AND TECHNIQUE DEVELOPMENT
many years, a good many people, yours truly included, have offered
what is called "combat" or "practical" handgun
instruction to the public. The approaches taken by the various instructors
within the profession differ considerably, often even radically,
giving rise to a good deal of controversy. Often, the difference
is so extreme that the student can't help but wonder:
Why the disparity?
Who really knows what they're talking about?
Whose instruction is the most useful?
it cannot initially be obvious to the novice, many "combat"
handgunning instructors are actually competitive shooters rather
than "real-world" types. Thus, their entire philosophy
centers around the competitive approach. They can't be blamed for
this, because their exposure to -- and therefore their perspective
on -- the subject occurred over a period of years and was the result
of the various competitions they've attended. Still, virtually everything
about even so-called "practical" (really a synonym for
"combat") competition reflects a lack of knowledge about
what the combat handgun is about and the nature of the environment
in which it's used. This being the case, it should be not surprise
that the techniques, tactics, scoring methods and even the targets
they prefer, fail to address the issues so critical to surviving
a real gunfight.
knowing this, many students are disappointed or even angry when
they discover their instructor's true background, a situation often
aggravated by the time and money spent by the student to enroll
in that instructor's program. I know that I expect to "get
what I pay for" and can certainly sympathize with those who
have experienced this annoying problem.
observers of "practical" competition comment that there
is little about it that is truly practical. In fact, the more astute
among them go so far as to make the observation that what they see
in such events is suicidal if attempted in an actual gunfight. I
agree, but why? Simple. Competition is its own end, rather than
a means to achieve a higher goal.
not carefully controlled to keep it "on the track," any
form of competition quickly deviates from its original path, quickly
evolving into something bearing little resemblance to what it once
was. This is what happened to "combat" competition. In
the interest of finding better ways to do things, better techniques,
tactics, etc., the concept of "unrestricted competition"
became the norm. Given human nature, this led to its participants
"fudging" from the original concept by using sub-powered
ammunition for better weapon control, bizarre holsters for a faster
presentation, guns that look like they came from a Hollywood set
and tactically irrelevant courses of fire. For this reason, I discourage
the competitive approach, except as a carefully controlled "stress
simulator," because I recognize that this has occurred. And
since defensive survival, rather than recreational shooting, is
my specialty, I must make a clear distinction between the two.
among the few writers/instructors of combat weaponcraft who have
actually "been there and seen the elephant," I have some
strong feeling about life and death. Therefore, I naturally feel
that confusion about competition's true focus might well cost someone
his life. Simply stated, we need to know the difference between
the two and that they represent endeavors that are diametrically
opposed to one another.
"practical" competition has been in full swing now for
over two decades and has promoted a number of potentially deadly
concepts we should know about. Among these are:
The use of highly specialized, even bizarre, guns, holsters, ammunition
and ancillary equipment to gain an "edge."
Always firing two shots per target, regardless of the number of
targets involved. This is a guaranteed ticket to getting killed
if multiple assailants are encountered. While the quick two-shot
response is indeed the best solution to a single assailant attack,
firing two shots per target in a multiple assailant scenario takes
far too long, giving at least one of your attackers plenty of time
to kill you. A far better response is to hit each assailant once,
bring the weapon back down to Ready, assess the effect of your hits
and, if any of them continues to present a Deadly Threat to you,
re-engage, but on a Failure To Stop basis, shooting them in the
head, rather than again in the chest. If the initial trauma of being
shot failed to neutralize them, subsequent shots to the chest will
have little or no incapacitating effect because the nervous system
has shut itself down in protective reflex.
Excess physical movement; so-called "assault courses"
that have no tactical value, especially when handguns are involved.
Movement to stimulate metabolic stress should be completed before
the shooter begins to shoot, not as part of the shooting course
of fire itself.
Over-emphasis on Speed Reloading; the unnecessary abandonment of
magazines and ammunition.
is why both my instructional endeavors and writing reflect the approach
they do: when "the chips are down," it's fundamental skill
that will save your life, not fancy guns, holsters, foot-racing,
clever tactics or ambidextrous weapon-handling procedures. To teach
weak-hand weapon presentation and shooting in a Basic course is
a waste of time because the student isn't ready for it. He has his
hands full learning fundamentals -- fundamentals that are the basis
from which all subsequent skill-building will evolve. If he doesn't
have complete mastery of the fundamentals, all the fancy guns, equipment
and techniques in the world won't save him when his life is on the
reviewing thousands of shooting case-studies, I found that in no
instance did weak-hand presentation or shooting make any real difference.
Thus, to provide the student with the highest degree of relevant
skill and understanding, it should be restricted to higher skill-level
courses where it belongs.
writer even created a scoring system that requires the shooter to
amass a pre-determined point score before he can consider his target
neutralized. If he sees that his "score" is less than
required, he then re-engages, shooting the target again in the chest,
until his point total is sufficient. Sounds great because it forces
the student to look at his target after shooting to see what has
-- only rarely can you see bullet holes in a human being. And once
the initial trauma of being shot is sustained, the human nervous
system shuts down, making subsequent shots to the chest a waste
of time. So, he feels nothing; nothing at all! If your initial hits
failed to incapacitate him, you should be going for the head --
only a hit in the cranial (brain) or ocular (eye) cavities can guarantee
a "stop" under such circumstances.
is a good example of "The Firing Range Mind Set" -- the
creation of tactics and techniques that work only under controlled
conditions and reflect a lack of understanding of the true issues.
A handgun fight does not take place under such conditions! In a
real gunfight, you must look for the only thing you can -- target
reaction. Did he collapse or not? Is he down, but still functioning?
Is he still a Deadly Threat? Does he have friends? These are of
far more importance than trying to determine whether or not your
point total is satisfactory!
are why I often find myself at odds with some of my colleagues --
sometimes on a friendly basis, sometimes not. But, doggone it, life
and death are serious business, demanding a pragmatic, conservative
approach. Fancy methodology is dangerous, as is theory that cannot
withstand even a logical analysis, much less an actual field test,
with people literally betting their lives on the outcome.
sole reason for self-defense training is to save live, whatever
it takes, regardless of who invented what techniques. Only a clear
perspective of the nature of a handgun encounter, the handgun itself,
its capabilities and limitations and mastery of its fundamental
skills can accomplish this task.
more than ever before, we have at our fingertips the most advanced
level of weapon skill in history. Science has given us the technology
to compile data on shootings of all kinds, in all environments.
Without question, all of these things are important, for without
them, analysis is impossible. On the other hand, technical data
must be handled with care to ensure that it isn't misinterpreted.
For example, science brought gave us the ability to determine kinetic
aviation or space accomplishments could have taken place without
it, but it has also been used, usually in error, to determine the
efficiency of small arms. We have seen vast amounts of space in
various publications occupied by such data, but, unfortunately,
it doesn't always indicate what the inexperienced reader is led
can simple kinetic energy be taken as a definitive measurement of
handgun stopping power? What about the other aspects of the issue,
like target composition, nervous system sensitivity, degree of assailant
determination, water content, muscle bulk/tone, bone structure and
even clothing? Obviously, all of these things exert significant
influence on stopping power, but, because they can't be simulated,
should we ignore them in preference to simple arithmetic?
about bullet penetration through a human target? How much energy
is truly transferred if it exits and continues downrange? Then there
is the matter of how much time the bullet spends passing through
its target. None of these things can be computed with any degree
of accuracy because of the wild varying circumstances involved.
is why experience is so important. It tempers consideration of raw
data¸ to prevent jumping to potentially dangerous conclusions.
It has been said that knowledge is like lumber -- it should be used
until seasoned. How true! In the field of combat handgunning, if
it is, people who shouldn't die as a result. Another axiom of importance
-- the scientist's job is to explain reality, not create it! Amusing,
yes? But also true.
next time you see someone touting a particular gun or cartridge
because it spectacularly blows up a quart can of tomato juice, watch
out, because he doesn't know what he's talking about. Since when
is shooting tomato juice indicative of what happens when you shoot
a person? Or clay, duxseal, jello, water-jugs or wet telephone books?
When you hear otherwise, you're hearing assumptions based on a lack
if you listen, you could pay for it with your life.
is more to combat weaponcraft than just shooting. It involves tactics,
mental conditioning, the selection and modification of weapons and
other equipment, stopping power, Law, the psychology of self-defense
and shooting aftermath and, of course, technique. Experience teaches
us that, past the point where fundamentals are mastered, it's the
seemingly "little things" that count. It's easy to read
gun magazines, of course, but remember that many writers simply
paraphrase things written by someone else who is also paraphrasing
it from another source -- which doesn't make it true. It's experience
that allows us to separate the wheat from the chaff. Use your head
when considering self-defense issues and be conservative in your
decisions. Keep things simple, logical and get your training from
someone who knows their stuff. The life you save will probably be
Versus "Instinctive" Shooting
neither aimed or so-called "instinctive" shooting are
new, the matter of which is best continuously surfaces. In fact,
each decade seems heralded with a new wave of "revelations"
on the matter, whether represented by some "new and improved"
aimed-fire shooting stance or yet another version of the "instinctive"
theory. Yet, in spite of all the rhetoric, nothing really new has
appeared, nor has "instinctive" (really "point")
shooting ever actually been proven superior.
the sheer longevity of the controversy about the two concepts astonishes
me. Why? Professional curiosity, I guess. Neither one is new or
especially difficult to understand and can therefore be logically
analyzed and competently discussed with ease.
think that, first, we must dispel any confusion about the definitions
of the two terms. "Aimed" means that the shooter is using
his sights to align the bore of the weapon with the axis of his
line of sight to the target. "Instinctive," or, "point"
shooting means that the firer is looking at his target, rather than
his front sight, and relying upon his natural "pointing"
ability to align the bore of gun with its target.
concepts have their advocates, with some even recommending both
as the best means by which to cover all the tactical possibilities.
However, probably to no one's surprise, aimed-fire has by far the
most proponents, among them most of the well-known experts in the
weapons/tactics profession. This is possibly because the capabilities
of aimed-fire are well known, documented in detail, and the easiest
to understand. After all, don't most guns come from the factor with
sights? There must be a reason!
addition, it is irrefutable that if you correctly execute the fundamentals
of sight picture, sight alignment and trigger control, you'll hit
your target. This means that good results can be had with a minimum
of practice time and effort. "Instinctive" shooting, however,
is undeniably more abstract and complex and, as a result, achieving
any degree of proficiency with it demands a substantial amount of
here are the "high-points" of the controversy. Aimed-fire
advocates criticize "instinctive" shooting and claim it
to be inferior because:
There really is no such thing as "instinctive" shooting
in the first place; e.g. you're not born with a handgun in your
hand and cannot, therefore, be born with an inherent ability to
shoot. They say that shooting is a learned skill and that the whole
idea of "instinctive" shooting is invalid.
then continue by saying that "instinctive" shooting:
Is excessively complex for human though processes, particular under
Exhibits no better performance than aimed-fire methods.
Takes far too long to learn.
Takes too long to develop skill to the point where you can reliably
"bet your life" on it with any reasonable degree of success.
Requires too much time to execute under the conditions present in
the typical handgun encounter.
Is critically dependent upon pre-known absolutes, such as the target
being at known ranges, heights, sizes and angles, none of which
actually exist in a real gunfight.
Are incapable of handling a wide enough variety of tactical situations,
such as targets at odd angles, small targets, hostage situations,
Is unsatisfactory when targets not directly in front of the shooter
must be engaged, or when they're on a higher or lower plane than
encountered on the training range where the initial skill is developed
and conditioned responses built.
the other side of the coin, "instinctive" shooters claim
Really isn't too complex and difficult to use under stress.
Is faster than aimed-fire techniques and that this is the primary
reason "instinctive" shooting was developed in the first
Doesn't take that long to master.
Does work under stress. Firing range demonstrations prove it.
Has a long history of success, dating back as far as the Old West.
somebody is wrong...but whom?
take each point one at a time. First, is the "instinctive"
concept valid? Well, as of the last time I checked, we aren't born
with a gun in our hands. Thus we cannot possibly have an "instinct"
for shooting. It is my belief, though, that its advocates actually
mean something else -- that we are born with the instinct to point
our fingers at things. Taken from this perspective, their claim
is true. But, it cannot be successfully argued that shooting isn't
a learned skill because it is, a fact that can easily be proven
on demand. And, the "icing on the cake" is the fact that
pointing a finger and pointing a handgun aren't the same -- not
let's deal with complexity. Here, the claims of the aimed-fire school
of thought are maybe too strict. Complex? That's not the right word
-- "abstract" is more like it. Simple logic dictates that
abstract concepts are more difficult to grasp than finite ones and
I think this is really what the aimed-fire crowd is trying to say.
"instinctive" techniques take too long to learn and require
more effort than aimed-fire methods? Do they requires longer training
periods to become good enough to "bet your life" on them
under stress? Are they really faster than aimed-fire? Are the results
they produce any better?
experience has been that they do take a long time to master, far
too long to bother with when we consider how much more efficient
and tactically versatile one can become using aimed-fire techniques.
Time and time again I have seen "instinctive" shooters
who are supposed to be good defeated by Basic-level aimed-fire shooters.
This tells me all I need to know! How about you?
does it take longer? Because you have no mechanical assistance (sights)
upon which to depend. Instead you've got to develop a "feeling"
for alignment of the bore with the target, which, obviously, is
a highly refined process, requiring a long, long time to complete.
Yet, the easily-grasped idea of sights allows a high-degree of proficiency
in perhaps one-fifth the time spent training, maybe even less.
shooting may well be faster than aimed-fire, but not if getting
hits is your goal! And isn't getting hits, under the widest-possible
variety of tactical and environmental circumstances the whole point
of combat shooting? Any review of gunfights, including those of
the Old West, discloses that aimed, not "pointed," shots
struck their intended target far more often, bringing the fight
to a successful conclusion more quickly and with fewer shots fired
and less risk to bystanders. Nothing has changed today -- this requirement
remains the same.
we include partially obscured targets, hostage situations, targets
at odd angles, targets higher/lower or to one side or another of
the shooter, forcing him to turn to respond, the idea of "instinctive"
shooting quickly falls to the wayside. Demonstrations on firing
ranges mean little here because a range is controlled, whereas gunfights
are not. And the record shows that "instinctive" shooting
fails miserably when attempted in the real-world. Would you want
to be a hostage facing someone trying to take your captor out using
"instinctive" methods? Or would you prefer aimed-fire?
who recommend using both are "hedging" their bets. The
two are diametrically opposed philosophically and cannot be accomplished
with equal skill. Thus, if you implant conflicting sub-conscious
"programs" in your mind, don't be surprised if, in an
actual conflict, confusion in the decision-making process occurs.
The subsequent "sorting out" of which concept to employ
under the conditions present at the time takes time -- time you
simply don't have in a handgun encounter, where bullets are flying
around your ears!
logic and documented history shows "instinctive" shooting
to be more of a stunt than a useful, effective concept. Sure, you
can "get by" with it a very close range, but you can perform
just as quickly and with a higher degree of certainty of getting
good hits using aimed-fire. Don't believe it? Come to any ASAA course
and I'll prove it to you -- or, more correctly, you'll prove it
virtually any modern technique, aimed-fire is far more accurate,
just as fast at close range and faster at longer ranges. It's also
more tactically flexible, easier to learn, can be developed to a
higher skill level in a shorter time with less ammo expended.
to be fair, I must also say that the idea of "instinctive"
shooting came about due to concerns about the slow speed and lack
of weapon control of techniques that existed at the time -- many
decades ago. But, those techniques are long gone, replaced by methods
producing results so superior that they sometimes require a demonstration
being the case, I strongly recommend aimed-fire in preference to
"instinctive" shooting. In what follows, you'll see why,
if you haven't already.