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Training with Ben Stoeger


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Ben Stoeger recently came out to the greater Seattle area and put on a competition based class for a few of us. We numbered six students total for an advanced level 2-day class. All of us being experienced shooters looking to improve and for most of us in particular areas of need that were self identified beforehand. The majority of us had also taken multiple classes in the past prior to attending this one.

The format on day one was Ben running students to observe their particular strengths and weaknesses, running the class through drills that one or more students needed to work on, discussions on topics as they presented themselves, running us through variations of a stage that was modified throughout the day as a means to put to use the particular skill set under review, requesting feedback from the students on the how or why of particular actions or approaches before commenting on what he saw the student do.

The format for day two was seven separate stages set up to mimic what a typical match might be comprised of. We all ran through the stages and kept score on a laptop using ezwinscore.

The following are some thoughts on the class.

First off not many trainers will fly out to put on a class for only six people and I can truly understand the reasoning behind this. From the perspective of the students, however, a small class size is great as the smaller the class size the more individual instruction each student gets. Throughout the class this proved true as everyone had plenty of individual instruction time with Ben. I felt that six students was ideal as two days of one on one might be a little too intense and this allowed me to work on my areas of need and also learn from others as they worked with Ben on theirs.

Having a loosely structured class is something I could see as being highly problematic for trainers but I thought it was great. Lets face it we have all been to classes that start out the same as the last five classes covering things we already know. Ben cut through that all by structuring the class to for the students and not the instructor. What I mean is he evaluated us all right off by running us through a stage and then asking us if we had particular areas we wanted to work on (even though he had our shooting bios and our particular areas of desired focus prior to the class) and not just running us through a regimented class structure of drills. By doing so he seemed to have a good grasp on what the class and each student needed to work on as well as what each wanted from the class.

The individual stages set up to mimic a match was great as we were all able to watch each other, listen to Bens comments, and put in to practice what we were learning or working on without it being part of an actual match. Doing this as part of a match has inherent restrictions on time and rerunning stages due to the following squads and if the instructor is shooting its hard to work with the students and prep for a stage. So the mimicked match on day two worked well in favor of the students in my opinion.

I purposefully avoided trying to present a typical this was the class topics and format type of review as Ben can set up the class to meet the students needs and as such it isnt very realistic to try and bullet point the class topics and format.

All in all it was a great class, Ben put a lot of time and work into the class, and I would recommend him if youre looking to bring in an instructor to improve your game.

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Yup, it was an awesome class, very much well worth it. Some of us have been shooting for a long time together and needed a good kick in the pants to get us out of our stagnation. A few of us have had enough classes to number in the mid two digits and most all of us had extensive experience (1 M, 3 A's, 2 B class shooters) and we didn't need any more of the same that's offered everywhere else. We needed something completely different and that's exactly what we got. After a brief demo of our abilities via shooting a quick stage Ben set up, he already had a plan of what was needed and so we played it loose and when an issue was identified, he'd hit on it and focus on that for awhile. It was clear that Ben had a big bag of tricks in his hat and pulled out whatever was relavent as it was needed. It was cool how a simple straight forward stage could be used over and over by altering a few simple things to get the information needed for him to move to the next point.

I've been stuck at my current level for awhile now and couldn't figure out how to get faster. I was and am too slow and the only thing that keeps me afloat is racking up points. Essentially, Ben was able to show me that I could shoot faster, much faster, and in some cases, much much faster, rather than pull myself back. I'm afraid to drop points so my shooting speed is dictated by that. Before whenever I'd start dropping points or getting sloppy, I'd reel it back or be told to tone it down. This was different. When I started to lose control, instead of telling me to take it down by 10% Ben would say good, that's the pace at which I need to shoot. That's the pace I need to keep and practice at. Instead of saying I was going too fast, he'd see it more in terms of I'm going fast enough to start really pushing it and pushing it is what I needed to do. He'd push and push and when I thought that I couldn't do it, I found that I was actually doing it a lot better than I thought I was capable of. And after drilling it for awhile, I found that I was actually comfortable at that pace and still getting most of my points. If I kept practicing what I was shown, I should be able to speed myself up significantly and still get my hits.

Really, reading the words it seems rather simple and easy but it's not and fairly significant to me. Instead of speeding up and screwing up and looking at that negatively, I was suprised to hear Ben putting a positive note on it. Everytime I was dissapointed with myself, he would be saying 'YES' which at first confused me. I mean I screwed it up, I should be kicked and dragged out in the streets and flogged. But after awhile I started thinking of it in more positive terms and before I knew it I was encouraged when I didn't do as well as I thought I should have. It made me see that I could do it and everything I was doing right to even get to that point. It made me realize that there were only a few things that needed adjusting to get me the speed I needed. Instead of thinking that I was too slow which was self imposed, I found I could go fast if I just trusted myself to it.

I'm not sure I'm doing a good job of trying to explain this, but he made me see that the difference between blazing fast and my version of slow it mainly in mindset and attitude. It wasn't in pulling the trigger or lining up the sights so much or trying to be fast. I could screw that up fast or slow. I could do all that already, I've just been doing it with a learned and trained attitutude that is restraining me. It wasn't like he told us anything that we didn't already know or showed us the secret two palm super fast reload technique. He didn't show us the right way to draw or shoot or anything, we already had those basics down and didn't need to wast time on it. He just made us show him what we could do over and over again and trimmed the fat off a little bit at a time.

All this aside Ben has to be one of the hardest working guys in the training world. He put together stages like no ones business and at the end of the first day put up a whole match for day two. He would have been there until 1AM if he had to to get it done to, no joke. At a range he's never been to with a bunch of guys he's never met that have known each other long enough to goof around and talk smack to each other and smile doing it. No complaints from him, no grumbling, no 'we need to get finished up so that I can start putting together stages for you guys for tomorrow'. He was going to stay on that range until WE quit, not him and THEN he was going to do the work needed to put on a 7 stage match. I don't know about your clubs, but it takes a dozen or so people a whole day to put up a match around here. He was going to do it by himself!!! He was the first one there and the last one to leave and was always asking us for input. What do WE want to do, what do WE want to practice. It was obvious that this was OUR class, not his and that he was going to work like a mule to train us until we couldn't go anymore. He made James Brown look lazy.

So was I satisfied with the class? Absolutely. Training wise, it's what I've been looking for a few years now but didn't know where to find it. Ben's a pretty cool dude too and that cat can shoot! "Sho'nuff!" He didn't even want to shoot much because he felt it would detract from our training. He was there for us to shoot, not him. But when we did make him demonstrate something, OMG! At first I didn't know how anyone could go that fast and hardly drop an points on demand, everytime. He never made any excuses, he never had to. He just exuded flat out skill and ability and wasn't even the slightest bit arragant. He was just another shooter, like any other guy you might meet at any match, quirks and all. That's one thing I didn't like about some of the other training I've had or people I've met, is this sense of self or a front that they put on. Ben was just himself and that's very refreashing to see in someone at the top of the shooting food chain. Truthfully, it's only a matter of time before he starts taking the title away from Dave S. I'd put down some money that he'll take it starting this year.

So if you have a chance to have him come down and put on a class for you, you'd be wise to take him up on that. From a guy that's taken a lot of classes from a lot of people, this is not your everyday cookie cutter class unless you want it to be, he can do that too but his bag of tricks are deep and extensive. Take advantage of it while you can. It'll make you a better shooter. And by the way, his last name is pronounced St-ay-ger, not St-o-ger.

Ben, thanks for coming out here and doing the class for us. Not only was it exactly what I needed, but it was cool meeting you too.

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After I posted it I reread it for gramatical errors I may have missed. I was thinking that it sounded way to a## kissy and was trying to come up with some negative or something to sound not so praising and balance it out. That was the best I could do. :cheers:

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What I think he meant was we try to balance our comments with both the positive and negative aspects of the class so others can determine if it will meet their needs/expectations. In this case the class was exactly what we needed and desired in regards to our shooting skill set development that there realty wasn't any negative side to report.

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  • 2 weeks later...

AAR: IPSC/USPSA Shooting Class

Sep 11-12, 2010 at the Renton Fish and Game Club Range

Instructor: Ben Stoeger (shoots a Beretta 92 like it was an open division gun)

About the reviewer: 12+ yrs shooting IPSC on and off, and 5+ yrs shooting IDPA on and off. Attendee of prior IPSC focused classes, and numerous other shooting classes.

Caveat/warning: as with any/all AARs, there will be errors herein, any/all of which are solely the fault of the author (me). I just want readers to know that when I write Ben said, to take my words with the proverbial grain of salt, as context and meaning is subject to interpretation. If you want to know what Ben teaches, my best advice to take a class from him (which I highly recommend), and not rely upon this AAR for the definitive this is what Ben teaches.

This was an advanced level class (it was understood prior to the class that it would not be a basic level class), comprised of 6 experienced USPSA and IDPA shooters (several M and A classifications).

For this class, all but one shooter used production division guns, the lone ranger using an open division gun.

The class was very informal yet well structured, and much learning occurred. The excellent instructor to student ratio allowed for a high level of interaction and feedback.

Most of us can't afford to take a 1 on 1 class from an instructor. However, since this class was so small, it was the next best thing to that. While Ben taught to the group, he also did a LOT of teaching to the individual. This high level of observing and providing feedback/critique was great to have. Ben reinforced what we (as individuals) did well, and provided specific, individualized things to improve on, and methods to do so.

Day 1 was spent mostly on skills and drills.

Day 2 was a 7 stage match, after which problematic stages/arrays/targets were revisited, discussed, and reshot multiple times in part and/or in whole, with tips and critique from Ben, so students could make further improvement in problematic areas.

How would I rate this class? Both thumbs up, to say the least. I was more than satisfied with the class and would train with Ben again in a heartbeat. Ben was a very good instructor. As opposed to some other instructors, he first observed the shooters to get an idea of the proficiency of the shooters, and then formed his class around what these particular shooters needed, as opposed to teaching step by step from a pre-determined lesson plan. If there was something the shooters weren't getting, he spent extra time on it. If we got it, he moved on to other stuff.

In addition to content, teaching style was excellent. Ben presented things in a simple way that made sense, and was always able to explain the why behind the what, and the pros and cons of alternate methods. Ben was very open, approachable, and down to earth.

In something I've never seen an instructor do before, Ben went far and above anything I've ever seen by putting together a 7 stage match for the shooters (w/o any help, AFAIK, and not just simple stages that were easy to setup, either), and intended to tear them down by himself (everyone pitched in and helped). He had no problem staying as late as anyone wished, and we went very late on day 2. Ben was all about doing whatever it took to help the students.

Day 1

Personal introductions (didn't take long - most everyone knew one another), overview of the class, safety brief. These were all done in a KISS manner.

It should be noted that prior to the class, Ben had asked for everyone to send him email describing their shooting experience, ability, and what they wanted to get out of the class.

Next, we went over to bay 3 where Ben had already setup a field course for the purpose of assessing student skill levels. Despite the simple appearance, it had several tricky shooting problems designed into it, with varied options depending on shooting abilities. Everyone shot this once and it was run as a stage in a regular match would be (briefing, walk-through, use of timer, scoring, taping). Ben observed everyone shoot so he could get an idea as to abilities of the shooters.

This was followed by moving over to bay 1, where shooters repeatedly fired 2 shots at a IPSC target 20 yards distant, with the goal of putting all shots in the A zone. No time limit was specified. Prior to shooting, everyone said they could accomplish this with no problem. It turned out that this simply was not so. Myself included.

After this, Ben discussed the draw, providing general and specific info for improvement. Shooters performed repeated draws on the clock on IPSC targets at 5 yards.

Additional instruction/repetition of the draw was provided by everyone drawing and firing into the berm (w/o using a target), to show how fast shooters can draw and fire. They should be able to draw at the same speed into the A zone. We then fired into an ISPC target, to show it could be done at the same speed as the shots into the berm.

The lower and upper A zones were used, so as to vary the drill and provide additional training benefit.

Regarding sight focus, target focus, etc., Ben explained that sight alignment, sight picture, focus point (front sight, target, etc) varies with the difficulty of the shot. For example, target focus is often faster and accuracy just fine for close targets, and a high degree of front sight focus would be necessary for 50 yard shots. When shooting full targets up close, you might only need to focus on the target while putting the fiber of your front sight on the target.

During the class, Ben continually reminded shooters to push themselves in practice, to practice at high speed and go faster and faster until they experience problems (push until it falls apart), then slow it down just a little and work on those problems. You'll get used to the new normal (which is faster than the old normal) and keep repeating this cycle of improvement.

Several of us admitted that we don't do this in practice, and it's likely a major reason that our performance has plateaued.

It was noted that I waste time during the draw by continuing to push down on the pistol after establishing a firing grip in the holster (likely due to my daily use of level 3 retention holster). This might be only 1 or 2 tenths of a second, but over the course of a match, this adds up.

Ben helped shooters refine the draw by breaking the draw down into steps and using a timer and par times to determine how long it takes to perform each step of the draw. As a step was practiced and refined, the timer showed the improvements.

This technique could be used to refine other skills, and could also be used with video.

Following the above, Ben discussed how the application of the fundamentals of shooting (sight picture, trigger control, grip, etc.) can be varied by the shooter, depending on the ease of difficulty of the shooting problem (close range, far range, tight shots, etc).

Ben's take on stance was very simple. The main thing is to keep your shoulders in front of your hips. He also told us that stance didnt have much to do with recoil control (grip is the important thing for that).

The above was applied practically by shooting Bill Drills at different distances: 10, 5, 20 yards. Each shooter shot on a different target at each distance, to provide better feedback on what they were doing.

Next up was shooting on the move, forward and backward. This is another skill that Ben thinks that shooters, for the most part, can go faster on.

About this time, we broke for lunch.

On returning, Ben discussed speed loads. We shot repeated drills of 2 rounds from the holster, a speed load, and then 2 more rounds, while Ben observed shooters and provided critique. Ben suggested to several of us that we keep the pistol vertical for a bit longer, so the magazine leaves the pistol quicker. We did this at close distance (about 3 yds), to work on speeding up those reloads and also on speed of shooting.

Ben recommended the drill above as a good practice drill.

In what I found to be one of the most useful segments of the class, Ben setup multiple targets with no shoots on them in various positions. He explained that the shooter can draw an imaginary line starting from the A zone away from the no shoot, and toward the open areas of the ipsc target. Shots should be fired somewhere along this line. Of course, if the lower A zone is too difficult/risky, the upper panel may be a better option. Of course for an open gun, there is also sight offset to compensate for. We then put this method to use by shooting at the targets.

Next up was a review of grip. Bens preferred technique is for the firing hand to grip the pistol about as firmly as when using a hammer, and for the support hand to use what he called a crush grip, which he states enhances not only recoil control for speed shooting, but also accuracy. A loose support hand grip leads to poor accuracy.

Ben recommended experimenting with grip pressure by shooting bill drills at 25 yds and using decreasing par times to push yourself to shoot faster.

When asked about elbow position, bent or unbent, Ben stated that this doesnt matter much. He locks his elbows, but unlocked elbows dont make a difference. We practiced this for ourselves by firing multiple round strings at about 20 yards. The crush grip using the support hand is very important, as of course the harder you grip with the firing hand, the more likely you are to cause trigger freeze. For me, the use of the word crush gave me a very good mental picture of what I should be doing. This is another area where I can make measurable improvements.

Ben recommended a practice drill of shooting at 7 yards from the holster, 2 rounds freestyle, 2 shots strong hand, and 2 shots weak hand (all 6 shots fired as 1 string of fire) quickly. The one hand shooting especially will show errors in grip and trigger finger placement. I found that applying more grip pressure than my usual amount definitely helps when shooting 1 handed.

And of course, Ben recommended we practice shooting at distance to make shooting closer targets easier. We should practice at 25 yards, 50 yards, etc.

Next up was man v man steel shootoffs using steel poppers and a plate rack. Ben put up $20 of his own money to award to the overall winner, to provide an extra measure of motivation to excel.

Afterward, we returned to bay 3, where Ben altered the field course from the mornings assessment, primarily adding no shoots, changing the angles of some targets, setting up some additional problems and options, and also adding more distant targets (including a popper). During the walkthrough, options and tips were discussed. Each shooter shot the course, and Ben observed and debriefed them.

Next up, was an anti double tap set of exercises emphasizing speeding up transitions and shooting with cadence, as opposed to the all too typical two fast bangs, long pause, two fast bangs, long pause, etc. As Ben explained, there is major time to be saved by devloping transitions.

Moving into and out of shooting positions is an area where a lot of unnecessary time can be added during a course of fire. Ben suggested entering a position by taking a long final step with the outside foot. Of course, you should be mounting the gun a few steps before arriving, Have your shoulders stopped prior to shooting, or you'll have problems putting shots where you want them. I found this out the hard way on day 2 during the practice match.

We practiced this by starting in the middle of a shooting bay, then moving to the left and engaging, and moving to the right and engaging.

Ben noted that slapping the trigger occurs more often that we probably realize, particularly when shooting from trigger reset (I believe that this is yet another reason that gripping the gun tighter helps accuracy during high speed shooting).

Ben didn't shoot much during the class, preferring instead to use a red gun to demonstrate most skills, but he did selectively shoot his Beretta (Elite II) to show us things. It is stock, except for a Dawson fiber front sight (.125 wide) and a wide Novak rear sight (.180)?.

One of the best parts of the class for me was Ben's method of dealing with no-shoots and partials. He suggested drawing a line from the A zone, in the direction away from the no-shoot or partial, and shooting somewhere along this line. We practiced this in live fire with targets arrays incorporating no shoots of various difficulty.

That was the last part of Day 1. Round count for the day was about 600.

On the morning of Day 2, I arrived early anticipating setting up the practice match, and found that Ben had already setup a 7 stage match, complete with complex arrays, vision barriers, steel, movers, etc. Very little remained to be done. Some of the other shooters brought a laptop and scoring software, and the match was scored like a real match.

Shooting the match took until about 2pm, at which time we broke for lunch.

After lunch, Ben addressed problems he saw occurring during the match. We repeatedly reshot entire stages and also parts of states that we struggled with during the match, and were thus able to try out different methods, and see what improvement (or lack of) resulted. It should be noted that the shooters provided a lot of valuable feedback to one another, which greatly enhanced the learning.

AAR readers, please know that from here on, the AAR doesn't flow quite as well when reading, as we did jump around between different skills.

First up was swingers. Ben stressed to always have a plan, and advocated ambushing/trapping it at the end of its arc, as opposed to tracking it and thus putting shots into the no shoots that a crafty stage designer will often place next to the swinger. Time the swinger so you know how much time elapses from the moment the activators is shot/stepped on/pulled until the swinger is in position to shoot it, and use this time to address other targets.

You can also look for bullet impacts on the berm to judge the point at which the swinger can be engaged.

It definitely helps to know what you can do (time to shoot targets at x distance, time to transition targets at x distance, etc) so you can make an educated plan, not a guess of what you can do while you're waiting for the swinger. It you rush hits on the swinger points will suffer. Risky plans leave too much to go wrong, and that can cost you a lot. A better way is a plan that carries less risk. You should shoot swingers in practice. And of course, swingers the expose at the end of their arc need to be addressed differently than swingers that expose in the middle of their arc, are are exposed only through a port, etc. You may have to settle for shooting 1 shot per pass.

When/as you shoot, you should be calling your shots. Calling your shots is a basic skill that many shooters do not have a grasp on.

A few more take aways from the class for me personally -

I thought I had a grip (pun intended) on 1 hand shooting, but after shooting a stage in the match that used a Rhodesian wall, I found that I really need to practice 1 hand shooting so I can avoid doing the c-more shuffle.

Programming/visualizing course of fire during the walk through and the on deck time has to be done more thoroughly.

I found that I can shoot fast, but of course I can shoot faster than I can control my shooting, so for me at this time, there is a point beyond which the faster I go the more problems I cause. Ben pointed out that I'll be fast even if I think I'm slow. I need to be in control of my shooting and wait to see the requisite sight picture for the shot and apply what Brian Enos calls visual patience.

Hope that was informative.

To reiterate, I highly recommend training with Ben.

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