I have had the good fortune to train with most of the better-known shooting schools or noteworthy traveling instructors. Some were better than others, but all helped shape the skill set I possess today. As I age, I realize that my better days are now behind me but I still like to expand my skills, so when I was given the chance to attend a special one-to-one training opportunity at one of the nation’s more secretive facilities (not in location, but in content) I jumped at it…even though I knew that I am a bit “long in the tooth.”

urban2Crucible was founded by former Marine Special Missions Officer Kelly McCann in the early 1990’s. He was later joined by long time friend and fellow Marine Jack Stradley (whose career in the Marines was nearly identical to McCann’s) in 2000. They have developed a reputation for conducting training in skill sets that are not found at the more traditional shooting schools. In reality, Crucible is not really a shooting school, though they do teach said skills in their more extreme forms. Crucible conducts training for government agencies, the military (of many nations), high level security operations and Fortune 500 companies in “hostile environment training and counter-action” which means how to prevail in locations around the world where the conditions are definitely not in your favor.  Forget “judicious use of force”—that’s not what this facility is about, though they do teach more conventional courses to LE S.W.A.T. and narcotics units. No, Crucible is about teaching skills for the individual or small group/team that works in places where they are not welcome and may have to get out fast. They are very good at it. It’s extreme, ruthless and very violent…but also simple and quite effective in its application.

Knives and Combatives
I was met at the facility by Kelly McCann and Phil Motzer, Crucible’s Chief HRE (High Risk Environment) instructor. Like Kelly, Phil also served in the Marines with his last assignment being at the famed High Risk Pistol Program, thus he was a perfect fit for Crucible “family.” After a briefing on Crucible’s history, Kelly, Phil and I headed down to the large matted area of the facilities’ main building to work on knife defense and hand-to-hand combat or what they call “Combatives.” The dictionary definition of “combative” is “ready and willing to fight,” which is what you need to be when you walk in the door of Crucible. When engaging in either skill with these guys, you are going at 90% and can expect to get stabbed (with training knives), kicked, punched, thrown, twisted, bruised and bloodied.

The skills taught at Crucible are not fancy, they are actually quite simple, but they are not “timid” techniques. They are brutal and will seriously hurt the person on the receiving end. But unlike law enforcement, people operating in hostile environments are not looking for reasonable, really minimal, force. They are looking to get out of a life-threatening situation in one piece! For example, the knife program is based on simple slashes and stabs and once these are anchored, it is up to the student to utilize which is most appropriate based on the unfolding situation. Kelly related several situations in which his students have used folders for defense and could not remember even opening the knife. “It’s easy to say that you can’t open a folder or use the sights on a pistol in a fight during stress and that might be true for many, but for those who are enabled to do so, such tasks are possible. Here we enable our students.”

The Combatives program is both simple and effective. Such strikes as a “spearing elbow,” “face smash,” “hammer fist,” “finger jab,” “axe hand,” “shin kick” and “chin jab” are drilled over and over again. Instead of years in the dojo, McCann claims that if you work hard, “you can get a good handle on our Combatives program in about two weeks.” Of course, like all things, continual practice is needed to keep the skills from atrophying. These skills work, but require explosive movement and total commitment…you can’t be half-assed when using them or they will fail. Once you start, there is no stopping as one technique leads to another as you “blitz” your opponent until they are overwhelmed. Don’t hold back! Crucible inspires students to embrace violence in bad situations to immediately reverse the confrontational dynamic—make the predator become your prey! At 90% pace, I left this portion of the training battered and bruised but with a great appreciation for the simplicity of the system. Interestingly, I have retained a large chunk of what I have been taught which I am sure is due to the one-to-one (sometimes two-to-one!) attention I received.

Combative Pistol
Day two started in the Combatives Room, a large room that is padded on all sides and the floor. Phil Motzer took over my instruction along with several other Crucible instructors that remained in the background. Phil reviewed much of day one, to make sure that I had a solid understanding of the content, as we were moving into what Crucible calls “Combative Pistol’ which combines hand-to-hand skills with the semi-auto at double-arms length. As many readers know, the majority of police shootings take place inside 10 feet and armed confrontations within the intelligence community have mirrored this, thus Crucible has a course of instruction that addresses it. Once the combative skills were “refreshed,” we moved to the range were I shot Crucible Pistol Skill Standards.

Once Phil knew I had the pistol skills to advance, we moved into some very aggressive close-quarter shooting drills using 3D foam targets that can take both strikes as well as shots. This type of shooting is far removed from traditional square-range training and should only be attempted after much dry fire and then only on a range that has 270-degree backstops. We moved through a series of drills that combined axe hands, pelvic strikes, face smashes, face rakes and other combative skills combined with the draw and multiple shots. Aggressive movement in all directions was also incorporated. This is the type of “shooting on the move” that needs to be incorporated into one’s skill set, not the antiseptic forward, side, back style of “box shooting.”

Movement in Crucible Combative Pistol involves all of the strikes used in the Combatives program, combined with a concealed draw and multiple shots to both single and multiple adversaries. Crucible doctrine does not try and differentiate between point shooting and sighted fire, but recognizes that both are needed depending on the situation one faces. For example, one of my training drills had three “people” confronting me at varied distances and angles requiring me to strike and retention-shoot my closest opponent, point shoot his “partner” who was about 10 feet to my right, and then laterally move (a moving target is harder to hit!) taking an aimed shot at their “back-up” who was 15 yards down range. This whole process needs to be completed in somewhere between three to five seconds or the surprise generated by my first vicious attack is lost. If you are not skilled in various forms of pistolcraft and not totally committed to the task, you will perish in such a situation. One thing I can assure you after 30 years in law enforcement, bad guys travel in “wolf packs” so being able to deal quickly with multiple attackers is essential.

Crucible pistol training would not be complete without shooting from inside a vehicle in the event of an attack while disabled. In addition, Escape and Evasion shooting, which took place in the shoot house, was also addressed. Crucible offers a full program of urban and off-road driving and they are quite clear that the best thing to do if attacked in a vehicle is to hit the gas, but if the car is disabled, then the occupant(s) must go to guns. Shooting through auto glass is not difficult, the shooter just needs to know what to expect. When shooting through the windshield, holes will develop as rounds leave the barrel. Keep in mind that glass can deflect a bullet. Even though my “opponent” was standing at the front of the vehicle, rounds aimed at the high chest often times ended up in the outer chest area: So shoot several times.

E&E Shooting
Escape and Evasion shooting is unlike anything I have ever trained for inside a shoot house. During the Crucible training, I was concerned with no one but myself as I tried to get out of a hostile environment quickly so I would not be murdered. In my case, it was a drug deal gone bad, but I could have been trapped in a house in Afghanistan while collecting intelligence or a hotel in Africa during a coup—it doesn’t matter, as dead is dead! The goal is to extract yourself quickly, which requires explosive movement, total commitment and very quick, aggressive shooting. You must move quickly, resolutely and shoot threats as quickly as they appear. In these dire situations it’s you or them—no one will be there to help or rescue––there’s no cavalry. The gun is up with no concern about “muzzling” anyone or giving verbal commands…move, shoot or you’ll die in place, it’s as simple as that.

What if you are taken prisoner and are restrained? There’s a way out of all restraints and Crucible teaches them. While I cannot reveal it here, an entire block of instruction is taught on how to escape from captivity. It’s almost a “counter cop” lesson plan. For those who will pit themselves against hostile security forces, this type of knowledge is invaluable! One hint I will offer is that handcuffs, duct tape, rope, chain and Flexcuffs are not as secure as you’d think…

Combative Carbine
On Day Three, we moved on to Combative Carbine and Phil enlisted the help of the Trijicon Military Sales and Training staff to help out. Trijicon’s Shawn Rategan and Pete McGrath brought a number of M4 style carbines equipped with various models of ACOG optics. According to the folks at Trijicon, the majority of people who employ their products do not use them correctly, closing one eye in order to sight the gun. This nullifies the primary feature of the ACOG or even a traditional Reflex sight, as it cuts the shooter’s vision in half. The Bindon Aiming Concept (BAC) named after Trijicon founder Glyn Bindon, makes use of the brain’s ability to merge what the left and rights eyes see, even if the field of view is not the same. In the case of the BAC, the sighting eye will see a magnified field with some type of illuminated reticle while the off-eye will see the world around it. The brain will merge the two creating a very fast and accurate sight picture that can be used both close and far with great reliability, even with a magnified optic. I did this from contact distance out to 300 meters with both 2X and 3X ACOG’s. For close shooting, the ACOG is used to “flash color, press trigger” which works amazingly well. At distance, the off-eye is still kept open to see hostiles moving in and out of the kill zone.

Like all things at Crucible, we started carbine training at contact distance, in this case with an opponent grabbing on to the barrel of my M4. In law enforcement, we would try and dislodge this grasp via some type of weapon retention technique. While this may work in some cases, in the world of Hostile Environment Training if your adversary grabs and averts your muzzle, fire a few rapid rounds to heat the barrel, making your attacker let go. Then pull the butt of the gun back over your shoulder to clear it and if the attack continues immediately fire as you jab the muzzle of the carbine into your attacker’s chest.

As we moved back from the target, the carbine program became more conventional with “snap shooting” drills on close targets, multiple target drills, shooting while moving and finally rested-shooting positions for accuracy. The final drill started at close contact (3D target holding the barrel of my gun) and moved out to 300 meters with many targets at varied distances in between. I had to find the target (some were hidden), figure the distance and engage. Of course there were induced malfunctions along the way so I had to transition to my pistol, find cover, clear said malfunctions, etc. In the end, it was a bit of controlled pandemonium, but a great way to end the training course.  How well did I do? Not near as well as the second time around.

Exit Interview
When it was over, I sat down with Kelly and Phil. Phil told me “You’re a very good shooter, but you need to work on more committed movements that combine Combatives and shooting.” Kelly explained that simply becoming more explosive when using my combative skills would have a positive impact on my shooting as well. I took what Phil and Kelly said to heart and promised to work on it. We discussed the possibility that the school would offer armed citizen training and Kelly expressed an interest in doing so, but said such training would be on the road, as he just did not see a way to offer his clients the anonymity their jobs required if citizens were constantly coming and going. “I offer a series of videos from Paladin Press (, including the two new ones featuring Phil, for the armed citizen. I know they are not the same as hands-on training, but they have certainly been well received.”  The truth is they are excellent videos and Phil Motzer is one of the best instructors I have ever had, bar none! It should be noted that Kelly is launching a nationwide network of combative instructors under the brand “Kembativz.” He expects these regional directors will be up and running by Fall 2009. Standards are stringent and curriculum consistency is ensured from the top down.

Training That Goes With You
I have been to many schools, all of which dealt with deadly force in a “reasonable” format. What I got a glimpse of here, was the use of personal weapons in a world of no-holds-barred, down-and-dirty live-or-die confrontations. It hit home with me in the E&E drills in the shoot house…to get away, for me to live, all threats must be killed! For our intelligence personnel and military Special Mission Units that are deploying to some of the most hostile environments overseas, this training and mentality are what keep them alive. I hope I never have to use what I learned at Crucible, but I am very glad that our guys and gals who do this rough work have a place where they can learn them. If you get the opportunity to attend Crucible training, listen well! What they teach is truly unique.  For more information visit

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