Over the last 2+ years I’ve spent at least $100k in guns, ammo, gear, training and other costs associated with increasing my defensive readiness.
[BTW–If you think America is safe and I’m being paranoid, cool, good for you. Ignore this post, it won’t be useful for those of you whose strategy is to ignore reality and just hope for the best.]
My History with Self-Defense
I’ll detail my experience with self-defense, so you can understand where I started (if you don’t care and just want the info, skip right to the next section, Step 1).
I grew up around guns. My uncle and grandmother shot all the time on their farm, and guns were normal to me. I had a .22 in high school, dicked around with it, but never shot anything with it beyond tin cans.
I started MMA and Muay Thai pretty seriously in 2007 and have trained in it off and on since. I started BJJ in 2011, and aside from a 5 year break, have trained in it since. I currently train at Gracie Humiata in Austin, where I am a brown belt under Paulo Brandao (a former world champ and 6th degree black belt under Royler Gracie).
In January of 2020, I owned one pistol, one shotgun, and one hunting rifle, and did not carry a gun with me anywhere. I would hunt maybe once every few years, and just for fun.
I never had a fancy assault rifle, or any high speed military gear. Don’t get me wrong, I thought that stuff was cool, but I didn’t think I needed it. To have something like that, and not be in the military or be a serious hunter felt very fake and LARPY to me in 2019.
Then came the summer of 2020, and the BLM and Antifa riots, and well, I realized that I needed to gear up and train up and be ready.
I went about my preparation very wrong from the start.
First off, it is VERY hard to find reliable knowledge about what I needed to get. Gun people are fucking impossible to get straight answers from, they all see things from the perspective of an expert and they think about things that made no sense to me. Doing my own research was so frustrating and confusing.
I know a lot of military guys, and I talked to them, and most of them are very knowledgeable–but very few were actually helpful.
The main reason is because I’m a beginner, I don’t even know what I don’t know, and they were giving me advice they’d give to some other military guy who knew the basics. I did not.
What ended up happening is that I bought all kinds of horrible and stupid shit, because I had no idea what to do. I also wasted a TON of time going down training rabbit holes that took me in the wrong direction. Honestly, it was very frustrating and annoying.
So, how to get your self-defense system up and running, and do it right?
Step 1: Buy the Right Gear (w/Clay Martin)
Probably the single most important person I have met in the self-defense space is Clay Martin.
I hired him as a consultant to go through my entire defensive system with me:
- What gear to buy and not buy
- How to set up my gear and train with it
- Where I should live
- How to ensure I can get back there from wherever I am
- Building the community around me
- Setting up the defense at my ranch
I can’t even begin to tell you how much he has taught me and helped. You can get a huge amount of this value in this three hour interview where I do a deep dive on where to start with gear with Clay Martin here.
I highly recommend starting with that interview. Clay begins with you where you are right now, and walks you through each step from there.
Step 2: Figure Out Your EDC (w/Jeff Gonzales)
When I decided to get serious about self-defense, obviously I thought about carrying a concealed weapon–specifically a gun.
But everything I was learning about carrying a concealed weapon was confusing to me at first.
How do I pick a holster, what knife and why, what else do I need to carry, etc?
Well, little did I know that a guy I was already training BJJ with was one of the best concealed carry experts in the world: Jeff Gonzales.
Jeff Gonzales helped build the “low-vis” program for the Navy Seals (when he was one), and now trains civilians on all aspects of carrying concealed weapons.
So I sat down with him and went deep into this world to get all my questions answered. He gives great advice on things like:
- What guns are best used for concealment, specifically which caliber of pistol.
- What holsters are best for concealment.
- What kind of knives he prefers, and why.
- What kind of belts to use to hold up your holster and guns.
- Why the magazine capacity determines what gun you carry, and what capacity is optimal.
- How to think about concealment.
- How much you need to worry about actually hiding your gun and knives.
- Lots of other things about concealment.
In Case You Care: My Current EDC
- The term “EDC” is something you will hear a lot once you start learning serious self-defense. It stands for “Every Day Carry” and is meant to designate the tools you have on you, all day every day.
A lot of people ask me about mine, so here is a basic rundown of EDC:
- What does EDC stand for?
Every Day Carry. Your EDC is the gear you have on you, every single day.
- Everyone has an EDC system, the only question is what’s in it.
This is the thing about EDC: we all have one. The only question is if you will have the tools necessary to defend yourself or not?
- Why does EDC matter?
This matters because in any self-defense situation, the only gear that matters is the gear you can use. If you ain’t carrying it, it doesn’t exist.
- What if I’m wrong?
I will consider it a massive victory if I carry for 40 years and never have to use any of this. Nothing would make me happier than never having to shoot or stab someone. I consider my EDC gear as insurance. I don’t want to make a claim, but I need to have it just in case I don’t have a choice.
- Timeline of why I carry weapons in my EDC
Before the summer of 2020, I had never once carried a gun on me, and I sometimes carried a folding knife. No reason to carry a gun. Once the 2020 riots and chaos started, I got guns and serious about training. Took me awhile, but I started carrying consistently with a Fanny pack and folding blade in my EDC. Here is a video of how I used to carry.
Then took Bill Rapiers Force on Force course, and I got my ass handed to me and realized my EDC was totally fucking broke. I totally revamped it, based on using it in near realistic force-on-force training, and have tweaked it to get to my current regiment.
- What tools are in my EDC?
- Gun: Sig 320 XCarry
- SS Knife: Amtac Blades Magnus
- OS Knife: Headhunter Blades Rat
- Non-lethal: POM OC spray
- Belt: KORE
- Holster: Blackpoint Mini-Wing
- Truck key
To see how my EDC changed, here is my original EDC. Fanny pack, two mags, folding knife (the picture is missing my phone, keys, and wallet):
This is my current EDC, as of Sept 1, 2022:
Note, I also have a full IFAK, multi-tool, flashlight (and a few other things) in my truck at all times, and around my house & workshop. I don’t carry that stuff on me, but always have it very close if needed.
- Why I carry concealed vs open
I can do either because I live in Texas, but I think carrying open is asking for trouble in a way that carrying concealed does not.
- Why I carry in a holster and not a fanny pack
Because carrying in a fanny pack is twice as slow on a draw. I learned this the hard way at Bill Rapiers Force on Force class. Using airsoft guns, I went up against guys carrying concealed on their hip with a holster, and I got my ass handed to me. Plus, watching any video of people actually using guns to defend themselves, it became very clear that carrying in a fanny pack was not going to cut it. So I stopped.
- Why I carry at 3 oclock vs appendix
This is a personal choice, its fine to carry either way. To me, a 3 oclock carry is far more comfortable and I think gives me far more draw and concealment options.
- Why I carry a compact and not a subcompact or micro
I like the feel of shooting a compact. The subcompacts don’t fit my hand well.
- Why I carry loaded and chambered
Its the only way to do it. I was so hesitant to really carry loaded and chambered for a long time. Then I saw the videos of how so many self-defense situations go down, and realized I was fooling myself if I thought I could chamber a round and fire in many of those situations.
- Why I carry 2 knives
I use the Sayoc system, which is a two knife system.
- Why I carry only fixed blade
Folding knives are much slower and less reliable to deploy. Test them in pressurized situations and you will see quickly that folding blades don’t work.
- Why I carry a non-lethal
I go back and forth on this. Sometimes I think OC spray is a good carry, sometimes I don’t. The people who know EDC are also not aligned on this, and fall all over the map with it. As of the day I took that pic, I was carrying one.
Having an EDC is great, but I will tell you this:
Your training with your tools is far more important that the tools you pick.
The next two sections will help you get the mindset for training and figure out where to start training.
Step 3: Develop a Self-Defense Mindset (w/Tim Larkin)
Having gear is great, but before you even start training, you need to ask yourself a question:
Why are you training at all?
The honest truth is I never really paid much attention to violence. I thought I was safe. I thought I didn’t need to worry about that stuff.
It might have been true, pre-2020. It’s not true anymore.
Once I realized I had to get very serious about self-defense, that means truly understanding violence. And there is no one who knows violence better than Tim Larkin.
Tim Larkin has been a friend of mine for years, and I always loved hanging out with him because he’s a great and real dude.
But it wasn’t until recently I really got him to sit down and explain violence to me, not just as an interesting thing to know, but as a concept I needed to understand to survive.
- Understanding why you train, and why the answer to that question is so important.
- How violence is different than fighting.
- Why the distinction between violence and fighting is VERY important to learning self-defense.
- What violence is, really, and why its important for everyone to understand.
- What is the first question to ask yourself once you get serious about self-defense, and why its so important.
- What it means to think violently, as opposed to normally.
- When to start thinking in terms of violence.
- What it actually feels like to inflict violence on another person, and why you need to train this.
- What most people get wrong when they begin training for self defense.
- The many different roles of fear in learning and applying violence.
- The most important concept you must know and consider when you commit to training to use violence (I struggled with this MIGHTILY).
He also runs classes on his system all around the country, which are great.
Step 4: Build Your Self-Defense System Through Training (& Find Good Instructors To Train With)
“Why would you pay good money for a carbine instructor who has never engaged another human with a carbine? We’re dealing with life and death here.”
-Kyle Defoor, former Seal Team 6
The man has a point. I learn BJJ from a literal world champion who can still beat the tar of anyone that walks in his gym (including some current world champions).
In fact, almost everyone I learn from is demonstrably good at what they do–they have proven themselves in their field.
How do I tell who’s who in fields I don’t know? I ask my friends who’ve served multiple tours in Special Forces units, as they tend to know who is legit and who is not.
How do you tell, if you don’t have friends like that? The thing that all the ones I recommend have in common:
- They are run by men who first spent decades learning and then practicing their craft in real life or death situations, usually (but not always) while in the employ of Special Operations in the US military. The primary being Green Berets, Navy Seals, Delta Force, MARSOC (Marine Special Forces), etc.
- They also have LONG and established histories of doing a great job helping CIVILIANS learn techniques. It’s not enough to be a badass killer if you can’t teach the right techniques to regular people.
I’ll walk you through how I pick instructors, and make a few recommendations:
How to Pick a Local Hand-to-Hand Fighting Instructor
For unarmed hand to hand fighting, the best place to start is honestly some combination of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsiu, Muay Thai, or MMA.
Yes, I know those are “sports” but the differences between the sport versions and true life or death fighting are very slim. The fundamentals are the same.
The hard part here is picking a school. It can be very confusing, as there are almost no brand names and ways for outsiders to judge.
Generally speaking, what you are looking for here is someone who has competed at a very high level, or someone who has trained for a long time under someone who has competed at a high level.
Here is a very SMALL list of BJJ schools/groups that are almost all very good. There are many other schools that are top notch, its impossible to list them all:
Gracie Humiata (I train at the Austin location of this org)
Machado (any of them)
Those are just a few of the great schools, there are so many, its impossible to name them all.
Note that there are also some disciplines to avoid:
Tae Kwon Do
How to Pick a Local Knife Instructor
One answer: Find a local Sayoc Kali instructor and train with them.
I am not a knife-fighting expert, but I know several, and pretty much all of them tell me the same thing: there is no one better in the world at training knife-fighting than the extended family of Sayoc Kali. They are the people who literally train Seal Team 6, and Delta Force, on knife fighting. They’re the best at it, period.
I train with Jake Patterson at Patterson Martial Arts. He’s a Full Instructor in the Sayoc system (equivalent of a black belt). Highly recommend him.
Go to the Sayoc website and email them, they can tell you who is in your area.
I will say this: if you are short on time, you can focus on BJJ and gun training, and leave knife training off. Knife training is no fucking joke. I truly had no idea how intense it was.
Also note, Sayoc as a self-defense system is NOT just knife fighting, but thats the main part I train in.
How to Pick a Local Firearms Instructor
I am not the best person to ask about this, since I literally live near some of the best trainers in America (see below), and I just train with them.
If you are not like me, and do not live near total badasses who will train you, then go read Clay Martins book, Concrete Jungle.
He walks you through the EXACT steps to find a really solid local person to teach you and train with.
How To Pick A Self-Defense Masterclasses
A “self-defense masterclass” is what I call an in person training that teaches a specific skill you can add to your self-defense arsenal, but is not on-going training. Basically, a class you can go to, that are usually taught by the best people in the world to train with.
Schools I Can Personally Vouch For:
Sheepdog Response: This is Tim Kennedy’s school, and I’ve taken the Protector 1 & 2 classes, the Vehicle Defender class, the Carbine class (2x), and the CQB class (Singleton Security) from them. I really like Tim and the Sheepdog instructors, and this is where I learned most of my fundamentals in shooting.
If you are new to this world and looking for a place to start, this is the place.
I think for most beginners Sheepdog is one of the very best places you can begin training. Sheepdog tends to be oriented to the beginner civilian market, and they excel at that. They are not just experts in their field, they are VERY good at helping beginners get past their fear and their reluctance and learn the most important basics of self-defense.
Sheepdog is also one of the best places in the country at training women–especially women who have no self-defense experience. They have several female only courses and have female instructors that are very good at helping women get comfortable with all aspects of self-defense. My wife has gone to their classes and loved them.
NOTE: I’m obviously biased, as I roll BJJ with Tim and several of the instructors and we are friends (but if they were idiot losers, I wouldn’t be friends with them; a huge part of why we’re friends is because they taught me useful skills).
I will say this: if you have a good amount of training and are looking to really level your skills up, Sheepdog can still be good, but there are also other options that will serve you better.
AMTAC Shooting: AMTAC is run by Bill Rapier, who spent 14 years in Seal Team 6. He’s an incredibly skilled practitioner, and his classes are very good.
AMTAC is nearly the opposite of Sheepdog–if you’re a true beginner, I would not go to an AMTAC class. Bill’s classes assume a basic level of proficiency and experience with firearms and training, and without that, you won’t get the most out of his training.
Once you have some solid fundamentals, I HIGHLY recommend taking at least one AMTAC class. Bill will teach you amazing things.
I’ve taken his Force-on-Force Course, and it fundamentally changed my entire orientation to self-defense (for the better). It was this class that essentially broke my old self-defense system, and forced me to get very serious about doing it right.
I plan to take several more classes from Bill in the future.
Trident Concepts: This is run by Jeff Gonzales, a former Navy SEAL. I know Jeff personally (we train BJJ together), and he has trained me in scenario specific situations (which was amazing). Jeff teaches classes all over the country, including teaching at Sig Sauer Academy (which is a big badge of honor in that world, Sig Sauer Academy can get most anyone they want to teach at their place). I highly recommend Jeff for almost any sort of training, but he excels in training concealed carry, and he is one of my primary sources for knowledge and training in that area.
Clay Martin Defense: Clay does not have a school and does not run public classes (as of yet), but he does private 1-on-1 or small group classes, and has done both with me.
Clay is probably the very best shooting instructor I’ve ever learned from. I improved my shooting exponentially with Clay. This is not an insult to the other places–I learned an immense amount from them and am taking more classes from each in the future–it’s just a massive complement to Clay.
Clay’s style of instruction not only fits me well, he is incredibly good at understanding the people he is teaching, and adapting his info and style to them. Additionally, he holds small classes, so he can focus intently on each person and correct issues in real time. In two hours with Clay, I more than halved the size of my pistol groups, even under pressurized, high stress shooting.
Clay also excels at training women and children. He trained my son on long range shooting with a .22, and it was probably my son’s favorite thing he’s done in his life.
Have Not Been, But Actively Trying To Go:
Viking Tactics (VTAC): Kyle Lamb and his crew are the OGs of this world. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to work with them, DO IT. And please invite me, I will pay and come anywhere to get the chance to learn from them.
Defoor Performance Shooting: Kyle Defoor has built an amazing reputation in this space over the last decade. His reputation is so good that when he puts a new course up, they sell out in 15 minutes. That’s insane. I’ve not been to his classes, but am signed up for two in 2023.
Fieldcraft Survival: Mike has one of the best reputations in all of the Special Forces community. Both as a person, and as a trainer, I have never heard anyone have anything less than glowing praise for him. I plan to take at least one of his courses in Texas this year.
Heard Good Things
Every name below this list are recommendations made to me by one of the people I have trained with: Tim Larkin, Clay Martin, Tim Kennedy, Jeff Gonzales, etc. I can’t vouch for them personally, but they come recommended by high level people I trust.
NOTE: Many of these are groups who tend to focus on and specialize in government and private security training. Some of these do not have many courses available to a regular civilians, so if you can’t get in them, thats why:
IMPORTANT NOTE: The list above is NOT comprehensive, and I’m sure there are a LOT of great schools and teachers I don’t have on that list (I’m new to this field after all, and don’t know all the best people yet, not even close).
If you know of a great school I should add to this list, hit me up and I’ll add them (and maybe go train with them).
The Trainer/Schools to Avoid
There are also some tactical schools that don’t do a good job, and I avoid them. I can think of two specific ones off the top of my head. Understand that there are a LOT of clowns in this space pretending to be tough guys, but who really have no business training others.
The biggest RED FLAG to avoid: if their background is primarily Israeli Defense Force (IDF), or Krav Maga, or any Israeli associated defense systems, I would not train with them at all.
I’m sure that statement will upset a lot of people, but literally every single person I know who is skilled in any aspect of self-defense is unanimous on this. You can pick a name above and reach out and ask them what they think of IDF trained fighters.
Clay Martin even told me that in the high level defense community, calling something “Israeli style” is the ‘cool guy’ way to say it sucks.
[And yes, for a short period I carried my gun loaded but not chambered, which is literally Israeli style, and that was stupid of me–I realized quickly my mistake and started carrying the right way.]
Conclusion: You Don’t Have To Do This In A Day
There is a LOT in this post, and if you are a beginner, I know it will seem overwhelming.
The good thing is that you don’t have to do this all at once. I started my journey in the summer of 2020, and in two years have made immense progress.
You can too. It simply requires the decision to do it and some effort to get it done.