Three Pauls and a Bloody Pig

Dredging down a hill through the loose gravel, I started to feel sharp pings in my hip. I was nervous that the osteo-arthro-gods would curse my weekend, since the newly titaniumized T-Bot hadn’t done much extended standing or walking. But just as all my insecurities converged, some guy belted out, “Bloody pig, comin’ through!”

My eyes snapped up in time to watch someone in rubber gloves hauling a giant hog by its ankles from the bed of a pick-up. The poor departed pig was toted right past me and heaved onto a pavilion table, leaving behind a splattery trail of fresh, red blood. After taking a moment to collect myself, I peered down at the ground in front of me and stepped over that blood trail, kind of like the folks in the CarMax commercials. My long-awaited adventure had begun in earnest. Paul-E-Palooza was cranking up, and it was on.

Paul Carlson  |  Paul Sharp  |  Paul Gomez

Incidentally, the dead pig headlined one of the classes that I missed: Makin’ Machine Gun Bacon. Just kidding. 🙂 It was for Eli Miller’s Medical Intensive/Ballistic Tissue LabTamara Keel (who I finally got to meet in person!) took some awesome pig pics that I hope she’ll post on View from the Porch.

Paul Carlson, Safety Solutions AcademyPEP12
Mastering Your Backup Gun

Almost every car has a spare tire. And yet, most of us have seen or been that person stuck on the side of the road struggling to get the thing into action. Actually using it is almost never quite as easy, quick, or convenient as deciding to toss it in the trunk or strap it to the undercarriage like a rabbit’s foot. The same is true of the backup gun, and that was the exclusive focus of Paul Carlson’s live-fire block on Saturday afternoon. I almost always multi-carry, but rarely am I ever allowed — let alone instructed — to deploy a BUG in training. So I was eager to take Paul’s class and test my facility with alternate weapon systems.

Paul was organized, methodical, and pedagogically strategic. The opening minutes made me suspect that he had roots in formal, academic teaching (which he later confirmed). The rural outdoor range offered no classroom conveniences, but that didn’t stop Paul from taping up two swaths of banner paper onto the side of his trailer as a makeshift whiteboard. Then, with little more than a Sharpie and his approachable but authoritative teaching style, Paul led an insightful introductory segment on the purpose of the backup gun and the critical importance of context, context, context.

We brainstormed for reasons why a BUG might come into play. The list grew to be a lot longer than I expected. Most who carry a second gun probably do so on the off chance that their first gun is rendered inoperable. But the primary could just as easily be physically inaccessible, such as when you’ve fallen or you’re pressed against a wall or confined to restrictive seating. In those instances, the BUG might be a better initial resort, even if the primary is more powerful and in perfect working order. Paul characterized the BUG not so much as an eleventh-hour hail mary but more of a second available option. At the intersection of sh*t and fan, we all want as many options we can get. And yet, Paul was never an ideologue about backup carry. He was the consummate realist and the first to admit that BUGs are not always practical or feasible. More than anything, he stressed that defensive mindset, awareness, tactics, primary weapon handling, and basic medical training should all take precedence over niche disciplines like the backup gun.

With those disclaimers in place, we hit the range. There were students with secondaries on the ankle, in side pockets, and in my case, on the opposite hip (and elsewhere, but I only got to train with one BUG). One student had a heck of a time re-holstering into an SOB retention rig when the flappy strappy snappy thing kept impeding access. Finally, Paul said something along the lines of, “that’s a disaster” (quote sanitized for public consumption). With the student’s permission, Paul whipped out a blade and sliced the strap clean off. The student was good for the rest of the class.

Dry practice had already taught me that when drawing from my weak (left) side, it’s a lot easier to just work weak-handed than to start juggling gear. Paul urged us to get both hands on the gun whenever possible. I do feel comfortable shooting left-handed with two hands, but shooting left-handed with one hand is actually easier for me when coming from the holster. Position 3 sometimes tempts that right thumb to cross over to the left side where it’s so used to resting normally. I really didn’t want to be crowned the class dunce with a badge of slide-bite shame. So I spent a lot of weak-side reps working that instinct out of my system, which alone was worth the price of admission. Bottom line, Paul Carlson’s class was a great primer on thoughtful, practical, safe, secondary system options.

After I had seen my fair share of malfunctions, Paul stopped the line and asked me, “Why does that keep happening?” I responded, “Shitty grip!” Not sure if that was the response he expected, but this longtime thorn in my shooting was the reason I was prepared to use whatever means necessary to scratch and claw my way into another live-fire block: Paul Sharp’s class on shooting while wounded… a/k/a recoil management.

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Paul Sharp, Sharp DefensePEP2
Shooting When Wounded

The first thing that struck me about Paul Sharp was his infectious positive energy. He was like a drill sergeant on Red Bull and pixie dust. He somehow managed to demand top performance without appearing to deify himself or belittle his students. Paul refused to trifle with the foofaraw of dogmatic stances on stance or other peripheral niceties. Instead, he immediately zeroed in on recoil management, and that narrow focus would be our center of gravity the entire time.

Within minutes, we had launched headlong into Paul’s progressive series of laser-focused, outcome-driven exercises. The drills were surprisingly simple, but I hadn’t seen them in my previous training. Each exercise efficiently built upon the one before it. Each one served a distinct purpose. Paul directed every muscle from pinkies to shoulders, and even the most subtle cues made a ton of difference. I felt like I was climbing a staircase of discrete skills and micro-concepts. The learning curves were steep across the board, but speaking for myself in particular, I lost count of the many eureka moments.

After cycling through umpteen-dozen trainers and however many hours of formal instruction, most people reach a point where they stop expecting to learn new things and instead only hope to perfect what they already know. Paul Sharp taught me new things. I couldn’t wait to revamp my dry fire regimen to incorporate his tips. He doesn’t speak in flat jargon or platitudes. His instruction is straight-forward, concrete, and individualized. At one point I had gotten frustrated with myself on a particular string of fire. He told me to “get out of my own head” and went above and beyond to convince me that my muzzle wasn’t kicking up nearly as much as I thought it was. After I holstered, Paul got right in my face and yelled, “You’re a shooter!!!” and walked off. It might have been a routine “attaboy” for him, but I really don’t think I can put into words how much that meant to me.

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Paul Gomez (1971-2012)
Namesake of Paul-E-Palooza

I attended a few other equally fabulous classes, but since I’m already pushing 1,500 words I better save those for a separate post. The verdict: Paul-E-Palooza was a romp roarin’ good time. We buckled down when it was necessary and let loose when it wasn’t. The camaraderie was thick and plentiful, much like the after-work libations. And all the while, no one lost sight of the cause: commemorating Paul Gomez and providing for his children. Each of my instructors seemed to channel Mr. Gomez in some way — even if they didn’t know him personally. Several of them reflected on what Paul used to do and how Paul might have approached this issue or that. I won’t pretend to be a Gomez expert, as I never got to even shake his hand. But somehow, through the people who knew him best, I might have gotten a hint of what it must have been like to train with him. So I’d just like to say thank you to Paul, Paul, and Paul. I’d also like to thank the bloody pig, who quite literally left a line in the sand and dared me to cross it.

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