Location: Lions Club Shooting Range, Lucerne Valley, CA
Course: Level 1 Defensive Tactical Pistol
Course date: January 15, 2022
Instructors: Tim George and Brad Anderson
Civilian Arms Training (AKA C.A.T.S., AKA IPDS — Immediate Personal Defense Systems) describes itself as the direct descendants of the training method developed by Paul Castle (1959-2011), although there seem to be others who make similar claims. Castle developed the Center Axis Relock method for close-quarters combat, which differs significantly from traditional gun-handling techniques. There are several YouTube videos about Castle and the C.A.R. system, but most persons will have been introduced to these techniques via the John Wick movies. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this method is that the gun is kept closer to the body, which gives you a stable shooting platform and aids in weapon retention if your adversary tries to disarm you. The claim is that this position more closely mimics a person’s natural posture when attacked.
C.A.T.S. conducts classes throughout Southern California and southern Nevada, but for years I made excuses not to attend one. When it announced a class at a range that is literally down the street from me, I lost my last frail objection and finally signed up. I am glad I did.
Perhaps because of the somewhat remote location, the class size was small but instructors George and Anderson treated us as though we were VIPs. The ambiance was relaxed and informal, even to the point that there was no explicit equipment check, although George and Anderson had ample time to observe us and our hardware before the range session.
After introductions, George passed out a 20-page booklet covering much of what would be in the class, Level 1 Defensive Tactical Pistol. The classroom portion reviewed the information in the booklet, including safety issues, the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) loop, Jeff Cooper’s Color Code of Mental Awareness, and the Body Alarm Response pyramid. Another thing C.A.T.S. teaches, which I have not seen elsewhere, is a recommended technique for picking up a gun from a flat surface such as a table.
Much of what was said in the classroom was pretty standard fare for a class such as this, except for instruction on how to breathe out through pursed lips to relax and focus, which is not the typical four in / hold for four / four out / hold for four / repeat. It is worth noting that the conditions in the C.A.T.S. color code differ slightly from those taught elsewhere, such as at Front Sight.
C.A.T.S. also covers topics such as the fight / flight / submit response, pre-identifying cover and concealment, the will to survive,
left of bang and
right of bang (pre- and post-shooting), voice commands, reaction, tactical movement (before and after shooting), and ABO (Always Be Orienting).
Once on the range, the training begins in earnest. This starts with the grip on the pistol, which is different than traditional two-hand grips and facilitates holding the gun close to the body. Think of something that looks a bit like a martial arts
palm hold fist salute, with the tips of the thumbs together, and the
palm hand wrapped around the
fist hand (which is holding the pistol), then move everything down so that both hands are mid-torso with the barrel pointing to the side with the hands pressing together in isometric tension. This is called the High position and is the foundation for the entire Center Axis Relock system, and as such in this position you obtain (and verify, if necessary) your grip before shooting. Your body is bladed so your support side is forward relative to your adversary.
But because the gun is held close to the body, you are not supposed to use your dominant eye for sighting, although you can if you must. Instead, you tilt the gun slightly and sight using your non-dominant eye. I found the grip change and trying to sight using my non-dominant eye to be disorienting, in combination with the fact that I kept trying to revert to the handgun skills that I have been drilling for decades. Fortunately, for most of the range time, we were drilling for close-quarters combat, so I was still able to get some hits on target. Oh, and with the C.A.T.S system, you shoot with both eyes open for better situational awareness.
In the High position, with your body bladed, you can engage targets, although it takes a bit of practice to ingrain supplanting the use of sights with using only your body position and grip geometry. Typically, though, targets are engaged from the Extended position, where you raise the gun to eye level with the elbows of both arms at 90 degrees. There are other positions, too, one with more extension for shooting at longer distances and the Combat High position which is similar to the High position but with the gun angled down to give you a better field of view.
C.A.T.S. also teaches trapping the trigger back after firing while reacquiring your sight alignment and sight picture and then releasing the trigger to the reset position. After engaging targets, you lower the gun slightly to the Combat High position with your finger off of the trigger. This is when you begin tactical movement and your Z scan — high to low, side to side.
One of the benefits of being in a smaller class was the ability to incorporate tactical movement into our drills without running into each other. When presenting the weapon, we were able to move
off of the X, which involves moving before engaging the target. After-action drills were more extensive than any I’ve had at other courses, and again the smaller class size was a real boon here. In a real gunfight, civilians are going to want to use that movement to vacate the immediate vicinity or at least find cover or concealment, but for members of law enforcement, the scanning and movement might be similar to what we practiced.
Just when I thought that I should probably take a couple of days to internalize the new presentation, new grip, new stance, and new engagement practices already presented us, C.A.T.S. introduced two additional sets of techniques to master.
The first was to mirror everything we had been doing with our dominant hand and non-dominant eye, but using our non-dominant hand and dominant eye. For most persons, it is disconcerting enough to have to shoot with the support hand using a conventional technique. With the Center Axis Relock system, everything feels wrong at first. This is something that needs to be drilled and re-drilled in dry practice, if not in additional training classes.
Just when I hoped we were done with that aspect, C.A.T.S. revealed the second set of techniques — four tactical movements: dominant hand clockwise, dominant hand counter-clockwise, non-dominant hand clockwise, and non-dominant hand counter-clockwise. This meant we not only had to switch hands, but also consider which way to execute our tactical turn. Sometimes it is faster to turn while retaining the current grip, sometimes it is faster to switch hands before turning. Talk about options. For safety reasons, each student is given a non-firing dummy gun to practice. As discombobulated as I felt during these drills, the instruction was a refreshing departure from the typical square-range approach to teaching gun skills, as we were
weapons all over the place, even with the muzzle angled down during 180-degree turns. As difficult as it can be to develop real-world skills on a square range, this drill came very close.
The final range exercise was a skills test that involved shooting at a target around both sides of a barricade, switching hands (and stance and eyes, of course) in the transition from one side to the other. One gets a good sense of how advantageous it would be to be able to control the pistol with either hand when clearing a corner or entering a room.
After the conclusion of the range session, C.A.T.S. offered an extended period for evaluations, feedback, and questions-and-answers.
As you might expect in winter in California’s high desert, the day was cold and windy, and uncharacteristically overcast, so I was amenable when the class ended a bit earlier than I anticipated. Even had the class carried on for hours more, though, there is no way I could have assimilated all this information — much of it new — in a single day. That being said, the goal for this class is to perform well enough to qualify for continued training at future classes, as opposed to repeating this class until you master the basics. This I feel I did, so although I wouldn’t brag about my progress it seemed sufficient to progress to the next stages. I would recommend to anyone interested in the C.A.R. technique to plan on attending more than one class, simply because there is so much information and so many nuances to its correct execution.
My takeaway is that because of the focus on weapon retention, this training seems better suited for law enforcement personnel than for civilians. Not that civilians don’t need to concern themselves with weapon retention, but civilians can leave dangerous situations where cops are expected to confront them up close and personal.
Greg Raven, Apple Valley, CA