Unthinkable – Part 1

I’d wager most readers of this site own a firearm at least in part for self defense. I’d also wager that most of you who own a firearm for self defense have sort of an idea in your head about what a self defense scenario looks like. I’ll venture further out on a limb and posit that the picture in most of your heads doesn’t look anything like this:

A mob of “prep school” students attack a good Samaritan trying to escort an older lady to her car.

Or this:

The immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing

ATM robberies and attempted street robberies happen quite frequently (especially in Memphis, where the “prep school” mob happened) and if the risk of experiencing personal violence was a pie chart that sort of crime would be by far the biggest chunk of the pie for most people. Unfortunately there are all manner of bad people out there ranging from your typically anti-social street criminal looking for profit to politically/religiously motivated terrorists who want piles of dead bodies on the news and all the way up to the top of the heap with psychopathic sexual sadist for whom extravagant and elaborate torture and murder is their preferred form of self-expression. I hate to rehash that line from Forrest Gump, but you truly don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t usually get a say in what sort of bad man will cross your path.

This past weekend I was able to attend a new course put on jointly by Greg Ellifritz and William Aprill labeled “Unthinkable: Concepts and Techniques for the Gravest Extreme” that dealt with a number of topics surrounding the idea of the worst-case scenario. It should be noted, here, that being targeted by a criminal in the first place is pretty far into “worst case” territory to start with, but there is still a broad spectrum of worsening dangers within that heading. Being targeted by the typical street tough for a holdup is bad. Being targeted by a kidnapper for ransom is worse. Being targeted by a sexually motivated psychopath is worse yet, etc.

Have you ever pondered what would happen if you were taken hostage or kidnapped? Obviously the gun-guy answer is that you’d shoot anyone trying it deader than de Gaulle…but what if you didn’t have your gun? What if for some reason you had to travel to a place where you couldn’t carry your handgun and then you find yourself being kidnapped? What if you are in a third world country and the local police are the ones kidnapping you?

Being restrained is a likely part of such a scenario. Even in less exotic sorts of crimes like a home invasion it’s likely that the bad guys will attempt some sort of restraint. Having some idea, then, of how to escape common restraint methods is a pretty good idea. Greg Ellifritz has restrained a lot of people and due to his penchant for traveling to the sort of places where the difference between the local police and the local criminals¬†is largely just a uniform, he’s spent a lot of time thinking about how to escape from restraints. During one of the blocks of instruction in “Unthinkable” Greg shares some basic information about the most common types of restraints (duct tape, flex-cuffs, zip ties, rope, handcuffs) and the most effective ways to defeat them. Then he actually broke out a number of different restraints and the students in the class practiced escaping them. Take a look at his technique for breaking out of a zip-tie restraint:


Sure, Greg is a big guy but you don’t have to be a power-lifter like Greg to use his technique. Just about everyone in the class who tried was able to break the 75 pound zip ties using that technique and many were able to break the 150 pound version Greg is demonstrating in the video. The same technique works with duct tape, too, if you’re wondering. We spent quite a bit of time on handcuffs as well…and I learned that apparently cheap handcuffs people buy at BDSM-themed stores don’t use the same type of handcuff key that most police-issue handcuffs use. Bad guys don’t often use handcuffs, but if they do they might not always be the top shelf models. That’s a useful bit of information to have. Partially because of knowing a slightly different strategy for different cuffs, and partially because it gives me plenty of excuse to label this section of the course “50 Shades of Greg”. (Thank you, thank you! I’ll be here all week! Try the veal!)

The most sobering block of instruction Greg presented, at least in my mind, was on bombings. Now I’m sure if you asked most gun guys what they would do about a suicide bomber, they would likely say something along the lines of “shoot him in the face!” and that’s not really a terrible plan…but how do you identify a suicide bomber? Did you know research has been done and it’s been determined that it takes on average 8.2 seconds from the time a suicide bomber picks the exact spot of his/her (because women play this game too, now) detonation to blow up the device? Did you know suicide bombers are often deployed with armed handlers on scene to overwatch the process and, if necessary, remotely trigger the bomb? Suddenly a suicide bomber doesn’t sound like such a simple problem, does it?

Active shooters have been increasingly incorporating explosives into their plans, too. The Columbine massacre was originally intended to begin with a bombing. The perpetrators intended to blow up the lunch room with a duffle-bag full of pipe bombs and then shoot anyone who survived the explosion. They even had multiple successful tests of the devices they planned to use, but an unnoticed change in the manufacture of the clock they were using as the timer on their bomb prevented the initial explosion. They had multiple hand-held explosive devices they hurled at responding officers. The Tsarnaev brothers in Boston used multiple small explosive devices in their attempt to fight with and escape from law enforcement response to their initial bomb blast at the marathon.

This didn’t get much coverage, but the Aurora shooter rigged his apartment with a series of pretty sophisticated triggers designed to blow up the building and draw emergency response away from the theater so he could have more time to generate a body count. Think hard about the planning that took, folks. It took bomb techs three days to disarm the bombs in his apartment. Lots of people called the guy “crazy” in the aftermath of that horrible event, but most probably don’t realize that “crazy” guy wired up the proximity sensors from a garage door to blow up his apartment. He wasn’t just some wild-eyed, bewildered nutcase…his actions were as coldly calculated as they come.

Just to spread a little more cheer, it’s becoming more common for an explosion to be a first step in a multi-phase plan. Blow up one bomb, wait for EMS and police to arrive on scene to deal with the problem, and then blow up a second device hidden on scene to take out the first responders. Eric Rudolph blew up a pretty harmless bomb at an abortion clinic to draw in EMS and police response, and he set up a second bomb where he thought the command post for the emergency responders would be. In the Mumbai attack the terrorists used this multiple-explosive methodology to attack and delay police/military response.

Note that at every single one of these incidents I have mentioned ordinary citizens are present either as intended victims or survivors. That means people just like you are present at the scene of just about every bombing. It happens to people just like you…so maybe it’s a good idea to have some familiarity with how bombings happen, no?

None of these are happy scenarios to think about. That’s where the course’s label is derived from…the unthinkable. The stuff people don’t want to ponder because it involves acknowledging a very limited control of events and a very limited number of options in response. The gun, to many, is their talisman of control. The magic totem that’s going to give them a say in their destiny when bad things happen.

The gun is certainly a wonderful and very powerful tool, but it’s not wise to pin your survival strategies entirely upon the possession of that tool. “Unthinkable” arms you with information.¬†Critical crucial knowledge that may not be needed every day, but if the “Unthinkable” actually happens to you it gives you enough exposure to know there is almost always something you can do to improve your situation. The exposure opens your mind (which will not be functioning at peak efficiency in a life-or-death situation) to possibilities for winning even when others might insist that all hope is lost…and that’s the mindset that sees people through the worst of situations.






  1. Dude, this is a great post. I’m going to take this class as soon as I get back in the game this September.

  2. William is offering two additional sessions of “Unthinkable” – one in Oklahoma co-taught with Spencer Keepers, and one in Central Texas, co-taught by Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics and I (Karl from KR Training). Our version will include all the same material that William taught w/ Greg, plus sessions on medical skills, team tactics, and multiple types of scenario based training that require team tactics, recognition of criminal behavioral cues, and medical response (red gun & airsoft, indoor & outdoor, daytime and low light). Spencer’s version will include material that he’ll teach that complements William’s material.

  3. I think in a case that FUBAR’d how you act and how quickly you respond is probably more important the gun you’ve got. There isn’t a concealable handgun made that’s got capacity to handle a crowd that size if they all decide to fight. Just a damn painful reminder of the limits of gear.

  4. Unthinkable was great, and I thought it meshed very well with Ayoob’s MAG40 blocks. I would take it again.

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