The day before Christmas Greg Ellifritz, an instructor I’ve followed since taking his defensive knife class in 2010, posted on his website that he and another Instructor, William Aprill, were announcing their debut class as co-instructors on topics seldom addressed in the defensive community. The class was called “The Unthinkable–Tactics and Concepts for the Gravest Extreme” and it was scheduled for January 24th and 25th, a mere four weeks out from the announcement. As I read the course description to my husband our collective excitement grew and by the end of the day we were both registered to attend.
The course description promised instruction in the psychology of violent criminals, what to do if taken hostage, weapon retention and disarming, escaping from common restraints, citizen responses to terrorist bombings, an abbreviated tactical medical course and much more.
This course immediately appealed to me. I have a history with the “unthinkable” and there’s something cathartic about it being addressed beyond merely acknowledging it happens and that it’s bad.
I’d taken three classes with Greg prior and have always wanted to take his medical class. I was hoping for a little more instruction and play time with the trauma toys I’ve carried but been too cheap to open. In addition to that, I was really looking forward to hearing pretty much anything William had to say. I’d first heard of him on an episode of Ballistic Radio. I was so impressed with the simplicity and sense he shared on the show that I sought out his block of instruction at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference in Feb of 2014 and some further guidance since then. He’s the first person I’d ever heard speaking of the psychology of violent criminals and the concepts of deselection. I was eager to hear more.
I was also pretty invested in learning how to escape from restraints but more on that later.
It took some creative rearranging of schedules and calling in a few favors but we eventually found ourselves settled in to the ten hour drive that would take us to central Ohio.
We arrived a half hour early to the class so I could snag my coveted front-row seat (oh, yes, I am that girl). Greg was already there with his assistant and girlfriend, Lauren, finishing set up and sign in. The class was held in the back room of a gun store that shared a building with a church. The facility was clean and neat with plenty of space for the twenty-two students, two instructors and two assistants. There was a refrigerator and cookies, enough water to drown half of the attendees and bathrooms. In other words, we were prepared!
We started promptly at 9am with William Aprill and his “Fatal Choices” lecture. In it he defines what a Violent Criminal Actor (VCA) is and the difference between targets and victims (an important distinction). We discussed criminology, the rational choices that criminals make and the constructs that allow criminals to identify targets almost instantly and allow us to identify danger at the same rate. He brought it home by giving tips on how to make yourself look less attractive to criminals immediately.
From there we jumped right into Greg Ellifritz’s “Response to Terrorist Bombings.” In this lecture we learned why terrorists and active shooters use bombs, how to identify the components of bombs and some of the common ingredients of homemade bombs (those words have now put me on a government watch list, thank you very much). After discussing some of the blast radiuses (radii?) of common bombs we discussed whether it would be possible for an armed citizen to take out a bomber without being blown up him or herself (hint: The answer is no). We learned some of the ways you might be able to identify potential bombers and then we got to play “find the bomber” in a couple of videos. More challenging than that was, “find the bomber and his handlers.”
Rounding out the bomb lecture was tips and hints for what to do if you happen to survive a bombing or are responding in the aftermath.
The next segment was William Aprill going over disarms against someone who is holding you at gun point. He took a more practical approach to disarms than those I’ve previously seen. Anyone can go to YouTube and see idiots doing fancy and elaborate disarms but they aren’t applicable to average concealed carriers due to their complexity. Worse yet, a lot of them would not actually keep someone from getting shot because the gun is left covering the body for too long. William’s disarm steps were pretty easy to understand and implement. They involved getting the muzzle of the gun off your body, controlling it, and then pretty much beating the ever living crap out of whoever was holding it on you in the first place. I’m a big fan of quick, brutal and effective.
We worked those from all angles and then broke for the day.
Somewhere in all of that we actually had breaks and ate food, too.
The second day opened immediately with Greg teaching us how to escape from common restraints. We talked about not allowing someone to tie you up in the first place but in keeping with the “unthinkable” theme we discussed ways you might find yourself restrained. He told us about the most common restraints: zip ties, duct tape, handcuffs and rope. We went over all the cool little gadgets and gizmos on the market that can assist in escaping those common restraints (hidden keys and knifes) and then we dove right into the practical application.
The room split up into three work stations. Greg did duct tape and zip tie escapes. Lauren did handcuff shimming and another assistant, Bryan, did picking handcuffs with items like hair pins and paper clips (it’s way harder than Die Hard would have you believe).
I breezed through handcuff shimming, mostly because I have really tiny wrists which allows for lots of movement of the locking mechanism (provided the cuffs aren’t double locked but I learned how to defeat that anyway). I was able to do that pretty quickly with my hands both in front and behind my back. Picking handcuffs was far more challenging but once I got the feel for it it only took me a matter of seconds to get out of them. Bryan even showed us how cheap handcuffs can be broken.
My big concern was escaping from the zip ties and duct tape so that’s where I spent most of my time. Interestingly enough, the same breaking technique for zip ties works most of the time for duct tape either in front or behind but it does involve a measure of strength I did not have. Greg came prepared for that contingency and had me try a couple different techniques for both zip ties and duct tape.
Let’s just say that duct tape is mush easier to escape from than people think. If you are going to restrain me, please, I beg you, use duct tape.
Zip ties, on the other hand, are a little harder and get harder the stronger the zip tie. With those, the best technique for me was to use a paracord saw. Paracord can be used to replace shoe laces or threaded with a belt or coiled in a bracelet and once anchored between your feet and hooked through the zip tie it can cut through it in a manner of seconds.
Having been abducted and restrained myself I found the escaping from restraints part to be empowering. It felt good to escape and to feel more confident in my own ability to fight against the helplessness I know can come from being restrained.
To continue with that theme we moved right into William Aprill’s lecture on surviving hostage situations. This was another topic I’d never heard addressed before and, again, due to my history I was intently interested in what he had to say. He talked about the difference between hostage situations and abductions (the former meaning you were a target of opportunity to leverage a result, the latter being an individually selected target for a specific purpose). He discussed how hostage situations develop and how things like Stockholm syndrome happen and what you can do to keep yourself from identifying with the hostage taker vs your own rescuers. Finally, we talked about ways you might be able to aide your rescuers and then what to do when the good guys make their hard entrance.
We had to move on to the next segment and that was Greg’s abbreviated tactical medicine class. There were several in the class who’d been through the full version and quite a few of us who were in the medical profession to varying degrees. There were still plenty of complete novices and this segment covered and challenged all of us. Greg talked about what kills people in combat conditions and those injuries that can be treated, at least temporarily, until getting to definitive care.
Greg had enough pressure bandages and tourniquets to go around so we all had opportunities to apply both to ourselves and each other. Then we got to practice making improvised tourniquets and talk about when to use hemostatic agents. It was a fun but quick segment and then we were on to the last lecture.
William had the closing lecture on the 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where, Why) of Risk. This lecture was designed to teach us more about VCAs and to encourage self assessment on whether you are prepared–mentally, physically, emotionally–for them. Again, keeping with the theme of the “unthinkable” we also discussed the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths and what it may mean for those who happen to cross their paths, rare though it may be.
The lecture (and therefore, class) ended on an exceptionally helpful overview on how to do a realistic self-assessment, how to get the most out of your training, mental preparation and more tips on how to make yourself a harder target from that moment forward.
Class was meant to go from 9am to 5pm each day but both days had us running a bit over. I think every one of us would have stayed even longer if it meant getting more instruction from either Greg or William.
This being an “unthinkable” class I would have loved to hear more about abductions but I understand why it wasn’t elaborated on as hostage taking and restraints were already covered. As unthinkable as abductions in-and-of-itself already are it’s even more unthinkable for the average participants of a class like this. Other than Lauren, I was the only female attendee and if we’re honest we’ll admit that your average adult male doesn’t have a whole lot to worry about in the way of abductions.
It didn’t really hit me until much later that active shooters weren’t discussed at all outside of their propensity to use bombs. It seems like it would have gone nicely with the theme of the class to include them but lots of other instructors are already doing loads of classes on active shooters and perhaps that’s why they left them out.
Either way, I did not go away feeling dissatisfied. On the contrary, I went away with twenty-eight pages of notes, a half-dozen book recommendations, some new learning experiences, a few more tools in my toolbox, a feeling of empowerment and a little humility, and new friends.
For two days I’ve been sitting here wondering to whom I would recommend this class. Finally, I gave up and thought, “Hell, EVERYONE!”
Lots of people throw out the phrase, “There’s something for everyone,” without a lot of thought as to what that means. I say it, now, with reserved respect for the collective “everyone” to whom the class might appeal. It will appeal to your newbies who do not understand violence because it will show them that what it is and how it is born. To survivors (or maybe even victims) of violent crime it helps us put a new perspective on what we went through. Heroes who want to save the word get the tools to be a little more effective in that task and probably brought down to earth a little, too. Seasoned veterans of the defensive world get to glean new instruction in topics seldom talked about in other classes. The medical types get to talk about blood and guts and play with trauma toys. The boy scouts get a little of their trauma data updated by a few decades. How could it not appeal to prepper types who like to think about worst case scenarios? There’s even something for the people who like to beat the crap out of people and take away their guns.
The segments are also short enough that it allows people who aren’t sure if they want to do a 2-day class on a particular topic to get their toes wet.
The participants of this class all seemed to be your dedicated self-defense types. While a few of them had never taken classes with Greg or William before there wasn’t a single person I talked to who hadn’t already attended at least one or two defensive classes of some sort. When it was time to put our guns up for the disarming portion of the class, the line of people waiting for their turn to put their guns in a locker was backed out the door. By the worn looks of the holsters, knives and other tools in the locker, it was safe to assume the majority of us were not new to being armed.
Both Greg and William are exceptional instructors and true masters of their respective fields. They are knowledgeable without making participants feel inferior. They are apt to give credit where it’s due and incorporate students’ prior training and experience provided it isn’t dangerous or detrimental. They are both very approachable and make their information relative to the common man despite their impressive resume’s.
William is a psychologist who’s spend many years working directly with violent criminals both from a mental health standpoint and in a law enforcement capacity. He is very easy to listen to and invested in making sure the information is understood. He stands ready with book recommendations, counter arguments and clarifications for everything. He’s patient and good at pulling the class back on track when we started devolving into discussions of temperament and personality.
There’s a reason I keep going back to Greg’s classes and it’s not because of his thick, flowing hair (that’s a joke.. moving on..). He truly has a command of the subjects he teaches through both study and experience. He’s very open with his knowledge and resources and is ready to challenge participants or defer to them if he feels they have more experience than he.
It really was a well-executed class on some very interesting topics. It was a fantastic way to start out my training year and I can’t thank Greg and William enough for putting it together.