I have hundreds of hours invested in firearms classes and have practiced martial arts for many years.
One thing I have learned from all this training is that an inexplicable chasm separates gun folks from martial-arts folks.
As far as I can tell, many people who study one discipline feel that the other discipline is completely superfluous. If you go to a martial arts school, you might learn a handgun disarm technique or two, but you are not likely to learn how to shoot a gun. If you go to a firearms school, you might learn a handgun retention technique or two, but you are not likely to learn how to defend yourself hand-to-hand.
So I was excited to hear about a new class being offered by Tony Blauer of Blauer Tactical Systems (BTS) and Rob Pincus of I.C.E. Training. They have joined forces to offer a course that neatly teaches hand-to-hand self-defense integrated with firearms training. I signed up immediately and attended the inaugural class, which was held in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Eight other students took this class with me.
DAY 1: TONY BLAUER AND THE S.P.E.A.R. SYSTEM
The first day took place at BTS World Headquarters & Tactical Training Center. It was an easy drive from my hotel on the beach to the facility. Everyone gathered in the upstairs classroom and Tony spent the first couple of hours explaining the S.P.E.A.R. system to us. Tony Blauer has been teaching hand-to-hand skills since 1979 and has been a leading innovator in reality-based training. His S.P.E.A.R. system exploits the body's natural reaction to danger--the flinch. Take a completely untrained person and throw a punch at them. That person will instinctively flinch to deflect the punch.
I remember all those years in grade school feeling like a loser every time a kid would jab a fist at my face and then taunt, "Ha! Ha! Made you flinch."
It turns out they had it wrong. The flinch is your friend. The flinch is your body's instinctive, built-in system to protect you from danger. So why waste years learning how not to flinch? Why not instead incorporate it into your selfdefense program? These questions led Tony to develop the S.P.E.A.R. system. S.P.E.A.R. stands for Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response. The purpose of the S.P.E.A.R. system is to enable a person to rapidly transition (accelerated response) from a flinch (spontaneous protection) to an effective counterattack.
Blauer proved to be a proficient teacher. He explained everything clearly and efficiently, with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation containing numerous video examples that made our short time in the classroom productive and not at all boring.
Around 1000 hours, Tony took us down to the gym and showed us the Spear. The Spear is the base component of the S.P.E.A.R. system. It is the sort of thing that is easier to show than to tell, but basically the Spear is a way of using your arms together to block incoming attacks and to deliver counterattacks. The hands are held open together, palms down, fingers forward, elbows bent so that your arms come together to form what looks like the tip of a spear. Tony demonstrated how one flows naturally from a flinch into the Spear and how the Spear can be used to block and counter any normal attack that actually occurs on the street.
Then Tony led the class through a series of exercises that illustrated why the Spear is performed the way it is. For example, in the Spear, the fingers are extended out straight and the eyes are focused out through the fingertips. The reason for this is strength.
The arm is stronger when all its muscles are working in the same direction. Tony proved this by having me stand with my right arm held straight out in front of me with my hand in a fist. In this position, some muscles in the arm are pulling while other muscles are pushing. Tony then tried to bend my arm, which he managed without too much difficulty. Then he had me hold my arm out again, this time with my fingers extended.
In this position, all the muscles in the arm are pushing. He needed a lot more effort to bend my arm in this position than he did before, which is why the fingers are extended in the Spear. Such exercises are not fighting techniques but were designed to teach students why and how his preferred fighting techniques work.
After lunch, we spent the afternoon learning how to use the Spear to move ourselves from being dominated in an attack to dominating the attack. This doesn't necessarily mean that you are beating up the opponent. It means that you have moved away from being controlled by an assailant into being in control of yourself. You might not have complete control of the assailant, but the assailant no longer has control of you.
This is important because it enables you to start taking the fight in the direction you want it to go. Tony calls this getting to a point of domination. Perhaps you want to draw your firearm. As long as the assailant is dominating you, you won't be able to do that. But as soon as you can get to a point of domination, you can safely make the transition.
DAY 2: ROB PINCUS AND COMBAT FOCUS SHOOTING
I was glad that the entire first day took place inside the gym because it rained pretty much all day. I was concerned that the second day, which took place at the C2 Shooting Center, a well-designed outdoor public shooting range about 20 minutes southeast of Tony's facility, would be miserable. But overnight the sky cleared, and we had perfect weather on Day 2.
When we got to the range, Rob Pincus didn't waste any time. We started shooting right away. Whereas many firearms schools start out teaching all the fine points of smooth trigger control, perfect sight alignment, and ideal combat stance, Rob likes to let people get familiar with the firearm more naturally.
With that in mind, the first shooting exercise had all of us standing on the line with our firearms in a ready position, affecting an attitude of someone who had never shot before. Rob would call out the command "Up" and we would thrust our firearms up and out at eye level. Rob wanted us to first touch the trigger, then as a separate action, pull the trigger. This was the very simple and easy introduction to shooting that Rob has used successfully with the thousands of absolute beginners he has trained over the years.
Now don't let me misrepresent Rob Pincus here. I don't want it to sound like he is against sight alignment and trigger control. He is not. He does indeed teach those skills. But he teaches them later on, after the student has started to become comfortable handling the gun and can appreciate the need for sight alignment and trigger control.
After a few shots, Rob had us start moving and shooting. For safety's sake, it was nothing too fancy, since we did have to remain in a line, but a simple step to the side as we came up on target. This way we got used to the combat expedient of movement while shooting. Even when restricted to a square range, Rob does his best to get away from the square range mentality. Movement is just one way he does this. Another thing Rob wanted us to do was mix up the number of shots we fired in each string. "Sometimes fire three rounds, sometimes fire four," he instructed, "but don't let yourself develop a pattern."
Another training philosophy Rob emphasized was pushing our limits. "If you are getting 100% of your hits where you want them to be, then you are not pushing yourself hard enough," he said. "If you're getting only 70% of your hits where you want them to be, then you're pushing yourself too hard. When you're training, you should be getting about 90% of your hits: no more, no less. If you only practice what you are comfortable doing, you won't improve."
Toward the end of the day, the drills became much more dynamic. For example, we did the Wind-Sprint drill. Rob drew three lines on the ground at different distances from the targets: one at five yards, one at ten and one at 15. Each line was given a color: red, green, black. Rob would shout out a color. Shooters on the line had to run quickly from wherever they were to the line Rob had announced. Occasionally Rob would shout, "Up." At that point, shooters might be running toward or away from the targets, and they might be 15 feet away or five. It didn't matter. In this drill, we learned how to shoot from unusual and unpracticed positions.
Despite the substantial movement and irregular stances encountered during these drills, at no point did the range become unsafe. Rob was very safety conscious and never asked the class to perform an exercise that was beyond the students' abilities.
Another drill we did was the figureeight drill. One student at a time was set to walking casually in a figure-eight about 15 feet away from the target line, where numbered targets of random size and shape were distributed. Rob then shouted out a number. The student would flinch (incorporating training from the previous day), draw while moving, and shoot the appropriate target or targets.
Throughout all of these exercises, Rob did an excellent job of explaining the rationale behind the drill. We understood not just what to do, but why we were doing it. In all cases, the focus was on combat training. "There are lots of good reasons to learn how to shoot. But I'm not here to teach you how to plink pop cans in the backyard," Rob said. He was concerned about getting people as quickly and efficiently as possible to the point where they could effectively defend themselves with a firearm.
Overall I was very pleased with the class. I certainly enjoyed it and I learned a lot. I don't understand why there is a chasm between the martial arts world and the gun world. However, I'll postulate a big reason is that people who live in one world have the wrong impression about what it is like in the other.
If I am right, then the bridge to bring these two groups together is a class like this, which allows students to ease their way into a new discipline while at the same time gaining an understanding of how that new discipline applies to and enhances their old, familiar one. As Rob said, "If you only practice what you are comfortable with, you won't improve."