Early last month I had the pleasure of attending the OC Spray and Less than Lethal Weapons for non LE Instructor Course taught by Chuck Haggard of Agile Training & Consulting.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by my friend Neil. Recently he mentioned to me that he had attended this class. Immediately I told him I wish I could have attended, and would like to know more. Eventually I just asked him to write an AAR, both to satisfy my own curiosity about the class and because carrying and knowing when/how to use pepper spray is important if you care about avoiding a jail cell. Thanks to Neil for taking the time! Enjoy.
Full Disclosure: I paid full tuition for this course and was not compensated in any way for writing this review nor was I asked to write a review prior to taking the course.
The course was held near Dayton, OH and hosted by MushinSST. Having not taken any courses in 2020 I plan to take at least two this year and was excited to have the opportunity to attend this one. I knew of Chuck by reputation and his association with some other instructors I have attended coursework with including Craig Douglas and Cecil Burch. The topic of OC spray and how it fits into a self-protection paradigm has been of interest to me for some time but there are very few instructors teaching this material outside of a law enforcement context. To be able to take a deep dive into this topic with an instructor of Chuck’s caliber and with the depth of knowledge and experience he has was an opportunity not to be missed. If you’re wondering why I might want to spend my training dollars on getting proficient with this tool, Justin has quite persuasively covered the reasons here.
Contextualizing OC Spray
The course began promptly at 8am with an introduction to the topic and discussion of Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC). Usually the first half of the day is spent covering classroom material and the second half is spent outside running drills. Due to rain in the forecast that afternoon Chuck decided to switch this up so after a short time in the classroom we headed outside to work on some drills. I didn’t feel as if this had any negative impact on the experience and, if anything, it was reinforcing to see how some of the experiences we had had during the drills fit into the classroom material as it was presented afterwards. The “meat” of the drills involved working the use of OC spray into the Managing Unknown Contacts paradigm.
MUC is a methodology developed by Craig Douglas of Shivworks and remains a staple in his coursework. If you think about how 99.9% of any martial arts/combatives/self-defense material is taught, it begins at the point at which you’re being attacked. A punch is coming at your head, you’re being grabbed, you’ve got a knife at your throat, etc. I’m not suggesting that you don’t need to know how to deal with those scenarios but I think we can all agree that it would be preferable to avoid getting into such situations in the first place.
Most self-defense courses and instructors pay lip service to the idea that avoiding a physical conflict is the preferred outcome but few actually teach a methodology for doing so. As Claude Werner says, it’s “better to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble.” MUC seeks to accomplish this by providing a set of tactics, including body language and verbal commands, for dealing with a potential attacker (unknown contact or UC) at a distance. You want to give yourself the opportunity to assess whether a UC is malevolent or benign by reading body language such as pre-assault indicators. Doing this assessment with the UC up in your face is setting yourself up for failure if said UC does not have your best interests in mind.
So how does OC spray work into MUC? Craig teaches an eye jab in a scenario where a UC is ignoring body language and verbal cues you are directing toward them and getting too close. Naturally, the range at which you can employ this technique is limited by your own body. What OC allows you to do is work the same strategy but at a greater range (up to the effective range of the type of OC you are using). As Chuck demonstrated, a very small amount of range/distance has a huge impact on your ability to respond to an attack so this provides a significant advantage.
I feel that this element of the course was fundamental to allowing students to walk away knowing how they could integrate OC spray into their personal protection plan. Oftentimes courses focus on the tool(s) and their application but fail to demonstrate how they fit into the bigger picture. I was thoroughly impressed with how Chuck provided this often missing context.
Putting OC Spray to Work
After working on several drills to learn the fundamentals of MUC we transitioned to the use of inert training units on a partner. Many of the pepper spray manufacturers have training units available that are filled with water or another inert liquid. We donned safety glasses and even with these and the inert spray it was severely distracting to get a spray or stream in the face. It was interesting to see the difference between the cone and the stream units.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both that were evident during the training. The stream has a longer range but takes more technique to get it on target whereas the cone is more forgiving of less accurate aim but doesn’t go so far and is more affected by the wind (for the same reason you are also more likely to get contaminated yourself when using the cone versus the stream). Foam and gel formulations are also available, seeking to avoid the issue of contaminating the user. However, these come at the cost of not aerosolizing and thus limit the effectiveness of the product. Chuck also explained the various actuation and safety mechanisms available on the market and their advantages and disadvantages.
There is more technique involved with deploying OC spray than I had anticipated. When spraying the target you want to use your thumb to actuate it and aim it like you would a pistol with your arm extended. You can use the distal knuckle of your actuating thumb as a “front sight” to ensure that you are on target. I quickly realized a weakness in my own technique as I found that with the stream my tendency was to start the stream low (due to actuating the spray prior to full extension) and then having to move my way up to the eyes instead of the preferable technique of starting in the eyes.
We finished off the drills with some transitions from the spray to a firearm. Chuck played the bad guy and, depending on his reaction to the spray we would have to make the decision to transition to a firearm or not. This introduced an element of decision making into the process which I find one of the most difficult parts of self-defense scenarios. It was also good to emphasize that OC spray is not a guaranteed stop – you should be prepared and willing to deal with an attack regardless of your use of this tool.
After a break for lunch we returned to the classroom for an incredibly in-depth presentation and discussion of OC spray. Everything from a history of its use and evolution of various formulations over the years to the breakdown of a video where Chuck (in a law enforcement capacity) uses it on a bad guy are part of this instructional segment. It should be noted that there was no “exposure” (i.e. getting sprayed with real OC) during the course but there was instruction on how to do so safely. Chuck went over the common less than lethal options (tasers, collapsible batons, etc.) and made a strong case for OC spray being the best choice of the bunch.
Chuck explained the advantages and disadvantages of the various pepper spray options (cone, gel, stream, etc.), their effects and effective ranges. One of the reasons Chuck can be considered an expert on the subject is the sheer number of times he’s been exposed himself and exposed others in a training context as well as numerous sprayings of bad guys during his law enforcement career. I feel this is an underappreciated advantage of less-than-lethal options in that one person can accumulate a lot of real world data that, for obvious reasons, isn’t possible with lethal force tools.
Certainly one of the most useful parts of the classroom presentation was how to choose a good pepper spray. There is some jargon in the market that is the basis for a lot of confusion and the potential for getting your hands on a subpar product. In fact, Chuck is of the opinion that many of the anecdotes you hear about OC spray being ineffective are the result of using an inferior product. In short, when looking for a quality product, focus on major capsaicinoids (0.7% to 2% being the recommended concentration) over percent of OC or Scoville Heat Units. Also decide whether you would be better served by carrying a stream or a cone. When searching for products online, I found this to be more confusing that it needs to be.
I had always assumed that what’s referred to as a “cone” is the same as a “spray.” However, many manufacturers call everything a “spray” so it might be described as an “OC stream spray.” There are also gels available which Chuck does not recommend at this time as he has seen a delayed reaction of 30 seconds or so when he has tested them whereas the cone and stream formulations create a very close to instantaneous effect. As far as manufacturers, Chuck has consulted with Sabre and POM and recommends both brands. Personally, I prefer to carry the POM unit as a part of my EDC but for walks around the neighborhood where dogs pose a threat I carry a larger Sabre cone unit which Chuck recommended over the stream for that application. The key takeaway here is to learn what to look for in an effective product rather than just picking a brand. Some brands have multiple formulations, some of which adhere to Chuck’s standards and some which don’t so it’s important to be an informed consumer.
In summary, this was an absolutely fantastic course that I give my highest recommendation to. If you’re on the fence about spending your training dollars on what I’m sure is perceived by some as not “cool guy tactical” training, think about some civilian use of force scenarios you have read or heard about where deadly force was used by the defender. Whether that level of force was deemed justified or not, had OC spray been used you may well have never heard of the incident because it would not have garnered the media attention that a shooting did. At the very least, even simply having a less than lethal force option (not to mention a record of taking instruction on its use) would perhaps go a long way toward backing up an assertion that deadly force was your last resort (that’s not legal advice, just my opinion). During my own thinking about self-protection I saw the value of incorporating OC spray into my routine and this course showed me how to do just that.
I should add that despite the term “instructor” in the course title, you certainly don’t need to be one to take or benefit from the course. It was made clear in the course description when I registered that this was appropriate for anyone looking to take a deep dive into the subject from a civilian standpoint. If you are an instructor, I think this course will give you everything you need to be able to integrate it into whatever coursework you teach. On the other hand, if you’re not an instructor, rest assured that the material is all about OC spray and there’s no adult learning theory or other “how to teach” stuff that you may not be interested in.
A big thank you to Chuck for making this material available to us civilians. You can check out his website and training calendar and I look forward to training with him again in the future. I definitely have my eye on his snubby revolver course. Thank you to Korey and James of MushinSST for being such gracious hosts and the great group of students I got to meet and train with. Mushin has a great facility and host some top name instructors as well as providing training themselves so please check them out. Finally, thank you so much to Justin for his desire to spread the word about OC spray and allowing me to get this AAR out there to his readers.