Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Idiotic Arguments: Stop trying to be right & start training technique options!

Preparation is an important part of being ready to fight, and training is part and parcel of preparation. Information is critical for preparation, and arguing over stupid shit doesn’t help! What shit, you ask? They can be many in the firearms training realm, but it’s generally those subjects that pop up every so often that serve no purpose other than to confuse people or sell magazines. Most are silly, but “experts” (ex= a has been, spurt= something you do in your undershorts) argue them continually, even if they inhibit preparation and training. For many, the need to be right overrides everything, and these people will argue forever, regardless of whether anything is being accomplished. 

What I’m going to do here is take a look at a couple of these idiotic topics in hopes that we can begin to understand that such bickering solves nothing other than make some internet troll feel good about his sad and useless life. In doing so, those who are looking for a path to preparation can move forward. Critical thought will get most people past these silly debates, but some will still want to argue in an effort to raise their profile. Remember, “common sense” is poorly titled in this day and age. Sense is not common in the age of the internet…

Handgun Stopping Power

 I wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of handgun stopping power, and it proved to be a mistake. I thought I could collect shooting data from across the country, and then come to a definitive conclusion. After all, part of a thesis is to defend a research conclusion. But how do you do that when nothing seems to come together? The agencies I contacted were good at supplying data, and I actively collect shooting data until my retirement from LE. However, for every good result I collected, I also get a failure, making it hard to come to a conclusion regardless of caliber.

There are two types of incapacitation: physical and psychological. Psychological incapacitation is impossible to measure, as some people will stop with a round through the finger. Others will fight through multiple 5.56 rounds to the chest. Physical incapacitation is usually explained as violating vital organs or leaking as much blood as possible, which can certainly kill, but they don’t necessarily stop instantly. So where does this leave us?

In the laboratory we look at wound patterns in ballistic gelatin—an apples to apples comparison of potential wounding effectiveness. But gelatin isn’t human tissue. Humans aren’t a consistent, homogenous substance. Let’s disregard this and look at wound volume for each caliber. You’ll see that wound volume of the best .45 is 15–20% larger than the best 9 mm. Thus, it’s safe to say that a bigger bullet is a better bullet.

Now for the bad news… that 15–20% is not enough to make up for poor shot placement, so we still have to hit something important for our handgun round to be deemed effective. The heart and aorta are about the size of a 3 x 5 card as is the vital areas in the head. Both are protected by bone. Multiple hits to such a small target are difficult under the pandemonium of a gunfight. Thus, we must take into account the probability of a missed shot. The best hollow point round available will be useless if it impacts the wall next to our attacker. Hits are critical. If a miss happens, we must be able to get back on target quickly for a fast follow-up shot.  Try this drill…run into position quickly, plant and draw and fire multiple hits to a 3 x 5 card and then instantly move again.  Take no more than a few seconds to do this…how did you do?

In truth, we should select the  largest caliber handgun that we can control under-rapid fire, given the level of training and practice time we have available under the weather conditions and environment we’re likely to face. Once you’ve determined this, practice until you’re confident in your skill. Cute, easy to carry guns will make this more difficult so choose wisely.

Isosceles vs. Weaver

 What we are arguing here? The Weaver stance, as currently taught, is squarer to the target than in the past. Most realize that, in a fight, you’ll face your attacker, so the strongly bladed position is gone. Because we all know recoil is best controlled by leaning the upper body into the gun, all that’s being argued is whether the support arm should be bent. Doing so pulls the shooting arm back into the body like a rifle stock. The Isosceles, on the other hand, pushes the gun forward like stabbing with a spear. Both control the recoil and are good enough for fighting distances, so who cares? Many people, actually, but is it important? Some argue that, in actual combat, shooters will naturally straighten their arms, but I’ve seen plenty of dash-cam gunfights in which officers have a bent support arm. So what’s the big deal? 

The truth: You’ll do in a fight what you’ve trained yourself to accomplish, provided you’ve had more than minimal training. Past studies have shown that minimally trained police officers (40 hours in the basic academy and one to three qualifications a year with no practice in between) will square to the target, thrust their pistol forward and smash the trigger with their index finger hoping for a good hit.

What about practiced shooters? I’ve trained thousands of basic police recruits and some shoot better with the Weaver, others the Isosceles. I let them discover what works best for them. The only thing I insist is that they lock their shooting arm. Why? It’s consistent with what they’ll do when shooting with one hand, which happens more often than many realize and certainly lets the air out of the argument regarding the support arm. We must prepare officers to fight, not just shoot, because they probably won’t have the optimal shooting platform.

When using the Isosceles the locked support wrist is really where recoil is controlled…this is why the support hand thumb is forward. When shooting a Weaver, the support hand thumb is usually up which is oh as this also locks the wrist. Look at your thumb and wrist on the gun when the arm is straight, then bend the elbow DOWN (not out) and note how the wrist stays locked while pointing the thumb up. Both control recoil it’s just the Weaver transfers the mechanics from the wrist to the elbow to apply pressure to the front strap. Both work…

Digital Dexterity

 It’s a proven fact that fingers don’t possess the same level of dexterity in combat as they do when not stressed, but how “dumb” do they become? This seems to depend on what a given instructor wants his doctrine to include. I attended a school where the instructor told us we needed to grasp the slide on our pistols and manually cycle it to load, as we wouldn’t have the digital dexterity to use the slide stop lever in a fight. I can understand the argument. However, during a carbine course I attended, this same instructor told the class to reload their AR-15s by inserting the magazine, rolling the thumb up and hitting the bolt-release lever. I saw this as a discrepancy and when I asked, I was told that, “The size of the slide release on a pistol varies, but the bolt release on an AR will always be the same.” I then inquired about the dexterity needed to press a trigger, hit the magazine release button and insert a magazine into a pistol. I was told, “Proper training will prepare you to accomplish these tasks without conscious thought.” Does this make sense to you? You can hit a magazine release button without conscious thought, but not a slide release lever?

I showed him that the slide release on my pistol was substantial. (The size of the lever is certainly a factor. For example, the stock slide lock lever on a Glock would be hard to manipulate.) He responded, “You can’t be assured that you will be using your gun. You might have to pick up a gun in the middle of a fight.” But isn’t it far more likely that I’ll start and finish my fight with the gun I have on me or in my hand? “You never know,” he said, which is true, but is it likely? Should we spend our valuable training time on possible or likely? Fantasy gunfighting is all the rage (gotta love that CALL OF DUTY!) and an argument can be made for even the most- silly conclusions. Once again, common sense is rare and critical thought should be applied to which techniques you are going to spend your valuable time anchoring.  To me, the most simple techniques…the ones that require the least movement…are the ones I will focus on.

Efficiency Defined

 During a recent conversation with a well-known instructor, I was told “Just because something is faster doesn’t mean it’s more efficient.” Efficiency seems to be one of the new buzzwords in firearms training, but the meaning seems to change from school to school. The word efficient is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as the least amount of time, effort and energy expended to accomplish the desired goal. To me, this means if something is faster and still accomplishes the task, then it’s more efficient.  Truth be told, in pistol fighting, speed is usually a result of lack of unnecessary movement/motion so if something is faster there is a REAL GOOD chance it is more efficient.

On this occasion, I was taking a pistol class and was clearing malfunctions by turning the pistol sideways into my left hand (inverting the ejection port down so gravity would help clear the chamber). This allows me to grasp the slide with the heel of my hand, thumb, index and middle fingers much like grasping a rope which I believe is stronger than the ring and pinky fingers. The instructor stopped me, told me I was doing it wrong and that I should reach up and over the slide and “power stroke” it to the rear, hitting myself in the chest to ensure complete slide retraction. I have no heartburn with this technique, if you like it, but I don’t find it to be efficient as the hands are too far apart in the end. I believe my method is stronger, faster and it works with pistols of any size.

When using small guns, if you work the slide in the hand-over method, your hand covers the ejection port (something that happens with full size pistols as well), creating a stoppage or you’ll have a minimal ring/pinky finger grip on the slide. Thus, turning the gun inboard works with guns of all sizes, making it more consistent and efficient due to its increased grip potential, lack of unnecessary motion and overall speed of task, though you have the right to believe what you want in this great country or ours!

In Sum

Remember: It’s more important for a shooter to complete a given task with ease than it is for them to get all wrapped up in how it’s accomplished. Not all shooters have the same level of strength and skill, and we need to take that into account. In addition, many shooters want to save their lives and not just look cool while shooting.

Doctrine, not dogma, should be the rule of thumb in the combative application of firearms. Train someone to prevail by giving them technique options and finding what works best for their physiology instead of trying to prove who’s right.  Training is a journey of discovery everyone must take and it is unlikely we will all arrive at the end point with the same skill sets or techniques.





Friday, August 14, 2015

Front-Sight Focus: They're great for target shooting, but what about a pandemonium-filled event?

I've studied armed conflict my entire adult life. My experience began unexpectedly as I went through the basic police academy in 1976. Most of my academy firearms training consisted of preparing for the Practical Pistol Course (PPC), which consisted of "realistic phases," such as prone at 60 yards and kneeling barricade at 50. I admit I knew nothing about gun- fighting at the time (unless you consider 1960’s television “training”), but what I was doing (including hip shooting at 15 feet!) didn't make sense to me.

If you have been in one of my classes, you have probably heard the story of my sitting down with my father to talk about my training concerns regarding what I was taught having little to do with shooting to save my life. My dad, a WWII veteran and a proud member of the American Legion, said, "You want to know about gun fighting? Go down to the Legion Hall….there are lots guys who can answer your questions."

The first man I spoke with was an elderly WWI veteran. Although he was reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences, once he knew that I, the "police kid," wanted to know what it was like to be in a gun fight, he invited me to sit with him. "I'll buy you a beer," he said. Then, with a tear in his eye and a shaking hand, he told me what it was like to fight in a muddy trench with a bayonet on the end of a Springfield rifle, and the fear that filled his heart as he "watched the Huns" come over the edge of his trench.  He also told me what it was like to fight in a four foot diameter tunnel with a trenching tool and nothing else. I've never forgotten what he said to me that day.

 Since that time, I've spoken with hundreds of people cops, soldiers, Marines, armed citizens and yes, felons who've been involved in armed conflict to learn about what they heard, felt and saw. I didn’t do this to discover the ultimate answer to gunfighting; I did it to prepare myself for what I might face some day as I worked the streets.

During 35 years of law enforcement and security work, I've seen my share of adversity, which has led me to some conclusions about what's needed to prevail in a gunfight. These conclusions might not jive with other studies, but I don't care… I know what I know. I've taught these lessons to the students I've instructed, and the feedback I've received from those who've used these skills to prevail in gunfights has been most encouraging. After spending decades training cops to gun fight, it doesn’t take long to build a data base of former students who have fought to save their lives or the lives of citizens they were sworn to protect with a handgun.  I also have not “twisted” the data I have accumulated to support some preconceived idea I had in mind…the data is what it is and I have built my training doctrine around its results.

Accurate Sight Means Accurate Shot

One question I've always asked is, "Do you remember using the sights on your gun?" I've found that the answer to this question is directly related to the gun used. For example, those who used a long gun remember achieving some type of sight picture. With current generation red dot optics this is even more affirmative. This isn't really surprising as few are taught to shoot a long gun from the hip, and people tend to do as they're taught. In addition, long-gun conflicts tend to occur at long distances and time and distance permit the use of sights. 

I've also found those who used revolvers remember some type of sight picture, but not the clear textbook version. Usually I hear something like, "I remember a red splotch in front of my eyes" or "There was a green and black glob in my field of vision," referring to the red or green plastic inserts that were common on the front sights of guns like Smith & Wesson  or Ruger  revolvers.

The group that least remembers front sight use consists of those who used a semiautomatic pistol. I often wonder if this is due to the visually confusing sights that are standard on current generation pistols. Pistol sights are usually three white dots or a white dot on top of a white bar. That's great for target shooting, but how good are they when you must quickly “get on” the sights in a pandemonium-filled event? At the close distances of the normal handgun fight, a precise sight picture is not necessary, but it sure is nice to have some type of sighted reference.

This thought was a BIG factor in the development of the Ameriglo CAP and Spaulding sight sets. After having an eye surgeon (a non-shooter…no shooter’s bias) look at several popular sight configurations and ask, “You’re trying to line up straight edges right? Then why have you placed round dots on the sights? It’s optically confusing.”  Thus, we made the front sight colored insert square so it would align with a square rear sight window, much like the sights on popular police revolvers in the past. We have received back a number of reports from shooters who have used the sights in actual gunfights and the reports have been quite positive!

What about point shooting? It has its place, and it can be effective. However, cops miss far more than they hit (17 to 22%), so how can we say it's a “preferred” technique? If you practice shooting without aiming (aligning the sights), it's probable you'll hit nothing.  That said, target focused shooting does have its place but I view it as the same methodology as sighted fire with the exception of eye focus being on the target instead of the sights. Other than this the procedure for delivering a shot in a gun fight is the same. This being the case, practicing to shoot using the sights may very well be the best method to learning how to align the body for a target focused shot! Truth be told, you are far more likely to miss due to poor trigger control than lack of sight picture and practicing with the sights is the best way to align the body and learning to control the trigger.  The felt aspects of shooting are grossly under-rated!

In addition, how do you effectively point-shoot at a moving target while the shooter may also be moving? Unless the distances are so close that we can't lift the gun in front of our eyes without having it taken away, getting the gun into the eye/target line is a much more accurate way of shooting. When trying to accomplish this quickly and still get some type of visual alignment, doesn't it make sense that the eye is more likely to pick up a color that contrasts with what is beyond it?

Competition shooters like black-on-black sights, which are fine if you know what color your target(s) will be. However, if the target color varies, having a sight that's a high-visibility, contrasting color will help the eyes find it. It might not be totally clear, but anything that will help assure a shooter their muzzle is on target is worthwhile. This proves even more important as a shooter ages and their eyes are no longer as sharp as they once were. Trust me here…I have spent decades learning how to depress a trigger straight to the rear and now I can’t see!! It really sucks and a colored front sight helps.

Final Thoughts

If your current sight system works for you, don't mess with it. But if you're concerned about whether or not you can find your sights quickly during a conflict or you've noticed that the sights disappear when you're training at a rapid pace, give the contrasting front sight system a look to see if it helps.

Remember: Right now someone is training so that when they meet you, they beat you. Train hard, and stay on guard.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Hierarchy of Combative Firearms Training: Ascend the pyramid to achieve proficiency

 According to my Webster's dictionary, training means to instruct so as to make proficient. Instruct means to “teach, educate or inform”, while proficient means “highly competent, skilled”. Thus, combative handgun training means teaching a person to be highly competent and skilled to use a handgun for personal security. How much skill do you need to proficiently take care yourself? Who knows? For me, it's as much skill as I can develop because it will be my life on the line and my life is real important!

The reality: Very few police officers or legally armed citizens receive the level of training needed to be highly competent, skilled with their carry sidearm. Most agencies will require their officers to train one to three times a year, and while this sounds like a lot, it's not. (Some agencies qualify their officers and nothing more, which is not training.) Few citizens who have a CCW permit will seek training beyond what is required in their state to obtain said permit. That said, none of us would bet $5 on a football game in which we knew the quarterback had practiced with the ball only one to three times in the past year. If we wouldn’t bet a few bucks on such a game, why do officers and armed citizens bet their lives on the same odds? It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect…most feel they are far more skilled tha they really are.

Yes, it’s easy to blame the agency for not training enough or limited time and ammo availability, but this is a cop out. Most police departments can’t afford to get their officers to the range but a few times a year. The cost of ammo, the loss of man-hours and scheduling logistics make such training problematic at best. The armed citizen’s life is filled with many things they would rather do than go to the range and practice. The truth is, it’s up to each and every officer or citizen to prepare themselves to prevail in any conflict. After all, it will be your life on the line, not your chief s or sheriff s and if you are a citizen you might be defending the life of a loved one. Do you trust such important stakes to luck? Enough said.

I’ve come to look at firearms training as a three-tiered pyramid I call the Hierarchy of Combative Firearms Training. The tiers are 1) fundamentals (I call them ESSENTIALS), 2) combative aspects and 3) interactive aspects. You must properly train and anchor skills through each level before you attempt the next. For example, would you take a counter-terrorist driving course before you take basic driver’s training? Of course not! Along these same lines, you should not try to fight with a pistol until you’ve learned how to shoot it. Some think they are one in the same, but they’re mistaken. If you throw a punch before you’ve learned how to make a fist, your punch won’t be effective and will likely result in injury and failure.

Base Level: Fundamentals…no, ESSENTIALS!

The fundamental level provides what everything else builds upon. Compare it to placing your hands at 9 and 3 on the steering wheel when learning to drive. The fundamentals include safe handling, grip, body position (aka stance), sight alignment, keeping the gun running, loading and unloading, and, most importantly, trigger control. The grip should use both hands and cover as much of the grip as possible. Any area of the grip left open will provide an avenue for recoil to carry the gun off target, making quick, follow-up shots difficult.

I’ve quit using the term stance as it relates to shooting a handgun because it really doesn’t matter where your feet are situated. As a matter of fact, it’s quite likely they will not be where you want them when you need to shoot. What proves important is keeping your body in a position that allows you to deliver multiple shots in multiple directions without being thrown off balance. In general, this means you must keep your shoulders over your toes and your knees unlocked.

Clearing a stoppage or malfunction is a requirement for any piece of machinery, but in a gunfight it is a life-saving skill.  For auto pistols, you must be able to clear any malfunctions quickly and easily, which is not as hard as it sounds. Someone just has to show you how to do it. Revolvers are a whole different matter. A quality revolver runs under very extreme conditions, but when it malfunctions it usually requires a trip to the gunsmith.

While many wish to debate using sights versus point shooting, I’ve found neither is very important if the shooter can’t control the trigger. Without trigger control, the muzzle won’t stay in alignment with the target, and the shot will miss regardless of the system used. Only hits count, so while I admit I’m an advocate of sighted fire, I’m an even greater advocate of trigger control. Without it, everything else is a doomed to failure.

All of these skills are required to “keep the gun running in a fight” which is why I call them essentials. While some may consider one skill more important than another, one must ask which skills will be needed to win your gun fight? That’s right, you do not know so having a mastery of all will be required in order to rapidly adapt to the situation you are facing. The most essential of essentials is a combative mind, something that is not listed in the fundamentals of shooting.

Mid-Level: Combative Aspects

Once you know how to shoot the gun, you need to know how to fight with it, which is easier said than done. You must be able to shoot in positions other than standing, at very close quarters, at long distances, with both the strong and weak hand alone, at multiple adversaries at varied distances, at moving targets, while the shooter is moving and in less-than-perfect light conditions. It’s one thing to stand on the line and shoot at a stationary target, it’s another to have to punch the target while drawing the gun, moving laterally and delivering multiple shots at double arms-length accurately enough to save your own life!
he ability to recognize cover from concealment is another essential combative skill, though whether something offers cover or concealment depends on what type of weapon your opponent is shooting. Do not underestimate concealment as it’s harder to be hit if you can’t be seen. Shooting while moving is widely taught these days, and I have no problem with that. Just don t spend too much time trying to shoot accurately while shuffle-stepping if getting out of the way of incoming fire fast is what you need to keep from getting shot. I have found moving quickly, planting and shooting accurately and then moving quickly again to be much more effective and history has born this out.

Combative handgun training is nothing magical, even though many instructors will try to make you believe it is. Police gunfights are fairly well documented, and certain things tend to happen time and again. Re-create these circumstances on the range and learn how to fight through them. Example: Shooting while lying on the ground is not that difficult to do, it’s just something you need to work out in training instead of trying to figure it out in the middle of a fight. The ability to respond without conscious thought remains key to prevailing in any altercation. This means you must work the needed skill out in training before a fight.

Upper Level: Interactive Aspects

Better known as force-on-force training, the ability to use mock weapons that allow students to shoot back at one another is underutilized. The majority of trainers will use SIMUNITIONS or Airsoft guns for scenario-based training, totally neglecting combative-skill building. Don t misunderstand scenario training is needed, but only after the skills learned at level two are reinforced. Such skills as drawing from the holster while moving, shooting at a moving target, engaging multiple targets, shooting from unconventional positions and from around cover will be better anchored if they ‘re used against a target who is shooting back. Take the drills you do using live fire and paper targets to build combative shooting skills and do the same drills with two or more people who return fire. This is the time to enable a shooter to find and use their front sight under the stress of conflict, if this is a desired skill. It makes sense to me to train in and anchor these skills under fire before attempting to use them in scenarios.

The main reason many police agencies don t engage in such training is the cost and/or logistics of acquiring the required gear. SIMUNITIONS are the best way to conduct this training, provided the students are NOT so padded up as to make the hits (i.e., feedback) worthless.  If budget constraints make SIMUNITIONS out of the question, however, Airsoft is the way to go. I use Airsoft technology in my Interactive Pistol course with great success. Unfortunately, it is the class I have to cancel most frequently as students, primarily armed citizens, seem to suffer “performance anxiety”. Initially they think it is a great idea but as the class draws near they begin to think about being “shot” (you know, real pain!), looking bad in front of others, making mistakes and for the “big talkers” not looking quite as Ninja as they like folks to believe.  A week or two before the course, it’s not unusual for over half the class to develop “family problems” and bail out.

Training is the time to make mistakes so you do not die in the street! Funny how the human ego can’t comprehend this.  I like to consider myself an advanced level instructor with a fairly vast knowledge pool, but every time I partake in Interactive Training I make mistakes and get “killed”. I consider these a learning opportunity and not a failure to save face. Do I want to live to see my family or die because of embarrassment?  Up to you…

The single most important aspect of interactive training, however, is two- fold. First, it requires the student to make rapid decisions in a crisis environment.  There is no observe, orient, decide and act you see and do or you are shot! You learn to trust the skills you learned at the previous two levels and use them to help you make these rapid decisions. You gain CONFIDENCE that your skills will work in a rapidly unfolding situation and we have known since the days of the Spartans that confidence in skill is the single biggest factor in overcoming fear and fear is the sig le biggest factor in why people do not take action in any crisis.

In the end, you must address all three levels of the pyramid to become properly skilled in combative handgun use…none can be skipped or short changed.  All are required…