Thursday, June 30, 2011

AAR: Team Spartan Speed On Steel, Harvey, IL 2008

[I used to blog for the McHenry Co. Sportsmen's Association, but a bit ago I realized that I'm much more a pistol-specialist and decided to dedicate more time to that endeavor. With their permission, I'll be bringing in reviews that originally appeared there. I only started shooting in '07, so please bear with some of my "green-ness" at the time...]

I took an early weekend this past Labor Day so that I could attend Team Spartan's Advanced Pistol 3: "Speed on Steel" course - the course used to run Saturdays-Sundays, but recent Harvey noise ordinances pushed the course to a Friday-Saturday structure. No worries on my part: 4 day weekends are all right by me, especially when I'd be shooting and learning on what promised to be gorgeous late summer days. 
The syllabus for AP3 reads: "This challenging 2-day training course focuses on development of advanced gun-handling skills that are necessary to increase speed in presentation, reloading, target acquisition and manipulation of the semi-automatic pistol. Speed on Steel will address balancing speed and accuracy while operating the semi-automatic pistol in a tactical capacity. Students will be challenged throughout the course with a variety of reactive steel targets and courses of fire, with stress induced drills generated through man vs. man shoot-offs."
Originally, I had signed up for the course because, as a fledging USPSA and IDPA competitor, I wanted to gain input on how to grow the aforementioned skills - just figured that learning from someone with the know-how would be better than learning it wrong on my own. Since everything presented in Spartan's AP1 and AP2 courses made sense, I decided that staying with the same crew of instructors would keep engraining the good habits I'd gleaned. In short, I knew that John Krupa and the rest of the Spartan instructors run a safe course, provide a fun environment, are extremely knowledgeable and could teach the technical item. (As an aside, most of the Spartan instructors have credentials listed on their site, though Pete Milionis' is now notably absent. he is a USPSA GM competitor and Chicago Police SWAT instructor.) 
Friday started early - I packed up my 1500 rounds of 180 gr. .40 S&W; my trusty GLOCK 22, "Froggy"; a spare G23; my only holster, a non-Serpa lock Blackhawk; my 2 Uncle Mike's double magazine pouches; and other assorted gear and headed out to Harvey. Upon showing up, I noted that there would be 5 other participants, one of which was Spartan instructor Mike Keefe (he took the course for free!). The rest of us made quick introductions : 1 Illinois State Trooper, 1 Chicago cop, Mark Galli formerly of DSArms and now with Diamondback Tactical (Mark was my partner for Dynamic Entry and is an all-around great guy!!), another associate member of the North Suburban Police Pistol League - MikeA, and myself. The ISP trooper was shooting .40 in his duty issued GLOCK 22, while the rest were shooting some type of 9mm: MikeA shooting an XD, Mike Keefe running a Kimber 9mm 1911, Krupa shooting a M&P, and the rest with some either a model 17 or model 19 GLOCK. 
Starting with the requisite waivers, emergency action plan, and formal introductions, Krupa launch into an overview that the course would focus on rep-time with some variety drills thrown in to break the monotony of shooting volumes of steel.  Further, it was stated that this was a raw shooting class and not a tactics class; everything would be a preparation for the final "Standards Drills" test and only people who pass the standards drills at 70% or better would receive a certificate of completion of the course. The use of standards drills are nothing new, for example the USPSA and IDPA classification system are really a type of a standardized course of fire to test and assess a shooter, however, AP3 seems to go far beyond other courses in trying to push the envelope. The only other course I can think of off the top of my head would be Pistol Training's Aim Fast, Hit Fast with their "index card drill" and their "draw, fire, reload, double-tap" requirement.

The drills are as follows:
All standard drills are shot from the 10 yard line on 12" steel chest plates and 8" steel head plate racks. Students have 4 attempts to pass each standard. Each standard is worth 10 points. Students must score 70% or higher to pass. 

• 1 round from ready pistol - 1.25 seconds
• 1 round from the holster - 1.75 seconds
• 1 round - reload - 1 round from ready pistol - 3.5 seconds
• 1 round - reload - 1 round from the holster - 4.0 seconds
• 2 rounds on 1 target from ready pistol - 1.5 seconds
• 2 rounds on 1 target from the holster - 2.0 seconds
• 2 rounds each on 2 targets from ready pistol - 3.0 seconds
• 2 rounds each on 2 targets from the holster - 3.5 seconds
• 6 plates from ready pistol - 4.5 seconds
• 6 plates from the holster - 5.0 seconds
Initially, these do not seem that difficult but I'll expand on that "misunderestimation" later. 

Our first course of fire was what Krupa called "Cold Standards" - a single run, "right now", from holster on the 6x8" plate rack from 10 yards with a 5 second par time - just to assess where we were at in our technical abilities and to see if the pressure of everyone watching rattled us. Interestingly, only two people came in under par with clean runs. We'd fire this drill at the start of each day, Krupa noting the time on our assessment sheets.
After "Cold Standards", each student was given an assessment and we settled in to review the concepts of running the pistol, the combat mindset, and discussed the concept of sight gears:
• Gear 1: Perfect sight alignment - used for precision shooting where accuracy is the primary factor.
• Gear 2: Flash sight picture - as long as the front sight "wobbles" in the rear sight box, acceptable combat hits can be delivered to roughly 15 yards.
• Gear 3: Front sight proximity shooting - basic body index sighting, where the shooter is aware that the front sight is somewhere on the target. For extreme conditions under 10'. 
(As a side note: It was an interesting discovery that Enos described a similar system in his book on pistol shooting. There are several fundamental differences between the two descriptions, but what I take away from it is that advanced shooters should have some method of indexed, fast, and precise sight alignments.) These review concepts we practiced while shaking out the cobwebs on paper, which, unlike steel, allows for self-assessment of how our hits were progressing. 
As we finished up, Pete Milionis showed up and we broke for lunch...

During lunch we got a chance to play around with one of Mark's AR's, which was chambered in 5.45x39, i.e. the short Russian AK round. Mark's reasoning behind it was to develop a practice rifle that mimics the recoil of the 5.56 round. Case lots of 5.45x39 are running $189.00, shipped. Additionally, Mark brought along a .44 Mag lever action rifle and we had some fun blasting away at some of the far rifle rated steel.

After playtime, err, lunchtime, we developed some cadence drills on 12" plates. The focus was to shoot multiples onto the plate with the same split times from low ready. 1 shot, 2 shots, 3 shots, 4. This is similar to a drill that Matt Burkett highlighted in one of his training tip articles and the result is the same: By the time you're trying to make 1/4 second splits, you have to have a good, reflexive command of your pistol - gripping it correctly through the string and being able to refocus your sight picture onto the target.
Since most folks had a good command of this so we moved on to refinement of the draw. Let me digress for a second and share some of the idea behind fast holstering and the re-holstering process: "In a hurry to get it out, hesitant to put it away". From the beginning it was made eminently clear that there is no need to hurry the re-holstering process - a rigorous exercise about clearing the gun, thumb-checking the hammer (or rear of the gun on a GLOCK), and being mindful not to sweep yourself while untangling any retention holsters was followed throughout the course.
Development of the draw focused on smooth and consistent presentations - get to the gun, anchor the hands, start the pull, meet the hand, and present. We lined up and Krupa ran us individually starting with a 2 second draw and fire onto the 12" plate. From there, Krupa cycled back and dropped the par time by a some interval. By the time we got to 1.2 seconds, things started to fall apart for most of the class: Too much tension; improper grip on the gun; fighting retention devices, such as not getting on Serpa locks consistently each time; wasted movement; and the last killer: thinking too much.

We were able to witness Krupa easily present from a retention holster at ~1.12 seconds consistently. Milionis, with an offset kydex USPSA rig was able to push the envelope to a blazing .8 seconds - though he said that was somewhat lucky - but able to hit 1.0 second with precise hits. During a reloading break we asked Krupa and Milionis to share their ideas about holster designs and the best way to practice the draw, especially since the majority of ranges don't let folks draw from leather.

Krupa turned the discussion over to Milionis, who gave us his insights on what he thought about holster designs for duty and carry use. Since he was wearing a USPSA rig, he started by discussing it. It was a simple, non-retention kydex rig that had an offset mount to keep the butt of the gun away from the body. The entire holster was mounted on an outer-velcro belt, which mates to an inner velcro belt for ease of putting on or taking off - an asset that was conducive to practice at home.
On the subject of retention holster, Milionis was not enthused about the idea of the Serpa lock holsters saying that consistent positioning of the index finger on the draw is more difficult than consistent thumb positioning, such as on a Safariland ALS holster or a more traditional thumb-break holster. I was under the impression that he didn't believe that retention was necessary for inside the waist band holsters.
Krupa added on by saying that we should be working the draw at home, in front of a mirror when we're dry firing. Further, if a range doesn't allow you to draw, just work on presentations from ready.

We continued working cadence drills from the holster, working on continuous movement drills on rotators, and man vs. man shoot-offs on dueling trees. After an exhausting day, we broke for the night. I fired roughly 800 rounds on day 1!

The following day we came back jumped right in, running cold standards right off the bat with no dryfire or "warmup". Again only two students were able to complete the drill.

We worked hard, recapping some of day one's drills, working wide splits, multiple shot cadences on wide splits, and optimizing reloads.

We broke for lunch, then, before jumping into the standards test, we performed the "walk-back drill": Starting from 10 yards, fire one shot at a plate, freestyle. If you miss, you get a chance to make it up strong hand only. If you miss that, you get a chance to make it up weakhand only. Once a plate was knocked down, the line progressed back to ~15 yards. Then 20, 25, 35, 50, 75, and finally 80!

I've never really fired past 60' and, boy, was that an eye opener!! Additionally, the amazing thing is just how much, and how quickly, a person can train when using a plate rack! No taping, no-mess, just stand 'em up and work the drill again!

Our day ended with the standards - and here I'll loop back into a discussion about the generous times that a lot of competitive shooters have scoffed at:

The test is put at the end, when you've already shot 1400+ rounds. When your hand is hurting. When the chips are down and your brains is screaming, "I'm cooked." It is precisely at that point that your subconscious will do what it knows to do and where an honest assessment of your skills can occur. In the end, only two shooters passed the skills test - the same that passed the plate rack cold standards every day...