Armed and Unarmed Combatives

SWAT MagazineBy Gerard Valentino

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Founded by Brian LaMaster and Tim Davis, ITC prides itself on teaching a comprehensive armed and unarmed self-defense system. I recently attended the Advanced Pistol Fighting course at ITC.

Advanced Pistol Fighting, taken over two days, begins in the classroom like most “tactical” classes. LaMaster handles the lecture portion and covers the usual fare of mindset, range safety and the school’s self-defense philosophy.

During the lecture on Day One, LaMaster touched on the school’s basic belief that there is no such thing as a gunfight for “civilians”—just a fight where one or more of the combatants has a gun. He also reminded the students over and over again that the gun isn’t the tool of last resort—unarmed combatives is. Many people who have taken tactical gun training see a gun as their salvation. When it malfunctions or there isn’t time to draw it during an attack, however, is when the tools of last resort kick in.

LaMaster then stated the unusual theory that unarmed combatives are also most likely the tool of last resort. Since confrontations take place at such close distances, some action is required before a gun can be safely drawn. This is yet another different way of looking at the tactical problems faced by armed citizens.

Our class included one attorney, several members of public service, a realtor and a computer programmer. Shooting experience ranged from one year to over 20 years with a handgun. Handguns included three 1911’s and the usual assortment of plastic wonder-pistols, including Glock, HK, SIG, Smith & Wesson and one Walther. Most shooters chose 9mm as their round of choice, however, all the 1911’s were .45s. Somewhat unusual was the lack of a single .40 caliber shooter in the bunch.

Students who chose a 9mm were at a huge advantage because the live-fire portion of the class called for a high amount of one-handed shooting. LaMaster instructed everyone that one-handed shooting was a required skill because in a fight the non-dominant arm may be needed to fend off the attacker or may be injured in the initial flurry of blows. Due to the lack of recoil, 9mm shooters were able to get more shots on target with one hand in the shortest amount of time.

Take what you want from the fact, since ITC didn’t’ push a single type of gun or caliber during the class. LaMaster did shoot a Glock and said he felt it was the best option for his needs, but stressed that everyone needed to find the gun that fit their hand and met their personal requirements.

Even with some unique perspectives on fighting during the lecture portion of the class, it initially appeared this was going to be another case where a school gave a great lecture but failed to follow through with dynamic range drills.

However, it was on the range where LaMaster’s teaching style and the difference ITC brings to the table began to show.

The range period started with the introduction of basic combative moves to disarm or surprise an attacker. Each student was instructed to bring an inert gun to the class so the training could take place in a safe manner. Students were then asked to play the role of attacker or victim at very close distances, to illustrate that drawing a gun at arms length is nearly impossible. LaMaster stressed that most violent encounters take place at hand-to-hand distances, which require some sort of move off the line of attack prior to drawing the gun.

LaMaster’s decision to introduce inert guns into the training made it a very personal experience, as students learned that action always beats reaction. Plus, LaMaster’s theory is that if you are held at gunpoint and know your attacker is likely to shoot, there is little choice but to act. Not as a first choice, since avoiding the encounter is first and foremost, but as an act of desperation and self-preservation.

The time before lunch on Day One was entirely devoted to practicing arm bars and other unarmed combative moves, which resulted in a physically demanding but rewarding, training experience. More than one student found just how hard the ground can be, especially when falling on their holstered inert gun. None of the drills were designed to force students to the ground, but the diligence shown by most who took part in the drills made it an unforeseen obstacle.

Safety was paramount and was never compromised during the different drills with inert guns and training knives. After lunch on Day One, the practical shooting exercises began at bad breathe distances from the targets. For those with less tactical handgun training, shooting from a retention position was anew and somewhat disturbing experience. LaMaster asked everyone to drive on, since ITC’s basic philosophy is based on the premise that a shooting school stance is nearly impossible to use during a dynamic criminal encounter.

Nearly all shooting was done with one hand and, as the day went on, a transition to low-light fighting was made. Several flashlight techniques were covered and the pros and cons of each were discussed. Students were encouraged to try all the techniques and decide which one(s) worked for their individual shooting style. Once everyone got a chance to practice with a flashlight, barricade drills were next and were taught in a fluid way that required students to follow basic fundamentals, but allowed everyone to prick their own stance.

Day One went from 0900 hours until nearly 2000 hours, but the time seemed to fly by, due to the innovative way the use of a gun with unarmed combatives was taught. There was little down time between shooting strings, with shooting on the move the only basic skill not covered on Day One.

The day ended with pizza and a chance to chat with the instructors and fellow students. This was a nice touch that allowed everyone to get to know each other better and to let students ask the instructors questions.

Day Two began with a very brief review lecture on what had been taught on Day One and a quick block of instruction on how to choose a gun. LaMaster again led the lecture portion of the class and answered questions about his belief in what made a gun the right fit for a shooter. He admonished new shooters not to listen to their husband, wife, the gun counter guy or anyone else about which gun they should carry without shooting it.

He readily admitted that he made plenty of mistakes before finally realizing the Glock was right for him. Yet, during this time he didn’t push the Glock, or another favorite of his, SIGs, on the students. Instead he emphasized that it isn’t the gun you want to carry that is the right gun for you, but it’s the gun that fits your hand and that you can handle that should ride in your holster.

Range time on Day Two began with one-handed moving drills. Both directions were practiced at very short distances. Next, the targets moved while the students stood still (a basic Tueller drill) and tired to draw quickly and shoot the target before it finished its range of travel. Once everyone was competent at shooting the moving targets, the students were asked to move away at a 45-degree angle as the target came toward them. Students were also challenged with shooting multiple targets that were advancing toward them.

Also included in the range portion was a block of instruction on how to fall if the attacker gets the upper hand and forces you to the ground. The instruction included how to shoot from the ground without endangering yourself, plus, a step-by-step system for learning to shoot while in the process of getting to your feet. This section was particularly useful because some classes at this level completely ignore fighting from the ground.

If you are looking for a tactical handgun and fighting class that doesn’t challenge any of your pre-existing notions of either, or if you need to learn to shot, then ITC isn’t for you. LaMaster freely admits that this course is not a “shooting course” so much as it is a self-defense course.

On the other hand, if you want every notion about fighting with a gun challenged in a positive and thought provoking environment, contact ITC. You won’t be sorry you did.

This article first appeared in S.W.A.T. Magazine, April 2008.

CLICK HERE to buy the DVD based on this course.