Class Review: Intensive Pistol Skills with Tom & Lynn Givens

If you are a regular reader of this space, you may remember mention of the name Tom Givens from previous articles, but you probably don’t know a whole lot about Mr. Givens or why a guy like me would hold him in such high regard. Now I finally have the opportunity to tell you about the best defensive firearms instructor you have probably never heard of.Givens

Listing Tom’s entire CV would take an entire article so I won’t attempt to do so. I’ll just hit the highlights. Tom put in a couple of decades as a police officer and investigator in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. Tom is one of the original Gunsite instructors from way back in the infancy of modern firearms training, and was around for the founding of the IPSC and the IDPA. After leaving law enforcement Tom opened Rangemaster in Memphis, TN where he taught for more than 18 years. In that 18 plus years he taught tens of thousands of students…and so far almost seventy of Tom’s students have been involved in lethal confrontations with violent criminals after he trained them. Tom puts this in a very matter-of-fact perspective: The Rangemaster record is 60+ wins and three forfeits. So far every Rangemaster student who has had to drop the hammer on a bad guy has won the fight, and has done so without facing criminal or civil penalty after the fact. Of the shots his students have fired in a fight, 95% of them have found their mark. (You will have a devil of a time finding any law enforcement entity in the United States with that kind of accuracy in shootings) These numbers, of course, do not even contemplate how many students have managed to stop a violent criminal assault dead in its tracks without needing to pull the trigger on their sidearm.

The bulk of Tom’s students are not hardcore training junkies or former Special Forces supermen. They’re regular folks who lived in a dangerous place (a good many of them sought Tom’s instruction after having been the victim of a violent crime) and took the initiative to arm themselves and get some training. Tom took a bunch of ordinary people off the street and trained them well enough that they prevailed over hardened street criminals time and time again. A small Asian woman working behind the counter in a convenience store probably doesn’t look like much of a threat to most people. She certainly didn’t to the armed robber who busted through the front door with his gun already drawn. He was likely quite surprised when she followed her Rangemaster training and put a .38 caliber hollowpoint into his vital organs.

I didn’t learn about Tom because of some wildly popular DVDs or a signature pistol/carbine. He didn’t have a TV show or show up on the cover of gun magazines wearing the latest tactical gear. Hell, the man doesn’t even have his own action figure. I learned about Tom’s program because I encountered so many other instructors who spoke about his training (and the results it has produced) so highly.

Tom’s program does a masterful job of weaving together safe handling practices, fighting mindset, explanation of the function of violent criminals, marksmanship and manipulations, and demanding performance standards into a single course. Having been through the Intensive Pistol Skills course, it’s not a mystery to me why his students are so successful in self defense.


That’s representative of the kind of mindset information Tom communicates throughout the course. His program is so effective in part because he seems to get his students to buy in to the fact that the need to stop a violent criminal assault is not just a possibility, but is, in fact, almost an eventuality. He gets them to understand the sort of person who is committing violent crimes and effectively communicates that cooperation with violent criminals is not an effective survival strategy.

You may recall I mentioned three “forfeits” earlier. In these three tragic cases, the Rangemaster students were unarmed. They were completely cooperative and gave up their valuables as demanded by the armed criminal.

All three were executed anyway. The lesson there? Carry your damn gun.

Tom’s instructional style is very matter-of-fact…the kind of style that’s clearly the product of four and a half decades of education, research, and application. The presentation is tight and directly to the point. I’ve been in classes where hours were spent trying to explain the use of iron sights and proper trigger control. Tom was more effective in explaining it in just a couple of minutes:

The same goes with the reliability and lethality of handguns:

I’d bet you’re inclined to balk at the description of a handgun as a “pop gun”, but Tom never makes a statement like that without backing it up with fact. Earlier in the day Tom mentioned that one hospital in Memphis treated more than 3,100 gunshot wounds in a single year. Only 74 of those 3,100 plus GSWs were fatal, and the vast majority of victims were out of the hospital within 48 hours. Handguns, regardless of caliber, are not death rays. Practically any handgun you would consider for carry will just punch holes in things. To effectively stop a criminal assault it is up to you to ensure that you’re punching holes in something that matters.

Tom’s instruction emphasizes speed and accuracy from ready positions and from the holster. Criminal assaults tend to happen close and fast. Investigating many violent crimes and reviewing video footage of scores more led to Tom’s rule of threes: Three seconds. Three yards. In the majority of incidents the guns come out at extremely close range, and once they come out the thing is resolved one way or another in about three seconds. “In a fight, time runs like water. Misses waste time.” It was interesting watching Tom present what a lot of people would consider a pretty high level of shooting skill as something anyone should be able to do. “Hell, he’s only two car lengths away!” I’m convinced this is another key to Tom’s success…he doesn’t treat what he’s presenting like it’s climbing Everest. His presentation implies that anybody can get from the holster on target in less than 1.5 seconds. Anybody can fire two or three well-aimed shots in a second. His students rise to meet those expectations as they apply the lessons under his and Lynn’s capable supervision.


This was a phenomenal class and I cannot recommend training with Tom and Lynn highly enough. In a class like this you are getting a distillation of all the stuff that’s been proven to work from Cooper until now. It is pure essence of superior defensive pistolcraft…and it’s impossible to be exposed to it without walking away a much more dangerous foe for any criminal inclined to attack you.

Tom and Lynn are on the road full time these days, so odds are they are going to be in a class near you sometime in the near future. Get into it. Your odds of success at self defense will improve.


Course Review: Bob Vogel World Class Pistol Skills – Part 1

If you’re looking to improve your skills in anything, one of the best things you can do is pay close attention to one of the best at it. Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page spent countless hours dissecting licks from old blues greats to try and unlock the secrets of their technique…and untold millions of aspiring guitar virtuosos have dissected Clapton and Page’s music since then trying to reproduce the awesome and make it their own. In the shooting sports, thankfully direct access to the greats is a little easier to come by than one-on-one time with Clapton or Page. The fact that being rock royalty pays a bit better than being a great shooter might have something to do with that…

Champion action pistol shooter Robert Vogel has recently hung out his shingle and started on the teaching circuit, offering anyone who wants to improve their skill with a pistol a great opportunity to look at the techniques and methodologies he’s used over the years to bring him an impressive accumulation of titles and championships. It doesn’t matter if you want to actually beat Mr. Vogel at the next world shoot or improve your ability to fire an accurate shot in self defense, there’s something here for you.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll try to break down the highlights of what was presented at the course and what I took away from it. We’ll start at the beginning…

The Fundamentals – Grip

Day one of training began with a safety brief covering the major rules of firearms safety. Mr. Vogel then transitioned into an explanation of the techniques he uses to get the results we see on the range. The lecture focused heavily on the grip he uses on the gun as a proper grip is the foundation of control when it comes to shooting a pistol. In my various experiences on the range I’ve found that most people don’t really understand the importance of their grip on the handgun, not only for control but also for proper function of the weapon. They often mimic the look of a grip used by top level shooters without really understanding what the shooters are actually doing with their hands when they are on the gun.

Robert Vogel instructing on the range
Robert Vogel instructing on the range

This problem is compounded by a number of well-meaning but incorrect axioms about gripping the gun. Just the other day in a discussion about handgun accuracy on a forum I saw someone quote one of the worst offenders, the old 60/40 rule. You know the one, 60% of your grip pressure should come from the left hand, 40% from the right? Sound familiar? It‘s bunk. I’m sure the goal originally was to try and give a mental concept to new students unsure of how hard they should be gripping the gun and it made sense in that context…but it has since become divorced from that limited application and turned into a law people parrot without understanding. The bottom line on the pressure you should use in your grip is this: You want to grip the gun as hard as you can, but not too hard. This is something of an amorphous concept for a new student and so various rhetorical tricks have been used to try and communicate the kinesthetic concept to the uninitiated mind.

If you grip the gun as hard as you can, with every bit of strength you possess, you will see the gun shake violently. Obviously this is no good. Grip the gun as hard as you can and slowly back the pressure you’re using off until the gun is no longer shaking violently. That’s the amount of force you want to exert on the gun. The reason instructors often use percentages when describing grip pressure is to try and get students to grip firmly, but not so firmly that they’re shaking the gun. What students often don’t understand is that when an instructor says “I’m only using 60/70/80% of my grip strength”, in reality they’re doing exactly what I described: gripping as hard as they can without the violent shake. Often someone who is teaching firearms has developed significantly higher levels of grip strength than your typical student and so while the instructor may be using “80%” of his grip strength on the gun, if we measured it objectively with instruments we might well find that he’s applying more than double the amount of force to the pistol as the student receiving the instruction. The students often misread this as a limit on how much force one should be applying to the grip…not so. The harder you can grip (without shaking) the better.

Physical strength plays a huge role in the effectiveness of your grip. The more force you can exert on the gun, the better you can control it and the easier it is to apply torque to the trigger (pulling it) without disrupting the sights. The weight lifting world has introduced multiple methods of assessing grip strength, with one of the most popular being the Captains of Crush grip trainers. Mr. Vogel trains with these little gadgets regularly. He can close a #3 grip trainer…which is rated at 280 pounds of resistance. In this video, Mr. Vogel is shooting a Bill Drill. Watch his forearms as he presents the pistol from the holster:

Note how little the pistol moves as it cycles. That’s not trixy recoil spring setups or a compensator…it’s a combination of the Glock 34’s inherent characteristics and applying extraordinary levels of force to the grip of that pistol.

Also notice the position of Mr. Vogel’s elbows, how they’re turned slightly up. He’s actually sort of driving his elbows up to cause a pinching force between his hands. To conceptualize it, put your hands together in front of you and lock your wrists. Now raise both elbows and note how the tops of your hands are “pinched” together. If you’ve ever used the rope attachment for a tricep pulldown at the gym it’s sort of the same concept. You’re almost trying to force your hands down and apart, but because the gun is in the way all that force gets applied to the grip. One of the big obstacles for new shooters trying to learn the grip is keeping their hands together during recoil…this pinching action, properly applied, cures that nicely. This was one of my big light-bulb moments of the course. It’s one of those things that once you see it you wonder how you didn’t think of it before, but when properly applied it makes a big difference your shooting.

The location of the weak-hand grip was also covered in depth. Mr. Vogel’s general rule was to get as high up and far forward on the gun as possible. He stated that his affinity for the Glock is primarily due to the more aggressive grip he can get on the gun as opposed to other pistols he has tried. In my hands I find that I’m also able to grip higher on the Glock than on most other pistols…which is one reason why I get bitten by the slide without the Grip Force Adapter installed on the gun. Where many instructors teach to not have any airspace between the right and left hands on the gun, Mr. Vogel’s approach is different. He doesn’t care about space between the hands as long as he can get his support hand out farther on the gun. vogelgrip

Note that his support hand is clamping down around the farthest point forward on the trigger guard of the pistol. Mr. Vogel mentioned that in the process of acquiring this grip he occasionally neuters the function of the slide lock, but he considers that possibility a worthwhile tradeoff for the higher level of control he gets from the hand position. The extended slide lock that comes from the factory on Glock 34 and 35 pistols makes a failure to lock on empty even more likely with his grip, so he replaces them with standard slide locks from Glock.

I’d also encourage you to watch the video again and pay specific attention to how he acquires his strong hand grip as he’s drawing the pistol. Most people will typically come from behind the gun or straight down on top of the gun when they’re trying to draw. Mr. Vogel comes in almost from the front of the gun, the result being the web of Mr. Vogel’s hand ends up on the lower 1/3 of the slide as he acquires his grip. From that point he tightens his strong hand down around the grip and that act pulls the web of the hand down just low enough so that the slide misses it…most of the time, anyway. As you can see from the screen capture, this is also being done with considerable force. I really noticed this when he was setting up for drills and mocks up grabbing his grip. I saw that he was almost grabbing on the back of the slide and then sort of letting the act of tightening his grip and locking his wrist drag his hand into the final position on the grip. Whether this is a conscious adaptation on his part or not I couldn’t tell you…but I found it interesting.