Recently I received an e-mail message that caught my attention:
Dave, I agree few officers shoot as well as they need to in order to prevail in a fight. Few of us practice or receive the training we really need. I d like to get more training, but I ll be honest I m a new officer in a small department in the South. I have a wife, two kids, a mortgage and a car payment. I m not trying to make excuses; this is just my reality. My family s needs take priority over taking money from our budget to attend one of the big-name shooting schools.
My question: Are any of the training DVDs I see advertised worth the money? Are there any out there I can actually learn from and take the information to the range? I can afford $50 100 bucks, but $1,000-plus to travel to one of these schools is just out of the question.—Scott in Mississippi
I sympathize with my new friend Scott. I clearly remember what it was like to be a new cop with a young family and all of the associated expenses. There s nothing more important than family, and while it s true that quality training will help any officer come home to their family after every shift, the choice between school clothes, tires and groceries and the money to go to Thunder Ranch or Blackwater is a simple one to make. A large number of young officers out there are in Scott s predicament whether they want to admit it or not. It s just this type of officer I think of every time I write this column.
No video will make up for hands-on training from a quality instructor. Without feedback from someone watching you and correcting mistakes, your training experience will remain lacking.
That said, there are several training DVDs available you can learn from. I ve had the good fortune to attend many of the big-name schools, and I learned something from each one of them. At the same time, I continue to learn from books and videos. I don t know everything, but I do have enough book-learning, training and street experience to realize when some new tactic or technique is stupid.
The Three-S Test
Let me share a little test I apply when I consider a new training doctrine, tactic or technique. My Three-S Test goes like this:
1. Is it simple to perform? If it s not easy to do on the range or in the gym, what s the likelihood it will get easier in the middle of a fight?
2. Does it make sense to you? You re an adult with a great deal of training and life experience. If a method doesn t make sense, go to the instructor and ask them to help you make sense of it. If they can t, you have every right to remain wary.
3. Is it street-proven? In other words, has it actually been used in a fight with success? The more instances of success, the better. If not, your B.S.-antenna should go up, especially if the instructor has named the method after themselves.
While the Three-S Test is not foolproof, it has helped a large number of my former basic academy students sort out things they ve been taught throughout their career.
With this test in mind, I d like to share the videos worth your hard-earned bucks those you can actually learn from and use to improve your skills. Suggestion: Watch and apply the DVDs with a trusted shooting partner so you have someone to watch for your mistakes, and make sure you have a solid understanding of the video instructor s points.
For handgun training, I recommend Clint Smith s Defensive Handgun DVD from the Thunder Ranch Training Series. Before I go any further, I want to disclose that Clint and Heidi Smith of Thunder Ranch are friends of mine. No, we re not running mates, but I ve been a guest at their school on multiple occasions. This is not the reason I recommend their DVD, however. I recommend it because it s good. Clint Smith is a natural instructor. His presentation is not only knowledgeable, but also quite witty. He s a nuts-and-bolts instructor with zero tolerance for all of the cool SWAT stuff currently taught across the country. The doctrine of Thunder Ranch is about functional, easy-to-accomplish stuff that works. It s hard to argue with this approach. A Vietnam veteran, Smith was shot on the battlefield, and while recovering, he decided it would never happen again. He became a police officer in a big city in Indiana followed by a stint as the operations manager at the American Pistol Institute, known by many of us as Gunsite. Before Thunder Ranch, he founded the Heckler & Koch International Training Division. This guy knows of what he speaks.
The other video I recommend is Kelly McCann s Defensive Shooting Series from Paladin Press. You can purchase this four-part series one at a time or as a set. If you re looking to save money, I recommend you at least buy volumes 1 and 2. I ve never met McCann (who used to write and train as Jim Grover), but I really like what he teaches because it jives closely with what I ve seen on the street. McCann has never been a police officer, but he earned a degree in criminal justice before entering the U.S. Marine Corps, where he specialized in counter-terrorist operations. Having trained with counter-terrorist units around the world, he s acquired an extensive knowledge base. He currently operates a training school in Virginia called The Crucible Learning Center, part of the Kroll Worldwide security conglomerate.
I like these two videos in combination because Smith and McCann have different viewpoints on how pistolcraft should be taught. Their individual approaches differ, but they both do a good job of explaining the reasons behind their methods. If possible, buy both so you can compare their methodologies. I guarantee you ll opt to draw skills from both.
The cruiser carbine is quickly becoming the weapon of choice for law enforcement agencies nationwide. Most are selecting one of the various AR-15 platforms because they are the most common rifle/carbine currently available. One of the best DVDs I ve seen is Urban Rifle, also from Clint Smith at Thunder Ranch. He named it after the course of instruction he pioneered. I heard of his Urban Rifle course in the early 1980s when sub-machine guns like the HK MP-5 ruled. Well, Smith was able to see the future better than most of us; his version of how the AR-15 should be used is the standard to which other training courses now aspire. I ve been through a number of carbine courses that offer the same information Smith established 20 years ago.
The other carbine-training DVD I like is Combat Riflecraft from Paladin Press. The DVD features Andy Stanford, a well-known defensive-skills instructor who operated his own training company called Options for Personal Security. While Stanford offers some of the same information as Smith, he goes into greater detail about external ballistics, how to sight the gun and the varied weapon platforms that are currently available. This DVD is a good choice for agencies creating a basic carbine-training course of their own.
Finally, consider buying the Inside the Crucible Series from Paladin Press. This series follows Kelly McCann as he teaches a weeklong defensive skills course to a group of students. The course includes compact pistolcraft, hand-to-hand skills and edged-weapon defense. It takes awhile to watch the whole series, but it s worth the time.
Good luck, stay safe and check 360 often.
Where to buy
Thunder Ranch Training Series
Thunder Ranch: www.thunderranchinc.com
Defensive Shooting Series, Inside the Crucible Series and Combat Riflecraft
Paladin Press: www.paladin-press.com