Review: Rangemaster Tactical Conference 2015


Hey folks, This past weekend I was fortunate to be a speaker at Tom Givens' Rangemaster Tactical Conference 2015.  Naturally I talked about the law of self-defense, and most of the other speakers were tactical trainers of one sort of another.

They weren't JUST trainers, however. The breadth of experience, thought-provoking perspective, and deep analytical thought these trainers brought to their talks was truly astonishing, and refreshing.

The conference consisted of five distinct tracks--two of them speaking tracks, three of them hands-on shooting tracks.  I can only speak to the speaking tracks, and then only to the one I was in for any given talk--I wish I could have participated in all of them.

In any case, here's a quick overview of the talks I sat in on.  I won't go into great detail, as it would be impossible for me to do justice to several multi-hour presentations in a brief email, but hopefully I can plant the seed that you ought to attend the 2016 version of this event.

Jim Higginbotham: "Surviving Lethal Encounters"

On Friday morning I began the conference with a talk by Jim Higginbotham, "Surviving Lethal Encounters."  Jim's a 30-year law enforcement officer, with experience training with Gunsite, FBI, Rangemaster, the DOD and others.

Jim talked about the various elements and dynamics of a self-defense encounter, differentiating between those over which we have some substantive control, and over which we don't.  Jim naturally advocated maximizing our strengths in the former areas, illustrating this theme with many examples of situations encountered over his lengthy career.

Jim Higginbotham 2015

John Murphy: "Video Study of Actual Gunfights"

Next I head John Murphy give his talk--really an audiovisual event--entitled "Video Study of Actual Gunfights."  John's a veteran of the USMC, and currently runs FPF Training in VA. (John's been kind enough to host one of my Law of Self Defense Seminars in the past.)

John advocated the use of the now ubiquitous video footage available on the internet as a vital tool in self-defense training.  Building off his experience in using video footage of IED attacks in the Middle East as a training tool, John applies the same methodology in the use of surveillance and other video footage in criminal attacks in the US.  The many videos and John's witty commentary on them made this talk particularly enjoyable and informative.

Here's a minute or so of John's talk, posted up by Tiffany Johnson of Rangemaster:

Mas Ayoob: "Witness Dynamics"

Mas Ayoob was the late afternoon speaker, and he delivered at the same high quality any of his many thousands of students would know to expect.  His talk, entitled "Witness Dynamics," discussed the dangers that lurk in eye witness testimony, not only from the perspective of a witness who may be intentionally lying, but also for witnesses who may believe they are speaking the truth but are nevertheless mistaken.

Certainly Mas' discussion of the varied, often subtle, ways that witnesses perceive, process, and communicate their version of events is entirely consistent with my own experience with eye witness testimony. (Full disclosure, I'm a student from Mas' LFI-I course, way back in the early 1990s.)

Mas Ayoob 2015

Andrew Branca: "The Law of Self Defense"

Saturday morning I attended my own talk. Hilarity ensued. :-)

Andrew Branca 2015

Claude Werner: "Tactical Psychology for Couples"

The late morning talk was by Claude Werner, who is perhaps best known through his excellent Tactical Professor blog.  Claude is a retired US Army officer with experience in Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, and Mechanized Infantry units.

His talk was on "Tactical Psychology for Couples," and discussed the dynamics of varied aspects of self-defense communication in a relationship, all the way from the most initial discussions having buying a gun in the first place and getting a partner initial firearms training, to communication during an actual self-defense event.

In the middle of this talk there was also a presentation of survey data drawn from questions of couples on the subject of self-defense.  My apologies to the lovely woman who gave this part of the talk but I did not capture her name, and it does not appear to be in the conference guide.  The presentation of this data led to a very robust give-and-take between the presenter and the audience--which had a very high proportion of women attendees present, as did the conference generally.

UPDATE (3-1-15): The woman who presented the survey information is Lisa Hoopes from Resilience Alliance.

Marty Hayes: "Court-Proofing Self-Defense"

Next I heard Marty Hayes give his talk on "Court-Proofing Self-Defense."  Marty is, of course, best known for founding and running the Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network.  (In the interests of full disclosure, I am a member of the ACLDN--and if you're NOT a member, you ought to be asking yourself why not.)

Interestingly, although I've "known" Marty and his wife Gila for a couple of decades--Gila wrote a very kind review of the 1st edition of "The Law of Self Defense" way back in 1997--this was actually my first opportunity to meet him in person.

Marty's talk discussed a number of issues that too often arise in use of lethal force cases that can seriously compromise and undermine a claim of self-defense.

John Hearne: "Performance Under Fire"

The last talk of the day for me was given by John Hearne, entitled "Performance Under Fire." Actually, this was the second half of his talk--unfortunately, the first half was given in parallel with my own talk that morning, so I necessarily missed it.  And that's too bad, because the second half of the talk was simply awesome.  John is 2-decade-plus law enforcement officer with more than a decade of high-end training experience.

That alone doesn't really differentiate him from many of the other excellent trainers present at the conference.  What does differentiate him, however, is the tremendous effort he has put in to understanding the psychology and current theories of adult learning, with a particular emphasis on how they apply to the use of firearms in lawful use-of-force scenarios.

I was frankly surprised to learn that John has a Masters degree, only because I had assumed based on his talk that he possessed a PhD.  Perhaps more important even than the very high research level of his talk was the plain-spoken and humorous way in which he communicated what could otherwise have been extremely dry material.

Although all the conference speakers were excellent, I've since learned that John was one a handful of speakers who scored 100 (the highest possible score) on the attendee surveys. In my opinion he earned every one of those points.  If you ever have a chance to hear John Hearne discuss his research I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity.

As it happens, I Googled John's name to see if I could find a good link for him, and found there was a ton of links including this video that appears to be the first 10 minutes or so of his talk at the 2013 Tactical Conference:

(His talk this past weekend was a far more extensive and comprehensive version of the talk in this video above.)

Gary Greco: "The Training/Reality Mismatch"

Sunday morning I began the day with a talk by Gary Greco--perhaps the single best talk of the conference, from my personal perspective, but for reasons that might be surprising.  Gary is a recently retired career officer from the US intelligence community, and has specialized experience in counter-terrorism and interrogation in such vacation paradises as Lebanon, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Because of the sensitive nature of his career and the fact that he remains bound by complex governmental non-disclosure agreements, he asked that we neither record his talk nor attribute specific statements to him, out of concern that they might be taken out of context and lead to misunderstanding.

Out of respect for that request, I can nevertheless share that Gary's talk touched upon three general, and generally distinct, themes:

(1) Defining realistic self-defense weapons and skill-sets and avoiding the fantasy/gamification that can be found in much of the current firearms training environment;

(2) Discussing the weapons, caliber, tactics and mindset of often confused and messy urban fighting, based upon his personal experience engaged in such fights during his career through the Global War on Terrorism; and

(3) Taking a realistic look at the current threat posed to the US by terrorists, in particular the newest breed of ISIL/ISIS.

All three portions of Gary's talk were solid gold, but the third really stood out to me.  My personal view of radical Islam has been to see them as a a largely single cohesive entity, including ISIS/ISIL's ongoing efforts to establish a caliphate in the Middle East; extremist elements seizing control of substantial urban areas throughout Europe and engaging in Charlie Hebdo style attacks in those nations; and the prospects for Nairobi-style mall attacks (or schools, or any other places where unarmed innocents congregate in large numbers) and tactics to counter such attacks.

When I left Gary's talk, however, I found I had to seriously contemplate whether these three elements were not more likely largely independent from each other in a practical sense, despite the nominal common theme of radical Islam shared among them of radical Islam.  If this view is the more realistic, it has profound implications for how we night most effectively engage with each to best ensure the security and interests of the United States.

Darryl Bolke: "Secrets of Successful Gunfighters"

The last talk of the conference for me (I had to leave mid-day to catch my flight home) was given by Darryl Bolke, and intriguingly entitled "Secrets of Successful Gunfighters."  Darryl runs Hardwire Tactical Shooting, a training school focused on "reality-based training for law enforcement, military, and private citizens.

Darryl is a very engaging speaker, and is retired LEO after having served nearly two decades for a Southern California police department, including in roles that involved numerous necessary uses of deadly force, sometimes with lethal effect.

Darryl discussed a couple of shootings in which his own use of deadly force was needed to terminate a criminal encounter and save innocent life, as well as a couple of shootings by fellow officers for which he had personal knowledge (e.g., was involved in the post-shooting investigation).

If I were to pull a single key theme from Darryl's talk--and there was a great deal of highly valuable insight--it would be shot placement, shot placement, shot placement.  Darryl illustrated his case examples with numerous photos, including post mortem photos showing the effect--and effectiveness--of shot placement in the necessary use of deadly force.

That was the end of the conference for me, although talks continued through that Sunday afternoon.

Based upon the talks I heard I can only assume that the talks I was not able to attend were equally as outstanding--as I say, I only wish I could have heard them all.  (The full 2015 conference schedule and description can be found by clicking here.)

Thanks to Rangemaster

Many thanks to Tom and Lynn Givens for their kind invitation and the opportunity to speak with such an outstanding audience. Their work, and that of all the trainers present,  is truly a service to their fellow citizens.