is possible that there were other periods of guided practice or dedicated drills that we did not try due to the heat (the course description also mentions shooting on the move, which we only lightly touched on, and from the seated position, etc., which we did not attempt). I also suspect that the heat caused more of the drills to be shot collectively rather than one at a time. It would have been nice a few times to get my exact time/score for certain drills.
Overall, these are minor gripes as, honestly, I was happy to wrap up the class by 1600 hours. The heat really was punishing, and one student came very close to some form of heatstroke (John took the student’s pulse while he was sitting in the shade, and it was 144 bpm. The gentleman was soon icing his wrists and neck. To his credit, he later rallied, but it was close for a bit!). I suppose, in the end, if someone was to ask me whether or not I felt like I had not gotten my money’s worth due to omissions of content mentioned above, I would certainly say that I got more than my money’s worth. This class was packed with lots of nuggets, more than most “fundamentals” classes I have taken. I should also add that Rehn provided each student with handouts that included a list of KR Training’s Top 10 Drills (which are also found near the end of Rehn’s book), instructions on how to shoot each drill, and a list of common shooting errors and how to correct them.
Overall, I really liked this course. I feel like it was just the type of mechanics course I needed at this juncture of my training journey. The course was a nice companion piece to Rehn’s book (which John and I both highly recommend). I was fascinated by the + sign target (and WILL use that during my next trip to the range, hopefully with more success!), and really liked the step-by-step approach Rehn used to teach things like the draw and the reload. I would definitely recommend this course to those the course description says it should most benefit, i.e. people at roughly my skill level. I do think there were a couple of students in the class for whom some of the content was over their skill level, but Rehn still did a good job giving them tools they needed to be more successful.
I look forward to incorporating a number of the techniques Rehn taught into both my dry and live practice, and I expect to see improvement if I do so. Time will tell. Along that line of thought, I am going to wrap this up and get to work practicing…..
Thanks for reading. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse. And one final note that I cannot emphasize enough: buy Rehn’s book! You can buy it (Kindle or paperback versions) using out Amazon affiliate link here, or if you would prefer a signed copy, buy it direct from Rehn by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is cheap, an easy read, and full of great information. Highly recommended.