The PHLster Enigma, a BIG WIN!

Hi all, this is Shelley Hill and in November of 2020 I saw the Enigma REVEAL Live Event. I was intrigued so I contacted Jon Hauptman of PHLster to ask a few questions. Jon was very happy to talk to me and a week later an Enigma showed up on my doorstep…NO STRINGS ATTACHED. He just wanted my opinion and I am freely giving it.

My SIG P365XL with Romeo Zero Red Dot, 2 Dark Star Gear “Hitchhiker” Holsters and 1 Enigma

Let’s start with the name. The definition of enigma is something puzzling, baffling, mysterious or perplexing. PHLster truly chose the BEST name. The Enigma is NOT a holster. It is NOT a belly-band. I called it a concealment belt until I saw on their website that they call it an ultra-low-profile concealment system. BINGO! That is EXACTLY what it is…a system.

After I received my Enigma I watched 2 videos that PHLster provided via YouTube.

First I watched the entire EAI video. When it was over I was a bit stressed that I would have a hard time putting the system together so I did something that has served me well in the past, photos and “stop and go” learning.

Before I took my 1st Dark Star Gear holster apart, I took photos of it intact. I then took photos during the whole “breakdown” process so I would know how to put it back together so I could switch back and forth from the holster with clip to the Enigma. I also put the hardware in a labeled bag.

Next, I set up my “work area” EXACTLY like Jon did in the video so I could follow along. Once my “copy cat” area was in place I started the video. I would pause after each set of instructions, do it, play it again to confirm, and then move to the next set of directions. I did NOT pull my hair out, nor did I grow old or start day-drinking so I considered that a BIG WIN!

Now, it was time to watch the EAG video to make all the little customized adjustments. I went through this in a similar fashion and I am glad I did because the Enigma can be adjusted in many ways so the fit is perfect. It took me a few adjustments through the “breaking in process” and it was WELL WORTH IT so do not skip this part!!! I admit that the “leg leash” freaked me out a bit but once again, PHLster rose to the occasion because once adjusted properly, I could not even tell it was there.

I committed to wearing my Enigma as my EDC (Everyday Carry) 100% of the time for a month. The first week of my 1 month commitment I knew that I wanted this system as a part of my daily carry options so I ordered another holster from Dark Star Gear. It arrived a week later and I got it set up for my EDC in 5 minutes.

I wore the Enigma under scrubs during 8-10 hour shifts. I wore it driving in my car 10 hours each way to visit my family around the holidays. I wore it while working at my desk for 8 hours at a time. I wore it with casual elastic pants and I even wore it with jeans just to see how it worked. It passed the “accessibility, concealment, comfort and easy to put on and take off” test. I have sensitive skin so I wore a camisole under my shirt to protect my skin from irritation. This is also the technique I use on the range when training or instructing.

Now it was time for some work presenting from the “holster” with some timed draws. I have not tested this with live fire but I have worked on timed draws at 5 yards, from concealment, to first trigger press during dry practice. I set the par time at 2 seconds and worked my way down to a sub second draw. I was consistent drawing to first shot from this new system at 1.4 – 1.6 seconds but I must not tell a lie, the wheels completely fell off at 1 second. An absolute crash and burn! LOL! That was not the Enigma’s fault….that was ALL ME because I am also working with a new smaller pistol.

This wonderful creation has opened the door to new wardrobe options, not just for women but for men as well. It is concealable, easy to access, comfortable, and affordable. No more excuses…..wear your gun!

Shelley Hill

The Complete Combatant

Image Based Decisional Drills

Smart Choices Image Cards (ages 4-13)

“Know Thyself”

In the personal protection field, the idea of mindset often is a part of the training. A recent study called Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response, defined mindset as a lens to orient the mind to a particular set of associations or expectations (Crum, Salovey, & Achor, 2013). While we often apply that concept to violent criminal actors, it occurred to me; we should also use this concept on ourselves. The soft skills of pre-need decision making, associations, and expectations should be how we observe ourselves during training.

As we shoot, we use the senses of sight, feel, and to a lesser degree, hearing (mostly for the pace of shooting). All three are essential to create interlocking feedback during performance. Visualization with an associated sense of feeling (such as exhaling) creates the expectations and associations of proper implementation, which allows us to correct when something is out of place. Defensively (external threat), we use mindset to recognize danger, avoid, deter, and fight back. Proactively during training (internal goal), we use mindset to visualize the correct technique or tactic to execute or correct and then execute while connecting to breathe or relaxation. The commonality is observation, but the difference is applying it to an external threat or internal pressure.

The only real control we have is over ourselves. How we act and think should be a known quantity allowing only binary decisions under stress. We must observe ourselves during training continuously and replay our mistakes while applying a correction. What did I see? What did I feel? are the questions that allow us to replay, correct, decide, and visualize the skill needed. Now we are merely watching the execution as acceptable or performing a correction, putting us ahead of the skill. This process moves our minds from reaction to response, allowing for a quicker and efficient decisional process.

Always be ahead of the process, recognizing the two critical problems in decision making, impatience (too soon) or indecisiveness (too late). Suppose we can overcome these sensations of either doing or deciding and move directly to identifying the acceptable response. In that case, we can make better decisions in a shorter time, allowing the shooting to become more intuitive. Logic has its place in training, measuring, recording, and reasoning, but unfortunately, it is much too slow for shooting speed. If we develop the confidence and trust to recognize the pattern, we can perform at a high level. Gary Klein referred to this as recognition primed decision making and fusing experience and visualization into proper execution.

Apply the skills of a proactive mindset to your external environment to see possible threats or opportunities and observe yourself to improve your performance under pressure. As the ancient Greek amorphism commanded, “Know thyself.”

4 Men and a Pistol

As a lifelong disciple of martial knowledge, I have found that the truth is often scattered among several teachers, and I must stitch it together into a cohesive whole for my purposes. If I am to progress as a shooter, then I must be willing to explore all areas for improvement. So faithful reader, this brings us to the crux of the matter, and it is a simple thing, I have changed pistols, and I will list the reasons for this course of action.

The first is easy. I have an excellent relationship with Bill Dermody and Heckler & Koch. John Correia of Active Self Protection introduced us, and Bill has been a great friend and supporter. HK endorses and supports The Mingle, and our classes with unmatched generosity. Nor did they ask me to change pistols, but the next reason will help shed some light on the new direction.

2nd: Scott Jedlinski of Modern Samurai Project is one of the best firearms coaches in the business. He said something that stuck with me, ” The equipment shouldn’t be an obstacle.” If it hinders my progress, maybe I should change. Then Scott said something even deeper, and I am paraphrasing here, ” Bro…that gun (P226) is holding you back!” Now here is the problem, my Sig P226 Legion has a large beaver tail which interferes with the stabbing motion and the claw grip of the draw stroke from the appendix position, or in other words, it’s slow. Not to mention my thumb was getting a beating while trying to use the claw grip. So maybe I should shoot my HK? I have a preference for heavier metal guns, I like the way they feel and shoot. How could a polymer gun ever perform as well?

3rd: David Blanton runs the Humble Marksman YouTube Channel, and he produces “world-class content” (plus he has a great sense of humor), and it is one of the best shooting channels. I know David (Master class USPSA) from shooting matches together, and he has a mind for details and measurements. His channel does some cool gear review that is metric-driven. One of his videos is about the history of the Roland special, which got me thinking about compensators, weapon-mounted lights, and mag wells. David explained the light as a weight (recoil mitigation), the comp as getting the most (less rise) out of full power loads in 9mm (115 & 124), and the mag well as a place for my pinky to rest. The Parker Mountain Comp tracker gave the feeling of a longer sight radius and allowed the gun to ride better AIWB. Shelley and I spend the weekend at the range in our RV (the ant hill🤦‍♂️) which means it is dark, and we have a bear that lives around there. Light on my pistol suddenly becomes much more important, and it is good for taming all that recoil. I also watched his video on the DPM spring system which allowed me to tune my VP9 to track the dot better. Could I make this polymer gun shoot and feel like my Legion?

The 4th and final piece came from CH Precision Weapon Systems. I received a certificate from Scott to get a milling job for an optic. I decided to move away from the Sig Romeo 1 because of the fragility of the unit and losing the dot if the sun was directly in front or behind me. Trijicon RMR was my choice because I am caveman-hard on my equipment. In less than 2 weeks my gun was milled and returned to me. Buck’s background in precision shooting showed up with lines painted through the screws to show the correct tightness. Incredible customer service and attention to detail sets CH precision weapons apart from the rest. They also make red dot adapter plates which are of the highest quality. If you are running a Glock MOS, get this plate now, and it will save you problems in the future.

How does it perform? It does not shoot like my Legion, which is a good thing. It is lighter to carry and conceals exceptionally well in my JM custom Kydex light-bearing AIWB holster. It is a lot of pistol but it carries well. I miss my Gray guns trigger, and no striker fire gun will be their equal. I like engagement with the trigger, the feeling of a long press, not a wall. The VP9 is one of the better striker-fired triggers I have felt, and it is not an obstacle to shooting well. This pistol is quick, it returns quickly, and I can shoot slightly better splits with the HK. Between the comp, and the DPM spring I can keep the dot in the smaller RMR window. The dot is much better in the sunlight, and I prefer the cowling shape overall. The mag well is what helps me shoot this pistol since my hands are big, and now my pinkies have something to grip.

Accuracy, quick return, ergonomically correct for the stab, light to carry, and weirdly conceals well. It is unequivocally mine, now. The importance of connecting with your pistol can not be understated. It must fit you well. I can shoot most guns fairly well, but this is the one I depend on daily. Knowing that I have eliminated every obstacle and that I have done everything I can to make the gun fit me, allows me to shoot at my highest level. Trust me, I never thought I would end up carrying this style of gun, so color me surprised. Thanks to everyone that contributed, knowingly and unknowingly, to the creation of this new VP9, and accordingly since I have removed all the obstacles in my equipment the responsibility of being a better shooter rest where it always has, squarely on me.

Speed vs Accuracy

“Men are disrupted not by things, but by the view they take of them.” Epictetus 55-135 AD

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.” Winston Churchill

Shooters seem to fall into one category or the other. Mostly it is a self imposed belief, and it limits your progress. If you carry a firearm as life saving equipment that belief could have grave consequences for you. People flex the narrative with misunderstood quotes taken out of context without looking at the performance factors that exist in the real world. The Force Science Institute has some very good research into the mental and physical realities on the use of force. John Correia’s YouTube channel, Active Self Protection, offers an endless procession of lessons for the armed citizen. In all likelihood you are reading this because you are struggling with one of the aforementioned areas. The good news is you can have both, speed and accuracy, but you will have to let go of some preconceived notions.

The truth is you already have both systems operating in your mind….

The truth is you already have both systems operating in your mind, you just tend to favor one process over the other. In Thinking fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman he points out that we have two ways of operating:

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.

Create mindfulness

It is not about speed or accuracy instead it is about allocation of attention with mental activities that require effort. Open the mind to the possibilities of possibility, that you can change if you use system 2. Bad habits are changed with mindfulness, hence changing knowledge (information) to wisdom (experience). You must become disenchanted with poor performance by recognizing the sensations that are a part of that process. Become curiously involved with the sensations that cause the compulsion to shoot poorly, (over confirmation or lack of patience) which creates mindfulness.

Please do not conflate this next statement with political parties, but people tend to be conservative or liberal in their information and decision process, gathering or seeking. The first results in building internal structures that work well with known information, and their performance is usually fairly consistent. It also focuses on past performance with internal statements of “I will never make that mistake again”. The second, liberal, results in experimental exploration, and the intuitive ability to make quick decisions that are good enough, but oftentimes their performance is erratic with a focus on the future. Internal statements of “If I can just go faster, I can make up for previous mistakes.”

Let explore driving styles, if you drive fast , you just need to learn when to brake and how to approach difficult situations, so with a bit of information and visualization you will probably be able to drive more efficiently, with fewer mistakes. A simple bit of recognition and priming , you will be a better driver, although traffic will still drive you crazy (too slow). Now if you are a slow driver, your decisions process is not rushed, in fact you can probably monitor other drivers around you. If you are forced to drive fast it will feel reckless, out control, and your primed decisions will not available at this speed, therefore you will make mistakes. That is why it so hard to speed up, and the resistance and/or excuses are hard to overcome. Conservatives decisions are emotional in regard to change, liberal decisions are emotional when comes to control.

The power of visualization

Understanding your bias is the first step to making a lasting change. The self image, or internal programming, needs to be updated as performance demands increase. The power of visualization is the first step. Imagine from your point of view, what it would be like to be fast. Hands would move quickly, and efficiently, with the entire path laid out to the target. Now fast people imagine seeing your dot or sights line up acceptably with the target, and pressing the trigger with a bit of visual patience. Notice I never told anyone to slow down or speed up, which seems counter-intuitive, but it is not about our perception of speed, in fact we just need to “look deeply” (Massad Ayoob) with clarity. Self image is the concept that you are what you believe you are, but you need to be complete, not one dimensional. Practice does not make perfect, but it does makes permanent. If you continue to practice in the same way, only changing how much or how little you practice, why would you expect to change and grow. Pay attention, instead of controlling, be the observer, not critic. Program your mind to see just what is sufficient to the goal, nothing more or less. Structure needs to be malleable, discard that which does not get the results desired, and be willing to fail (experiment) and correct.

I use this method for training:

1-Visualize from your point of view

2-Create a preparatory index, be ready to shoot (Scott Jedlinski of Modern Samurai Project)

3-Breathe to create motion in both the mind and body

4-Listen, and feel for the start signal

5-Execute

6-Review what you saw

7-Correct without emotion

Try this process each time. Accuracy shooters will accumulate reserves of speed that are available on demand. Speed shooters will become accurate and efficient. You can have everything, speed and accuracy, if you are just willing to let go, grow, and change.

Surprising results

It has been a tough year for many reasons, all of which curtailed my training, and in addition I got sick, really sick, as in bedridden for 3 weeks. This is one of the few times in my adult life I found myself unable to practice anything physical. I was also in quarantined to protect the rest of our household.

Lots of time on my hands, unfortunately. Occasionally, I would feel well enough to sit up in bed, and work with the SIRT pistol. Grip, trigger control, and reloads from my lap were the extent of my available drills, coupled with visualization drills. Definitely better than laying there watching bad TV.

These drills are a great part of unconscious competency in administrative handling of the pistol during shooting, coupled with visualization of personal protection scenarios, or courses in a match. I was scheduled to attend Gabe White’s class, Pistol Shooting Solutions in April, which was later cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. I had been training hard to earn the coveted turbo pin. My draw needed to be at it best, not something I could practice in bed. So I visualized the draw being efficient, repeatable, and explosive.

As I recovered, I was very curious what the lay-off would cost me. Starting with a week of slowly getting strong enough to practice, I set up my MantisX10 using the draw analysis. One of the hardest skills to measure accurately in dry practice is making the par time on the draw to first shot, something this device does remarkably well. Reaction to the go signal, grip, pull, horizontal, time on target, and the press of the trigger are all measured, and broken down on the chart. Luck for me, Mantis also keeps previous results for comparison. I had a low expectation of my performance with the minimal amount practice, also the loss of physical conditioning. So I visualized each repetition, performing each one as best as I could. Gratefully I practiced, enjoying the return to my discipline.

Here are my results before I fell ill:

As the green graph shows, my reaction to the beep is slow, .4 to .5, which keeps my draws above the 1 second mark. Now the graph after the layoff:

I had improved my reaction speed by roughly .2, which allowed the sub second draws. Visualization, and the lack of expectations, in other words tension, allowed a dramatic increase in my reaction time. The results were rather unexpected. I had actually improved during my break. I have noticed with my clients that the perceived drop off in skill is more mental than physical. Usually a 20-25% decrease overall after a long layoff, which only last 2-3 weeks. Once a base threshold is set for a movement it is easy to return to that baseline, despite a stop in training. Often new personal records are set after a lay off. Dry practice is useful for keeping us ready to perform, but is no substitute for actual live fire. Do to health and money issues, primarily my lungs not working 100% and ammo restrictions (not making money with both business shutdown), I was unable to do much live fire practice.

We were hosting John Johnston at our range, which would be my first chance to measure my shooting. While dry practice keeps the administrative skills polished, recoil management cannot be replicated. Basically four months with no matches, classes, or practice. I had also been vetting a new gun, the HK VP 9 long slide, and this would be my first pressure test using this pistol. My accuracy in slow to medium speed was still quite good, but my ability to push the speed envelope had suffered dramatically. I am still not entirely recovered from being sick, which I know also played a role with my performance . My scores and times were down, that is slower, by 25%. John had us shoot a split bill drill, 4 to the body, and 2 to the head with no warm up. My usual time is 2.7-2.9 for this drill, but I shot a little over the 4 second mark in class with good accuracy. That is a big difference, but considering the circumstances, about what I expected. I will be able to practice on regular schedule in the coming weeks, and it is my belief that I will return to my normal times. The good news is I had still had 75% of my current skill. Despite the feeling of losing everything when we are sick, injured, or taking a break, it is good to know that we retain 3/4 of our skill. Some areas can even improve. Now, shooting a new gun definitely factors in to this result, and this is by no means a scientific study, conversely our perceived loss is never as great as we think.

This year has been tough for so many of us, but we will emerge with enough to continue on, moreover to improve. Whatever skills, strengths, and mental fortitude we have earned does not easily disappear, but does require a bit of patience, and faith that we can still continue to get better. Keep up the good work, my friends! I, for one, am glad to be back on the range training, and growing. See you next month.