Chris Costa Reflects on “The Art of the Tactical Carbine”

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine

In part one of our two part interview with Chris Costa, we talk with Chris about his early days at Magpul Dynamics and his role in the very influential video, The Art of the Tactical Carbine.  With Magpul celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year, we think it’s a fitting time to look back at the tremendous influence of that video, and also discuss with Chris Costa how the training concepts shared in that video have evolved over time.

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine

To get totally up to speed on Chris Costa’s background, be sure check out his bio over at his Costa Ludus website.  Below, we begin at the point in our conversation where Chris discusses his initial introduction to Magpul and how that led to the creation of The Art of the Tactical Carbine.

Q:  Chris, can you talk a bit about your first exposure to Magpul, and how that eventually led you to be founder and president of Magpul Dynamics?

Chris Costa:  I first started working with Magpul because they were going to provide a stock for the Kriss submachine gun.  Kriss had contracted the security company I worked for because we had some other projects that we were doing for them, defeating IEDs and everything else…and the submachine gun was like this “other thing” the security company had. We had said, “oh, we can probably help you with that, as well.”

So, we went out to visit Magpul.  Now, this is back when biggest thing that Magpul had hit was the 93 Bravo stock, if you ever remember that stock that Magpul did…It was like this bizarre, ratchet stock that Rick Fitzpatrick (Magpul founder Richard Fitzpatrick) designed.

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine
Magpul M93 Stock

Well, we sat down with Magpul because we were like “hey, we have a gun that we’re working on and it’s going to need a stock.”  But at the time, frankly we didn’t really know exactly what this gun was going to look like. I’ll be honest, the Kriss, when I first got it, just looked like a spray nozzle.

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine
A younger Chris Costa with a Kriss Vector…photo via The Firearm Blog

The Swiss designers of the Kriss had gone back and forth over how this gun was going to work. Their designers had created the main mechanism and designed the way the recoil mechanism works, but they couldn’t figure out how to design a gun around it. 

Well, as it worked out, it was Mike Mayberry of Magpul who ended up creating the entire housing around that mechanism.  In 30 days, Mike Mayberry designed this gun around it, and that’s how our relationship grew, and how I grew with Magpul prior to us starting Magpul Dynamics.

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine
Kriss Vector at the range…

Chris Costa Discusses How Frustration Leads to Opportunity

Next, I helped them out on a future weapons project.  It was around that time we had a conversation about a frustration I was having. I was frustrated because I was on a Department of Defense contract.  I was trying to make the shooting test for qualification harder.  The Department of Defense was trying to make it easier. 

So I was frustrated because my thought process was we were letting guys slide through and they were going to do a counter-terrorism mission, and if they get killed because they’re not really qualified, then that blood was on my hands.  So, it was just a few months later that I ended up starting Magpul Dynamics. 

Magpul Dynamics proof-of-concept promo piece shot during a SWAT training class…

To start, we filmed test runs.  We did a Magpul Dynamics SWAT video…That was a quick video to see if we had the concept.  Then we did Art of the Tactical Carbine, Part 1, Disc 2.  This is why Travis (Haley) isn’t in it, because Travis was not hired yet. After we filmed that video, Rich, the owner of Magpul, was like, “we need another personality.”

And that’s how it came to be in regards to Travis coming on board.  The first thing we did together was The Art of the Tactical Carbine, Part 1, Disc 1. 

Trailer for the 3 DVD set “The Art of the Tactical Carbine” Vol 1 by Magpul Dynamics with instructors Travis Haley and Chris Costa.

Q:  It’s been about 10 years since that video came out.  It was very influential for me.  There’s a lot of solid concepts in that video around efficiency of motion, rapid, multiple hit and things like that.  Can you talk about how influential that video was at the time?  It seems like that video was the start of a lot of things.

Chris Costa:  Rich wanted to do something more “traditional”, originally.  He was thinking, “hey, I’m going to teach on camera.  I’m going to tell people how to shoot.”  Which is what we’re used to with like Kelly McCaan, Gabriel Suarez videos, and Front Sight videos. I said, “you know, the problem with those videos is that after five minutes I always turn them off.  I’m tired of seeing the guy wearing body armor, dressed up. There’s something about those videos.  I don’t know what it is, but as a viewer it’s very painful to watch.” 

So I told Rich that if we could perhaps instead film a class, that would be awesome, because there’s just so much that happens in a class.  So with the very capable video people that we had, we sat down and we mapped what a video like that would look like.

Chris Costa on Finding the Right Recipe

Now, as it turns out when we first filmed, we didn’t yet have the right recipe.  That recipe eventually morphed into “Film me, then I demo.  Then film the students.  Film me, then I demo. Film the students.”

Then, when we added Travis and hired him, it was “Film me.  Film the students.  Then film Travis. Film the students.  Film me.”  So, as a viewer, you were always bouncing back and forth.

Q:  That formula certainly helped keep things watchable and moving.  I think the other thing that helped these videos become popular was the overall DVD format and how everything was structured…even just having a dedicated drills section you could use as almost a quick reference guide. Can you talk about that?

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine

Chris Costa:  I certainly think it was done at an ideal time.  We all had DVD players back then.  Now, it’s laptops.  Today, I don’t have discs in my laptop and I’m not buying discs to watch on my TV.  But back then, you’d see people taking their old school laptops out to the range and watching the drills section.

Now Just Show Me

I do think the drills section was really good because it allowed people the ability to not have to go back.  That was actually Rich’s idea.  Rich had the creativity, and he knew what he wanted to see. He said “I don’t want to have to go back through the DVD to watch a technique.  I want to be able to see “Urban Prone”  That’s it…no talking.  No nothing….I already heard how you wanted me to do it earlier in the video, now just show it to me”

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine
Chris Costa in urban prone…Screenshot from The Art of the Tactical Carbine.

The Art of the Tactical Carbine – Making it Fun

As for the timing of when The Art of the Tactical Carbine was released, I think it was done at a very opportune time…and I think it changed things.  It made it fun.  Even the way we filmed The Art of the Tactical Carbine was different.  I duct taped a Sony camera to the side of my gun in the Art of the Tactical Carbine Part 1, just to give a first person shooter perspective. 

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine
On-gun footage screengrab from The Art of the Tactical Carbine…I still really want that upper, btw.

It was unorthodox, but we didn’t have GoPros or Contours, so we were just trying to make it as cool as it could possibly be. 

Q:  It was certainly a cool video to watch, but there was also some good info in there as well. 

Chris Costa:  So there were three things that Rich wanted to hit, as the owner.  He wanted it to be entertaining, motivational and educational…all three of those things. He said “if it’s just entertainment, no one will watch it.  There’s nothing to learn from it.  If it’s all educational and it’s not fun, then people will turn it off. “

Q:  As we wrap up talking about The Art of the Tactical Carbine…I think it’s important to note that the curriculum you or Travis teach today is probably a bit different than what was going on at the time of the video.  Can you talk about the idea that there are good, solid things in those videos, but at the same time….things change?

Chris Costa:  Really good question.  There are fundamental things that are taught across the board.  Your speed reloads, your tac reloads…How to get down into an urban prone position.  Most of those things don’t really change too much.  Maybe the stories behind them do, but for the most part, if you go to another guy’s class, he’s going to probably teach you a few different ways of doing speed reloads that are all very similar across the board.

That said, I’m still active in the law enforcement community. So for me…things change.  Bad guys change their habits.  When you look at certain aspects of what you were doing years ago versus what you are doing now, there’s subtleties that have to change over time. I don’t know how anybody’s curriculum can’t change, and the mindset behind that curriculum.  Mindset drives a lot.

Chris Costa talks mindset…

Leaving the Mag Well

Chris Costa:  Most techniques are standard across the board, but I will say there’s a few funny things.  When you look at people grabbing the gun up forward.  Years ago, I remember you couldn’t get a person to leave the mag well of their M4. 

People bitched and moaned about “grabbing the front of the gun was stupid, and if you do it, your wouldn’t do it in CQB.”  Well, today you can’t find a picture of anymore of someone grabbing the mag well.  There’s nobody touching a mag well of a gun anymore. 

Now, people over exaggerated it and made it like I was grabbing on the top of the gun or I couldn’t see over my arm or all this other weird shit. The funny thing is, they’re all doing it today.  I think that videos like the The Art of the Tactical Carbine caused a lot of people to kind of question what they were doing. 

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine

Chris Costa on Better Ways of Teaching

Chris Costa:  Most of us were prior military and law enforcement.  We got out of the military and we taught exactly what the military taught us, right?  We forgot that there’s a whole other side of shooting.  It took the first DVD for me to realize “I don’t need to teach the way I was contractually obligated to teach,” if that makes sense. 

I had to teach a certain way in the military because that was the standard, and that was the way it was going to be.  But once I got out of the military, I was able to break that paradigm better  and know that “I don’t have to do these techniques.  I don’t have to teach off of a vert grip, or off of a mag well.”  There are better ways of doing things that are out there and I think when you step out away from that institutional inertia,  you see with a different set of eyes and that changed a lot of what I was doing from what I did years ago.


This concludes part one of our interview with Chris Costa of Costa Ludus.  In the days ahead, look for part two of our interview with Chris Costa, where we talk about Costa Ludus, how to set up an AR, combat mindset and much more.

Chris Costa The Art of the Tactical Carbine

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