For as long as I can remember, Israeli combat disciplines have always had a certain exotic allure to them. In the early 1990s, dozens of gun rags and military magazines filled their back pages filled with Krav Maga VHS tapes ads and offers of “Israeli Combat Knives” that didn’t resemble anything from Israel and were made in China.
This is understandable because of Israel’s reputation in the West as a bad-ass country full of Jews whom, in the wake of the Holocaust and near extermination, declared, “Never again!” When their Arab neighbors decided to test their resolve, they were treated to a 6-day ass-kicking the likes of which the world had never seen. So I’ve always found it strange that despite the small nation’s reputation, no official Israeli Defense Force (IDF) style training was offered outside Israel – until recently, thanks to IDF Lieutenant Colonel Mike “Mikey” Hartman.
Hartman has personally and successfully trained over half a million soldiers during his more than 20-year career with the IDF. What is VERY significant is that his students were not volunteers but conscript Millennials! Israel demands that military age men and women spend two to three years in the service. Like American students, they are tough to teach but unlike Americans, Israeli youth does not have ANY gun handling experience before Mikey put a M4 or Tavor in their hands, so his accomplishment of turning disinterested kids into effective marksmen and women is a VERY significant achievement. He also founded their sharpshooting and marksmanship division which ended up being the forefather of the American military’s ‘Designated Marksman’ program.
It stands to reason, that if someone were to offer IDF-style training in the United States, they couldn’t find a better instructor than Colonel Hartman. So, when the folks at CAA sent me an email asking if I’d be interested in training with the man, I nearly tripped over myself trying to reply as fast as possible.
Unlike many writers on this site, I’m a strictly civilian shooter; while I’ve taken training from multiple military-trained instructors, much of my skillset is from personal experience and research. While this may seem too academic for many, the methods I employ are based on the real-life experiences of shooters and soldiers who’ve, “been there, and done that”.
I try to take what works from multiple schools of thought, combine them into a hybrid that uses the best portions of each skillset. Given how scarce any IDF training is in the United States, I was desperate to integrate IDF combat tactics into my repertoire.
After weeks that felt like years waiting for the day to arrive, I finally headed out to Immokalee Florida, to Altair Training Solutions to meet up with Mike Hartman and a handful of personally-selected IDF counter-terrorism trainers.
The “Train the Trainer” course at Altair Training Solutions in southwest Florida was well sponsored with Triumph Targets, Vertex, Shell Shock Technology, L-Tech, Walker’s Game ear, Scopecoat/Slideboot, Sentry Solutions and Breakthrough Technologies. While this event was intended to give selected writers and media folks some hands-on time with CAA’s Micro Roni carbine chassis and the Micro Roni Stabilizer – both named after the inventor’s (Moshe Oz) daughter, Roni – it didn’t feel like your typical show media event.
Hartman made it clear that we were there to learn the IDF way of shooting and weapons manipulation first, and how to use the Roni, second. The first piece of advice he gave to us is universally applicable to any new discipline or training a person attends – have an empty cup and an open mind.
Every media guest attending had some form of training, formal or otherwise. As such, they had some preconceived notions on what to expect, and how to safely handle firearms – and so stated that unsafe actions WOULD result in expulsion. Obviously the four rules still applied, but the IDF method is noticeably different from what most US shooting schools teach, that shooters need to mentally prepare themselves for it.
More than that, it’s best to keep an open mind before dismissing anything because it seems too different than what you’re accustomed to. By doing so, shooters get a chance to experience and apply the skills and lessons they learn in the classroom out on the range.
For instance, all shooting in the IDF method is done with the shooter’s body bladed 45 degrees from the target. Older shooters should be familiar with this, as it’s very close to the Weaver method of shooting. Yes, this even applies to shooting from the prone position.
As someone with a bum knee, I’ve always found the prone position to be more comfortable when slightly off-center, simply because I don’t have weight directly on my knee cap. Shooters with years or decades of experience facing off with the target will initially feel awkward like this, but in time – a short time it turns out – it becomes very comfortable.
Another interesting shooting technique they use that flies in the face of American marksmanship training is their trigger finger placement. When instructing a new shooter, it’s often difficult to make sure new shooters are using the pad of their trigger finger to pull the trigger. This portion of the finger produces the least amount of lateral divergence when depressing the trigger.
The problem with using this soft portion of the finger is that it doesn’t give a shooter much leverage over the trigger itself. This isn’t a problem for people with strong hands, but brand new shooters often don’t utilize their trigger finger enough on a day to day basis to build enough strength to pull the trigger back evenly and smoothly with the pad of their finger.
As such, the IDF teaches shooters to use the second pillow on the index finger to pull the trigger. For me, this was a vindicating moment. I’ve used that portion of my finger for years.
I learned to shoot back when I lived in Massachusetts – where every factory pistol must have a minimum trigger pull of 10 pounds. If that weren’t bad enough, my first handgun was a 1911. So instead of a light, short trigger pull with a clean break, I had a heavy, rough trigger with a stiff, nebulous break.
Frankly, I didn’t have enough strength (even after weeks with the GripMaster) to pull the trigger consistently enough to produce solid groups.
Back to the training itself. The instructors were awesome, and not just by reputation alone. – Sure, all of them had been professional door kickers or competitive shooters, but they didn’t rest on the laurels of their accomplishments.
Instead, every drill, every technique was explained to the class with distinct reasoning behind everything we did. So instead of simply replying, “Because that’s the way we did it in the IDF”, they would explain in detail why. Then, they’d extrapolate and show how it could be applicable to the everyday shooter/law enforcement or American military.
Between this, and the staff’s friendly, yet professional demeanor, the atmosphere was one of learning and mutual respect. At no time did anyone feel they weren’t supposed to ask questions, or that doing so would be frowned upon. It made for an environment that is incredibly conducive to learning.
The only downside of this method, is that class days tended to run a little longer than planned, but unless you checked your watch, you’ve never know it. The dynamism, knowledge and depth of experience from Lieutenant Colonel Mike Hartman could make any topic fascinating.
Now imagine this same someone bursting with enthusiasm, speaking about topics, strategies and equipment that are deeply interesting to the audience. The audience was so captive at moments, that even the media personalities like myself, who normally love to hear themselves talk, were deathly quiet.
Thank God they were, the amount of information we were taught during the course is staggering. I filled 15 pages of notes in three days, and I still feel like I need to consult my digital recorder. Hartman is the kind of guy who could forget in an afternoon, more than most shooters will ever know in their lifetime.
Despite this, he, his trainers and the curriculum itself never felt pretentious, nor condescending to the students. I’ve been to more than a few trainers in my lifetime, and I normally don’t walk away with more than one or two things I intend to integrate into my own training. But I’ve got about half a dozen from this course. If a shooter wants to improve their current skills, or a novice is looking for a solid foundation to build their skillset up on, they couldn’t find a better trainer than Mike Hartman nor a finer course than his IDF-style ‘train-the-trainer’ training.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As with Jim, I, Dave Fortier and another B3E content creator Tim Yan also attended and went though the course and also received a certificate that we were Officially I.D.F. Certified as a “Train the Trainer” Instructor. We were taught not just to the level of proficiency required, but to a level that we could pass on our training to others. Jim’s ability and responsiveness to the training was rewarded during graduation with one of few post-course honor awards given by LTC Hartman who also gave Dave Fortier the first MH1 sight ever awarded.