Several weeks ago I took John Murphy's Street Encounters Skills and Tactics class. It was held on
Oct. 8 and 9 at Briar Rabbit Shooting Sports in Zanesville. The class was hosted by John and Sue Burton of Best Day Training (http://www.bestdaytraining.com).
My first indication that this class was going to be different from other classes I'd taken in the past was that, immediately after I'd signed up for the class, I received a link to about five hours of video presentations by John Murphy that give a high-level overview of how armed encounters unfold, as well as things like the basics of how to use a tourniquet and Israeli bandage, how to use pepper spray effectively, and John giving his comments in video clips that show attacks that ended well – or tragically – for the target of the attack.
This was a good indication of what John's class would be like – a ton of information, presented in a logical order and with the result that it both makes sense and makes an impact on the student. That video preview set the stage for what the class was going to contain, and also gave all of the students a shared point of reference for things that were brought up during the classroom portion of the class.
At the beginning of class, John introduced himself and presented his background and training. At some point he told the class that he has "stolen"nuggets of wisdom that he shares in his class. He is being far too modest – he very scrupulously attributes drills, concepts and quotes that he incorporates in his training to their original source – and frequently recommends other trainers that his students should seek out.
I think the thing that makes this course unique compared to the other training I've taken (I'm going to say it's about 7 courses over the past 15 years) is the sheer breadth of topics it covers. The other classes I've taken have mostly been shooting courses; I would say Street Encounters is much more of a class about thinking about self-defense, and making choices (which can include talking, moving and using less-lethal weapons – or some combination of all of those things, as well as shooting).
In the videos we were to watch before the class began, John laid out a lot of useful information. Videos included a breakdown of the classic "pre-assault indicators" that you may see, then videos of real attacks that showed how those indicators made an appearance. John showed examples of successful self-defense actions – some of which completely headed off an attack, others that stopped an attacker, as well as attempts at self-defense that went horribly wrong. He showed examples of when something starts to look suspicious, when it becomes absolutely clear that the people in the video are in danger, and where their responses are right, wrong or in need of improvement. He also shows responses that are great...until they go too far. Those videos really set the stage for thinking about self-defense in ways that a lot of shooting classes never discuss. In almost all of the classes I've attended before, you come to the line, and you get a command to fire, then you shoot the string of fire and holster up.
This disconnects the moment when lethal force is required from the convoluted real world environment where things start off as normal and develop over some amount of time into a potential threat that somehow becomes a deadly threat. Most classes fast-forward through all the messy bits straight to a spot where all the boxes have been checked, all the necessary actions have been taken, all the decisions have been made and it's time to draw and fire. Again and again, John made us practice some amount of assessing the situation, dealing with information that was provided, and decide on what needed to be done – sometimes changing the information so that we needed to adjust in real time, either escalating or de-escalating our response. Piece by piece, this class was really eye-opening.
Near the beginning of both days of the class was a safety briefing, where John designated roles for people within the class should there be an injury during our training – who would begin first aid on the victim, who would call 911, who would be dispatched to the entrance to guide a responding ambulance, etc. I first encountered this type of briefing in a class years ago – and I'm going to expect/demand it for all firearms training going forward, because none of these details should be figured out on the fly after an injury occurs.
One of the first unique (in my experience) training twists that John introduced was providing each student with an ankle holster containing an Israeli bandage and a tourniquet. Each student wore one for both days of training, and at random moments, John would call out "Search and assess" – prompting students to stop, check themselves for a potential gunshot wound (John would indicate a wound location and its severity) – and then each student had to decide which item was needed, and self-apply it – with a sense of urgency. One thing I learned doing these drills was to make sure that after snugging the tourniquet strap into place, that I didn't rotate the windlass out of easy reach of the hand that was going to have to tighten it. A couple times, when applying the tourniquet with one hand to the opposite arrm, I inadvertently wound up with the windlass hidden behind the arm – a very awkward spot to try and wind it tight.
Another unique element – OC spray trainers. As part of the class, students receive a couple inert OC trainers, which we carried for both days of the class. I have owned OC spray at different times in my life, but never bought an inert trainer and only ever sprayed a live unit just before throwing it away because it had expired. The videos we watched before class included how to use OC – as well as video of it being used in a restaurant, showing the altercation that led to it being used, the reaction of the person who got sprayed, then the reaction of the group of teens more than 20 feet away who took video of the altercation, made a lot of comments about the event, then decided they had to leave the building because the spray was starting to make them cough and tear up. In class, John demonstrated his recommendation for how to carry and deploy the spray – including details such as you should expect it will take a couple seconds for the effects to kick in, and that you should plan to move and stay out of reach of the person you've sprayed. Then when we went to the range, we practiced drawing the spray, ways to incorporate drawing it with a verbal element, then spraying it on human-sized targets and moving away.
And at the range, John had set it up in a way I've never seen before. Instead of the normal 3-yard line, 5-yard line, 15-yard line, etc., he had cones on both edges of the range, with painted lines the full width. The cones designated what each line indicated in real-world measurement: One arm's length away from the target (you could reach out and touch it); two arm's lenght away from the target (if you were facing another person, you could reach each other's outstretched hand); 3 steps from the target; 1 car length; 1 pickup truck length; 2 car lengths. I found this to be a super-practical way of envisioning real-world distances to a target. It was a great way to make the target distances come alive.
Now that he had set the stage for how real-world distances fit into the shooting range, in a series of different demonstrations throughout the class John started to illustrate how time is tied to real-world tasks and incidents. Using a shot timer, John demonstrated for us how quickly he could draw and put good hits on a target. Multiple times, he did it to show what is a pretty consistent time range for a skilled shooter to get those good hits. Along the way he also showed you can cut a lot of that time element down if you start with your hand firmly gripping the pistol's handle while it's still in the holster.
Then he tied time to distance. John had multiple shot timers set up, and I'm going to confess here that I didn't keep good notes in this class and I can't off the top of my head remember what intervals they were set for, but for purposes of discussion let's say it was 0.5 seconds, 1 second, 2 seconds and 3 seconds. From standing at the line the target silhouettes were on, John showed how many of those lines he could cross – at a walk, not running – for each of those time periods. It was very sobering – to overlay the time it actually takes (someone much more skilled than me) to draw and get good hits on a target, with how much distance can be covered in that same time. Not accounted for in that equation is seeing the threat, deciding what you're going to do, and then actually doing it. It was a very stark lesson that both time and distance can get burned up way, way faster than I would have ever thought possible without the demonstration.
Speaking of good hits on a target – when shooting at silhouettes, I have most often shot at ones that have an expanding series of concentric rings that starts at the center of the silhouette and moving outward – so the "bullseye" is in the ballpark of what would be the silhouette's belly button. John introduced us to targets that showed key anatomy superimposed, and so to get a shot that is more likely to quickly stop an attacker, you have to aim much higher in the torso.
We practiced verbal skills. I've only had one class previously that required any amount of verbal skills beyond ordering someone to "Stop" or "drop the weapon" before firing at a target. The verbal skills weren't only directed at an imaginary attacker. After different shoot/no shoot scenarios, we would have to practice calling 911 on an imaginary phone, and providing the dispatcher with the important information to match the scenario – an injury at the range, an attempted attack that we had thwarted with OC spray, a self-defense shooting. We had to practice giving enough pertinent information to get the response we needed (police, ambulance or both), say that we had been attacked and defended ourselves, identify ourselves, etc. With some of the scenarios that John ran us through, I have to admit that sometimes making the pretend 911 call was sometimes harder than drawing quickly and getting good hits on the target. When you stack all the demands of some of these drills: talking to a potential assailant, assessing the situation, drawing the pistol, THEN deciding whether or not you have to fire...after reholstering and pretending to dial, to recite out loud a description of the drill's scenario was really challenging for me – and that is without the real stress of a violent encounter and the adrenalin dump that would follow.
John used videos and examples of real-world events to stress that students have to know themselves and as much as possible avoid getting sucked into violence in cases where you cross paths with people who are rude or insulting, to avoid being drawn into a spiral of escalation where bad behavior from another person draws you into an avoidable confrontation that could lead to violence. That includes intervening in situations between other people when you can't know who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. On the flip side of that, he urged students to think about their own personal values, and set for themselves a series of red lines – in what kind of situation would they feel compelled to intervene to help a stranger, in what kind of situation would they decide that it was time to fight, and when would they be required them to shoot?
When it came time to actually step to the line and shoot – well, it still wasn't as straightforward as that. John had a series of drills that built one on another, and made the students continually look for different signals that indicate it's time to shoot. Sometimes it takes much longer for the need to shoot to develop. Sometimes you're shooting and the signal you have to watch for is when it's time to stop shooting. Sometimes – well, sometimes it doesn't end up being time to shoot. Again and again, John lets students know that you're never done thinking and deciding what you need to do – you're stuck solving a problem from the moment you get a hint that something's not right, straight through until well after the event is over and you're in a different location.
I'm just glossing over a wide range of skills we practiced and the drills that built on each other throughout the training – too many details to try and present them all. Plus, John said the class continues to evolve – the class you attend won't look or sound exactly like the one I went to. For example, the moving targets you can see in the videos on his website have changed and improved. The level of thought and effort that John puts into the class is evident time and time again.
If I were going to create a syllabus that would take someone with no experience with handguns safely and competently to carrying a handgun, I would suggest they take a reputable multiple-day course that will get them a lot of repetition of safe basic gun handling and get the experience of drawing from a holster and sending several hundred rounds downrange – something like TDI's Handgun I-II or I-III.
Once they have that baseline of proficiency in gun handling and marksmanship, the next class I would recommend would be John Murphy's Street Encounters, because of the unique set of skills and challenges that it exposes students to. And if a person is proficient – even if they're exceptionally skilled – I'd still recommend John's course. If you've taken other courses, you'll be sure to see and do some things that you've seen before. But I'm unaware of any other class that covers as broad a spectrum of practical instruction on how to decide whether or not it's time to shoot.
This class gets my highest recommendation for being incredibly practical and valuable – as well as being enjoyable.