Law Enforcement Firearms Training
"My bottom line is that I walked in as a skeptic, but I walked out a believer. If you have an opportunity to train in the D.R.A.W School method, do what you have to do to make that happen."
Just so you can have a handle on my experience level, I will briefly lay out my background as it pertains to shooting. I came into federal law enforcement in 1994 and was tapped as a firearms instructor in 1995. Became the lead firearms instructor in 2001 and held that position until I was promoted out of that in 2013. I continue to serve as an instructor and my office currently has about 30 sworn officers.
Most of my formal firearms instruction has come through my employment. My system has its own training program which has improved greatly over the years. We are not on the bleeding edge of training, but from talking with folks from other agencies, our program seems to stack up pretty well in comparison to most. Locally, we routinely conduct training that exceeds the basic, national requirements. I have graduated my agency’s two-week long initial instructor class based at FLETC, as well as several subsequent re-certifications. I have taken a course run by an active military/former LE/active LE reserve who was a successful competitive shooter. I took another class with a legit Special Forces guy who re-deployed as a contractor in one of the sandboxes. This particular trainer has a media presence and had a very impressive skillset that I got to witness first hand. I have also attended a few stinkers of LE firearms classes where the information being presented was somewhere between not helpful and downright harmful.
Despite over two decades in a federal law enforcement agency, and most of that as a firearms instructor – with all the “free” ammo and training that this implies, I have been quite dissatisfied with my skill level with a pistol. I do okay, but given the access to ammo and training I have had, I would think I should be a much better shooter than I am. To steal and corrupt a quote, I am just a Try Hard with a pistol. I am not blessed with fantastic strength, nor hand-eye coordination. I have, however, taken the Miculek approach to shooting – being the first one on, and last one off, the range. I have worked pretty diligently, but have simply never gotten the results that I think should be commensurate with the work I’ve put in. It’s a little frustrating at times.
I was almost let down when I got voluntold to attend the D.R.A.W. School training program. I had never heard of D.R.A.W School and thumbing through the website left me underwhelmed. I was fully prepared for some sort of Center Axis Relock nonsense. And for the money, I would have rather gone to train with Ron Avery or Bill Rogers (actually, the tuition for D.R.A.W. School would have gotten me close on a couple of days with one of those guys, but then there would be travel, etc.).
I decided that I was going to walk into the training with an open, but skeptical mind and would sift the information pretty hard for any shenanigans. I figured that in the worst case scenario, I would get five days out of the office and some trigger time. I was determined to take what was useful, and discard what was not.
Overall, my take on the shooting techniques as taught by D.R.A.W. School instructor Jason Speller is that they are modern, validated techniques that, and this is important, have been highly refined by the application of sports science. One illustration of this is the method of gripping the pistol. D.R.A.W. School teaches an aggressive thumbs forward grip (D.R.A.W. Grip) that has the support wrist cammed forward and locked out. This, in and of itself, is not ground-breaking. But, what Jason Speller has done, was to go back and deconstruct this grip with Olympic Sports Medicine trainers and figure out why it is so effective, and he also added at least one component to that grip that I have sort of seen and done, but not in any sort of committed way. Beyond that, every aspect of every student’s grip was analyzed in minute detail. Speller knows exactly what he wants in the grip – and why. And he imparts this to the student in very clear, precise, and understandable language.
This is important and what I believe makes the D.R.A.W. School curriculum so unique so let me say this another way. I have been shooting “thumbs forward” since about 2001 when my agency adopted Glocks. But my grip was only marginally effective because I did not grasp the “why” behind it all. During these five days with Speller, I flat made him earn his money. With nearly every technique he introduced (and we covered a lot of ground), I had a question or three about some finer point of “why” or, I wanted to know why this way and not that way. Yup, I was that guy. Speller, to his credit, answered my questions in detail, but kept the class on track. In all candor, I had genuine questions and was not trying to play “stump the chump,” but that same genuine level of inquiry has thrown other trainers into vapor lock. Speller never missed a beat. He absolutely knows, and can explain, the “why” of what he is teaching. And the “why” was never, “Cause I said so.” or, “Just trust me, it works.” There were always objective and logical reasons why, this way and not that way. He has developed and refined the techniques on a granular level.
In broad strokes, we covered: stance, dynamic movement, grip, drawstroke, one-handed shooting (both hands including transitioning between hands), two-handed shooting, reloads, malfunction drills, shooting from prone and supine – both with cover, recovering dropped weapons, and incapacitated officer drills (which basically means doing everything listed with one hand/each hand). While Speller is looking for good speed, accuracy is demanded.
The teaching method was pretty straight-forward. We spent a lot of time in the classroom working dry drills. A typical day in this five day course was: three hours in the classroom using cleared weapons with BarrelBloks and MagBloks installed. Each technique was first explained, then demonstrated, then students were taken through it with repetitions that went from slow, intermediate, full speed – then with dynamic movement. Many techniques culminated in the classroom with head-to-head match ups with students. The atmosphere was friendly, but competitive. It was a room full of cops and cops don’t like to lose. Once we cycled through those evolutions, we grabbed ammo and hit the range for live fire.
I need to pause here and address the BarrelBlok and MagBlok equipment. These items are prominently featured on the D.R.A.W. School webpage. Before attending the class, I sort of expected that the class was going to degenerate into a sales pitch for these, and perhaps other, products. Nothing could be further from the truth. The BarrelBlok and MagBlok made it possible to safely train with duty weapons in a sterile environment. At no point over my five days with Speller did I ever get the slightest twinge of unease with regard to safety. This despite the fact that we had 14 live weapons in the room and they ended up (after the installation of the BarrelBloks and Mag Bloks) being pointed all over the place. Speller did a fantastic job of maintaining a safe environment – and this was largely a function of the use of the BarrelBlok system. (We had officers from five separate agencies in attendance; some more switched on than others, but between Speller’s management of the training, and the use of the BarrelBlok, we were good to go.). Bottom line, the BarrelBlok and MagBlok are not some gimmick – they are legitimate training tools designed to let officers go from a training session with their duty weapon to the street without having to break the weapon down. You can go from training to street ready in not much more time than it takes to reload your magazines. We could not have accomplished the training that we did, as safely and conveniently as we did, without the BarrelBlok and MagBlok.
Okay, back to the firing line. Once on the line, Speller had live fire exercises for each technique we had just worked on. Typically, he would explain the live fire drill, then shoot it himself. We would then get on the line and shoot the drills. Speller maintained super situational awareness on the line and everyone got coached as needed. Speller was very safe and effective on the line. The drills were well thought out and allowed you to stress test what you had just done in the classroom. It was pretty interesting to go through that process as a student. I found myself just grinning and giggling a few times because some things that I have chased for a long time opened up for me. For instance, despite working on this for months and months, it was during the second day of class I was actually able to track my sights in recoil (this was a by-product of the D.R.A.W. Grip and D.R.A.W. stance, not necessarily a training goal – I was shooting a Glock 22 with full power loads).
This was not a high round count class. We shot something like 500 rounds in four days. Typically, 50 or so rounds would take care of the live fire sessions that lasted about an hour. So it was probably about a 3:1 ratio classroom to live fire. But don’t let that fool you. We worked hard in the classroom and much learning occurred in there – the live fire simply let you test drive and validate what you were just working on. Again, it was a pretty amazing process to be immersed in. And the classroom was not boring in the least. Speller was very engaging and everything he put out was meat – no fat. The classroom was information-dense and we were drinking from the proverbial fire hose. It was kind of fun. Oh, one thing on the “drinking from the fire hose” comment. Speller was pushing a lot of information to us. But he did it in a way that allowed me (and most of us) to absorb and retain it. We got good written information to backstop that, and will be getting additional written material (all the drills, etc.) soon.
So that pretty much describes the first three and a half days of the class. Three hours of dry training in the classroom, followed by an hour or so on the range; lunch; repeat. By the end of each day, we were all pretty smoked.
The afternoon of Day Four was probably the most memorable part of the training. It was time to shot the D.R.A.W. School qualification course. Let me just say, this ain’t your granddaddy’s qual course. This course involved one-handed shooting, weak-hand shooting (to include drawing from the holster weak hand), weak-hand only reloads, clearing a failure to fire times two, shooting from cover in a squatting position and a kneeling position, shooting around a barricade at 15 yards both strong and weak hand (six rounds each), and six rounds from the 25 yard line from the prone, behind cover – all on the clock. Oh, by the way, you had to score a 95 percent or better.
We had some folks in this class who walked in as pretty good shooters. But as we got a look at the qual course, everybody pretty much quit goofing around and got quiet. It was interesting to watch. The qual course was demanding – no two ways about it. That sums up the whole course – demanding, but doable (and fair). Speller gave us a live fire run through of the qual course. Afterwards, there was a lot of mumbling among the students and it was obvious none of us were sure we were going to perform to the level need to qualify – myself included. It was...humbling. Nothing about the qual course was outlandish, but it required a hard focus and adherence to technique to be successful.
After the run through, we ran it for money in waves of four shooters. Much to my surprise, the students were stepping up and getting the hits they needed. I ended up in the last wave (not by choice). I was much relieved to get my 98% score. (Speller has had only two students score 100%.)
We did have one student who failed to make his 95% on any of his three goes. It worked out that this was one of my guys. It also worked out that I helped work the course (moving barricades, etc.) while my guy was working through his subsequent runs. He did not qualify that day. My guy was visibly frustrated with himself and was getting all up in his head about his score. Speller told him he would have an additional opportunity to try again the next day.
Day Five rolled around and it was time for my guy to have another go at the qual course. He looked a little less flustered than the previous day. Once again, myself and another guy from my agency helped with the logistics of the course of fire. This turned out to be an opportunity for me to gain a bit of insight into who Speller is as an instructor, and to learn. Honestly, I was there to help facilitate the course of fire, but most of my mental focus was on carefully watching how Speller managed this situation. This was a great opportunity for him to screw the pooch right here.
Speller ran my guy through the course of fire and gave him some pre-coaching at each stage. It is important to note, however, that he maintained the integrity of the course. Speller has standards that he was not going to compromise. My guy shot a 90 on this attempt. You could see the frustration mount again. My guy was having a lot of trouble shooting from the barricade at 15 yards. He was pretty okay shooting from the strong side, but he was nine kinds of jacked up from the weak side. He was complaining of vision issues and an inability to get a lock on his sight picture on the left side of the barricade. Rather than dismiss this as excuse-making, Speller stepped through that section of the course with him and worked on some diagnostics to figure out what was going on. The upshot is that Speller validated that my guy had some legitimate vision issues and devised a solution which (if I recall correctly) involved making sure sight alignment was acquired before rolling out from the barricade and using his right eye (sub-optimal, yes, but it was a work around that was better than misses). The upshot is my guy shot a 97-something percent on his next attempt. He was a happy guy.
The point here is this. Speller could have easily dismissed my guy as a poor shooter who simply lacked the skills to make the cut. Instead, he hung in there and coached him to some success. His patient approach walked that line between holding the shooter accountable, but steering him in the right direction. I learned a whole lot about being an instructor while watching Speller work with this shooter. As a side note, the more my guy worked the techniques he learned in the preceding days, the better his hits got. The D.R.A.W. School method works.
One great thing about this class was that Speller’s assistant took voluminous photos during the course. We have been promised copies of these once they cull through them and discard the less helpful ones. These are not provided as mere momentos (though they are that). Speller went through these photos nightly and used them to analyze each student’s technique and we received additional feedback the next day based on those photos. Speller actually used the camera in real time to show me that I was not executing a properly aggressive forward lean (I was too upright).
This was probably adequately illustrated above, but I want to comment on Speller’s instructional style and demeanor. As someone who has been a trainer of various sorts for more than two decades, I can’t help but evaluate other instructors through that lens. Speller has a depth and breadth of knowledge that is, frankly, astounding. Again, I hit him with some pretty pointed questions during all of this, and he was unflappable. He simply addressed my questions or concerns in an engaged manner and gave me the answers I wanted. Speller's language, and his whole approach to this curriculum, is precise, meticulous, and measured. Exactly what you want in someone who is teaching life-saving skills.
There were a couple of students who, I suspect, struggled to keep up, but Speller did not talk down to them. (Heck, he didn’t even talk down to me.) He met everybody where they were. Speller never did fully disclose his background, but the best I can tell, he has been places and done things. I failed to detect any air of superiority from him, even though he was obviously superior in many ways. As far as I can tell, he is an honorable, intelligent man. And he is a man on a mission. It is his stated goal to get this shooting method to every law enforcement officer in the country . I hope he hits that goal – we will all be safer for it.
Now, you are probably reading this thinking, “This guy has some sort of bromance going here.” Not really. I am simply very convinced as to the efficacy of the D.R.A.W. School method based on my experience in this class. Downsides to this method? There is probably one. Taken individually, there is nothing super high speed or technically difficult about using the D.R.A.W. School method to improve your shooting. But you have to do the work and use the techniques. This is not going to work well for lazy or unmotivated folks – but you can say the same of any other system as well.
My bottom line is that I walked in as a skeptic, but I walked out a believer. If you have an opportunity to train in the D.R.A.W School method, do what you have to do to make that happen. If you put in the work, you will come away a better shooter and instructor. I said earlier that I had some frustration because my skill level is not what I think it should be in recognition of the work I’ve put in over the years. Having completed the D.R.A.W. School, I feel like I’ve found the keys to the pistol-shooting kingdom. I wish I would have had this training at the beginning of my career. This training experience is what I was chasing with the trainers mentioned at the beginning of this review. Those guys know how to shoot for sure, but they weren’t able to translate that fully into something I could use – perhaps they themselves did not even really understand why they shoot so well. Speller has absolutely taken a thinking man’s approach to the art of shooting and he translates that over into something that is accessible if you are willing to put in the work. Of all the schools and training I have undertaken in the last 25 years, these five days of D.R.A.W. School have been the best and most productive of the lot. I think I am more proud and pleased with having completed this course than any other I have ever taken. Very well done.