Bare-hands to Handguns, Part 1: Myth vs. Reality
By John Perkins, former Yonkers NY detective, forensic crime scene expert and Guided Chaos creator; and Ari Kandel, Guided Chaos 4th degree
In 2012, the FBI radically modified its firearms training program. A review of nearly 200 agent-involved shootings during a 17-year period had found that 75% of incidents involved suspects who were within 3 yards of agents when shots were exchanged. The new training program emphasizes fast close quarters shooting as opposed to traditional long range marksmanship. It does not, however, go far enough away from traditional firearms training towards preparation for dealing with the reality of criminal violence.
For some, apparently, the result of the study was a revelation. For others, however, it had been common knowledge for a long time.
At least since the beginning of the 20th Century, there have been tensions between competition-based and conflict-based training methodologies in military, police and civilian firearms training. Repeatedly, periods of intense conflict (e.g. Prohibition and the Great Depression for law enforcement, World War II for the military) have given rise to training methodologies designed to deal with the actual conflicts being fought. In the absence of such all-consuming conflicts, however, methods based on competitive marksmanship tend to quickly reassert themselves in the name of “progress”.
Competition or Conflict-Based Training?
The conflict-based methodologies have always included some variations of “point shooting” (i.e. shooting without conscious use of the firearm’s sights) to deal with fast, close quarters, reactive conflict situations. The FBI’s early training methods, created in part by veteran gunfighters such as Delf “Jelly” Bryce, and the World War II-era methods developed by William Fairbairn and Rex Applegate, are good examples of this. After the World War II era, however, as soldiers, cops, civilians and trainers gradually became further and further removed from the crucible of widespread total war, “combat competition”-based methods moved to the forefront as the most “scientifically tested” and “proven” training methods for gunfighting.
Unfortunately, combat (or more appropriately, “action”) competition-based methods, while in some cases useful for certain aspects of combative firearms application, completely ignore the true, universal dynamics of close quarters reactive combat. The hallmarks of the action competition-based methods, such as a strictly prescribed, two-handed shooting stance and major focus on sight alignment and sight picture, are almost never possible nor even advisable in actual close quarters reactive combat (as distinct from longer range and/or proactive combat, where you have the initiative and control the timing of the engagement). As the late Jim Cirillo, veteran NYPD gunfighter, wrote: “Your problem isn’t your front sight, it’s your background.”
Close-Range Combat: True Dynamics
It should be obvious that for the defense-minded civilian, conflicts involving firearms are mostly extensions of general interpersonal conflict and criminal assault. Arguments, assaults and criminal predation don’t usually start from 25 yards, or even 7 yards. Criminals need to be close to you in order to do what they want to do, and most recidivist offenders have become pretty good at getting to where they need to be before tipping their hand. Arms’ length distance, or at most across a room of your home or business (or any business you may frequent that is targeted by criminals while you’re there), is the norm rather than the exception for a civilian (which includes law enforcement, as only members of the military are non-civilians).
Because available time and options reduce as distance decreases, and because the odds that even an untrained criminal will “get lucky” are highest at point-blank range (note that a recent major study revealed that cop killers train far more often and more realistically than typical cops), it behooves the armed citizen to devote most of his or her training time and effort to dealing with the true dynamics of this most critical and most likely scenario.
And it is those “true dynamics” of reactive close quarters gunfighting that make action competition-based training methods wholly unsuitable.
These gunfights erupt at the distances where beatings, stabbings, strong arm robberies, abductions, rapes and home invasions occur—because those are the situations the armed citizen is trying to prevent by being armed!
Therefore, the psychological and physical dynamics of this type of gunfight more strongly resemble those of all-out unarmed or contact weapon combat than they do those of any shooting match.
You Never Know What You’re Dealing With
Murderers and rapists don’t tell you in advance whether you’re going to be in a gunfight, or a fistfight or knife fight for that matter. It’s a FIGHT for your LIFE on someone else’s terms and schedule and you need to train yourself to adapt, move and bring your best weapons to bear as quickly as possible to end the threat and escape before being overwhelmed and possibly having your weapons taken from you.
Your movement will be more instinctual and fight-or-flight-response-driven than refined and intellectually driven. You may know the best positions, movements and techniques to assure optimum marksmanship and speed under the pressure and dynamics of an action shooting match, but your lower brain will quickly recognize the fact that you’re in a very different situation and will accordingly prompt action before you’re consciously able to figure much out. We’re hardwired to focus on and move away from danger. This is why we constantly see even highly trained competitive shooters “revert” to crouching, spastic backpedalling and “dodging” and single-handed cyclic rate unsighted shooting when faced with an enemy muzzle at near contact distance. Your body won’t allow you to attain a static, upright stance and focus on your front sight once it sees the enemy’s lethally threatening movement mere feet and split seconds away. Just as your body would instinctively try to avoid a thrown object or strike, it focuses on and tries to avoid an enemy muzzle being brought to bear. Two hands often can’t be brought to your weapon as practiced because at least one is outstretched or moving to help maintain balance during your ballistic avoidance motion, or is being used to shield against or disrupt the threat.
Hand-to-hand Training PLUS Intuitive Shooting
Your training needs to account for these dynamics and work with them, rather than against them. Therefore, your training needs to include point shooting or “intuitive” shooting, seamlessly combined with unarmed combat, as there is no guarantee you’ll already have gun in hand when violence commences, or indeed that you’ll ever be able to get to it at all. Fortunately, in terms of unarmed combat and reactive close quarters gun fighting to deal with criminal violence, good training for one reinforces the other, as the movement dynamics and required physical and mental attributes are necessarily the same, e.g. awareness, balance, muscular efficiency, whole body coordination, physical and mental freedom of action, and moral will to prevail. See https://www.attackproof.com/ for more information on how to develop combative attributes.
In order for a weapon to be suitable for this type of engagement, it must be:
- Constantly available, meaning carryable and concealable at all times. Again, criminals do not typically email you their intentions in advance, giving you time to go home, unlock your safe and retrieve your favorite blaster!
- Reliable and durable under extreme circumstances. In a close quarters fight, your weapon likely won’t be fired from a static, stable, upright stance. It may be fired at strange angles, while spastically moving, in a suboptimal grip. During the fight it may be struck or otherwise disrupted. Regardless, it has to work.
- Simple and intuitive to operate. Under extreme fight-or-flight effects, your body is best prepared to use any hand-held object as a striking or throwing weapon. It will already be an accomplishment of nurture over nature to actually SHOOT THE GUN, so it’s best to keep things as simple as possible to accomplish that, regardless of time in training.
- Quick to grip and draw. When split seconds count and your body is instinctively moving at reflex speed (i.e. the speed at which your hand will pull away from a sudden flame), any additional movement, effort and time required to get a secure grip on an ill-fitting gun and clear snags during the draw is a recipe for disaster.
- Well fit to your hand and naturally pointable. While it is somewhat possible to adapt to an ill-fitting gun through extensive training and practice, things are just easier and faster and less likely to fall apart under lethal threat if the tool and user are well matched from the beginning. This increases the user’s confidence as well.
- Shootable and controllable enough for you to keep multiple rounds on target at cyclic speed (i.e. as fast as you can pull the trigger) at close range, with one hand
- Powerful enough to consistently penetrate a big guy’s vital organs through commonly worn clothing from all angles with expanding bullets. Within the major combat calibers (including 9x19mm through .45 ACP), this is largely a matter of diligent ammunition selection. More attention should probably be paid to consistently deep penetration, resistance to deflection, consistently reliable expansion and destructive expanded bullet shape than to initial and expanded bullet size or cavitation. Of course, the selected ammunition should not disrupt requirement #6 above.
A Kahr Pistol + Adaptive Shooting = Survival
The Kahr series of pistols fits the above criteria for most people. From the larger T and TP pistols through the mid-size K and P pistols down to the smallest MK and PM pistols, the basic Kahr design is reliable, durable, simple, slick and adaptable to various people’s concealment, hand fit and shootability needs through its various size and caliber (9x19mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, as well as .380 ACP for deep concealment/backup) permutations.
In a fight for your life against criminal assault, you need instantaneous, intuitive spine-shot/head-shot accuracy from contact to seven yards (or as far as you can manage) against wildly moving multiple targets while YOU are focusing on the threats, dodging, moving, drawing, hitting, pushing, evading and protecting your weapon at reflex speed, on your feet and on the ground—without shooting yourself!
Many have succeeded, and failed, with less. It behooves us to consider worst-case scenarios and prepare accordingly to the best of our ability.
Anything less constitutes a “strategy of hope”: hope that YOUR attackers will be so accommodating that they’ll allow you to put basic marksmanship or competition-based training to use, and you’ll be “cool” enough to do it when your life is in imminent danger…
Stay tuned for more articles on:
- Concealed Carry
- Gunfighting Grip and Trigger Pull
- Home Defense
- Other Weapons in the Gunfight