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The Best of Real-World Training — for Almost Free

By Ralph Mroz

Technology and free markets are a marvelous thing. Turn on the radio and you can listen to the world’s greatest music for free. Turn on the TV, and you can see great dramatic productions or wonderful educational documentaries, again for free. Of course, there’s also junk on the radio, and much of TV is a wasteland. But if you choose carefully, you can get great material for little to no financial outlay.

There has been a similar revolution, with similar results, in the law enforcement use-of-force field. The vast amount we’ve learned about firearms training and real-world firearms use has been largely committed to paper and electronic media. In the defensive tactics/arrest-and-control field, likewise. The martial arts cum combatives-driven revolution in this field has created a huge amount of useful material over the past 30 years, and much of it is available in book or DVD form for the short money that these things cost. Of course, there’s mounds of just plain junk and not-so-useful material out there in these two fields, too. And therein lies the only problem, which we’re darn lucky to have, given the alternative: How do you know what’s useful and how do you know what to avoid when looking to expand your knowledge in these two areas? Which books and DVDs are worth buying and which aren’t?

Well, I get a lot of books and videos across my desk every year to review. Many, frankly, are not worth a whole lot and they wind up donated to a local PD for whatever value they might have. What makes a book or DVD not good? Here’s my list:

• The material is impractical. This usually is the result of the presenter or author confusing range skills or traditional martial arts skills with real-world skills.

• The material is inarticulately presented. Folks, if you are a teacher, you are not in the smarts business. Smarts (that is, having something useful to say) is merely a prerequisite for being an instructor. If you write a book or make a DVD, you are in the communications business. Your value as an instructor is the smaller of your knowledge and your communications ability.

• The material is not well organized. It’s the organization of the material that allows readers and viewers to retain the material over time, and to integrate it with the rest of their body of knowledge. Poorly organized material is almost as useless as poorly articulated material.

• The material is endlessly repetitive. This is the bane of most of the material that I get. Most books are simply 2,500-word articles expanded into a 20,000 to 50,000 word book. Most 60-minute videos contain around 15 minutes of material, with the rest being repetition of that material and added filler. This is extremely aggravating; your time is valuable.

• The material is not new. Any number of books and DVDs consist of rehashes of the same material that we’ve seen a million times. Even when the material itself is good and useful, there’s no point to committing it yet again to a DVD or a book if you aren’t adding anything fresh to it.

On the other hand, if a book or DVD presents fresh, interesting material in an articulate and organized way that respects my time — and most of all, if the material is truly useful and practical, if it will help me to do my job better or more safely — then I keep it, and incorporate its lessons into my own practice. What follows is a description of some of my favorite “keepers.” Not every one of these volumes scores a perfect 10 on each measure mentioned above, but they all contain what I consider to be extraordinarily valuable material, and I highly recommend them. You will see that I have a preference for instructors with many years of real-world experience, so that their material has repeatedly passed the reality test. No range-gods or dojo-gurus here. Most of these people also have had very extensive training in shooting or martial arts or both, in addition to their vast experience. So just as we are not getting sterile range- or dojo-based advice, we are also not getting advice that’s ignorant of existing bodies of knowledge.

Video Programs

Nick Hughes joined the French Foreign Legion in the 1980s. He served five years as a paracommando and a military police officer, serving in Corsica and Africa. During this time, units coaxed him into teaching combatives due to his vast experience in the martial arts. Nick later left the legion to work around the world in places like Great Britain, Russia and the United States in the field of executive protection. He has decades of martial arts training and black belts in judo, ju-jitsu, aikido and styles of knife-fighting as well as stick, baton and unarmed combatives. Nick is also a thorough expert on worldwide military combatives of the 1940s to the present. He has recently produced a six-volume DVD set titled “French Foreign Legion and Military Combatives.” These DVDs are among the very best on the market. If you consider the nature of the French Foreign Legion and the types of people Hughes had to deal with as an operator there and as a police officer (policing his fellow soldiers), you can imagine just how practical his material must be. I learned a great deal from these DVDs. If you have a need for empty-hand control of severely uncooperative subjects, they are a particular goldmine. Available at www.fightsurvival.com and www.hockscqc.com.

Loren Christensen started martial arts training in 1965 and over the years he has earned 10 black belts. In Vietnam, Christensen worked street patrol as an MP in Saigon. “Dealing with rocket attacks, terrorist bombings, anti-American riots, bar brawls, combative AWOLs, street fights, thefts, drug overdoses, assaults and murder investigations kept us humping 12 to 14 hours every shift, every day. It was a marvelous, intense, enlightening and horrific time,” he says. He joined the Portland (Ore.) Police Bureau in 1972. “It was the closest thing to Saigon this side of the Pacific Pond, and I was right back into the chaos again,” he says. “[We had] fights virtually every night.” He worked street patrol, gang enforcement, dignitary protection, juveniles, and training. He retired from police work in 1997, having served 25 years on the Portland Police Bureau, for a total of 29 years in law enforcement. Loren is a prolific author and presenter of video materials; I am particularly fond of his DVDs “Restraint and Control Strategies” and “Fighting Dirty.” The former is a longtime street cop’s presentation of what really works in terms of empty hand control, straight from the really bad sections of a violent city. The latter is a good presentation of hardcore street-fighting tactics, for occasions when you have no time to access other weapons (something that happens to us all too frequently). Available at www.paladin-press.com.

George Vranos is a 145-pound, 17-year veteran police officer. His town does not have the multitude of cops available to come running every time he might need help with an arrest, the way some big cities do. Therefore he’s studied the existing defensive tactics systems, and many appropriate martial arts, and developed his own “system” of techniques — maybe a dozen in all — that serve him well for almost all of the arrest and control situations he has to deal with. His 45-minute DVD, “Fast Action Control Techniques,” or “FACT,” shows you these in detail. This is a deceptively simple DVD. While Vranos explains in detail how and why his techniques work, you pretty much will want to feel them firsthand to see their power. It wasn’t until Vranos demonstrated them on me that I “got it,” as far as several of them go. Be prepared to grab a partner and try them out when you watch it. I can tell you that as Vranos’ material gets more and more exposure, many departments, and certainly many officers, are adopting it, particularly because the tactics are effective for a smaller officer. There’s no magic “new” way to do a joint lock or a strike, but the explosive “how and when” demonstrated in this DVD makes these techniques come alive.

Vranos’ “FACT2” DVD is wholly different from his first. Vranos, who has studied boxing for decades in the old-timey boxing gyms of the backwater city near his hometown, and who has studied UFC-style wrestling for years, has combined them into a complete street and ground fighting system for police officers. He knows that you will be fighting while wearing a duty belt, gun and vest. He knows that the purpose of the fight is to get the suspect in handcuffs, or to immobilize him until backup arrives. He knows that you won’t be fighting in a padded octagon. In short, the “FACT2” DVD contains the basic of a total fighting system, for cops and by a cop. Vranos explains every strike, every takedown, every mat maneuver in the system in a clear and understandable way. He demonstrates each clearly and explains why he’s included it and how he’s modified it from its sport version to be appropriate for law enforcement. This is a breakthrough DVD, and it is very highly recommended. Both available at http://www.factvideos.com.

SouthNarc is the alias of a full-time veteran narcotics officer in the southeast who prefers to keep his real name private for now (he does exist — I’ve met him.) He is an all-round fighter, proficient with empty hands, stick, knife and gun. The topic of extremely close quarter shooting, or ECQS, has gotten a lot of deserved attention in recent years because it’s one of the primary handgun skills that you’ll need if someone tries to kill you. I believe that SouthNarc has developed and refined the state-of-the-art in ECQS beyond anything that’s come before. In his DVD, “Fighting Handgun Volume I,” he presents his system in detail, taking you step by step through it. If you want to see the frontier of handgun technique, check it out. Information at www.shivworks.com.

Hock Hochheim is a retired Texas police officer with 23 years of line experience in that state. Prior to that, he was an Army MP and before that a bouncer in country-western bars. He has multiple black belts and a lifetime of learning in the combative arts. After retirement he decided to pull his vast array of experience and knowledge into building an organization he calls the “Scientific Fighting Congress.” You may have seen his ads in various magazines and wondered “Is this guy for real?” I’ve met and trained with him; he’s for real (and a hell of a nice guy, too.) Hochheim has three dozen DVDs in print and several books (this month), and his Web site sells the DVDs of other practitioners that he respects (including Nick Hughes). His material consists of some police-orientated material as well as some more martial arts-like, more detailed material, but it’s all good, practical information. The only problem you’ll have is deciding which DVD to start with. I highly recommend his empty-hand knife-defense book as a place to start — it’s one of the few on the market that teaches what I consider to be a realistic approach, and it stands alone. Available from www.hockscqc.com.


Mike Conti has been a member of the Massachusetts State Police since 1986. During his career he has served in uniformed patrol, high-crime area community policing, SWAT, special security details, undercover narcotics and death investigations. In January 2000, Conti was tasked to organize, staff and train a new Firearms Training Unit for the department. During the creation of that unit, Conti developed a firearms training program specifically geared to preparing police officers for the realities of the lethal force encounter. This program, dubbed The New Paradigm of Police Firearms Training, has received nationwide attention in the professional police training field. Mike started from a blank slate when creating the firearms program for the state police. Although it incorporates sighted pistol training at long distances (including — gasp! — cocking the pistol), the New Paradigm program emphasizes close-range gun fighting with Applegate-style target focus. Even the 3D realistic targets are different. What has gotten the New Paradigm program so much attention, though, is the fact that every trooper goes through a police-specific re-creation of Col. Applegate’s House of Horrors. I’ve been through this program, and it’s amazing what a few minutes in such an environment can do. Conti has just released his book based on the experiences learned from thousands of trips through the program and the House of Horrors. It’s titled “Police Pistolcraft.” The name is important: Conti emphasizes that neither military, range nor non-sworn methodology — or instructors primarily from those disciplines — are qualified to train civilian police for the specific duty-bound and legally-constrained job they must do. “Police Pistolcraft,” an 8.5-by-11-inch book that’s 360 pages long, details the tactical and mental rationale for the New Paradigm program, the exact details of the training exercises and the amazingly consistent results experienced by officers going through it. I believe the publication of this book will mark the beginning of a profound institutional change in law enforcement firearms training. Available at www.sabergroup.com.

Lou Chiodo is a former California Highway Patrol officer whose name is by now familiar. Several years ago Chiodo, like Mike Conti on the other coast, redesigned his department’s firearms program with much emphasis on close-range, target-focused shooting. It got great results, and Chiodo has been in high demand as an instructor since his retirement last year. In addition to the CHP cadre that Chiodo has trained, he’s trained many other law enforcement agencies and military units, and has the benefit of their results with his program. He spent almost his entire 20-year career with the CHP as a patrol officer on the night shift — by choice — so he’s had ample opportunity to experience the elephant himself. Chiodo’s first book, “Training for Success,” is now out. It does not detail Chiodo’s specific program in terms of drills and exercises, but in its 155 8.5-by-11-inch pages, it thoroughly covers the foundation and context for it. Chiodo discusses the reality of combat, the reality of your body’s reaction to it and the reality of what we must do to win the fight. He details what an appropriate training program must look and feel like. This is all crucial, invaluable material. You can’t train yourself, let alone train an agency, without this firm foundation. Available from www.gunfightersltd.com.

Adam Kasanoff is a lawyer who retired as a lieutenant from NYPD after 21 years of service. He was a law instructor at the New York City Police Academy, and he was the winner in a well-known gunfight. In “How to be an Expert Witness” he walks you through the steps to becoming a credible expert witness, fills you in on the process that you’ll go through as one, discusses the ethics of the profession, tells you how to deal with the various actors you’ll meet in the process, shows you how to get work in the field and a couple of dozen other things that every law enforcement subject-matter expert wants to know about the business. In this 172-page book you’ll also learn whether you are cut out to be one or not. This is an invaluable resource for most police officers, and the only one of its kind I know of. It’s available for $18 (which includes shipping to the U.S. and Canada) by mail only. Send a check to Ulpian Press, 1123 North Vernon St., Arlington, VA 22201

Paul Howe’s biography on his company’s Web site states that “he has 20 Years experience in the U.S. Army, 10 years as in special operations as an assault team leader, sniper and senior instructor. He’s conducted more than 40 successful combat raid missions in nonpermissive enemy-held territory while assigned to special operations and conduced high-risk protection missions for U.S. dignitaries in multiple overseas venues. He also has three years law enforcement experience with state certification.” In fact, as any reader of “Blackhawk Down” knows, MSG Howe was at the tip of the spear of this country’s special operations capability for 10 years, and he was with the best trained and possibly the most capable unit the world has ever known When someone with his experience speaks, we should listen. I highly recommend that you visit his Web site, www.combatshootingandtactics.com, and read the articles posted there. The emphasis on simplicity and basics — executed competently and bravely — is hugely refreshing. Howe has written “Leadership and Training for the Fight,” which covers leadership at all levels: individual, team, organizational and combat. It’s about leadership selection, mindset, planning and education. The opening sentence of the foreword says: “I have come to the conclusion that our society will not come to an end because of natural disaster or through a superior enemy, but rather through a lack of leadership and initiative on our part.” Each chapter includes a vignette from his combat experience, with the leadership topic of the chapter framed in the light of the lessons from that combat. There are great tactical tips and lessons in this book, and there are tremendously important lessons for leaders or potential leaders at all levels. The book is available from his Web site.

Russ Clagett spent 12 years in the Marine Corps, involved heavily in competitive shooting. After leaving the Corps he joined the police service, winding up as a sergeant in a north Texas city and as a sniper on the SWAT team. On April 9, 2000, in his sniper capability, he had to shoot a woman. “After the Echo” is the book he wrote describing his experiences afterward, emotional and psychological as well as legal. Bottom line: He is OK. But a mistake by his own department put him through hell legally, and he did in fact go through (and come out of) a series of uncomfortable emotional states. In this book he not only documents these experiences, but he provides instruction on how to avoid or minimize them. The tactical, equipment and policy lessons learned apply largely to snipers, but the psychological ones apply to us all. If you are a sniper or team leader, this book is a must-have, and it’s valuable for everyone. Available from www.varropress.com.


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