Cutting Edge Training

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Combat Tuck? Not so much.

by George on April 3, 2012 14:12

"Your mindset governs your fight, defining and limiting your options in winning this fight."  The Author 

Every shooter would like to have some distance from a person who is an imminent threat to his or her life, and, if we get to have a wish list, add to that list cover (something that stops bullets or the effects of bullets*), a ballistic vest and helmet, and couple of armed friends who are willing to shoot the other guy.  But reality intrudes.  Gunfights are often sudden, unexpected, and way too close.  Statistics show that 50% of police officers who are murdered are shot by the suspect within 0-3 feet.  We also know that up to one-third of all police shootings occur during or just following a physical fight.  Most non-military shootings are within talking distance—often within touching or contact-distances—and only rarely beyond rock throwing distances (rock throwing distance is where you can consistently hit his body by throwing a rock).

While shooting at any distance beyond touching-range with a handgun, regardless of the method used, your arms are likely to be extended, holding the pistol (or revolver) at eye level.  This presents a problem when the Threat (the person you reasonably perceive is creating an imminent threat to life or safety) is within touching distance or is actually attached to you (you are holding on to him, or he is holding on to you while shooting or stabbing you).  Extending your handgun at a Threat within touching distance may result in an “aware offender” grabbing your handgun, deflecting the muzzle while shooting you with his handgun or stabbing you with his knife, or giving him the opportunity to disarm you.

Recognizing the reality of close range gunfights, the “Combat Tuck” was developed decades ago to solve the problem.  The Combat Tuck is offered as a method of retaining your weapon at close range while still permitting you to fire and hit the Threat.  The handgun already in your hand is pulled tightly to your side at rib level, the muzzle directed at the Threat.  The handgun is also rotated out so that the slide or cylinder is not obstructed by your clothing during its operation.  It is supposed to solve the problem of being too close to the Threat for normal extension of the arms and still be able to hit the Threat who really needs to be shot.

Before going on, it must be said that introducing a firearm into an ECQ (Extreme Close Quarters) environment is hazardous.  Hands—and therefore, handguns—move faster than the human brain can orient and react to.  As such, any ECQ fight is dangerous, and when a deadly weapon is introduced, it is often lethal.

Problems with the Combat Tuck

There are many practical problems with employing the Combat Tuck, the most important being inefficient targeting and a low probability of hitting the Threat in this incredibly dangerous situation.  The Combat Tuck is “position dependent.”  If the body is correctly positioned like it was in training, and if the handgun is held in the same anchor point on the body as it was in training, and if the wrist is locked exactly with the master grip identical to the range environment, then it is possible to get consistent hits on target employing the Combat Tuck.  However, if anything is different—the body is not exactly positioned correctly or the handgun is held an inch too far forward or too far back, the wrist is not locked exactly right, or the master grip is not achieved, the bullet(s) misses the Threat, and you are seriously injured or murdered as a result.

Combat Tuck advocates will often discount this argument saying, “You’re too close to miss.”  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  A person who is one to three feet from you is an incredibly big target and really easy to hit on the range.  At the live-fire range, the only danger is shooting yourself and not the paper target.  It is a place where you choose the time, rate of fire, and the distance at which you are firing.  You may consistently position yourself in an optimal manner.  Training is nice because you can work out all kinds of problems before you perform perfectly because there is no consequence for failure other than missing a paper target.

This is generally not the case when you are forced to shoot another person.  In this instance, the Threat chooses the circumstances, the distance, and when the shooting takes place.  You are very certain that if you don’t change this equation immediately, you will be shot and possibly killed.  Typically in this situation:

  • You are surprised that this has changed from a verbal conflict or maybe a physical struggle to a deadly force response, or you are surprised someone so close to you suddenly has a handgun in his hand, or somehow produced a weapon “out of nowhere.”
  • You are late to respond to his sudden introduction of a deadly weapon into the fight, and this feeling of being late compounds your fear and frustration in getting your weapon on-target on-time.
  • You know you want to shoot him but don’t want him to divert your weapon, or worse, take it from you.
  • You are uncomfortable being this close to him.
  • You are being hit by muzzle blast at close range whether or not you are being punctured by bullets.

The reality as experienced by human beings in this type of shooting is that it is incredibly common to miss at moderate distances (3% of NYPD police bullets hit at 8 yards or farther in gunfights), and only four out of ten NYPD bullets hit at zero to two yards (that’s zero to six feet!).  The reason?  SOMEONE IS SHOOTING YOU AND YOU HAVE OTHER THINGS TO THINK ABOUT OTHER THAN YOUR BODY POSITION, THE ANCHOR POINT OF YOUR HANDGUN, YOUR WRIST BEING LOCKED, AND YOUR MASTER GRIP.  You might be moving, dodging the Threat’s muzzle as you are frantically pressing the trigger with the bore axis of your weapon pointing who-knows-where.  You might be getting pushed and shoved by the Threat who is also desperately trying to shoot you down or stab you.  The bottom line is that a gunfight is wholly different than range training where the only commonality between the two activities is that a firearm is being used to hit a desired target.  Mentally and physically, you will undergo an entirely distinct experience when shooting another human being while being shot at as opposed to spending a day at the range.  The Combat Tuck, dependent as it is upon replicating the exact body positioning and anchor point of the gun-hand and wrist lock and master grip cannot reliably be counted on during a shooting to save your life.

Practically, the muzzle is the most dangerous part of any firearm; it is, after all, the business end from which the bullet and muzzle blast originate.  In any ECQ event where a firearm is produced, training dictates to “Charge a gun, flee a knife.”  At close ranges, it is safest to get into touching distance and divert the muzzle of a firearm rather than to flee (flight permits the gunman to shoot you down at his leisure).  A knife, on the other hand, is relative harmless to you at distance, but often lethal at close range.

This Gun/Knife Formula is not unknown to offenders.  The Combat Tuck also presents a danger to you if you are up against a “prepared offender” who is switched on and well-versed in combatives—something you cannot count on avoiding in these days of Mixed Martial Arts training within the criminal community.  The need to divert that muzzle is an imperative, and if his hand can slap or otherwise move the muzzle away from his body parts, the firearm is incapable of injuring him.  So if the Threat quickly strikes the weapon, he will not be shot.  The smartest direction (for him) to strike or shove that muzzle is into your belly (and if you are right-handed, into your liver—and livers don’t react well to being shot).

Having your weapon’s muzzle shoved into your abdomen in the middle of a ECQ gunfight is extremely problematic to your survival.  If you are firing or have decided to shoot, the motor centers of your brain sends a command in the form of a motor program to your trigger finger to “press the trigger.”  Once that command is sent, it takes approximately 0.2 seconds for the neural impulse to travel from your brain to your finger.  Unfortunately, that motor program is irreversible—once the trigger finger is told to “fire,” it cannot be stopped from firing despite what you are able to see, think, or decide to the contrary.  So you may decide to fire just as the Threat slaps the muzzle of your handgun, shoving it into your belly.  You may actually have the time to realize what is about to happen, and even to watch it as you shoot yourself in the liver with a contact shot—probably ending the fight for you.

Solving This Very Real ECQ Problem

The Threat has to be stopped quickly and surely in any gunfight, and in no gunfight experience is it more true than in an ECQ event.  Note that I did not say, “The Threat has to be ‘killed’ quickly…”  Ending the threat of the shooter is not necessarily synonymous with killing the individual.  If the subject dies as a result of his wounds, that was his choice, his responsibility, and his culpability for engaging in life-threatening assault and behaviors.  What will best save your life (or that of another you are assisting) will be for the Threat to cease all activities that may result in your murder or serious physical injury.  This is an important mindset to actively and completely accept, for it changes all possibilities and creates a flexibility of action—and especially targeting—that is not available if you are solely attempting to kill the Threat.

Your mindset governs your fight, defining and limiting your options in winning this fight.  If you are focusing solely on shooting “center mass” and “head shots” then you will only press the trigger when the weapon is pointed at these targets--and perhaps only when aiming at the center of these targets where hits at the range are judged according to their proximity to the center of the target.  In an ECQ fight, holding your fire until you get that opportunity may mean you wait for the rest of your life and never get the shot.  Change your targeting plan.  A functional combatives mindset, while remaining open to the possibility of hitting him in the upper thoracic region and head, recognizes the shooting of any target on his body sooner rather than later will likely move you forward in stopping this fight. This is especially true when shooting him multiple times in a body part that he cannot easily defend before hitting multiple times in a more significant body part.

The targeting of the Threat’s body should include any weight bearing bone or bone of any limb combined with high vascularity (large blood vessels, arteries, or nerve plexuses).  The weapon is fired quickly the moment you perceive it is on target, even before it is close to the body.  As soon as you perceive the weapon is aligned with the target, rapidly fire at it until the Threat begins to fall or move.  At that point, the weapon is transferred to a target closer to the torso, or perhaps even center mass or head if the situation still calls for it.  If you reasonably perceive him to be an imminent threat to human life or safety, you are permitted to shoot until you reasonably perceive he is no longer an imminent threat.  Just because he took three or even five rounds to the knee, for example, does not mean that he will not hit the ground and continue to shoot or stab from there.  Commonly targeted areas include:

  • Axilla (armpit).
  • Femoral triangle.
  • Supraclavicular triangle (above the clavicle, or collarbone, at the base of the neck).
  • Any part of the spine (if firing at his back while moving from his flank to his rear).
  • Any joint:  knee, ankle, elbow, wrist, etc.
  • Any bone.

Your job is to fight with the handgun, not just shoot him.  How to stop the Threat involves hitting him (or her) with your bullets in a manner that stops him from continuing to shoot at you.  This involves one of two, or both of the following strategies.


Movement as a Survival Priority

At conversational distances (zero to eight steps away from the Threat), sudden movement is your highest survival priority.  At the very moment you believe you even might have to respond to an imminent threat, move.  Thousands of years of combat have proven repeatedly that it is safer and more effective to attack an enemy’s flanks and rear than it is to engage him frontally.  Suddenly moving at an angle to the Threat’s side creates momentary confusion as well as difficulty in tracking and hitting you.

The movement occurs instantly upon the first orientation to possible deadly imminent threat behavior.  Move to the Threat’s flanks while drawing your weapon.  It is better to make shoot/no-shoot decisions from the Threat’s flank or behind him than standing directly in front of him wondering what he’s pulling out of his pocket or waistband. 

  • If his action or behavior constitutes an imminent deadly threat, continuing to move to his flank or back while firing into him increases the chances of winning the fight while decreasing the likelihood of your being injured. 
  • If you perceive it is not a shooting situation, you are still at an advantage because the subject must reorient to your position.  You may then reengage conversationally with him, letting him know that type of action may be interpreted as a threat to life and result in his getting shot as you holster your handgun. 


Proximity Shots

“Proximity Shots” (as distinct from “Contact Shots”†) are performed when you are too close to the Threat to extend your weapon to his chest or head without his being able to grab or deflect your handgun.  They may be employed when the risk of firing at even a very short distance and possibly hitting an innocent is too great.  It will also likely be employed when the Threat is attached to you (grabbing you or you grabbing him during the fight).

It is performed by punching your handgun toward any part of the Threat’s body that is not easily defended.  Punching the weapon at the Threat’s chest or face can very well result in an instinctive slap or grab of the handgun, much like a fly suddenly buzzing by a person’s face.  Rather, punching the weapon at a non-traditional body part forces the Threat to orient to the threat of the handgun punching at, say, his femoral triangle/upper inner leg, then decide to defend against it—this takes time he does not have before multiple bullets are pounding through that body part.  The weapon is literally punched as quickly as possible at the targeted body part—not punched into contact with suspect’s body—while firing repeatedly until the Threat falls or a better target more likely to stop his imminent threat becomes available.

The Proximity Shot creates injury through two mechanisms:

  1. The bullet striking and penetrating through the body creates a permanent wound channel, organ damage and disruption, and broken bones with resulting secondary missiles causing damage.  An obvious additional effect is exsanguination, or bleeding out to a greater or lesser degree.
  2. Muzzle blast.  The expanding gasses from the combustion of the gunpowder can enter the body part with explosive results, tearing apart and damaging tissue far beyond the permanent wound channel caused by the bullet.

Targeting is accomplished the same way as any shot:  interrupt the eye-target line with the handgun.  Look at the body part to be targeted, punch the weapon quickly at the target while firing, and continue to fire for as long as that target is available, until a bigger, or better target becomes available.  Fire continues as rapidly as combat accuracy (any hit that diminishes the imminent threat to life) can be achieved until the imminent threat is over.

Proximity shots are traditionally performed by waiting to fire until the muzzle is at distances ranging from almost contacting the subject to a couple of inches from the Threat’s skin or clothing.  This is inefficient; the moment the weapon is aligned on-target as it interrupts the eye-target line, begin shooting.  It is not just a single shot, but multiple rounds fired into that body part.  As long as the Threat remains an imminent threat, continue firing into the body part as the weapon is quickly thrust at the targeted area.  If he continues to be aggressive, move the weapon to a target closer to the trunk until his chest or head can be targeted while continuing to fire.


There is a real need to be able to hit a Threat who is in proximity or who is attached to you.  And it needs to be done consistently and safely.  While the Combat Tuck was an attempt to solve this problem, it cannot overcome its inherent deficiencies of requiring perfect body position, a perfect anchor position, a perfectly locked wrist, and a perfect master grip while ensuring the handgun is rocked outward to get the hits you desperately need right now to put the Threat down.

Instead, the contextually correct use of Proximity Shots is a better solution to the perception of an ECQ imminent deadly threat.  It may be employed while moving to the Threat’s flanks and rear, using sudden angular movement as part of the survival strategy of avoiding being hit while putting the Threat to the ground.  Remember, sudden angular movement to the flank of the Threat can turn a “gunfight” (two people shooting at each other) into a shooting (you shooting at the Threat), which is a very desirable turn of events from your point of view.

The Proximity Shot is employed to prevent the Threat from diverting your handgun’s muzzle or even taking the weapon away.  Thrusting it quickly at the targeted area or body part, it is fired rapidly as soon as it interrupts the eye-target line.  Multiple rounds are fired from extremely close range—slight contact to a couple of inches—destroying that body part and causing the Threat to either move to avoid more wounds, or to fall.  If the individual is still perceived as an imminent threat, targeting is then transferred to more traditional targets of the upper thoracic region, spine, or head.

It is important when choosing your survival methodology to avoid a “herd mentality.”  Something that is being taught by everyone may or may not have any use in your “survival rolodex" or "tactical drop-down menu.”  Evaluate everything within the context of application.  Body dependent shooting positions work on the range, but tend to fail in the field because bodies cannot be reliably set up to be perfectly positioned to get the hits you need when life-threatening ECQ assaults suddenly--and all too rapidly--unfold.

The Proximity Shot works because the handgun is suddenly thrust at the Threat’s body part while firing as soon as it is lined up and on target.  Rapidly firing, pounding the targeted body parts will almost certainly affect the Threat’s ability to maintain his balance or aggression.  If there is a continuing imminent threat, the Proximity Shot often continues to be useful in ending the shooting.


*  The effects of bullets, or spall off the back face of the cover, e.g., the bullet hits the face of the brick wall.  If the brick wall is not thick enough to contain the bullet’s energy, the back face of wall can “spall,” or break off.  These pieces and bits of brick will fly out from the wall at the same speed as the bullet hitting the wall.  This spalling can be lethal up to three of four feet from the cover, and can easily blind a human when it hits an eyeball at greater distances.  To classify as “cover,” the material must therefore stop bullets as well as the effects resulting from the bullet hitting the cover itself that can harm the person behind the cover.

†  “Contact Shots” are a method of ECQ fighting with revolvers, rifles, and shotguns, not pistols.  The Contact Shot is performed by shoving the weapon’s muzzle into the targeted area and while pushing against his body, pressing the trigger.  The muzzle blast and the bullet are captured within his body, creating devastating wounds.  While the problem of pressing the muzzle of an auto pistol against a Threat’s body and being unable to fire due to the slide moving back, causing a failure to fire due to being out of battery is often overstated in the gun and training community, it can and has happened.  Proximity Shots are preferred over Contact Shots when fighting with pistols.