Force on Force with Randy Harris
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to assist with the Force on Force class that Randy Harris taught here in Columbia, SC. Force on Force was one of the very first S.I. classes I took back in 2007. While the fundamentals are still the same, the class has evolved quite a bit since then.
The other host for the class was fellow S.I instructor Alex Nieuwland. We were also joined by S.I. Staff Instructor J.D. Lester. Both of them took the course as students. There were nine other students, including some repeat customers from Alex and my previous courses in Columbia. Most were from South Carolina or neighboring states, but a few came from as far afield as Pennsylvania and Missouri.
I brought my usual FoF gear. I ran a pair of KWA airsoft Glock 17s in Archangel holsters. Not only does a class like this give a good chance to practice dual carry, I also find that it takes two airsoft guns to keep one running. They may look like Glocks, but they definitely don't have the Glock level of reliability. I also brought a couple of Nok trainers, for stabbing people with. This isn't a 0-5 class, but it's still an important part of the threat spectrum. My bag also held the usual complement of blue guns, since even when working with airsoft they're useful as demo tools. I brought an airsoft mask for when I was participating in scenarios, as well as some safety sunglasses, for eye protection when I was just observing. One thing I didn't bring was any airsoft armor (no sweatshirts or other padding). This is both because I wasn't planning to participate a lot and because I like to maintain some pain as a reminder that it's a good thing not to get shot. I brought a long sleeved cover shirt (though it got warm enough I kept the sleeves rolled up when I wasn't actively participating).
Other folks brought a mixture of the traditional airsoft guns and the Umarex CO2 powered pistols. They also generally brought more airsoft armor (sweatshirts) than I did, though they were getting shot a lot more. One place a couple of people were caught short was headgear. If you get an airsoft BB in part of the head the mask doesn't cover it's going to sting quite a bit. Some kind of hat or a hood on your sweatshirt is very helpful (particularly for some of our follicly challenged students).
Randy started the class off with a safety lecture. Interestingly for a class involving no live fire, he started by going through the 4 safety rules. He talked about how these applied in the airsoft environment. Even though we'll be pointing airsoft guns at each other, we still don't want to be careless with our muzzles. When we point a gun at someone in FoF, it's with the intention of destroying them (as thoroughly as they can be destroyed with airsoft BBs anyway). He also went through some airsoft specific safety precautions, concentrating on eye protection. This is the one place where airsoft BBs can really hurt you. As he put it, "It's all fun and games until someone looses an eye." Accordingly everyone participating in a drill needs to wear a paintball mask, and even if you're not actively participating everyone needs to wear eye protection.
To provide some context to the class, Randy talked about how S.I.'s FoF compares to other handgun training, using IDPA as an example. In an IDPA stage, the shooter faces static targets, in a known configuration. They aren't going to maneuver, or shoot back, or try to stab you. None of these things are true in a real fight.
Next, Randy went through his excellent PESTS lecture. Rather than recapitulating this, I'll just point you to his recent, epic post on the subject.
After the lecture, Randy had the students put up their real guns, knives, etc. Alex and I patted everyone down to make sure they didn't have any live weapons on them. The first FoF drill was the Matt Dillon drill. Two students faced off at about four yards and on command they drew and shot the other guy. The most common result was simultaneous shots, with both students getting hit. We call this the suicide drill for a reason.
Randy asked the students what kind of sight picture they were getting. Nobody claimed to have had a perfect sight picture, and most admitted they weren't getting any sort of sight picture at all. Despite this, everyone was getting good hits. This developed into a short discussion of point shooting.
To put the Mat Dillon drill into context, Randy went through the basics of how pistol bullets stop people: fear, pain, lower the blood pressure to the brain, sever the spinal cord, and destroy critical parts of the brain. Of these the only ones that are both sure stoppers and instantaneous are the spinal cord and the brain. Any other hit may to take some time to take effect. Beating your opponent to the draw by a fraction of a second hardly guarantees victory. In fact it probably leaves him plenty of time to try to kill you before he expires.
The solution is to take advantage of the adversary's OODA loop, rather than trying to outdraw him. The OODA loop is a description of the human decision making process. We Observe a change in our environment, Orient by putting that change into the context of our knowledge and previous experience, Decide what we're going to do in response, then Act to carry out that decision. Running through this loop in personal combat takes 1.5 - 2 seconds.
We can take advantage of the adversaries OODA loop by getting off the X: moving off our original position and forcing our opponent back to the beginning of the loop. While he goes through the OODA cycle, we can be drawing, maneuvering for a better position and getting shots on board.
Randy showed the Pekiti takeoff, some footwork that we've borrowed from Fillapino knife fighting that can help get us off the X quicker. This is one of those things that's difficult to describe in writing, but essentially you drop your body weight and use that drop to shift one foot back to drive off of. It allows for a very quick GOTX.
After the students practiced their takeoff for a bit, Randy discussed the merits of choosing different directions to get off the X in. Generally, versus an assailant armed with a firearm we prefer the forward oblique angles, since these provide the biggest change in angle, from the adversary's point of view.
To test how well people were getting off the X, the students went up against Randy. Randy has one of the fastest elbow-up elbow-down drawstrokes I've ever seen, but even against this students were able to get off the X before he could shoot when they executed everything correctly.
At this point we broke up into groups of two and practiced getting off the X. Initially, one student drew and fired at the spot where the other student was standing while he got off the X. Once they had this down, to make it a bit more challenging we started working GOTX against the drawn gun. This time the student playing the bad guy role could shoot as soon as he saw the other student move. Even with the gun already out, students could generally get out of the way before the shot.
Up until this point we'd been focusing on the good guy getting off the X. Now we added in some return fire. After moving off the X the good guy now drew and fired a single shot in return. This managed to mess some people up. As soon as you start thinking about drawing and firing, there's a tendency to prioritize this over movement. Ideally, moving and drawing should initiate at the same moment, but if one has to happen before the other, it should be movement.
After a late lunch, we resumed practicing getting off the X. To keep the student playing the bad guy from cheating, because he knows the student is going to get off the X, and can probably make a good guess about the direction, Randy had them draw and fire their first shot with their eyes closed.
Since everyone seemed to have the basics down, Randy upped the ante a bit. Rather than just firing a single shot, the bad guy student fired one at the good guy's original position, then tracked began tracking them and firing a second shot. This simulates the assailant working through his OODA loop and adjusting to your movement. In return, we let the good guy fire a pair, rather than just a single shot. Once the students had worked this for a while, Randy allowed each student to fire multiple shots.
We picked up some discussion of point shooting from earlier and talked about what kind of sight picture people got while getting off the X. The universal answer was that they weren't really using the sights, this was pure point shooting.
To finish up the day, Randy had everyone work the GOTX drill without any sort of OODA lag on the adversary's part. They could draw and fire directly towards the good guy as he moved, without having to shoot at his original position.
With this, we wrapped things up for the day. Alex arranged for a neighborhood eatery to cater a nice spaghetti dinner for us. After we were done eating, Randy got things going on the Glock Armorer class.
We picked up on Sunday morning with a few more GOTX drills similar to what we'd been doing at the end of the day on Saturday to get everybody warmed up. Then we moved on to dealing with opponents armed with contact weapons (knives, clubs, etc.). The nice thing about contact weapons is that if you can stay out of arms' reach, you're safe. The problem is that's easier said than done.
When confronted by a knife armed assailant, most peoples' instinct is to backpedal away. This is one of the worst ways to handle the situation. The assailant can probably run forwards faster than you can backpedal and backpedaling increases the risk that you'll trip on something and end up falling and bouncing the back of your head on the asphalt. That's a pretty good way to knock yourself out. Far better to point your toes and hips in the direction you want to go and run.
Which direction? Well, there are basically two options: increase distance or change the angle. If you are far enough and have enough speed, you can just turn tail and run. Then, as you're running, draw your gun and twist around to shoot. How well turning it into a footrace like this works is going to depend on how fast you are relative to the assailant and how much distance you start off with. The other option is to take a page from our pistol GOTX techniques and change the angle. This doesn't require as much speed and it works at shorter distances (provided you're outside of arms' reach to begin with).
Randy had everyone start out working this as a big group. One student was the good guy, another the bad guy and everyone else watched. After running it a couple of times the bad guy became the good guy and a new bad guy rotated in. This allowed everyone a chance to see what worked and what didn't and to get some feedback from Randy on what they were doing. One important element that became obvious pretty quick is that it works much better if you go to their non-weapon side. If you go towards the hand with the knife in it the slightest miscalculation means you'll end up running right into the knife. After everyone had a chance to go a couple of times, we broke up into pairs and worked on it some more.
Next up: multiple adversaries. If you're the bad guy, working in a two-man team, from your perspective the best place for the victim is between you. If you're the good guy, the best place for the bad guys are lined up, so one bad guy is between you and the second bad guy (this is called "stacking"). Exactly how this unfolds in real life depends a lot on how each side maneuvers. To demonstrate the dynamics of this, we worked though it as a group, with two bad guys and one good guy, rotating through all the students. What generally worked best for the good guy was moving quickly and decisively. Trying to go between the bad guys generally didn't work out. The real killer, however, was waiting too long to move. When you're outnumbered you can't allow the enemy the initiative. By the time you see what he's committed to its probably too late.
We broke for lunch, then returned and continued with multiple adversaries, this time three on one. The difficulty really ramps up here. This is one of the things I really love about Force on Force. Against static, paper targets, gunning down three in succession looks pretty cool. The three target array is a staple of many gun games and training courses. In reality, going up against three adversaries that actively maneuver and shoot back is extremely difficult. It's not impossible, but it's going to take a lot more than just a quick trigger finger and good target to target transitions. You need to be decisive, smart, and aggressive, and deploy good GOTX tactics to come out on top.
To finish up the class, we ran through some scenarios. We had the student's hang out in the garage and sent them down the driveway one at a time. I played the bad guy, allowing Randy to stand back and observe.
In the first scenario, I acted as an aggressive panhandler. Randy told me to turn it into a robbery if I really got them into an advantageous position, but none of the students let me get that close. I moved to intercept the student, block his progress down the driveway and insistently ask for money. If the student got around me, I let them go, and if they gave me a really strong verbal "back off" I did (though I didn't move out of their way). Other than that I was pretty insistent.
The students' responses covered quite a wide range. Those who were quick, decisive, or willing to walk of the path often got by me. Those who were more tentative usually didn't. A few of them pulled guns on me, and one of them lit me up.
The next scenario was more of a straight up robbery. It also included Alex as a second opponent coming up behind the student. I stopped their forward progress and distracted them while Alex came up behind, then we proceeded with the robbery.
Again, the students had a range of responses. One student managed to get in a gunfight with Alex before he ever got down to me. The quick, decisive ones managed to slip by me and avert the robbery altogether. This time, those who ended up stopping ended up in a real bad spot, trapped between me and Alex. The way it usually unfolded was almost comical: the student heard Alex coming up behind him and looked over his shoulder, he looked back at me, then back at Alex, then when he looked back at me he found himself staring down the muzzle of my airsoft gun. I was able to pull this sort of thing off several times.
Our last scenario was a carjacking. The setup was that the students were coming out of the gym and getting in their car. J.D. Lester parked his car in Alex's driveway. The students were given a duffel bag with their gym gear in it and they had to come out of the garage and get in the car. Alex or I were crouching down on the far side of the car and when the students were occupied with the car door we ran around the back and tried to jack them. Despite being hypervigilant in a way that only a scenario-based self-defense class can make you, most students didn't walk around and check for someone hiding behind the car. Most of them did manage to pick up on the BG before he got right up to them, but in a few cases the assailant got within arms' reach.
With this, we wrapped things up. Alex and I pitched our upcoming classes (including Randy's 0-5 class in Columbia next April) and Randy handed out the certificates.
As usual, Randy ran a great class. The students were enthusiastic and eager to learn. IThe curriculum did a good job of getting the students to understand the usual S.I. fundamentals of getting off the X and point shooting.
One of the big differences from the last time I took the full Force on Force class is the addition of the scenarios on Sunday afternoon. I think they did a real good job reinforcing Randy's PESTS lecture and emphasizing the need for quick, decisive movement. If you keep moving it's going to go a lot better for your than if you stand around dithering.
One thing several incidents during the class reinforced was that airsoft magazines are nowhere near as durable as the real thing. Students broke several mags, both from traditional airsoft guns and from the Umarexes. Generally the culprit was accidentally dropping the mag, usually during the draw. Another problem we saw a couple of times was difficulty with the safeties. In particular, the sliding safety on the Umarex guns sometimes gets engaged as you put it in the holster. Another reason to grind that thing down and perhaps glue it in the fire position.
In sum, I would highly recommend this class, along with anything else Randy Harris teaches.