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After you’ve honed in your skills as a shooter, it’s important to test your skills under stress and begin to learn how to apply your marksmanship skills in real-life situations.
Rossen Hristov, the Director of Training at Tactical Performance Center, who you’ve probably seen in our videos, introduced me to his friend Imri Morgenstern.
Imri was a special operations operator for the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), specializing in counter-terrorism warfare. He is part of the Tactical Rifleman team and runs his own classes under his company, Prime Combat Training.
Imri and Rossen teamed up to create a comprehensive, integrated combatives program that places students in disruptive environments, with a focus on fighting—not only with a gun, but using all the tools you have at your disposal.
They invited me to Kentucky at the Louisville Armory to get a feel for their program. I have to say, they definitely put together a great program that takes you beyond mere marksmanship. There aren’t many programs like this that are readily available in the U.S.
Let’s take a closer look…
The Start of an 18-Hour Day
For 18-hours straight, Imri and Rossen ran me through an intensive that included refining my marksmanship skills, performing in disruptive environments while exhausted, blade work, 1-man CQB, and force on force training.
Their program revolves around civilians with the goal of introducing others to the mindset and techniques necessary to survive deadly encounters.
For example, one must develop the mental toughness to get the job done no matter how exhausted one might be, and in real gun fights, one should always be moving, or minimizing exposure, by using cover or concealment.
They also talked about and often revisited the principle of sacrifice. There are many ways to do different things, especially in combat, and one has to understand the pros and cons to each. For example, one technique might be fast but not reliable—one has to ask what’s more important to them.
The program can be catered to different skills levels, but I feel advanced shooters will get the most out of it.
We started with Rossen refining my shooting skills. As some of you already know, when it comes to learning the core skills of marksmanship, I have yet to come across a better program than what Rossen has put together currently at TPC.
Rossen ran though the major principles covered in his own Handgun Mastery class giving me the opportunity to polish my skills and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of their system.
It was a great review of my core skills, and I cannot recommend TPC’s program enough.
We then moved on to working malfunctions. Rather than diagnosing the malfunction, they had me pay attention to where my slide was.
If my slide was completely forward when my gun malfunctions, I know I need to tap rack. If my slide is locked all the way back, I know I have to reload the gun. If my slide is somewhere in between, I use the same process to clear the gun, i.e. strip the mag, rack the slide 2-3 times, and reload the gun.
Using this method, we don’t have to think about whether there is a stove pipe malfunction, a double feed, or any other kind of malfunction. We ought to fix the malfunction the same way.
I’ve come across about half a dozen instructors who teach the same method to keep things simple.
When working malfunctions, they drove in the point that I need to make myself a hard target, which means either I have to minimize my exposure by using cover or concealment, or I should be moving.
Also, if my weapon malfunctions within striking distance, I ought to go hands on and deal with the threat first before trying to fix a malfunction.
It was a coincidence that they taught this because the previous evening over dinner, I talked about how I feel the tactical industry is too gun-centric or shooting focused when it comes to real-life self defense.
At such a close distance, one doesn’t have the time to deal with a malfunction nor is it likely that they can create enough space, especially if someone is attacking with a knife or a gun.
After malfunctions, we discussed magazine changes. They reiterated the importance of minimizing my exposure or moving while reloading.
While Rossen covered the traditional way to reload, Imri showed me a different method I’ve never seen before.
Imri keeps his magazines further back on his support side and has magazines oriented differently. Typically, we learn to place our mags in our mag pouches with our bullets facing forward—Imri does the opposite.
He prefers this method because he grabs his magazines from the rear.
As you may already know, magazines can get stuck when trying to release them. If they get stuck, a shooter needs to strip the mag out.
By default, Imri likes to strip his mags when reloading. It takes more time, but it’s more reliable—again, the principle of sacrifice.
When he strips a mag out, he throws the mag behind him because he no longer needs the mag and does not want it in the way. By throwing his mags behind him, his arm naturally swings back from the rear where he can now index a fresh mag and conduct his reload.
We worked on various drills to work different skill sets and to give me the opportunity to get more repetitions. Then, we ended the marksmanship segment of our training covering visual acceptability.
When it comes to real gunfights, we can’t really wait until we have have perfect sight alignment with every shot. We need to understand what is acceptable so we can shave off time while still hitting our targets.
We moved on to conducting a number of different drills that built on top of each other, getting more physically demanding and challenging.
We started with a “Closing the distance” drill. It allowed me to work on many things we covered thus far while adding movement and getting my heart rate up. The drill required me to take several shots from the 25-yard line, run to the 15-yard lineand shoot, then run to the 7-yard line and end with several shots.
They stressed maintaining control of the weapon while running, and to avoid the common temple index. This wasn’t the first time I heard people talk about the importance of having better positive control of one’s firearm, especially when running and when near other people.
It’s easy for someone to drop their firearm without good, positive control. Many agree, temple indexing does not provide adequate control and it places your firearm in an unnatural and inefficient ready position.
Imri and Rossen turned things up a notch by having me do Up Drills where I was instructed what targets to shot as well as how many times. There was a twist, though.
Firstly, I was shooting steel targets at a distance where I would feel some frag—this was done by design. Secondly, Imri and Rossen would be pushing and shouting at me throughout each repetition.
The idea was to test my core skills in a disruptive environment, frag hitting me, the guys pushing me around, while knowing that it’s unlikely that I will have sights on target perfectly in a gunfight.
The drills gradually became more demanding to prepare me for the shoot house.
We moved on to malfunction drills where Imri loaded my magazines with dummy rounds to induce malfunctions. Different targets would be called out with the number of shots to be taken, and my objective was to shoot all of my rounds and not to throw any mags with rounds in them, or all of us would do push ups.
They wanted me to continually move when dealing with a malfunction and to deal with my malfunction based on where my slide was.
It doesn’t seem like it watching the video, but having both Imri and Rossen, shout and push and slap me around, caused a lot of stress and disruption. I had to remind myself to move when needed and to calm down when I needed to take accurate shots.
The next drill forced me to think and react quickly. Imri and Rossen set up different areas to shoot from, marked by cones of different shapes and sizes.
They shouted out a color, shape, or direction, as well as the number of shots, and I had to move to that position then engage targets.
Instead of physical stress, this drill caused self-induced, mental stress.
Again, they were adding layers of physical and mental stress as we progressed.
In the afternoon, we got more physical with our drills. The idea behind these drills was to get me tired and force myself to perform while winded. These drills are not meant to replicate a real fight.
For one drill, I had to tie up and pummel with Imri. The idea here was to get me winded, and on the signal, I was to make space, get passed him, and engage targets as instructed.
We then moved on to the next level of this drill. Now, I was striking until I got the signal to engage my targets. The point of striking was not to work on striking. The idea was to get me tired.
We repeated this several times to the point of exhaustion. I was so tired, I was ready to throw up and it took a good 15-minutes for me to return to normal.
Despite being exhausted, I was able to keep my calm when it was time to shoot, which helped me nail my shots. This is what they were focused on.
The point of these drills was to simulate the stress and exhaustion experienced in real combat. I had to dig deep to maintain composure, and to complete the mission—so to speak.
After drilling, we did a little blade work. Their program revolves around integrated combatives—not only shooting.
It’s important to build confidence and comfort around blades particularly when tying up and fighting at close range. We worked a flow called hubud, which if you train Filipino martial arts, JKD or Wing Chun, you ought to be familiar with it.
The goal was to continue the flow until instructed to make space from the tie up, then engage targets as they were called.
To further prep for the shoot house, we spent a lot of time working on CQB, specifically 1-man clearing.
They made it very clear that 1-man clearing isn’t ideal, but as civilians, it may be our only option. Unlike the movies, in real life, a one man team is not going to be hunting and clearing rooms with great success.
Here, 1-man clearing was being taught as a means to get to a safe area, such as a home’s choke point where one can stand their ground and call for help.
They showed me a method of pieing and clearing rooms I’ve never seen before—it’s very different. As a one-man team, concealment becomes a priority. And the method of pieing they teach maximizes concealment.
They reminded me of the principle of sacrifice. There are definitely disadvantages to their method, but in terms of concealment, I have yet to come across a better method.
They demonstrated the three common body positions used when pieing: being squared, tilting or blading off, and leaning at the waste. These are three common ways taught in the wild, and they compared them to their method. I could see that their method provides the least amount of exposure.
We also discussed dynamic and slow entries, and how for 1-man clearing, going dynamic is almost always a bad idea.
I liked their approach to learning 1-man clearing. We spent a lot of time working on proper footwork and learning angles. Then, we practice everything dry. Finally, we ended with live fire drills.
After dinner, we moved to the shoothouse to work on some techniques and run some scenarios.
We started by worked entries and doorways, using the techniques I learned at the range. When clearing a room, near corners are a problem— even for a team clearing a room. If you’re alone, it’s a bigger problem. So you need to do everything you can to clear as much of the room as possible before entering and without being seen.
On the topic of doorways, we talked about opening doors, considering several critical points:
- The possibility that a door will squeak,
- Whether to open a door fast or slowly, and
- Dealing with shots through a door or even through walls as one opens a door.
In America, interior walls are generally not cover, they are concealment. One can open fire at the walls, and they will likely hit you. This is why, particularly in 1-man clearing, it is so important to try and keep the element of surprise—stay concealed.
We then moved onto using non-lethal rounds in the shoothouse, starting with engaging paper targets. This gave me the opportunity to rep what we had been working all day, and it gave them a chance to remind me to always be aware of what’s behind my target.
You’ve heard the firearm safety rule, know what’s behind your target and beyond?
Well, when it comes to force on force and real gunfights, that rule generally gets thrown out the window when it shouldn’t.
We then moved on to isolating techniques with non-lethal ammo, but this time, I would be shooting role players who could shoot back.
I worked entering rooms with the goal of seeing and engaging the role players before they could see me.
I definitely need to practice the techniques more, but this one day fam or primer, gave me a good taste and clearly showed me the concealment advantage their technique has.
I also noticed that I instinctively would back away immediately whenever I saw a role player pointing a gun my direction. While this is a natural reaction, the trained reaction is to engage the ‘bad guy’ before the ‘bad guy' knows I’m there.
Around 1am the next day, we moved on to some force-on-force training.
They ran me through three different scenarios; however, unlike traditional force on force training where one is given some background information as to what happening, I wasn’t really given any background information, other than there were one or multiple bad guys in the shoot house, and I had to resolve the situation.
These types of scenarios are tough because there are no guidelines, and in a way, they set up the student for failure.
But I really like them, too. A student has to be ready for anything and it brings any preconceptions or assumptions a student might have to light.
The first scenario was pretty nerve racking, again, I had no idea what was going on or how things would play out. Louisville Armory has a big shoot house, and each time I cleared a room, I knew I was one stop closer to the action. The suspense was high…
I finally got to a room where something seemed really off. Through the crack of the door, I couldn’t really tell if someone was hiding behind a piece of furniture.
I didn’t have a flashlight and was caught in a dark spot where I couldn’t really see. From the video, you can see someone is there, but from my point of view, I couldn’t tell.
I ultimately exposed myself too much giving one of the role players an opportunity to shoot me, but I was able to get out of the way, and neutralize him. I was able to take out the second role player, but I also got shot in the hand.
The second scenario was meant to work on using my voice to communicate and help understand and resolve the situation at hand.
Well, I crashed and burned in a common situation that, any cop for example, might encounter.
Granted, I wasn’t told what was going on, but I still should have spoke up to understand what was happening. I immediately assumed that the role player who was hitting someone was the ‘bad guy.'
However, in this situation, the guy sitting down was the ‘bad guy', and I took out the ‘good guy.'
Lot of learning points here. For example, I had no reason to fire. There wasn’t a deadly weapon in sight, yet, I did anyway. It’s common in force on force training, where participants are predisposed to feel like they have to use their firearm and shoot in every scenario.
I fell for it hook, line, and sinker…but the great thing about these types of scenarios is that once students make the mistake, they become more aware and the chances of them making the mistake again, decrease greatly.
The last scenario was fun. They turned off all the lights except a few flashing strobe lights, to simulate a crack house. Again, I had no idea what was happening going into the scenario—I only learned everything during the after-action review.
It was really dark. I remember one area where down a hall, I could see a silhouette. It was so dark though, I couldn’t really tell.
I didn’t want to shout out to maintain an element of surprise against the role players, and I didn’t want to rush in. Not really having any background made it difficult to know what the proper course of action should be; but again, these situations bring out our “default” behavior, so to speak.
I had to deal with two role players pretending to be high who acted as distractions. There was one role player with a gun, and in the end, I rushed my movements because of the distractions and ultimately got shot.
However, we continued the scenario until I finished the mission. I engaged the role player with a gun, but completely lost track of Rossen, who picked up a gun and shot me…all because I wouldn’t have a drink with him. In the video, he offered me vodka on several occasions (in Bulgarian I believe), and I just had to turn him down.
We ended our training day with an after-action review. There were a lot of learning points to discuss, and even though it was around 3 or 4 am, Imri and Rossen were in no rush and made sure I learned all the ‘good stuff.’
I had an absolute blast with Imri and Rossen. If their full course is anything like the intensive I went through, you're going to love the training.
As I mentioned at the beginning, once you've honed your shooting skills, now it's time to perform under stress and apply your skills to real-life situations.
Their comprehensive combatives class gives you that opportunity.
If you're in Kentucky, or nearby, I highly recommend training with Imri and Prime Combat Training.
The Final Verdict; HIGHLY RECOMMENDED