Moving quickly, I continued prepping for a 12-student carbine class on a crisp, sunny February morning at a private shooting range tucked in somewhere between Austin and Houston, Texas.
The class was set to launch in approximately 45 minutes at 0900 hours sharp. Time was not on my side.
With staple gun in hand, I began hanging the paper targets onto the wood furrowing – held tightly at the base of the heavy, rectangular-shaped target stands within a fitted metal frame and a sigma hex screw. I had extracted the bases, furrowing and other supplies out of the back of the Kawasaki Mule moments earlier, and had gone quickly to work.
Just prior to launching into my work with the targets, I had welcomed my friend and fellow Krav Maga instructor, Dex, to the range. Dex had spent a tour in Iraq as a solider in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, and after an honorable discharge and a few commendations, he returned to Houston – where he found me.
Showing up at one of my Krav Maga Training Centers in 2009, Dex worked hard, showed promise and earned himself a spot on what is widely recognized as one of the “best Krav Maga instructor cadre’s anywhere.” He also simultaneously pursued a career in law enforcement, and in a few years went from the streets to a full-time SWAT officer in Houston. Today, he was with me to take lead on the carbine course.
Operating carbine rifles isn’t my expertise. Thus, I wasn’t the primary for this teaching evolution; handgun is more my core domain. But, I had showed up to support the class, serve as the Range Safety Officer, and to see what I could learn from Dex.
Running staples through paper targets into the furrowing as fast I could, I arrived at target five, and began repeating the process I had performed at targets one through four when I noticed Dex had paused his work and looked up slightly – as if to recall something.
He said, “You know, I’ve trained with elements of Seal Team Six and the D boys (Army Delta Force) a bunch of times.” Then he paused a beat, “They all make mistakes too. But, what makes them exceptional is…well, they have mastered the basics.”
Swick-swack – a near miss – an errant staple took the top layer of skin off the end of my thumb as I fumbled with the staple gun and my footing, trying to recover from the recoil I’d absorbed in Dex’s statement.
I turned away from target five and towards Dex as my face contorted with a question, “What did you say?”
Dex repeated, “Tier One operators…it’s the basics that matter most.”
Regaining my footing and my senses, I smiled and shook my head in agreement as I thought about his declaration. I had earned the opportunity to train with some of the very best Krav Maga Instructors and Kravist on the planet early (relatively speaking) in my Krav Maga journey. The more intense the training became, the more important the basics were in successfully executing the drill.
By the time a Kravist arrives at the “live blade training” evolution, he or she will most often rise or fall based on their mastery of the basics. I have been down that road many, many times over the years, and I’ve defended more than my share of live blades…and I’ve only been stabbed in the chest once! That’s pretty good, right (remind me to cover situational awareness another time)?
Taking a breath as I thought of my mentor, Darren Levine (Krav Maga Founder’s Diploma Holder & US Chief Instructor, Krav Maga Worldwide), I spoke, “Dex, I remember grabbing Darren at the Houston’s Bush Airport for an Active Shooter Response seminar years ago. As we sat in the truck, he asked what I had been up to, and I had replied that I had decided to go back to Level One, and start my training over again.”
I told Dex that Darren had laughed and said, “Me too! Let me guess, you’re working hard on your right-straight, left-hook combination.”
I was dumbfounded, “How did you know?” We both sat there with a stupid grin on our faces – two peas in a Krav Maga pod.
Dex broke in, “It’s settled!” Throwing his hands up in agreement as I finished my walk down memory lane, he said, “It’s all about mastering the basics.”
The class was now milling downrange to join Dex and me as completed the target prep.
Agreeing, I said, “Professional grade skills emerge only when the basics are mastered.”
Just then, a middle-aged, former Ukrainian special operator, decked out in combat boots, 5.11 tactical pants, and a jacket with an AR15 slung over the outside of it reached our huddle. He peered though his shooting glasses, “So what are we doing today?”