My journey to “learn more about violence” continued this past weekend with my third course taught by Kelly McCann (see reviews of the two classes I took earlier this year here and here). This class was a bit different than the prior two. For one thing, this was the first two-day course I did with Kelly. Secondly, most of the class was “classroom instruction” rather than on the mats. Despite these differences, there were more similarities than differences in how the classes were executed.
I am not going to go through Kelly’s resume here. Some of it is on his website, and some of it is secret-squirrel stuff. In addition to my mentor sending me Kelly’s way, I should also note that Kelly’s “system”, for lack of a better word, was always geared around him having a limited amount of time (a week, a couple of days, a few hours!) in which to teach special mission units and intelligence officers a few key things to keep them alive. And my mentor, among many others, successfully utilized those quickly-learned skills in actual life-threatening situations. Works for me!
The course was held at the Renegade Combat Sports Club in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This is located in an office/business park, typical of the type where one finds gyms and similar businesses, just a stone’s throw from Interstate 95. The list price of the course was $250, but I signed up during the 20% off sale in January, and so the cost to me was $200, which I paid in full. I am not affiliated in any way with the Renegade Combat Sports Club, Kembativz Brand, or Kelly McCann, except as a satisfied (and slightly bruised and aching) paying customer.
Here is the course description, straight off the Kembativz Brand website:
If you’ve been looking for a holistic security course that will improve and enhance your overall personal security – this is it. We deliver multimedia academic instruction that we provide to some of the largest US corporations as well as stripped down essentials of hands on training. Included topics are home security, travel security, surveillance detection, rape avoidance, break and run combatives, groundfighting essentials and more.
Requirements: Mouthguard, groin guard, other protective equipment you choose to bring.
That is it. Let me just say here that the “groin guard” mentioned above was kind of important.
The class was primarily taught by Kelly, but his partner, Michelle Washington, was there most of the weekend as well, and she had a more active role in this class than in the stick or knife classes I took previously. Rod, Kelly’s main assistant instructor in those previous classes, was there as well, and he is another fantastic resource to have available.
There were a total of 9 students in the class on Day One, including me, and a tenth student joined us on Day Two. It is worth mentioning that at least one of the “students” in the class among those ten was actually a Kembativz Brand instructor and was there to get in some training and instruction time. So he was essentially a combination student/assistant. I should also note that I had met all but one of the other students at one or the other (or both) of the other Kembativz classes I took this year. The one I had not met before was the 15 year-old daughter of one of the students I did know. You can draw your own conclusions, but in my opinion, if you see repeat students showing up with their kids to train with Kelly, that says something.
Training Day One
Start time for the class was 0900, and we began just a few minutes after that time. Once again, Kelly had thoughtfully provided coffee and donuts and encouraged us to drink and eat our fill. We then gathered in “The Last Round” (the bar inside the gym), were told to grab a stool and get as comfortable as possible, for this day would be ALL PowerPoint. This surprised me, as I figured both days would be kind of half and half, but as I got through Day Two I understood some of the rationale for doing the PowerPoint all in one day.
The presentation was a combination of various presentations that, just as the course description says, are provided to large corporations or, in some cases, government agencies or members thereof. Let me say there that I took 23 pages of notes based on the PowerPoint presentation (and I wish I had taken even more). This presentation was exactly what the course description suggests: a holistic security course for all aspects of a person’s security. I am not going to list every little detail covered in the course. For $200 (or the full-priced $250), our readers can sit on a bar stool and copy all of this. However, what I will do is provide an overview of the topics covered as well as some highlights of each.
The presentation began with some “security myths”. There are a number of these out there, and they are myths (fiction) for a reason. I think my favorite of the five or so that Kelly covered is the classic “If it’s going to happen to you, there’s nothing you can do”, i.e. the fatalistic view. If I believed that I would not have co-created this blog. And if YOU believed that, you wouldn’t be reading this blog, would you?
Kelly went on to talk about threat calibration. What is it that we are actually preparing ourselves for? What is our most likely threat? This will obviously depend quite a bit on where you are. But Kelly pointed out that there is no way to know when your path will cross with that of a violent criminal actor. As Kelly says, “No one ever wakes up and says, ‘today is the day I’m gonna get carjacked.’”
The next subtopic was home security, and it was probably this section from which I had the most notes. Kelly divided it up into the three “domains”: from your property line to your home, the “skin” of the home, and then inside the home. Kelly covered just about everything possible here, including lights, cameras, locks, sliding doors, signage, safe rooms, weapons, etc.
Next came the sub-topic on travel safety. I liked that he covered what to do about your home while away along with all of the safety concerns that come with travelling. This included everything from hotel security (this was a veritable gold mine of information), to arrival and departure from airports, to use of public transportation/uber/lyft/taxis. Lots of great information here.
Kelly covered a relatively brief (by comparison) sub-topic on what he calls “Social Security”. This primarily centered around drinking alcohol in public places, date-rape drugs, and general best-practices for when not totally sober.
What followed was a lengthy sub-topic on violent street-crime avoidance. This is something I have some experience with in practice and plenty of theoretical experience with as well (think: the late Dr. William Aprill). Nevertheless, there was plenty of new-to-me information packed into this segment, including how nuances of stride, pace, fluidity, coordination, posture, and gaze all impact how we are seen by the criminal element, and how they are used to select (or de-select) us for attack. As Kelly likes to say, “there is no such thing as random violence: victims are chosen.”
The second to last sub-topic was on active shooters/work-place violence. This included everything from early “detection”/warning signs, physiological indications of aggression and behavioral indications of aggression. We watched the official U.S. Government Run-Hide-Fight video for pros and cons, discussed what to do if “prevention and early detection” did not work (i.e., when to fight, how to fight, improvised weapons, etc.)., and what to do after the “event”, such as providing medical assistance and how to interact with responding police.
The final sub-topic for the day was that of civil disorder, a subject that has obviously been in the news a lot over the last few years. This section included information on pre-incident indicators, police interactions, how to protect yourself if beaten, traveling through such situations in vehicles, how to properly ram a car out of the way, and various weapons—improvised and otherwise—seen at these events.
We wrapped up Training Day One at around 1600 hours, put the notes away, and it was “Guinness time.” I have to mention again how awesome it is having a bar right in the gym. I am not a big drinker, but it is nice to sit down with people who obviously have shared interests and drink a beer or two without having to meet somewhere. Plus, is there a safer bar around???
Training Day Two
No donuts on this day, but when we all walked into The Last Round, Kelly was taking everyone’s coffee orders and brewing to order. If you are a stickler for coursework beginning exactly when the course listing says it will, these classes may not be for you. Nevertheless, we were on the mats by about 0920.
Day Two would cover all of the physical stuff that we might use should we fail in all of our applications of the knowledge and skills from Day One. I believe this is one of the reasons why Kelly breaks up the course in this way, so that we can “live” the mindset shift that would take place going from recognition and avoidance to “it’s on!”
Day Two is much more of a blur for me only because, since we spent so much time on the mats, I could not take the same copious notes. So what follows are some highlights of the course for me.
We began by taking several minutes to stretch a bit. No one wants to pull a hamstring or the like first thing in the morning. Kelly then launched into some of his combative principles, which include:
Don’t Get Grabbed
Don’t Fall Down
Don’t Get Hit Hard
Kelly teaches principles-based systems with everything, with all skills, tactics, and procedures built around those principles.
With those principles/assumptions out of the way, Kelly then explained what he believes is lacking in most combative programs, and that is having combative footwork expressly taught. As Kelly started with a boxing background, this makes a lot of sense. But he was able to point to similarities between what he teaches and what is taught in different combative systems all over the world. So he demonstrated the combative shuffle and then we got a decent amount of time to practice it on our own. Of course, this being a key building block, we would be expected to utilize it throughout the day. Below is one of the videos Kelly put together about a year ago on combative movement, but be sure to check out some of his other videos from this time period covering related principles:
Though usually an uncoordinated disaster, it was my footwork that I probably did best with on Day Two. What I did especially well was the hook-step and moving off-line, both of which were expressly taught and I picked up on quickly. Several of the assistants commented how well I performed with these, especially the hook-step. We also worked on chain-stepping to set up a knee-lift (basically, the best way to deliver a knee-lift when you have the “wrong” leg forward).
Something that Kelly emphasized again and again was speed. As Kelly likes to say, “Speed is scary.” If you can deliver reasonably effective strikes with speed, especially in different areas of the body, it should almost be like touching someone with a lit cigarette over and over, so that they are always reacting to you, and always at least a half-beat late. Thus, he put an emphasis on working on what he calls our “twitch muscles”, how everything we do should be delivered quickly, almost like a twitch. He even gave us some ways to work on this at home, which is always helpful for someone like me, who probably will not be joining a boxing gym.
Together with this idea of “twitch muscles” was doing what Kelly and Rod referred to as “being pointy”. Dedicated and incidental strikes could be delivered with the head, shoulders, elbows (the point of the elbow and even the inside of the elbow in a bent arm strike…..we delivered these on each other at close to full force and we all got to see stars!), edge of hand, palm heels, knees, feet, etc.
Kelly also stressed the importance of continuing to deliver strikes until the opponent crumples. Similar to how we should shoot threats to the ground, Kelly said that you never know if what you are doing is working until your opponent has crumpled. What does that mean? “Crumpled” to him means that they are either unconscious, unwilling to continue (fetal position crying for mommy), or unable to continue (broken limbs that have ruined their mobility, etc.). If it was not obvious before, is it now obvious why my mentor sent me to Kelly to “learn violence?”
We worked straight through lunch with nothing but restroom and water breaks to continue working on different strikes and, eventually, sequences or combinations. While these were expressly taught, Kelly mentioned a few times how some combinations naturally follow others, but there are no expressly right or wrong answers here, and eventually we will find our own “go-to” sequences that just work for us. Some of this will depend on what happens to our opponent, some on how well we move (flexibility, etc.), so as always, the answer is often “it depends.”
I will mention here that there was a lot of groin-striking in this class, so the wearing of appropriate protection in that geographical area was key. We did cupped hand blows, straight-downward punches, shin kicks, and spike kicks and knees, all to the groin. At one point we were engaged in a two-on-one situation with two bad guys “aggressing” us, and we had to move and fend and try to get the opportunity to deliver these blows. On one occasion, when I was a “bad guy”, I got kicked….mightily…..in the groin, to the point that, despite the cup, I still dropped to my knees and walked gingerly for 3 or 4 minutes.
After working various sequences against each other, we rounded out the day with a lesson on groundfighting. Though Kelly and Michelle demonstrated many of the skills and techniques involved, he also allowed two of his established groundfighters to teach some of this material as well. Some of this material was identical to what I learned in the singular groundfighting class I took with my blog partner John a few years back, and I was happy that most it came back to me. Some of it, however, was new material, and it was good to get increased exposure to this material.
Having worked through lunch, we wrapped up early on Day Two, around 1430 or so. Honestly, I could have used a bit more time, but I was also starting to get a little sore, so I did not mind ending early. More repetitions of each thing we did spread throughout the day, maybe another hour’s worth, would have probably helped me, but I was not going to complain. It was nice to change clothes, meet in The Last Round, and have one for the road. While there I really got to talk to Kelly quite a bit about various topics, and also got him to sign my copy of one of his books, which he said he was honored to do for me. Hugs and handshakes all around for the instructors and my fellow students, and I was on the road by about 1600.
A day or two after class I spoke with my oft-mentioned mentor. First, I had to ask him, “How are you always right?” I mean, the guy has yet to steer me wrong. Every class/instructor he has sent me to has been a winner. I have never even been to one who has had just an “off day”. My mentor explained to me that he sends me and others to these people because “they don’t have off-days.” My mentor also assured me that, while I have had solid firearms (particularly pistol) skills for some time, NOW I have the complete package. WHAT to look for, WHEN to act and WHAT to do, etc. And now it is just continued practice, fluidity, etc.
I really enjoyed this class. While I am still a bit of a fish out of water when it comes to fighting WITHOUT a firearm, I must say that I am becoming more and more comfortable being uncomfortable. Kelly and his fellow instructors have been very patient with my uncoordinated self, correct mistakes quickly, have ways of describing things that work for the layman, and heap the praise when they witness students doing things correctly. I find myself looking forward to next year’s Kembativz training calendar and am already considering repeating all of these courses. Oh, and I should mention that, of the three classes I have taken so far, this one bruised and battered me the least (which was great, because my hands are still recovering from the stick and knife courses! And an informal survey revealed the same lingering aches among my classmates).
There is something else worth mentioning. It meant a lot to me, on my way out the door, for Kelly to say to me, “Rob, you’re one of us now.” It was not without trepidation that I signed up for these courses, but from the start I was welcomed and accepted. The instructors and students recognize that everyone starts somewhere and that just entering the door says something about a person. Coming back again and again says even more, I suppose.
I will return in June to train with Kelly once more, in a course with a description that includes: “What is it that actually prepares you for fighting for your life? Come to this course and find out, then test it through a number of challenging, eye-opening drills. This course is different than any other you have attended and guaranteed to leave you HONESTLY considering what you thought your abilities were.” Who’s going to join me?
I may do even more coursework with Kelly this year and just make this “The Year of Kelly McCann.” I cannot think of another instructor more worthy of dedicating a year to.
One final note: I want to apologize for the lack of photos in these Kembativz Brand reviews, but I am not willing to keep my phone handy (i.e., in my pocket) where it may not survive the class!
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below. I can be reached privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.