Advanced Tactical Training – Lessons Learned – Part 1

Advanced Tactical Training – Lessons Learned – Part 1
By Philip Van Cleave

Pat Goodale, the owner and chief instructor of PFT
Pat Goodale, the owner and chief instructor of PFT
Virginia Citizens Defense League
Virginia Citizens Defense League

Covington VA – -( This is the first part in a five-part series where I will share my experiences from some extremely realistic firearms survival exercises that I was involved in.

INTRODUCTION TO PFT For the last five years about a dozen or so VCDL members have taken advanced tactical training at PFT (Practical Firearms Training) in West Virginia. Pat Goodale owns and runs the training school. The training is fantastic and we have been able to practice things that you can’t do at any ordinary range. Even police ranges don’t allow some of the training we have received. In fact our training over the last five years has far exceeded what the average police officer (with the exception of a SWAT team member) will ever get.

We have practiced shooting at night (outside, nonetheless), shooting while laying on our side or back, shooting from inside a vehicle, shooting outside a vehicle using a vehicle for cover, clearing a house using a 360 degree live-fire shoot house, shooting while moving, shooting at moving targets, shooting at a target coming quickly straight at you, single-handed shooting (including racking the slide and clearing jams using only one hand), and much, much more.

Practical Firearms Training
Practical Firearms Training

The range is a 360 degree hot range. Our classes are for advance students and everyone’s gun is loaded at all times. We draw from the holster and shoot at targets while standing elbow-to-elbow. In one case we actually shoot from a retention position at a target while our weak arm is above, but IN FRONT of the muzzle (our weak hand is “spearing” across the bad guy’s upper chest to keep him from getting close to our gun). A retention position is where the gun’s grip is against your strong-side hip and the gun and hip are twisted back and way from the reach of the bad guy. At close range you can shoot plenty accurately from retention – no sights needed. That’s because the gun is “indexed” to the target from your hip.

If you want to learn more about PFT, here is a link:

EM Dave Vann discovered the wonders of PFT and has been lining up this training, which runs over a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each year.


At the group’s request, Pat arranged so that our Saturday training would be “force-on-force”, where students would shoot, and be shot with, paintballs and AirSoft guns. The idea is that by actually shooting at each other with these guns that, at best, sting, and at worst, cause you to bleed a little, a person will get a very real education in how to survive and win in a real gun fight. You really want to avoid being shot and thus you will act more like you are in a real gun fight.

Our training was at a K-12 school building that is scheduled for demolition in a few months.

I learned some very important lessons from the five realistic shooting scenarios that we did. I felt that many of you would like to hear what we did and what I learned from being in the various force-on- force shooting scenarios.

I will share one lesson now and the other four later as I have time to write up each one. I will start by saying this: I survived two shootings, was killed twice, and severely hurt once.


We went to a room in the school that had been configured to be like a doctor’s waiting room. There was a sofa, some chairs, a table, magazines, and a receptionist’s desk. In this scenario, two students were armed with holstered and concealed paintball guns that looked like Glock 17s. (The two students also had a mask that protected their eyes, nose, mouth, and ears) and the rest of the people in our group were “unarmed observers,” who wore shooting glasses just in case they were to get hit by a stray shot.

The scenario was repeated until each student had a chance to be armed with a paintball gun. However, the exact scenario changed each time it was run so that no one could anticipate what was going to happen. It was possible that a scenario might not even require a gun to be used at all. Our judgement was a key part of what was being tested in the scenarios.

Some scenarios left us with two choices – bad or worse.

In the scenario where I was one of the two armed “good guys”, a person played by one of the instructors (who I will call “the patient”) came into the waiting room acting agitated. He went up to the receptionist and demanded to see the doctor NOW.

The receptionist (played by another instructor) said that the other people in the waiting room were ahead of him and to please sit down.

The patient started to get more agitated and belligerent, saying he was “off his medicine” and I was watching him like a hawk.

About this time, Pat Goodale, playing an “old codger,” tells the patient in a loud and obnoxious voice, “Shut the [expletive deleted] up! I’m on the phone.”

I casually walk over to the old codger and in quiet voice tell him to please not agitate the patient as he seems to be unstable.

Finally, the patient takes a seat on the sofa and picks up a magazine. One of the unarmed students attempts to make small talk with him at this point to try to diffuse the tension.

But in a minute or so the patient gets agitated again and goes back up to the receptionist and demands again to see the doctor immediately. When the receptionist says, “no,” the patient shoves everything on the receptionist’s desk onto the floor, getting clearly more agitated and angry by the second.

My eyes are now glued on the patient. In my left hand I am holding a magazine that I was looking at when the patient had originally came into the room. I was thinking I could throw in his face as a distraction if things get dangerous. Still nothing he has done would justify any defensive actions on my part, much less brandishing or even unconcealing my handgun. To say I was uncomfortable would be an understatement.

The patient, now extremely agitated and belligerent, was pacing back in forth, very near me.

In an instant, before I even knew what was happening, he said something (I don’t know what it was now), pulled out a handgun and stuck it in my chest.

I remember it clearly. Time slowed way, way down as my brain began to realize my grave predicament. While I had a powerful sinking feeling in my stomach, I felt no panic.

My focus dropped down to, and locked on, that gun over my heart. My hearing disappeared, as did everything else in the room as my vision narrowed.

It was too late to get away now – I was stuck. One squeeze of that trigger and it was over for me.

In my mind I wondered if I could draw that Glock from under my concealing shirt and shoot him before he realized what happened and could shoot back.

I decided that such a thing would be too risky – if the gun snagged on the covering garment, the element of surprise would be gone forever and so would I.

I asked myself if I could grab his gun and wrestle it away from him.

That wouldn’t work – he was younger, taller, and much stronger than me.

I decided that I only had one chance of survival with someone this dangerous and unpredictable.

In a sudden sweeping motion I hit the inside forearm of his gun arm with the outside forearm of my left arm, causing his gun to be deflected off my chest and away from my body. At the same instant that I was doing that, I drew the Glock paintball gun from its concealed holster with my other hand and fired three shots into his chest from a retention position.

Realizing the shots were fatal, he dropped his gun and fell to the ground, never getting off a single shot. Even if he had fired his gun, the shots wouldn’t have hit me, as I had deflected his gun.

As I stood there coming to grips with what had just happened – that I had actually survived, I didn’t even notice that my left hand was still clutching the magazine I had been reading – now in a death grip.

Afterwards I was told by several of the observers that I briefly had an “Oh, crap!” look on my face as that gun was put to my chest. They said that an instant later I deflected his gun, drew and fired three shots at an amazing speed. What seemed like eternity to me, was only a second or so in real time.

It is said that action beats reaction. It surely does, and it was proved twice in the exercise:

  • The patient drew his gun and put it in my chest before I realized what was happening, much less before I could draw my gun and shoot him. Lucky for me that he didn’t shoot me immediately, but hesitated
  • I deflected his gun and shot him so fast that he couldn’t react quickly enough to stop me. Had I hesitated in shooting him, my chances of surviving would have dropped off precipitously

Future installments:

  • Death walks into a convenience store – Part 2
  • Danger on steroids – clearing a room – Part 3
  • The longest minutes of your life: waiting for an armed invader to enter your room – Part 4
  • Stopping an active shooter in a school, NOW – Part 5

Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc. (VCDL). VCDL is an all-volunteer, non-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to defending the human rights of all Virginians. The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a fundamental human right. Visit:

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I'm taking a PFT class this weekend in Montana. They offer nothing that as advanced as you describe. Fun classes though and very useful. This'll be my third from PFT.