Back on July 14th, I was fortunate enough to attend Citizens Defense Research‘s Technical Handgun: Tests & Standards, taught by John Johnston. I first discovered John through his show Ballistic Radio, where he interviews national instructors, and other noteworthy personalities in the firearms and self-defense “ecosystem” (a term I first heard used this way by Mickey over at Carry Trainer that I liked, and therefor stole). The show is a great resource to help you discover new instructors you may be unfamiliar with, and help direct where you want to focus your training efforts. One thing I want to address up front is that I’m not going to go into the exact specifics as to the drills and tests that were used, for two reasons. Firstly, I can assume that John selected this series of drills in this order for a reason, and it’s part of what makes the class unique. Secondly, and more importantly in my mind, it gives people the opportunity to “train up” for the class, which I think does yourself a disservice. I’m personally of the opinion that a student will get the most out of this curriculum by taking it “cold”, to best assess their current abilities and skill set. But let’s get back to the class at hand.
First, I think it’s useful to address what the course is and isn’t. Honestly, I think they did a great job with the summary of the course on the website, but to summarize, here’s what you can expect:
What It Isn’t:
- A beginner’s class. You need to have at least a modest level of technical ability with a handgun in order to take full advantage of this class. Safety is paramount, of course. You need to have a high level of familiarity with your handgun, carry gear, and range commands. It helps if you have shot enough to have failed certain standards before. Why? Because some people can have a tendency to become frustrated, and exasperated body language while holding a firearm can be potentially dangerous. Personally, I’d suggest you be familiar with common evaluations like the Bill Drill, FASTest, Casino Drill, etc. This class should not be your first exposure to shooting accurately under time.
- A tactical class. Both in the literal definition, and in the marketing buzzword sense. There’s no shooting and moving. There’s no scenarios or decision making.
- Designed to increase your maximum potential. John expressly said during the class that this was not the type of class to help you get to your sub-second draw.
- A fundamentals class. The topics covered by this curriculum assume that you already have a capable grip, draw, and trigger control.
What It Is:
- A deep dive in to the nuances and minutia of pistol shooting.
- A mechanics class. John’s approach to managing the pistol focuses less on “tracking the sights” through the process of recoil, and more on consistency that allows the sights to return to the same spot after every shot.
- Designed to raise your minimum threshold, and reduce the gap between your top level and bottom level performance. To paraphrase John “While I’m not as fast as I have been in the past, there’s not nearly as much of a difference between my fastest and my slower now”.
Until I find a better format, I will continue to shamelessly borrow the 3X3 AAR format from The Short Barreled Shepherd:
Top 3 Things Covered In The Class:
- Stance. Anyone that’s seen video of John shooting from his appearances on Lucky Gunner’s YouTube channel has seen his unique approach to body position and foot placement. It is important to note that he does not advocate utilizing this stance in a gunfight. The primary purpose of this methodology is that there’s enough built-in stability that it allows the shooter to actively focus on other, more important elements of the shooting posture. His approach, reasoning, and articulation does stem from his recent foray into yoga as well. I can tell you that activities that require a higher level of body awareness, and isolating individual limbs & joints can be highly beneficial so your understanding of this segment. Ballroom dancing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu really helped this material click for me. He pointed out how the “tactical turtle” forces you to engage the smaller muscle groups of the hands and arms, while a more relaxed upper body allows you to utilize the lats and triceps more efficiently.
- Sight Picture. The main focus (no pun intended) of the class was “seeing what you need to see”. Developing the understanding of what the sight picture needed to look like in order to achieve different results. Each exercise had both time and accuracy standards. I was the only iron-sighted shooter in the class, and everyone else was running a dot. It was interesting because I benefited greatly from a conversation that John had with another student. They were talking about point of aim, and how it need to be higher than the desired point of impact when shooting at 3 yards. This was the first time that I’d basically been “given permission” to adjust point of aim. Before that, I’d (wrongly) assumed that “Kentucky windage) was a lazy solution to bad mechanics. Yes it seems silly, and kind of like a no brainer, especially if you understand ballistic trajectories, but just hearing it spoke aloud really helped me, even though I wasn’t the subject of the conversation.
- Process Focus vs. Outcome Focus: John will be the first person to tell you he didn’t invent this idea, nor is this class the first time I’ve been exposed to it. That being said, it’s easy to get caught up in the outcome, since that’s what everyone fixates on, and is the part we want to show off on The ‘Gram. The reality is that the results are merely a symptom of correctly executed process. There were multiple exercises during the course of the day that highlighted the fact that the brain and the eyes know what right looks like, and if you just let the program run and allow things to happen instead of trying to force the hits, it tends to yield a more consistently successful outcome.
Top 3 Things I Learned:
- There is such a thing as gripping the gun too hard. Relaxed muscles move faster, so finding the right balance to achieve maximum recoil control and speed is critical. A solid foundation allows you to be less concerned with keeping the muzzle down, because it’ll end up back where it started.
- There comes a point where your body knows what to do, and your brain just interferes. It helps to divorce yourself from the shooting process, and just let it happen vs. making it happen. The results will allow you to more accurately diagnose the actual shortcomings you still have.
- Target focused shooting is a thing, and it’s very useful. I’d heard the concept discussed before, but never really played around with it until this class. There were moments during the strings of shooting where I didn’t actively register that I was looking at the target vs. the front sight, but when I replayed the image in my head I was able to recall the sights being fuzzy but still in proper alignment. I’ve been a front-sight focused shooter for the last decade, so it took conscious thought to maintain the target focus at times. I also finally understood what those “pre-game rituals” are for, when people draw out and aim in at each target. It wasn’t until this class that I realized the purpose of that exercise is not the sight alignment, but the snapshot of what proper sight alignment looks like over-top of the target. That way your brain already knows what to look for. While this might be a “no duh” statement for some, I’ve never seen it quantified in that fashion before, and was a moment of clarity for me.
- Bonus Lesson: Emergency reloads during The Super Test are inadvisable. I tried to game it, and download my mags to 10. I miscounted. Ergo I ended up hitting slide lock on the 9th round and having to reload within the time hack. Kind of a goat screw. Moral of the story: don’t game it, just shoot the damn drill.
Top 3 Things I’ll Do Differently:
- I’ll absolutely be incorporating this stance into my future shooting. It frees up “RAM” to focus on other aspects of the shooting process. It’s also just flat out easier and less fatiguing. After 2 days with Spencer Keepers, I was sore. After 4 hours with Paul Sharp, I was sore. Now those other classes were still immensely useful in their own rights, and I’m glad I took them. This information wouldn’t have resonated nearly as much without that previous perspective, but I definitely think this approach works better for me personally. After this class (10 hours) I barely felt anything. So it requires less active thought, less active effort, and lets me shoot as if not more effectively.
- Continuing the practice of “seeing what you need to see in order to make the hits, and shoot as fast as you can see it. Whatever happens happens”
- Be Decisive. This was the feedback that I got from John at the end of the day. We went around and he gave us each something to work on. He correctly identified me as an analytic, advised that my desire to explore all angles can negatively impact my progress, and suggested I’d be best served by simply sticking to a chosen course of action. Specifically, my focus is going to be continuing to work on target focus shooting.
Overall this class is well worth your time. It really feels like it’s a 2 day class compressed into 10 hours in terms of the volume of information and progress that’s made. It’s small, so you’re getting a TON of individualized attention. Whether your main goal is defensive or sport, if you shoot a handgun you’ll walk away with something from this class.
The last thing that I’ll say is that, with all the courses I’ve taken, there have only been a select few where the instructor has a palpable emotional investment in the performance of their students not just as validation of the coursework, but stemming from a place of compassion. John is absolutely one of these instructors. He’s able to show you soul-crushing, demoralizing failure, and yet leave at the end of the day all warm and fuzzy, wanting to do better and knowing that you’re capable of it. Take this class. Get better.
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