The CCW Instructors Spill The Beans: Interview With Bob Houzenga And Andy Kemp Of MTG
We recently had the chance to sit down with Bob Houzenga and Andy Kemp, the head instructors and founders of Midwest Training Group. MTG has been providing CCW instructor services as well as firearms training to police officers for more than 20 years, and offers regular classes in Illinois, Iowa and here in Alien Gear country in northern Idaho.
Bob and Andy are the firearms instructors for training courses offered by Massad Ayoob, so to say they know what they’re doing is an understatement. Other instructors that they have worked with include Jim Cirillo, Ken Hackathorn, the aforementioned Mas Ayoob, and more. In short, these guys are some of the best shooting and concealed carry training instructors in the country.
Bob Houzenga had more than 30 years in law enforcement, including serving as the chief of police of Camanche, Iowa. He also had an incredible career as a competitive shooter, including winning more than 400 individual events and six national shooting championships in multiple disciplines. Andy has won state and regional titles, and a national championship in IDPA’s Parent/Child team championship along with his daughter. Both are Master-rank IDPA and IPSC shooters.
We had the opportunity to pick their brains a bit, and here’s what they had to say
How Did You Start With Competitive Shooting?
Andy: Well, for me it was Bob and Massad Ayoob that were pushing me to shoot competition after working with them for a couple years. They kept pushing me and pushing me; it was Bob that introduced me to it and took me to a couple of matches
Bob: For me it came from the law enforcement end of things. When i was about 11 years old, my step father at the time was a sheriff’s deputy in Illinois. They had a Tuesday night bullseye pistol shooting league, which I begged to go along with for. It consisted of four guys from the sheriff’s department and they would let me shoot after everyone else was done.
After they looked up the scores, they started thinking “we’re going to make this guy an alternate team member” when I was eleven, on the sheriff’s office team, and they did. So whenever someone was working shifts or whatever the case may be, I would be the alternate until I started shooting better than the fourth guy and they made me the regular and him the alternate. So I kind of got hooked on the competitive stuff kind of early on, and the law enforcement stuff.
Did Competitive Shooting Help With Your Law Enforcement Career Or Vice Versa?
Bob: Oh no question at all that it helped; absolutely. There are certain spots – and that’s where I’ve been very fortunate – that the law enforcement or self-defense shooting, and the competition-type shooting, there are some places where the two diverge.
There are things that don’t work for competition, there are things that don’t work for the street. There’s a lot of things I know that work for both, and being in that position allowed me to take what worked and kind of put the whole package together.
The competition stuff, if nothing else…you can debate the tactics, you can debate them forever, but the competition stuff if nothing else made me a good gun handler, a good gun runner. As funny as that sounds, it showed me how to run the gun.
Get that stuff to be kind of an autonomic response, an unconscious process through repetitive practice and competition, (which) to me, allowed (me) to keep the conscious mind free for all the shoot/don’t shoot decisions that came down the pike. I didn’t have to worry about how to operate the holster or the mag pouches. To me, all that stuff was all second nature just due to the repetition and competitive experience.
Andy: I would add that’s an important part of what we teach in the classes, too; we get civilians that are shooting competition and want to get better at that, and we get law enforcement guys that want to get better at their jobs. As Bob sad, where they do diverge, it’s important to learn from a guy like Bob where we can point that out so the competition guys know “this is fine for competition” but the law enforcement guys understand “don’t this on the street.” Bob’s experience with that comes across in the classes.
Do Any Shooting Sports Translate Into Real Defensive Skills?
Bob: Firstly, ANY shooting is good shooting competition-wise; it’s going to help you whether it’s from bullseye all the way on down. The IDPA, IPSC in the early days before the equipment race was an excellent place. That was the rationale behind it, way back when we first started shooting that stuff; it was trying to use real-world equipment and real-world scenarios instead of just one paper target and all that good stuff.
IPSC was very good for that stuff in those days and still is, as long as you keep it in perspective. Just know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. Some of it has got a little crazy with the equipment race and all that stuff, but (if you) still keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve, it’s still good stuff.
IDPA kind of came out of IPSC when it was founded to kind of bring us back to the original IPSC roots. Again, any time you’re keeping score, it can become a game, but if you use it for what it was intended for, and keep in mind what you’re doing, either one of those is better than just standing there looking at a stationary target. Run and gun, use of cover in a simulated gunfight is probably the better way to go.
Andy: It definitely took me to another level when Bob convinced me to start shooting competition, and at that time it was IDPA. What it does, if nothing else, is induces stress, shooting under stress and that’s what’s going to happen on the street whether it’s LE or a civilian. That’s something you have to get used to.
A lot of this stuff, almost anyone can do it if they have a little bit of experience shooting a gun, from beginners on up to advanced shooters. My daughter started shooting IDPA when she was 11. Bob and I just recently shot a Glock match (ed: a GSSF match) and there were people there that you could tell had barely ever shot a gun, but they were there competing. They’re having fun and you could tell they were getting something out of it every time they do it.
But the stress thing is important. Even Jim Cirillo talked about shooting in the Bianchi Cup, and he was nervous, shaking like a leaf and couldn’t stand it. Massad Ayoob asked him “you’ve had 23 gunfights; how are you so nervous?” Jim said “the ESPN cameras are there, everyone’s looking at me!” and it made him more nervous than he had ever been in an actual gunfight.
Bob: I can certainly echo that very sentiment. There’s a lot more stress in some of the competitions – and the Bianchi Cup was a good one – than there was in some of the street fights.
Dry Fire Training Is Recommended By Many Experts – What Are Your Thoughts?
Andy: Dry fire training is important for trigger control. You can do a lot to understand triggers and – you’ll hear Bob and me say this a lot – the trigger is the heart of the beast. You’ll hear Massad Ayoob say that. You may not have the best stance. You may not have the best grip. Those may be the circumstances you find yourself under, but if you run the trigger properly you can still get good hits.
So, I think dry fire is good…however, if you’re talking about shooting fast and getting good hits, you’re talking about recoil management. There’s no substitute, if you really want to learn to run the gun fast and get good hits, there’s no substitute for live fire training.
Bob: I absolutely would agree. Dry fire, I always equated dry fire with lima beans. You may not like it but it’s good for you kind of thing. Particularly early on in the learning curve, learning to dry fire and trigger control is important. Every now and again it’s not a bad idea to go back to basics and that’s one of the basics. Trigger control, how you manipulate the trigger, getting the shot you’re trying to get at the time.
Dry fire is a good thing; I don’t think you’ll find any major competitor that would tell you otherwise.
Are There Some Good Handgun Drills For People That Can’t Get Regular Instruction?
Andy: Take one class and take notes on what the exercises are, so that way you can do the exercises when you go shooting.
Bob: Have a plan when you go to the range. Don’t try to work on everything when you go; try to work on some things when you go. It’s a good idea to keep track of progress.
You work on a particular drill and a particular set of skills. Today I’m going to do weak hand only on targets of ten yards, for example, to train on. It’s a good idea, especially if you’re a visual kind of guy, to document progress. Don’t try to do too much; if you decide I’m going to work on the draw, I’m going to work both hands, I’m going to work on transitioning from target to target, you’re never going to get anywhere.
Take a couple of those, take that to the range and that’s what you focus on. Here’s a tip, too: work on what you’re not good at. Everyone wants to go the range, and everyone wants to look good, but you’re not going to learn anything, so work on what you’re not good at.
Andy: I would add to that, take a timer. Most people don’t think about using a timer. We use paper to document the hits, but the timer tells us are you getting the hits better, are you getting them faster? We make a lot of use of timers.
And it is a perishable skill. If you only have a certain amount of ammunition to use within the year, I would say go out every month and burn a little bit as opposed to twice a year and burning up a lot.
It’s not practice makes perfect; it’s perfect practice makes perfect. I know Ken Hackathorn has a couple drills that use 50 or 60 rounds that kind of warm you up and take you through everything.
Bob: Look online for the reputable instructors, like Ken Hackathorn, and they have good drills. And document your progress.
Andy: Or even shoot a qualification! Like a 50-round police qualification.
Sort Of Like How Some States Even Require Qualification For A Concealed Carry Permit
Bob: Typically, they’re not very demanding. I would suggest you push yourself. If you never push yourself to go faster, or be more accurate, or at longer distances or whatever the case may be, you’ll never get out of your comfort zone. You’re never gonna improve.
You have to do what you’re not good at. You have to push yourself.
Do The Top Tiers Of Competitive Shooters Have Natural Talent Or Is It Mostly Hard Work?
Andy: The first. I’m okay at what I do, but if I’m not shooting all winter it takes me a while in spring to get warmed up. I work really hard to be as good as I am…or I should say as I good as I was, because every year that goes by it’s not as good! Houzenga will come out cold after not shooting all year and will just blow me away, which really upsets me…but I think hard work can make you really, really good.
The great, however, I think there’s something innate. Not unlike, maybe, a great musician or a vocalist that has that great natural voice, but the truly great have something that sets them apart.
Now that doesn’t mean that if you don’t have that innate thing you can’t have a lot of fun with this and become really, really good, but I do think if you watch this guy not shoot for a year and then come out and blow everybody away…I think there’s something innate in that.
Bob: Nonsense! (Jokingly) There are folks in any endeavor that have some innate ability, whether it’s vision or focus or whatever it is that makes them the top of what they do. You can get there, some people gotta work…it’s like school. Some people have to work really hard to get that A on a history exam and other people get it without having to do too much studying. I think there’s something to that.
How Has Competitive Shooting Changed Over The Years?
Bob: There are many more options now than there used to be. Go back far enough and there were only a couple of options. Go back real far and there was only one option, bullseye. Then came along police practical shooting, PPC, which at least reduced times a little bit, there was some reloading involved.
Then IPSC came along, a little run and gun, and was radically different than what had come before. Now you got all these things. IDPA, Second Chance where you shoot at bowling pins, the Bianchi Cup, Action Pistol championships…Glock’s putting on, the Glock Shooting Sports Foundation is putting on matches all across the country. There are a lot more options than there ever were.
Catering to different tastes?
Bob: Yup. Find something you like and go do it.
Andy: The nice part about it is they’re designed for anyone to do it. Right out of the gate from the beginner on up you can go do it. You don’t have to be a master-class, Grand Master IPSC kind of guy to get into this.
Bob And Andy On The 1911
Now let’s talk about something really important: the 1911. You’re both big 1911 guys, normally a sign of taste, refinement and excellence in all things. I’ve been nursing a pet theory that there’s no way the custom guns are really THAT much better than the factory guns. I got to handle one of your custom guns. I moved the slide a little, pressed the trigger and that idea was out the window.
A Quick Note: Bob Houzenga is also a gunsmith. He’s built a number of 1911 pistols, including a Commander for Andy which is immaculate in every regard. He’s also a whiz with tuning revolvers, having performed smithing for a number of people including Mas Ayoob.
Andy: Blew that theory for you, huh?
Shattered. I want a custom one now and can’t afford it. But you’re also a pistolsmith, Bob. What sets a high-end 1911 apart from a factory gun you can just get from a gun store?
Andy: What does separate those pistols, Bob?
Bob: About $10,000 and seven years! The difference is the hand-work and attention to detail. Obviously, production pistols would be cost-prohibitive if they gave them the attention to detail.
Now with that being said, the production guns of today compared to the way they would have been 30, 40 years ago, at least when it comes to the custom 1911s anyway, is head and shoulders above what it was. The options are enormous.
Back in the day, it was Colt and that was kind of it. They came one way and that was kind of it. 5-inch Government model with small, little bumpy sights, etc., etc. All the stuff you see today like beavertail grip safeties, national match triggers, national match barrels, all those things, came out of that custom world.
But you can go and get a pretty decent production gun these days like a Springfield or Colt or Sig, for example, but you never those options before. So it’s kind of a buyer’s market.
But the big, main difference is the hand-work and attention to detail. The hand-lapping or putting slides to frame, the national match fit barrels, barrel-to-bushing, attention to fit and finish, every little nook and cranny, which takes time and takes money and takes labor.
What If Someone Wanted To Tune A Factory 1911 Pistol Up?
Bob: You gotta have sights you can use, a trigger you can use and it has to be reasonably accurate. The good news is you’re probably going to get those things on the production guns, particularly on the Springfield Armory and Colts these days, and others.
But you do need sights you can see, a trigger you can use and it has to be reasonably accurate. If you have those things, leave it alone. Most of the time you’re only going to make things worse. If you like the sights you got on there, and the trigger’s the heart of the beast, a good trigger – not necessarily light, but a good crisp trigger that works for you – and it has to be reasonably accurate.
Andy: On the triggers, it depends on what you’re using the gun for also. If it’s strictly a competition gun, you can get away with that 1.5 – 2 lb telekinetic trigger. The 1911s I have, I carry them on the street and it’s more like 4.5 to 5 lbs. They don’t necessarily feel like it because they’ve been done so well, but you do have to differentiate. Is this strictly a competition gun or is this a gun for the street?
Series 70 Over Series 80?
Andy: I don’t have a problem with Series 80.
Bob: You can get just as good a Series 80 trigger as you do with a Series 70, it just takes a little more work.
Andy: Which must be why I don’t have a problem with my Series 80 guns.
Bob: The other thing you get out of a Series 80 that you don’t out of a 70 is the drop safe thing, that’s what it’s all about in the first place. Anyone who says “I just won’t drop my gun” hasn’t been in the real world too long.
It’s like people who say “I just won’t get in an accident” and don’t wear their seatbelt. Doesn’t work out that way!
Bob: mm-hmm. You can get very decent triggers with all the Series 80 parts intact, that’d be the way to go.
There’s even a kit for it, drops right in.
Bob: The tin-coated stuff, yup, from Cylinder and Slide.
Do You Prefer .45 ACP or 9mm 1911? Or A Bit Of Both?
Andy: A little bit of both.
Bob: Most of the time, if I’m doing a 1911, it’s going to be in .45 ACP.
Andy: Mine is a 9. I’ve come to find I enjoy 9mm a little more these days as I’m getting older and have had neck surgeries, shoulder surgeries, and the ammunition for 9mm – and all calibers – has come a long, long way. I don’t feel like I’m undergunned with a 9 as opposed to a .45.
I also have a 10mm I really love. It runs really great on the 1911 platform, and one of the 10mm guns I have has a compensator on it – a Carry Comp gun – and even with the compensator on it, it’s still getting .41 Magnum ballistics through a chronograph. 10mm is a great round, very underrated.
A guy like me who lives out in the woods and has to be mindful, you know, of four-legged predators as well, I like the idea of 10mm.
What Do You Look For In Carry Gear, Such As A Range Or Concealed Carry Holster?
Andy: Well, range gear and carry gear are two different things, number one. What works on a range might not work in the carry world from a retention standpoint or from a concealment standpoint. So we’re looking for different things.
For IDPA competition, I want something that’s going to let the gun come out of the holster really fast with minimal effort. Easy on, easy off. Easy on, easy off also means easy off in a wrestling match on the street, so that’s not the holster I want to use on the street.
For carrying, it’s gotta be still secure for the gun. You ought to be able to holster the gun with one hand and the top should stay open. You ought to be able to get the shooting grip on the gun while it’s still in the holster so once it comes out, you’re not monkeying around, fumbling with the gun. That’s important on the street or competition. Those are some key elements.
If you’re carrying all day long, certainly comfort starts to be a big issue also.
Bob: You pretty well covered it. It needs to have a bit of retention, so with a little activity, it’s not flopping out of there.
Andy: Yeah, my taste is that if I have an open-top holster without an active retention device, I should still be able to hold the holster upside down and not have the gun fall out.
With More Calls For Gun Control Than Ever, What Should The Citizen Do To Ensure Their Second Amendement Rights Aren’t Trampled On?
Andy: Well if they’re not NRA members, they should be.
Bob: The NRA may not be perfect, but they’re the best thing going when it comes to that stuff. One of the things, like all of us, it seems to be really regional. Some areas of the country want to curb gun rights and always will. The NRA is a good place to start, and I’m sure there’s local groups all over the place that advocate for Second Amendment rights.
Andy: It all comes down to politics and the politicians you elect. Pay attention to what they’re saying and where they stand on it. And all of this local stuff that’s going on comes from city councils. How many people go out and vote for city councils? Or bother to show up for town hall for city councilmen? Start asking your city council guys during election time, what are you guys going to do about this?
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