Be a Sheepdog, Not a Sheep

Tim Kennedy and His Team Teach Self-Defense for the 21st Century!

Going by what you witness on the news these days, the world is a dangerous place — and it's getting more dangerous all the time. Hardly a day goes by when you don't see a story about a mass shooting, a terrorist attack or just a senseless act of random violence, sometimes in your own backyard.

Whether this is an accurate picture of how things are or merely a sensationalist attempt to garner news ratings via fear-mongering, the fact is many people are worried, and they're looking for ways to set their minds at ease. Some of them are, naturally, turning to self-defense instruction. But they're finding that some martial arts instructors are ill-prepared to deal with questions pertaining to how to survive an active-shooter situation or the best way to treat a life-threatening wound.

Fortunately, a few individuals and organizations are qualified to address such questions and help people prepare for disaster — in case they ever do need to deal with a crisis situation. Among the best is Sheepdog Response.

Be Prepared

"We do a really good job of not fear-mongering with our program," said Dennis Jones, director of training for Sheepdog Response. "We don't want to terrify people and make them think the terrorists are coming to get them. It's not what I want, and it's not the truth for the most part.

"We live in a good country and a good society, though you might think otherwise from the news. But I believe people have a general desire to be prepared and be knowledgeable in how to protect themselves. And that's what we're trying to do in an ethical way. Besides, it's fun to get out there and train hard."Founded in 2015 by Black Belt Hall of Famer Tim Kennedy, Sheepdog Response for the past several years has conducted weekend-long seminars across the country, covering the basics of staying safe in the modern world. Its courses address everything from close-quarters-fighting techniques to combat handgun skills to emergency first aid. And although he's known by many primarily as a TV personality, Kennedy is just the person to put together such a program. A former top-10 contender in the UFC, he's spent more than a decade as a U.S. Army Special Forces operator serving in hot zones around the world.

Back in 2011, Kennedy said in a Black Belt interview that the influx of veterans returning to America with a vast array of practical combat knowledge, including the use of modern military close-quarters-fighting techniques, was something that would revolutionize the way many civilians view the martial arts and self-defense. Sheepdog is now making good on that promise.

​Special Subject Matter

The program began when law-enforcement agencies across the country started contacting Kennedy to arrange for him to come in to conduct training for their departments in the latest methods being used by the Army's elite troops. Jones — himself having worked for the Army in special operations and executive protection, as well as being a hand-to-hand combat instructor and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt — began working with Kennedy early on and said the reception they received was overwhelmingly positive.

"Tim has a big following, and he'd get these requests to go all over and teach seminars," Jones said. "So we'd come in and show law-enforcement officers basic hand-to-hand combat techniques and firearm manipulations — this was not even special-ops stuff, just things that are now being done at a basic level in the Army. But for local law-enforcement, it was groundbreaking. We wouldn't even be able to get to the curriculum we wanted to show because we had to spend so much time on the basics, things like having a reliable method of reloading your weapon in combat or something as basic as side control in jiu-jitsu.

"With the grappling, they all kind of had an idea about it, but it was often being taught in their local departments by someone who'd gotten it out of a book or who'd gone to a very short instructor course. And that's the way the Army is, too, sometimes: You go through a one-week, 40-hour course to became a basic hand-to-hand combat instructor. But it's very different when you're learning from people who've dedicated their lives to this stuff."

Sheepdog certainly can provide dedicated training. The organization typically runs its seminars with seven to nine instructors present, almost all of whom are veterans, many of them Special Forces combat veterans like Kennedy. Sheepdog also makes good use of its founder's UFC contacts, sometimes bringing in professional fighters like Trevor Prangley or Jim Miller to add another layer of expertise to the hand-to-hand combat section of the course.

With 30 to 40 students attending most seminars, it usually breaks down to a student-teacher ratio of about 4-1, meaning everyone who shows up will get near-personal attention from a world-class expert.

The people attending are no longer just law-enforcement officers. Jones estimates that law-enforcement now makes up only about 10 percent to 15 percent of participants. On average, a training session will feature a mix of martial arts enthusiasts and soccer moms training side by side with the occasional SWAT officer or military veteran. And according to Jones, despite the wide variety of experience levels, almost everyone comes away having learned something new and useful.

"We have some of the best instructors in the world here," Jones said. "And even though I've been doing this for years, I'm always learning something new myself. If I sit in on the emergency-medicine class taught by Matt Smith, who was a Special Forces medic, I'll still pick up things I didn't know. You'd be hard-pressed to find a student who's come to one of our courses and didn't learn something — even if they were a combat veteran or a BJJ black belt. Usually, what you'll find is someone who might be an amazing shooter but sucks at fighting or vice versa. It's a very interesting mix of people."

Although Sheepdog still conducts special training just for law-enforcement, Jones said the open classes, with their diversity, actually make for a more fun experience. Additionally, he said it's often easier to teach novices with no experience or special skills because they don't have bad habits that need to be corrected.

Fine-Tuned Approach

A benefit of having instructors who come from the Special Forces, a branch of the military that often goes to foreign countries to train people who may have no combat experience, is the ability to teach novices. Jones said he's taught locals in places like Afghanistan, where many of his trainees couldn't communicate in English, yet he always managed to get his lessons across. He and the other instructors do the same here.

"People are more capable than they think they are," Jones said. "They just don't always know the way to get to where they want to be. They'll see the instructors and say we're good at everything, then think they can never get to that point. But they don't realize that it took us 25 years of failure to get there, and sometimes we still screw up a drill."

The difference between the way the two groups approach this, he said, is that when people on his level mess up, rather than get discouraged, they find a way to work through the problem. Instead of saying, "Time out, let's start again!" they continue, making the necessary adjustments as they go — just as they would have to do in real life.

"When I demonstrate combatives, if someone gives me an unexpected look, I don't just stop, and I don't just try to crush them," Jones said. "I work through the problem. We have the students do the same thing when they run into a problem, and then we have them explain what they did.

"We're trying to teach them it's OK to fail as long as you learn something and keep working through it. No one is perfect every single time."

Sample Schedule

And with the variety of skills covered even in Sheepdog's introductory two-and-a-half-day course, no one is going to be perfect. The level-one course usually starts on a Friday evening, immediately after everyone has checked in. It begins with a situational-awareness class in which an Army intelligence expert teaches students how to be more aware of their surroundings and demonstrates various drills to heighten that awareness. The evening ends with everyone running through a practical scenario held at a different location.Day 2 starts at 7 a.m. on Saturday with a five-hour hand-to-hand combat course that concludes with some pressure testing of the techniques. After lunch, they spend the rest of the day at a shooting range for a basic pistol course. After dark, they work on night-fire training to give students an idea of what shooting a gun is like in a limited-visibility setting.Day 3 follows a similar schedule with another five hours of combatives in the morning, reviewing the previous day's material and then working on how to grapple in the presence of a weapon. The three keys that are emphasized, Jones said, are fight for the weapon, fight for position and damage your opponent at every opportunity. Tricky instructors may slip someone a training knife in the middle of a grappling match just to keep everyone on their toes.During the lunch break, they often bring in a human-performance expert to give a lecture on fitness training and nutrition. After lunch, it's back to the shooting range to review the previous day's material and add lessons on shooting with movement, dealing with barricaded situations, using firearms in and around vehicles, and shooting under stress. At some point during the weekend, they also receive first aid instruction that focuses on things like how to apply a tourniquet.If that isn't enough, for those who complete the level-one course, Sheepdog now offers a level-two course with a similar but more advanced curriculum. The group also teaches specialty classes in subjects such as shooting carbines, emergency medicine and combat inside a vehicle.

Operation Retention

Although just the level-one class seems like a huge amount of information to pass along, Jones said most people retain about 60 percent of it, which is a lot more knowledge than they generally came in with.

"We tell every single class this is just a beginning, just the first step," he said. "You should be proud you took the course, but the main thing you should feel right now is that you have an honest assessment of your skill level, where you're at and how you'll perform if you need to. Can you wrestle a gun from someone? Can you shoot at the 5-meter line from a target? You'd be surprised at how many people can't, even some people in law-enforcement."

The feedback Jones and his team have received from most attendees has been encouraging. Many participants with little prior experience have chosen to continue their training through local martial arts gyms or shooting ranges.

Law-enforcement officers who've attended have been quick to relate their positive experiences, as well. Jones recalled one officer from Portland who took the course and six months later responded to a call in which several other officers had drawn their weapons on a suspect.

"But the officer who'd attended our course did a certain type of scan that we teach and determined that the suspect did not have a weapon," Jones explained. "He said he had the presence of mind to do that because of the course he took with us.

"We definitely don't preach to our students that they should all just be waiting for the day when they need to attack someone. Instead, I was happy to hear that he did not shoot someone who was unarmed and that he credited Sheepdog Response for this."

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