Allow me to answer one of the questions I am asked most on social media – which instructors do I recommend training with? Additionally, where do I buy my gear? And what do I buy, shoot, and carry?
I like training almost all facets of the preparedness lifestyle. Dare I say, the things embraced by those of us who are “defensively woke”? So, let me answer that component in this article. I will expand on the other concepts as we go forward.
Who do I recommend for training?
Well, the easy answer is me: come train with me! Jests aside, I do have a list of training providers and instructors I highly recommend.
Before I get into THE LIST, let me first give some context about those who made THE LIST. I suppose I am by default also providing commentary on those who didn’t. For the benefit of the enraged feelings of those instructors whose names are not on here – either I don’t know you, and I really would like to (so please reach out). Or I have not yet trained with you. Or I don’t believe what you are teaching meets my needs or has relevance in a defensive context. Of course there is also the chance that I don’t like you either.
There. Now that I have said my piece you can all go and have your tantrums. (Paratus makes available the right to reply, so make use of it if you have a coherent argument against anything we say – Ed)
I am aiming this piece at the defensive shooter. As dedicated as I need to be, I don’t take the sport thing that seriously. Therefore I am not qualified to speak about who the best instructors are in that environment. I have written sufficiently on the differences and the fundamentals of trainers and skills development. And I would encourage you to review some of those articles.
I also leave out military, police and security trainers as that environment is completely different from the civilian context. Let me however state that some of them are fantastic instructors, and others are abysmally pathetic.
I am also not addressing training which focuses singularly on fitness or strength. That is not to say I don’t consider it important. Indeed, I consider it as vital. I follow Mark Rippetoe’s Strength Training programs. For variety I swim, run, subscribe to a program called Tacfit by Scott Sonnon, and on occasion do the Crossfit program. I may indeed expand into these concepts more significantly going forward as well.
Lastly, and in case I have not made it clear, I am not referring to the mandated competency training. I have my own opinion on the current setup, however. It is what we have to do, and to be fair it is only intended to cover the bare minimum. In this article I am referencing training designed at providing you with the skillset to deal with critical incidents.
For those of you still with me, lets get on to the main part of this article.
So, who do I train with? Or whom do I want to train with? Since most of our readers are in Southern Africa, I am going to start with whom I believe to be the very best South African instructors. And a bit on why I think so.
Arno Barlow & Kembativ Concepts
First and foremost, Arno Barlow and any of his instructors from Kembativ Concepts. I have been training (and on occasion teaching) with Arno for ten years on-and-off. He is quite simply a superb teacher who is able to convey his actual experience in the close protection industry, an experience which includes some of the biggest celebrity names, into clear and high-value lessons. In the easiest and simplest format possible.
He will give you reality without any sugarcoating, and teach you FUNDAMENTALS that will effectively enable you to deal with a critical incident. He is not going to teach you Ninja flips or faux gymnastic ballistic masturbation. But he is going to teach you hard, effective combatives . Arno is based in Pretoria, but in the grand old tradition he has gun and will travel. Also, he has Ric based in Durban, Rouen based in George, Johan in Potchefstroom, Dylan in Johannesburg, and Pieter in Randburg.
So, in essence, training with Kembativ Concepts is simple, effective and incredible value for money. Arno is a proponent of Kelly McCann’s philosophy of being simple, effective and always transitioning to a weapon where possible. This simplicity appeals to me. I have trained very technique-intensive styles before, and being the way I am I have always tended to focus on those elements which suit me best, and refine execution of those. With the combatives concept you only have those key effective “techniques”, so all your focus can be on executing and transitioning to your weapon. Training with Arno and the KC Crew focuses on that blend, and pays attention to all facets of what you need to know on their courses.
Whether it be knife stuff, gun stuff, or patching up the knife and gun stuff, Mark is able to take his military experience (and his experience as one of South Africa’s best grapplers) and combine it into very effective courses. Mark teaches in the US, Europe, Thailand and (of course) South Africa. He has instructors based in Cape Town and Johannesburg. His fighting whilst injured courses should be on top of your bucket list.
Not for the gun stuff, but your whole world should include more than just that. Also, James has some great partners in the form of Garth Eloff and other associates who are able to bring in their unique special operations perspectives to their training. Definitely do James’ Street Smart course: it is an excellent learning opportunity. Also his women empowerment initiative is one I regularly send friends and their daughters on.
Brett and his team of instructors is the place if you want to train Krav Maga, Muay Thai, MMA, Kick Boxing and Boxing. Well, it’s the place if you are based close to Pretoria. It is also an awesome environment to boost up your fitness. Brett runs shooting courses from time to time, and they are great. However, it is not the main thing he does. His primary focus is training skill sets which are as important as trigger time and mag changes. Also, instilling the culture of wanting to train and increasing your fitness levels.
I loved my years of training with the awesome team, and I especially appreciated the family atmosphere that prevails at their world class facility. Did I mention world class? The mat space at their Centurion facility is immense. Brett (who runs Warrior Sports) has a great mindset and ultimately places the development of what they teach above pure commercial gain. Brett has trained at the famous Wingate Institute in Israel, and it clearly shows.
In terms of styles, I trained the Jiu Jitsu classes and the Krav Maga syllabus. But if I were to do it over, I would have focused on boxing instead of doing Krav Maga. That is primarily because I personally believe that boxing and Jiu Jitsu are the two most foundational skillsets to combine into the simplicity of combatives. Just as with everything else on this list, that is a personal choice.
The Fortis team have real world experience, they have all the correct skillsets, and they train in a simple and blended manner. But what impresses me most is the attitude that the Fortis team brings to the party. They take the training seriously without taking themselves seriously. They don’t try and hype stuff up with what I frankly consider nonsensical bullshit. No pointing the gun into your elbow, or doing incredibly silly-looking house penetrations. But, as with the others on this list, they focus on building the individual with simple, effective and efficient techniques, designed to access a weapon and emphasizing the importance of awareness.
As far as I, and most serious students of staying alive are concerned, Kelly is the GODFATHER of training to stay alive. A retired US Marine Officer, he has developed counter-insurgency, close protection tactics, and combatives programs for almost everyone from the US Marine Corps, a veritable slew of US three-letter agencies, and governments from the British to the Swedes.
Aside from this, Kelly emphasizes the simple and effective. Yes, others on this list teach combatives (in fact most do), and most of them train with Kelly. Or have trained with him. It is indeed that significant, and words cannot really explain how much one gains from training with him. He is based in the US but teaches all over the world.
Dave is another strong proponent of the simple but effective combative system. He is a man of deep insight, who reflects on his craft and is prone to critical commentary that has the unique ability to separate you from your ego, and draw focus on teaching and increasing your skills. Dave only teaches in the US and will retire soon. If you can train with him before then, I strongly recommend you do so.
Of anyone who is on this list, Rob Pincus must be among the most controversial. He is refreshingly and sometimes disrespectfully irreverent. However, this irreverence is never without cause. He is able to blend a great deal of science and biomechanics into what he teaches. Yes, his approach to the hallowed realms of sport shooting or traditional marksmanship might not be universally popular, but there is no arguing that training with him will make you a better defensive shooter. Rob teaches internationally as well.
As I said, there are others. Some of whom would have made this list if I was talking about training a security team, police team, or close protection team together. Everyone on this list can train those modalities as well, of course. However, these are the ones whom I believe are the best at building the individual.
I personally don’t see why someone who focuses on upskilling themselves individually would want to waste their time running team-orientated tactics such as house penetrations or vehicle takedowns. In fact, most of the people I see teaching those skills within the civilian or non-security context are teaching it incorrectly, with abysmal techniques and awful tactics. For me it’s about focusing on the most likely eventuality, and reality dictates that most people are far more likely to be attacked (and required to respond) as an individual rather than running a tactical team response to a scenario.
See you all on the training ranges.
Written by Bryan Mennie
Bryan is a professional risk and crisis manager. He has taught kidnap avoidance and hostage survival to various international organizations, and has managed protective and security operations in over twenty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.