Cutting Edge Training

America’s Combatives and Liability Trainer Training With Real-World Impact

Why Do We Teach? Handgun Shooting Stances

by George on April 9, 2013 13:51

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training.  Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught.  The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution.  If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable. 

Handgun shooting stances are taught to shooters and reinforced through hours and years of training.  Creating a stable shooting platform, from the soles of the feet through the hands, is necessary to obtain the hits on the target or, more vitally, on the Threat.  Stances are performed with the legs comfortably bent, spine with a bit of a forward lean, with the arms either pushing and pulling, creating the dynamic tension for which the Weaver Stance is known, or pushing the hands forward symmetrically to form the Isosceles Stance.  It is important to focus upon a proper stance in order to be more successful in surviving shootings, right?

Well, no, not really.  Early formal stance training may be useful to a developing shooter.  However, concentrating on perfecting a stance is generally counter to prevailing in a shooting.  Most shootings take place in extremely close distances involving very large targets, are very abrupt, and extremely violent.  Many officers find themselves in awkward positions when the gunfight begins.  Tactics are much more relevant to your survival than your stance. 

Stances May Be Counterproductive in a Gunfight

The mere mention of a “stance” automatically causes the legs to form a solid, well-balanced base supporting the upper body as it fires the weapon.  Marksmanship requires a strong foundation.  However, accuracy, and thus marksmanship, is contextual.  In most gunfights, what the legs are doing is irrelevant to marksmanship needed to survive.  Training to stand solidly in the open and trade shots with a murderous Threat is a sucker’s game—every bullet fired in your direction may end your life.  While being a static target may theoretically have the possibility of increasing your accuracy, being a stationary target definitely assists the bad guy with his marksmanship and putting bullets through you. 

Standing still with bits of red hot lead zipping past while being thumped by muzzle blast generally decreases any shooter’s accuracy potential.  The more vulnerable you perceive you are, the less physically and mentally functional you are likely to become.  Accuracy is more a factor of being able to cope with and overcome your perception of immediate personal vulnerability.  While you are not likely to instantly affect the Threat shooting you (most bullets take time to cause the body to react), you can create a sense of more time that may increase your ability to lay sufficiently accurate fire on the Threat to save your life.  The tactical responses proven to likely increase your survivability is either sudden angular movement or moving to a corner and fighting from there.  Static stances have no place in this lethal environment when you are behind the Threat in the gunfight and need to stretch time to effectively respond.

Developing the capability for precise fire is a necessary skill for any shooter.  However, precision is rarely called for in an actual shooting.  “Combat Accuracy” is all that is necessary for survival.  Paraphrasing Rob Pincus, combat accuracy can be defined as “Any round disrupting the imminent threat to life.”  This may mean a bullet strike to the brain or spine, a hit in the upper thoracic cavity, the pelvis, or any bone.  Sometimes just simple “minute of human” accuracy to any part of the body is sufficient, but no single bullet can be counted on to stop the fight.

For the balance of this discussion, let’s assume that the legs are doing their thing independent of the upper body’s efforts—this may be moving, crouching, or kneeling.  Therefore, this discussion will be about a Modified Weaver or Modified Isosceles and their contextual usefulness. 

Modified Weaver

The position of the arms in the Weaver Stance, characterized by the push-pull tension of both hands on the grip of the handgun, arguably provides a very stable platform for accurate fire.  This shooting method was popularized by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper as the “Modern Pistol Technique,” permitting more precise shot placement at small targets at any distance.

Fundamentally, the body is bladed and the shooting elbow is locked straight, with the gun-hand pushing the handgun forward.  The support-hand’s palm contacts the shooting hand’s fingers, pulling directly back with the elbow bent and pointing downward.  Many have been taught to shoot with their shooting elbow bent and pushing forward.  This is an error.  Instructors attempting to mimic Col. Cooper’s shooting style are apparently unaware that a combat injury prevented him from extending his arm.  He taught others to straighten their gun-arms. 

The FBI’s “Violent Encounters” study (2006) revealed that more than 97% of shootings begin with the suspect shooting first.  A human’s “startle response” to surprise results in spinning to directly face the threat, hands up at face level and extended to protect the eyes and throat, with the spine forward in a semi-crouched position.  Problematically, human factors and the Weaver-hold are counter to the body’s reactions in a sudden shooting situation. 

It is a rare shooter trained in the Weaver method who does not react to sudden and unexpected gunfire by instantly moving into an Isosceles upper body (regardless of what the legs are doing).  In scenario training where there is no expectation of actual injury—with only minor pain penalties when hit by marking cartridges or Airsoft pellets possible—the sudden response to unexpected “deadly threats” by “Weaver-trained” shooters is almost invariably an Isosceles-type reactive response.  This is even seen on the range where there is no personal peril whatsoever.  Shooters tend to transition into the classic Weaver-hold apparently as they realize they are in the “wrong stance.” 

When wearing body armor, the Weaver stance also presents the non-dominant side’s arm hole to the Threat.  Because the Weaver can only be properly employed in a bladed stance, the strongest part of the body armor (center chest where the shock plate is located) is in an irrelevant position, with the unprotected armpit placed in the most vulnerable position.  Wounds from bullets traversing the body laterally through the axillary region, that is, from side-to-side through the armpit, are incredibly threatening to survival because they tend to pierce multiple organs and vital blood vessels of the upper thoracic region. 

The Weaver-hold is ideal when fighting from a corner.  With most of the body covered by the barricade, the stability of this hold is put to use making longer distance or precision hits.  Corners give you time.  Marksmanship is all about having the time to put the bullet on target. 

Modified Isosceles

The Modified Isosceles is a reactive “stance.”  The Isosceles (upper body square to the threat, hands pushed forward at eye-level, the legs doing what they do in that specific situation) reflects how humans naturally react when faced with a sudden close threat.  The upper body of the Isosceles mimics the natural startle response, as seen in video after video of officers responding to real-life threats by punching their handguns out in front of them.  It is a human instinct to put a weapon between you and the perceived threat. 

While generally not as inherently accurate at distance as the Weaver hold, it doesn’t have to be.  Combat effective accuracy requires only hits on target, preferably in most cases, with bullets impacting within three to six inches of each other, creating as much damage to multiple organs as possible.  At close distances where the Isosceles-style will likely be employed, a high degree of accuracy is generally not necessary for survival.  Hitting him well, quickly and often is more critical to winning. 

If wearing a ballistic vest, the Isosceles-hold keeps the center of your vest facing the threat, affording you maximum protection.  It also supports moving and hitting much better than its well-known counterpart. When the shooter moves in any angular or lateral direction, the Isosceles-hold supports hitting until the angles become too severe, forcing the shooter to transition to a one-hand hold. 

Not a Question of “Either/Or”

Either/or is not a question for warriors or trained professionals.  Paraphrasing Gabe Suarez, the context of the problem determines strategy; strategy determines tactics; and tactics determine the methods and skills employed to solve the problem:

  • Where’s the Threat?  Either close or far, big or small.
  • What’s his weapon?  Firearm, blade, or striking implement.
  • What’s he doing?  Charging you or standing.  Grabbing you or behind cover.
  • Where are you?  In the open, behind concealment, or behind cover?
  • Are you surprised or did you have enough time to prepare?  If you had time to prepare, you are likely behind a corner with a firearm in-hand.
  • Are you willing to shoot him right now or are you still frantically looking for alternatives.  Remember the old saying, “Once you’re in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.”

These questions will likely not be answered so much as reacted to.  Realistically, this decision is not made as it is a reaction per your training to the situation suddenly erupting in front of you. 


All plans are made for flat terrain and sunny weather regardless of the ground-truth.  Having a rigid plan to engage in a gunfight with a certain weapon hold and stance is not realistic.  Training and expectations of “how it’s going to go down” may not match your immediate needs—especially so if dogma has any part in your decision-making.  Desperately clinging to a “style” or “method” may mean that you are attempting to drive a nail with a screwdriver in a life-and-death situation.  While a screwdriver is a fine and necessary tool, it cannot be applied in every situation.  The same is true of a shooting stance where dogmatic adherence to a “style” due to guru-worship or personal ego-investment may leave you confused, unable to effectively respond, and perhaps horribly injured.

If you’re suddenly attacked at close range and are purely reactive, you’re most likely to shoot (and hopefully move) in some form of a Modified Isosceles platform.  From contact to rock-throwing distances, movement is the highest initial survival priority—hitting him is a very close second.  However, if you are fighting from a corner, employing the Weaver platform is more likely to get the needed hits, especially if the Threat is at distance or behind his own cover.  Fighting from a corner creates the perception time, and if you have the time to make a precision shot, Weaver may help you obtain that hit.

The bottom line in any deadly force response is to interrupt the eye-target line with the weapon, and once the weapon is on-target, to fire repeatedly slowly enough to hit him as long as you perceive the imminent deadly threat remains.  How the body supports this is context dependent and based on the tactics you employ to survive.  The old bromide certainly applies:  “In twenty years, no one will care about which caliber or stance you were using in the gunfight.  All they’ll care about is whether or not you won the fight.”

Why Do We Teach: “Sul” Position

by George on February 11, 2013 08:36

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Many handgun shooters use the “Sul” Position” as a “combat ready” position, both on the range and in the street.  The Sul Position is characterized by the weapon hand being held close to the torso approximately at solar plexus level, muzzle down, with the support-hand in various positions as needed or trained.  The muzzle is intended to be directed just to the side of the lead leg to comply with safety rules of never allowing the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to destroy or kill.  It is also presently fashionable as seen in many magazines and training videos.  So it makes sense to train cops or responsible citizens to use the Sul Position as a safe combat ready position, right?  Handgun in the "Sul Position"

Well, no, not really.  The Sul Position is not suitable as a combatives ready position, and was never intended for that purpose.  Often, when something becomes a “position” or “technique”—especially when someone gives something everyone does a name—it becomes both fashionable and misunderstood.  Doing anything because someone else does it without knowing why they are doing it that way can lead to wasted years of training, or worse, tragedy, injury, and sometimes loss of life.  The Sul as a ready stance decreases efficiency of the weapon’s presentation and can create a safety problem.

Sul:  a little history and reasoning

“Sul” is Portugese for “south,” and was originally developed in Brazil.  The original intent was to provide a safer way to move with a handgun in-hand through a crowd or past a person without muzzling anyone. 

How it works:  From a practical ready position with the handgun in a one- or two-hand hold, muzzle directed toward the threat area, the Sul is performed by bringing the weapon to the torso with the muzzle directed downward, or south, and pointed off to the side of the support-hand’s leg (if in the right-hand, the muzzle is directed down and just to the side of the left-leg).  As the muzzle moves downward into the Sul, the support-hand either comes off the grip and flattens naturally, palm down on the torso (ready to quickly move into a two-hand grip), or it comes up over the weapon, covering it.

The support-hand is available to reach out and grab a subject if the situation demands (never the first choice with a firearm in-hand, but being forced to go hands-on with a threatening or resistive subject happens far too often to be ignored or simply dismissed by saying, “Never touch anyone with a gun in your hand”).  Your support-hand may reach out and touch a person you are moving past, ensuring you know their position, to let him know you are moving past, and making sure he doesn’t move unexpectedly.

If moving through a crowd, the weapon moves into a safer muzzle position against the body, and the support-hand moves to cover the weapon as the first line of defense against weapon retention threats.  The support-hand comes off the handgun as needed to guide others, creating a path to quickly move through the crowd while still having the handgun in-hand.  As quickly as the support-hand moves from the weapon to reach out, it comes back, covering the weapon as the shooter continues to move. 

When the shooter is past the individual or through the crowd, the muzzle comes up and the weapon again floats away from the mid-torso, pointing wherever the shooter needs it for quick response to imminent threat. 

The Sul as a Ready Position is Problematic

Because so many lawful shootings in defense of life are an immediate response to a reasonable perception of imminent threat behavior, everything the shooter does must be efficient to obtain first rounds hits on target—as well as each subsequent round.  Hits are the only thing that counts in a gunfight, and looking good in a cool stance or weapon hold just before you die doesn’t. 

Neural pathways (muscle-memory) are created by doing the same efficient movement the same way, getting the same consistent results.  The Sul cannot support habits of efficient weapon presentation because it was never intended to be a “Ready Position,” and its fundamental presentation mechanics are faulty.

Flipping the muzzle.  A “ready position” facilitates the weapon smoothly—and rapidly—interrupting the eye-target line with the muzzle (actually, the bore-axis) aligned with the threat and with minimal disturbance to that critical alignment, ready to put a bullet into the target.  The handgun in the Sul Position is both flat against the body and the muzzle is down.  As the handgun is brought up and punched out, the shooter must accomplish a lot more than just presenting the weapon to the target.  The handgun must rotate in two directions—laterally and vertically—while speeding to get on target.  While a three-pound weight held in your hand(s) at the end of your arm(s) doesn’t seem like much, the rotational forces while punching out all combine to create the critical problem of precisely controlling muzzle flip.  Flipping the muzzle creates muzzle over-travel and inconsistent first round hits. 

Rigidity in the body, shoulders, and arms.  Creating a technique creates mental mind-games in many shooters.  It is not unusual to see shooters on the line, handgun in-hand in the Sul Position, waiting for the execute command, their entire body rigid, elbows held out at their sides and sometimes unnaturally forward.  This becomes a variation of a position of attention, locked both mentally and physically.  Brain studies show that if we are “doing something,” the brain must first tell the body to stop “doing this,” and then find the neural pathways to tell the body to begin “doing that.”  This is measured in tenths of a second for each command—first to stop, and then to begin.  Ready stances should be relaxed and as natural as possible. 

Muzzling one’s body parts.  There are safety issues with this position as it is normally practiced.  It is not unusual for a shooter using the Sul to muzzle body parts, whether a foot, leg, or, um…other highly valued body parts.  When the Sul Position becomes a ready position, it is easy to lose track of the muzzle because the eyes are downrange watching the threat target or searching for one.  The most common safety violation we see on the range is from those trained in the Sul pointing their weapon at their own bodies. 

What Should be Taught?

There is nothing wrong with moving the muzzle in any direction safety demands.  On the range, that’s easy—downrange where the backstop is located.  On the street, that can be problematic.  Cutting Edge Training’s Master Trainer, Thomas V. Benge, developed the idea that the weapon should be pointed in the “safer” direction—the area where the least amount of injury or damage will occur if the weapon is discharged.  Sometimes that direction will be downward depending upon the context of the situation.  Sometimes its safest pointing at that person you might be forced to shoot.

With a weapon in-hand, there is an anticipated need for a possible immediate response or the handgun would still be holstered.  The muzzle of any in-hand handgun (or firearm) should be pointed in a safer direction toward the possible Threat.  Whether or not the weapon should be leveled at the individual depends upon his behavior and your reasonable perception of imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.  For more about when and when not to point a firearm at a person, see our blog article: “Pointing Firearms: Range Safety vs. Reality.”

We suggest a “floating” ready position, that is, the weapon floats to and away from your body as the situation demands, pointing at the Threat or possible threat location until it is safer to point somewhere else. 

  • With the weapon lightly gripped in your dominant-hand while traveling from one point to another toward the suspect’s threat’s location, both hands on the weapon, your upper body is loose and relaxed.  Loose muscles move faster than tense muscles (fewer neural commands seeking pathways to achieve movement).
  • As your perception of threat increases, your grip will tighten as the weapon naturally floats out farther from your body toward the threat.  We also see the weapon getting higher, nearer to the eye-target line.
  • Upon challenging a possible threat, your arms move to near maximum extension below the eye-target line, generally in the crotch/belt buckle area as you make shoot/no-shoot decisions.  The muzzle is on the subject.  This allows you to see his hands and waistband.  This is a deadly force warning that, if the circumstances permit, will likely be accompanied by an oral warning to comply.
  • If the perception of imminent threat to life is sudden, the weapon is quickly pushed forward and brought up, interrupting the eye-target line well before the arms are extended, and the trigger depressed as the weapon is slowing to a stop. 

Rather than a fixed position, the ready position moves as the situation changes.  The weapon moves up and down, left and right, away and back until it is punched out as a warning or a deadly force response to a reasonably perceived imminent threat. 

The concept of the Sul is absolutely valid—it just is not useful as a “ready position.”  If crossing, either an uninvolved person, a teammate, or through a crowd, the weapon moves against your body, muzzle pointing down and away from body parts, with the support-hand either touching, grabbing, or moving someone, or covering the weapon.  The Sul is useful until it is again time to point the weapon in a safer direction—the suspected or actual position of the Threat. 

Dealing with Stoppages / Weapon Malfunctions

by George on November 1, 2010 11:47

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  --Albert Einstein

Every shooter of a semi-automatic or select-fire weapon will eventually experience a stoppage of some type.  How this malfunction of the weapon is approached has consequences.  Failing to clear a stoppage will prevent you from reengaging a Threat quickly enough to save your life.  Because stoppages happen—and can happen on any shot—every shooter must be prepared through proper, well thought out training to get back into the gunfight.

After 30+ years teaching the employment of firearms to people who carry guns for a living, one thing I know about “gun-guys” –especially instructors of gun guys—is that most love complication.  The more complicated the shooting “procedure,” the better.  And better yet if the description of the task is clouded by arcane jargon known only to a few “real gun-people.”  And it is best by far if the phrasing sounds anything at all like it is derived from the military. 

Complicated isn’t better…it’s just complicated.  Memorizing multiple “procedures,” each with multiple and varying steps may work for you, but it is difficult for most to remember in the midst of a high-threat environment where your weapon just stopped and you really need it to work right now.  Human history has demonstrated over and over again that the more moving parts something has, the more likely it will break down.  And gunfights were made for “Murphy’s Law:  If something can go wrong, it will go wrong, at the worst possible moment.”  That means the person in the gunfight who is least prepared for Mr. Murphy is likely to be the one who doesn’t make it. 

Uncomplicated methods and procedures are the key to effectively reacting and functioning under the crushing pressure of a deadly force situation.  Simplifying the entire concept and making the clearing of a stoppage as simple as possible is the key to effective response to a stoppage. 

How you clear your weapon should be uncomplicated—regardless of the weapon system (handgun or rifle), the method should be as universal as possible so that there is commonality of actions in bringing that weapon back into battery and available for the fight.  If anything in combatives can be principle-based, it is generally more effective than attempting to employ a “technique-based” solution that requires specific responses to specific conditions. 


There are two functions that must be performed properly in order for any well-maintained semi-automatic or select-fire weapon to fire:

  1. The loaded magazine must be seated properly.  Because the weapon is magazine fed, the properly loaded magazine must be both inserted properly and seated in order for the bolt face to strip the bullet out of the magazine and into the chamber.  To resolve any stoppage and get the weapon working again, you must feed ammunition to the machine . 
  2. The slide must be "in battery" on a loaded chamber.  Because the slide or bolt must be in battery (locked forward) in order to fire, pull the slide (or charging handle or lever) back and release it.  DO NOT  “HELP” IT MOVE FORWARD.  Do not treat it gingerly—let the mechanism do its job.

When the weapon malfunctions and a stoppage occurs, these two functions must take place to get that weapon back into battery and available for the fight. Any response to a stoppage, or malfunction drill, primarily involves either ensuring the weapon is loaded, or unloading it before reloading it.  These activities occur each time you practice, and are ingrained into your habits (which is why trainers seek to "habituate"--create habits--of loading and reloading the same way each time).  These developed skills are essentially the same skills you employ to clear stoppages.

Firearms Trainer Clint Smith came up with some great phrasing (when doesn’t he?) that we think really helps officers, military personnel, and civilian shooters to better understand how to immediately get their weapons back into operating condition.  Clint’s phrase:

  • “If it stops working, reload it.
  • If that doesn’t work, unload it, and then reload it.”


In order to “work,” a firearm must be loaded.  A “loaded” weapon is one in which a live cartridge is loaded properly into the chamber.  If the weapon stops working, the goal is to get it reloaded (a live round in the chamber and the weapon in firing condition—or “in battery”) as soon as possible in order to be of use.

If the slide or bolt is locked back, feed the gun.  Replace the empty magazine with a loaded magazine, and drop the slide or bolt in order to get the weapon into battery.

If your weapon was loaded and it failed to function for any reason (failure to feed, failure to extract, failure to eject--stovepipe), feed the gun--reload it.  Immediately:

  • Tap.  Tap sharply up on the base of the magazine with your palm heel (or any hard surface if your reactive-hand—the hand not operating the weapon’s controls at present time--is unable to fulfill the function) to ensure it is seated firmly.  This provides ammo to feed the gun. 
  • Rack.   Pull the slide or charging handle/lever sharply back with your reactive-hand and release it.  Do not help the slide or bolt move forward.  Allow the mechanism to work as it is designed while firing:  it slams back to its mechanical stopping point (or, actually, the limits of its springs), and then slams forward until the breech is closed and locked.  This puts a new live round into the chamber ready to be fired.

Racking the slide of a handgun:  Many instructors will tell you that you have to perform this "X" way with "Y" grip while holding the weapon at "Z" angle.  Context determines how you manipulate the slide--when you are under fire, you may not rack that slide or bolt the way you expected to because getting shot at tends to make most folks a bit stupid and their expectations a joke that they can hopefully wonder or laugh about later:

  • You may grip the rear of the slide with your "hand over," gripping with your 3rd, 4th, and 5th fingers and palm, pulling the slide back using arm strength as you push forward with the gun-hand--unless you don't or can't because of a lack of strength (smaller individuals and many females have problems with this method).  It is not a rare event to see a shooter punch himself or herself in the mouth using this method when under stress (I've always thought that recognizing and clearing a malfunction was tough enough without adding a punch in the teeth, but that's just me).
  • You may grip the rear of the slide with your thumb and forefinger like God designed you to grip things--unless you don't or can't.
  • You may "push-push" with your reactive-hand over the slide pushing and the gun-hand pushing in opposite directions to maximize your strength (many smaller male and females need to use this method).

How you rack or manipulate the slide doesn't matter and while there may be a "better" way, there really isn't a "best" way to do it.  Just get it done.

“Mortar Method” for the AR15/M16:  Sometimes the bolt will fail to unlock because the brass is stuck in the chamber, and the bolt is locked forward.  In order to “Rack” the weapon when the charging handle will not move and bolt is closed, the “mortar method” can be used if you have time:

  • Collapse the adjustable stock (if present).  This prevents the small pin holding the stock in place from shearing and rendering the stock incapable of extending.  It also decreases the likelihood of destroying the buffer tube—in the past, the buffer tube has snapped, preventing the weapon from operating.
  • Grasp and depress the charging handle latch with your shooting hand.
  • With your reactive hand, grasp the foreend stock with the reactive-hand.
  • Strike the butt of the weapon on the ground with both hands.  Multiple strikes with the butt to the ground may be necessary to break the bolt loose.

Once you feed the machine, the weapon is now functional for most stoppages you will experience.  If you press the trigger and the weapon fails to fire, move to the logical second phase of weapon stoppage clearing.


The “Tap-Rack” method will clear all but a double-feed, and all but a few rarely encountered malfunctions in a rifle.  If you are in a gunfight at close range and you are not behind cover (something that stops bullets and their effects) with a malfunction that cannot be immediately cleared by the Tap-Rack method, your best move is to transition to a (second) handgun and get back into the fight, or to run to cover to clear your weapon (if you do not have a handgun/second handgun).  No one is going to clear a double-feed or other more complicated malfunction in time to respond while standing within a few feet or yards of an Imminent Threat.

If the Tap-Rack fails to bring the weapon back into battery, unload the weapon, making sure that the chamber is clear and the magazine is out of the weapon.  

  • Lock back the slide/bolt.
  • Unload the weapon.  Ensure the weapon's mechanism is clear of live or spent rounds.
  • Reload the weapon. 

Locking back the slide or bolt first relieves the pressure on the magazine, permitting the mag to more easily be removed.  While some authorities will tell you to discard the magazine, modern magazines that were not damaged when you loaded the weapon—why would you load your weapon with a damaged mag?--will likely not be the cause of the problem.  There is generally nothing wrong with reloading the weapon with the same magazine after it has been cleared.

Regarding checking the chamber after the slide or bolt is locked back and the magazine is released, visually (or physically—by inserting a finger into the ejection port and chamber) inspect the chamber to see what condition the weapon is in—is there an unextracted round in the chamber, a number of rounds are caught in the ejection port, debris is fouling the weapon, etc?

  • If the chamber has a round in it, work the slide/bolt until it is clear.
  • It may require you reaching into the ejection port to dislodge a round, casing, or debris. 

Once clear, lock the slide or bolt open, and load the weapon.  While it is not vital to lock the slide or bolt open at this point, it does clear the way for a fully loaded magazine to be inserted without problem.  This is purely a personal preference.

Once the weapon is reloaded, if it does not go “bang,” it should be considered to be a “catastrophic malfunction” (a mechanical breakage of the mechanism that cannot be fixed in the field).  If your weapon is "broken," transition immediately to a handgun/backup handgun to finish the fight. 

AR15/M16:  a rare, but possible malfunction are the “Bolt Override” (an empty casing is lodged between the bolt carrier and the gas key) and "Charging Handle Impingement" (an empty casing is lodged between the bolt face and the back of the charging handle claw where the gas tube pass-through is located) malfunctions.  In both malfunctions, a live-round will be partially loaded into the chamber.  Both malfunctions will be identified by the presence of spent brass lodged in the bolt carrier space.  In this case, a general principle won’t work, and a specific clearing method is necessary.  After dropping the magazine, reach up through the magazine well with a finger(s) and push the bolt back to the rear--if truly jammed, attempt to gain some space by using the "mortar method."  While holding the bolt carrier to the rear with your finger(s), strike the charging handle forward with your hand into the locked the position.  This should clear the malfunction.  If it does not, that is what God made secondary weapons and battleground pickups for.

Context-Based Stoppage Response

Responding to any stoppage is context-based.  Depending on the circumstances you find yourself in at the time your weapon malfunctions will in large part determine how you will react.  It is contextual based on the weapon system you are operating, the proximity of the Threat, and the availability of cover (actual cover that stops bullets and the effects of bullets).

Within touching distance of the Threat:  If you are in touching-proximity of the Imminent Threat and your weapons goes down, immediately aggress the Threat and divert his muzzle to a safer direction.  Disarm and neutralize the threat.

In proximity to the Threat—Conversation distances:  If you are within conversational distances—beyond two steps away from the Imminent Threat and your weapon stops functioning, keep moving!  Reload your handgun, or transition to a handgun, whichever is reasonable, and reengage while moving.

If at a distance from the Threat—at rock-throwing distance or beyond:  At these distances, cover is the most valuable action.  Move to cover.  If while moving you can reload and get your weapon back into battery, do so and engage the Imminent Threat as you continue to move if your background permits. If armed with a rifle, transition to your handgun--a pistol is capable of convincing suppressing fire at most shooting distances.

If behind cover and the Threat permits it:  Clear all malfunctions by any means possible to get back into the fight:  Reload your weapon.  If it doesn’t work, unload, then reload your weapon.  Always be ready to transition to a handgun/second handgun if you are aggressed by the Threat. Maintain situational awareness to prevent the Threat from flanking or assaulting you unawares.


Shooting has always been complicated by instructors who teach techniques, because by their very nature, techniques are complicated and dogmatic, whereas the human fighting for his or her life is not.  Clearing stoppages is no different.  Getting to the simplest method of operating a weapon—including fixing any stoppage or malfunction—is one of the keys to being successful in any life-saving shooting.

“If it stops working, reload it.  If that doesn’t work, unload it, then reload it.”  Simplicity is not “simple”—it means “uncomplicated.  Since the weapon can only work if its loaded, and by far the most common activity other than firing the weapon is to load and unload it, it is valuable to think of clearing any stoppage in these simple terms.  Reload any weapon that stops working.  If it doesn’t work, it needs to be reloaded—so unload it and reload the weapon. 

The only variable is that of weapon systems—it is generally faster to transition to a handgun if your primary weapon is a rifle than it is to address the stoppage—and the context within which the weapon malfunction occurs.  Sometimes your reaction to a stoppage may be to aggress and go hands on, while other times you will have time to hunker down behind cover and problem-solve.

The bottom line is that responding to stoppages should be as principle-based as possible while at the same time effective during any situation you find yourself in.  Simple enough to work under life-threatening circumstances…which is as uncomplicated as it can be, but not simpler.

Note:  Keep your weapon clean and lubricated to limit stoppages.  The best product out there that we have found--and we've tried almost everything over the years--is FrogLube.  This is an amazing product.  More in another article later.  Try it.  Contact Cutting Edge Training ( for a 40% discount, or contact FrogLube to request a sample.  We use it on every weapon--and every metal surface--we own.