Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Adapt to a Situation-Based Pistol Craft Training (Part II)

Combative Aspects

Once the students knows how to shoot the gun, they must be able to fight with it and that requires specific skills that are also best achieved by attending training with a qualified instructor and then practicing the skills while performing tactical imagery. Imagery is more than just visualization, which is fine for day dreaming. Imagery requires the shooter to not only “see” an event that is likely for the student’s “real world of work”, it also requires the student to incorporate sounds, smells, light conditions and other related environmental factors that would be present during a confrontation. Naturally, this will be easier for someone who had actually experienced a life threatening event, but understanding what occurs in conflict is easier due to the internet and all of the available videos. When watching one of these films, try to place yourself in the situation and not just “hoot and holler” about what you are watching.

Combative skills would include such topics as contact shooting; combining open hand skills with the handgun, assume alternate shooting positions quickly, cover and concealment, one hand manipulation, shooting from less than advantageous positions, reduced light application, learning one’s point shooting threshold and when to use the sights, shooting in and around non-hostiles and a host of other things that are not addressed at the essential level. This will be a period of training where you will not look your best and you will miss a lot until you can anchor the skills required, but don’t be discouraged…hang in there! Many shooters shy away from such training as they just do not want to look bad in front of their peers (who cares?! Embarrassed is better than dead!). This is unfortunate as it is the combative skills level where the shooter will learn the things they need to adapt to the rapidly unfolding situation.  Truth be told, you will not have the time to observe, orient, decide and act when a situation breaks out within ten feet …you will see and do based on how well you have anchored skills that will give you the options needed to win. If you have to think “gee, he is doing this so I might try that, or maybe this would be a better option” you will likely be dead or seriously injured.  

The aforementioned imaging is a huge asset when trying to be adaptive.  Merely kneeling, going prone, shooting with the off-hand, performing an injured hand drill or drawing/moving and thinking of it as a drill and not an attempt to save one’s life, severely limits the drill’s impact on the anchoring process.  Let me give you some harsh reality…you probably will not want to ear this, but here goes…DRILLS ARE NOT TRAINING! Drills are part of the training process and certainly help build skills, but a course that does nothing but one drill after another with no attempt to help anchor skills is NOT training! Movement is a critical combative skill, but many instructors teach it incorrectly.  While a single lateral side step while drawing or moving back and forth while reloading is a great way to introduce “separating the hands from the feet” it is not the level of motion needed to keep from getting shot. In other words, it is NOT a tactic. 

After decades of study of armed conflict (especially pistol fights) I have decided movement must be undertaken with purpose and there will be times that movement is impossible or should not be undertaken…like so many things in conflict, it is situationally dependent.  Movement should be done for one of the following:

1. Moving aggressively until you are prepared to deliver accurate outgoing fire of the quality that will incapacitate the person trying to kill you, i.e. cover by out bound fire, or you run out of room. 
 2. Move to a location where you cannot the seen. While true cover would be the best option, being hidden from your attacker's field of view is certainly useful and in a time when ammo has greater penetration power by design, fewer objects are true cover.
 3. Remove ourselves from the kill zone completely, i.e. withdrawal!

Moving in a gunfight is not new and has been done since people started shooting at each other, provided doctrine would allow it! Consider infantry tactics of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars when soldiers were taught to stand in rows and fire a volley only to stand and reload in the open! Fortunately, free thinking combatants of the era realized this was not a good way to make it through the war alive and created “guerilla tactics” such as running, hiding behind a tree, kneeling or some other technique to keep from getting shot. Wyatt Earp discussed it during a newspaper interview late in his life..." I was a Deputy U.S. Marshal at the O.K. Corral fight, so I was coming forward and they (the Cowboys) was usually going back. You shoot straighter coming forward!" Earp is right and those who have been trained in shooting while moving realize it works best when moving straight ahead versus trying to move laterally or rearward while controlling the trigger. The truth is, the vast majority of shooters are more accurate when they move rapidly and stop/plant to shoot.  Interestingly, multiple witnesses claimed the reason Earp was not hit at the O.K. Coral was because he stood absolutely still during the fight, while others moved INTO the path of incoming rounds! This happens more often than many realize which is why movement should NOT be arbitrary…

Former Delta Force operator Paul Howe addressed it quite succinctly when he wrote, “Reference shooting on the move. It is a skill many shooters aspire to learn and spend a great deal of time and effort trying to master. I have never had to use it in combat. When moving at a careful hurry, I stopped, planted and made my shots. When bullets were flying, I was sprinting from cover to cover moving too fast to shoot. I did not find an in between.” Knowing when to move, shoot on the move or plant and fight is just one aspect of adapting to the rapidly unfolding situation before you and it is not as easy as some would have you believe…

Interactive Aspects

What is commonly called “force on force” training I prefer to think of as interactive as it is more verbally/visually descriptive. It is training during which students interact with either another human being, an electronic simulator (a  F.A.T.S. machine, etc.) or work in a 360 degree environment like a shoot house. While many believe the goal of interactive training is “to place the shooter in a gunfight” that is only part of the reason. The real goal is “stress inoculation” which makes the student function in a stress filled environment, making decisions rapidly in pandemonium along with the mistakes associated with such an environment, which is a HUGE part of the learning cycle. But more importantly, interactive training shows the student the skills learned at the Essentials/Combative levels will indeed work in threat environment increasing confidence in skills and confidence in skill is the single biggest factor in overcoming fear in conflict!

All of the major training institutions incorporate interactive training in their programs with the fixed facilities like Gunsite and Thunder Ranch having a big advantage over traveling instructors due to their shoot house facilities, jungle lanes or dry washes that serve as multi-direction threat simulators. A five day program, like the famed 250 course at Gunsite, can cover all three levels in one program, something difficult to do in a shorter time frame. For those who wish to train on the weekend, a multi-course “journey” will be required in order to cover all levels needed for a complete combative pistol program. However, once all levels are covered, it will require a hard commitment on the part of the student to engage in meaningful practice in order to anchor the required skills. I remain amazed at the number of people who pay good money seeking out quality training, work hard in class and then do nothing to maintain the skills for months afterward. While the student might remember the lessons learned, being able to execute the skill(s) needed is a whole different thing.

In the end, it’s all about options…having a battery of skill sets to draw upon when a crisis situation unfolds rapidly before you. At the same time, you don’t want to have too many options as trying to decide which skill to use can actually slow the combatant down as they try to process the rapidly changing threat and how to address it. Knowing which skills to anchor and which to discard is an individual thing, but what is known to work is to keep the skills simple, consistent with a commonality that will allow the shooter to move from one to the next with minimal thought, movement and effort.  Rapid adaptation to the situation unfolding before you is the key to winning, but it is also one of the hardest things you will ever undertake. Train Hard and Choose wisely. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Adapt to Situation-Based Pistolcraft Training (Part I)

Much is made of how fast one can draw and fire from the holster, how tight a group one can shoot or how fast a shot to shot reload can be performed. While these are certainly worthwhile skills to possess, they seldom win fights. Yes, having such skill does offer confidence that helps overcome fear in conflict…and fear is the single biggest factor in whether a person freezes or fights when a threatened…but it is not the biggest factor in achieving victory. What wins the fight is the ability to see what is transpiring and quickly adapt to the rapidly changing situation. The combatant that can adapt the quickest is the one that can bring their skills to the forefront and use it to prevail.  

A proper combative pistol program must cover three different aspects of training in order to properly address the problem. The first level I call The Essentials.  They are commonly referred to as “the basics” or “fundamentals” but I prefer to call them essential, as they are more than just forming a foundation, they are absolutely necessary in order to win the fight. Without them there are no skills to utilize in order to adapt! The fundamentals are normally defined as grip, stance, trigger control, sight alignment, sight picture, etc. but I prefer to define them more simply. I do not list a particular skill, I prefer to define an essential skill as anything that keeps the gun running in a fight whether it be grip, trigger control, sight alignment or the more active of skills such as drawing from the holster, reloading the gun or clearing a malfunction…you need to know all of these things. Trigger control is more important than clearing a malfunction, you say? Maybe, unless you are hunkered down behind low cover with rounds whizzing by your head and your pistol has suffered a stoppage.  This might be the perfect example of considering the fundamentals of shooting versus the essentials of fighting… they are not really the same…


If there is a “most essential of essentials” it would be mindset. Shooting can certainly be successful without mindset, but fighting cannot. Mr. Webster defines mindset as “a course of action based on a previous decision, a set path based on reason and intellect.” The operative phrase here is a previous decision…something you decided ahead of time before the fight broke out. The word combative is defined in my same dog eared version of Mr. Webster’s work as “ready and willing to fight” which does not mean you are looking for one, it means that if you cannot avoid or evade it, you are willing to engage and finish it. Thus, a combative mind is one that has made a previous decision to be ready and willing to fight. Without a combative mindset every skill that is yet to come is a waste of effort.

The essentials should be learned from a certified instructor in a hands-on environment. There is a trend to try and achieve these by watching videos tapes but this NEVER works. While it is possible to see a skill performed, there is no one on site to correct improper applications! I see this regularly in my courses, students show up for a combat skill-based course thinking they have the required essential skills locked down, but do not understand why a technique is taught/used so they have no frame of reference as to how to apply it to the combative application of the handgun. Understanding the importance of a technique is just as critical as knowing how to perform it. 

The best way to show the path to skill development comes from a skill building pyramid pioneered by Naval Special Warfare and it begins with a base of fundamental skills (Again, I think of them as essentials!) followed by concentration, consistency, accuracy and speed…one built upon the next. The basics must be mastered by concentrating on doing them consistently. Via consistency, accuracy is achieved (at least the level of accuracy needed to end a threat) with speed being a by-product of lack of unnecessary motion that is achieved via practice. It is a well-established process that cannot be bypassed.   

Part II will appear on Wednesday 

Friday, February 12, 2016

What the hell?! My thoughts on current combative firearms training

What is to follow will fire up a large number of people! So be it. I’ve been doing this a LONG time…longer than most and I know what I am talking about…and I am flabbergasted by what I see…

I have not paid much attention, in the past, to what is happening in the training industry...I probably should have. I spent the vast majority of my time training law enforcement officers and did not really take notice of what the legally armed citizen was doing. When I decided to start my own training company, I started to focus on what the armed citizen needed, but I was wrong. I should not have looked at what they WANTED. I didn’t take notice…I do now...

Before 9-11, there were just a few training institutions and about 10-12 traveling instructors...I got to them all and had a good handle on what was being taught. Then our country was attacked, two wars began and a large number of folks came out of the military and changed the training industry, I believe forever. Focus shifted from the concealed handgun to the M-4 carbine and if you were not former Special Ops you didn't know shit. If you weren't former Special Ops and wanted to instruct, no problem! You just act like you were/are.

Defending the home or what to do in a parking lot attack moved to battlefield tactics. Never mind much of the battlefield stuff was/is inappropriate for law enforcement or the legally armed was/is really cool to do! Gear became the primary concern and many felt as long as they looked good, it did not matter if they could shoot good. Many potential students are real gullible, was the thought. They were right…just watch You Tube. What garners the attention of the current shooting community is truly amazing! I recently noted Col. Jeff Cooper’s video on The Combat Mindset had around 27,000 views. However, a young girl in short shorts shooting a rifle had over 3 million! What the hell??

"Tacti-cool" went from a derogatory term to main stream commentary, "operator" was applied to everyone who trained with a gun and someone decided it was a good idea to place students down range and shoot past them to get them "used to in bound gunfire"…it enhanced their “battlefield experience”. The term CQB was applied to everything from room clearing to hand to hand combat to the type of gloves you were wearing.

A trend began to start shooting people to the ground with full magazines of ammo instead of shooting for a visual response and then evaluating. Force was no longer judicious, it was terminal! While effective is it wise? Consider the video of the officer shooting the teenage suspect to the ground in Chicago and the subsequent public response. I don’t know if the officer was taught to do this, but is it good idea? Maybe on the battlefield but on the streets of America? A thought only…

Instructors must now wear 5.11 (Arcteryk, Kuhl or whatever is currently in, I can’t keep up), beards and talk with a certain lingo. If they do not, they are considered "out of touch". I had lunch with a friend recently who is a current member of a Tier One SMU who told me much of what is currently popular in the tactical training realm is not current...the wars have made them reevaluate and create new tactics and techniques and that much of it is not appropriate for anything but the battlefield. Is it important for information on tactics and techniques to be current? Is it important that it should be “judicious”? Is it important that as long as you get to wear cool gear everything is ok? If an instructor talks and dresses a certain way, does that make them qualified to teach? Is it important that we might be spending time and money on skills sets that will not really help us with the threats we are likely to face? Do students know what they need versus what hey want? It’s their money, right??

Today's younger shooters are some rude folks. All you have to do is read the stuff they post on line. Social Media has made instant fame possible and folks who are now driving the training industry have done nothing more than “type a good game” on line, recycling information they read elsewhere. Few have experienced the lessons they preach which offers a unique perspective when teaching the skills… they just put a video up and their expertise is established. Don’t forget the short shorts or maybe a bikini…those really help viewership!

Have you taken the time to look into the backgrounds of some of the "movers and shakers" that "rock" (not my term) the training industry? Do you care? Are you a grown up acting like a teenager as you "fanboy" a particular instructor? I’m too old for hero worship…most are but some still do it. This is so bizarre to me…its like being in Junior High all over again…

I never paid attention to what many of the instructors claim, but some of my friends who are now retired from the military and intelligence communities do as it matters to them when someone says they are something they are not! They have the contacts to look into the claims these instructors make about their backgrounds and I admit to being greatly saddened as it hurts an industry I dearly love. Interestingly, the people who are the rudest, boisterous and in your face are the one's with the least background. They are like bullies, the more obnoxious they act, the more people stay clear of them and let them have their way. Expect an "offensive" by these retired professionals sometime in the future as they are getting disgusted.

I remember when instructors would get together at the large training conferences (ASLET, ILEETA or IALEFI) and exchange ideas. I learned a considerable amount sitting in the hallway of a hotel with a group of like mined people. As a matter of fact, we used to joke about “most of the learning occurred in the hallway”. We would review recent incidents, talk about what we had learned in the past year (or whatever) and talked about where we might have it wrong and what we needed to change. I can’t remember a discussion on how to make something look cool or what type of clothing we wore when teaching.

Now it seems instructors are at war with each other. What the hell?? "I'm right, they're wrong, my ideas are best and theirs suck" even though...if you look closely...the ideas and concepts are not that dissimilar. Its about money and ego...if not, instructors would not be fighting amongst themselves so much while building armies of followers to "defend their honor" on the internet. They would be exchanging ideas outside of their instructional cliques.

The number of people who call themselves “instructors” is now HUGE. It is amazing how it has gown in just a decade. From the local folks who are doing CCW certification to the top tier tactical/SWAT/Spec Ops instructors…I have never seen so many people vying for your money in the almost 40 years I have been doing this. What is the quality of their training? Do students know enough to know when they are being fleeced? I have seen some really strange stuff being taught. Students come to me in classes and show me what they have been taught elsewhere and I am speechless…that used to be hard to do to me, but not any longer. I see no reason to teach a barrel roll or back flip with a gun in your hand…

What about some of the on line debates? Do we really care if one person prefers a red dot while the other likes iron sights? Why do people or groups try so hard to prove that others are “wrong”? Appendix carry, SERPA holsters, Kydex versus leather, irons versus optics…is it critical we try and impose our thoughts and desires about such things on others? Ego abounds. Do you think that maybe…just maybe…what might work for you will not work for someone else? Should it be about SOLUTIONS for the students or imposing our instructional will and satisfying our ego?

I admit to being a bit mystified about instructor conduct…when did it become important for an instructor to be a cultural icon? When did an instructor have to be this perfect human being? Does an instructor really look that bad if they have an ND or miss a shot? Is their wardrobe really that important? Is it ok to wear a pair of blue jeans and running shoes when teaching a class? Shouldn’t it be more about dressing comfortably for the weather conditions at hand? Shoot good, feel good or look good but not all three? What the hell??

I admit I am in the fall of my life and the winter of my teaching career, but I still care about the quality of instructors and the well being of the training industry. It’s just too damn important to let it fall into chaos! While certain individuals seek fame and wealth, the people who will be hurt are the good guys and gals who need solid information, tactics and techniques to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. These people look to their instructors for guidance and solutions, not finger pointing and hate speech…certainly not fashion advice.

Of course, I’m probably wrong here, as many student level shooters seem to relish it when noteworthy people get into arguments on line. They line up behind their favorite and launch attacks back and forth. At least the instructors stand up as themselves and offer their arguments. The student level offers hate-filled garbage hiding behind a pseudonym.  In my generation, we called this type of person a “pussy”.

Again, it reminds me of junior high where someone talking behind someone’s back did so out of jealousy. It’s the same here…the internet commandos want to raise their status and profile…you know, be “famous”… but do not want to spend years on the street/battlefield, spending time training and teaching while spending money doing so. They want it NOW! Just like a five year old. They want instant Internet fame and guess what? They get it!

If I fold up Handgun Combatives tomorrow few will notice (well, those that have enrolled in a class this year might get a little bent!) as there are legions of people out there waiting to step in and fill the void. That’s ok as long as what students are getting is what they TRULY need to WIN! Not just look cool on the range or get to pretend they are a commando for a few days. Is that is training to you? Is the course you are taking hour after hour of drills that entertain or are skills being built? Many do not know what the difference is…

Interesting side note: When I post a blog such as this one, I actually HURT my training business as students who want be pretend to be something they are look elsewhere! I don’t care…the truth hurts and I will not pretend to be something I am not in order to make $$. I must look myself in he mirror every day…

Some will like what I have said, some will MF me as they are more interested in what they want reality to be, not what it is and what I have written here interferes with their view of combat (reality)…or they are just playing their role of instructional fan boy. Good boy, good boy…come here and let me scratch you behind the ear! Good boy…

That’s is their right...a right I spent my adult life defending, but do me a favor…take a close look at the haters and fan kiddies and see why they disparage what is said here. Do they have a “dog in the hunt”? Hopefully you will take the time to give critical thought about what you are spending your time and money doing to defend your life! It’s a real ‘what the hell” moment. Combative firearms training is a lifestyle commitment to personal security…its not the same as playing golf or idolizing a movie star…