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After Action Report: Shivworks VCAST 2024

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, and none of this is legal advice

ALSO DISCLAIMER: I have no association with Shivworks, and they are not paying me


You often hear people in the tactical and shooting community say something along the lines of "real life isn't a flat range." It's true: the problems encountered in real-life deadly gunfights are often much more complex, arcane, and downright bizarre than what training on a flat range can prepare you for. Those same people who say that go on to address this dissonance between training and real life in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's doing drills while someone is yelling at you, or in-between reps with kettlebells.

For the guys at Shivworks, it's completely roleplaying out a carjacking scenario, including full contact fighting with foam knives, inert pepper spray, and simmunition Glocks. Shivworks, the training company starting in 2003 by Craig Douglas, focuses on winning fights that occur in ranges of zero to five feet. If you've spent any time watching real defensive shootings on Active Self Protection or anywhere else, you know how common the less than 5ft fight is. It might also occur to you how utterly neglected this kind of fight is in most training. Drawing your gun and punching paper at 5yds is important and has its place in training, but there is a sizeable portion of fights where those skills on their own are inadequate. Shivworks aims to integrate hand-to-hand martial arts into your shooting/stabbing skills in the most pragmatic way possible, to get you through such situations.

Two years ago I attended Shivworks Extreme Close Quarters Concepts (ECQC), their most popular and well-known course. This year, I was able to make it to one of their VCAST courses (Vehicle Combatives and Shooting Tactics), which is focused on fighting from, around, and inside a car or truck. We're in/around vehicles for a sizeable portion of almost every day, so it's one of the most likely environments in everyday life for an armed confrontation. It is an alumni course, meaning that you must have completed ECQC at least once to attend. It must be made clear that this is a course aimed at civilians, with handguns, in unarmored vehicles, who have to obey the law. This is not geared towards armored convoy ops in Iraq or other military applications. It's for regular guys in everyday life. Not as sexy, I know, but isn't the point to be prepared for the things that are most likely to happen?


All of their courses must be considered "advanced" in skill. Everyone must show up already being proficient at quickly drawing and accurately hitting. If you are unable to do this, you should probably take a basic pistol shooting course before attending Shivworks. When you arrive for the training, you'll start off with some foundational stuff that will lay the groundwork for the rest of the curriculum. In ECQC this was called Managing Unknown Contacts, or MUC. Basically what you say, where you stand, and what you do when random people come up to you on the street, so as not to be an easy target. In VCAST you learn and practice a consistent method of doffing your seatbelt and exiting your vehicle. It sounds very facile, but we saw enough students at the course get tangled in their seatbelt or have their door bounce back into them to appreciate why these basic skills should be practiced.

The next day we started off learning how to draw while sitting in a vehicle, and then how to fire out of either side window, from both the driver and passenger positions. Firing out of your front windshield is much more self-explanatory and was covered later, but firing out the sides is trickier. If firing out of your own side window, you've got to shift your body quite a bit to be able to extend your arms enough for a sight picture. And if you're firing out of your passenger's side window (assuming you have a passenger) then you need to sort of hop onto them and pin them to ensure they don't move into your line of fire. These tactics are intentionally vehicle agnostic, but their implementation can vary widely depending on how big or small of a vehicle you're in. We had several vehicles on hand to play with, including a tiny sedan, a mid-size crossover, and a big old Toyota Sequoia.

After that we moved outside the vehicle and talked a bit about using it as cover. As we would find out the next day by actually shooting live rounds through a vehicle, cars are inconsistent cover at best, but they are definitely better than nothing, and should be utilized if necessary. Craig calmly drew his handgun and fired, skipping a round off the hood of a sedan and directly through the head of a silhouette target placed behind it. It surprised me how consistently rounds skip off cars, and the lesson was that standing about two meters apart from the car rather than right next to it reduces the chances of such ricochets hitting you.

Next it was time for our first force-on-force. Two students would stuff simmunition Glocks into their waistband and strap themselves next to each other in a car. At a signal, they would rush to unbuckle, open the door and get out, at which point they were free to draw and shoot the other guy. Now, this obviously is not a likely real-life scenario, but it was good for teaching several things. It was a good pressure test of the basic belt-doffing and car-exiting skills we had trained on, and once outside the car it became a close range gunfight with the car as mutual cover, giving us a real feel for the kind of cover it provided and how to move around it. We repeated the exercise, but this time each man hand an unarmed partner in the back who they were charged to protect. A lot of these unarmed partners got shot, but some managed to stay protected. This touched on a common theme throughout the course: You're often travelling in a car with other people that you care about. If they have a weapon and proper training then great! They can be part of the solution to any problem. But if they don't, then they are part of the problem in a big way. Protecting dependents is really hard, and if they are present, the best thing they can do is to get as far away as possible so that you can solve the problem on your own.

After that we graduated to a more complex force-on-force scenario that went like this: you are driving your car with a dependent in the passenger seat. You have a gun. They don't. You accidentally rear-end someone. It's YOUR fault. The car you rear-ended has two people in it. They might have guns, they might not. They might be angry and violent, or they might not. It's up to the four students involved to roleplay through this open-ended scenario as best they can. Sometimes it ends in a simple exchange of insurance info, sometimes it ends in a carjacking or homicide. This is a really interesting training evolution because it combines all the different necessary skills into one immersive scenario. Shooting skills, MUC, exiting the vehicle, and a lot of what Craig calls "verbal jiu-jitsu," or verbally de-escalating the situation before it can get physical. Of course, because it's a bunch of gun guys roleplaying it often turns into a gunfight, but it's important to remember that negotiation and de-escalation is the right tool for solving 99% of encounters.

The next day we moved onto the hand-to-hand part of the course. We talked about fighting in "the triangle," a triangular area formed between your car and your car door when entering or exiting the vehicle, and spoke about some prominent examples that show this is a common area for hand-to-hand fights to occur in. We discussed (then extensively practiced) how to counter being assaulted while in the triangle. Shivworks claims to be agnostic of any specific martial arts school, but there's a lot of BJJ and Greco-Roman Wrestling influence in the hand-to-hand stuff. We moved onto learning a defensive guard for when you are caught sitting in your car with the door open and you don't want to get dragged out of your car or pushed further into it.

Finally we progressed to fighting inside of the car. They told us up front that this is the worst case scenario, and we quickly found out why: the compact and complex space invalidates a lot of traditional martial arts best practices, while also being so up close and personal that it's very difficult to draw and fire your gun without it getting grabbed by your opponent. The dominant strategy the Shivworks guys found was to post and frame off various parts of the vehicle interior in an effort to pin your opponent against a seat, floor, door, ceiling, or anything, and allow yourself an opportunity to get a weapon out. This is really difficult and counterintuitive, but was expertly taught and made clear that this is a last resort. Once we had some time practicing it, we loaded up with foam knives and simmunitions Glocks and practiced with 1v1 thunderdome style fights inside the car. These were absolutely brutal, and rarely got past 10-20 seconds without someone getting in some shots or stabs. Personally, my fight ended with me and my opponent both upside down in the backseat, having somehow switched handguns and busily shooting each other with them. Really weird stuff can happen in a confined environment like that.

The last block of instruction was a bit more live fire. We lined up with our preferred conceal carry gun (loaded with our preferred defensive round) and we each got to practice shooting through the front windshield from inside a car, in order to see how the bullet deflected as it passed through the glass. The result was pretty shocking: my 9mm round, aimed at the belt buckle of a silhouette, hit at about shoulder height. Some people's rounds weren't so divergent, but some were completely off the target. There didn't seem to be any consistent rhyme or reason based on ammo weight, etc. The takeaway was to avoid making that shot if you've got a choice, and aim VERY low if you must.

Finally, we set up targets behind a couple of cars and were able to shoot through any part of the car, with whatever gun we liked, in order to see if it would penetrate. Again, very inconsistent results. Some spots on a door would stop a 9mm round, some would not. Some 9mm rounds penetrated where others couldn't. The engine area seemed to stop rounds most consistently. Even rifle rounds were inconsistent in their penetration, though M855, whose terminal ballistics I often pooh-pooh, did admittedly get through the cars better than some other rounds. After this final stage of the training, we got together for a quick AAR, said our goodbyes, and went home.

Shivworks bought three different beater cars for us to use/destroy during the training

Overall, I loved the course. Craig, Scotty, Brian, and the assistant instructors were all extremely competent, professional, and helpful. They didn't mind you asking questions, and were politely corrective when they saw you struggling to grasp a move or a concept. Their training is very unorthodox, and I'm sure they get a lot of flak from people on the internet (hey, sounds familiar) but they handle it very professionally and have loads of data and real-world examples to back up their ideas. As far as I can tell, they're also the only people doing exactly this sort of training. Sure you can find pistol courses, and you can find BJJ courses, but I've never seen such a seamless and pragmatic integration of the two, taught by people with so much experience with both. I tell every gun guy who will listen: if you're going to take just one shooting course, take ECQC. Now I can tell them: if you're going to take just two shooting courses, take ECQC and VCAST.


  • I cannot stress enough how important it is to get force-on-force training. You learn so much by your target fighting back that you would never get on a regular range.

  • Continuing the training even though one of the fighters has made a lethal hit is important, because it allows the other fighter to correct his mistake, and in real life it may take multiple hits to incapacitate an opponent.

  • A lot of people freeze when they get hit. It's important to train that out of yourself, and keep fighting as long as you are able, to overcome psychological stops.

  • Cars are inconsistent and unpredictable cover, but they're better than nothing.

  • When outside a car and using it as cover, stand about 2m back from it to minimize the chance of being hit by ricochets.

  • If you must use a car as cover, either put the full length of the car between you and the target, or the engine area between you and the target.

  • Rounds fired out of a front windshield deflect greatly. Rounds fired into a front windshield do not. Between two dudes shooting at each other, the one inside the car has a distinct disadvantage.

  • If the fight starts by someone shooting rounds at/into your car, then it is too late to draw and shoot back. You need to either drive away or get out of the car and fight/run on foot.

  • If you regularly travel with a wife, kids, buddy, or someone else you care about, have a plan established in advance for what they will do in the event of an accident, including what to do if a physical confrontation ensues.

  • There's a lot of conflicting theories on how to protect your dependents during a fight, but I think the most sensible is to simply tell them to run away, so that you can neutralize and threats without being hampered by them or endangering them.

  • Being in a car, mobility is your greatest strength. Many situations can be solved by simply driving out of there.

  • If you have to fight, fighting your opponent when both of you are inside the car is the WORST place to do it.

  • When grappling in a clinch with someone, people sometimes go for their gun too early, and it becomes a difficult fight for the gun. It's often better to use hand-to-hand fighting until you have your opponent's arms pinned, then go for your gun.

  • If your opponent is outside the vehicle, inside your vehicle is often an advantageous place to be. Don't be afraid to lock your doors, roll up your windows, and drive off if need be.

  • It's pretty easy to surreptitiously draw while inside your vehicle. If someone is approaching your vehicle and it seems like it may turn into a fight, it might be smart to get your gun out early, and keep it hidden from them beneath the windows of your car.

  • In some specific situations (such as protester roadblocks during the summer of love) it might actually be better to abandon your vehicle, before an insurmountable mob of people surround it.

  • On larger, taller vehicles, it is much more difficult for an attacker to climb inside to hit you.

  • If we're honest, "verbal jiu-jitsu" is probably an infinitely more valuable skill than carrying and shooting a gun, even if it is not as sexy.

  • Practice doffing your seatbelt and opening the door in a consistent manner. It trips up a lot of people when under stress.

  • If you have the time, always park your vehicle facing nose out. This lets you drive off without having to make a three point turn. Think of it as the vehicular equivalent of pre-staging your tourniquet.

  • Don't leave the keys in your car when getting out. Taking them with you is an easy way to prevent someone from hopping in and driving off.

  • Keep your car locked until your are ready to enter, then lock it once you are inside. This minimizes the time that anyone else can open a door and attack you or hop inside.

  • Shooting out of the front windshield deflects your rounds upwards in a major way, and should be avoided if you can help it.

  • It is very difficult to safely shoot across your passenger out of a side window, and if you do, you probably will not be able to get a great sight picture and your accuracy will suffer accordingly.

  • During this entire course (and during all of ECQC) I probably only drew to full extension and got a sight picture once or twice during the scenarios. The majority of my shots were fired from the thumb pectoral index, partial extension, or some sort of weird floating of the gun during a clinch.

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