Sunday, July 26, 2015

It Depends: Firearms & combat techniques should adapt to the specific situation

Whenever you get a group of people together who share extensive knowledge in the same subject matter, disagreement inevitably ensues. Firearms instructors and those who are serious students of the topic are no different. I’ve been in groups where two participants have almost come to blows over such miniscule topics as whether the support arm should be bent, should the body be bladed, teaching students to look at the sights, how to breathe, what type of gun is best (caliber, capacity, shotgun vs. carbine).

I seldom say much in these gatherings, for several reasons. One, if I’m talking, I’m not listening. If I don’t listen, I don’t learn. Two, little is ever resolved by such argument, because those involved seldom change their mind/point of view, and I doubt that I will be able to sway anyone. But such arguments aren’t without repercussions. Who gets hurt in such disagreements? The individual looking for knowledge, trying to build their skill set so when they face a life-threatening situation, they have a skill base to draw upon. These people don’t know what/who to believe because those with expertise in an area are often too busy fighting over who knows more, who’s right or whose doctrine (dogma might be a better word, as such views are usually unchangeable) is better.

 Don’t get me wrong. I have my opinions on how combative firearms should be taught—most of it based on simplicity of action (see my previous blog on “physiological efficiency”) or skill development—but I don’t believe my views are so “ultimate” that I should argue about them. The truth is (and I pride myself on this) If something proven superior to what I’m teaching comes along, I’ll change instantly, because all I want to pass on to those I train is results! If it won’t help win the fight, then I’m wasting their time. That said, one successful incident does not make good technique…there must be history (repetitive use) behind anything useful.  I recently had a gentleman tell me “I don’t care about history… I want the science behind gunfighting!”  I’m not sure gunfighting is a science as it is too variable and seldom the same. In addition, “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”


But how does an LEO or armed citizen decide what tactics or techniques will help them prevail? In reality, it’s tough because so much of what happens in conflict is situationally dependent. I’ve been taught any number of techniques over the years that worked well on the range or in the gym only to find out they were less than stellar on the street. In addition, police training often takes on a perspective that’s not appropriate for all potential situations.

In recent years, cops have been under attack in a way that’s only happened a few times in our history. I say “few times” because cops have been in the crosshairs before: NYPD cops remember the early 1970s, when Officers Foster, Laurie, Jones and Piagentini were actually stalked and ambushed by black militants. The famous Newhall incident, in which four California Highway Patrol officers were confronted and overwhelmed by two armed and committed suspects, wasn’t that much different than the four Washington State officers who were attacked and killed in a coffee shop or the recent attack on a Detroit police precinct. And we all remember the famous Miami FBI shootout of April 1986, one of the most studied events in law enforcement history. All of these incidents share a common thread: Armed, committed suspects knowingly attack armed and trained LEOs and kill them.

It’s happened before and it will happen again. The questions: Will we (both cops and armed citizens) be ready for it? Will our training cover the circumstances we will face? Or will our complacency get the better of us? 


Do we train cops and armed citizens to fight to the death, or do we train them to “stop the suspect’s immediate action”? I can’t help but wonder whether many people in life-or-death situations are thinking about saving their own lives vs. trying to put the suspect in handcuffs or get them to go away. There’s a difference, and it’s situationally dependent. Fighting to the death when attacked by a committed murderer is a much different situation from making an arrest or repelling an attack—but do we train to recognize and react to the difference?

In the law enforcement arena, many police administrators will remind us that we police society; we’re not at war with them. In the case of armed citizens, many states require the citizen to escape first if at all possible. But are we prepared when members of our society…violent felons… go to war with us?

Even the techniques we teach/use in the field are situationally dependent. Handgun-ready positions are a perfect example: They’re numerous, and every school/instructor has their favorite, but no single ready position will work for all situations. Yes, the ready position is situationally dependent.

The two positions that enjoy incredible popularity currently are the Temple Index and SUL. In a nutshell, the Temple Index is the gun held against the side of the head with the muzzle pointed upward. SUL is the gun held flat against the support hand, which is flat against the chest. In truth, neither was intended to be a general use Ready Position but have taken on a life of their own due to their newness and “cool” loo when used on the range. When I was young, looking cool on the range was not a factor but it certainly is now!

Other positions like Chest Ready are very fast on target and easy to teach, but we’re also taught not to point the muzzle at anything we’re not willing to destroy, which is where SUL comes in. I’ve seen SUL taught as the primary building search position in many parts of the country. Instructors tell me that it keeps the muzzle off non-hostiles. It’s “safer,” they say. But I can’t help but wonder: When do we allow our students to be dangerous? After all, aren’t they potentially facing off with dangerous suspect(s) when they search a building, suspects that may snuff out their life? Is having the gun flat against the chest a disadvantage at close quarters? Is having the support hand under the pistol an advantageous position vs. up and away, ready to fend off a close attack? The choice is yours…

In the end, which Ready Position one uses is situationally dependent.


Fortunately, U.S. LEOs and armed citizens confront far more armed suspects than they shoot. When such confrontations occur, officers and citizens orient their sidearm/long gun in the direction of the threat in an attempt to get them to comply with their verbal commands. The firearm is used as a tool of compliance; its use is a threat of what will happen if the suspect doesn’t comply which is sound practice.

This said, if as a suspect you were confronted by an armed officer, would you feel more threatened by a gun in Chest Ready or SUL, or by a gun that was outstretched, pointed in your general direction—as if the officer was ready to use it? It’s always a good idea to think like your opponent when anchoring skills and techniques for your use. The extended position is called the Guard or Low Ready: The gun is slightly low, so the shooter can see the entire suspect and what their intentions might be. It’s the same position they would use with a long gun. Although its use in the street is well documented, the Guard/Low Ready position is no longer taught in many regions, as it’s thought to be “old school.” It is unfortunate that many things determined to be old school are also documented to have worked over many years.

In addition to ready positions, the choice of weapon is also situationally dependent. The carbine is here to stay, which is a really good thing because it gives patrol officers and armed citizens greater capability to respond to a wider range of threats. I’ve heard a number of instructors make the statement, “Use your handgun to fight your way to a long gun.” But is that reality? I understand the sentiment behind the statement, but can it be done?

Maybe. But the history of unexpected conflict reveals that the fight starts and finishes in seconds…one or both (maybe more!) of the combatants involved go down with their available gun(s) empty or almost empty. Reality states that the fight will start and finish with the weapons the individual has in their hand or on their person. Does this make the carbine unnecessary? Hell no! The person who knowingly goes to a gunfight with a handgun isn’t very smart, but that also doesn’t mean the carbine will replace the handgun.

The bottom line is train and practice with all available weapons, because what weapon comes into play is situationally dependent.

Essential Focus

At this point you might be asking, how can we possibly train for every potential situation we could face if/when engaged in armed conflict? The harsh reality is we can’t.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying. How many training programs have you seen developed based on a single incident? If an officer somewhere in the U.S. is hurt or killed in a mud hole while trying to draw their back up gun from an ankle holster, a slew of “Combat Mud Hole & Ankle Holster” courses will be introduced with THE ANSWER to this situation revealed. Uh huh…

But do we really need such a program? Is it a wise use of limited time and money? Could this situation have been dealt with by a focus on the fundamentals (what I prefer to call The Essentials!) of drawing from the chosen holster and basic punches and kicks adapted to being prone? If you’re going to use an ankle holster, it makes sense to spend some time drawing from it—upright, kneeling, laying on your side or back, falling, getting up, the same things you’d train on with your primary belt holster!

And is fighting on the ground really different from fighting upright? I’m not talking about grappling, I’m talking about fighting: punching, kicking, biting, gouging, head butting and other related non-competition acts of combat. If you can do it upright, you can (with a bit of thought) adapt it to being on the ground. It’s just a matter of reorientation…and commitment!

So much of this is a matter of how you think about the situation at hand. History has shown that the person who will win a gunfight, regardless of how it unfolds, is the one who can keep their head and adapt their skill set(s) to the situation they face, not the person with the fastest draw. Again, there’s no way to specifically prepare for every potential situation you may face. But you can train on how to adjust your tactics to the situation at hand.

In the end…

Maintaining situational awareness and being willing to engage in combat will always be the keys to your personal security. The attack that’s a complete surprise will always be hard to get the upper hand if not impossible, regardless of your level of training and combative mindset. Reality bites; there’s just no way to prepare for every potential situation. Adaptation of essential skills, combined with a combative mindset, is critical…and nothing else will be as vital…












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