Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Weekend with The Cornered Cat

"The most dangerous place I ever stood was between a cornered cat and an open door."  

"If you have to fight, fight like a cornered cat."

These are the motto and premise behind the self-defense philosophy of Kathy Jackson - otherwise known as The Cornered Cat

I recently had the privilege of attending one of Kathy's weekend firearm self-defense classes. My skills - and more importantly, my mindset - are markedly the better for the experience. Additionally, my personal bar of expectations has been reset for quality of instruction.

Throughout the weekend, the emphasis was placed firmly on the goal of defending yourself and getting to safety - not "revenge", and not being a "badass". It was about doing what you HAVE to do in order to keep yourself safe, so that you can go home to your family and sleep in your own bed. It was serious business. But it was also a fun time, and a great learning experience.

This class had a whole different focus than other firearms courses I have taken. Babes with Bullets is more "intro to guns", and "match"-type training.  Gunsite is more "Sheepdog"/Law enforcement-type training. They are all good courses, and all teach safe gun handling skills. But The Cornered Cat taught me more about "living with a gun" than my previous training had.

Our weekend of education and fun was held at the New Holland Rifle and Pistol Club , which is located smack dab in the middle of Pennsylvania Amish Country. Dodging Amish horse carts and pedestrians (with and without push scooters), on two-lane rural roads is always an adventure. But with such challenges came other pleasures - like shoo-fly pie, scrapple, and quilting fabric shops. I got to feed several of my addictions on a single excursion - I win! My waistline and wallet however, did not :-)

Our staff for the weekend included:

Kathy Jackson - Lead Instructor and President of The Cornered Cat.

Don Stahlnecker - Instructor at the Firearms Academy of Seattle.
Don taught the handgun retention workshop Friday evening, and acted as valuable assistant instructor and all-around "token man" for the otherwise "Ladies Weekend".


Annette Evans - Sponsored Shooter, Match Director, Assistant Instructor,  and our wonderful club hostess for the weekend.

I should state first off, that Kathy Jackson's style is decidedly NOT "Tacti-cool". I was extremely happy about this, as there is an awful lot of Coyote Brown/Flat Dark Earth "posturing" out there in the firearms teaching world. It's not "impossible" for me to learn in that type of environment (I did attend a Gunsite 250 pistol class the other year), but it does take a good bit more concentration for me to remain "in character" as "one of the guys", and not let my girly side slip. Trying to maintain that facade though, takes mental energy that could otherwise be devoted to absorbing and storing more information during class. Thankfully, such distractions were not a factor in this Cornered Cat course.

Because of all this, I purposely wore jeans for the range work, and not tactical pants or my usual range clothing. I did that because I wanted to learn, and test my performance in the "real world". I've accumulated a fair amount of experience on the competition range these past few years. But my remaining discomforts with concealed carry stem from the fact that it ISN'T the range.

When I carry, I'm not carrying my full-size match gun, Velcro belt, and multiple spare magazines - with tactical cargo pockets to hold everything else. I'm in jeans and a sweater, with a normal-looking (though heavier/reinforced) belt, a compact/micro pistol in a concealable holster, and normal pockets (if I'm lucky enough to even HAVE pockets. Women's pants - ARGH). Thus, it doesn't do me much good to take a carry class with my range gear. Because then I still have to go home and figure out how to use what I've got when I "really" carry. 

To that end, Kathy encouraged us to bring the gun we "really" carry. So I brought my Glock 43, and Crossbreed Minituck IWB holster. I brought the Glock 42 as well, in case of malfunction, but I really wanted to run the 43 hard and see how well we performed together. Turns out, we are a pretty good team :-)

Soooo, I showed up to class all weekend in my regular jeans. I also left my phone on my belt, and my wallet in my usual pocket -- all the things that I usually DON'T do at a match -- because I wasn't shooting a match -- I was learning how to save my own life in the real world, with my real gun and gear. This class was the closest I've yet come to how things actually work when I carry a gun in my real life.

Despite misty, rainy weather we had two productive days in the classroom and on the range. Plus  - we had a bonus evening handgun retention workshop to start us off on Friday evening.

     A sampling of our weekend weather

None of what our class of approximately ten women was taught required us to be anything other than what we already were - average women who wanted to learn more about how to defend ourselves with a firearm, if our lives depended on it.

The retention drills did not require us to be martial arts masters. We were taught simple ways to react if an attacker attempted to grab a firearm away from us.

    Kathy and Don demonstrate retention techniques with a non-firing "training" pistol

The range work did not require us to be SWAT team members. We were taught SAFE manipulation of the firearm, holster, and surrounding clothing; and consistent, reliable grip and trigger press. The instructor staff monitored us for safety at all times, and provided immediate feedback, encouragement, and problem-solving when needed.

I cannot say enough good things about the level of safety that was emphasized and maintained throughout this course. I had a bad class experience elsewhere in the past, but THIS class never made me feel less than completely comfortable and safe.

Yes, the range work was safe and serious. But that's not to say that it wasn't also fun. We did have our share of laughs and moments of levity. Let's just say that I'll never hear a particular children's ditty in my head the same way ever again - LOL!

This course was about more than just running the gun - although that was an important and essential component. It also covered the legalities and potential consequences of armed self-defense, including information from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network.

There was no swagger or chest-thumping here - just serious information about the serious business of making necessary choices in bad situations. This is what Kathy called "counting the cost", and this component really helped my mindset immensely.

We discussed ways to "think like a criminal" to avoid being sized up as a victim in the first place. We discussed ways to de-escalate and avoid a confrontation. We discussed the stages of violent crime, and we discussed ways to talk to the police. All of these things can be useful whether you carry a gun or not. So even those women who may have decided that carrying a gun isn't for them after all - still come away with valuable information and skills.

Kathy Jackson is also particularly adept at finding the thoughts that swirl around inside many women's heads, which hold them back. She then brings those issues out into the daylight and addresses them gently and compassionately. One of those areas is body image issues related to holster choice. Another is many women's inability to say "no", and their compulsion to be "nice" - even in dangerous situations - because that's the way we were brought up as girls.

Something else that Kathy said really hit me between the eyes, and it's something that many of we women struggle with. She said that we have to give ourselves permission to save our own lives - even if it might be at the expense of someone else (i.e. the criminal) - because "I" am worthwhile in my own right, and "my" life is worth defending.
I'm not afraid to admit that this realization brought tears to my eyes. 

This is not something that most of we women ever hear. Most of our lives are about giving up our own comfort and safety in order to serve our children, or our spouses, or our elderly parents. Nobody ever talks about our own lives being valuable. But for some of us, this realization/acceptance is key to overcoming our misgivings about carrying a deadly weapon - and using it if we HAVE to.

As part of the "living with a gun" lessons, Kathy discussed the essential elements of a safe holster, and brought many examples of different styles of holsters for the class to examine. She also offered us the opportunity to show-n-tell our own gear. This was an awesome side-element to the class. We women aren't built like men, and even amongst ourselves have many different shapes and needs when considering location of carry, and style of holster. What our husbands, or sons, or gun shop dealers use may not work for "us". There are SO many options available that do not involve an off-body purse. I've already had a little experience at this, and still, I personally wrote down the names of several companies whose products I want to investigate further. 

By the end of this course, I was much more comfortable with several aspects of gun-carrying and self-defense than I have ever been before. I have been making a slow, steady progression of comfort level, and Kathy Jackson, with her Cornered Cat Class, successfully broke down several of my remaining mental barriers.

I can heartily recommend a Cornered Cat Class to any woman (or man - Kathy doesn't only teach women) who is looking for safe and supportive, but no-nonsense, EXPERT firearms and personal safety instruction.

I just cannot say enough good things.

    My class gear - Glock 43, TTI basepad, Crossbreed Minituck,
    And a souvenir of a wonderful learning experience.


  1. Thank you once again for a thoughtful, enlightening article. Much appreciated.

  2. This sounds like the kind of class women need. I'm glad that you found her and brought away the valuable knowledge she has.