Review: Speed Marksmanship with J.J. Racaza

TSG signed up to take a course with J.J. Racaza called Speed Marksmanship held at the Clark County shooting facility in Las Vegas. Some of you might know the name from the television series “Top Shot” and some of you might know his name from the competition world.

J.J. Racaza instructing students at Speed Marksmanship shooting class.
J.J. Racaza instructing students at Speed Marksmanship shooting class.

But what most don’t know is that he has spent a substantial part of his career dedicated to the Department of Homeland Security in operating and training.

That combination of competition and practical firearms perspective made this course extremely interesting.

First things first: this a high-level class. It is not for beginners. The subtle concepts will be lost on those who have not attained an advanced level of skill. Seriously — if you are not willing to explore the advanced concepts of trigger control for 6 hours, this is not the class for you.

The exciting aspect of this course was the focus on breaking through the “normal” concepts of shooting and give you a doorway into the physical and mental aspects of the world’s fastest competitive shooters. It is designed to ruthlessly push your boundaries and force you onto a whole new level of shooting. And J.J. does this in a really, really engaging way.

That being said, J.J. emphasized the “marksmanship” aspect of the course title. It doesn’t matter how fast you are shooting if you are not hitting your target. He reinforced this concept during some of the competitive challenges during the course — only the times with hits were counted. In other words, students with extremely fast misses were disqualified leaving slower students who achieved hits as winners.

Here is a video from the course showing J.J. coaching Brad. The goal of the drill is to increase the speed of the shot transitioning from the near paper target to the far steel target.

As you can see, J.J. is saying Brad had a “delayed press” on the first string. He is coaching him to begin prepping the trigger even as he transitions from the paper target to the steel one about 15 yards beyond. The coaching yields a dramatically improved time for the second string.

Speed Marksmanship Course Concepts

  1. The fundamentals mastered.
  2. Trigger control.
  3. Presentation.
  4. Target transitions.

Class Pros and Cons

These are impressions coming from our experience for one particular day.  Remember that variables such as a different day, a different location or a different group of students can have an effect on the course experience for you. In other words, your mileage might vary.  Also take into account the yin/yang aspect of a positive aspect creating a corresponding negative aspect. Increased personal attention and coaching = pro. The corresponding drag on the rest of the class = con.  You decide what’s more important to you.

Pros

  • J.J. has an engaging personality and his teaching method is a good blend of friendly and firm. He’s the type of instructor who pushes you in a way that makes you want to perform.
  • Surprising amount of personal coaching and one-on-one time.
  • The concepts are extremely advanced which challenge you.
  • Instructor who DOES what he is teaching.  J.J. demonstrates the concepts giving you concrete examples for some very esoteric information. Demonstrating the drills and the concepts at a very, very high level also reinforces the credibility of the instructor. In this case, J.J. makes most of it look easy.  When he pushes himself towards the upper limits of his own speed, you start to see his accuracy degrading — just like students experience.  In business leadership, this expression of vulnerability (J.J. showing us he is human as he begins to “fail”) establishes trust among the group.
  • The concepts are measured. The shot timer is out and used religiously giving students a very real barometer of performance. This is important because some of the methods, particularly for transitions between targets, are perceived to be “slower”, yet the timer proves they are actually faster.
  • Friendly competition and making a game out of the drills adds to the fun and keeps interest.

Cons

  • The length of the course might challenge your concentration and attention for a skill  that demands concentration and attention.
  • The personal coaching time for individual students leaves the rest of the group with some down time. This is great for reloading magazines, hydrating, snacking. But it can make the overall course tempo feel somewhat slower — particularly later in the evening.

Cost

$250 for 9 hours of instruction and training.  Expect to shoot about 500 rounds.

Check out more background on J.J. in the video below:

Self-Defense Handgun: Sacrificing Security over Speed

There seems to be the prevailing attitude that when you need your handgun, you really, really need it right now!

But there is another attitude that is usually espoused by members of the brotherhood in arms which routinely carry their firearms daily and face the rigors of performing a variety of tasks while armed. They say you need to look at keeping your tools (your weapons) secure enough that you can count on them to be with you when you need them.

Take a look at this post from a veteran SWAT officer I know:

“One day, while working with a veteran officer, we received a “Code 3″ call (light and sirens authorized).  I blew past him like he was driving in reverse.  We both made it to the call within short moments of each other.  I think I was getting out of my car when he pulled up. After we cleared the call, he pulled me aside and (without screaming at me) told me something I have never forgotten:  ‘You have to get there to do any good.’ 

Fast forward a couple of years.  I began my search to become proficient in the SWAT realm.  I once had an instructor from a very proficient Southern California training organization tell me that security straps on handgun holsters are a good idea, but should come off once you get ready to go through the door.  The reasoning was that if you need to transition during a firefight, you don’t need the hassle of fooling with the thumbreak of drop holster.  Hey, it made sense to me at the time, as he was Yoda.  I practiced this and practiced this.  And, on the range, it made sense.  I was able to make wickedly fast transition drills. 

Then it happened.

On one of my first SWAT calls.  Dope warrant.  We were riding in the back of our transport van to the location.  As we were approx. 30 seconds out, I readied myself.  I tripped the thumb break on my drop holster.  As soon as we got on scene, the van door flew open, and everyone hauled ass out.  We served the warrant, and life seemed good.  Prior to leaving, we all checked ourselves for extra holes we did come in with, cuts, glass……….make sure you have all your gear…….

I looked down and my hadgun was missing from it’s holster.  Things got really warm and humid really quickly.  No one had called out finding a pistol in the house.  Prior to the team leaving the scene, I volunteered to “help” load the breaching tools.  There in the van, on the floor near where I was sitting, was my handgun.  Luckily, I did not need it.

I have used my thumbreaks and retention devices ever since that time.

You gear has to make it to the fight, in order to do any good.  That requires straps, snaps, retention devices, etc. being engaged. 

The same mindset infects my patrol equipment also.  I put my kit in near identical locations.  Holsters have the same draw.  Edged weapons in similar located pockets, radio on same side, etc.  Repeatability and redundancy.

One thing that has always irked me as an instructor is the lazy mindset some have when it comes to this.  I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen officers with Level 3 retention holsters not secure all levels of their holsters.  Excuses range from the need to speed up their draw, inability to draw with all three levels engaged, or my favorite, “I can’t get it to snap.”  That’s fine, don’t worry about engaging it.  I’ll come save your butt when you are rolling around in the mud/blood/beer and the bad guy is prying your handgun out.  I betcha you want a level 17 retention holster at that point.

This also goes for magazine pouches, kit pouches, radio pouches, etc., but I focused my reply towards a firearms based response.  I’ve seen a lot of guys who remove the kydex liner from their open top mag pouches in the quest for ever faster reload times.

You have to get there to do any good.”

A couple of things he covers that stand out to me:

  • Security of your firearm and gear is a top concern, it is of no value to you when missing;
  • The value of repetition is so important for optimal performance under stress that you should go to great lengths to make sure all of your equipment and kit has “repeatability and redundancy”.

My own experience will back up our SWAT officer’s narrative. I’ve qualified and patrolled wearing a duty rig that had enclosed magazine pouches positioned horizontally and a Bianchi duty holster with a thumbbreak retention device. I would routinely qualify with 245s and 250s, yet would be lectured by the instructors/range officers who said I would have faster times if I would reconfigure my rig to have exposed vertical magazine pouches and a holster with an internal retention indent. This kind of advice mainly came from officers who clearly did not have to jump fences or wrestle with suspects in the back of a patrol car anymore.  I stuck with my lower profile and more secure rig.

I also personally know at least two individuals who have almost lost their pistols because they were carrying a “speed” rig.  One was a guy who dropped his 1911 in a movie theater. He was wearing a popular rig sometimes known as a “yaqui slide”. It is essentially a scabbard that allows the barrel and the grip to be mostly exposed. When he sat down in the theater seat, the muzzle of his pistol rested on the arm of the chair and pushed the 1911 up and out of the scabbard. Thunk!

The other guy was hiking and carrying his Glock 19 in the same kydex holster he uses for competition. When he sat down on a bolder next to a stream, part of the rock pushed up on the muzzle and, again, pushed the handgun up and out of the holster. This guy saved his pistol from being lost in the stream by quickly trapping the handgun to his side with his elbow.

While some manufacturers ascribe to the security over speed school of thought, the marketplace seemingly overrides the design’s intent. Case in point, the original Glock magazines do not drop free from the pistol. When making the pistols for the Austrian Army, Glock did not want soldiers to lose their magazines if the mag release was inadvertantly pushed.  Yet, American shooters griped about this feature and now you can purchase “drop-free” magazines for your Glock.

At the extreme end of the speed-over-security issue are many competition shooters. I’ve seen extended magazine releases that are so sensitive that a shooter lost his magazine when the stage started with the unholstered pistol placed on a table. Just of the weight of the pistol on the magazine release button released the magazine which fell free when the shooter picked up the pistol to start.  I’ve seen full magazines flop out onto the ground during running stages.

Granted, these are competitions, so the only penalty is either not having your reload available or just the embarassment of having the course looking like a yard sale after you finish your stage.

But, if you are serious student of armed self-defense, give considerable thought to the security vs. speed issue.  It is going to be a bit of a balancing act to be comfortable with the choice you’ve made.

This revised article originally appeared on the old Defend University self-defense blog.