Sunday, June 7, 2015

Trendy Crap: Use what is effective, not what looks cool.

I'm often startled when I wake up and realize how old I am. It seems like just yesterday that I was a young cop wanting to confront bad guys at every turn. In those days, I used to look at the older guys and think they were out of touch, with nothing but old and out-of-date information to offer. How wrong I was!! Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s out of date. Often, it means that it's proven in battle, and I’ll take a proven technique or tactic over something new and noteworthy every time.

Why? As I age, I place a higher value on my life. I want to be around to watch my kids become parents and watch my grandkids become adults. Although I don’t want to pick a fight with the younger generation of combative shooters, I see an interesting trend toward techniques that look cool, what many call “tacti-cool”, but aren’t necessarily proven to win a fight or are used out of context of their original intent.

Remember… Fighting is final! If you engage in combat, you run the risk of being hurt or killed. It’s not a video game! There is no way to engage in nice fighting…there is no room for politically correct in this arena. I fear that some American cops and armed citizens have reached a time when force is preferably minimal instead of reasonable while on the other end of the spectrum, some want to use military-style, battle zone tactics in domestic conflict. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in several landmark cases that force must be reasonable based on the circumstances at hand, but how many cases do you know of in which police officers used reasonable force only to get thrown under the bus? Don’t think it would happen to an armed citizen? I have a brand new bridge to sell you in my home town, fantasy gunfighter…

Old Is New

Crucible Founder Kelly McCann, a former Marine Special Missions Officer, has said, If you want to learn something new, read an old book. If you read the old books written by such men as John Styers, William Fairbairn, Eric Sykes, Rex Applegate, Ed McGivern and Elmer Keith, you will find some variation of the techniques currently being taught as “new”. The fact is there are only so many ways to shoot a gun, throw a punch, a kick or swing a baton. If some instructor advertises a course as having the latest, state-of-the-art technique based on real-world situations, it’s unlikely it's truly ORIGINAL, which is different from new. New is something you have never seen before but it does not mean it is original…it probably is not. It’s merely been recycled or reinvented as a large number of folks are trying to make a living conducting firearms training and to get your attention, they’ re trying to be different from the rest. But are they really?

 I recently visited a range facility in South Florida where I hope to conduct training next year. The owners were very friendly to me, but said they have put a halt on outside instructors. “Every guy coming back from Iraq wants to be a tactical firearms instructor and some of the stuff we have seen them teach is not only silly, it is unsafe!!  We had to stop one guy last week in mid-course because he had students swinging guns back and forth across one another…he told them this was “real world firearms training”. Maybe in a war zone, but not here at this facility and certainly not for armed citizens in America”. Being “different” is not the same as being “effective”…know the difference! Also keep in mind what may work in the battle zone environment might not be appropriate in a domestic confrontation no matter how cool it looks.  If you doubt this you will likely “be cured” by a journey through our criminal justice system…

A number of years ago, I created a quick test anyone can use to evaluate any tactic or technique to determine if it’s worth learning, practicing and anchoring. I call it the Three S Test. First, is the tactic or technique simple to perform? If it's not simple to do on the range or training mat, do you really think it's going to get easier during a fight? Remember, we default to the level of training we have anchored, not just experienced. This doesn't mean all complicated techniques are bad; it just means they’ll require more time and effort to anchor. Decide if it's worth it. Simple techniques are easier to learn, practice and master to keep sharp.  Does the tactic or technique make sense to you? You're likely an adult with a wide range of life and job experiences, have formal education and task-specific training, maybe you were in the military or law enforcement and saw conflict. Maybe you are the victim of a violent crime and have adopted a “never again” attitude… If a technique doesn’t make sense to you, listen to your gut and ask the instructor about it.  Is the tactic or technique street proven? The instructor must be able to give you examples of where it's been used in real-street combat. One incident isn't enough, a trend is MUCH better…you know, PROVEN! Be careful if the technique is named after the instructor, or the technique is the hinge pin of the entire program. No one should be a lab rat for someone s whim or effort to make money.

Guidance & Control

Any technique that will be used to save your life must be applied without a great deal of concentration and effort. In a situation that will last but a few seconds, there isn't time to observe, orient, decide and act (OODA). Col. John Boyd's OODA loop has become a mainstay of combative training in the U.S. but, at times, it's applied incorrectly. Many believe you must cycle through the entire loop, which isn't true. Boyd created the loop while training jet fighter pilots who may very well engage in the ultimate gunfights. After all, these combatants fight with missiles and large caliber weapons that are designed to bring down an airplane. They're also traveling at speeds in the hundreds of miles per hour. Do you really think they have time to orient to the situation they’re facing? In reality, these pilots must see and do, knowing what action they must take based on what is unfolding in front of them. According to Boyd's original diagram (it’s not really a loop as often times shown), they're able to accomplish this through implicit guidance and control, which brings us to a quality training program. The best explanation of the OODA Concept I have heard comes from former Special Forces soldier and lead instructor at the Rodger’s Shooting School Claude Werner.  Claude offers some fantastic information via his web site ( check it out!!

Few law enforcement agencies give officers enough training time to achieve this level of skill and I believe the same thing can be said for the armed citizen. Keep in mind there is never enough time to give the number of repetitions needed to truly anchor a skill in a 2-5 day training program.  What instructors hope to achieve is a solid understanding of what is learned so the student can return home and PRACTICE the techniques to an anchor point. The training time given to fighter pilots, special operations troops and full time SWAT teams allows them to see and do…a huge commitment of time and money!  How many times per year will you train? The national average for law enforcement agencies is between two and three times, but is that enough? Are you willing to train on your own? After all, each and every one of us needs to be an active participant in our own rescue.  Would you bet five bucks on a football team that you knew the quarterback and practiced with the ball 2 to 3 times that year?

Many of us who consider ourselves combative firearms enthusiasts have read about the training conducted for the British SOE and American OSS during WWII. Trainers like Fairbairn, Sykes and Applegate trained a sizeable number of people to parachute behind enemy lines and conduct covert operations against the Germans and Japanese in America s first Shadow War. This training program is well-chronicled and it’s clear that they didn’t receive the amount of training time that is currently committed to today s police cadet in the basic academy. The difference was that great pains were taken to eliminate anything that wasn’t needed and to keep what was taught straight-forward and simple. Again, simple is easy to teach, practice, master and maintain with minimal time and effort. As is often the case, less is more. 

When discussing use-of-force skills (e.g., firearms, baton, knife, hand-to-hand, verbal skills), I view simplicity as “physiologically efficient”. Physiology deals with living organisms, and efficiency is defined as producing the desired result with the minimum of effort, expense or waste. To me, this means using the living organism (human body) to accomplish a goal with the least amount of effort, expense or waste possible by eliminating unnecessary motion. It is a term from track and field where proper technique is of critical importance. “Just because a technique is faster doesn’t mean it’s more efficient” some say. But if it’s faster and accomplishes the task, then it's more efficient, period.  Recently, I have had several internet snipers “correct” my terminology telling me “you mean biomechanical efficiency” and no I don’t.  It may mean the same thing but the term is not mine and I use it as originally intended. For those who have nothing better to do than troll the internet and look for this type of stuff to raise their profile, I will say FUCK OFF! There…I feel better…

Simple Isn't Necessarily Better Depending on your Goal

Simplicity sounds like a great idea, right? The problem is that simple isn’t always minimal, at least as far as the use of force is applied. Example: Fighting techniques, such as face rakes, hammer fists to the nose, knees to the groin or spearing elbows to the chest, are all effective and simple to learn. They are also proven techniques that certainly meet the Three S Test. The problem is they aren’t minimal in their application; they hurt people, and that is something many can’t stomach, regardless of whether or not they are legally reasonable. Thus, we spend time and effort trying to learn complex techniques such as arm-bar takedowns, joint manipulations and pressure points, because they are less brutal.

Look at the Taser, an effective tool that’s now under fire because its use isn’t as “clean” as many thought it would be. Many thought it would be a nice way to disable someone: They’d be shot with the Taser, freeze and drop in place. What happens to a person’s head when they are suddenly incapacitated and gravity takes them to the ground? Oops! Also reality set in… People started dying and, even though no death has been directly linked to the Taser application, the country is aghast at how “inhumane” it is. In reality, it’s not inhumane; it’s merely force, and the use of force will always be ugly, destructive, brutal and bloody. It will never be clean and antiseptic…you know, NICE way to apply force and people will get hurt …some will die. Make sure you are using it appropriately whether cop or armed citizen…cool looking techniques might not meet this standard.


Too many instructors go off to a school and return to teach what they learned for no other reason than the course was fun and they learned some neat stuff. With so much on the line, there is no room for the trendy, only the proven! Proven techniques save lives, which is the primary goal of any training program. Anything less is clutter. Because our training time and ammo is minimal, thus precious, we need to evaluate what we’re currently doing and ask, is this program really answering our needs or are we just teaching what appears to be “new”?


  1. Thank you sir for your continued interest in improving our self defense education and training. I do have a question about the use of "less lethal" for self denfense. Maybe you can write about this in a future article.

    What is your opinion on the everyday carry of something like pepper spray? I am a male and currently carry a firearm, spare mag, small pocket flashlight and a pocket knife.

    Recently I have seen a trend by some trainers to recommend carry of pepper spray as well. I am not convinced that it's a great idea. They state that is a good idea legally to have an escalation of force available. I guess I can see the reasoning but would like some input from someone who is more qualified like yourself. Is pepper spray something I should seriously consider?

    I don't want to come across as a paranoid Rambo by carrying too much stuff. Is there such a thing as too much?


    1. Probably...just give it some thought based on your real world of work and play...