A Training Review by Alexander Castiglione
I had the chance to attend one of James Yeager’s Fighting Pistol classes at Tactical Response in Camden, TN this past weekend – March 19th and 20th, 2016. I went into it with an open mind, expected to learn some new drills, but also expecting to already have a decent skillset going in. I feel like I was right on both accounts, but it was definitely a learning experience, and I can see why some people, like Yeager’s own in-house armorer Don, aka the MF Armorer, have taken the class multiple times.
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I’ll start from the beginning: I drove from Atlanta to Camden, Tennessee, which is about an hour 90 minutes outside of Nashville. I passed some beautiful country, but at night, a little worrisome for this city slicker who grew up in the NY/NJ area, especially with the dearth of streetlamps and windy country roads. Finally, I got to the Team Room. The team room is essentially a bunkhouse in the finished basement of Yeager’s own private residence – which is open to anybody that attends his classes, so long as there is room. Not only is this a very gracious move, but it allows you to hang with and learn from some of your fellow classmates and shooters. I’d highly recommend taking up this offer if you have the chance, and I’d strongly recommend leaving a tip for the Yeager’s hospitality. I got in at 1030pm local time, everyone was already asleep, and I hopped in my bunk and sacked out.
The morning rolled by pretty quickly, and we had to be at Tactical Response, in the classroom, by 0800. Once there, our main lecture instructor, Calvin Lim, took us all through the basics of firearm safety: Col Coopers 4 rules, the basic parts and workings of a modern firearm, what to do and what not to do. To someone who’s been around firearms a bit, it will seem like old hat, but I think it’s great refresher and a good intro into the world of firearms training safely. Far too often we forget that last rule.
Within an hour or two, we were off to the range, which was a hidden tract of private land. A couple turns and a gravel road later, we were on the range, everyone lugging ammo cans from their vehicles. The range itself is rather Spartan – but what else do you need? Littered with countless casings and empty shells, there was a line of paper targets (DEA dot drills to be exact) stapled to the target holders in front of the berm. There was also plenty of bench space to recharge your mags and talk with your classmates. For the next 6 hours, we slung lead downrange.
With steady progressions, the instructors – 5 in all, for a pretty hefty class of 38 or so, but still within advertised ratio of no more than 8 students per instructor – took everyone through the draw from concealment, to retention, to press out and trigger control. Everything from what to do with your garment to trigger discipline was covered, as instructors patrolled the line to give you critiques. Everything from reloading, to “reluctantly re-holstering” was covered, with several drills to ensure you kept moving the whole time. While this is hard on the line surrounded by 20 other shooters, you learn to make it work. Other, more controversial maneuvers were taught, such as the 361 degree scan, which if you think about it makes total sense – threats will come from all around you, so turn around a full 360 + 1. However, many ranges will call this a breach of safety, even though one’s finger is off the trigger and the muzzle is pointed skyward. Another, “controversial maneuver” yet highly useful one, was laying supine, like you just got knocked on your back, drawing, and firing while supine, sitting up, kneeling, and standing, then eventually advancing. Myself, I liked this drill, but found myself on my feet, reloading, and scanning before many people got off the ground. Maybe it’s because I practice deck sit-ups and moving from the ground to standing as fast as possible from martial arts training, or maybe I just shoot fast. Either way, that’s the benefit of a training environment like this. You won’t be penalized for moving as fast as your skill allows. You will be penalized for moving faster than your skill allows though. I can recall people missing “A hit zones” on silhouettes later – that’s a heart or ocular cranial cavity shot; essentially the “lights out hit” – and one of the instructors, John, screaming at the top of his lungs that only hits count, and that shot you missed just hit a 4 year old girl. Real stuff. Real food for thought.
Now I won’t bore you with any more drills, but suffice it to say that if I didn’t shoot IDPA, I would have found the course very alien. Especially if you come from a state where you don’t even have IDPA or another iteration of it; where you’re used to just punching paper; maybe not even that. One takeaway I got was if lead isn’t moving downrange, you better be moving. Holstering, reloading, clearing a malfunction – move your ass. We even set up type 1,2, and 3 malfunctions – the very same I suggested in a previous article I wrote for SEALGrinderPT.com about CCW practice.
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Some caveats about the course: if you are uncomfortable with F-bombs, morbid humor, and yelling, this is not for you. I heard “hold the gun like you’re strangling a hooker” several times. We also laughed a lot, and had a good time with like-minded people. But I warn you, you will get dirty, there will be foul language, and there will be times when you are out of your comfort zone: for a lot of people, it’s when you are told to drop your weapon. One or two people gingerly placed it on the deck, and were ferociously reprimanded. For one reason, that will get you shot, as the FBI taught the “shooting crouch” for years, and a nervous cop will certainly be within his rights to shoot you if you don’t drop the weapon. So what if you scratch it, it’s just a hunk of metal and/or plastic. Again, I allude to my CCW article, and how you shouldn’t be carrying a $2000 weapon for similar reasons.
We went to a debrief after the range, and people went back to Tactical Response for pizza (this jaded New Yorker abstained from Pizza Hut) but I worked out in the “Painatorium” with Calvin, one of the instructors, instead. For those of you addicted to PT and training, don’t worry, they have a nice setup compete with a rower, Rogue racks, and a ton of plates, and also, a heavy bag and some KBs. Everything you need to get your swole on. Although, I’d hate to admit it, I very much felt like I was the only person in the class concerned with PT and training my body as much as training my pistol skills. That being said, Yeager in his YouTube videos always implores his followers to put down the Cheetos and get in the gym, and many of them, I can attest, say things on his video threads like “gotta lose some weight and come train.” I feel like that is a pervasive element, and just want to remark, a weapon won’t help you if you can’t move, or can’t get out of your own way. Your body is far more deadly than any handgun if you know how to use both with equal deftness and dexterity, but I digress.
The colorful sign on the wall in the gym aka Painatorium at Tactical Response
Day 2 was four hours or so of lecture; very in depth with the legal ramifications – this I thought was the most important takeaway. I was familiar with shooting on the move and clearing malfunctions from IDPA and my own training, but did not know about the legal aspect until now. For this portion alone the class if worth the price. After that, back to the range for some more drills and certificates. Before everyone left for the range, I got the change to BS with Yeager himself. I got a picture and told him I’d be writing a review for this publication to which he facetiously retorted “I hope you hated it, I get more press when people hate on us.” I laughed, and said “I’m sure you do, but I didn’t hate it. In fact, I’ll be back for advanced fighting pistol.” Nice guy, down to earth, and everyone there is no bullshit about their training. The entire Tactical Response crew are commensurate professionals (I say that loosely, I heard some awesome one-liners, but they wouldn’t be something you repeat at the corporate retreat or family dinner) with whom I would be happy to train with again. They do travel, so if you can’t make it to Camden, check out their website at TacticalResponse.com – maybe they are coming to a range near you.
Photo – James Yeager and myself, donning a SEALGrinderPT hat.
I’d definitely recommend the course to anybody who carries or owns a pistol, but I would definitely say if you shoot IDPA or have been training for a while, advanced pistol is definitely a great add on, and I personally can’t wait to take it.
Train hard, train smart.
(Note: we wanted to take video of actual shooting, but sadly Tactical Response changed their filming policy.)