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…
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.