Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tactical Defense Institute: Handgun Levels I, II, III

The gals and I were enjoying the drive through the rolling hills of southwest Ohio. We were packed up for a three-day weekend of fun... food, clothes, iced-down cooler full of beverages, a half-dozen handguns and six-thousand rounds of 9mm. We were headed to the Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) as a family for their three-days of Handgun Levels I, II and III training.

Aside from having a great weekend together shooting as a family, we each had our individual reasons for going. I'm an NRA and Ohio CCW instructor and the opportunity to brush up on my skills and get some quality instruction and learn new  stuff is something I'm always seeking. My main gal, the wife, wanted to really master her basic handgun skills with the Ruger SR9 and SR9c pistols our family has standardized on for home and self-defense pistols. My lil' gal, the daughter, is working on her 4H Shooting Sports pistol project and wanted to develop her shooting skills.

It isn't my intent to regurgitate the entire course step-by-step here as there are already plenty of good reviews out there, but to give our overall impressions and thoughts. First, this was a significant decision for our family as we are not independently wealthy and while we are committed to continual training and practice with our firearms to the point we even have our own shootin' range at home, the total cost of training at TDI was significant for us, but well worth it.

The cost for the three day course was discounted for cash (or check) payment from $525 to $495 for each of us. Then there were two nights spent in the Comfort Inn for $165, and we went through approximately 4,500 rounds of 9mm over three days. We packed our food and drinks, so our total cost was around $1,700 plus the ammo.

TDI's facilities are nestled into the rolling hills of Southwest Ohio about an hour east of Cincinnati with 180 acres of shooting ranges, shoot houses, range/classroom building, and force-on-force facilities. As 4H Shooting Sports instructors, we were glad to see and hear they host the county 4H Shooting Sports club for no charge at TDI's facility. I'm not sure that there is a better equipped facility in the Midwest that I'm aware of.

John Benner owns and runs TDI.  He did the majority of the classroom instruction and some of the range instruction. TDI's philosophy of Mindset, Tactics, and Shooting... in that order... was clear throughout the training. You need to be mentally prepared to protect yourself and survive, you need the tactics to avoid and/or deal with threats, and finally you need the ability to effectively respond with your firearm to the threat of serious injury or death. The talk, discussion, and instruction was frank and professional throughout the courses, both in the classroom and on the range.

Benner is assisted by a team of instructors, all of whom are top-notch.  Probably the one doing the most instruction next to John was David Bowie, better known to some for his company, Bowie Tactical Concepts. Our class consisted of 34 folks from all walks of life ranging from police officers to fire-fighters to mom's to lawyers to teachers to other instructors... from seventeen to sixty.

All the instructors, like Benner and Bowie, were outstanding, just what you should expect from professional instructors, and they adjusted and adapted as needed to address each student's needs. While they told us the instruction would feel like we were "drinking from a fire hose", they maintained a good pace, and knew when to joke and be light-hearted to ease the comfort level for each student.

One thing I appreciated about the instruction at TDI is that they show you their way of doing things... methods that are pretty much industry and shooting-world standard at this point, but they also do a good job of discussing popular alternatives and adaptions of various methods... and they explain why they chose the techniques they teach. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge in their pool of instructors with civilian, military, police, and special tactics backgrounds... but this isn't training for mall-ninja wannabes or operators. This is solid training for everyday Americans wanting to have better skillsets and mindsets.

There were twelve to fifteen instructors on site each day and everyone on the shooting line at the range had plenty of one-on-one instruction. I found the feedback and critiquing helpful to fine-tune, adapt, and improve my shooting skills.

For you gals, my wife and daughter would tell you that all of the seven ladies in our class agreed that the instructors and instruction for the women was professional and helpful. My wife has been having some inflammation problems due to a hyper-extension type of injury to her off-hand elbow and they showed her some techniques to compensate for that.

One thing that I will say, dry-firing is good practice... shooting twenty, fifty, one-hundred rounds is good practice... competing in IDPA is good practice... but intense, quality instruction and training while shooting hundreds, even thousands, of rounds, in just three days under the watchful eyes of an instructor that can provide you immediate feedback, tips, and suggestions is invaluable. I do this for others as an instructor, but it is always great to experience it myself. My wife feels like she could run her gun blindfolded after these classes, which is awesome.

As far as guns go, I'll discuss our experiences with our Ruger SR9s in the near future, but TDI instructors typically recommend Glocks and S&W M&Ps with good reason. They are quality guns with solid records of reliability. They are not necessarily fans of our Ruger pistols, but they weren't gun snobs or elitists either. There were a total of six folks running Ruger SR9s, some Glocks, some M&Ps, a Steyr, Beretta Storms, a Walther PPQ, 1911s, and few other pistols. Some folks were limited on ammunition due to shortages, but the courses and shooting sequences are design to allow you flexibility in how much you shoot so your round count for the course can vary.

I've been to a number of shooting schools and classes over the years, both as a police officer years ago and as a regular guy. If our experience with this class is typical, I can highly recommend TDI to anyone. The gals had a great time. My daughter said, "I think I'll do this course again when I'm old enough to get my CCW." to which I said, "Hey, how about takin' the CCW class from your ol' man.".

My gals and I will definitely be heading back to TDI in the future as finances allow... maybe to their Advanced Concealed Carry Course or their Partners Tactics course for my wife and I. My wife will be heading back in July to take their three-day course for Armed Teachers, along with her elementary school principal. Her school district is still in the "denial" stage, but they are looking at the possibility of allowing select teachers, staff, and administrators to carry in school, but that is a subject for another day. Besides, we need to go back to check in and say, "Hi" again to Jack, the range dog...

I'm a big fan of the NRA courses for those new to shooting or getting back into shooting after a long hiatus, but if you want to take your skills to a far more competent level, consider the offerings at TDI... the gals give it thumbs up all the way 'round.


  1. Nice review! I'm a Christian who enjoys photography, guns, and training as well. I've been to TDI often and also am an NRA Certified Instructor.

    1. @John... thanks for the comment... My wife and I would like to try the partners tactics course and I appreciated your review of it...

      With three of us, we can usually only do about one significant (as in cost) training opportunity each year... and TDI is a great place to train...

      If you're ever in our area, let me know... we could always go out back on the range and shoot a bit...

      Dann in Ohio

  2. Still waiting for that info on your thoughts about the SR9c. Hope that's coming soon as promised. I have one and like it, but not much love for anything online but Glock, M&P or high end 1911.