After living through the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fallout...
We appreciate high-end guns and gear as much as anyone, but it's worthless to have the best tools money can buy if you aren't capable of using them effectively when lives are on the line. Unless your ultimate goal is to show off your purchases on social media, you'd better be investing time and money into training. At the end of the day, the skills and confidence you carry within weigh nothing, will never be depleted, and are worth a thousand times more than the items in your pockets or your holster. With this in mind, we set a goal to receive more professional survival skill instruction in 2020.
For one of our first steps in this educational journey, two members of our staff — myself and OFFGRID's head Editor, Tom Marshall — attended a two-day Dynamic Marksmanship pistol class here in our home state of Arizona. The class was taught by Blue-Green Alliance, a firearms training company founded by two Force Recon Marines named Josh and Gabe.
The duo set out to use their military experience to help members of the law enforcement community become more proficient with their service weapons, hence the use of “green” and “blue” in the name. They also welcome civilians who wish to improve their concealed-carry preparedness and marksmanship. Their unique approach to training incorporates elements of sports psychology and biomechanics, because they believe there's much shooters can learn from the way high-level athletes train.
Read on as Tom and I recount some of the biggest successes, biggest challenges, favorite drills, and lessons learned from this Blue-Green Alliance pistol class.
I'll preface this by saying that I am what some of you might consider a novice shooter — essentially the opposite end of the spectrum from Tom. I've spent a decent amount of time plinking at ranges over the last ten years, and often practice my draw and dry fire drills at home. I felt I had established a baseline level of competence to defend myself, but I knew I had lots of room to improve, having never received any formal pistol shooting instruction. That had to change, and there was no better time than the present.
Although my performance on the course paled in comparison to other shooters in the class — most of whom had prior military and/or law enforcement experience — I felt that my biggest success at the class was the rate at which I improved. Both Gabe and Josh were patient and encouraging instructors, and offered tips on how to improve my form. More importantly, they helped me learn to self-diagnose mistakes. I soon found myself correctly identifying what I had done wrong after a run, and this has allowed me to keep improving after the class ended.
The net result is that after two days on the range and more than 800 rounds fired, I feel dramatically more confident and consistent with a handgun.
On paper (no pun intended) my biggest success was winning the final shoot-off. It was truly a stroke of luck, as far as I’m concerned. All the same, it’s an honor to have made top shot at Blue-Green Alliance’s inaugural class.
Above: As top shooter at the class, Tom received a certificate and a slick new knife from Half Face Blades.
What I feel was more important was finally finding something I’ve personally been searching for most of the last decade — instructors who are teaching marksmanship with the backing of empirically-quantified performance science, as opposed to regurgitating the same anecdotal lessons and buzz phrases that have been repeated since the mid-1960s. The guys at Blue-Green Alliance, in my opinion, are really onto something with their unconventional methods. And they are tracking hard data to prove the efficacy of their system. It’s a refreshing break to see an athletic, mentally-engaging endeavor taught with science, instead of with history.
Three words have been ingrained in my mind from this class: prep, confirm, roll. Every student had to speak these words out loud hundreds of times while performing the associated actions — draw the gun to the ready position and prep the trigger by holding it at the break point, confirm that the sights are aligned on the target, and roll more pressure onto the trigger to smoothly fire a shot. Saying these words while drawing and firing took time to get used to. Still, my biggest challenge by far was the unspoken step that comes immediately afterward: reset to recoil.
After the roll fires a shot, the trigger must be reset before firing a second shot. Many shooters (myself included) have formed the habit of pinning the trigger as far back as it'll go until the gun is back on target, then releasing pressure until the audible “click” that indicates the trigger has been reset. This manifests as bang …pause… click, bang. This may be fine if you're looking for single-shot precision, but in a dynamic real-world environment (such as a self-defense situation) you'll probably need to fire multiple shots in fast succession. That means that your trigger should be reset and ready to go before the weapon is back on target.
Reset to recoil essentially means resetting the trigger during the gun's recoil impulse, so that by the time it's stable and you've re-acquired the sight picture, you'll be able to accurately fire a second shot without jerking the trigger or waiting for the reset. That may sound easy on paper, but I found it monumentally difficult in practice. It's tough to back off the trigger juuuust far enough that it's reset — but not so far that you're lifting off entirely — during the split-second recoil movement. My aforementioned bad habit of slowly resetting during dry fire practice and range trips compounded the issue.
Thankfully, Josh stood next to me on the range and offered one-on-one feedback when I was doing well, and when I wasn't. This helped me recognize the issue and work to improve it.
For me, the biggest challenge was de-programming scars from conventional training – not just in terms of how I shoot, but in my whole mindset going into training. For example, re-learning the draw stroke in two steps, instead of four or five, was pretty significant to me. Not having the path of draw (exactly how the gun moves from the holster to full extension) laid out for me was interesting. At first, it seemed as if their method was missing something, which was fine for me, since I already had my draw nailed down and just filled in these perceived gaps with pre-existing knowledge. But the more times I watched them demonstrate this streamlined technique, and the more time I’ve had since the class to marinate on it, I wish I’d learned it this way.
The BGA instructors explained it like this: “Why teach extra steps which you just have to buff out later?” I understand this logic, but I believe there’s even more benefit to it than that, which I’ll explain in a minute.
In terms of adjusting my mindset, I had never been to an open-enrollment class that focused so heavily on dry fire before. Having been through a dozen or so open-enrollment classes plus a decade of carrying guns professionally, stepping up onto a line of your peers just to dry fire was almost anti-climactic. If I hadn’t been so intrigued by their science-backed training methodology, I’d have been pretty frustrated – especially considering I conduct regular dry fire practice at home and, on the surface, don’t need to drive an hour from home and pay someone to watch me click away on an empty gun. But, especially first thing in the morning, the dedicated dry fire time helped “prime the pump” or “knock the rust off” or however you want to phrase it so that, by the time we went live, I didn’t need a warm-up string to reach my most capable levels of accuracy.
Above: For a closer look at Tom's custom Glock 19, refer to our recent article “Editor’s EDC Gear Overhaul – New Year, New Me.”
But beyond either of these, perhaps my biggest challenge was the old walk-and-chew-gum trick. For all of day one and part of day two, the instructors insisted we say (out loud) what we were doing as we drew, presented and fired. It sounds simple. Maybe even a little silly. But, in the words of the Blue-Green instructors: “if it’s so simple, why can’t you do it?” And they were right. Having to actually engage my conscious thinking brain in order to form words and push them out while also firing and manipulating my weapon to the acceptable accuracy standard proved to be maddeningly difficult.
By the end of the first day of the class, prep-confirm-roll had started to feel more natural, and we had integrated it with speed-reloads, follow-up shots, and target transitions. During the second day, the complexity ratcheted up again with the addition of moving and shooting from cover. Blue barrels were set up on the firing line, and students were tasked with shooting from behind one barrel, moving to the next, and shooting another target (all while performing the same verbal exercises). But for me, the most interesting element was the constant variation.
Once we all ran through the shoot-move-shoot segment, the instructors walked out and reconfigured the target positions at random, then told us to run the drill again. Next, more targets were added into the mix. In some cases, the cardboard “bad guy” on one target would line up with the white hostage overlaid on a second target a few yards downrange. If you shot without factoring this in, you'd end up killing a hostage in the background — a literal representation of the safety rule “know your target and what is beyond.” Students were simply told to shoot each course as efficiently as possible, leading to each student approaching it a little differently. Some crouched down to change the pass-through angle, some shot on the move between cover, and some peeked around the far side of the barrel to get a different perspective.
This drill, with its heavy emphasis on varying circumstances and on-the-fly problem-solving, was my favorite from the course. It was a substantial challenge, and I clipped more hostages than I'd like to admit. But if you're forced to draw on an adversary in the real world, you won't be standing calmly face-to-face, ten yards apart with a sand berm backstop. You'll probably be facing a chaotic situation with a high risk of collateral damage, just as Blue-Green Alliance simulated in this drill.
My favorite drill, if it can be called a drill, was simply being forced to describe what I was doing as I was doing it, with live rounds going down range. It’s slap-your-forehead simple and, if you’ve never tried it, sounds so trivial as to not be worth your time. But when you’re on the clock, in front of your peers, and it’s time to talk and press at the same time, you’d be surprised how quick the wheels fall off. But what this did was make me realize how much of my marksmanship and weapons handling is truly subconscious – or, how much of it should be.
Given my lack of prior formal training, I went into this class concerned that the challenge might exceed my skill level. Thankfully, Josh and Gabe started with fundamentals and steadily cranked up the pressure. I always felt challenged, but never felt completely overwhelmed. By the end of the class, my hands were sore from hundreds of weapon manipulations, my brain was buzzing with drills, and my range bag was a whole lot lighter due to the ammo expended.
I walked away knowing that I still have a tremendous amount to learn, but also felt encouraged by my ability to improve. We started with simple dry fire practice, something I've done countless times. We finished with drills that involved shooting from cover, speed-reloading, running between barricades, transitioning between multiple targets, and avoiding collateral damage to hostages. Though my performance was far from smooth, the instructors at Blue-Green Alliance patiently gave me the one-on-one guidance I needed to gain confidence in an area that was previously way outside my comfort zone.
The bottom line is I wish I’d had this kind of training earlier in my career.
The guys at Blue-Green Alliance have structured their curriculum in way that allows students to learn, instead of teaching them specific, broken-down skills. In a matter of 12 training hours, we went from dry fire draw-and-present to shooting on the move, shooting multiple targets, shooting multi-round strings, dealing with no-shoot targets and tactical problem solving/stage strategy. While I have been exposed to all of these skills in previous classes, I attended probably a half-dozen separate classes that allowed me to piece all of these individual skills together. The BGA philosophy synthesizes these ancillary principles into an entry-level fundamentals class that doesn’t come with a laundry list of prerequisites.
For future Blue-Green Alliance training dates and more information on its instructors, visit BlueGreen-Alliance.com.