By Steve Gaspar
He was going to choke me out. I had taken him down, but he caught my head in his chest and was putting strong pressure on my throat. I posted a hand and elevated my hips, my shoulder resting on his solar plexus. As things starting to look dim I felt tapping on my shoulder. He had tapped out because my bony shoulder was crushing his chest under my weight. My victory was short-lived, however, as the timer sounded and we rotated again. It was the first grappling session at Tim Kennedy’s Sheepdog Response Training course, and we were all sucking air. It was a struggle, but I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Roughly a year prior I had interviewed Tim Kennedy about the course and what it entailed. “Mr. Kennedy, is it even worth it for a 50 something like me to go to the class?” I asked him. “I expect every red-blooded barrel-chested American to go” was his unwavering response. This is the Ranger qualified, Special Forces sniper and top 10 UFC mixed martial artist Tim Kennedy, and he is a persuasive person. Twelve months later I found my way to his class when it was held near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Tim Kennedy’s credentials are hard to fully comprehend. He is a Ranger qualified Special Forces sniper who was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He has gone to many other places all over the world and done bad things to bad people protecting our way of life and our safety. He has been hunting Hitler through the History Channel’s program of the same name. If you are a bad person, Tim Kennedy is the last person you want on your trail.
But Tim Kennedy is not only part of an elite fighting force within the United States military, he has an equally impressive mixed martial arts resume. He began martial arts training at a very young age, and today has black belts in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Modern Army Combatives. He has won the All Army Combatives tournament. This tournament needs to be put into perspective. It is a grueling three-day event. The first day involves grappling only while in one’s service uniform. Depending on the size of the weight class, fighters may have up to 15 bouts that day. The top 25% move on to the next day when open hand strikes, kicks to the head, and knee strikes are added to grappling. Competitors will have three to five matches on day two. Only the top four in each weight class move on to the final day to determine placing. “You could fight anywhere between 10 and 20 times in a weekend,” said Kennedy. To win this event one time is impressive. Kennedy has won it three times, something no one else has done before or since.
Tim Kennedy’s path to the tip of the spear started immediately after September 11, 2001. The cowards that attacked the United States on 9/11 could not have known that they were a catalyst that would ignite a fire in Kennedy to be part of something much bigger than himself. Many, like Kennedy, showed up across the country to enlist in the military on September 12. That day when Tim Kennedy walked through the Army recruiter’s door he walked onto the path of his life’s purpose.
Though Tim Kennedy is still an active duty Special Forces sniper, he puts a great deal of energy into Sheepdog Response. The organization conducts training for civilians, law enforcement, military personnel, and first responders. The objective is to provide practical, real world, effective techniques in armed and unarmed combat. The premise is that our world is becoming a more dangerous place, and our world needs more sheepdogs. One can think of the United States as being comprised of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Most people are sheep. They are peaceful and non-threatening, but also vulnerable. Then there are the wolves, who prey on the weaker sheep relentlessly. The wolves are bad people who do bad things to good people. They rob, assault, rape, and kill the sheep. The police try to help the sheep, but alone they can’t help all of them. Then there are the sheepdogs, who stand up to the wolves, protecting themselves and the sheep.
“Good times lead to weak men. Weak men lead to hard times. Hard times lead to hard men. This is a cycle that repeats itself throughout history” explained Tim Kennedy during the class. Leading up to 9/11 the United States had things pretty easy. We got soft and we were attacked. We have now had a long period of good times and we are once again being attacked: the Boston Marathon, San Bernadino, the Orlando nightclub. The purpose of Sheepdog Response is to create more sheepdogs so that more people are prepared to deal with the wolves in a violently appropriate manner.
Sheepdog Response training covers grappling, weapon retention, defensive pistol, and some trauma treatment. In addition to Tim Kennedy, the instructors are high-level experts with very long resumes in practical disciplines. Sheepdog Response co-founder, Blake Hayes, is a Gracie Jui-Jitsu black belt with training in boxing, Muay Thai, Judo, and wrestling. Hayes is also a lawyer with deep expertise in the justified use of force, and he taught a segment on that topic during the class. Instructor Mike Simpson has over 30 years of service as an Airborne Ranger, a Special Forces Operator, and a Doctor of Emergency Medicine. He is a Board Certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Simpson led demonstrations for the class on how to properly apply a tourniquet, how to move a casualty, and other practical medical issues. Through Sheepdog Response he teaches an entire medical course called the Spectrum of Tactical Emergency Care. The other instructors were equally impressive, and they had a unique ability to meet each student where they were developmentally.
The class began on a Friday night at Jeremy Horn’s Elite Performance MMA gym. Because no experience is required, we began with the basics, covering how to properly draw a pistol from concealment, proper stance, sight picture, sight alignment, and trigger pull. Then we went to Walmart. This part of the training surprised me at first, but it soon made sense. We went to a dark parking lot of the discount store to learn how to be Aware of our environment and to Assess the situation. Sheepdog Response teaches the four A’s: Awareness, Assessment, Action, and Analysis.
Awareness is being aware of your environment and what’s around you. The trip to Walmart was an eye opener for some attendees because most people just bebop to a store and don’t look for cues and clues as to what might be about to happen. Awareness keeps us out of trouble before it happens. We become aware of what is in our environment. Next, we Assess whether something should be in a given environment or not. This may lead us to Act – not get gas at that particular gas station, go back into the store to report a suspicious character, or look around us as we make our way to our car. These assessments and actions all seem simple, but many of us do not make them a habit. One thing that is stressed in the class is that avoiding a problem altogether is far better than to have to deal with something bad. Analysis has to do with making sure our actions were effective and that other threats do not exist in our environment. Of course, there is much more to the class than what is described here, but these are the primary elements.
Day two began early, with several hours of grappling. It was grueling, and everyone was gassed at the conclusion. After a short break, we were on the shooting range, picking up right where we left off on day one. Dry fire exercises were conducted first, followed by various live fire drills. The pistols I used for the course were both Glocks – a G19 and a G43. The G19 is one of the most commonly used in the class, according to instructor Blake Hayes. I chose these two because they are concealable, reliable, and familiar to me – I shoot Glock 34s in 3-gun competitions. I used Ventcore holsters by StealthGear USA. They are comfortable enough for long-term carry, with a soft moisture-wicking lining inside and a molded Kydex outside.
Having had several years of 3-gun competition experience, I found the pistol training to be expert and practical. Our head shooting instructors were Travis Lloyd and Tim Kennedy. Lloyd is a retired Special Forces soldier with 22 years of military experience with multiple deployments to Iraq Afghanistan and other troubled regions in the world. Travis, Tim, and the other instructors roamed the line and interacted with the students. The ratio of instructors to students was excellent at roughly 1:4. I personally received 1 on 1 instruction from multiple instructors during the live fire training, and they didn’t miss a thing. We ended the day after 11 hours of hard work. We were tired. “Go eat real food. Do not drink alcohol. Drink a lot of water. Do not take painkillers. Get some good rest and let your body repair itself.” Those were the instructions from Tim Kennedy. We headed back to the hotel. Food tasted wonderful, the hot shower was great, and a soft bed couldn’t get there soon enough.
Better to pass out with some honor than to give up. That’s what I told myself anyway. It was about to happen. I had no air. Then he let me breathe a little. “Move,” he said. I tried, but the knife came next, first to my eye, then my neck, then my back. He had already gouged my eyes, so this was just a little extra. “Get up,” he told me, and I struggled to get away. Completely gassed, the mercy of the timer rang ending my misery. A few seconds rest and my next partner was ready to roll.
This was day three, and the second grappling portion of the training. I had just been stabbed repeatedly with a training knife by Tim Kennedy. I picked Tim as a partner after the command to “choose a partner who scares you” was given. I was right to be scared. Tim Kennedy is a beast. I was wrecked and he was only sweating because the room was humid. It was humbling, but I knew I had more work to do. “The best time to start training is now,” Tim told the class. “The second best time is now,” he said. I was there and I was training. That beat the alternative.
We practiced weapon retention and trying not to get stabbed or shot while grappling. This was extremely difficult and a real eye-opener. Anyone who carries a firearm needs a class like this. It gives one a realistic understanding of how fast someone can be on you and grabbing for your gun. Instructors provided expert instruction with specialized techniques for weapon retention. These lessons built on the grappling lessons of the day before.
Range practice was next. We reviewed all the basics and built on the prior day’s lessons. Finally, the class ended, roughly 48 hours from when it began. It felt like a week had passed by. I was sore and I was tired, but I was very happy. I had just received practical training from the best practitioners on the planet. On the plane ride home I reflected on the training and took notes. The next day after work I went right back to dry fire practice and I hit the weights. I had work to do. The best time to train is now.
For more information about Sheepdog Response click, Here.
For more information about Jeremy Horn’s Elite Performance MMA click, Here.
For information about StealthGear holsters click, Here.