Black Belt Karate Studio: Active Shooter Workshop

active shooter preparednessImage Credit: The Medford Sun

Author’s note:  I make this post for the sole purpose of discussing my experience indicted in the title.

If it wasn’t for a friend clicking “Interested,” I wouldn’t have discovered this workshop.  It’s a good thing I did attend.  For the cost, I had the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons and get some hands-on practice in potential situations that could arise in these situations.

These scenarios aren’t something one should ever want to deal with, but they are a reality in our day and age.  I decided to take this workshop because I wanted to be more prepared should I be put in that unfortunate position.

I had the opportunity to speak to the owner of the dojo before the event and he went over with me the things that would be covered.  He also made the request of all students who carry a firearm as part of their daily life to leave it in the car since we would be working with mock firearms.

The last time I entered a dojo was more than twenty years ago.  The etiquette of a dojo was long gone from my mind, but was brought back to me as I entered and interacted with people.  I should be thankful that nobody hassled me for breaking dojo protocol a few times.

The course began with the standard application that one would fill out if they were going to be a student taking a lesson from an instructor for-profit.  We were also asked to sign a standard liability waiver for the sake of the business covering itself should someone decide to get out of control.

As I entered, I did my usual observation of the business as a way to know my surroundings.  I also make it a point to converse with some people and take in as much information as I can.  This is so that I can get a sense of what will be happening in this event, how many people are expected to show up, and even simpler – to check in.

Class began with warm-ups that also tripled as ‘Karate 101’ for the amateurs, and foundation exercises that would build into the scenarios that we would practice.  Each exercise began with the instructor demonstrating the moves we would do, followed by having us practice.

  1. Defensive stance and throwing punches while shifting the body.
  2. Defensive stance and throwing uppercuts while shifting the body.
  3. Defensive stance and attacking with your elbows while incorporating uppercuts and punches.
  4. Practicing knee kicks while incorporating the first three exercises.
  5. While it wasn’t meant to be a karate class, the instructor also had us do some sparring exercises to see how well we could defend ourselves in hand-to-hand combat.

Once our bodies were warmed up and having engaged in a good workout, we introduced the mock firearms.  These consisted of two semiautomatic handguns (he mentioned they were a Glock and Beretta), one revolver, and one long gun.  The foundation exercise that we watched and practice consisted of:

  1. Redirecting the firearm away from you.
  2. Containing their firearm in preparation to wrestle it from the shooter’s hands.
  3. Attack the shooter while integrating combative techniques to get the firearm away from them.
  4. Tap the magazine, rack it to chamber a round, and turn the firearm against the shooter to hopefully keep them at bay.

While it goes without saying and it’s easier to type this into an article, but engaging an active shooter is a very risky move; you could end up badly injured, or even killed.  The shooter’s only goal is body count and the termination of any opposition that comes their way.  In essence, you’re dealing with a mode of survival that takes fight or flight to a new level.

We practiced a variety of different ways to be held at gunpoint – staring down the barrel, barrel on your side, barrel against your head, and two execution-style positions.  When we practiced these scenarios, we had to integrate the warmup exercises detailed above.  Granted, the way you would disarm and disable an actual shooter will vary greatly from training, but knowing some combat tricks can come in helpful.

We discussed and practiced some scenarios whereupon disarming the shooter, we would assert aggressive dominance over them since we are in control.  This can also include commanding others around you to subdue or aggressively restrain the shooter while the police are en-route.  He also went over the possibility that you could be dealing with multiple shooters and that taking one down could lead to vulnerability toward a second.

The instructor spent some time covering the idea of keen observation – there could be multiple shooters and one is the distraction.  It’s also worth mentioning that if you have to engage a shooter unarmed, that someone else has called the police and/or might be covering you with their firearm.

The big takeaway from the three-hour course is that you can turn an active shooter upside down if you’re willing to engage the shooter in combat using everything you have.  While having a firearm can help level the situation, it can also be used against you (such as if the shooter gains the upper-hand in combat).

The instructor discussed creating an action plan to deal with the potential of an active shooting situation.  His assessment was as follows:

  1. Exit the situation in any way possible and remove yourself from it, calling the police in the process.
  2. If you cannot exit, or exiting would prove too dangerous, find a way to hide in a way that’s more tactical for you.  There’s a chance that the shooter doesn’t see you, and you don’t become their next victim.  Alternative possibility is that the shooter hasn’t seen you, but is shooting at others around you, potentially leaving you able to incapacitate them before they do more damage.
  3. If all else fails and you’re thrown into the combative situation, use any techniques and/or weapons at your disposal to disarm and/or incapacitate the shooter.  Remember that the shooter has no regard for life or leniency, thus you must treat the situation as a lethal one, being prepared to use excessive force if necessary.
  4. Regardless of how well you minimize or contain the situation, if you end up in a position where you have one or more firearms in your possession (ones you took from the shooters or your own), be prepared to be arrested and detained while an investigation is pending.  It goes without saying, but always follow the commands of law enforcement once they are on the scene as they are the boss once on scene.

I also want to note that in the process of this exercise:

  • Beyond the physical workout and practicing exercises of hand-to-hand combat, everyone came out in one piece, albeit a little sore if you’re out of shape.
  • We all had the opportunity to get up close and personal with a stranger for the sake of practicing these exercises.  We also had male and female students, both older and younger.  There were two veterans and two police officers in the class.
  • We practiced some scenarios to mirror real-life.  This included shouting orders at the person playing the shooter and shouting orders at the person helping you incapacitate the shooter.  We weren’t nearly as aggressive as we might be if this training was for law enforcement or military, but it was enough to get the job done.
  • At no time was there ever an emphasis on using your weapon to end the situation by terminating the shooter.  That’s not to say that you couldn’t do that, but in an age where not everyone is comfortable around firearms, it showed a means to stop the threat.  It’s vital to keep in mind that one of the first things that should be done when trouble is noticed is to call police whether you have access to firearms or not.

The instructor also shared with us that he spent a week preparing to teach this class by working with an organization that trains law enforcement and SWAT.  Their scenarios and drills were much more intense and put you into the actual mindset of being in an active shooter situation.  If I were training for a full-time career in armed security, I would invest the time in such a thorough training.  I would also be more active than I currently am.

Conclusion:  Considering the timeframe and the cost, I thought it was well done and worth losing a third of my day and driving an hour down and hour back.  Since I’m not a police officer or working in the security field, I wouldn’t have expected a training of anymore intensity or substance.

The basic idea was to show people how to disarm and incapacitate a shooter, how to use aggressive hand-to-hand combat to engage a shooter when necessary.  It was also to show you how to turn the tables on a shooter and use their own weapon against them.  Considering that it’s possible for someone to be adept in hand-to-hand combat, but have zero handling or aim with a firearm, it can mean the difference between the shooter surrendering and you ending up dead.

Pros:  Small class size combined with the number of scenarios practiced made it possible to meet and work with everyone in the group, instructor experience in close-quarters combat showed a variety of ways to deflate an active shooter scenario, kept politics out of the classroom, and focused on survival techniques.  Instructors were very good about helping students who struggled with exercises and worked with individual students.

Cons:  While the instructor did provide for the safety of his students, there should have been a firearm check-in procedure for students.  The purpose was to keep real firearms out of the mix of mock firearms, but anyone in that room could have discerned the two.  I would have found a way to work real firearms into the mix using training bullets if needed instead of mock weapons since shooters will be using real firearms which look and feel much different.  Also, I would have prepared some exercises that pit the student against an instructor in front of the class for some scenarios to create a realistic scenario.

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