29 April 2013

Houston 7X7 Course Review by Alex S

The Introduction: I picked up George at the airport on Friday afternoon. We spend the drive back getting acquainted. I got a crash course in his background, experience and credentials, and brought him up to speed on my level of instruction up to this point. I picked his brain about his opinions on some of the well-known instructors in the industry, just to try and get a frame of reference. I quickly discovered one did not exist, which I was perfectly ok with.
The reason why I had sought out Modern Combative Systems specifically was because I’d become tired of the tool-centric, 2-day G.I. Joe classes that dominate the civilian market. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to learn how to transition from a kited out M4 to a pistol in a drop-leg holster while wearing a 10-mag chest rig, engaging multiple targets…………..but let’s face it, it’s not exactly practical skill-set for a 27 year old mortgage broker in Houston.
We got back to my house (George crashed in my guest room for the duration), and he got situated (and acquainted with my dogs). Then we set out for the “Team Dinner”. We hit up a local burger joint, and all the available members of our little training group came out to get introduced and trade stories. We headed back to the house to continue the informal round table with cigars and brown liquor. Definitely a good way to kick things off.
Several of the members of the group all live on the same block and we basically used our houses as barracks for the training weekend. Everyone slept on couches and air mattresses, so they didn’t have to get up even earlier for the following day’s 8 AM muster.
Day 1:
Personal Protection:
Day 1 started with coffee, breakfast tacos and your typical grab-assing before you build up the rhythm of training. George kicked off with a classroom lecture on the topic of Personal Protection. He initiated by briefly discussing the sociology of the professional predator, and what roles we play in our own lives in regards to interaction with them.  There was emphasis on seeing instead of just looking. Awareness was, in fact, the first tier of MCS’s Personal Protection lesson plan.
We discussed the different ways in which people and organizations communicate amongst themselves and with the outside world. For example: Just because you see a heavily tattooed guy with a shaved head and an intimidating look on a motorcycle doesn’t necessarily mean that he just stepped out of Sons of Anarchy. Lots of little cues can be both subtle and obvious at the same time, and help communicate to the observant how much of a problem they can potential be. Body language, attire, expressions and mannerisms all come in to play. The reason why all this is important is because, in order to have an effective personal protection plan in place, you need to be able to profile effectively.
“Profiling” has some less than positive connotations lately, because people immediately assume that you mean racial profiling. MCS emphasizes behavioral profiling, which is actually an effective technique.
We also briefly covered Boyd’s OODA loop. If you don’t already know what this is, it’s the decision making process that everyone goes through. Entire articles have been written on this alone, and for that reason, I won’t go into depth on it here.
After awareness was covered, the next tier in the MCS curriculum is Avoidance. The best way to win a fight is to not be there when it happens. If you’re effectively aware, you can extricate yourself before things go south. If you’re unable to do that, you can start formulating a plan before the conflict is initiated.
Verbal commands are a critical element of the avoidance block of instruction. Generally a cordial “no thanks” or a more authoritative “get back!” is enough to deescalate a situation; you are, after all, communicating that you’re more aware of the threat’s intentions than they would like. 
Obviously, a good way to avoid a conflict is to move away from it, but make sure you know where you’re moving to, so you don’t end up face-planting, on your back, or exposed out in the open. If movement is limited or impossible, physical barriers are also beneficial. Even if it’s something easily moved, like a barstool, the physical barrier also has a psychological effect that makes the attacker go around instead of directly through. This forces them to telegraph their actions more.
The final stage of Personal Protection is Aggression. I mean, let’s face it; we’re not here to learn how to tickle fight. The judicious application of this aggression is what matters. George is big on the cat analogy. The premise is that you want your attacks to be quick, unexpected, and just enough to allow you to extricate yourself from the situation. This isn’t about slugging it out to “win” or to prove how macho you are. If you have to apply force, things have already gone wrong. The idea is to create a window of opportunity to apply the Avoidance knowledge.
This segues into Combative Anatomy; basically which targets will produce the most effective and efficient results. The three areas of distinction are the Central Nervous System, the Structural System and the Circulatory System. These target areas also play into the “Law of Extension”. The idea here is basically, someone can’t get hurt if they’re keeping their hands to themselves. If they aren’t, they’re offering you a target.
Once targets are covered, you need to know what tools you have to use on them. MCS goes over “personal weapons” like knees, elbows, hands and feet, as well as tools like pens, lights, combs, whistles, etc. George is big on multi-taskers; everyday items that you’ll have a lot of use for, and can also be effectively employed to defend yourself. There’s also a lot of focus on moving to the outside of your assailant, so that all your weapons are oriented towards them, and none of theirs are pointed at you.
At this point the classroom portion gave way to some hands-on demonstration. We paired up and covered what George calls “The Looking Glass” (which was hauntingly similar to the “wax on/wax off” scene from Karate Kid), the Panic Push (discussed on the MCS blog, and familiar to anyone who’s played football). Also covered were Hooking and Anatomical Locking, to immobilize an attacker’s weapon, whether that be hand or tool.  Hooking is essentially using the index and ring finger together to seat into anatomical locking points behind the elbows, at the wrists, and at the base of the skull. Using this technique the hand literally sinks into place and makes the threat very easy to manage. Anatomical Locking is a continuation of Hooking. Once you have a hand or arm hooked, you can lock it in place, either trapped against your body or by locking out the joints. This is where the “Hidden Hands” come into play. Essentially, it’s using points on your own body, like your chest and the crook of your neck, as a point of contact for a joint lock that functions the same way as your support hand would.
This lesson ended with “Palms Up Palms Down”, again reminiscent of Mr. Miyagi. If your initial block orients your hand with your palm facing you, the next motion in a rotation that will bring your palm down, deflecting and likely trapping the attack. We went into some drills about how this applies to typical attacks: Haymaker punch, wrist grab, and chokes. Finally we discussed Vertical Stabilization, basically how to post up against a vertical surface to avoid getting your skull bounced off of it.
Spontaneous Attack Survival:
Day 1 continued with SAS, which is the theory and application of the techniques that we learned at the end of Personal Protection. The first topic covered in this block was the Use of Force.  This lecture covered the criteria that have to be met in order for the use of force or deadly force to be justified. We then discussed the nuisance of how these criteria changed based upon the individual (armed vs. unarmed, able vs. disabled, male vs. female, individual vs. group). We also briefly reviewed the difference between edged & impact weapons. There was then a discussion of the types of weapons one is likely to encounter on the street.
This was particularly illuminating, because most of the videos you see online and in the magazines show the attacker coming at you with a Bowie knife or an 8 inch long screwdriver. This is about as far from reality as you can get. Most street blades don’t exceed 3 inches, and reports indicate that you’re not likely to even realize you’ve been attacked with a knife until after the fact when you find out you’re bleeding. This is the crux of SAS; it’s not contingent upon dealing with a specific weapon. It teaches you to survive a spontaneous attack of any kind (hence the name).
Since you’re not banking on seeing the weapon initially, George trains you to respond to movement. The basic rule is, if you see the arm/shoulder come up, the attacker is coming at you empty handed, if the hand/shoulder drops, they’re most likely accessing a weapon. Either way, we were taught to respond to the assailant’s visual cues; no buzzers here, nobody yelling “Fight!” We reviewed “tactical positioning”; keeping to the outside of your opponent.
Then we got into the depth of the 3 separate phases of a weapons attack: Access, Deployment and Attack. We got a feel for what each of these three phases look like, and how to address each of them respectively. This led nicely into the “Natural Protective Response”, which is a fancy way of describing the body’s natural “oh shit!” flinch reaction where the hands come up and the chin tucks to the chest. THIS is the foundation for any realistic defensive techniques, because there is no way to supersede this hardwired reaction.  We then folded in all the techniques we learned at the end of Personal Protection (palms up/down, panic push, hooking, etc).
We then covered the most common attacks, and what the preparatory and execution movements look like for those attacks. The big 3 that were covered were the roundhouse/haymaker/angle 1 attack, the
“power stab” up into the groin or gut, and the oh-so Folsom-esque “shank”.  We ran these drills for about 15 minutes with training knives, when all of a sudden we heard the crackle of a stun gun………yup, you guessed it. After we’d gotten the techniques down, George decided to up the stakes. Up until this point, there hadn’t been a consequence for getting it wrong….well now we were playing for keeps.
The goal was the attacker had the stun gun (in lieu of a knife). He would attack in each of the 3 scenarios; slash, stab and shank, and you had to keep going until you successfully defended yourself against all 3. Everyone was able to defend themselves successfully with little to no shock by the end of the drill.
Day 1 concluded with another team dinner. After we got back, we sparked up the stogies, poured the hooch and continued the Q&A. Topics covered everything from open carry, camping, home defense techniques, weapons lights, and tactical gear.
Day 2:
Inverted Edge Tactics:
Day 2 kicked off with Inverted Edge Tactics. The lecture started off with what makes a good defensive knife. It’s not the steel, or the blade configuration, or the manufacturer, or any of the other silly stuff that people spend hours arguing on the forums. It’s actually surprisingly simple. What makes a good defensive knife is…………..wait for it…………………..the fact that the manufacturer also produces a factory trainer for it as well. The list of knives that have trainers for them is fairly short. Makes the decision process easy.
 We then reviewed the Law of Extension and how it translates to IET. The basic idea is that the areas targeted can’t get cut if someone is keeping their hands to themselves. This is in conjunction with verbal commands, so the first time the attacker gets cut, they’ve already had plenty of warning. With the previous discussions of Combative Anatomy, the only area that is appropriate to target with IET is the circulatory system, as it’s hard to target the structural (bones) or CNS (brain & spine). Unlike other instructors, that focus on targeting muscle groups, IET zeros in on the targets that they does because the body naturally draws the knife into those pockets of the body (elbow, underarm, pelvic crease, etc).
The basic design of IET is exactly what it sounds like. The edge of the knife, unlike conventional “knife fighting” (which this course is NOT, I cannot stress that enough) is facing you, with the blade up in a hammer-fist grip. The idea is that it incorporates the natural flinch reaction so, should you already have the weapon in hand and deployed, your flinch will naturally bring the blade up into your opponent. Once they feel that cut, or try and re-chamber for another strike, they’re pulling against the edge of the blade; doing all the work for you. This allows for what MCS calls “Default Targeting”, basically taking what the attacker gives you, instead of the more ritualized cuts like in Kali, etc. Be briefly reviewed how Combative Anatomy plays into all this, to understand what was being targeted by default, and what results it would produce.
We finished up with drills putting into practice the techniques we learned. It started off with “probing cuts” and verbal commands, basically the “leave me alone” cuts. If the attacker committed, we went into how to target the brachial, femoral and carotid respectively, depending on exactly how the attack came at us. The knife comes in especially handy on the ground, if someone’s trying to boot you in the head or ribs.
Combative Pistol:
I’m going to preface this by saying the selection and application of a sidearm is summarized in only a few paragraphs of the lesson material. It’s not sexy, it’s not “high speed”, it’s not ultra super secret squirrel confidential. It just works. The MCS philosophy is that all tools carried to deal with a problem are carried forward of the pocket seams, between 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock on the body; this translates to appendix carry, strong side (not kidney), and/or pocket carry. I’m not going to go into what pistol(s) work best, that’s really up to you (provided you’re not an idiot with a Judge).
Next I’ll go over the topics that weren’t address……..like at all: Grip, stance, breath control, trigger control, isosceles, weaver, sight picture, trigger finger placement, support hand placement, tactical reloads, malfunction drills, grouping. You’re probably saying to yourself “but that’s what shooting schools teach! I spent a bunch of money learning Gunsight/Thunder Ranch/Tactical Response/*insert school name here*’s method of tactical shooting!” I’ve taken those courses too, and they’re incredibly useful for teaching marksmanship and proficient manipulation of the firearm. MCS teaches down and dirty street fighting. They teach you what works, and what you can master quickly.
We did go over the appropriate draw-stroke, because MCS’s technique is different than anything else I’ve ever seen taught. Once the cover garment is cleared, the support hand sweeps out and back. The idea behind this is, if you’re with someone, you get them out of the line of fire, and grab a hold of them so that they can be the eyes in the back of your head, should you need to move backwards.
Unlike other courses, where there is a “fight” command (or buzzer), we were taught to initiate contact based on visual cues. This was far more realistic, given that nobody’s going to be there with a PAC timer on the street. We’ll have to read the body language of the potential threat to determine if they’re accessing a weapon or not. The visual cue would only be given in the line of sight of one of the participants, so the other would have to respond to their actions. It was a very illuminating demonstration.
None of us used our sights……….not once. As soon as the pistol cleared the holster and was pointing towards the bad guy, rounds started flying. The primary “default target” for this section was the pelvic girdle. Once you initiated contact, you started raising the weapon up the centerline. The idea behind this is, once the pelvis is struck, it will cause the target to double over. Now you’re shooting down at the top of their head into the chest cavity and spinal column.
There was a lot of emphasis on the fact that drawing your sidearm will not likely be the first step to an effective defense. Once we started drilling, it became apparent very quickly that you would have to address the threat empty handed first, and create a window of opportunity to employ your firearm. Another interesting point was, at no time during the drills did anyone have the ability or opportunity to assume a conventional shooting grip or stance, everything was one-handed and on the move.
This culminated with running scenarios where we took turns being the bad guy. We played out muggings, begging, and a couple of straight-up assassinations. The final drill was a take on the well-known “21 Foot Drill”. The attacker had a rubber box cutter (not exactly fair), and one person had an airsoft pistol. The attacker got to charge, full bore, at their “victim”, and the defender had to employ all the techniques we learned over the last 2 days to keep themselves from getting cut.
At the end of the second day everyone was sore; we just spent the last48 hours beating each other up after all. We went back to the classroom, reviewed the material, and talked about our impressions of the course. George was good enough to also go over some of the other materials that MCS offers, like Traumatic Injury Management, and the concept of the everyday carry bag (a.k.a. The Bag of Evil).
We didn’t really have any expectations going into this. There were a few write ups and short DVDs about MCS’ curriculum, but nothing to give a really strong idea of the content. I can say for sure that we didn’t expect to become such fast friends with George. He’s definitely a standup guy and we all feel blessed to know him. As for the training, was it comprehensive? Not even close. It was however, exactly what we needed. It gave us the foundation material to practice ourselves to increase our proficiency. Every last one of us felt more confident after the course than before that, should we be presented with a defensive scenario (that night, the next day, the next week) that we were better prepared to contend with it.
The best recommendation I can give is to take the instruction in the order we did. George is an accommodating guy, and he’ll give the customer whatever they want (provided you’re not being a moron) however this curriculum was designed to flow from Personal Protection to SAS to IET to Combative Pistol. Each block of instruction built on the previous one. George was incredibly gracious and it was a validation of all the work our group had put in up to this point. It’s nice to hear a professional say “you’re doing it the right way”.

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