Class Review: Varg Freeborn Gutter Fight Pistol

Company: One Life Defense
Instructor: Varg Freeborn
Student Count: 17
Cost: $300 + $25 per day Range Fee
Duration: 2 Days (9:00am - 6:00pm)


  In the self-defense training industry, there is often a disconnect between what is taught and what actually happens in a self-defense scenario. Varg Freeborn, owner of One Life Defense, is one self-defense educator who is trying to bridge this gap.

(Photo by Trevor Kongable)

  Varg has a unique perspective on self-defense. In fact, I'm not aware of anybody else in this industry with a similar background. He grew up in a violent area and eventually found himself serving a 5-year prison sentence surrounded by violent, predatory convicts. During his prison term, he ate, talked, worked out, and fought with these men every day. He learned, among other things, how they thought, how they executed violent acts, and what motivated them. After being released from prison, Varg had his rights restored and began training with firearms regularly.  He eventually laid out his own shingle in the form of One Life Defense, LLC. If you're interested in hearing Varg's story in its entirety (and I recommend that you do) listen to Street Warrior Radio episode 23 or purchase his book, Violence of Mind.

Training Day 1

  We began our first training day at the excellent Alliance PD Training Facility with a thorough safety and medical brief by Joe Weyer. Afterward, we went straight into Varg's "Violence of Mind" lecture. This lecture thoroughly covered mindset and familiarized us with violent predators and their tactics and mindsets. One big takeaway for me was Varg's definition of "combat mindset." As a former Marine and longtime shooting enthusiast, I've heard many definitions of combat mindset, most centered around military combat or civilian use of firearms. Varg defines this term clearly and concisely in a way that is applicable to any fighter. He defines combat mindset as "extreme self-control in all conditions." He went on to say that if you've lost control of yourself, you've lost control of the situation. This applies to all kinds of fights - military combat, civilian self-defense, MMA, or even proverbial "battles" that we face during everyday circumstances.

Varg's "Violence of Mind" Lecture alone was worth the price of admission. (Photo by Trevor Kongable)

  Part 1 of Varg's "Violence of Mind" lecture lasted until about lunchtime. We discussed a myriad of deep and graphic mindset-related topics that I will not attempt to cover in this brief review. After the classroom lecture, we congregated on the range for some dry and live-fire exercises. First, we conducted flow drills that consisted of a few exercises to get us comfortable handling firearms in close proximity to others. All firearms were cleared before conducting flow drills. We learned and practiced safely moving amongst each other using various carry positions. Rightly so, Varg placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of being able to carry and retain your firearm in chaotic situations without muzzling non-threats.

Varg demonstrates a modified Sul carriage during flow drills. (Photo by Trevor Kongable)

  After flow drills, we loaded our firearms and conducted some live-fire exercises. These included draws from concealment with multiple rounds fired to the torso and head of the target. Varg didn't always prescribe a specific number of rounds for us to fire each repetition. Instead, he had us perform what is called a "non-standard response" (NSR) where you fire 1-4 rounds. Theoretically, this helps break the square-range mentality of firing the same prescribed number of rounds (usually 2) every time. In the real world, a threat won't necessarily succumb to a predetermined number of hits. Conversely, a threat may succumb to fewer rounds than you've trained for. This could result in you continuing to launch bullets over a fallen attacker causing unnecessary property damage or serious injuries to nonthreats. In addition to NSR drills, we performed a number of untimed accuracy-oriented exercises and a qualification course that went from 5-25 yards. Day 1 culminated with a review of material covered and a debrief in the classroom.

(Photo by Varg Freeborn)

Training Day 2

  Training day 2 began in the classroom for part 2 of the "Violence of Mind" lecture. This portion consisted of a lot of video analysis. We watched a number of officer-involved shootings (OIS) and, without being demeaning or judgmental, discussed what the officers did right and wrong in each situation. We also watched an extremely interesting video (below) where some very violent prison gang members were interviewed by law enforcement. This gave us some serious insight into their world. I never doubted how violent these folks were, but I was surprised at the disciplined training regimens many of them maintained to stay fit, lethal, and educated.

  Some comments made by the convicts in the video solidified something that Varg told us early in the lecture - many today in the firearms training industry believe that you can look a certain way or perform certain actions to look "locked-on" or dangerous and deter criminals from selecting you as a target. Although these tactics may work for lower level criminals they likely won't if you find yourself in the crosshairs of a high order predator. If a high order predator has selected you he will spend time analyzing you for weaknesses and determining the best way to subdue you. One of your best defenses against analysis is unpredictability. This led to a long discussion about target selection versus target analysis that you can find in Varg's book, in many interviews he's given online, or in a One Life Defense class. Again, like day 1, the lecture went into far more depth than I will attempt to cover in a blog post. While Varg's lectures will educate you and blow some of your preconceived notions out of the water, they will also leave you with some questions that you'll have to ponder and figure out on your own. Varg pulls no punches in his lectures. They are about the realities of self-defense against high order predators. Some of his beliefs go against popular trends in the firearms training industry, but they are all grounded in his personal experiences and are worthy of consideration even if they challenge current doctrine.

(Photo by Trevor Kongable)

    After day 2's lecture, we headed back to the range and strapped on inert blue guns. Varg had us perform a unique exercise. While many of us place emphasis on having a fast drawstroke, but Varg is the first instructor I've trained with who emphasized a surreptitious draw. The ability to subtly draw a weapon without alerting potential attackers or startling innocents is important and underrated. We practiced surreptitious draws for a little while and then Varg split us into groups. The bulk of the class milled about in a small crowd such as you would encounter in a mall, nightclub, etc. 4-5 of us had to subtly move through the crowd towards Varg and safely perform a surreptitious draw without giving ourselves away. This was a very worthwhile, interesting drill. We all had the chance to rotate into an observation role, too, so that we could see what this scenario looked like from Varg's perspective.

Varg demonstrates how to subtly move through a crowd and surreptitiously draw your weapon. (Photo by Trevor Kongable)

  We repeated the live-fire qualification course from day 1 and conducted more timed drills from concealment. Varg held us to high accuracy standards throughout the class. When it became apparent late on day 2 that folks were getting tired and accuracy was degrading he dialed us back in with some untimed, accuracy-oriented drills. Our range time for day 2 culminated with a pretty physical drill where the shooter is held down by the rest of the class for about one minute. As the shooter struggles to get away his heart rate increases and he becomes out of breath and disheveled. Several shooters lost shoes, hats, etc while they tried to escape. Eventually, Varg gave the command for the shooter to be released. The shooter then sprinted a few yards to the firing line where the instructors had arranged threat and nonthreat targets in creative ways. The shooter had to register what he was seeing and sometimes move to an odd angle in order to engage the threat target without endangering nonthreats.

Students pin a classmate to the ground during our culminating exercise. (Photo by Varg Freeborn)

  After the culminating live-fire exercise we headed back to the classroom to debrief the last 2 training days. Varg was very interested in student feedback and answered any final questions. This was the most mindset-heavy class I've ever attended. Varg is articulate, raw, and very passionate about his material. We did not take it for granted that he was reliving and sharing very personal, life-altering experiences with us so that we could better prepare to defend ourselves. He is the real deal. On the range, he shared unique, practical drills and held us to high accuracy standards throughout. If you are preparing to defend yourself or loved ones from violence you should attend one of Varg's classes. If you can't swing that you should consider picking up his book, Violence of Mind, or subscribe to his Patreon page where he provides exclusive, interactive content.


(Photo by author)

  During the class, I used my relatively plain 3rd Generation Glock 19. It has a home-brewed stipple job, Ameriglo iron sights with a .090" front, a Glock minus connector, and Tau Development Group's Striker Control Device. I carried it in an Eidolon AIWB holster from Raven Concealment. I carried a spare magazine at 11:00 in a C&G Holsters IWB mag carrier. My V Development Group Megingjörð belt held all of this gear in place and kept my pants up. Speaking of pants, I was rocking my Tactical Distributors SYG jeans and Carlos Ray pants. Both are comfortable, durable, and have plenty of extra, discreet pockets to store your EDC.