Course Review: Shivworks ECQC

ECQC is perhaps the one course that truly defines the ISG approach to weapons handling. Check our review for why we view it as the "gold standard" in training.

December 30, 2019 2:14 PM

Training, as with anything worth doing, should challenge us, make us walk away humbled, and resolved to improve.

Validation is the easy.

Validation is the low-hanging fruit that you pretend is satisfying if you’re aware... and that you wear like armor if you’re suffering from Dunning-Kreuger’s syndrome.

As discussed previously, training needs to be contextual - there has to be some meaning behind it, and it must be applicable to real life. A course that provides you context, pressure testing, and an infinitely complex swirl of interpersonal problems that you must manage on the fly is the height of valuable training.

To say I’m a fan of the ‘Shivworks Cartel’ is not exactly right. They’re top notch guys, no doubt, but it’s not that. Likewise, I don’t 'enjoy' ECQC, it’s a grind: a physical and mental challenge like few others.

What I like is this: It's actually interdisciplinary. Students will be tested on their ability to fight, talk, and escape scenarios that are complex and ever-changing. It’s a laboratory. It’s order in chaos.

People say that there are two types of people: There are people who see ECQC and say "That's insane, why would you do that?" and there are people who say "I've gotta do that!" I was in the second group, and after three iterations spanning 8 years, it’s time to write a review.

Foot in the Water

This is, in fact, not a dominant position from which to draw a firearm.
The phenomenon known as a "timing error" captured for future generations to learn from.

“I’d rather make athletes shooters than try and turn a shooter into an athlete” Craig said. I knew at that moment two very distinct truths, and I drew one conclusion from them. First, he was right. Second, this course was going to be very different than anything I’d spent money on.

I concluded I was going to get my @$$ kicked, and I was right.

“Bad guy’s got your gun, Aaron” a chill southern drawl. I remember saying “I can’t see!” “I know.”

I’d been in some fights before. Quite a few, and as an adult. Fighting wasn't what was foreign; it was the level of intensity. Street level crime… drug people… abusive households… They don’t pit you against a self-motivated, self-selected student of violence who is learning the same material as you. In that way, ECQC pits like against like. It makes the fights a mirror, and under the watch, a true reflection of what you know, what you can do, and how well you blend those things under pressure.

This is what happens, Larry. This is what happens when you draw your pistol without positional dominance.
"Just shoot him" doesn't work as well as you might think.

"I've got a gun, I'll just shoot him", or at least, that's how I thought it'd work. I’d been shooting for years, I’d taken professional classes and had been in the military in a career field that required proficiency with rifle and pistol – but this wasn’t shooting.

Losing your gun is bad - losing your head is worse.
Use it to your advantage. Losing your gun is bad, but losing your head is worse. Don't give up.

Scenarios - and fights - don't end when you want them to.

It was nothing like shooting.

All of a sudden, a guy was tearing at my hands trying to take my pistol from me. It didn’t matter how fast my draw was, or how well I could post a group in the x-ring or t-box. It becomes obvious that your ability to shoot matters less than your ability to know when to shoot.

I remember getting hits on a guy and thinking “shouldn’t this scenario end now?”

Watch some shootings and you can definitively say “no”. You don’t get to decide anything about the scenarios in which violence is used, unless you’re the aggressor. It’s not your choice if you get attacked, it’s not up to you if the person is reasonable, and they don’t owe you an excuse for why you’ve been selected.

I left that first ECQC knowing that my life would never be the same. That thus far, I’d survived on luck and a little more tenacity than the “other guy(s)” had. …But I didn’t really get it.

There was so much information crammed into that 24 hours, that I knew I didn’t retain it all.

Lessons Learned

What I had been doing wasn’t enough, so it was back to the drawing board: Fighting skills, retention, close range shooting skills – they all became paramount, but it became apparent to me that fitness, spatial management, verbal de-escalation… those things were every bit as important. It was important to be experienced, as well as being well-rounded.

Two on One Evolutions challenge your strategic and tactical decision making with no room for error.
Fighting two humans is not easy. These two were no exception.

Why were there still guys out there who thought their ability to shoot was equal to their ability to fight? So why didn’t people talk about experience, rather than training?

Because training is fun, it's easy, and it validates our ego.

Experiential training, like ECQC, forces us to set that aside.

ECQC brings you as close to true experience as possible. Each iteration will pit you against someone who knows what you know, and builds a scenario that you have to manage. Like reality, you can’t win: it’s a zero sum game where your job is to manage the damage. You’re going to get hit during ECQC. You’re going to bleed, and you might break a bone or two.

Do you stop? Do you think “Shouldn’t this be over now?” I’ve returned to ECQC twice since, looking not for validation of myself, but to my approach to training:

Using an edged weapon in a clinch to reverse position and fight off the ground.
A F'd-up tangle (FUT). Think of this like a trafficsignal on the road to not getting killed... sometimes you make it, but most of the time you stop here.

Was my fitness level improving?

Had my fighting skills improved?

Could I manage a person who might or might not be hostile? If not, could I fight my way out?

Craig's ability to provide insightful, actionable feedback on your performance, however is truly amazing. It's easy to leave ECQC overloaded on information, but Craig gives methodical feedback that is both insightful and actionable.


Coaching, Debriefing, and performance analysis
After action in this case was 15 solid minutes of coaching, covering every aspect of "all that fuckery", from mindset to legal.

I’ll keep going back to ECQC.

In the years since I first took it, the course has evolved. ECQC changes with it's successes and has refined its approach to where no matter who you are, or what you do, it’ll help you be more realistic about violence.

The course won’t validate you, it'll make you humble. It will make you think and will more purposefully direct your training time and efforts. ECQC isn't a training course, it's an experiential learning seminar, and like any good block of instruction, it will permanently change the way you think.

If you want to test your ability to merge awareness and EDC to confront the violent Type I emergency, this is the place to do it, and a great instructor to learn from.



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