Combative Pistol, Level 2
2-3 February 2019
Homestead Training Center, Homestead, Florida
Instructor: Jeff Gonzales
Class Size: 13
Instructor to Student Ratio: 1:13
Ammunition Requirement: 1,500 rounds
Actual Rounds Fired: 1,111
Tuition: $525 (+ $60 in range fees)
Introduction & Training Background
This was my first Trident Concepts class, and my twelfth class since I started taking training seriously in 2012. The majority of my firearms training has been with Randy Cain of Cumberland Tactics (primarily handgun). I’ve also taken Pannone’s Covert Carry, Langdon’s Tactical Pistol Skills, and ShivWorks ECQC. Since 2011, my practice regimen has consisted of range trips two to three times each month and an average of 8,000 rounds fired annually. I work in security management and I ride a desk, so my reason for taking this class was purely to further my proficiency for self-defense, as I currently do not carry a gun on the job.
The class was hosted at Homestead Training Center. I’ve taken a few classes here, and it’s incredibly convenient, just fifteen minutes from my house. HTC is a nice facility, with multiple bays ranging from 25 to 500 yards, a shoothouse, air conditioned classrooms, and permanent bathrooms with running water. I’ve been shooting at a private club in Key Largo for about eight years, but this year I will be switching memberships to HTC—with an NRA RSO certificate, the ability to reserve a bay all to myself is a huge plus. The club in Key Largo is vacant when I go there roughly 50% of the time, but the rest of my trips down there, it’s a crapshoot as to whether I’ll have to share a bay with some old guy shooting slow fire from the 25, and I despise having to wait on other people to go downrange and tape targets. Not to mention the 40 minute drive, and associated fuel costs.We used a 25 yard bay for class, which had a nice covered area for breaks. The only downside to HTC is that it’s tucked away just south of Homestead Air Reserve Base, and while it’s cool having F-16s taking off every thirty minutes, the sound of freedom makes it a challenge to hear range commands at times.
Concealed carry was not permitted for this class, so I shot from a duty rig: Volund Micro Battle Belt v3, Esstac Kywi pistol pouches, SF Fury DFT in an HSGI Pistol Taco, BFG Ultralight Dump Pouch and Micro Trauma Kit, SORD Tourniquet Cover, and Safariland 6390 (wrapped in Multicam by RDR Gear) with OTD Nub Mod on a mid-ride UBL.
Some members may recall that I’ve gone back and forth between MOLLE-compatible duty belts and the Crye MRB. I liked most things about the MRB, but I’m not a fan of the 1.5” inner belt limitation. Even with a fairly rigid Ares Aegis Enhanced belt, I still needed a leg strap to prevent a UBL-mounted holster from flexing out and binding up on the draw. I hate leg straps. I also dislike not being able to use keepers with the MRB. I know one can route the pants belt through the loops on the MRB sleeve, but that’s a pain in the ass. Finally, I don’t like losing a column of MOLLE at the gaps between the side panels and the rear panel of the sleeve. I’m a fairly slim guy, so I don’t want to give up any MOLLE real estate if it can be avoided.
As for the pouches, I’ve been using WTFix straps to secure MOLLE pouches in place of TT MALICE clips. As others have noted, those straps are great in general, but they don’t work as well on the reduced-height webbing used on the Volund (and similar) MOLLE-compatible duty belts. After a dozen or so reloads, the pouches start to loosen up, and although they never fell off, there was a fair amount of play. I started experimenting with using Velcro OneWrap on two of my Kywi pouches, and so far it’s working flawlessly. I’ll be converting the rest of my belt pouches over to that attachment method, as it is much more stable. (Thanks for the tip, @XTCBX.)
The Nub Mod on the 6390 really makes it just about impossible to flub a draw—the only missed drawstroke of the weekend for me happened when I outran my headlights trying to go at Ricky Bobby speed on El Prez and completely missed the button (go figure, this happened on one of the only timed drills we ran during the entire class). I would not feel comfortable using an ALS-only holster in an overt duty role. Someone can deactivate the retention on that holster intuitively, whereas an SLS or ALS/SLS combo takes more deliberate action to defeat. Taking a hint from some other users here, I’ve started liberally soaking all the liners in my 6000-series holsters with silicone spray, which eliminates any binding issues.
For most of class, I shot my dedicated training VP9, with an aggressive stipple job by the now-defunct Sweaty Muddy Bloody, and the Gray Guns Striker-Fired Action Package. I really like the trigger on this gun, but ever since I got it back from Gray Guns, the trigger safety catch stop pin has been walking out the right side of the trigger every couple hundred rounds. I’ve got a new pin on order; hopefully that resolves the issue, or I’ll be sending it back to GG. Round count before the start of class was 14,645.
For the first half of day two, I shot another VP9 that I’m breaking in for carry use, this one without any frame modifications, but with a Master Reduced Reset Action Package from Lazy Wolf Guns. This gun had just over 1,500 rounds fired going into the course. Even with liberal and frequently-reapplied Dry Hands, I had difficulty keeping a firm firing grip on this unstippled gun, especially once the temperature started to rise, so I switched back to the stippled VP9 at lunch time.
Both guns were set up with 10-8 Performance 0.115 fiber fronts and 0.140 U-notch rears, as well as with SF X300U-A 1,000lm models. I prefer the TLR-1 HL for concealed carry due to its shorter length, and I very much appreciate its easier to activate paddle switch, but I also like the SureFire because, well, SureFire… and 1,000 lumens. Magazines were all OEM HK 15-rounders, some of which have been coated in NP3+ by Robar.
Apparel for the course was Arc’teryx Assault Pants, Patagonia Capilene long sleeve shirts, and ancient Merrells. PPE consisted of TCI DEHP muffs upgraded with NoiseFighters gel seals over EAR Inc. custom-molded plugs and Rudy Project Tralyx Slim glasses with ImpactX-2 photochromic lenses.
Custom earplugs are some of the best money I’ve spent recently. They’re comfortable to wear all day and have ports to allow normal volume sounds through, meaning I still get the benefit of hearing speech through electronic muffs while retaining the additional protection one gets from doubling up on ear pro. I’ve previously used SF Sonic Defenders under earmuffs, but the EP3 style with flexible flanges do not stay put once I start sweating, and the EP7s with Comply tips are painful for me when worn under muffs. Moreover, the quality of the audio passed through the EAR custom plugs is noticeably better than the slightly muffled sound that comes through the Sonic Defenders.
Other than the self-ejecting pin on one of the VP9s, I didn’t have any significant gear-related issues.
From the Trident Concepts website: “The Combative Pistol, Level Two (CP2) is an intermediate 3-day course focused on hammering out the rough edges to the modern gunfighter. It will instruct the pistol’s core fighting skills by using full range sessions and high repetitions to continue forging correct technique. The course will progress to more challenging drills that will increase the student’s shooting speed and combat marksmanship. Graded evolutions throughout the course provide instant feedback to the student on skill development, technique deficiencies and overall ability. The linear progressive training exercises refines the combative fundamentals in order to progress to more advanced courses.” Note that this was a two-day version of the class.
Wx: Low 67°, high 80°, partly cloudy, 6-13mph winds
458 rounds fired
Class started with a thorough safety and medical brief. Jeff introduced himself and provided a quick synopsis of his background. Notable was the fact that the students were not asked to introduce themselves. To paraphrase Jeff, “I don’t care who you are or what you did yesterday, I care about your performance today.” After a short block of instruction on the loading/unloading process, we dove right into the first of what would be several graded evolutions. I didn’t document the exact course of fire, but it started at the 25 and ended at the 3, and included a mix of freestyle and strong hand only shooting to the body and face of the TRICON target, with a malfunction clearance drill mixed in for good measure. This was not a timed drill.
After inspecting our targets and getting to observe each shooter’s gunhandling, Jeff made his determination about where in the curriculum to start teaching. As with most good instructors, he was prepared to back the class down for remediation on the fundamentals, or to skip ahead if appropriate. I don’t remember if he mentioned exactly where we were on his scale of proficiency, but I’d guess as a whole we were probably close to the intended intermediate level, if maybe a little shy of that. (There was one student who just started shooting a couple weeks prior to this class who definitely got thrown into the deep end with this level of instruction, but I appreciate that the rest of the class didn’t get held back by one inexperienced shooter. To her credit, she stuck it out through both days and definitely made some strides in both gunhandling and marksmanship.)
With the first diagnostic test complete, Jeff taught his preferred methods of trigger control, grip, and stance. This included shaking each student’s hand to demonstrate the “crush grip,” and then doing the same for shoulder engagement. Jeff incorporates quite a bit of physiology into his shooting stance, and his weightlifting experience is evident in his unique approach to gripping the gun. I’ve read other reviews which likened this to attempting to squeeze a football between one’s shoulder blades, which I think is an accurate description. This felt very strange at first, but I kept at it for the duration of the course, and it is something I am going to continue to experiment with to determine whether or not it becomes a permanent part of my toolbox. Jeff made the point that rolling the shoulders forward as many instructors teach is fatiguing, and for military/LE shooters, something that’s difficult to do for very long when wearing armor or a heavy pack. Additionally, rolling the shoulders forward can lead to pushing the elbows out, which in turn can pull the heels of the hands off the bottom of the gun, contradicting his recommendation to pinch the heels of the hands together to put pressure on the grip where one has the most leverage to fight recoil.
We often throw around the phrase “drinking from the firehose” when discussing training. Even after almost a dozen classes, thousands and thousands of rounds downrange, and a significant amount of time devoted to learning as much as I can about handgun shooting, I still felt borderline overwhelmed by the amount of information that was being communicated. Now, Jeff was taking a gradual approach—he wasn’t yet touching on draw, or malfunction clearance, or reloading, or ready positions—but it was still a lot of information, even for a seasoned shooter. I say this to validate that when the TRICON website says you should have attended their Level 1 course first (or an equivalent), there is a reason for that. A new shooter would likely be drowning at this point, only an hour into the first day. That’s not to say that you cannot take this class without already being competent (as demonstrated by the newbie in our class). However, having a few classes under your belt will make it a lot easier to keep up and I think you’ll gain more from this level of class by being moderately experienced.
After the first block of instruction, we were given the opportunity to get multiple repetitions with the recommended grip and stance, shooting the dots on the TRICON target. Once we had a few reps complete, Jeff instructed some shooters to use the 2” black dot as their target, while others where given the 4” grey dot as an acceptable hit zone. We continued to work the dots from 3-10 yards. I was able to keep all my hits in the black at 3 and 5, but at 7 yards I started seeing POI drift slightly high and right with maybe 50% of my shots, and this was magnified at 10 yards, where I pushed a few shots outside the grey.
A note on trigger mechanics: Jeff advocates against resetting the trigger under recoil, believing that it predisposes one to break each follow-up shot before the sights have settled on target. I’m not entirely sure I agree with this perspective. I tend to side with Ernest Langdon’s opinion that pinning the trigger to the rear results in building a habit of breaking follow-up shots as soon as the trigger resets, which can lead to slapping the trigger instead of a prep and break, slower follow-up shots in general, and worst case, training yourself to fire a shot every time the gun resets, regardless of whether that shot is necessary. I think the truth is somewhere between those two viewpoints. I agree with Ernest’s idea that one should break a shot when the sights dictate, not just because the trigger is ready. But I also think that some of my shots high and right may be attributed to me starting to reset the trigger too early in the shot process. During dry fire, I can often observe the sights tracking up and right ever so slightly when I relax my trigger finger to reset, so it follows that if I am doing this too early in live fire, it’s going to cause that POI shift. (And sending rounds high and right is something I do regularly when practicing on my own, and it’s an issue that I see even when shooting a Beretta 92.)
Part of my POI shift may also be due to the fiber optic front and the difficulty I have ignoring the blazing red fiber to focus on the dull top edge of the front sight. I feel like most of my high misses were attributed to the reset thing, but some may have had sight alignment to blame. It would have been interesting to shoot the fiber setup side by side with a completely blacked out front to isolate that issue. Alas, I’ve settled on fiber or bright orange dots like the Trijicon HD for my guns. As much as I love Heine Straight 8 sights when weather conditions are perfect, I’ll take the tradeoff of a slight reduction in accuracy in return for easier sight acquisition and tracking through recoil when shooting at speed.
Next up was instruction on the ready positions. Jeff teaches low ready, high ready, and compressed ready. I’m not emotionally tied to any particular ready position, I think there are pros and cons to all the ready positions, and I believe they all have their place. With that in mind, it was interesting to hear Jeff’s explanation of the values of high ready as it relates to combatives. Suffice it to say that there is more to the high ready than avoiding shooting holes in your boat.
After lunch, we moved on to the draw. Jeff teaches a three count draw—nothing earth shattering. He does incorporate the thumb-pectoral index as part of the second count, which dovetails nicely with Craig Douglas’s technique. We then got into the concept of first, best sight picture. This was nugget number two for me (the first being the grip and stance stuff). I’ve heard that term several times, but never the way Jeff explained it. To paraphrase, for many shooters, striving for a perfect sight picture leads to trying to ambush the target at just the right time, which means rushing the shot, and rushing means slapping the trigger, and slapping the trigger with a poor grip leads to missing. The point being made is that with a good body index, from ten yards and in, picking up the sights early and breaking the shot as soon as there is an acceptable sight picture will get a combat effective hit faster. Jeff did not describe this as a press-out, but that’s basically the technique he was teaching.
I’ve never given this any significant practice, and ever since training with Pannone, I’ve subscribed to an escalator ride draw. This can be very fast—all of my PRs have come with using this type of draw—but it requires a consistent index, and I simply don’t practice enough for it to be as instinctive as it needs to be. Practicing the press-out during class, I was floored with the quality of the hits I was getting without waiting for the sights to settle, and even though I was moving at perhaps 50% of my normal draw speed, I was able to break very accurate shots long before coming to full extension. In part, I attribute this to letting my subconscious handle the trigger manipulation, as my conscious focus was on picking up the sights and making micro-corrections to alignment as I pressed out. This is something I am going to continue to work on moving forward.
Day one closed out with more drills from the 25 working the ready positions and the draw, and finally a timed shoot-off on an 8” plate. Each student had ten rounds available and had to get five hits. Small victory here: only one other student shot this drill faster than me (around 7.5 seconds), but he dropped one of his shots, while I went five for five in just under 9 seconds. Not particularly quick, but accurate…
There was a class dinner with Jeff present, but I did not attend.
Wx: Low 64°, high 83°, partly cloudy, 0-8mph winds
653 rounds fired
The second day began with an evaluation of stance and index by dry firing with our eyes closed, meaning draw the gun, break the shot, then open your eyes and see where the gun is pointed. From 25, the goal was to have the sights on paper; from 15, inside the silhouette; from 10, inside the 8” circle; from 7, inside the 4” face circle. The standard on this drill was to have 50% or more of your sight pictures inside the appropriate aiming zone.
We then shifted to live fire with more graded diagnostics from 25 yards, shooting slow fire, from the various ready positions, and from the holster. There was some competition here, as well, with a drill where we shot individually with a goal of getting two hits inside the 8” circle within a particular par (which was generous). Those that made their hits moved to the 15 and repeated the drill with a reduced par. Those who made those hits moved up to the 10, then the 7, moving from the chest to the 4” face circle. During this drill on day one, I only made it to the 15, but on day two, I got all the way to 7 before I busted the par.
After this evolution, we moved on to strong hand only, which included some discussion on what to do with the support hand. While many of us train to clench the support hand to our chest, Jeff made the point that even a wounded hand on the gun is better than shooting with only one hand, so we shouldn’t develop a training scar of instinctively bringing the wounded hand to the chest. Instead, one should train with the support hand hanging loosely at one’s side, simulating how you would have to shoot if your arm was too mangled or immobilized to attempt to provide some support to the strong hand. A bullseye bladed stance was lauded as being the most stable and accurate, but exposes the shooter to cross-body and much more deadly shots (note that Jeff was not advocating a squared up stance solely based on the hypothetical situation of facing one’s armor toward a threat; rather, he was pointing out that a one-handed stance should mirror a two-handed stance as much as practical because that is how we spend the majority of our time training, and that eliminating the cross-body shot vulnerability is merely value added). For the strong hand grip, the recommended thumb position is curled down and exerting force into the side of the gun to make up for loss of the support hand to the extent possible.
Next up was a last man out drill, where the entire line shot as a group, with the last man being disqualified, along with anyone who missed the instructed aiming area. This was followed with multiple shots to the body and transitions from the larger body target to the smaller face zone, the point being that one can get away with a sloppy grip for one or even two shots, but more than that and one really must work the crush grip to minimize split times.
El Presidente was next, which was one of few timed, graded tests. This was performed at 7 and then 10 yards, modified to eliminate the 180° turn. Accuracy continued to be the focus here, with the penalty for shots outside the 8” circle being significantly greater than the penalty for going over the 10 second par. If I recall correctly, the penalty was five seconds for a miss, two seconds for every second over par, a total time with penalties of 20 seconds or less was needed to qualify, and two consecutive qualifying runs were mandatory to pass the test. I think only three of us managed to pass the first test; I don’t know if all three of us did on the second run.
Then it was back to 25 yards for another shoot-off, this time man on man, again shooting at the 8” plate. Each shooter had to get two hits with two rounds, and the fastest to get two hits won. After rotating through this so everyone got four chances to shoot, I think the class ended up with two shooters with four wins, one with three wins, and a couple of us with two wins.
Finally, we finished up live fire with a repeat of the diagnostic drill from the morning of day one, again for score. Then it was time for some range cleanup while Jeff tabulated overall scores, which spawned this meme when those of us wearing fancy pants got to use our kneepads for the first time picking up brass…
We closed out the day with a debrief, during which we went around the class giving everyone a chance to report on his or her biggest takeaway from the weekend. Then it came time to announce the scores. Some of you know that not everyone gets a certificate from attending a Trident Concepts class. To actually “pass” the class, one must score an average of 80% or higher on the multiple graded tests throughout the course (and throwing a single round off the silhouette during a graded test results in a DQ on that particular test, and a 0 on a test is about impossible to come back from). Of thirteen shooters, one had to leave early on the second day. Of the remaining twelve, three of us passed. One student scored 80%, and the class host and I tied at 84%. The remaining scores ranged from the teens to the 60s.
Summary and General Observations
This was an outstanding class. I went into this thing a little intimidated, knowing Jeff’s background and being aware of the standards to pass the class. Seeing a recommended round count of 1,500 was daunting, considering this was only a two day course. Now, we didn’t actually shoot that much, but 1,100 rounds over two days is still a lot. Despite the high round count, every round was fired with a purpose. There were no high round count drills. The most I think we fired in one string was five or six rounds, and we only did that a handful of times. Instead, we did a lot of repetition of the various drills, but we also never stayed in one place for too long—getting comfortable at 7 yards? Back to 25. Going a little slow at 25? Back to the 3.
I walked away from class feeling like I had learned something new for the first time in several classes. By new, I mean more than just a drill or two. I picked up several different techniques, some of which may well end up getting incorporated into my personal skillset in the long run. That’s not to decry any of the other instructors I’ve trained with. I know when repeating certain classes that I am doing so solely for the purpose of getting repetitions of skills I already know under the watchful eye of an instructor. But I also admit having been disappointed in the past when I’ve attended a class and only heard information regurgitated that I’ve already seen through the instructor’s social media presence. Still had fun, but didn’t exactly make any gains I couldn’t have made through dry fire and live practice on my own.
The amount of time we spent shooting from 25 yards was fantastic. I’ve lacked the self-discipline to spend much time at that distance when shooting solo, something I plan on fixing, moving forward. Making every shot count was mentally exhausting, but valuable. A few times, I felt myself getting sloppy, but for the most part, I was able to keep switched on for every drill.
Physical fitness helps. I’ve heard many folks say that at a certain point, the best way to continue to improve as a shooter is to get stronger. I wholeheartedly agree. After almost a decade of a relatively sedentary post-military lifestyle, I took up running two years ago, lost thirty pounds, and over the past few months, I’ve been regularly adding bodyweight exercises into my conditioning. Between that, decent nutrition, and staying well-hydrated, I felt much better at the end of each day. In the past, by the end of a training day, I’ve been totally drained, and I just want to eat and crash. This time around, I still had energy to spare, and I feel like I got a lot more out of the class because of it.
The student to instructor ratio was good. There were a handful of cancellations that made this a smaller class than Jeff expected, but that was good for those of us who showed up, as we got more individual attention. I never felt like there was a need for an AI. Jeff kept moving up and down the line and provided plenty of feedback throughout the course. And, true to his word, after he told you the same thing a few times, he quit repeating himself and left it to the individual shooter to fix what needed fixing. That’s not to say this was a discovery learning atmosphere. If I didn’t understand something or needed some help interpreting why I was getting hits a certain way, Jeff was right there to help, but he didn’t waste his breath browbeating me with something when he knew I understood it and just needed time on my own to figure out how to apply it.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the knowledge I gained during this class. Everybody was safe, and everybody put in the work. The intense focus on accuracy was welcome. Like a lot of folks, I wanna go fast. In most classes I’ve taken, there has been a pretty good balance of speed and accuracy, usually slanted toward speed. As I mentioned, aside from very few timed drills, almost everything was shot with a goal of accuracy. I needed that.
On that note, a word about my score. I’m thrilled just to have passed the class. But I want to ensure the reader understands that none of the students, including me, were really that good. I’ve seen some good shooters in other classes, so based on that frame of reference, I don’t want anyone thinking I believe I did something remarkable by passing. I do feel that I was fairly consistent throughout the weekend. There were highs and lows with my performance, but the variance between those peaks and valleys was not very great, and that’s something I’m proud of. However, if time had played a larger part in the standards, I know I would have struggled to maintain the same accuracy level. I wasn’t dragging my feet, but I wasn’t pushing it, either. After another student blew a shot rushing during an untimed drill, when I asked him what the par time was, he admitted “well, there wasn’t one,” but then we agreed that if you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough, and if you’re not trying, you’re not going to improve. In retrospect, I think I played it safe. I still missed some shots. But I could have pushed it a little harder. Maybe I subconsciously wanted that certificate, not that I gave it much thought until the end of the second day, and I was in fact surprised by the score.
To wrap this up, was this class worth the money? Yes, absolutely. I want to train with Jeff again, and as I mentioned, I walked away with some legitimately new insights. Getting to shoot with an intensely funny group of people was a plus. I don’t know if Jeff’s reputation and standards discourage the keyboard commandos from showing up, but there was no “that guy” in class (wait, is that a sign that I was that guy? After all, I was wearing a perfectly coordinated Multicam belt, with no need for such a thing. Crap…).