Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fighting or shooting...which are you practicing?

It is one of the finest pieces of cinema ever produced IMHO. THE SHOOTIST (1976), Ron Howard (Gillum) to John Wayne (J.B.Books) :

Gillum: "How did you get into so many fights and always come out on top? I nearly tied you shooting!"

Books: "Friend, there's nobody out there shooting back at you! It isn't always about being fast...or even accurate...that counts. It’s being willing! I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren't willing. They'll blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger...and I won't!"

I was still in the basic police academy when I saw this movie in an actual theatre!  When I heard this exchange in the film, it hit me just like being slapped in the face. While it went right past most viewers, it stuck with me and I remembered it.  When video (VCR) movies became available, I had a copy of that segment made at a shop that specialized in making VHS copies. I have used it continuously since becoming a firearms instructor in 1982.  In the book THE SHOOTIST, the author goes into more detail during this exchange and if you can find a copy, I suggest you read it.  If nothing else, it’s just a great novel.

Teaching shooting is not that difficult. All one needs is a foundational knowledge of the mechanics required and then recycle them to a student. Some are good at this; others cannot communicate the directions to the rest room let alone proper technique. Many cannot perform the techniques they are teaching! That said, “instructors” do this all across the country every week and, for the most part, I am glad. Like Robert Heinlein, I believe an armed society is a polite society. If nothing else, it is certainly more stable, secure and safe.  My concern comes in the quality of training many receive, but that is another story.

But shooting is not the problem, its teaching students to fight…to be combative… which is much more difficult as many instructors really do not comprehend the concept. Now, I am not bashing on our nation’s Firearms instructors, conflict should be avoided at all costs because every time one enters conflict, they run the risk of loosing no matter how well trained.  If an instructor does not understand the dynamics of conflict its easy to focus on splits, draw times, speed of reload and other skills that can be improved with practice. But does such skill make one better prepared to fight? Ahhh…is that not the million dollar question?  Skill certainly makes on more confident, but does it make one more ruthless? As the author of THE SHOOTIST so clearly pointed out…and it has been born out by history…the winner of a fight is not necessarily the person with the fastest draw, most bullets, most accurate, best gear…it’s the more ruthless of the two combatants…the one who will not hesitate to inflict harm on an opponent. 

Hesitation can kill…

Every so often, someone will post photos of gang members or insurgents shooting their guns sideways and everyone laughs, jokes and ridicules the VERY dangerous people in the photos. This ridicule comes from people who, mostly, have never been in a fight.  Forget that holding a handgun sideways and shooting does help control recoil, they seem to forget that most all of the people pictured are battle hardened and more than WILLING to cut their head off!  They have likely been in multiple gunfights…no, they do not look as cool as many American shooters on the range, but they are very, very effective at what they do….killing.

So, can we teach fighting?  We can, but it is more difficult than teaching shooting…and its not near as much fun on a weekend.  The skills of shooting and fighting are similar, but their application is different.  How can you tell? Well, while not all inclusive, here are a few examples: If you are mostly concerned about your split times, draw speed, perfection on a particular drill or how you look when you do these things, you are probably shooting. If you are focusing on hitting the thoracic cavity multiple times every time you shoot regardless of the orientation of your body or how you look when doing so, you are probably fighting. If you are engaged in regular interactive training and not bitching, crying or making excuses for poor performance…just trying to get better each time…you are probably training for the fight. 

Again, just a few examples, but I believe they show the difference in application. This is sure to piss someone off, but then I guess I just don’t care…

Which are you doing?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why? On the subject of Sight Radius.

If you saw my most recent “Crown Royal Thoughts” video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEbpsEwu-1k&feature=youtu.be) you know I am a BIG believer in asking students “why”?  It is a cognitive process; you know…process information…roll it around in your brain… which is always a good thing when preparing for conflict. Anytime you can make a student think you are doing them a favor. According to my old, worn out (paper!) version of the Webster’s Dictionary, the word “why” is defined as:

Why: (h)wī/ adverb
For what reason or purpose, cause and effect

That’s right, there should be a reason or purpose…a cause and effect… for everything we do. I do not believe in random, arbitrary, “just because” or “cool looking”, though I understand that cool looking is the reason many students do what they do in combative firearms training. If we understand training is preparation for the most serious moments of our life, you should understand that “cool” is NOT a good reason for anything. In the video mentioned above, I discuss a sway back, elbows bowed out shooting stance I see frequently but cannot find the origin. I have not seen it advocated by any of the currently popular instructors, so I am guessing it is performed as the shooter feels it “looks cool”. Sorry team, not good enough…

More recently, I had a student in class with a pistol that was equipped with a very tall set of sights on a concealment pistol. Now, he was not shooting especially well, so I knew it was not because they gave him better visual on target alignment. In addition, the sights were somewhat sharp and prone to snagging under clothing so I felt like I needed to ask him WHY he was using them. I was pretty sure he really did not know beyond he liked the way they looked on his gun. It turns out I was wrong.

In reality, he was using them because they were manufactured and recommended by an instructor he greatly admired. OK, I guess I can live with this, but I decided he needed to rethink using something that really was not working for him. When I pressed him further he got flustered and said, “They increase my sight radius thus making me more accurate”.  Ahhh…no! His accuracy sucked! Why? Because he had no real concept of trigger control and grip…he looked like he was trying to milk the teat on a cow… that rendered his sight picture a mute point. It seems my student had gotten caught up in all of the on line trappings of combat shooting and its related gear BEFORE he undertook his training. This student told me the instructor he admired was “too expensive” so he settled for me. For some reason, I thought this was funny as hell.  Hey, why not…getting mad would not change it…

I took him off the firing line, called for a short break and began his reeducation program. The first thing I asked him was “What are you trying to accomplish here?” After a bit of discussion, he stated “my personal security”. He is unmarried and had no family in the area, so we were talking about him alone. This gave us a starting point. I asked him if his Glock pistol was for concealed carry and he stated it was. I offered, “Doesn’t it make sense then to keep this gun as slick and low profile as possible? That way it won’t snag on the draw or catch clothing?” The first words out of his mouth were “Well, instructor XXX says…” I held up my hand and said, “He is not here…he’s too expensive, remember? We are here…you and me…what do YOU think?” After a moment he said, “Yeah, it makes sense to keep things simple and straight forward which would include keeping my pistol more snag resistant.”  “What about a set of sights you can actually see and may enhance your performance?” I said. “Yeah…that would be a good idea.”

I then addressed his sight radius comment. I took out a standard rear sight and showed him exactly how much additional sight radius was involved…it was less than ¼ inch. “Its not a rifle, sight radius is not important, how you slam your finger into the trigger is.”  I pulled out my personal Glock 19…the gun I both carry and teach with…and I explained the features on it and WHY I do what I do. Once I was finished, I offered, “you don’t have to modify your gun like I do, but you should know WHY you make the changes you do?” He agreed. I then told him to be wary of the Internet until he got a bit more training and experience so he would know what was a hindrance and what was an asset. 

The Internet is an amazing thing! There is now so much information available at our fingertips that it is very difficult not to dive in and read. The problem is if we really do not understand what we are reading, it is VERY EASY to think everything read is fact. Fact and opinion is not the same and can actually be dangerous! I have been doing this a long time, thus, much of what I read on line I recognize as bullshit immediately. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many. I recently watched a gunfight video and the commentary offered with it. The commentary was dubious at best, dangerous at worst.  It is the kind of stuff that could get people killed, but because the commentator was famous and had his own web site, many consider his opinion fact.  Considering this persons background I doubt his commentary was anything other than information recycled from elsewhere…and done poorly at that!

As I talk with other knowledgeable instructors across the nation, I hear stories like this time and again. Information is easily “recycled” making everyone instant experts! Case in point would be my student’s sight radius comment…the words coming out of his mouth sounded real good to him but once explained it just did not hold water. The problem was he did not know that because his expertise was “false” due to being recycled and filled with voids he did not recognize due to a lack of a solid knowledge base established by training and experience. Sights radius is just the example used here, it could be any TTP related to combative firearms training.

 I am always tickled when a student just tells me the truth when I ask him (or her) why they do something questionable. “Yeah, I think these sights (technique, tactic, etc.…place one here) looks really cool. It makes me feel awesome.” Beer will do this as well and will not place you in as much danger as looking cool in a gunfight, providing you don’t drink and drive. Of course, my response will be “how is (insert whatever here) ability to enhance your performance working for you? If it is not enhancing anything then WHY are you doing it?” Once again, we are back to why.    In the case of cool looking sights, the view of the sights that is important is from the rear…not from the side where “cool looking” is determined. So which is it…cool looking or performance enhancing? If you can’t answer this question, then is cool looking a good enough answer? Only you can decide but one thing I will offer, “shooting cool” can be fatal.

I don’t care what gear you use…that is up to you. All I am saying is know why you are using it! Know why it enhances your performance…God forbid it actually hinders it! Something I have seen more than I would like over the years…

Stay safe!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Drills and Skills…not one in the same…

SKILL: the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well with a high expectation of success.

DRILL: any methodical, repetitive, or mechanical training, instruction, or exercise. Proof of skill.

Skill is the ability to perform an activity with a high expectation of success cold.  A drill…in our case a shooting drill… is intended to show proof that a skill(s) can be performed.  Skills must be learned, understood, practiced, mastered and then anchored to a level of what the motor learning community calls automaticity or what many think of as “auto pilot” or “unconscious competence”.

In a gunfight…where we are fighting to save our life or the life of someone we care about… we can’t be thinking about how to perform the skills that will make us victorious, we need to be focusing on the fight itself, what our opponent is doing and what actions (based on our anchored skills) we can take to counter his/her moves. The shooting part of this conflict must be performed without conscious thought. If there were ever a time to perform a skill(s) to a high level of success COLD this would be it!  What are the chances you just finished a 300 round practice session when your gunfight breaks out?

What part does shooting drills play in this process?  Is shooting a drill the same as winning a gunfight? Should we be overly fascinated with popular shooting drill?  To my way of thinking, a drill is nothing more than a test of a skill or skill sets.  Emphasis should not be placed on shooting a successful drill, but on executing the needed skills at a high level so the drill will be a success…they are not the same thing.  Instead of practicing the drill over and over until success is achieved, the student of combative pistolcraft should practice the required skills for that drill!  This includes the smooth and efficient “chunking” together of skills into one fluid motion. As a matter of fact, it is this “chunking” process that makes any drill important as a drill is not a fight…it is merely a practice method for the anchoring of skills so they can be performed together automatically.

To become a “slave” to any particular drill is just silly, but I see it all the time.  Regularly, my students tell me “I’ve been practicing the 2x2x2 Drill almost every day” and I ask “why?”  “So I can win the buckle” is the normal response.  Wrong answer. While practice is certainly worthwhile, it is the wrong train of thought.  The 2x2x2 Drill is meant to test the skills of a smooth draw (from the student’s normal mode of carry), the gun arriving where it is needed, a clean trigger depression and recoil control performed in conjunction with the restaging of the trigger for the second shot. In reality, there is a lot going on in a very short time frame. My response to these students? “Don’t practice the drill, practice the skills that will make the drill a success!”  It’s all in how you think about the process…

Drills should reinforce the proper execution and application of skill sets…they should not become the central focus of the student’s practice regime.  They should be the test of the skills practiced and nothing more. Yes, it is fun and challenging to shoot such drills, but they are a means to and end and not the end result! To my way of thinking, drills should be shot at the beginning of a practice session COLD so they can offer an indication of where you stand in regards to skill development.   To shoot them over and over until success is achieved is just false expertise.

In addition, the drills should be difficult…a challenge! If the shooter can do the drill on demand without difficulty then the skills required are ether anchored or the drill is just something the shooter likes to do, is good at and is not really a challenge. The drill should also have meaning! I see many instructors use drills in courses they like or look good shooting, but what do they mean?  How do they advance student skill?

For example, my Fifteen to the Third Drill requires the shooter to draw and fire five rounds at fifteen feet into a 3 x 5 card, move laterally fifteen feet, plant and shoot five more into a 3 x 5 card before moving laterally again to the original position for five more rounds.  What does it mean? The drill is used to get the student to chunk together the essential skills of drawing, shooting accurately  (a 3 x 5 card is roughly the size of the heart and aorta), controlling recoil, moving explosively of the X to another position, planting, shooting accurately and then changing direction ASAP. It must be shot in 12 seconds to offer a sense or urgency.  The drill can be found on the Handgun Combatives web site (www.handguncombatives.com).  These are skills that have been used in actual gunfights time and again.

At Handgun Combatives, every drill we use in our courses is meant to reinforce a skill…or set of skills…that we feel is ESSENTIAL to prevailing in conflict and we always explain these reasons. We do not do arbitrary, random, trendy or the like. Our drills are challenging, meaningful and require regular practice in order to complete them successfully on demand.  Even though they are drills of my creation I cannot do them successfully unless I have been practicing the required skills. Yep! I fail regularly…but I then know what I need to work on…something drills are really good at telling us.

Shoot drills by all means…but shoot them with purpose and do not let them control your practice sessions. Remember, practice is training and training is preparation…preparation is undertaken because you are smart enough to know you need it!

Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Dangers of Backing Up… QUICKLY!

I am criticized regularly for “turning your back on a threat”! People ALWAYS deliver these criticisms with limited to no information, which in my estimation is just plain stupid. But then the Internet is full of really stupid people!  In reality, this criticism is uncalled for, as I am not telling practitioners of the combative pistol to turn their back on a threat, I am telling them not to try and move backwards quickly!  There is a BIG difference…its just that many of the tactical lug nuts on the Internet refuse to acknowledge it as it gives them something to bitch about. All of you reading this know how much the Internet tac-tards like to hear themselves talk…or type…

It has been a tradition of square range training for as long as I can remember to simulate staying on a threat (target) as it “goes down” and then holding for an undetermined period of time to make sure it “stays down”. I get it, its just I’m not sure what this accomplishes as the paper target does not fall and there is no visual indication of a threat and whether it is incapacitated or will get back up.  Students are merely “imaging” a threat and hopefully are holding long enough since there is really no way to know for sure.  Its like the simulated scan…one does it but no one really knows what is being accomplished as there is no real threat so we do not know what we are looking at or for. In reality, most shooters turn their head WAY TO FAST to truly see, but it does look cool.  Why do we do this? Tradition mostly…

I have long asked people who emphasize this hold on target what happens if the “threat’s” friends do not allow them to hold on target for the desired amount of time?  You know, they attack from the flank before you are ready to look for other threats?  This is reality, you know. I usually get a frozen stare as they try to process this. After all, this is NOT part of tradition…it’s not what they normally do!  When I suggest they may want to look around as soon as they get some feedback from their original threat (like folding over or falling down…something a fixed target does not do) I usually hear “they may get back up!” True, but how long does a look around for other attackers take? After all, you are not looking to scan the area HARD at this point, you are looking for obvious threats like someone running at you, stabbing with a knife or pointing a gun. Yeah, not perfect and in it’s place, but gunfighting seldom is…

Turning away from a threat and moving quickly is another subject that gets real emotional on line. After all, it’s easy to “type a good gunfight” from the comfort of your computer…much harder to actually do it under the duress of someone trying to kill you.  The fact of the matter is you can’t run backwards!  By run I mean move quickly, at a speed that will help save your life if bullets are in bound. Yes, it is possible to move to the rear at a controlled speed, but if moving as fast as humanely possible to create distance is the goal, then trying to move quickly backwards will result in a fall and falling in a gunfight can prove fatal.

Moving to the rear in a controlled fashion can be accomplished two ways. The first is a “step and drag” technique that has the shooter step back with one foot and then drag the trailing foot into place. The second is a “shuffle step” in which the feet are kept in contact with the ground and shifted back and forth…neither will allow for the development of rapid speed…the type of speed needed to get from place to place as fast a humanly possible.

If you take a moment to think about how you move forward…you don’t need a motor skill scientist to explain this… you will note the body’s center of gravity (the hips) stays either above or in between the feet while moving.  As you step and move forward, the hips are between the feet and as forward progression continues, the hips move over top of the feet until they are centered again between them.  This is a very efficient method and it allows us to walk, jog and run without falling. In addition, our eyes are in front of our head…the same way our feet are pointed! Even when moving laterally the body keeps the hips either over or between the feet. Falling occurs when the feet stop (snag on something?) but the hips do not due to momentum and you topple over.  There are techniques to ensure this does not happen and I teach them in my Advanced Combative Pistol course which is all about HOW TO MOVE in conflict.

Moving rapidly to the rear does not allow for this natural shift of the center of gravity between the feet.  The shuffle step and step and drag work to accomplish this, but when speed becomes the overriding concern, the hips shift forward of the feet as the body moves to the rear. Since the feet and toes are not pointed in the direction of said movement, the ass over rides the feet and the combatant falls.  Don’t believe me, watch Live Leak or You Tube and you will find a number of gunfight videos…primarily officer involved shootings…in which shooters try to move backwards rapidly and fall on flat surfaces! And these videos do not take into account those who trip and fall because they do not have eyes in the back of their head!

During rapid rearward movement, the typical person will have 3 to 4 steps before they run the risk of falling. This means a rapid disengagement, such as pushing away from a close contact fight, is possible but continued rearward movement become perilous. At this point, the combatant has two choices: 1. Stay facing the threat and move controlled but slowly back or 2. Turn and move rapidly away. Which you choose will be based on the situation you face. Yes, it will be situationally dependent; something some say is an excuse for lazy training but is a reality of combat. No two fights are exactly alike and it is impossible to train for every potential situation one may face. Thus, you focus and practice skill sets and adapt as necessary!

The idea that you will NEVER turn away from a threat is ludicrous! If others attack you, you will have to turn, refocus or die! If moving quickly is more important than moving in a controlled fashion, you may have to turn your back in order to create distance, move to cover or gain a position of advantage to continue the fight. If you have someone to cover you that is fantastic!  A “leap frog” movement will ensue with verbalization to ensure covered rearward movement. If not, move fast, turn as necessary and move again.  The choice is up to you and will be based on what you perceive to be IMPORTANT NOW…at this moment in time!

One thing I have learned over four decades of law enforcement and firearms training is to avoid the use of the words NEVER and ALWAYS…one or the other will certainly bite you in the ass at some point…

Finally, consider falling back in the middle of a gunfight. As you fall backwards, there is a good chance you will roll back and your ass will rise up due to momentum (unless you have been trained in how to fall).  I have had several medical experts tell me if you take a round (or rounds!) through the rectum that travel long ways up through the body, there is a very good chance it will result in a NON-SURVIVABLE WOUND! As the bullet(s) travel upward through the torso (most gunshot wounds travel across the body) a considerable amount of damage to a wide variety of organs and spine can occur. Infection would certainly be a concern.  In this age of medical care, your chances would be better than ever before, but those who work in the field tell me it would be a very tough fight.

In the end, it come down to WHAT’S IMPORTANT NOW while the fight ensues. In truth, there is no way to predict how the fight will unfold but to say you will NEVER do something is wrought with peril. Yep, you may have to turn away from a threat to fight another or move quickly to a better position but one thing I can say with great certainty…you will not be able to run backwards FAST!

The choice is yours…of course…believe and do what you see as being best. Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sights by Heinie

I do not hide that I created the Ameriglo Combative Application Pistol (CAP) sight...I'm proud of them!  They were designed for fast acquisition, a true “flash” front sight picture of the type required in a close quarter pistol fight…if you have the ability to use the sights at all! To align one merely places the front square in the rear square. They were never intended to be used as a precision sight for long shots of 25 yards plus. That said I use mine to hit a 3 x 5 card at 25 yards all the time. You just need to know “what to look for” and where to hold…a process of discovery.

In most every class I teach, the topic of gear comes up…what belt to wear, what holster to use, iron sights or red dots…gear is easy and certainly more fun than building skills.  That said, gear will never replace skill. It can certainly enhance it, but only after the skills are mastered and anchored…a long process to be sure.

In this inevitable conversation, I always get the question “if you couldn’t use the CAP Sight, what sight would you use?” Easy…Heinie. As a matter of fact, I have Heinie Sights on several of my pistols and I have no intention of changing them to CAPs. Heinie Sights are clean, highly visible and accurate across a wide range of uses. Of course, I paint the front sight  for faster acquisition, something easy to do and takes just a few minutes, some finger nail polish and a tooth pick.

I first saw a pair of Heinie Sights on an FBI Browning Hi- Power around 1990. I was President of the Ohio Tactical Officers Association and one of the speakers at our annual conference was an FBI Agent who had recently transferred out of their Hostage Rescue Team.  During a private conversation on pistols, he showed me his Hi-Power (he was allowed to continue to carry it on regular agent duties he told me) and it had a set of sights on it I had never seen. He told me they were Heinie Sights and he preferred them to the Novak Sights that were (then) in use.

Fast forward several years to the 1995 SHOT Show. I ran into good friend Lou Alessi (may he rest in peace!) the master holster maker. Lou was talking to a gentleman in the hallway and he introduced me, “Dave, I would like you to meet Dick Heinie, I make a several holsters exclusively for him.”  I have been friends with Richard Heinie ever since. I have a hard time calling him Dick (I reserve this for those who really are dicks!), though Louie seemed to enjoy it!  I have always used, and continue to use, Heinie Sights to this day. Even as I created my own, Richard and I have stayed friends…though it is only fair to state the Spaulding version of the CAP Sight was greatly influenced by my Heinie Sights with the painted front.

Why do I say this? Because so many people have taken Richard’s basic design and have given him ZERO credit!  While my Spaulding CAP Sights do not look like his, my preferred view from the rear was taken from his sight…colored front, square notch rear with serrations all around.  All one needs to do…if they are capable of true, independent critical thought and not some lovelorn fan boy mode of thought…is look at Richard’s sight, note how long he has been in business (over 40 years!) and then look at the popular sights of today and the similarity is obvious.

I have Heinie Sights on my Smith & Wesson M & P and Unertl MEU-SOC 1911…the Unertl sights were a custom fit Richard did for me himself.  Both of these guns have slide cuts for factory sights, which lowers the Heinie sight into the slide, lowering their profile.  I have never really understood the desire to place a set of tall sights on a concealment pistol. I have seen students go out of their way to get a compact model, have a carry bevel package performed to remove sharp edges and corners and then place a set of sights on their gun that can sit as high as ¾ inch over the bore line!  To each his own, of course…but does this seems to be a bit of a cross-purpose?  I like my sights to be as close to the bore line as possible while also being high visibility, which is why I like the Heine models that fit into existing slide cuts.

Another thing I like about Henie sights is the fact they are constantly updating, testing and adding new products four decades later!  From the Henie web site:

“All HEINIE SPECIALTY PRODUCTS sights have been fully tested on the pistols they have been specifically designed for. For example: Glock, Springfield, H-K, Kimber, Colt, etc.

All of our sights have been tested on newly manufactured pistols. We try to use at least two or more pistols to base our sight specifications/designs on. All sights are tested by at least two qualified people. They are test fired shooting in a standing position and using a bench. We try to obtain as many different loads and bullets as we can for testing.


Your bullet may not strike where you want it to hit, which may be due to many causes. For example: manufacturer's tolerance, ammo or the way you are shooting. Also if you had adjustable sights previously and install a fixed rear sight, it may not be the same POA/POI.
We are constantly retesting pistols on a regular basis. Manufacturers change and do not tell us that there may have been a change.

If you tell us your pistol is shooting 8” or 12” low or high or any extreme variation, Heinie will not replace or offer a sight to correct that problem. When this type of discrepancy happens, it is most likely the way you shoot, the type of ammo, or a different sight was installed instead of what was intended for the sight set.”

Note the last sentence…most sighting errors are the shooter, not the sight!  Its easy to blame the object and not the user, but if we are really being honest with ourselves, POA/POI errors are usually us!

There are a lot of sights on the market …which is good as sights are a very personal thing…and Heinie deserves your attention.  Yes, I would like you to try the CAP Sight but if it doesn’t work for you then my next stop would be www.heinie.com. I know it is for me…

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Four “Modes” of Combative Pistolcraft

From Mr. Webster…

Mode: noun
1. A manner of acting or doing; method; way:
“Modern modes of transportation.”

2.a particular type or form of something:
“Heat is a mode of motion.”

3.a designated condition or status, as for performing a task or
  responding to a problem:
“A machine in the automatic mode.”

I have been teaching firearms for 35 years now.  I entered the “art” as trainer for my agency’s newly formed SWAT team. Like many teams of the era, there was not a lot of background information to draw on, so we used Army field manuals, a basic course taught by the state training academy and a lot of phone calls across the nation to get started. Fortunately, we were “saved” by a Prosecutor’s Investigator who had been a Green Beret in Vietnam. This man, along with a local emergency room physician who was a gun enthusiast, got us traveling down the right path.

Command officers knew we needed a “certified” firearms instructor for the team and since I was the youngest member, I was “volunteered” to go. I liked guns, so I didn’t mind the four- week journey (a week for revolver, pistol, shotgun and rifle/submachine gun) to “instructor-hood” and as it turned out, I liked instructing.  I started helping out the regular Rangemaster and as time went by, I moved away from SWAT over to more conventional law enforcement firearms instruction, which meant more focus on the handgun.

After all, the handgun always has been and always will be the primary firearm for American law enforcement. The same can be said for the armed citizen as well. While the carbine and shotgun are certainly more effective, the handgun is more portable and concealable, meaning it will be the gun available when an unexpected incident unfolds. The handgun is a reactive/reflexive style of firearm while the long gun is more responsive…the handgun will be available most of the time while the long gun will be the gun used when one has time and knows what they are responding to such as the military application of a small arm.

As I have gone through this multi-decades long journey of instruction, mostly focusing on the handgun, I have noticed that four “modes” of combative pistolcraft application and training exists and they are a result, mostly, of the background a given instructor comes from.  I spent most of my adult life in law enforcement and when I started to focus on the training of armed citizens, this background “colored” how I taught the subject matter. I know realize I was partly wrong in doing so. Oh, I didn’t endanger anyone, but I could have had a more task specific focus.

What brought me to thinking about the various modes was a pistol course I took from a retired Special Operations Forces member.  As a former member of a high speed, direct action unit, his standards were quite high and I was interested in seeing what he taught and why he taught it. Much to my disappointment, he never really said…it was mostly “do what I say”.  We spent a sizable amount of time shooting beyond 25 yards…50, 75, 100 even out to 200 yards with semi-automatic pistols. While this is certainly doable, I could not help but question why we were spending such a large amount of time on something that was unlikely, even ill advised legally!

At first, I thought it was for marksmanship, but when I asked him about it I was told, “how long is the front hallway of a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes? What if you have to make a shot to save your family at such a distance?”  The legality of such an action…especially if it were to go astray…filled my head but I decided not to challenge. After all, it was his class and he certainly has the right to teach as he chooses. I left the class thinking deeply about what I had just experienced.  After all, when I entered law enforcement in the mid-1970’s, long distance revolver shooting was emphasized but was stopped after research into armed conflict involving cops showed it seldom happened.  Emphasis was placed on just the opposite…extreme close quarter engagements!

After a bit of reflection, it struck me that every instructor will teach what they know, have experienced and been taught based on their background and one is no more or less relevant than the other…its just a matter if that particular mode fits YOUR real world of work…and only you can decide that. Lets look at these varied modes:

1. Military:  The military does everything they can to KILL THE ENEMY (an important distinction) at GREAT distance. It is the way it should be! If they can kill the enemy (no intelligence value, of course) in Iraq from a trailer in Nevada using a drone, then they should!  Distance favors the trained shooter, so the further away one can be from an adversary when the fight breaks out, the greater advantage we (those trained) have in winning the fight. Shooting at contact distance requires no skill, just tenacity, so trying to engage far away increases survivability.

The problem arises in the fact the pistol is not designed for such long shots. With a short barrel and reduced sight radius long shots become problematic. Yes, with practice they can be made but how many folks who carry a handgun for personal security purposes possess this level of skill? Its one thing to make a 100 yard shot on the square range with little stress, but quite another while under the duress of a real gunfight with non-hostiles running through the battle space in panic, which would be the case at a large box store.

2. Law Enforcement: Unlike the military, law enforcement does not kill the enemy; they police society and thus, TAKE POEPLE INTO CUSTODY (another important distinction). Great strides are taken to arrest offenders and take them in front of a judge. Even in extreme situations like hostage rescues, the goal is to apprehend the offender, not kill.  Offensive action, like a sniper shot, is avoided if at all possible and is only used if it is the final option.

Because of this arrest standard, law enforcement will always be an activity of close contact. Even in situations that do not involve arrest such as citizen contacts, those involved wish to keep the interaction as private as possible, thus close contact is required. Can you imagine the uproar if a patrol officer stood back 10 yards and yelled to an honest citizen, “HEY! THROW ME YOR INDEINTIFICATION! I DO NOT WANT TO GET TOO CLOSE UNTIL I FIND OUT WHO YOU ARE!  Nope…that will not go over well with the citizenry.

Law enforcement has known for over a century that the single most dangerous moment is when the first handcuff goes on…that is when the fight will start! I have been there numerous times and it is not an enjoyable experience. Four times during my career I fought over my own gun in such situations and all were quite perilous. None ended in death because in those days, we were allowed to HIT PEOPLE HARD, something that is judged as cruel, mean and heartless in the days of the cell phone video.  A punch to the throat or poke to the eyes always ended such attacks. That said, with close contact being a reality, is it any wonder why law enforcement shootings tend to be within double arms length to ten feet?

3. The Armed Citizen:  A distance of six yards seems to be a continuing aspect of armed citizen confrontations. I have seen this distance so many times now, that I have started to incorporate it in my training courses.  It makes sense as armed citizens ARE NOT DUTY BOUND TO APPREHEND, ARREST AND CERTALY DO NOT WISH TO KILL…THEY WANT TO REPEL AN ATTACK AND GET THE ATTACKER TO STOP (another important distinction).  If the attacker flees, that s just fine.

    For this reason, armed citizens create distance between   them and the potential threat, distances like the length of a car, across a parking space, a living room or a public hall way…a distance in which they can converse, issue warnings but also retain a reactionary gap.  Just a few steps can increase distance significantly.  In many cases, their hand is on their holstered sidearm, but it has not yet been displayed.  For whatever reason, the individual could not avoid the situation so they are now trying to evade by creating distance and allowing the potential attacker to move on.  This is a wise move! Engaging in a deadly force situation is life changing and costly!  The armed citizen is not duty bound so they should avoid or evade at all costs.

4. Felons: Their mode of thought is quite simple…THEY WISH TO COMPLETE WHATEVER CIMINAL ACTION THEY HAVE STARTED AND GET AWAY.  In some cases it is violence committed in the act of another crime (robbery, theft, etc.) in others it is the act of violence itself that satisfies the offender. In either case, they wish to flee the scene once the act is completed.  It should be understood that they do not see the world as you do, they do not think like you do and they were not raised as you were. DO NOT APPLY HOW YOU THINK ABOUT A PARTICULAR SITUATION TO THEM!

They are not “trained” in combative pistolcraft per se’ and do not concern themselves with “legalities”, after all they are already committing multiple crimes. Thus, if gun play is involved they will not worry about shot placement, who is hit, where their bullets go and will likely spray the area with bullets in order to assist their escape.  While they may not be traditionally trained, many have been involved in gunfights...some have been shot…thus they will have NO APPREHENSION about shooting at you, your loved ones or anyone in the area.  Fortunately, many choose to flee instead of shoot, but one cannot count on this…some offenders just like violence.

 While you will be worried about such things as legalities and misplaced shots…your mind might be filled with them… as you deploy your handgun, they will not!  Crime is their occupation, violence just a way of life.

As I wrap up this already too long blog, I want to go back to the definitions listed at the beginning.  A mode is “A manner of acting or doing; method; way” and this method or way will certainly be affected by one’s background. In addition, when it comes to training, many instructors have been trained to operate it certain environments…I know I was! It makes sense, why would a war fighter train himself or herself to function as an armed citizen? It’s not their “real world of work and play”.

As we proceed through this “journey of discovery” that is training and preparation, we must all decide what our real world of work and play is and proceed accordingly.  Does that mean we cannot “dabble” in military style training? Of course not, I believe we should seek training for a wide variety of sources. But when it comes building skills, mastering and anchoring same to a level of “auto pilot” (a longer process than many understand), we need to use critical thought and choose wisely…not be sucked into the world of tacti-cool and fantasy.  The reality of conflict SUCKS…you don’t want to make it worse by preparing incorrectly…

Thanks for checking in!


Friday, April 7, 2017

Foundational is Essental...not Fundamental...

I board the metallic tube of death for a sold out Combative Pistol course in Cresson, TX. This course sold out months ago which is most gratifying. Something else that is gratifying is the increasing interest in this "foundational" pistol course. Foundational should not be viewed as "basic", something many ill-informed combative shooters do due to their desire to be seen as "advanced". The reason I avoid the word "fundamentals" is it sends the wrong message. I use the word "essential" as the skills taught in a foundational class are just that...absolutely necessary!

For a period of years, students wanted "advanced" courses, totally ignoring Bruce Lee's admonition "advanced skills are the basics mastered!" That said, how many of us have truly ANCHORED those essential foundational skills? If the students in my classes are any indication...very few. In every class I go over the essential skills required for the lesson plan to be taught so the class does not bog down. It is surprising how many "advanced" shooters do not have a solid grasp of a true ready position (more cool looking stuff than functional stuff), a COMBAT draw, a reload, a stoppage clearance, a solid shooting platform (that allows rapid movement) and the like.

When I see a deficiency, instead of getting a "oh really...how can I improve?" I will usually get a "this is how I do it!" My response? "Yeah man, but you really suck at it! Just because it feels "right" to you does not mean it is good. Look, I can help you but only if you are willing." About 50% are willing to try something different. The rest just go on sucking. Thus, I am really happy to see a renewed interest in Combative Pistol and other foundational courses. Winning a gunfight is more about adapting than it is shooting. The person who sees the fight for what it is an adapts accordingly is the one who will PREVAIL! Survival is NOT the goal...

Adapt is defined by Mr. Webster as "to change as necessary" but that is not the whole story. What we are looking for is the person who is ADAPTIVE, which is defined as "THE ABILITY to change as necessary". THAT, my friends, is easier said than done! In order to have the ability to adapt, one has to have skills that are anchored to a level of auto pilot or what is known within the law enforcement community as "unconscious competence"...something few truly achieve. Why? Because it takes a long time and a lot of work! Its easy to go to gun school, its more difficult to return home and practice the lessons learned to a point of anchorage as this requires a lot of excellent level repetition which requires TOTAL focus on the skills being practiced. Very hard for many...

In order for a student/shooter to do this, they must understand how IMPORTANT the skill(s) are to them...if not they will not put in the time and effort. They will just have a fond memory of a good time at gun school. For some, this is enough...but not for the serious student of combative pistolcraft. The choice is up to you...

Thanks for checking in!