AAR:  FPF Training (John Murphy) “Street Encounter Skills and Tactics”, Culpeper, VA 6/11-12/22

I first trained with John Murphy of FPF Training in the Spring of 2016, and I have returned to him numerous times since.  As an educator myself, it has been interesting to watch his curricula and his instructional methodology change over time.  The first class I took with him was called “Street Encounters Skills” (AAR here).  Back then, it was a one-day course that covered a fraction of what the course by the same name covers today.  Along the way, the course changed its name to “Advanced Skills and Tactics” and became a two-day course.  It was under this moniker that my blog partner John took the course in 2018 (see AAR here).  Since then, the course reverted back to its original (and much more appropriate, in my opinion) name. 

The course, however, is even more than just two days of instruction on the range.  Today, the course includes an additional five hours (roughly) of videos that the students receive links to in the weeks before the class meets (pre-homework, if you will).  Thus, on the certificates that Murphy hands out at the end of the course, it is described as a 20 hour course.

Course Description

From the FPF Training website, the course description is as follows:

“Street Encounter Skills and Tactics prepares citizens for personal security challenges by equipping them with a comprehensive suite of “soft” and “hard” skills that are woven into a holistic approach to legal self-defense.

Who is this course for?

This course is for the person who recognizes that there is much more to personal safety than simply carrying a gun. If you want to expand your knowledge and acquire skills oriented toward the layered nature of civilian self-defense, this class is for you.

Methodology

Employing an iterative approach, students progressively acquire skills and knowledge required to enforce their security decisions and secure themselves before, during and after an incident. Among these skills are:

Stopping Bleeding (Medical Trauma)

Employing Pepper Spray (Less-Lethal Options)

Interacting with Law Enforcement (Legal Preparation)

Street Encounter Skills (Managing contacts and conflicts for de-escalation and de-selection)

Subsequently these concepts and newly acquired skills are reinforced and validated as students are exposed to a combination of drills and scenario-based exercises emphasizing decision-making and decisively employing an appropriate course of action.

End state

Students will be equipped with an understanding of the threats they face and provided a comprehensive suite of skills and tactics that enable them to respond to these circumstances within legal and moral constraints.”

As noted many times by Murphy (I will refer to him as “Murphy” so as not to confuse the readers with my blog partner, John) during the class, this is NOT a shooting course.  The described round count in the “requirements” on the website indicates 300 rounds needed.  I fired only 189 rounds during this course.  This is NOT the course to attend in order to improve your B-8 scores at 25 yards.  This IS the course to attend to offer a smattering of different skills that are likely to be necessary to avoid trouble, survive trouble if trouble finds you, and survive whatever issues come up after your physical survival.  It is the class I most often recommend to people who have obtained concealed carry permits and perhaps have a single “101-style” handgun class under their belt.

Logistics

The course was held at the super-secret FPF Training range in Culpeper, VA.  Cost of the course is $425.  However, in the interest of full disclosure, I did not pay the course fee.  I did pay for my own travel expenses (including gasoline which has more than doubled since the last time I traveled to Culpeper!), one night in a hotel, meals, etc. 

Gear

Nothing too crazy here.  I used my typical OD third generation Glock 19, modified as per this article and equipped with Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights.  I carried it concealed beneath a short-sleeve button down shirt in a JM Custom Kydex Wing Claw 2.0 AIWB holster.  Spare magazines were carried in my no-name two-magazine kydex carrier.  I also wore a Combat Application Tourniquet in my Fieldcraft Survival TQ carrier.  These were all attached to my V Development Group MEGINGJÖRÐ-AIWB Specific-Conceal Carry Belt.  I used Federal American Eagle 124 grain FMJ ammunition.

Training Day One

Because the FPF Training range is tucked away, standard practice is to meet up at a gas station a few miles away and caravan over to the range.  Though I know my way to the range, I stopped at the meet-up location in case Murphy wanted me to play “tail-end Charlie” to make sure no one got lost on the way over.  He was confident so sent me on ahead, and we were all on the range by 0900. 

The weather on Day One started with some light rain, but Murphy was well-prepared.  There were a total of 15 students in class, which was a few too many to use his indoor classroom, but he had set up 3 E-Z-Up tents together to create a makeshift outdoor classroom, complete with chairs, so we were well-protected from the drizzle and—later—the sun. 

John Murphy

The day began with a comprehensive safety/medical/evacuation brief that I would describe as quite thorough.  Given that the average age of students in this class was perhaps a bit higher than I am used to (hey, I’m getting older, too!), some of the major concerns would be things like heatstroke or cardiac events versus ballistic trauma.  Nevertheless, Murphy covered it all, from staying hydrated to following the firearms safety rules to just keeping our collective heads in the game.

Day One would involve no live fire.  Instead we worked on what I would describe as four primary instructional blocks.  The first of these was a brief but informative “stop the bleed” presentation/demonstration/guided practice.  Each student was provided with an ankle trauma kit preloaded with a Combat Application Tourniquet and an “Israeli” pressure bandage.  How to apply each of these to arms and legs was demonstrated (with a few options demonstrated), and then we got to practice self-applying both of these to our various limbs as directed.  For the rest of the weekend, we would wear these ankle rigs and—seemingly at random—Murphy would, in his best drill instructor voice, yell “ASSESS, ASSESS, ASSESS!  LEFT ARM SPURTING, LEFT ARM SPURTING, RIGHT CALF OOZING, RIGHT CALF OOZING!”  And we would have to take care of business as quickly as possible. 

Murphy holds up a C.A.T.

The second block of instruction was on the use of pepper spray.  Each student received a POM Pepper Spray unit along with two replacement canisters of inert spray to use in class (or, after class, at home).  We carefully replaced the active spray with the inert canisters.  Murphy’s lesson included when to use the spray, how to draw the spray, how to aim and “fire” the spray, the efficacy (or lack thereof) of pepper spray, and what to do after employing spray on an adversary.  We then go to practice overt and stealth draws of the spray, and got to finish out by spraying Murphy (equipped with a Scuba mask) with the inert spray as he approached us.  I am more used to carrying either Sabre Red in the Mark VI canister or my ASP Key Defender, and so the POM took a little getting used to in terms of its size, the draw, and it’s “trigger”.  Still, I like the form factor of the POM and may look to make it my new standard.  The fact that we each got a live POM plus the two replacement training canisters was value-added for the class.

Value added: Each student received one of these.

Lunch on Day One was a working lunch, with Murphy providing a presentation that I would describe as “how to avoid trouble.”  It was more than just that, of course, but will hopefully work for the purposes of this review.  During this presentation, there were many references back to the YouTube “homework” videos.  Note to future students in this class:  do NOT blow off the videos!  They are key to putting the skills you learn in this course into context.  Subtopics covered during this session included things like knowing your environment, boundary enforcement, issues of proximity, etc.

This is as good a place as any to note that Murphy was always providing attribution when necessary.  I heard him mention many nationally recognized instructors over the two days of the class.  Among them were Massad Ayoob, Craig Douglas, Chuck Haggard, Kerry Davis, Greg Ellifritz, Kelly McCann, and the late Dr. William Aprill.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I have done coursework with all of them except for Dr. Aprill, but he was on my shortlist at the time of his passing.

In the afternoon, we “roped” our firearms (well-supervised)–in order to make them functionally and visually inert–and worked on firearms skills that did not require live fire.  These included things like the drawstroke, how to clear different cover garments, ready positions, and range commands. 

As the afternoon continued, we covered a block of instruction on post-incident actions.  This included topics like calling 911, what to say/not say to the police, how not to get shot by responding police, and other such similar topics.  We then got to work on our MUC (managing unknown contacts……courtesy of Craig Douglas) skills in contrived situations.  The day culminated with MUC situations that devolved into shooting situations, through which we had to perform and then call 911 and interact with responding police.  Eye-opening for many, including myself.  As time goes on, I think I should probably “dry-fire” these skills as much as—if not more than—my Glocks.

We finished up the day around 1630.  Many of us met for a class dinner at a local restaurant afterwards.

Training Day Two

I must confess that I did not take nearly as many notes on Day Two as on the first day.  We spent a lot more time on the range rather than in comfy chairs on Day Two, so it was less conducive to note-taking.  Omissions or errors are my own fault due to my lack of notes or because I simply choose not to share every detail.  Besides, I doubt many of our readers would be overly interested in every drill that we ran.

After another safety and medical brief and an outline of what we would be doing on Day Two, we assembled on the line.  The day started out under a light rain.  Murphy and/or his assistants, Gary and Amy, had pre-applied Rain-X on some of the paper targets and Scotchguard on others, to see if either (or both) did a decent job of repelling the rain.  I am happy to report that both did the trick, so for all of you who visit outdoor ranges and get annoyed by wet targets, try it yourself.  I should also note that soon after Murphy sprayed some Scotchguard skyward, the rain stopped.  Take from that what you will.

We started our shooting day by shooting five single rounds (each after a deliberate draw, as I recall) at a singular small grey circle on our targets.  The circle was about 3 inches in diameter, and we did this from 5 yards.  Mine were all in the circle but favoring left a bit.  Nothing new for me (or most right-handed shooters, I suppose).  Most of my fellow students were demonstrating reasonable accuracy, though a few were all over the paper and nowhere near the circle.  Murphy and his assistants provided some remedial work as necessary.  However, as he stressed several times, this was not a shooting course. 

We then moved through some other basic drills.  These included the three one and one.  This involved three dryfire draws, one draw to a low-ready, and then one draw to live shot.  We did these from 4 different starting positions, for a total of 20 draws but only 4 live rounds fired.  Other drills that we tried were rabbit drills (competing against a partner), single shots from the draw, single shots from the low ready, and single shots from a position of our hand on the grip of our holstered pistols.  After cleaning up some of the students’ errors, we began to incorporate some limited movement (a couple of steps) into the draw-and-fire solutions.

The cloud cover disappeared by early afternoon, and we were soon operating in what I would describe as a typical sultry summer Virginia mess.  Despite hitting the half-century mark earlier this year, I was one of the younger (and fitter) students in the class, and it was not long before Murphy astutely observed the deteriorating performance of a large percentage of the class.  It is what it is, and a quality instructor knows when to downshift.  Murphy did so, slowing us down and getting us into the shade much more often, doing more of the afternoon drills in relays that had half the class in the shade half the time.

Another note I would like to make here is Murphy’s emphasis on visual rather than auditory cues.  In most classes—and of course in the competitive shooting world—the “go” signal comes from the beep of a shot timer, a whistle, or perhaps someone shouting “GUN!” or “FIGHT!”  In reality, of course, our “go” signal will almost certainly be visual.  Accordingly, Murphy used a rather ingenious visual reference for us, consisting of red and green lasers projected onto the paper targets.  Depending on the drill, each color might have a different meaning.  For example, red might tell us to address the target with verbal directives, while a switch to green might mean “shoot”.  A switch back to red (before or during our pressing of the trigger) might indicate the target ran away.  Darryl Bolke of Hardwired Tactical Shooting has often opined that we should shoot at the pace at which we can STOP shooting, and using this system would seem to be a great way to practice that skill.

Something else we got to do in this class that has been largely ignored in other coursework I have completed is the use of three-dimensional targets. Murphy gave each of us a chance to shoot at a B.O.B. target–wearing a white T-shirt–so that we could (hopefully) correctly place our shots on a three dimensional target from various angles. As I think back on all of the coursework I have done, it is disappointing to me that few others address this very important issue.

Our 3-D Target
Murphy wearing the shirt formerly worn by our target.

Despite issues of heat and time constraints, by the end of the class we were able to participate in exercises wherein our target (courtesy of our partner’s voice) would address us, which might require a verbal response from us.  From there, the target might turn up the dial a bit and force us to deploy our pepper spray trainers and spray the target.  Alternatively, we might simply have to hand over our wallets and run away.  As a final alternative, we might have to draw and fire.  Murphy even had us encumber our hands with objects that we would first have to drop or hand over before being able to draw.  My partner and I made this educational but also fun for each other; we both got very inventive in our use of colorful language when playing the role of the bad guy.

We wrapped up Day Two at around 1630.  Murphy thanked us all for being there, and we had the awarding of certificates to all present. 

Final Thoughts

It is interesting to me to look back on the review I wrote from the one-day version of this course six years ago, and then read John’s review of this course from four years ago.  Murphy is not married to anything and will drop one thing to add another if it works better.  This goes for tactics, techniques, and procedures for us as well as how he presents the material (e.g. the use of the lasers and three dimensional targets).  As a teacher, I can appreciate how a fellow teacher is constantly working not only on the material itself, but also in how it is presented.  In addition, the no BS safety/medical brief combined with his ability to “read the crowd” and adjust on the fly indicate that Murphy does not just pay lip service to safety concerns.  My number one goal at every class is to leave with the same number of holes I started the class with; it is obvious that Murphy feels the same way.

This was a great class, and I highly recommend this course to all concealed carry practitioners, but particularly those who are a little bit newer to “the lifestyle”.  In a way, Murphy provides in two days a sort of guide to all of the many skills that might be necessary to succeed before, during, and after the fight.  Avoidance and de-escalation, verbal judo, pepper spray, drawing to a low-ready, draw to first shot speed, strings of fire, stopping shooting when necessary, basic trauma “stop the bleed” skills, legal self-defense knowledge, etc., are ALL covered in this course.  It is NOT a shooting course.  To a large degree, I would describe it as a guide for further training.  A person who, over time, delves deeper into each of the areas covered in this course would be well-prepared for almost any eventuality.

Although I did not have to pay for this course, I should say right here that, as I think about the nine years I have now spent on this journey, no instructor has had a bigger, positive impact on me than John Murphy.  He is intelligent, thoughtful, and generous.  Before I met him, I was mostly training with ex-special operations types who, in retirement, hung out their shingles.  Since meeting Murphy—and directly because of him—I have trained with Greg Ellifritz, Massad Ayoob, Craig Douglas, Darryl Bolke, Tom Givens, Chuck Haggard, and Karl Rehn.  It was also John Murphy who introduced me to my unnamed mentor, who in turn sent me to train with Joe Weyer, Defensive Elements, and Will Petty, not to mention bringing me into his monthly training group, which I attend almost religiously. 

In short, I feel like I owe John Murphy a lot more than just the cost of this class.  I wanted to put ALL of that out there so readers might understand my possible bias.  Nevertheless, the bulk of this review is what we did, not how well it was done or any other of my opinions, and so I hope it stands as a useful guide to help the readers decide if this is the right class for them.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them below, as we always welcome civil discourse.  I would say “you can find us on social media at…..”, but I continue to revel in a life without Facebook.

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