View Full Version : Review - Tom Givens of Rangemaster - Combative Handgun I

April 10, 2006, 09:07 PM
Tom Givens of Rangemaster (http://www.rangemaster.com) - Combative Handgun I - Off Site class in Baton Rouge, LA.

Being an abject training junkie with a phenomenally permissive, beautiful and wonderful wife has benefits. I leave Tiger Mckee’s 5 day Precision Rifle II (http://www.glocktalk.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=521758), class Friday afternoon from Gadsden, AL and kick in the afterburners. 0900 Saturday, I meet Tom Givens for Rangemaster's (http://www.rangemaster.com) Combative Handgun course in Baton Rouge, LA.

I have been to several classes with Thunder Ranch (http://www.thunderranchinc.com) and Shootrite (http://www.shootrite.org), and they teach almost identical doctrines. Both schools have encouraged me to train with as many others as possible. Rangemaster has a solid reputation for mindset presentation and general instruction, so I decided to take the opportunity to examine a different philosophy. My primary interest is to compare and contrast the doctrines of the schools.

Saturday morning Mr. Givens goes through introductions and gives the safety lecture.


We discuss the four safety rules and an overview of how to handle your weapon. His presentation is involving with elements of comedy and non-PC truths that keep the class on our toes. The main issues he addresses:

Your Stance – Mr. Givens does not endorse Weaver or Iso. The preferred method is the “fighting stance”. Weak foot forward, lean into the target, etc.

Your Grip – You learn how to grip your gun regarding lateral and linear forces, where to put your extra digits, etc. We are encouraged to get our fingers WAY off the trigger when not on target, specifically to rest them on the slide. 1911 shooters are cautioned to keep thumbs on the safety and pointers off the slide stop pin.

The Draw – Weak hand to the solar plexus, strong hand on the gun with a firing grip while still in the holster. Bring the gun straight up, rotate 90 degrees into a retention position, punch out, bringing the weak hand onto the grip in the process, reach full extension. Holstering is the same in reverse.

Semi-auto manipulation – To load, unload, and clear malfunctions - take your weak hand and come over the top, grip the entire slide and rip it to the rear. You will not break your gun. This works on every semi auto every time… it is also a gross motor skill you should be able to handle under a lot of stress. Mr. Givens, Clint Smith and Tiger Mckee all advocate this technique without exception regardless of skill level.

Breathing- Addressed as a non-issue for up close and personal encounters.

Mindset – Excellent presentation and reminders throughout the class. This class confirms that pistols are a notch above worthless. There is a discussion of projectile weight and velocity, anecdotes from personal experience, and video/discussion sections.

Range protocol – The class is broken into two relays. This allows us to shoot a lot without lost time– normally you fire 14-21 rounds then relays switch. The downside is someone messes up your target.


On the line we unload and work dry drills. Initially marksmanship drills start at 15-20 feet. Marksmanship is the focus for several rotations. The next lesson is how to keep the gun refueled. Under Rangemaster doctrine the primary reload is the “speedload”. You will dump the partially full magazine you’ve been using and put in a full one quickly, so you should carry extra magazines. Throughout the class speedloads are the preferred reload. The empty load is secondary and taught as a malfunction. An empty load isn’t quite as fast as a speedload since you have to cycle the slide, but it isn’t slow either. The tac load isn’t addressed until the end of the class.

There is a lot of one handed shooting. Actual shootings and simulations show that if you are in a gun fight you are likely to get hit in the hands and arms, so you should practice strong hand only and weak hand only drills.

A wrong handed friend practicing weak hand only.

Steel targets are set up to illustrate the relationship between accuracy and rate of fire. Students line up at about 20 feet and fire, back to 35, then back to 50.

Upon completing the steel drill, we put up new targets. There are several different target designs throughout the class. This helps reminds us you shouldn’t ever decide what a target is going to look like.


A stopwatch arrives on the scene... Mr. Givens states emphatically that there is a timer at every gunfight, and the Grim Reaper presses the start and stop button. Time adds stress to the situation. You have to complete a drill before the whistle. We work on every type of drill on the clock, including drawing from concealment. Speaking of concealment, we learn how to draw from several types.

Around 4:30 we break for an early dinner with the plan to return around 6 for low light and night work.

Upon returning, Mr. Givens lectures on low light techniques and how the gun works in low light – specifically, the exact same way as during the day – line up the sights and press the trigger. The issue is in lower light tracking movement becomes difficult. Dusk is when “night” sights pay their rent. Aligning your sights is MUCH easier with a little tritium.


As dusk becomes night we gather under the pavilion to discuss the use of flashlights. Mr. Givens addresses several considerations, specifically crime tends to take place between 6PM and 6AM in urban environments. Parking lots at shopping centers, gas stations and so forth are bright enough for you to see with no problem. For many people, the darkest place they regularly go is their driveway. This is a simple fix – more lights. Mr. Givens states the use of a flashlight is unlikely to be necessary in urban environments but it is still a good skill. He demonstrates a variety of techniques but suggests the “neck index” method. You put the light in your weak hand, bring it to your ear, cheek or other repeatable index then fire strong hand only. This technique works very well for me. While it is totally dark, another word on night sights - at “night” they aren’t good for anything other than finding the gun at your bedside. If you can’t see the target, you shouldn’t be shooting. We wrap up at 7:30 PM.


9:00 AM… a few warm up drills and a short lecture on the physiology of what happens in gunfights. Mr. Givens explains the basics of auditory exclusion and tunnel vision.


The class simulating tunnel vision.

He emphasizes your opponent is equally susceptible. You should consider moving since that might get you out of your opponents immediate line of sight, and a host of other positive things.

The first movement we explore is one big step to the side. This is simple – whichever way you want to go, take one big step, leading with the outside foot, then a half step with the other foot to catch up and keep you in the “fighting stance”. We do this while drawing, shooting and reloading to illustrate the point your feet and hands are two separate systems that operate independently.

Mr. Givens issues us dummy rounds to use in failure drills. Failure to fire, stovepipes and double feeds are addressed. The first clearance drill is the tap rack bang, or in Memphis, the “smack ‘em, jack ‘em, whack ‘em”. T-R-B can be done very quickly. There is a demonstration of how to clear double feeds on the clock, and the methods take between 3.5 and 5 seconds. Since the “average” fight is over in that amount of time Mr. Givens suggests you run flat out to cover or concealment if experience a double feed so that you can clear it en route, once there, whatever - become a moving target, and get behind cover.

At this point we break for the video and mindset lecture. There are some technical issues at the facility. I live about 15 minutes from the range, so (thanks to my lovely and gracious wife) Casa Pangris became the Rangemaster Theater. We watch and discuss three videos – the unfortunate experience of Deputy Dinkeller, a 60 minutes segment on Lance Thomas, and the FBI report on the Miami shootout.

With the video section complete, we return to the range. More movement is taught. Mr. Givens advocates pointing your feet in the direction you want to travel if you need to move more than one step. He also discusses closing distance with an opponent instead of moving backwards to create distance. Mr. Givens primary objection to rearward movement is you can not see where you are going. Moving backward into traffic, or down a stairwell, or into a glass patio door would be bad. He contends movement forward at an oblique angle eliminates those hazards while making it hard to hit you. We practice this dry then try it on steel, moving forward from about 50 feet to within 20 feet. We also move side to side using our torso as a turret, pointing our feet where we are going while shooting to the side.

We learn about tactical reloads but suffice to say Mr. Givens does not like tac loads.

The moment of truth – qualification time. I don’t remember the exact drills but they are all on the clock and address drawing from concealment, strong/weak hand only drills, moving forward to close distance, and reloading.


My target... I make a passing score on the course of fire and earn a Rangemaster certificate.

April 10, 2006, 09:09 PM
Continued -

- Mindset -
Mr. Givens is a great mindset instructor. There are some specific things you will take from this class.

1. There are two triads (The Two Triads of Truth?) that form the foundation for the content of the class.
A) Your mindset, marksmanship and gun handling skills are all equally important when it comes to surviving a confrontation.
B) You must be able to deploy a handgun capable of speed, power and accuracy to defeat an opponent.

2. If you are in a gunfight, you might get shot. If you are shot with a handgun, you can probably function and keep fighting. Handguns are woefully underpowered, hence 80% of people shot with them survive.

3. If you carry a gun, you should realize that one day someone may force you to shoot them. You need decide a course of action long before you are faced with the situation.

4. You can choose not to be a victim and fight back regardless of the circumstances, specifically using Lance Thomas as an example. His business was robbed four times, and he killed his attackers in each case. He was shot in two of those robberies but survived with no long term problems. This was the first time I really thought about the possibility I could do something even if an opponent has “the drop” on me – you might get killed either way, so why not?

5. We examine the Miami shooting in detail. There is some amazing data here which provides food for thought. I could write extensively on this small part of the class, but within the scope of this review I’ll share two things that made a huge impression. In case you are unfamiliar with the Miami incident, there were two bad guys (Platt and Manix) versus 9 FBI agents. Two agents were killed and 5 seriously injured. Both suspects eventually died.

A) Matix was shot twice in the face, on either side, with 38 special 158 gr +P hollowpoints. Both bullets struck cheekbones and failed to penetrate any further. The cheekbones shattered, the bullets stopped, and neither shot stopped Matix. Platt was also stuck in the skull with a 158 gr +P hollowpoint and it didn’t penetrate into his skull. Platt was hit 12 times with various projectiles including 9mm, .38, and 00 buck – and was alive 14 minutes after the fight.
B) Platt and Matix took their getaway cars from everyday normal people. To make sure the victims didn’t report the cars stolen, Platt and Matix killed those people. While citizens are unlikely to be in a North Hollywood or Miami style shoot out, that does not mean we won’t face the type of people involved in those confrontations.

6. The OODA loop. Humans have to Observe, Orient, and Decide before they can ACT. Anything you do to reset an opponents loop is good – i.e. move, shoot them, etc.

7. Stress inoculation. Mr. Givens believes being put under artificial stress with timers, scored courses, and sims will make the real deal less disorienting. I agree training provides confidence. If you are in a bad situation, you don’t want to be doing something for the first time, or wondering if you can do something.

8. Dry practice – You will be taught you should handle your gun dry often, working basic handling skills and dry fire a few times a week for a few minutes. This way even if you don’t get to shoot regularly you will be ready to present your firearm and are in the practice of manipulating the gun.

9. Don’t be polite, don’t let people get close to you. It might get you killed. Criminals take advantage of our disposition to polite behavior. If you don’t feel right about someone or a situation, say so and take a fighting posture. Let the opposition know without doubt you are a sheepdog, not sheep.

There are some differences between Mr. Givens doctrine and what I study at TR/SR. The following applies to level one classes.

1. Using timers & scoring in training – Thunder Ranch and Shootrite teach there are no timers in gunfights and do not use them in training. Mr. Givens maintains there is a timer in every fight, and the Grim Reaper has his finger on the button. I don’t think there is a meaningful difference with regard to the end result. Each school imparts stress in its own way, increasing the difficulty along the way, with confidence being the end result.

2. Movement –Givens teaches if you need more than one step, you should be using your torso as a turret and pointing your feet where you are going. His primary objection to rearward movement is you can not see where you are going, what you may hit, or other perils. He is not at all opposed to closing distance with the target. TR and SR teach movement backward and sideways in a very specific way to detect obstacles or a bad path while facing the target. Under TR/SR doctrine, closing with a target is only to be done in rare circumstances. Moving backwards is supposed to give you more time to draw and make good hits, discouraging your opponent.

3. Verbalization – Telling the target and witnesses why you are shooting is a big part of training at TR and SR. This is called demanding verbal compliance and it begins early in the training. Talking to (or yelling at) your opponent becomes part of your presentation. Mr. Givens told this class verbal compliance wasn’t necessary at this time and that we should focus on fundamentals. Discussing the issue among ourselves, he says it is a more advanced skill and ties up a lot of the brain, so it is something for more advanced classes.

4. Where to hold the gun while doing manipulations – Rangemaster has you bring the gun in closer to you for manipulations. TR and SR tell you to point the gun toward the target regardless of condition and to master manipulations at an arms length. Rangemasters way is easier and faster (at least in the beginning), the TR/SR way is harder but once you master it (which I have yet to do), you have a gun pointed toward the target all the time.

5. Reloading/Tactical loads –TR and SR teach that an empty gun is just a reality of fighting and that you should master the empty load. The secondary load under the TR doctrine is the tactical load, which means you take the partially full magazine out, insert a fresh mag, and retain the partially full magazine. This is taught to be an almost administrative act that should only be done when there is a defined opportunity, and that you should not unload a functional gun in a fight. Using this method you still have any unused ammunition. Rangemaster teaches you should speedload (dump a partially full mag without retention and insert a full magazine) when possible at any lull, and that an empty gun is a malfunction. The speedload is the reload most emphasized.

6. Amount of Material vs. Repetitions – In a two day class, you have very little time. The instructors have to decide how much time they want to spend in the classroom, then on the range they have to balance perfecting a skill versus moving on to the next step. TR/SR tend to do a few more reps, Rangemaster tends to introduce something else. Both methods work – the more reps, the more likely the student will remember that skill. More material with less reps gives an extra tool or two but if you don’t practice at home, you will not retain the material as well.

I attribute these differences to the fact this is an art, not a science. There are more similarities than differences. As a practical matter, I think someone training under either doctrine has a much better chance of winning a confrontation than someone with no training or minimal training.

I will state an opinion on two particular issues –a worthless, rotund civilian opinion to be sure –

(Re)Loading the gun -
After a lot of thought, I prefer the tac load. Mr. Givens is the first to say he can speedload because he carries two spare magazines and a back up gun. I believe he is the exception and not the rule. In a fight, people tend to do what they have done –since I rarely if ever carry two extra magazines, I wouldn’t want to train myself to dump a mag once action slowed down.

Mr. Givens has looked, but found no instance of people using retained mags in a fight. Research is important but I maintain that there are situations such as the ones we examined in the classroom where retained ammo might have been advantageous or could have been with minor variances. In the end, I personally prefer the empty load/tac load mindset.

Movement –
I think both schools have equally valid methods, but opposing views. I would default back to the fact that since we don’t know which fight we’ll get, practicing both would be a good idea, as would being able to move in ANY direction during a fight. At Thunder Ranch, “Distance is time, time is marksmanship, marksmanship wins fights” is a mantra and that makes sense. I understand that someone can run faster than I can move backwards, but if my movement increases the amount of time I have by half a second, that is time for at least a couple rounds to deter that forward movement... again, I think both schools teach useful movement drills. I plan to add the Rangemaster way into my airsoft work, and possibly even integrating the techniques. This may be akin to “crossing the streams” but I’m a risk taker.

Overall I’m glad I took the class and would suggest Rangemaster to anyone with the opportunity to check them out. A friend of mine in the class who has never trained before feels he learned a lot and is better prepared in the event of an encounter.

April 10, 2006, 10:10 PM
Once again, you're the man! :cool:

Thanks for another outstanding review.

April 11, 2006, 01:13 AM
THanks for the detailed review. Much was familiar as I took Combative Pistol 2 in Austin last weekend. It was a great experience and I would also recommend Rangemaster to anyone who has the opportunity to train with Tom.

April 11, 2006, 05:56 AM
Pangris, Thanks for the fine review. Its people like you, who help those of us that can't/couldn't (as a rookie) afford professional training. You cannot imaging how much a post like this helps form a personal training plan. It also helps one confirm that what they are doing is considered by professionals as correct.

I was in an argument/debate with a coworker/training partner about putting my weak hand on my solar plexus while drawing. I found that it gave a reference point to my strong hand so I could draw faster and more consistently plus it kept my weak hand clear of the muzzle. My friend thought that it delayed the mating of the two hands once the draw was complete. I was always faster but he still thinks his way is correct. It is nice to know that others in the know do it my way (or I do it their way).

Again thanks for a great review.

April 11, 2006, 10:57 AM
Great write-up. This type of information is very valuable.

Question on the position of the weak hand. I have had no formal training. During the draw (at the range), I always use my weak hand to assist in removal of my cover garment to access the weapon from the holster. From your feedback it appears that my weak hand should only be in the solar plexus, and let my right hand (strong hand) do all the work. Is this correct?

April 11, 2006, 12:19 PM
Two repsonse about the position of the weak hand - True students, you are

Weak hand to the solar plexus during a regular draw is more consistent, faster, and safer. There have been tests using high speed photography and timers and it is the way to do it.

If you are drawing from concealment, it depends on the type of garment. If using a coat/jacket open down the center line, then it goes to the solar plexus. If using a pull over, it assists in getting the garment out of the way using both hands to grasp the garment and pull it WAY up, then the weak hand retains the garment in that position as the strong hand draws.

Posted by Threegun -
Thanks for the fine review. Its people like you, who help those of us that can't/couldn't (as a rookie) afford professional training. You cannot imaging how much a post like this helps form a personal training plan.

Who said I can afford it? :o They all take credit cards ;)

Believe me, I know that reviews inspired me to take my first class. Honestly, up until 2001, I thought I knew what there was to know. I'd been shooting since I was five years old. I could make tiny groups on paper. I went to Thunder Ranch thinking I was going to learn that last little bit.

What I found was that I know nothing. After about 220 hours of training between Thunder Ranch (5 classes) Shootright (three classes) and Rangemaster (first class) I know more than nothing but the universe possible of knowledge is so huge that I still know so very little that I have a hard time grasping every knowing enough.

I know that the vast majority of gun owners *don't think* they need training.I know that the vase majority of gun owners *actually need* a lot of training. That is why I spend the time to write them.

April 11, 2006, 12:58 PM
What a great review/comparison. Much thanks.

Glenn E. Meyer
April 11, 2006, 02:31 PM
Great review! I just did CP II and noticed a lot of crappy things I need to seriously work own. It is a course not to miss. Tom is a great teacher.

The money is not that bad. When we think of what we spend for new gear and ammo, one can put away the cash in a reasonable time. I start a little kitty and put in a bit here and there to get a lump sum for something like this.

I highly recommend Rangemaster training.

August 21, 2016, 02:17 PM
I attended a Rangemaster Combative Pistol Course last week in Franklin, TN. This was my first handgun instruction since obtaining my CC Permit. For a beginner, this was two days of power-packed information. Tom is a no-nonsense, extremely experienced firearms master and I left with the best information I could have gained anywhere, I believe.

If you need a course, this is the place to get it!

August 21, 2016, 03:54 PM
interesting write up. so they teach tossing mags with ammo still in them? i only carry one spare mag (20 rounder). i'll stick to reload with retention.

Glenn E. Meyer
August 22, 2016, 09:09 PM
The idea is that the fight might resume at any second and you want to be at full capacity ASAP. You don't want to be screwing around with one hand retaining the mag.

If the fight is truly over, you can pick it up.

August 22, 2016, 10:23 PM
I was in an argument/debate with a coworker/training partner about putting my weak hand on my solar plexus while drawing. I found that it gave a reference point to my strong hand so I could draw faster and more consistently plus it kept my weak hand clear of the muzzle. My friend thought that it delayed the mating of the two hands once the draw was complete. I was always faster but he still thinks his way is correct. It is nice to know that others in the know do it my way (or I do it their way).Probably the most important reason to index the weak hand against the torso during the initial part of the draw is to insure that the weak hand does not get in front of the muzzle.