At the recommendation of my firearms instructor (aka our fearless Primer Peak Editor Daniel - check out his AAR here) I signed up for ShivWork's ECQC (Extreme Close Quarters Concepts) class. I had hoped to take the class in the Fall of 2019 but scheduling never worked out. That ended up being a blessing in disguise, because there is no way in HELL I would have made it through the course back then. At the time I was not physically nor psychologically strong enough to handle what ECQC puts you through.
Class was held in a field on private land just outside Odessa, MO. Several area hotels were available within a 10 minute drive for those who traveled any distance. I chose to stay locally despite only living 45 minutes away. The grueling nature and long days of class made that an excellent decision, well worth the added expense.
On the property a shooting range was set up on the West side and a large Army surplus tent provided shade during breaks on the East side. “Classroom” time took place in the large dirt and grass space in between and a porta-potty was available for breaks.
The weather was fairly temperate for early October in the Midwest. Temperatures ran between the upper 80s to mid 90s all weekend. Rain threatened off and on but was mostly limited to overnight showers.
For the live fire portion of class I used my Glock 48 with Dawson Precision Fiber Optic front sight and black rear sights. I carried AIWB carried using my Tenicor Velo holster. Other attendees used a variety of guns and carry methods, many choosing strong side OWB.
We had a large and diverse group of attendees at this ECQC session. There were 19 men and 1 other woman besides myself. The youngest member was 17 and had come to class with his dad. The oldest was in their mid 50s. Ages of everyone else was spread fairly evenly between. Several of the attendees knew each other or learned about the class through Tactical Response.
A few members were active law enforcement and/or military, including a couple of young men we affectionately refer to as GI Joe and Captain America. They were often paired up together since pairings were primarily made based on size and existing skill set. They were truly amazing to watch spar.
Participant's previous martial arts experience also highly varied. There were people with no background, those like me with just a little experience, and some who regularly participated in BJJ and other types of training. While not required for ECQC, previous training was very helpful. I started strength training 6 months before class and am extremely thankful I did!
The Man, The Legend
The man behind ShivWorks and ECQC is Craig “Southnarc” Douglas. Craig was an undercover narcotics and SWAT cop for 21 years. During his time in law enforcement, he experienced many things that his training failed to prepare him for. This eventually lead him to start teaching a different kind of self defense course in 2003. ShivWorks is a collective of like minded trainers that included the late William Aprill and a few others. Their focus is on integrative and immersive lessons that include weapons, grappling, and verbal techniques.
Class starts promptly at 6pm under the tent. Craig shares his background and reviews the planned coursework for the weekend. Brief intros are completed, followed by safety rules. Craig explains the Criminal Assault Paradigm and that he will not take it easy on us because someone looking to harm us certainly won't. As we move into the field I'm already wondering what the heck I have gotten myself into!
Craig tells us he is a big fan of not letting things reach the level of [physical] violence. Because of that, all situations start with avoidance as the first thing you attempt. That isn't always possible, but sometimes it works. Craig refers to the process as “The High Art of Deselecting Yourself”. He explains the importance of creating distance and demonstrates how much just a few inches of space can impact a situation. We review the best ways to move and the kinds of words to use when dealing with unknown contacts. We practice skills as they are taught and explained, building one on top of the other instead of trying to do everything all at once. I really appreciate this teaching style and it is something I use with my students.
Billy Goats Gruff
The 1st day of class consists of several different skills being learned and practiced. The final practice session of the day is The Mountain Goat Drill. It basically consists of standing forehead to forehead with your opponent and pushing each other around for dominance without using any other part of your body. No joke, my forehead was bruised and swollen for over a week afterwards, but it was a great lesson on grit, determination, leverage, and brute force. After the drill we do a quick debrief and break for the day.
Back in my hotel room, I'm super excited about how the day went. I am certainly not the strongest person there, but I held my own again both younger and bigger men. The other woman, Christun, and I asked Craig specifically if we could avoid sparing against each other as much as possible. If we are ever attacked, it isn't likely to be another woman. It was hard to fall asleep because of the excitement, but once I did I was out cold with exhaustion.
Day two started at the range with a safety briefing and emergency roles being assigned. Once everything was covered we moved right to the firing line to begin. Just like the day before, Craig builds skills one on top the the previous one with drills following each lesson. We work on things like determining appropriate extension based on distance from the target and shooting in close quarters. I took a close quarters class with Chuck Haggard back in April and the skills I gained there really helped me be more confident in these sessions.
We break for lunch, with the recommendation to keep it light because we'll be back to grappling when we return. The afternoon session starts with controlling the limbs of your opponent. When a weapon is available the person with the free hand gets to it first. We cover a ton of different standing and on ground skills to get us ready for the next steps.
Everyone has Strengths and Weaknesses
We work in pairs to drill the different skills, rotating to new partners each time. This ensures a greater depth of experience as we each have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, at 5ft even, I had a great advantage in duck under moves, especially against the much taller guys. On the other hand, I was at a disadvantage on some of the ground moves that required leverage because I lacked the reach needed. It was truly eye opening on the importance of knowing your own areas of strength. Craig encouraged everyone to work with and develop their strengths instead of worrying over their weaknesses, especially the ones you can't control like height.
Welcome to Thunderdome
Eventually it was time to start putting all the skills together in Evolutions. Welcome to the Thunderdome! Class members form a large circle and Craig brings out the sim guns with marking rounds. He selects two people to enter the circle and they don protective gear. One person is given a sim gun and lays on the ground. The other person's job is to get the gun. This is an all out, (almost) no holds barred fight for the weapon. Craig carefully monitors the action and calls it if things get to out of control. There was one fight where a class member body slammed another. A big no-no that got the match called, but sometimes people get caught up in the moment.
After each person has the opportunity to be in both positions we break for the day. A quick after action recap is followed by some lively discussion about some of the more intense fights. Everyone is exhausted but reluctant to call it a day. Back in my hotel room I take stock of the dozens of bruises and welts I developed throughout the day. I hurt like I've never hurt before but I cannot wait to see what day 3 has in store for us!
Day 3 starts back at the range. We practice several skills shooting from various distances and shooting single handed. We practice crashing skills and moving into and out of crashes while shooting. Craig divides us into smaller groups so he can monitor and we put all the skills together into a final drill. The focus of ECQC is not shooting skills, so don't plan on walking away an Operator. The shootings skills taught are meant to be integrated into the entire process of fighting, not to improve your marksmanship.
After lunch it's back to the Thunderdome. This time Craig selects people in groups of 3; an innocent victim armed with the sim gun, an unknown contact/bad guy, and a 3rd party whose role is unknown until they intervene. We suit up in protective gear and the bad guy instigates the scenario assigned to them by Craig. The victim is left to respond to the unknown contact with only the training we've received. Some situations require violent responses, some do not. On a few occasions situations that could have been avoided become elevated unnecessarily. Each person is given the opportunity to experience each of the 3 roles, Craig monitors the situations closely for safety, but these are also fully engaged drills.
The One Where I Did Great
During this evolution I start out as the 3rd party, Craig never sends me in. During the next go around I am the unknown contact. It ends without incident, and without the weapon being drawn. My luck ran out when I took the role of innocent victim though. Overall I was incredibly proud of how I did in the evolution. Craig said my verbal responses were great and I was able to maintain my feet which is so important in an altercation. I'm not sure how long I would have lasted had he not sent Ben in to intervene but it was still amazing!
The One When I Did Less Great
After the second set of evolutions, we take a short break and move onto weapons retention, recovery, and disarming. Just like with previous new skills, we start with some basic moves and build up to more complete drills. This seems a little anti-climatic after the butt kicking many of us just took, but the skills are important. Once Craig is comfortable with where everyone is we head back into the Thunerdome for the final evolution.
Both parties are armed [with simunitions] for this evolution. We set up with one on their back on the ground and the other kneeling over them. Each has their sim gun in one hand and their other hand on the opponent's gun. On Craig's word the fight for control of both weapons begins. Participants get the opportunity to start in both positions. I did significantly better when I started on the ground and was able to get a strong arm lock on my opponent...right up until he figured out he could drop the gun and escape, leaving me with marking shots to the side.
Special Note to My Fellow Ladies
Before I wrap up with my final thoughts I want to add a couple of quick notes for fellow women who may be considering signing up for ECQC. Not often, but sometimes, there are training issues we have to contend with that men do not.
If possible, I recommend trying to schedule ECQC around your period unless you regularly participate in hard physical activity and know how you respond. Many of us have physical and/or emotional symptoms related to hormone changes. This is a a pretty intense class and you want to be in the best place possible. Personally, my boobs get super sensitive during my period and unfortunately class fell during the last couple of days of mine. I had planned to wear my normal bra because I like to train as close to how I dress normally as possible. However, I wore a high quality sports bra (Victoria's Secret Knock Out – they are the best) and heavier than normal shirts to give me extra padding. It was a life saver! Be aware of any needs you may have beyond the normal supply list, which tend to be more generic.
I don't even know if I have the words to express how amazing my experience with ShivWorks' ECQC was. The other attendees were fantastic and we all left friends, even after a few rough evolutions. I regularly interact with many of them on social media and in our alumni group, and Christun and I have been talking about future training plans directed at new women shooters. I have often left class with one or two new friends, but rarely do you feel so close to the people you meet. Maybe that has something to do with the close, intimate nature of the training and the fact that we went away each night covered in each others' sweat (yuck).
I have been lucky to take training from several incredible instructors, but none has pushed me as hard as Craig Douglas did. His commitment to ensuring the women in class have the same experience as the men was beyond compare. I have attended several non firearms trainings where the women get paired with each other and the experience was basically worthless. During the post-class round robin Craig gave each attendee a chance to share what they learned and provided some final thoughts and encouragement for each.
Just do it - you won't regret it
If your budget only allows for one class this year, I highly recommend ShivWorks' ECQC. I made some great friends and I learned so much about where I am physically and what areas I need to strengthen. It was a truly eye opening experience! I am looking forward to taking some of Craig's other classes and retaking ECQC in the future.