Saturday, March 18, 2017
Fighting from the Ground
Several years ago, in order to maintain my state peace office training credentials, I attended a Defensive Tactics Instructor recertification course. The focus of the program was “ground fighting.” Over the years, I have received continual training in this subject, all of it based on getting up off the ground as quickly as possible. I remember my basic academy instructor screaming at us, “Get up off the ground! You can’t fight effectively from there!” and kicking us if we dwelled too long on the ground. Well, it was a different time, but the lesson was well learned, as I remember it like it was yesterday.
Imagine my surprise when the content of the recertification was not getting up but deliberately taking your opponent down in an effort to “pin” them. It was like junior high wrestling, and I can remember the three days were a waste of time, in my opinion. Regardless of what wins fights in MMA matches, I refuse to adopt the idea that fighting to the ground is a good idea. Once on the ground, you are far less mobile than when upright, and trying to defend yourself from multiple attackers is almost impossible. Imagine trying to hold someone on the ground and then have his buddy kick you in the side of the head while you are “entangled.”
I feel even more strongly about this when firearms are involved. While there are no rules in a gunfight, there are some points to ponder. If you are not shooting to stop the threat, you should be doing one of the following: moving rapidly to cover, reloading/clearing a stoppage or just “getting out of Dodge.” It’s difficult to do any of these while lying on the ground—at least in a timeframe that will save your life.
There are several ways you can end up on the ground while engaged in armed conflict, and they will have an effect on how you proceed. One is going to the ground deliberately, such as when taking low cover or bracing the pistol for a long shot. Another is grounding unintentionally, such as tripping while moving—something that happens more often than people think when trying to shoot while moving to the rear. Keep in mind that we humans do not have eyes in the back of our heads and that trying to “walk backwards” while delivering accurate fire will eventually result with our butt overriding our feet and thus an unintentional grounding situation. The last—and most perilous—is being knocked off your feet during a close-quarters fight. How to handle any of these situations will depend on how far away your opponent(s) is when you fall, as distance equals time and time equals life. The farther away they are, the more time you have to just get up and keep moving. But if they are right on top of you, it is likely you will have to deploy your pistol from the ground and deliver fast and accurate fire. After all, once you are on the ground, you won’t be doing any cool-looking, tactical-style shooting… you’ll have to shoot your attacker quickly, accurately and without hesitation if you want to live to see another day. Nothing else will work.
While the best thing to do is to get up so you can move, getting up might not be possible due to physical capabilities or circumstance. It’s imperative, then, to learn how to deploy your pistol from a grounded position. Years ago, I was taught to bend my legs and bring them up in front of my upper torso to help protect it, which, with modern ammunition’s enhanced penetration capabilities, is a ridiculous thing to do. Rounds fired at the legs will likely pass through, but using your legs like this can help stabilize the pistol if a precision shot is needed. If time is of the essence, don’t waste it trying to fold your legs; use it to get your gun between you and the threat and deliver accurate fire. Also, keep in mind, if you take multiple rounds through the legs, getting up is (probably) out of the question, so mobility is no longer an option.
If your pistol was in your hand when you fell, then all you need to do is get it on target. If you dropped it when you hit the ground, then you have a problem—unless you know where it is. Scrambling around trying to recover it will likely result in failure, which is another reason for carrying a backup gun, as you will know where it is. And hopefully you’ll have practiced drawing it from unconventional positions. If you do start going down inadvertently, tighten your grip on the pistol, keep your finger off the trigger and ride out the fall. Once grounded, find the attacker and engage from whatever position you are in. Question: How many instructors out there tell your students, if they start to slip and fall, to just drop their gun so an involuntary discharge of the pistol does not occur? Yeah, I get it…once again range safety could be setting shooters up for failure in a real fight.
If the gun is secured in the holster, you will need to draw it and get it on target. Drawing from a strong-side belt holster is the same action whether standing, kneeling, seated or prone (belly up or down), which is why I prefer it. This is not something you can say about other carry positions. Drawing from your preferred mode of carry in two seconds or less is the standard students in my classes must achieve. While this does not seem particularly fast when standing on the square range, it becomes more problematic when lying on the ground, especially if a concealing garment is involved. The most fluid strong-side draw is accomplished by taking your shooting arm’s elbow straight to the rear, which will deliver the shooting hand to the gun without effort, removing the garment along the way. If you end up lying on your support side or belly, drawing the gun will be easy, as your shooting arm is unencumbered. If just the opposite happens, the act of drawing becomes more complicated.
In fact, the direst of grounded situations would be landing on your holstered firearm with the suspect hovering above. In this case, a rapid response will be critical, and speed will come from an economy of motion. Since it is impossible to draw the pistol while lying on it, immediately: Roll over on your back. Doing so will allow you to use your feet to fend off an attack while you draw your handgun. Remove the covering garment. If it is a closed-front garment, two hands might be needed. An open-front garment can probably be cleared with one. Once the garment is removed, secure a solid shooting grip, clear the holster and direct it toward the attacker. If you were using your feet to fend off your attacker, get them out of the way before firing so as not to shoot yourself. It will be all the more difficult to get into a standing/mobile position with a wounded leg or foot. If you have the core/abdominal strength necessary, sit upright. Once sitting, you will have a more stable shooting platform and will be halfway to a standing position. If you need to use your hands and arms to prop yourself up, they are involved in an activity other than fighting, which means you are defenseless. Physical fitness is worth the effort!
Once you have established this sequence of actions, you will be well situated to engage the threat and make sure you are safe. When possible, get to a standing position as quickly as possible. Make no mistake about, fighting from the ground places you in a position of serious disadvantage. Shoot from the ground as quickly as possible to stop the immediate threat, then get upright and look for additional threats. Being on the ground is not a death sentence provided you have trained from there and know what to do. Trying to sort it out in the middle of a fight will likely result in failure of the worst kind. Make sure you are ready, and you will be more capable of overcoming the threat. Like all written word, this article is not all-inclusive, merely some thoughts and guidelines to fighting from the ground. Each situation will be different so be prepared to ADAPT your anchored skills!
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