AAR: Pepper Spray for Non-Cops, Instructor Cert. by Agile Training

I recently attended a new offering from Chuck Haggard of Agile Training and Consulting. It’s his new 1 Day OC (pepper spray) instructor course for non-LEOs. I have been carrying pepper spray daily for about 6 years now, and wanted to be credentialed to pass on what I’ve learned. I jumped at the chance and don’t regret my decision to attend.

Safety

A note on force on force safety. The owners of The Complete Combatant, the hosts of the class, have a very robust and meticulous safety protocol to assure no live weapons make it onto the training area. It includes a group chat, and a group disarming, followed by securing live unloaded weapons in a box to be stored in another location, and a final pat down from the instructors and your neighbors in line. It’s these overlapping safety features that help keep force on force training safe. There’s a reason the book Training At The Speed of Life exists. There’s a lot of training accidents, and we have to be diligent about securing our training area.

History Lessons

Chuck is a career lawman and has unique experiences with testing and real-world use of less lethal technologies. As a result, and for context, the class opens with less lethal options, and an overview of less lethal chemicals that have been used over the years. Chuck’s reasoning for favoring OC over all the other available options is well reasoned and convincing. He frames the course in a civilian context, and his conclusions based of the civilian ‘mission’ make a lot of sense, and OC is very effective at the tasks it’s needed for.

He does an overview of the chemicals involved, the immediate effects of OC on the body, the lasting effects, the solvents used to carry the OC, as well as the propellant gases that companies can use.

Eyejab In A Can

The unregulated nature of the OC business requires that we know what to look for in a product before we trust it. The only quantitative measure we can currently trust is the MCC (Major Capsenoid Content) of the spray. If this isn’t listed, then you can’t trust it to be sufficiently hot. There’s even some companies that seem to overestimate their product. Chuck recommends anywhere from 0.7-2.0% MCC. Bear spray is 2.0%MCC and regulated by the EPA, while ‘human grade’ is not under such scrutiny. Apparently there’s lots of weak sauce formulas. So go off of the MCC and brand when possible.

This portion of the lecture was very valuable for me. Chuck gives an overview of spray patterns (Spray, Fog, Cone, Gel/Foam) and the best uses for each style of spray. We talked about best care practices for assuring the can worked when you need it, and how to not accidentally contaminate your car on a hot summer day. Shot distance capability, target zones, time to take effect, as well as the shortcomings of each.

He ends the lecture segment with decontamination protocols, which mostly amount to washing the face with baby shampoo under cool water in a well ventilated area and just waiting for the suck to end.

Force on Force Exercises

I’m at the point where I believe any quality training program should include some manner of force on force. Chuck didn’t disappoint me and the latter half of the day was exercises that built in complexity and layered the use of OC into the existing Shivworks MUC/PUC (Managing Unknown Contacts) style pre-assault strategy.

Chuck using the author to illustrate the ‘Default Cover’ arm position

While the time was compressed, I feel the students were able to grasp the basic idea of MUC with movement, vebalization, and a high/compressed ‘fence’ hand posture to preserve and make space and time. Failing that, the default cover position was taught. If you’re not familiar, this is a non-diagnostic defensive posture constructed of a lowered center of gravity in base, and a helmet formed around your head with your arms. This allows you to weather an unexpected attack without needing the attributes of a fighter to stay upright and conscious.

Photo Cred: TCC

After the students had reps, the OC was plugged in. We were able to try various inert training units of various sizes and spray patterns. We also were taught ‘failure drills’ where the OC didn’t take effect and we had to transition to a secondary force option. We also got some ideas on using a flashlight and OC in conjunction. Overall it was a great amount of force on force for such a compressed time frame.

I think this is a great class and I’m looking forward to doing some coaching on the use of OC at my home MMA gym here in Lawrenceville, GA. I recommend training with Chuck whenever you can.

Additional Info and Recommended Products

You Can’t Teach Heart…. Right?

There’s a common saying in combat sports (and other high risk endeavors) that goes, “You Can’t Teach Heart”. As in, either you’re born with the gameness to fight, to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, run into the burning building, and continue to fight in the face of adversity and possible injury… or you’re not.

This phrase has one of two effects on the observer. One, the person gets fired up and feels they’re part of a special class who is willing to fight with heart and overcome adversity. Two, a person who sees someone exhibit great Heart and can’t fathom themselves ever being able to keep up and they subsequently never start.

I would like to propose that ‘Heart’ is a skill like any other that can be built through years of dedicated work, working towards a meaningful goal, a willingness to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of that goal, and the discipline to keep showing up. I will agree that there are people who seem to be naturally fearless and talented at maintaining a winner’s outlook. There are those who were born with the attributes that allow them to excel quickly. I’m not writing this for them. Those of us who question if we have what it takes are not lost. There is hope for us and ample room for growth.

My path to cultivating Heart has been through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So I’ll be talking about heart through that lens. Why BJJ? Because improving at Jiu Jitsu requires:

  • Discipline to keep showing up.
  • Repeated and Demoralizing defeats (Ego calibration)
  • Collecting and assimilating techniques (motor learning)
  • Discovering your personal strengths and many weaknesses (self-reflection)
  • Developing your athleticism (multidisciplinary pursuit)
  • Mental toughness (Heart)

There’s lots of ways to show Heart in BJJ. Lots of ways to stretch what you can tolerate and develop grit. I’ve been at it almost 8 years,  my BJJ honeymoon has been over for a while, so I feel I can speak about this a bit objectively and with enough experience to be useful.

Cultivate Heart

If there is a genetic component to heart, I feel like I probably was given a minimal share. I am full of fear, low confidence, self-doubt, and generally don’t care for competition. I’d rather go with the flow and fly under the radar. I’m the kind of person who you probably wouldn’t expect to love a combat sport. Here are my observations for what it takes to improve your Heart. To turn from an easy-quitter to someone who is likely to see it through.

  • Maintain an internal focus. Try to learn to be completely present and to understand and accept yourself. Make it less about winning, and more about improving yourself an incremental amount day to day. Strive to say, “If I had to fight last week’s version of me, I’d win”.
  • Keep showing up. Even if you feel the majority of your workouts are placeholder workouts, just keep going. Suppress the negative self talk and say to that voice, “you shut-up until we get this work in” and just go. If you are resolved to your ultimate goals, you’ll be able to see past bad workouts and demoralizing defeats. It seems heart is developed at the edge of your willingness to continue being uncomfortable. At your quitting line. So the more time you spend with opportunities to suffer, the quicker you will develop heart.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be the biggest fish in the pond. If you’re no longer challenged, you need to expand your group of training partners or your goals to continue your personal growth. Luckily this has never been an issue for me, but I can see it in others.
  • Maintain a growth mindset. If you come to view shortcomings as obstacles to overcome, rather than excuses to quit, you will continue down the correct path. If you believe that Heart is a skill to build, and you work at it, you will find you are able to do things that take more Heart than you thought you had.
  • Understand that having Heart ultimately is about Love. Love of the game, love of your people, love of the journey. You might start your martial arts journey because you’re fearful or angry, but if you don’t grow to love the journey itself, you’ll burn out. The people who are dominant through anger or hatred eventually get beaten and crumble mentally. If you’re coming from a place of love, even failure is motivating. Be love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t think of many higher pursuits than self-improvement and self-understanding. I will continue on this path as long as my body and mind lets me. I hope you got something useful from this one.

 

If you want to read more on this topic, check out A Fighters Heart.
Regards,

Mark

Memento Mori : Negative Visualization Practice

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff

Here’s another non-firearm related post on this firearms blog. I’ve been going through some hard times and this stuff is on my mind. I’m writing it out to share what has worked for me, and I’m hoping if you work through this post, you might come out more joyful.

This post is the result of watching my social media feeds, and constantly being in awe at the lack of perspective that I see people have regarding what real problems are. My ‘real problems’ scale is pretty well adjusted, and it’s one of the gifts that having cancer gave me at an early age. I understand pretty well what real problems are, and day to day life struggles don’t trouble me too much.

That lesson is irrelevant to you unless I can help you put your things in perspective to calibrate your ‘real problems’ scale without giving you a life-threatening disease or injury. I’m going to attempt that with this post.

I’m hoping this post will help you understand a few things for yourself:

  1. Things aren’t that bad
  2. It can always get worse (but it’s currently not)
  3. Create a distilled understanding of what makes you, you.

We throw around terms like ‘first world problems’ when we talk about our Wi-Fi dropping while we’re watching a movie or Starbucks being closed when we’re looking for a cappuccino. The issue I see is that people generally have so few real issues, that they confuse their day to day hiccups as real problems, and don’t realize how well things are actually going (even when some things are going a bit bad). So let’s work a two step process and we can calibrate ourselves.

Distilling down your identity

This is a useful thought experiment that Dr. William Aprill discussed with me when I was beating myself up while I was having trouble walking and using my hands from Chemo-induced neuropathy. I was feeling sorry for myself because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to shoot guns again and certainly wouldn’t return to being athletic by any definition of the word. He asked me to figure out what, “makes Mark, Mark.” So I did what he suggested and thought through what, at minimum, I am. What would I have to lose before I would no longer identify as Mark. Here’s how that thought experiment looked.

Am I still me if I lose…:

  • my 500 lb deadlift?
  • my successful career?
  • a flush bank account and investments?
  • my ability to train in combat sports?
  • my family?
  • my ability to stand up for more than 30 minutes before I hurt too much?
  • my ability to consistently remember where I left my keys?
  • my ability to breath without mechanical assistance?
  • my functioning organs?
  • my ability to remember my families faces/names?

You get the idea. I ultimately identified my line in the sand. Your homework is to think through a list of things you generally self-identify with, and pick out the line past which you will no longer be yourself. This is not easy, and might be uncomfortable. Spend a minute to do that now.

You now have the lowest rung in your ladder defined. You have looked past the walls your ego puts up to define yourself and dug down to what you actually are. What makes you, you. If you’re going through some trouble in life, as long as you haven’t been pushed past that line, you still have your identity. You can still be you.

Negative Visualization

The second part of this post will take a page from the Stoics. The technique is called Negative Visualization. It’s the practice of spending a small block of time imagining scenarios where you undergo profound loss of things you value most. The goal is to put yourself in your nightmare scenario for a short time (3-10 minutes), then when your meditation time is over you may realize that everything in our lives is ‘on loan’ and worth cherishing. Even the mundane things. It will brighten your heart. It will also teach you that things could definitely get worse, but they aren’t at the moment. That’s another thing to celebrate.

If things are currently going rough for you, spend your mediation time thinking about how it could be worse. You’ll find you can always imagine a way to make it worse, and you’ll be thankful that it’s not that bad yet. Our constant adaptation to our circumstances can trick us. This exercise will force perspective in a powerful way.

Here’s some examples:

  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of a house
  • Loss of a child
  • Major health crisis
  • Major health crisis of a loved one
  • Loss of bodily function
  • Breakup of a family
  • Your own death

The only thing you have absolute control over is how you think about your circumstances. Everything else includes an element of chance outside of your control, and letting that ruin your mood is wasted energy. This is, of course, easier said than done. It’s a constant process of course correction.

Everything, up to and including our ability to breath, is a fleeting magical gift from infinity. If something is taken from you, be thankful that you had the opportunity to enjoy it. We’re going to be OK.

Thanks,

Mark

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The Keychain Flashlight and OC Combo

I’ll go on a limb and say you have people in your life who you love and who don’t want to be victimized, but they won’t carry a pistol (or pocket a flashlight, or Pepper Spray, or a knife, or Medical gear, etc). What do you do for these people? Explain their inevitable victimization in a WalMart parking lot and wish them luck? Write them off because they have a different moral compass, or because they’re lazy, or have a different lifestyle that precludes being inconvenienced by extra ‘stuff’? Would you write off your family if they wouldn’t follow this path exactly as you have?

I hope not. I hope you treat your friends, families, and clients as individuals and respect their lifestyle and moral decisions. I have several of these in my life (most of my people in meat-space in fact) who either can’t be bothered, lack the confidence in their skills, or are too lazy to carry a firearm or individual self defense tools. Even if I can get them to drop a light and OC in their purse, I know for a fact that they don’t have both of them out while they push their shopping cart through a dark parking lot.

I couldn’t write my people off because I was dealing with my mom, sister, and wife. They all understand and practice ‘mindset’ skills like avoiding task fixation in public, identifying alternate emergency exits, work M.U.C. skills in roll play to preserve space and get deselected, watch hands, and on and on. I only mention it to prevent someone saying, “No tool in an unwilling person’s hands will do a bit of good.” My girls have that.

I have two paths I can follow: Convince them to organize their life around cumbersome gear, or use clever gear to make it so they don’t have a choice. The first option requires that several things line up in a way that I’ve failed to do in 13 years or so. The latter only needs me to find the right gear that meets my needs of effective, reliable, and usable.

The Ideal Tactic (as I see it)

As you are about to push your cart out of the front doors, stop and:

  • Get your keys out of your purse/pocket
  • In your off-hand, palm your self defense light
  • In your strong hand, palm your Sabre Red Pepper Spray (OC)
  • Look out through the front glass to observe the space you’re about to enter
  • walk out the doors, and do a 3-5 second halt to scan the parking lot and along the building to the corners
  • Proceed to car, look into the car  and around the car
  • Load Groceries, taking a break every few bags to lift their head and do a quick scan to see who’s new, and where people are moving
  • Return cart to corral
  • Get in car, start car without delay, and get in drive (no instagram updates)

The Compromise

So that’s basically fantasy land for me. So I’ll use cunning to not give them a choice about having their tools at hand. Here’s my current best solution for my people:

  • The NITECORE TINI 380 Lumens. Rechargeable, Bright, Keyfob light. A super floody light that is only just bigger than those little disposable pinch LEDs. It’s not combat grade, but it’s not cumbersome and puts out enough light to see hands and beltlines at WalMart parking lot distances. It’s also $30.

  • The Sabre Red Gel key chain flip-top unit with inert trainer and target. This give you a robust and more leak-proof flip-top thumb activated unit in a key-chain size. It’s a bit bigger than those spitfire units that are now discontinued, but the spray quality is much higher on this unit. Sabre Red is HOT at 1.33% MCC (more on OC here). The Gel formulation has its advantage in semi-confined space like vehicles, or in buildings where you don’t want to flood an HVAC system with aerosol pepper spray. It takes a little longer to start burning, and can’t be aspirated as easily, but it still has a place. They also make stream configurations in this package, which I’m interested in.

PRoblem solved, problem staying solved

Now we’ve attached a seeing tool, with a force option, with the keys. We spent less than $50. If we can convince them to dig this mess out before they leave the store, there is no reason to be task fixated digging for keys in front of a locked car, there won’t be a panic at someone emerging from a dark corner to cause trouble, and there will be an option to take away an aggressor’s will to fight by impairing their vision and breathing. That’s enough to make the bad guys look for greener pastures. That’s a win.

Training

The great thing about the Live/Inert combo pack I linked above, is that it gives you a paper target to practice with the inert spray. So take your loved one through some basic MUC exercises. Practice footwork, the fence hand posture, verbalization and their verbal tape-loop, up to painting the guy orange. They get a feel for realistic range and the need to aim and how to aim.

How to convince them to buy?

Sometimes you can’t. I’ve been slowly outfitting my family with useful self defense skills and items. When it’s my birthday, I often give my family a shopping list of useful items I want them to buy for themselves as my present. This is the only way I can get them to invest some money in this stuff. Otherwise I just buy gear for them when they’re in town.

Mother’s day is coming up and it might be worth outfitting your mom and/or wife with something other than a card and some chocolate.

PS: These are the same principles I use, but with a handheld light and key-chain OC. Gun folks should have intermediate force options as well.

Thanks for taking the time to check in,

Mark

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