I have been carrying a handgun every day for 39 years, since I left the basic police academy and been a student of armed conflict, especially pistol fighting, ever since. I have made it a point to talk with as many gunfight “prevailers” as possible along the way and I refuse to use the word “survive” as this is not what is required during a fight. Survive means “to remain in existence”… it is what one does if they have no say in what is occurring, much like the passengers on the Titanic. When engaged in armed conflict, the goal is to win… to be victorious…nothing else is acceptable. To survive means you are hoping luck is on your side and while I have heard it said it is better to be lucky than good, I prefer to make my own luck by being as skilled as possible. You see, the harder I’ve worked, the luckier I’ve become…at least as combative skills are concerned.
Training is just a step in the process of skill. First, one must understand they are at risk and decide on a course of action to thwart danger. In the case of criminal attack, this course of action will involve training in combative skills (“verbal judo”, open hand, impact weapons, chemical sprays, firearms etc.) as just buying a gun is not enough, though many believe it is. I continually hear from people who own and like guns but doubt the need for training. Some refer to The American Rifleman column The Armed Citizen that highlights average citizens repelling criminal attack across the U.S. Seldom are these citizens’ trained combative shooters, leading many to believe training is not necessary. Please understand this column highlights successes, not failures which there are many! Do you really think a column entitled “Folks who got lucky with their gun” would be a better banner for the magazine?! Yes, the first rule of gunfighting is to have a gun, but the person skilled with the gun is MUCH more likely to prevail. We have known since the days of the Spartans that the single biggest factor in overcoming fear in conflict is confidence in personal skill(s)!
While the handgun is not the best weapon for personal security, it is the one you will likely have on/with you when you need a gun! Thus, the focus of my training company is “the combative application of the pistol” meaning I want to make students ready and willing to fight with the handgun. I really don’t care if I help them with their next match, what I want is prepare them for the most serious few seconds of their life. The person who says the stress of competition is the same as combat has never been shot at. I have competed and I have had someone try to take my life, trust me the two are nothing alike. Competition is fine and should be pursued, but there is no expectation of injury or death…no one is shooting back at you.
The primary goal of training is to hit your opponent well enough to stop their immediate action…death is irrelevant! If you hit them in the head and knock them out, great!! The problem with handguns, of any caliber, is they are underpowered weapons and require hits to vital areas of the body to get true incapacitation. You have to hit an important part of the body…period! While any hit on the body might convince your attacker to stop, you can’t count on this…as noted trainer John Farnam has said, “Whatever your opponent was doing before you shot them is probably the same thing they will be doing after you shoot them.” I have seen many different caliber bullets removed from bodies at autopsy and I no longer concern myself with the 9mm vs. .45 arguments. I have seen with my own eyes that current generation hollow point ammo works well and bridges the gap between calibers. While I favor the all-copper Corbon DPX, you can also pick an HST, SXT, Ranger-T or Gold Dot and use the caliber you can control well in rapid fire and hit what you are shooting at multiple times while moving! That is where stopping power comes from in a fight…
Targets are important in this training process though many do not understand this. Some instructors are more concerned with using a target they designed than having one that trains their students to hit vital areas. It is well recognized through the research of SLA Marshal and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman that a combative target must look like a human being. People must look across their sights and see a person if you want them to shoot humans. Bulls-eye targets are fine for marksmanship, but if you want to prepare students to take a life they must train on “people”. A combination of paper, 3D, steel and covered targets works best. It’s certainly acceptable to shoot shapes (circles, triangles, dots, etc.) and objects while working essential shooting skills, but to prepare for conflict the student must shoot human-like targets to be truly prepared.
I have designed a number of targets that emphasize shot placement to vital areas and they have been successful, based on the reports I have received from my students who have prevailed in gunfights. Keep in mind that I trained cops for thirty years and have had many, many involved in gunfights. I have never lost one and all stopped their assailants with accurate outbound fire. I combine these paper targets with steel plates to stop the student from trying to “score” their targets between shots, an act that takes their eyes off the sights, moves their head and shifts the eyes to the target. While I understand shooters will want to focus on what is attacking them, especially at close range, I know sighted fire is the best way to stop a threat quickly and if I can keep the shooter on the sights until the target falls in front of them then I have given them a precious skill. Falling 3D targets and knock over steel plates are invaluable for this.
The final target in the process is interaction with moving humans that show impact via Simunitions, paintball or Airsoft and people who are struck do react somewhat even if it is not the same way as they would if incapacitated. It is important to be a good training partner in this type of training. Pretending you are bot hit due to embarrassment does not accomplish this! When training to save your own life, choose your targets wisely…they may mean the difference between success and failure…and in combat failure is not an option as death is the result…