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Old April 6, 2014, 03:01 PM   #1
Al Thompson
Staff Alumnus
Join Date: May 2, 1999
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 3,611
AAR: Tom Given's Combative Pistol II 29/30 March 2014

After Action Review:

Combative Pistol II

Florence SC, March 29 & 30 2014

Saturday morning in Florence SC, at a private range, the temperature was about 55 degrees and raining off and on. Eighteen folks who wanted to improve their marksmanship, manipulation and tactics were assembled to be trained by Tom Givens and his wife, Lynn. The first hour was filled with the usual filling out of paperwork while Tom explained what he was going to put us through.

BLUF (bottom line up front) – this was a fast paced, constantly evaluated series of exercises graduated to both push the student and to help the student “eat the elephant” one bite at a time.

In Tom’s usual forthright manner, he explained what he saw as consistent weak spots when working with students and promised a series of exercises to embed new skills, reinforce others and test what was taught. As I experienced in 2012 (Combative Pistol I, IIRC), I was not disappointed.

In Tom’s initial lecture, he pointed out that the critical events for accurately firing a handgun in defense of self and others are sight alignment and trigger control, with most emphasis on trigger control. While stance, grip and sight picture are important, they are fairly easy skills to acquire. Tom’s emphasis for our training would be sight alignment and trigger control.

Stacked right after sight alignment and trigger control was follow through. Once the shot is triggered, follow through becomes essential to stay in the fight as nobody knows when the fight is truly over. Did the first shot work or do we need to keep delivering rapid shots till the threat ceases? Several times students in the class fired the directed number of shots, got the hits and then promptly took themselves out of the fight by retracting or redirecting their pistols to an inappropriate position. In simple math, if you fire two shots get a third sight picture, five shots, get a sixth sight picture, etc., etc.

Once the classroom portion was over (about an hour), if was off to the firing line where we pretty much stayed for the rest of the weekend.

The initial conditions were wet and a bit muddy. Over the course of the weekend, the rain ceased and by Sunday, it was clear and in the mid 60’s. While the muddy conditions generated lots of reloads with retention that first morning, overall the weather was very nice and Sunday’s sunshine generated lots of sunburned folks.

Pro Tip – your drawstroke is your drawstroke and should be as fast as possible, regardless if your target is 2 feet away or 20 yards away. Getting into the (bad) habit of adjusting your speed of presentation to the targets distance eats up your time for no good reason.

As the first series of exercises commenced, Tom was constantly up and down the line to evaluate the overall tenor of the students. While individual adjustments were made, Tom was not shy about taking a pause and going over his recommended techniques when he observed folks doing something different or a specific technique poorly. While each student was supposed to be prepared for a high level course, several folks initially struggled. These folks got individual attention and progressed nicely. My two line neighbors initially struggled and then with some coaching by Lynn, really came into their own. By mid-day Sunday, both were hitting hard and fast and maintaining Tom’s 100% accuracy standards.

Pro Tip – Tom has a unique view of the reloading process. In his studies of both his ever increasing number of student shootings (64 to date, IIRC) and FBI/DEA statistics, the “reload with retention” seems far, far down the list of training priorities. Tom’s technique is to secure a loaded magazine, bring the loaded magazine up to the gun, jettison the depleted magazine and promptly ensure that the fresh magazine is locked in the magazine well. Elapsed time that the pistol is empty was generally less that a split second.

By Saturday late afternoon, the class was clicking along nicely as folks got to chit-chatting among themselves during the breaks and everyone got up to speed on the firing line.

Again, there was an ebb and flow to the drills, the quick breaks and Tom’s impromptu lectures (“Step into my office”). As we progressed, new skills were emphasized, time limits decreased or distances increased. There were only a couple of instances where we adjourned to the classroom over the weekend and that was mainly to let Tom use video in order to drive home a point or two.

In past AARs, I’ve attempted to describe the various drills that Tom orchestrates, but I’m not going to do that this time. I’m concerned that I may not accurately describe the drill and that might lead to someone training to a false standard. Tom has (as you would expect) a plethora of drills, modified drills and historical drills all attributed to who ever invented said drill. The old phrase “drinking from a fire hose” applied in spades.

100% accuracy was the expected standard for every drill. As Tom frequently pointed out, the first shot is the critical one and that missing shots eats up available time. He had several drills that emphasized that some shots have to be delivered quickly, some carefully and some precisely. So who determines the accuracy standard needed? Why the bad guy of course! If he’s close, it may require quickly, if he’s behind cover, it may be precisely.

Pro Tip – having plenty of magazines and an ability to carry extra ammo pays dividends. Instead of constantly jamming magazines, one can hydrate, chit-chat, relax or do whatever keeps you firmly in the “receive” mode for class.

Tom runs a hot range. This is not a match where you unload and show clear after a stage, instead it’s once you load up, ammunition management is your concern for the next 15 hours of class. I have a portable tool chest that holds spare ammo, magazines, snacks and water. On my person I had one magazine pouch, usually three loaded magazines in my hip pocket and extra ammo in a cargo pocket. Only rarely did I have to jam magazines on the line. Others were not so fortunate.

One thing I greatly appreciated was Tom’s emphasis on drills that used minimal ammunition expenditures. That is a reflection of the current ammo shortage and he had several drills that used a minimal number of shots fired for maximum training value.

Pro Tip – when stapling up damp (or soon to be damp) targets, folding down the upper corners (to double thickness) really seemed to help.

Sunday afternoon, it actually became quite sunny and thermal gain an issue. As Tom’s drills gained complexity and incorporated movement, it became obvious that the class was tracking right along. Despite the flip-flop in weather, folks shot faster, reloaded quicker and really seemed to get the hang of things. Sadly, the day drew to a close and we went into Tom’s culmination exercise.

As I’ve previously noted, times were decreased, distances increased and targets reduced in order to maintain the pace. Sunday afternoon, Tom added a new twist for some, in that each shooter was individually tested in front of their peers. The culmination exercise tested every skill covered with a surprisingly small amount of ammo expended. I’m happy to note that I passed with a decent time, while others who did not initially pass were re-tested.

I’ve not mentioned much about equipment as there was nothing much to mention. I ran a Glock 19 in a Blade-Tech holster with zero issues and observed most of my fellow shooters had about the same. Two Deputies ran 1911s in their duty gear and two guys ran HKs, one a P30 and a USP, IIRC. As opposed to the 2012 class, we didn’t have any handguns go down hard or any mystery failures. Round count for me was about 950 rounds down range.

Hope this gives folks some idea on what to expect from a class and Tom’s class in particular. One thing I noted was that Tom had changed some TTPs based on his research and feedback since my last class with him. The ability of an instructor to change as new information becomes available is a hallmark of someone I want to train with again. Looking forward to his next class.
Al Thompson is offline  

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