In April of 2015, I was fortunate to attend training with Dennis Martin and Slacky of CQB Services. Dennis has an extensive resume in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He’s trained people in some of the most dangerous and anti-law enforcement theaters in the world, then vetted his techniques in the field. He teaches what he does because the instinctual nature of his techniques makes them rapidly accessible to students, and also because his stuff is brutally effective. As citizens of the United Kingdom, Dennis and Slacky aren’t allowed to carry firearms, knives, or weapons of any kind. Liverpool, their home, is one of the most dangerous areas of the UK, so effective combatives techniques are a necessity. Dennis generally makes the pilgrimage from the United Kingdom to Georgia on an annual basis so that he can get some trigger time and see old friends. He’s very pro law enforcement, and restricts some of his material to active duty law enforcement employees. There were three courses offered by Dennis this year:
EPIC: Enhanced Performance in Confrontations
EPIC was a one day course focusing on immediate proximity threats and did not involve live fire. The course taught techniques against unarmed and knife-wielding opponents. One of the central concepts of the class was that defense is the art of losing the fight slowly unless you eventually go on the offensive and take the fight to the enemy. The class began with some conditioning work to loosen the students up. There was then a block of instruction on unarmed strikes with palms, elbows, the head, and knees. The class then moved to meticulous by-the-numbers instruction in knife defense techniques. Following some repetition and practice, the class then required the students to intercept those same attacks at real speed and to gain control of the weapon long enough to establish balance and a position where strikes could be delivered while retaining control of the weapon. From there, the final exercises required students to put all of those elements together and deliver strikes to focus mitts and pads while repelling a knife attack against another student who was trying very hard to stab us with a training knife while striking the “victim” with a glove or focus mitt in the head and body.
I found the techniques that Dennis and Slacky taught to be practical, intuitive, and effective. They were also fairly brutal - each hit is meant to be a game changer, so you hit with high intensity and focus every time when you train with them. Ten perfect strikes are much more valuable than 100 that are done just going through the numbers. This leaves you tired and mentally fatigued after an eight hour day.
HRP: High Risk Personnel
With the exception of an hour-long lecture, HRP was conducted entirely on the range. The course was designed for individuals who work in protection, law enforcement, or military theaters where you'll be mixing with the local population and may not observe a threat until it's very close. Dennis designed much of this program while working in South African shack towns, where his students could easily find themselves under attack through the cardboard wall of a structure with no warning. While domestic law enforcement in the US doesn’t face those challenges, his techniques are highly applicable to officers who suddenly find themselves under attack by a person brought into our personal space during a field interview or an arrest. The course focus was immediate action and fighting back to your feet after being knocked into a position of disadvantage.
A majority of the shooting was done from within 7 yards, and stressed precision shot placement under pressure and time constraints. The use of minimal target areas forced the students to get rapid sight pictures and find a practical mixture of speed and accuracy to meet the shooting goals of the exercises. Additionally, the range exercises incorporated the previous day’s EPIC class, so students would begin some exercises by striking the pads or fending off an aggressor before turning and addressing a target on the range. Pairing aggressive physical strikes against an opponent and then transitioning to a firearm instilled a higher level of stress than standing on the flat range running drill after drill.
The third course was Officer Survival, built specifically for active duty law enforcement or security services personnel. The course was a mixture of physical combatives from EPIC with some more advanced firearms techniques similar to what was done in HRP the previous day. Whereas EPIC was designed around the armed citizen, the Officer Survival was tailored to an officer's need to transition back and forth between intermediate force and deadly force depending on the suspect's actions. Techniques from EPIC were elaborated and expanded upon so that the aggressive suspect was placed in an immobilized and disadvantaged state that allowed for handcuffing.
I was again impressed with the intuitive nature of the techniques. In a previous defensive tactics course, I heard an instructor tell a student that he could be proficient enough to excel in the class after only “six months in a mixed martial arts gym.” That’s a tall order and requires a high degree of commitment and out-of-pocket expense. By comparison, Dennis’ techniques are grounded in human instinct and don’t require a working knowledge of a specific martial art to be effective. Many of them were literally taught within 15 minutes. For example, his knife defense drills teach the student to trap the wrist holding the weapon, then position your body to bring the attacker off balance, and then to deliver strikes with head, knee, and elbow until you can gain a position of advantage. Again, “defense is the art of losing the fight slowly.” Dennis’ techniques are built upon a brief moment of defensive action, followed by a violent counter-attack utilizing powerful offensive strikes.
After approximately four hours in the gym working knife and unarmed defensive techniques, we moved to the range for live fire exercises. The range exercises worked during the Officer Survival course were focused on close proximity encounters and on conditioning the officer to change the level of attack whenever possible. Target transitions, seeking non-traditional positions to get behind cover, and making rapid precision hits were the skills that the exercises imparted. I found that another level of stress was added due to the bruises and fatigue from the previous two days, which is also realistic for those of us who find ourselves required to work injured or with little to no sleep.
I attended all three courses, and also had the opportunity to share multiple meals with the instructors to talk shop. I found Dennis and Slacky to be humble, personable, and knowledgeable on a variety of topics. They were very open to discussion and dialogue during the training, and were willing to take student feedback to heart. In fact, Dennis credits most of his material to the feedback that he’s received from thousands of students using those techniques in the field. It’s obvious that they are constantly adapting and refining their techniques to meet changing times.