I recently had the great pleasure of experiencing both the thrill of victory and the bitter taste of crushing defeat all in just two days while training with one of the greatest firearms instructors around …
It’s kind of fitting too because the theme of this course was “subconscious performance under stress” … but … I’m getting ahead of myself.
The two day course was Tactical Pistol Skills held in Culpeper VA on August 22-23, 2015 by Ernest Langdon.
Who is Ernest Langdon?
In short, he’s easily one of the most experienced and respected firearms trainers of modern times.
I’ve written before about the context of civilian firearms training and when looking for a qualified instructor to train with, you’re usually choosing between …
- Either an instructor with a military background (spec ops included) …
- Or an instructor with Police Officer background …
- Or a competition shooter turned instructor …
… None of which are particularly relevant to the average citizen conceal carrying in plain clothes in everyday life.
But Ernest Langdon breaks the mold. It’s as if the gods somehow directed his career path so that his ultimate fate would be to teach tactical skills to the civilian population.
Perhaps. But just check out this guy’s resume …
12 years active duty as U.S. Marine—all over the world—where he served as the Chief Instructor of the Second Marine Division Scout Sniper School, as well as the Platoon Sergeant of a Close Quarters Battle (CQB) and Designated Marksman (DM) teams and a Scout Sniper Platoon.
He’s also a graduate of 30 formal shooting schools and 4 anti-terrorism schools with instructor certifications from the FBI, NRA, US Army and US Marine Corps.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s a graduate of US Army Ranger School, Navy SCUBA School, US Army Airborne School, US Army HALO School and both USMC Scout Sniper School and Scout Sniper Instructor School.
Now at this point, you might think he’s just another snake eating, door kicking, spec ops ninja and—while that’s cool—it’s not really relevant to defensive firearms use by civilians.
And right you would be … except … you didn’t let me finish.
More interesting to me was a fact that I completely skimmed over when I first read his extensive bio, but it’s critical that you understand this.
Chief Instructor of The High-Risk Personnel (HRP) Course …
Mr. Langdon served as the Chief Instructor of the High Risk Personnel Course (HRP) during his time in the Marines.
Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, but—as I understand it—he was instrumental in developing much of their curriculum because he attended all the top commercial and government schools to ensure the best training was available to students that attend the courses offer by the Marine Corps.
What is the High Risk Personnel (HRP) Course? In short, the HRP Course was developed for military personnel so they could prevail against terrorist and criminal assaults while operating in high risk assignments.
In other words, concealed carrying military personnel—often in urban environments.
And that is very applicable to what we do as civilians who conceal carry.
But wait. It gets better.
USPSA Grandmaster, IDPA Distinguished Master, 10 National Shooting Titles, and 2 World Speed Shooting Titles …
Langdon also checks the box for “competition shooter”.
And by that I really mean competition champion.
He’s got 10 National Shooting Titles and 2 World Speed Shooting Titles under his belt and is basically the highest ranking possible in the two most popular shooting sports in the USA (IDPA and USPSA).
He’s also been working in the firearms industry in some or another for over 17 years, so he knows how the gun business is run because he’s seen it from the inside out for nearly two decades.
And finally, he’s currently a deputy at a local police department and is on staff with The Police Policy Studies Council …
So he checks the box for having law enforcement experience too.
The bottom line is: Ernest Langdon has one of the most unique backgrounds as a firearms instructor that I’ve ever seen both in depth AND breadth of his knowledge.
And to say I was excited about taking an Ernest Langdon class would be an understatement.
Tactical Pistol Skills After Action Report (AAR)
Date: August 22-23, 2015
Instructor: Ernest Langdon
Where: Culpeper, VA
My equipment: Glock 19 Gen 4 with multiple magazines. Two SafariLand 074 magazine holsters weak side. IWB crossbreed SuperTuck strong side. Speer Lawman 147gr 9mm ammo. I think that’s it.
The facility was a nice private range in Culpeper VA. It was setup nice with plenty of room on the range for all the shooting, and a nice covered area where the lecture and other “talking” could take place. If you’ve ever been to Virginia in the middle of the summer, then you know it’s nice to have some shade when working outside, to store your gear, etc.
Here’s a shot I took of the range from the shaded area …
Day 1: Lecture and Fundamentals of Pistol Craft (Plus, the 9 Shot Close Speed Drill).
Day one of this two day shooting course started out, as it should, with a good lecture from Ernest. He explained the goals of the course and explained a little more about his background so you could basically see where he’s coming from.
The truth is this course had a VERY specific focus. It was about pure tactical shooting skills. Period.
The assumption is that you had already made the decision to shoot, now you must shoot, and/or you’re in a gunfight.
So there wasn’t a focus on tactics or scenario based training or things like that …
“Tactical” Means Everything Has To Work In An Actual Gunfight…
Even though Ernest has experience as a soldier, law enforcement and is a champion competition shooter he explained that all the skills he teaches have a strong “reason why” behind them.
As Todd Green from Pistol-Training.com says, “What sets Ernest apart from many of his peers in the competition world is the practical nature of his background… and thus the combat-oriented nature of his shooting foundation. He is the first to admit that some of the techniques he teaches and uses are less than optimal for winning matches. But rather than compromise in the name of one more trophy, Ernest instead manages to excel using the same real world skills he has taught to countless Marines, soldiers, cops, and civilians for going in harm’s way.”
All that said—as most truly skilled people are—Ernest was humble enough to repeatedly state that he didn’t have all the answers and that he was not purely dogmatic about any technique, tactic and procedure.
He made it a point to stress that he’s still continually learning and would drop whatever he’s teaching now or change it if he found something that he thought worked better.
His presentation was very thorough and gave a glimpse into what the weekend was going to hold.
One of his major points was about how in his training theory you’re wanting to basically develop the ability to be able to perform subconsciously under stress. Which makes total sense.
If You Like to Shoot DA/SA Guns, You Need To Train With Ernest Langdon …
I won’t get into too many details about what all Ernest will teach you but I will say that if you run a traditional DA/SA pistol then you should definitely take Ernest’s class. He is a master of the DA/SA action pistol.
In fact, he tried to downplay the fact that it’s true, but Todd Green says that Ernest was, “… the first person to win IDPA Nationals in Custom Defensive Pistol (CDP) division with a double/single-action pistol, beating out some of the world’s most talented and most successful 1911 shooters in the process.”
(According to what I’ve read elsewhere, the IDPA even changed the rules because they considered the CDP division to be a “1911 only” division and didn’t like that Ernest had won it with a DA/SA Sig Sauer he bought off a local gunshop shelf!)
Ernest Langdon will teach you the “secrets” of how to run the DA/SA trigger that some people seem to struggle with (mostly the first double-action shot).
I don’t know if I would say that it’s rare these days to see an instructor prefer the DA/SA pistol, but it sort of is. I’d say that 80% of the classes I’ve taken all the instructors and students ran some form of striker fired pistol (usually Glock or M&P). This was the first class where I was only one of two Glocks in the class and one other M&P. The rest were a (lot) of Beretta, at least one Sig Sauer and at least one FN FNX .45.
Personally, as far as triggers go … I have a sweet spot in my heart for the DA/SA platform as the Beretta was one of the first handguns that I ever shot well. I also have a beloved P225 that used to be my carry piece. I didn’t start shooting Glock and preferring it as my CCW until about 10 months ago, but it’s been the platform I now have the most time on.
To be honest, seeing Langdon run his Berettas and talk about why he prefers the DA/SA platform makes me want to shoot mine more often. But I’m committed to the Glock right now for CCW for a lot of reasons I won’t get into here.
Just saying, if you like DA/SA – Ernest is the recognized expert.
What I Learned On Day One …
We hit the range for more instruction that started (like all good classes) with dry fire. I won’t go into detail on what we learned but I learned the Ernest “press out” which basically allows you to get your gun up, on target, aimed and a first shot in the quickest time possible.
The rest of the day was equally enlightening, I won’t cover it because there’s way too much and there’s no way I could explain it better than Ernest (you’ll have to take the class) but I want to emphasize that even though I’ve been to quite a few classes and read voraciously, I still picked up something new on even “basic skills” that he taught. For example …
*** Grip & Stance. I had an incredibly enlightening moment when Ernest described how and why he teaches the grip he does. He solidified and (as far as I’m concerned) ended the debate for the “thumbs forward” vs “Thumbs up” grip and which is better using science and logic.
*** On the draw stroke: I came away with a much, much better improved draw stroke that I’m now going to solidify with dry practice. I even found a better way to position my conceal carry holster thanks to his class.
*** Reloads: I picked up some awesome tips on the proper way to do reloads. Again, every time Ernest taught something, he gave a strong “Reason Why” he does it that way. It really, really makes you think and you pick up new things (even though you think you’re just learning another basic skill). I also saw what I was doing wrong and how I could be faster (now I’ll practice it in dry fire to make it a habit).
And that’s just scratching the surface of what I have written down in my notes. As far as the live fire we did a ton of drills including shooting multiple targets … transition drills … and more.
You Can’t Buy an Ernest Langdon Hat …
Towards the end of the day we Ernest Langdon’s 9-shot “Close Speed” drill. Mr. Langdon’s personal standard on this drill is 3.5 seconds. What’s really cool is that the top shooter who did the drill the fastest would win an Ernest Langdon Hat. You can’t buy this hat. You can only win it in one of his classes by winning one of the drills.
Here’s Ernest explaining and then demonstrating the drill …
He asked who was first. I took a deep breath and stepped up to the line. I had never run this drill, so I figured what do I have to lose? Turns out I ran it clean (no misses) in 4.05 seconds my first run which was enough to win the hat!
And it’s a really, really fun drill so everyone wanted to go again. So we did. My second run was even better at 3.80 seconds which was completely surprising (in a good way).
Total round count day one was somewhere in the 300-450 round range.
Day 2: The Fun Continues and The F.A.S.T. Drill …
The F.A.S.T. (Fundamentals, Accuracy, and Speed Test ) is a drill created by the aforementioned Todd Green. As I understand it, Todd started running this drill in his classes in 2007 and there are two awards for anyone who can prove their on-demand shooting ability by successfully executing this short but comprehensive test.
Todd Green is not running classes anymore, so now Ernest Langdon is carrying on the proud tradition of running this test in classes and awarding those who can perform it.
In short, if you can run this drill in less than 7.00 seconds, you can win an “Advanced” hat pin from Ernest Langdon. If you can run it in less than 5.00 seconds, then you can win the F.A.S.T. challenge coin. I don’t know how many people have won an advanced rating and hat pin, but I know that only 12 people since 2007 have been able to win the F.A.S.T. Challenge Coin.
Ernest explains and then demonstrates two winning runs in the video below:
I’ll be 100% honest. I want that coin. But I knew going into this class that he would be running the drill and my only real shot was at the F.A.S.T. hat pin, because I was pushing close to the 7 second mark (consistently being the key word) in live fire practice.
(I usually use the F.A.S.T. drill at the beginning of my range sessions—I run it “cold” before I shoot anything else to see where I’m at with my “on demand” shooting skills.)
It’s been neat that – without practicing the drill specifically—looking back at my notes from December of 2014, I was running this drill around 9.45 and 9.50 seconds (with misses–which add either 1 or 2 seconds to your score–included). In other words, simply by practicing the fundamentals of pistol craft for the last ten months I was getting better at this test, because my fundamentals were improving.
It’s a great test (not necessarily a great training drill) because you have to draw quickly to get two low percentage shots (a 3×5 card in the head box) as fast as possible, then reload quickly from slide lock, then make four more shots to a higher percentage target. In other words, you have to be good at all the fundamentals to run this fast and accurate enough to win anything but a bruised ego.
The Thrill of Victory Followed By The Bitter Taste of Crushing Defeat …
So following the thrill of victory the day before, I started day 2 with high hopes and the certain knowledge that if I could just subconsciously perform I would be going home with a F.A.S.T. pin.
In the end, when it was my turn I screwed up—got my conscious brain too involved—and ran it in 6.90 seconds raw time, but dropped the second shot just outside the 3×5 in the head box (Misses to the head are a 2 second addition to your score, meaning I failed.)
Here’s my target that I am preserving and sharing with the world so I can remember it every time I get lazy about practicing and so I can stair into the evil face of that second bullet hole as it mocks me!
For the record, a guy from Maine managed to run it clean in 5.90 and win the hat pin. His name was Frank and he is (obviously) a great shooter. He also had sense of humor. Actually, I hope his wife doesn’t read this because I think he was supposed to be visiting his kids (sorry Frank!)
Shooting While Moving and Advanced Drills …
The rest of day two was spent learning more and more and running more and more advanced drills.
Some things we did on day two included …
Single hand shooting both weak and strong hand … multiple target engagement … shooting steel … shooting while moving both forward, backward, and side-to-side… directional drills and more.
Cover, Concealment and Fighting While Wounded…
Ernest gave a REALLY good talk about using cover and concealment and the common mistakes that people make with this from a tactical and technical standpoint. I picked up a TON of stuff from that lecture and demo part of the class.
In the fighting while wounded section, Ernest taught some awesome malfunction clearances—to include what I think was the first instructor to teach one-handed (both strong and weak hand) malfunction clearances of everything (including Type 3 double feeds!). I picked up a LOT from that part as well in regards to multiple ways to do those clearances if the “standard” way didn’t work either left or right handed.
We did more drills, more shooting and then the day wrapped up with one more chance for someone to win another Ernest Langdon hat.
This time, a student named Joe, running a berretta won it. If I remember correctly, it was an accuracy drill on a b-8 or b-16 style bulls-eye target at about 10 yards. It was basically 10 shots in 10 seconds and whoever was the most accurate–under the 10 second time limit–won the hat.
In short, he KILLED it. Really accurate shooting after a long, tiring day in the sun and running lots of faster, speed drills making it even harder to slow down and find that balance of accuracy needed to get all 10 hits in 10 seconds.
Interestingly enough, I found out afterwards that he was shooting a Beretta 92G that Ernest Langdon did a full custom build on in 2002. I begged Ernest for the details and this is what he said, “That gun had the full works done. Carry Bevel including beveled mag well, Custom 4.7” BarSto Barrel with Target Crown, Trigger job, Night sights, complete rebuild with all new small parts, Level Two Trigger Job with Speed Bump Trigger, Elite II Mag Button, and Teflon refinish.”
In short, that Beretta had pretty much the full Langdon custom performance package that Ernest offered 13 years ago. (Rumor has it that Mr. Langdon may start offering his performance packages again, so if you’re interested keep an eye out on his website.)
Total round count day 2 was around 500.
The Bottom Line? If You Get The Chance, Take An Ernest Langdon Class
I think most everyone could benefit from an Ernest Langdon class.
I think I would hesitate to recommend it as your first class though …
(I got the feeling that most the people there were at least comfortable drawing their guns, and could pretty much get hits on an 8” circle on demand at around 5-7 yds. You might feel a little out of place if your gun handling skills are less than that.)
That said, one attendee was more of a beginner and he was handled respectfully and given the attention he needed when appropriate. I’m sure he learned a lot.
All in all, it was a great weekend with a great instructor and a great group of people. I will be taking more classes in the future from Ernest Langdon. To visit Ernest Langdon, check out http://www.langdontactical.com.
That is funny. I am a Marine Scout/Sniper 8541 Vietnam era. I to taught people how to shoot. I was paid $ 6500.00 for a ten day course. I trained nearly 200 people.
Wow. very cool Arno. Vietnam era huh? Did you ever meet/know Carlos hathcock?
Thanks Caleb, what an awesome experience. Being pretty much a home body, and not much of a traveler, I guess I’ll never get to experience it myself. However there are some great ideas for setting up my own practice system. I’ll go onto his website and some of his other methods. Competition shooting has obviously changed a lot since my days in PPC 40+ years ago. I think I like the new stuff better. Marty.
Thanks for chiming in Mary!
You’ll have to take a look around your part of the country, or check out Langdon’s website and see if he ever visits near you.
Things keep evolving yes, and the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has been like a “laboratory” of sorts for finding out what works in recent years.
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