Cutting Edge Training

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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. 

Conclusion

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? Punch/Draw Within Touching Distances

by George on March 16, 2013 03:41

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. 

The Punch/Draw is a technique designed to disrupt a sudden imminent threat who is within touching distance.  As you realize the suspect is reaching for a weapon, you simultaneously strike the suspect in the face or chest with your non-gun hand while drawing your weapon as you step back.  If the Threat remains within touching distance, employ a combat tuck and shoot him.  If not, extend your handgun out, interrupt the eye-target line, reference the sights and/or weapon, and shoot until the imminent deadly threat is stopped.  The strike disorients or delays his ability to shoot you while giving you time to get on target.

So it makes sense to teach this method when responding to close imminent threats, right? 

Well, no, not really as it is generally taught.  We taught this method in the 1980s before it was widely popularized, and continued until the mid-90s when force-on-force drills began to alert us to a problem—the Punch/Draw didn’t seem to work as advertised.  Then came the avalanche of in-car videos, and we began to see officers shoving or striking suspects with too little negative effect, confirming a problem with this method.

 

Reality is Problematic

As many as half of the officers being murdered by gunfire are from contact to three-feet away from the suspects, and suspects almost universally get the first shot off (“Violent Encounters,” FBI, 2006, page 49).  Trainers realize that officers need to even up the timelines in the shooting:  slowing or stopping the suspect from drawing while creating time for the officer to be able to shoot.  The Punch/Draw was developed in response to this perceived need. 

The strike is intended to disorient the Threat through actual injury or by distracting him sufficiently to enable the officer to draw his/her weapon.  The problem with the Punch/Draw is the nature of momentary effects of the strike (if the officer actually makes contact) and the realistic length of time it takes the officer to draw the handgun before the suspect can begin shooting.

 

The Punch

The “punch” is actually a quick palm-heel strike to the face, head, or body concurrent with drawing the handgun.  This strike is properly more a “stiff-arm” to the face, rocking the man’s head back or gaining distance from the suspect—either he moves back or the officer is propelled backward, gaining some distance. 

It is not unusual for any strike to the head to miss completely, or to get only partial contact.  Accuracy is important, but so is speed.  The moment you orient to his drawing a weapon, you must react.  If your hand is not instantly to his face or striking his chest upon orienting, you won’t beat his first shot. 

The expectation of the effect of the strike must be realistic.  Most punches in a fight miss.  This one just might miss as well.  If you manage to make contact, it will likely be ineffective at stopping his first shot.  He may stumble back if hit well, but that may not give you the added time you need.  It is highly unlikely to disbalance him and cause him to fall, and an instant knockout is very unlikely. 

 

The Draw

It is not unusual for a draw to take more than one-second from a duty holster in normal circumstances.  This means your strike must be effective enough to buy you the time you need to draw your handgun, target the Threat, and fire well enough with enough rounds to stop him from shooting you.  Failing that, you are simply in a gunfight.  Striking and pushing him back will not likely stop him from shooting.

 

Modifying the Punch/Draw

A modification combined with movement may be a better option in certain situations where you choose maneuver to your advantage.  The traditional straight palm-heel strike carries your bodyweight either forward into the Threat (resulting in a more effective strike) or, more likely, backward.  In either case, the linear movement keeps you anchored in front of the Threat.  A static target on his radar is a very dangerous place to be in a gunfight. 

Rather than a straight palm-heel strike to his nose, a quick lateral palm-strike has proven to be useful.  It is similar to a slapping motion and delivered horizontally to his jaw or ear in the same direction you are moving.  The strike is combined with the first step (if moving to the right, the right foot steps as the non-gun left hand strikes).  The striking surface is ideally the open-handed palm heel.  As you move you strike on the way by, draw, circling to keep to his flank or rear as you make your shoot/no-shoot decisions.  If you reasonably believe he is a deadly imminent threat, shoot him in the flank or back.

 

Other Options?

No one can decide pre-fight what is going to work in any given situation—which is one of the reasons techniques are a poor training choice.  Only you will be able to solve your problem.  The principles to abide by in any situation where you are in touching-proximity to a firearm are:

  • Target seek and Put weapons to targets©.  If there is an open target, reasonably strike, bite, knee, shove, or shoot with his weapon or with yours.
  • Move in angles and circles©.  Whether you are moving or you are physically moving him, all movement is at an angle to or from him, or in a circle.
  • Body parts to body mass©.  If you touch him, that body part is welded to your body, forcing him to deal with your body weight rather than just your strength.  If you touch his weapon, it gets welded on to him or to you (paying attention to the muzzle direction at all times).
  • Put the resisting suspect to the ground IMMEDIATELY!©  As soon as possible, get him to the ground—hard. This may involve takedowns or shooting until he is on the ground and no longer a threat.

Some solutions in the past to a weapon being drawn in proximity have included:

  • Don’t fight over a weapon in his waistband or pocket.  If you get a hand on his handgun or over his hand holding a handgun in either his pocket or waistband, don’t fight for it—press the weapon into him and just pull the trigger (making sure your leg(s) is not in the line of fire).  It’s a deadly force situation, so employ deadly force.
  • Divert the muzzle and bring the weapon to you.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon and his gun-elbow to your body…then fight.  If a weapon is within touching distance, slap it, don’t grab.  Grabbing is muscular and slow, slapping is quick and uses the weight of your hand (average:  three pounds) to move the muzzle.  Close rapidly and pull that weapon sideways into your chest, pressing it as hard as possible.  Keep the muzzle away from your body parts and toward his.  If safe, press the trigger, hitting him or creating a malfunction (and be prepared for the muzzle blast).  Strikes can include your forehead to any part of his lower face and nose, and knee strikes to his soft lower parts (groin and thighs), setting him up for you to shoot him or take him down.  If safe, draw your weapon and shoot him (proximity shots to the femoral triangle, armpit, or supraclavicular triangle are best, as are shots to the side and rear of the head, neck, or back.
  • Divert the muzzle and shove the weapon into hm.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon into his body…then fight.  After slapping it, he may pull the handgun back toward him.  Wherever the weapon goes, you must immediately follow and divert that muzzle from you.  People are just not prepared to deal with someone shoving something into their body.  Drive into him, push that weapon against him, and press the trigger as soon as you can (and not be hit yourself—again, prepare for the muzzle blast).  Target seek, draw your weapon when it is safe, and make proximity shots safely.
  • Shove the muzzle into your vest, and press the trigger.  A deputy lost his handgun to a suspect and losing the fight, grabbed the suspect’s wrist and pulled the muzzle directly into his ballistic vest, then fired the weapon.  The vest contained the bullet.  The deputy, expecting the hit, continued to fight and saved his life.  Last ditch?  Yes, but good to have in your tool box.

 

Conclusion

Instead of the traditionally taught Punch/Draw, we teach to strike, move and hit (with bullets).  It makes better tactical sense and is more realistic in the real world where someone is actually attempting to murder you within touching distance.  If the Threat is drawing his handgun, it makes better sense to go at him, pin the weapon against his body when it is still in the waistband or pocket, and press the trigger rather than fighting over a handgun.  If the weapon is clear of the clothing and in-hand, slapping to divert the weapon, pressing it against something while maintaining awareness of the muzzle’s direction, fighting to gain some type of advantage, and then either taking him to the ground (safer) or standing, draw your weapon and make proximity shots to less defensible targets makes sense. 

The traditional Punch-Draw technique is problematic, not serving the very real need for which it was designed.  Modifying it, striking and moving at an angle to create a distraction while maneuvering to his flanks or back, or dispensing with it altogether in favor of aggressing the suspect’s weapon and using it against him, or immobilizing it while you access your own has proven to be the way to go. 

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. 

Why Do We Teach? Martial Arts Rolls

by George on January 3, 2013 08:38

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.

Cops fall, especially when working in the dark.  Everyone’s been injured to some degree at some point in their career from falling.  Stepping off a curb you didn’t know was there, finding a hole in the ground while walking across grass, being pushed over a coffee table, walking on ice or slippery surfaces, or falling up or down stairs, doing anything in the dark, being taken down during training—all can result in your going down hard to ground.  So it makes sense to train cops in martial arts rolls and breakfalls, right? 

Well, no, not really.  It is actually a waste of very valuable training time.

The training of recruits as well as in-service officers in defensive tactics involves a great deal of material that must be mastered in very little time.  Unless a recruit or officer already possesses an athletic background involving rolling or tumbling, or is an experienced martial artist, training time devoted to rolling and breakfalls cannot achieve the desired goal of inoculating these individuals from injuries from falls.  The limited time available to create minimal competence in defensive tactics and arrest and control is simply insufficient to gain mastery—or even competency—in the ability to prevent fall injuries later in their career.  Absent their own independent training and practice, the typical officer will never again practice rolls and breakfalls to the point where it becomes unconsciously automatic during an unexpected fall.  Spending ten hours in the academy learning how to roll and breakfall without continuing practice is ten hours that might be spent learning a skill or tactic that might later benefit the officer’s survival. 

Martial Arts Training as the Basis of Police Training is Problematic

In the martial arts, “how to safely fall” is routinely taught to decrease the injuries from training as well as to provide a safety mechanism when the student is sparring.  Training often begins with basic shoulder rolls, and then to break falls until the student is capable of safely falling from a hard throw on to a mat or even on to an unprotected surface.  As the training progresses to increasingly more difficult and dangerous throws, different and more effective breakfalls are needed, practiced, and mastered.  Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Defending the Curriculum

Because Defensive Tactics training seems to be a natural result of martial arts training, almost all academy curriculum contains varying amounts of time dedicated to teaching recruits how to fall.  For example, a new DT curriculum for police recruit academy training was being developed by a Defensive Tactics Subject Matter Expert who asked for my review.  The first subject was “Rolls and Breakfalls.”  When asked why the recruits would be spending eight per cent of the course on developing this skill, this highly experienced police officer and very accomplished martial artist answered that every cop needs to know how to protect themselves from falls on the job.  For him, the need for this training content was automatic, something intrinsic to his deep experience in martial arts.  This brought on a line of questioning that became increasingly more difficult to justify.  When finally asked if he thought, absent previous training, the recruits would gain automatic, unconscious competency from this time spent in this activity, he thought, and then admitted that it was very unlikely.  His assumption, that every officer must be able to protect from fall injuries whenever and however they might occur may be valid.  When faced with the reality of the limitations inherent to recruit and police training, that standard is not achievable. 

Officers leave the academy and are instantly in the big leagues--officers have been murdered on their first day of patrol.  The non-martial artists, representing most recruits and officers, have little time to prepare to face every manner and threat of suspect.  Cops are many times more likely to become involved in a physical fight than a shooting, and much more likely to be sued for the simple application of control holds than they are for shootings.  Defensive tactics training, regardless of how much time is allotted to it, is by definition less than desirable for any officer.  There just isn’t sufficient training time in any agency’s budget or schedule to commit the personnel to gaining anything more than minimal competency. 

Every topic in any defensive tactics program must be scrutinized for its realistic value to the officer on the street.  This is measured by the average officer’s ability to successfully apply the skill or tactic on-time, in-time against an unwilling suspect.  This requires the training to provide sufficient time and repetitions to minimally acquire a level of at least conscious competency (although this is not “mastery,” officers can perform the skill or tactic but must think about how to do it).  Will an officer who is three years out of the academy, being assaulted in the dark and shoved off-balance, be able to remember and perform that skill?  Frankly, the typical officer will not be able to execute a safe fall or roll during an unexpected fall.  If that is the case, why teach this topic in training?

Teaching martial arts rolls and breakfalls are a poor use of time when they are viewed from the officer’s very real need for functional knowledge at some distant time.  There simply is not enough time or the availability of frequent, recurrent training to gain even a minimum level of competency when reacting to suddenly falling or being thrown in a fight.  Even if that time and training budget were provided, there are other skills that would be more beneficial to an officer’s survival than rolls and breakfalls.

What Should be Taught?

Simple breakfalls should be covered to assist in maintaining the safety of the recruit or officer being taken down in training.  Explanations and practice of a simple PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) where the goal is to sequentially collapse the body without striking bony projections (knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, and especially the head) against the hard surface of the ground, will be better incorporated into training.  Through this, training is simplified and made safer. 

A level of competency might then be gained during the repetition afforded by takedowns in practice.  The recruit should receive several hundred repetitions of the same or similar fall during the course of the training.  The simple fact of hundreds of repetitions of more safely falling increases an individual’s expertise, and may lead to a behavior change in the future. 

However, more advanced breakfalls from throws, as well as martial arts rolls require an intensity and duration of practice that will never be provided by police training.  They are too varied and specialized, and this limits the number of reps that recruit or officer receives.  That time can be better spent elsewhere during this precious training time to develop their expertise on something that might actually later be useful. 

Why Do We Teach? Move: Proximity and Distance Shootings

by George on November 26, 2012 07:22

Time “…is like a fire—it could either destroy us or keep us warm…we live or we die by the clock…We never turn our backs on it and we never allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time…That’s how much time we have before this pulsating, accursed, relentless taskmaster tries to put us out of business.

—Chuck Nolan in the movie, “Castaway”, 2000

While most think that bullets are their enemy in a shooting, the real enemy is time—not enough of it to effectively respond to a Threat (a person who is an actual or imminent threat to your life, or the life of another) by putting bullets through him while avoiding bullets sent their way.  Not seeing a Threat in time, not recognizing the threat in time, not reacting in time, or not hitting him in time can be fatal.  Your job in a gunfight is save or create sufficient time for you to safely move beyond the Threat’s initial assault by controlling his perception of the time he has in the gunfight.  The goal in your tactical response is to destroy his accurate perception of current time and the actual unfolding of events.  Oh yeah.  And you have to hit him with enough bullets to finish the job.

We teach that when in proximity to the Threat, move and hit the Threat.  When at distance or forced to take a technical shot, move to cover, then hit the Threat.  The inevitable question is asked, “Why move?  Why not just stand, get a solid shooting stance, and get your accurate hits?” 

These questions generally come from a misunderstanding of the basic context of how police and responsibly-armed civilians get involved in shootings.  Because we aren’t bad guys who get the drop on a targeted person and shoot him/her down, our force response is generally to an actual or imminent deadly threat—the Threat is approaching with a knife, is reaching for a gun, or has begun firing before we realize we are in a deadly force event.  That we know we need to respond means we used up time recognizing and identifying a specific threatening act, orienting to the need to physically respond.  And even more time is required to reach for and draw our handgun, present and fire our first bullet as several of his rounds are already in the air.

Let’s use an example of a Threat drawing a handgun from his waist with the intent of shooting you down and killing you.  Responding takes time—a lot of time, often measured in a second or more of actual time before you meaningfully react.  This is time you just don’t have.

Inescapably, it takes time to observe the Threat’s action, orient to the change of status, decide what to do, and then react to the new environment.  Just because you see a movement does not mean you understand what the movement means.  Orienting, or contextualizing the subject’s actions takes time.  Once you understand the threatening intent of that movement, that person becomes a Threat requiring a response. 

Until you are able to identify that movement as threatening, it’s just a guy who is moving his hand.  The actual time for a subject to become a Threat may be less than a tenth of a second as his hand moves to his waistband, grasps the handgun, points the weapon at you and fires his first round.  Untrained trigger fingers are able to easily fire four rounds per second, or one every quarter of a second. 

Many people, generally due to improper training concepts, operate from the misconception that they can actually perceive reality the moment something is happening and instantly react.  It just ain’t true.  No matter how switched on you are—or think you are—instant reaction is simply impossible.  It takes time to recognize and react to changes in the status quo.

Lots of things slow down our putting into context his threatening actions.  If you are not looking in the right place, you won’t notice the unfolding threat.  If your attention set is absorbed elsewhere, thinking about something else, you may observe his action but not take note.  If you have to make decisions based on your moral beliefs, uncertainty about the law, or fear of legal repercussions, it will increase the time you need to mount your defense. 

Expectations play a huge role in slowing our response to threat.  If your expectations are that he is doing something benign, it will take longer for you to recognize a threat.  If you expect a specific result, such as movement and are rewarded with movement different from that expected, it will take you much longer to recognize that something different from your expectations is occurring, and then what that difference is.  If you are not expecting someone to draw a handgun at that moment, it will take you longer to recognize that you are under threat than if you anticipated there might be a problem. 

If you are anticipating a very simple action, and are fully prepared and mentally ready, your reaction time will be approximately 0.1-0.2 seconds—that is, the time for you make a simple decision that a physical response should be made.  Once the decision is made, it will take a unit of time for your response to be initiated.  Human reaction-response time is the time it takes to observe, orient, and decide what that response might be plus the time it takes to physically respond.  If that is shooting, you then have the time for the bullets to hit him.  And it will depend upon the percentage of bullets you fire actually hitting him to take effect and cause a change in him before it begins to save your life. 

When it takes an average of three-quarters of a second up to a second and a half to draw and fire when you anticipate the command, how much longer is it going to take when you are surprised?  And even if you are Johnny-on-the-spot, rough-and-ready to go, how many bullets are being sent your way during that three-fourths to one and a half seconds you are drawing and getting ready to fire? 

Time equals bullets in the air.  Surviving being shot at is both a question of luck at surviving the initial assault and creating enough time to respond well enough to stop the Threat from harming you.  While luck is not a skill set, movement has been used for millennia to manipulate the relative perception of time between combatants.  The reason why we advocate movement is to manufacture the perception of increased time on the mover's part, and to decrease the perception of time on the attacker's part.

Manipulating Perceptual Time in Proximity Shootings—Contact to 10 yards, or 80% of shootings in the US 

When you are up close on the Threat and he is suddenly attempting to take your life, you need to change the situation:  MOVE!  Sudden, hard movement in any direction is intended to confuse the Threat and create time for you to react and take the fight to him.  While some angles are more advantageous than others, any abrupt movement will be beneficial to your surviving his initial burst of gunfire.

Looking at his mindset, he has made a decision to murder you and has taken action—this is a life-changing decision for both people, and the consequences of his failing are huge: if he fails to shoot you, it’s very likely he will be shot and perhaps killed.  The Threat acts with the expectation of success—his weapon is brought up and pointed where he perceives you to be at the time his decision to act was made—tenths of a second ago.  Whether you move or not, he is pressing the trigger at the position he saw you in when he made the decision to shoot.  He’ll be pressing the trigger as fast as he can because most people believe in volume of fire as a life-saving—or taking—strategy.  His hard intent—to shoot and kill you—is acted upon, and will continue to be acted upon until he receives feedback that the status quo has changed.

If you stand there while drawing your weapon, you will be negatively affected by his time manipulation:  you will be shocked (requiring time to recover), then you draw your weapon (taking time), and then return fire (taking time for the bullets to strike and affect his ability to shoot you).  That's a lot of time when bullets are burning at you at a rate of 4 or 5 per second before you have your first round out.  You have not changed the status quo by standing there absorbing bullets.  If you are lucky, you were missed by his bullets.  Either way, you have done nothing in the first critical half-second or more to alter the situation.  He has no reason to change his program, and he’ll keep shooting until he puts you down, he runs out of rounds, or you are able to weather the storm and finally shoot him. 

The relative perception of time is affected by each individual’s expectation of events.  If the event continues as expected, the perception of time continues smoothly, and even pleasantly slows relative to actual time—you are operating “in the zone,” where everyone but you seems to be moving in slow motion.  If the event is surprising or veers radically from the expected path, perceived time slows to the point where every moment is a desperate struggle against the tide, with the increasing and certain knowledge that your are helpless to change the looming and ominous outcome.  You feel as if you are moving through an impossibly thick gel preventing you from acting in time. 

In this close range shooting situation, his expectation is driving his perception of events, working against him if you move suddenly.  It will take him time—tenths of a second—to realize he's shooting at empty air.  He will be shocked because his expectation is that you will stand there and be shot or fall to the ground.  His confusion continues as he presses the trigger, realizing that he desperately needs to reorient to this unexpected change.  Your moving bought you time to draw your weapon.  He knows he has to quickly find you, move his weapon, and finish you—he started this gunfight but his target somehow disappeared.  He’s now the one who is threatened.  Desperation and confusion decreases his efficiency.

 You continue to move and now begin hitting him.  He becomes very aware that your bullets are now inbound, increasing his desperation making him even less efficient in finding and hitting you.  He may quit the gunfight.  He may be hit and quit the gunfight or be unwilling to quit the gunfight.  He may be hit but not realize he’s been hit, continuing to shoot.  In any case, you continue to move and continually hit him until you reach cover, he goes down, you get hit and go down, or you run out of rounds, move to cover to reload or keep running. 

Moving manufactures relative perceived time because by displacing, you take yourself temporarily out of the line of fire.  Movement is the primary survival mechanism in any proxemic gunfight.  Move and make yourself a more difficult target.  Displacing hard off the line, drawing your handgun while moving, creates the time you need to draw, time you would not have had if you had remained where you were when he started firing.  While you may draw your weapon in the same amount of time whether standing or moving, there is a huge survival difference:  standing and drawing while three to five bullets are fired at you from a couple of steps away may mean you will not be able to respond, whereas moving and confusing him, causing him to fire those three to five bullets where you were standing when he made the decision to fire, may allow you to draw your weapon without being injured. 

Standing and fighting it out when you are waaaay behind is an attritional mindset.  Attrition is defined as a reduction or decrease in resources or personnel.  In this case, it is the willingness to take injury to give injury.  Attrition is about outlasting him.  In an attrition-based gunfight, you may win the gunfight and be killed as well (I guess in this case winning would be knowing you killed him before you die).  Standing and taking unanswered rounds is an attritional mindset.  You may never get the chance to get to your gun. 

Moving and hitting in proximity is a method of negatively multi-tasking the bad guy.  By creating a problem requiring him to deal with more than he can mentally handle, by confusing him, by dividing his attention, by making him more concerned for his welfare than he is in hurting you, you negatively multi-task the Threat and increase your survival odds.  For more on negatively multi-tasking the bad guy, see the article, "Fighting Smart: Negatively Multi-Tasking the Suspect."  http://blog.cuttingedgetraining.org/post/Fighting-Smart-Negatively-Multitasking-the-Suspect.aspx.

While moving and shooting is not necessarily limited to distances of contact-to-ten-yards and can be performed at any distance, moving fast and hard enough to confuse the subject while simultaneously having the real likelihood of hitting the subject is an up-close-and-personal situation.  As the distance between you and the threat increases, the benefits to moving and shooting to hit decrease, although there are times it is justified to fire in the Threat’s general direction while moving for distraction purposes.  At some point, the probability of hitting the Threat is so low that the benefit of simply moving as fast as you can is greater.  At what distance does this cost versus benefit analysis tip to simply running to cover before fighting back?  That will be up to the individual in that particular fight to determine. 

Affecting Perceptual Time At Distance

As the distance increases between you and the Threat, the benefits of moving and hitting will lessen, and will make movement to cover your primary concern.  If you have a choice, not being there would be first on the list, with fighting from cover a very close second.

Hitting at distance is a matter of precise marksmanship.  Technical shooting takes time —think using a handgun to hit a hostage taker who is giving you only his right-eye and part of his forehead at 15 yards, or a life-and-death head shot with a carbine and iron sights at 125 yards.  Movement confounds marksmanship because it decreases the time available to the shooter to obtain a solid firing solution.  If a very good shooter with a rifle at 70 yards takes a minimum of one and a half seconds to acquire, aim, and hit a man-sized target, sudden movement increases the difficulty of getting that hit.  Sharp, abrupt, irregular (as well as short, unpredictable) movements will be your best bet at preventing your being shot because he has less time to make the adjustments he needs to hit you. 

The farther you are away from his muzzle, the more time he’ll need to make the hit.  A 5.56mm bullet takes just over 0.2 seconds to travel 200 meters, and nearly 0.4 seconds to 300 meters.  At distances from 100 meters and beyond, the shooter must not only observe and acquire the target, but understand the trajectory of his round, accurately estimate the distance, and understand the time-on-target delay from trigger press to hit for the bullet’s travel time.  This takes time, making it possible for the bullet to leave the muzzle directly on target and still miss because the target moved casually out of the way.  Unpredictable movement dramatically increases the difficulty.

At distance, movement to cover and then fighting from there makes better sense than standing and fighting.  If you must, go to ground and use the irregularities and depressions in the terrain to shield you.  Avoid going to ground on asphalt and concrete due to ricochet problems which decrease the time necessary for a firing solution—as long as the shot is lined up, dropping a round anywhere within the space of 30 feet in front of you to any part of your body means getting a hit.  Getting a hit on a 30 foot tall target is really not that tough from realistic shooting distances. 

If you have something that will stop bullets very close by, immediately move to cover.  The option of going to the ground or getting behind cover permits you to make yourself a small target.  Being a small target gives you the perception of increased time, providing you time to precisely aim and hit him.  At the same time it negatively increases the time he has to aim and hit you. 

Tactics still count when at distance.  Be as small as possible, keeping those body parts not needed for hitting him behind cover.  Shoot around, not over the cover if you can.  And remember, shooting repeatedly from the same piece of cover or hole gives him time to locate and walk rounds into you.  Shoot and scoot if that is the gunfight you find yourself in.  Be sneaky and expose yourself only for the limited purposes of locating and hitting him.

Conclusion

The reason for moving is all about the context of your gunfight.  If you have put solid cover between you and the Threat, stay there and fight from the corner while staying small.  It becomes a technical shooting problem through precise marksmanship to win that fight.  If you don’t have cover, move, then hit.  Moving creates actual time for you by affecting the Threat’s perceptual time.  Both proximity as well as distance shootings are about manipulating the time the bad guy has to harm you—decreasing his perception of the time he has while increasing the time you perceive you have to effectively respond.

Time is the “relentless, accursed taskmaster” that will put you out of business if you get behind and remain there.  When the Threat acts first, he is able to dominate your perception of time with his bullets (or his knife, his club, and/or his fists) and your fear and confusion, eliminating your effective response.  Movement changes the equation by disrupting his expectations, decreasing the time he has to problem-solve by confusing him while increasing his survival pressure in the gunfight.  Sudden displacement negatively multitasks him, forcing him to find and retarget you while you are shooting him.  It manipulates his relative perception of time in your favor, forcing him into having to perform more than he may be capable of while under fire.  The key is to make time your friend and to use it to control the fight in your favor.  Move.