Massad Ayoob has been a mentor of mine for over 30 years now (hopefully he doesn’t kick me in the pants when he reads that…none of us are getting any younger!). I’ve read his books and articles from the time I was a police cadet in the early 1990’s. I’ve shot along side him in competition and he IS every bit as fast and accurate as you can imagine! Mas is one of the best lecturers in the business and you shouldn’t miss this course!
I offer both 4 hour and 8 hour medical classes to church groups, preparedness groups, martial arts gyms, public safety organizations and other venues. Email me to talk about hosting a class in your area!
When you first see Gabe White shoot, you’ll notice that there is an audible, “SMACK!” when he draws his Glock 17 from his Keepers Concealment appendix holster. In the days of yore, pistoleros who were quick on the draw were called, “leather slappers.”
I first read about Gabe on PISTOLFORUM and then met him and saw him shoot at the RANGEMASTER TACTICAL CONFERENCE in March of 2018. I was lucky enough to make it into the, “Top 16,” shooters of the competition, of which Gabe was the FIRST PLACE winner. The competition at the conference is always a good test of skill and wits, and it is a friendly competition without a tremendous amount of ego involved. I am always humbled to end up in the competition at all, but mostly, I enjoy seeing my peers do well. Gabe is one of the most humble competitors you will meet, and he will gladly dissect his own performance and describe to you in the smallest of details, where he felt his performance was less than perfect. Of course, to the casual observer, it looks like a masterful performance by any measure!
Gabe’s flagship course is called, “Pistol Shooting Solutions,” and I was honored to host him at the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office range facility in Waverly, TN. From the time I contacted Gabe about hosting, I was impressed by how precise and technical he was in his requirements for the range and hosting. Gabe designed his course from the ground up to be useful to the consumer.He has taken a number of classes himself, and understands what a good course of instruction should do for his clients.Gabe limits the number of students in the class to fourteen, so that he can closely monitor each student while still running relays that don’t cause too much down time for anyone.
THE ENEMY OF GETTING BETTER IS GOOD ENOUGH
One of the issues with taking classes on a regular basis is that you get good at shooting…and while that is, in the BIG PICTURE, a good thing, for the dedicated student it often results in a plateau of skill development.If you are safe, efficient and consistent in most tactical oriented classes, you won’t get a tremendous amount of direction or coaching on how to improve.Gabe’s class was quite different in this regard.Immediately, I learned a number of actionable improvements from Gabe that I was able to incorporate into my shooting that resulted in immediate improvements, of which I will expound on in detail below.
We had students in the class of all levels, from newer shooters to professional gun users (law enforcement) who EACH received individualized feedback, independent of their experience level.In addition to the qualitative feedback, Gabe also provides a mechanism for systematized testing in a series of four graded standards, that not only reward a good skill set, but also let the student establish benchmarks for the future that they can compare their own performance to.Gabe gives three awards, in ascending order of achievement, the DARK PIN, LIGHT PIN and TURBO PIN.This class was the first in history to have two TURBO PIN recipients, Randy Harris and John Hearne.I’ve trained with both of them in the past, and both are PHENOMENAL shooters!
THE RIGHT HAND OF DOOM
I’ve been training now for 28 years, and in that time, I have gone through a number of life changes, including changes in work (and work gear), playing rugby, lifting weights, gaining weight/losing weight, conditioning exercise and various other activities and injuries that have left my body in its current state.Because of my almost daily repetitive work involving the forceful removal of human teeth from people, my wrists, elbows and shoulders take a literal BEATING that has transferred, somewhat unconsciously, into my shooting habits, and how I handle the gun.One of the things that has suffered has been my draw speed.Even when I think I am moving quickly to the gun, I am NOT.Gabe noticed this and told me that if I could speed up my draw, and get to the gun quicker, I would knock a good chunk of time off of my presentation.The exercise he showed me to get up to speed was to start from the ready position of my choice, and then swat my hand to the gun, quickly, like a karate chop (remember the audible SLAP when Gabe gets his hand to the gun?) and then acquire the firing grip.He had my try this several times, without drawing, and just quickly slapping my hand to the holstered pistol.After about the fifth time, he said, “NOW GET TO THE GUN THAT FAST.”I did, and HOLY SMOKES, it worked!I immediately saw an appreciable increase in my presentation/time to first shot.Once, later in the day, John Hearne noticed that my time to the gun was slipping again and I was lagging, which I’m sure was just force of habit returning and also fatigue, so I reverted back to the slapping exercise to restore my draw’s vigor. In my past training, I’d never had anyone say anything like, “GET TO THE GUN QUICKER,” and then show me an exercise that is literally so simple to do, to illustrate how to make that happen.That was extremely helpful.
THE 1000 YARD WINK
During the lunch break on the first training day, Gabe gave an optional lecture on vision.Through a series of demonstrations, he showed us all how our eyes can focus on only one point at a time.In shooting, this is significant, since we normally look at the target, then draw our gun, find the front sight, then begin shooting once we have a hard front sight focus.This contraction of the ciliary muscle and bending of the lense in the eye takes time…and if you’re a bit older, it takes even more time!An over abundance of time is one thing you DO NOT have when either the stakes are high in a shooting match, or when the stakes can’t be any higher than in a fight to save your life!Gabe described a technique to the class that allows the capable student to be able to immediately change their focus to the, “intermediate focal plane,” or that empty cube of space that exists at about arm’s length distance in front of the shooter’s face, where their pistol’s slide and front sight will eventually end up at the final point of their presentation.By starting with their focus at this point, upon presentation of the pistol, the eye is already calibrated to see the front sight crisply and clearly, and the additional step of changing focus from the target to the front sight is eliminated.Gabe said that about one person in fourteen will be able to use this ability, and other people simply wouldn’t.Much to my surprise, I found that I COULD actually see in the intermediate focal plane, with relative ease.I attribute this to my years of using microscopes in the applied sciences and in surgery.After lunch, the benefits of seeing the sights more accurately and quickly was readily apparent!I wish that I had known about the ability before lunch, as it would have made the shot-calling drills easier, as well as determining what was an acceptable sight picture for a shot. Next time!
People have been saying, “See what you need to see,” in the firearms training industry since at least the time of Jeff Cooper, and probably before!But much like, “PRESS THE TRIGGER,” it is something that is often said, but rarely understood.In the event that a novice instructor tells a student that phrase and it actually solves their problem, it’s probably more likely due to luck then to the acumen of the instructor!But with the ability to see in the intermediate focal plane, SEEING WHAT YOU NEED TO SEE becomes a genuine reality!I’ve never before experienced a feeling in shooting quite as acute as that.The closest analogy of precision I can liken it to is using an EOTECH reticle on an M4 type rifle.The large, aviation-grade reticle is so easy to see, superimposed over the target, that you know EXACTLY where the gun is pointed when you press the shot.With a hard front sight focus on presentation, you can see instantly where the gun is pointed and how you need to course correct to achieve the desired directional adjustment.Using a brightly painted front sight (I used Warren Sevigny sights with the front sight painted red orange with Birchwood Casey sight paint) I was acutely aware of not only the immediate location of my front sight, but also the detail of the sight, down to the horizontal serrations and the areas where the edges of the paint had rubbed off, or picked up the faux-suede lining of my Safariland duty holster.In years past, I never noticed such details.
Take this course. Regardless of where you feel you are in your study of shooting, if you are safe, and capable of good accuracy on demand, Gabe will make you better. In the graded standards we shot, I was able to score in the LIGHT PIN range, which I hope to continue to improve on, and return to retake this course again, and earn the vaunted TURBO PIN. Prior to this course, I think I was a strong DARK PIN shooter, but honing my skills with just a few additional input changes from Gabe made all of the difference. It seems silly that only a few minor tweaks could have such a profound effect, but really, when you consider what technical and combat shooting is, it is really a simple series of motor skills and eye-hand coordination events that culminate in the symphony of light, sound and downrange effect that we see and take for granted. Shaving fractions of a second off of the draw and presentation by increasing efficiency (it doesn’t take many shaves before your NEW time surpasses your BEST old times) is only to the betterment of the shooter…nothing is lost in the pursuit. And when you consider that to excel at Gabe’s drills you still have to strive for 100% accuracy, or else suffer the time penalty consequences, then it makes the pursuit all that more attractive.
This was just a cursory discussion of the course. Much of what I learned I’ll keep to myself, as I think it does both you (the reader) and I a disservice; there’s too much to tell! Get to Gabe’s class and see what you can pull out of it! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Don’t wait to register! Only a few more spots available! This class is unique in that I’ve partnered with Chief Lee Weems of FIRST PERSON SAFETY, to bring you a unique training opportunity currently unprecedented in the training world!
Chief Weems will start off the day with, “Standing Your Ground.” From his website:
“Stand your ground” isn’t a magic phrase that transforms a use of force into a lawful use of force. This class explores the dynamics of deadly force encounters to include the reasonable man doctrine, the lawful use of force, interacting with responding officers, and more.
Lee Weems combines two decades of law enforcement experience along with his education from places such as the Force Science Institute, the Law of Self Defense Instructor Program, the Massad Ayoob Group Deadly Force Instructor certification course, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Use of Force Instructor Training Program, and many others to create the content for this presentation.
But wait there’s more!!
At the conclusion of the presentation a panel of defense attorneys and former prosecutors will be part of a panel question and answer session to field questions from class participants.
You can register for the Chief’s portion of the class here:
BELIEVE IT OR NOT, fair reader, but there was a time in the recent past when the majority of holsters for serious purposes (personal defense, law enforcement, security) were made of LEATHER! They were not vegan-friendly like the kydex, Boltaron, and various other polymer type synthetics that are the off-shoots of the Bill Rogers (Rogers Holster and later SAFARILAND) “plastic,” holsters of the 1970’s. Leather holsters have a lot going for them, and are still quite serviceable and workable for the modern CIVILIAN DEFENDER. Chief among the positive qualities of leather holsters are their increased level of comfort. They tend to conform to the body over a period of time, and this makes user compliance higher. My old buddy Paul Gomez preferred leather holsters over synthetics, because while synthetics allowed a quicker draw (and they most certainly do) they give up quite a bit in terms of weapon’s retention. Leather holsters rely on surface area contact with the weapon to keep the holster and gun together. “Boning,” or forcibly bending the leather with a tool (made of bone in traditional leather-working) to fit the gun it was designed for, and other features like trigger guard detents, can allow the pistol to, “snap,” into the holster. I have yet to purchase a quality leather holster that doesn’t require some accelerated break-in before I use it in my regular carry. Thus, additional break-in steps have to be taken to get the holster to a point of snug retention, but not so much that it takes two hands, an elephant, and a length of chain to remove the gun from the holster. It isn’t hard to spot the rookie in a concealed carry class who hasn’t broken in their holster adequately, as the wedgie and belt pulled up to their neck is a dead give-away.
When I was a young police cadet, a wise Sergeant told me to use rubbing alcohol to stretch the leather on my duty belt accessories, since the alcohol would evaporate quickly, and thus prevent the leather from losing it’s shape. While that is true, because alcohol evaporates so quickly, it dehydrates the leather, which can cause a wet-molded holster to lose its shape. Most holster manufacturers recommend using the thick, plastic bag (or a freezer bag if you don’t have the factory container) to stretch the holster…this isn’t rocket surgery, but it can certainly cut down on your frustration if you haven’t encountered something like this before.
You’re going to need a bag. If the holster is very tight, you may need MANY bags. I keep a stack of these in my storage closet, at the ready for breaking in holsters. This is a Galco Summer Comfort that I won at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference. It is Galco’s version of Bruce Nelson’s Summer Special II. And it comes out of the box TIGHT. It won’t allow the wearer to draw the holster without help. And I assure you I’m not lacking in physical strength! You can use a Blue Gun like I’ve done here, or you can use your (unloaded and cleared) live pistol as well.
I HAD THE RECENT pleasure to attend Dave Spaulding’s highly-regarded, “Combative Pistol,” at the great Dover TN, “Hilltop Firearms Training Center.” I’ve known of, and read Dave’s writing since I was a young police cadet, back in the 1990’s. Prior to the internet, Harris Media and magazines like, “Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement,” and, “Combat Handguns,” were where folks went to get information on what was good in the personal defense, law enforcement and training industries. Dave has been a literary figure of the industry for decades, and is a full-time firearms trainer, now that he has retired from law enforcement.
If I break out my old (paper) copy of the dictionary and look up the word, “epistemology,” the definition reads:
the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.
Bear with me! It’s a $5 word for sure, but don’t let it run you off. “COMBATIVE PISTOL,” is Dave’s flagship course. Although I wouldn’t consider it, “basic,” or, “beginner,” at all. There were no fluff drills, nor drills strictly designed as, “feel good,” exercises. Every round was sent downrange with intention and accuracy behind it. At this point in my life, I’ve taken thousands of hours of training classes, and probably tens of thousands of hours of classroom instruction in the pursuit of my degrees in law enforcement, biology, philosophy, and medical education. I’m really at the point in my life where my, “polymath maintenance,” is dependent on being able to find, consume and assimilate boli of high-yield information. Don’t give me the fluff or the long, James Fenimore Cooper-esque version! Just boil down the facts into easily consumed packets of information I can digest, and then put to use, “On Monday Morning.” This is one reason why I like Tom Givens’ classes so much, and now why I enjoyed Dave Spaulding’s class in the same way.
So, in my usual, “free association power hour,” fashion, I will present to you the raw notes and my exposition thereof of that material, along with other points of importance you may find interesting.
THE GOAL: “To prevail, (kill) combatants with a handgun, while under the duress of combat, given real world conditions with prevailing speed and accuracy.”
In Dave’s view, the goal towards mastery of, “The Combative Pistol,” should allow the user to be ready and willing (to engage with an adversary), use tactics, techniques and procedures that function as an individual but can be adapted to a team environment, and be used in close-range confrontations (10-12 yards) against a person/persons with unknown intent (process or resource predators). Working a B8 target at distance is a good measure of skill, but is it applicable to what we do? “If you can’t hit it, don’t shoot at it!” The majority of our shooting should be 10-12 yards and in (two car lengths distance).
PISTOL ATTRIBUTES (what a pistol/user should be capable of)
deliberate, individual shots
limited ammo supply (but remember that all errant rounds will hit something)
user should be able to recognize and engage threats within 25 yards (can you even SEE 25 yards? I CANNOT always) and the pistol should be able to accurately deliver rounds at that distance
speed and accuracy is important
fast follow up shots are essential
pistol skills should be reactive/responsive
you can’t ignore the importance of speed (and you must take an expedient response into account)
reasonably short barrel
easy to use but tough (rugged)
high visibility but rugged sights
reliable under a wide variety of conditions
good trigger and ergonomics
reasonable capacity for task (10 rounds or greater is ideal)
reload quickly (not like revolvers with their 6-20 second reload)
not excessively bulky and lightweight
reasonably powerful (although in general, handguns suck for power…but why carry a .380 when similarly sized 9mm [which IS ballistically superior] pistols exist?)
You need awareness and willingness to prevail (in a violent confrontation)
AWARENESS = DISTANCE
EFFICIENCY IS THE least amount of time and effort that can be expended to achieve a goal
DRAWSTROKE is when the gun arrives where you need to use it
RECOIL CONTROL is the gun returning where it started from before the shot was fired
PROPER GRIP “Don’t be a grip dick by accepting a shit grip.”
TRIGGER CONTROL is the independent depressing of the trigger straight to the rear, without the interruption of the target/bore alignment. This is the most critical aspect of shooting
The next section deals with what Dave calls the, “Three S’s,” and this section I found particularly relevant. As both a perpetual student and trainer myself, I often find myself asking, “why” am I being taught a specific thing? What will it do/not do for me? If I can’t explain the, “why,” behind it, then WHY THE HELL would I consider it for regular use, or teach it to another? This doesn’t apply to just defensive pistolcraft…it applies to life in general. Dave has put together a simple codification behind the reduction of, “why,” for our use that looks like this:
SIMPLE-if you can’t do it easily, you won’t do it under stress. These techniques will be easier to teach, easier to understand and easier to refine on the range
SENSE-does it make sense to you? Does the WHY of it make sense to you? Don’t buy the, “This is how I do it so just do it that way.”
STREET-does it work time and again, in real-world encounters?
If you apply the, “3 S'” and something doesn’t fit, don’t use it!
In the course, I used a Spencer Keepers, “Keeper,” AIWB holster, as well as my EDC, the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm. This is a late-model of the Keeper, and it works very well, while still being extremely comfortable to wear in the heat, AND allow the gun to be readily accessible. I do carry my pistol on my hip on certain occasions though, so I found Dave’s section on the anatomical and physiological breakdown of the drawstroke interesting and useful.
HOLSTERS AND DRAWSTROKE
the holster is there to make the gun available to you
STRONG SIDE carry is the physiologically preferred position for carrying a firearm since your strong side is closest to your shooting hand
YOUR ELBOW LEADS YOUR DRAW ALONG A PREDICTABLE ARC OF MOTION
3 O’clock and AIWB carry…the arc of movement isn’t any different because the elbow leads the arc
ATTACK the juncture of the trigger guard and the grip, so you can wrap your hand around the grip and draw
ATTACKING THE GRIP when carrying appendix makes the draw easier (since the front strap of the gun is often close, or in contact with the waistline/belt)
the, “shortest distance draw,” works great for competition but not so well for combat, thus we adopt the, “upside down L,” drawstroke
the gun should arrive where you are looking at the terminus of the drawstroke
THE ARC OF READY
We used a number of ready positions in this class, and none of them were, “Sul”! Dave was quick to point out that Sul isn’t a ready position to shoot from as much as it is a movement position to allow people to move about in a shoot house with a catwalk, without muzzling observers overhead or their own teammates (many instructors overlook this and give you the, “just do it my way, kid” line). Dave demonstrated and had us try out a number of ready positions along what he calls the, “arc of ready.” This series of movements allow the individual user to pick a position relative to the circumstances that they find themselves in. Some positions are faster on target (because the front sight stays visible in the peripheral vision) or offer better weapon retention capability, since the gun is closer to the body (or #2 position, as it is commonly known). The interesting tie-in between Dave’s presentation on strong-side carry and draw stroke, is that the, “arc of ready,” also coincides and dovetails nicely with this. While the arc of movement for the drawstroke guides the presentation of the gun from the holster to the target, the arc of ready guides the pistol from a position OTHER THAN THE HOLSTER, to the target, along a path that is common and still, GUIDED BY THE ELBOW. It may sound weird to the reader, but in practical application, it really makes good sense. As Tom Givens says, “There are three places your gun can be…IN YOUR HOLSTER, AT THE READY, OR ON THE TARGET!” When you consider the applicability of the, “Arc of Ready,” to that heuristic, the possibility of movements extraneous to that path of movement, become irrelevant. This idea works, because it makes our study SIMPLER (remember the, “3 S’s!”). Additionally, due to physical limitations the, “Arc of Ready,” doesn’t exclude any particular kind of student, since if one of the positions in the arc is outside of their range of motion, chances are, another position earlier or later in that arc, will work for that individual.
Another section I got a particularly great amount of reflection, scrutiny and guidance from Dave on, was my reload. I can pull off a predictable, fast reload. But, unbeknownst to me, I was making it very difficult on myself. After watching my reload a few times, Dave stopped me and said, “You’re doing too much work trying to thread that needle there. Isolate your movements and line the magazine up with the side of the magwell, and you’ll have fewer issues.” HOLY SMOKES! Nobody had ever said that to me, and it immediately made me think, “What the hell have I been doing?” In classes, if you’re faster than the group and execute a skill with precision, care and safety, you’re not likely to draw the eye of the instructor, and thus, a less-than-ideal execution goes from rehearsal to hard-wired, relatively quickly.
why reloads fall apart?
the gun is moving
the magazine is moving
both are moving
use the side of the magazine well or the interior of the backstrap of the magwell to guide the magazine into the proper seating direction
THE, “POWER STROKE,”
proponents will say that the, “POWER STROKE,” gives the slide an additional 1/4″ of travel
you grab the pistol slide with the weakest part of the hand, which defies motor learning and performance
NOBODY grabs anything else in the world like that!
keep the gun in the basketball sized workspace known as the, “sphere of coordination,” which some folks call the, “workspace”
in real-life, they’re hot and sharp, which is difficult to simulate on the range
to clear them:
turn the gun upside down
run the slide
stovepiped round will fall free of the gun
‘IF YOU FORGET EVERYTHING ELSE, REMEMBER THE GOAL IS TO: *GET THE GUN OUT BETWEEN YOU AND THE THREAT AND WORK THE TRIGGER CALMLY AND CONTROLLED*’
As the essay title states, this class really conveys to the student Dave Spaulding’s EPISTEMOLOGY. Meaning, everything in it provides for the justification of Dave’s ideas, as gleaned from his experiences as a student of combat pistolcraft, an educator, and as a peace officer. Underpinning his philosophy is a sound basis in WHY. Because without the WHY, you only have partial command of anything. The market is flooded today with trainers who expect their students to accept their methodology as gospel without any logical grounding other than, “Because this is what I say!” Unfortunately, if that person came from an institutional training system, that might very well be because they were taught that TTP (tactic, technique or procedure) by a person who didn’t know the WHY either, and they simply passed on information, because that is the information they had received. And with that methodology, un-owned, baseless knowledge continues to live on in perpetuity. That’s no way to live or learn, folks!
It kills me to write this, everytime, but guys like Dave aren’t going to be around forever. When they go, we will have their teaching and their writings to go off of. And more good people will die learning and re-learning mistakes and errors that men like Dave Spaulding, Tom Givens, John Farnam, Massad Ayoob and their peers have delineated through their careers, that they’ve learned the hard way. Don’t wait to train with these folks. Months turn into years, and before you know it, you will have missed the opportunity.
THE GOSPEL OF THE GAUGE, AS PREACHED BY THE VERY REVEREND, TOM GIVENS
This has been a very shotgun year for me, with Chief Lee Weems’, “Social Shotgun,” last month, and Tom’s shotgun class this month. I have more shotgun training coming up later this month, and even more in the Summer. So, my 870 is getting some mileage! My exposure to shotgun training began some 27 years ago as a police cadet, continued through my work in the armored truck service, and is still rolling along today. I really appreciate the virtues of the shotgun for defensive purposes, and like all of Tom Givens’ other training, this class puts a very fine point on the student instructor’s skills and knowledge, when it comes to the ‘ole scattergun.
My last essay on Tom’s Pistol Instructor Course was LONG. Although I took pages and pages of notes in this class, I’m not going to disclose as much information. You’ll have to take the class yourself. While pistol training is everywhere, shotgun training (that is to say, quality shotgun training) is fewer and far between. There are shotgun classes out there that are either adapted versions of carbine classes, with a shotgun substituted for said carbine, or shotgun classes using techniques adapted from wingshooting or sporting events. Neither of those classes are particularly well adapted to defensive use of the shotgun. Thus, to fully understand the WHY (Tom, like all quality, learned individuals, places a strong emphasis on the value of WHY a particular tool, tactic, technique or procedure is valuable or not. IF you don’t know the WHY, you can’t claim that you really know much about the aforementioned TTTP’s!)
The shotgun list of, “WHY’S,” was really interesting to me, and much of it was first-pass information; the first time I’d heard it (and I’ve taken shotgun training with Tom before…although not at the instructor level). I’ve included a few of them here, because the reasons that people choose to rationalize their defensive mindset, tactics, skill and gear algorithms are often poorly hatched, and ill-conceived. Many people mimic things they see other instructors (or internet personalities) do, without the least inkling of WHY that choice was made. This is a bad practice to undertake, and can also be expensive! Many folks THINK that they need this widget, or that training, when what they really NEED is something far less sophisticated.
So, in no particular order, I give you Tom’s SALIENT SHOTGUN SCHOLARSHIP AND SERMON FOR CIVILIANS:
“THE MAIN ADVANTAGE of the shotgun as a defensive weapon is its unmatched destructive capability at close range. On drunk, drugged or crazed assailants, few tools exist with the wounding power of the shotgun, when loaded with buckshot or slugs. This is a two way street though, as there isn’t such a thing as a, “minor wound,” with a shotgun. Thus, safe handling and lifestyle practice with the shotgun is paramount!”
In Tom’s extensive investigation and research experience, he has not found a shotgun shooting that involved more than two hits…
Shotguns aren’t dropsafe…the, “safety,” in a shotgun merely locks the trigger in place (to keep it from moving). If you have a round in the chamber, with the gun in battery and you drop it, it could go off. So be wary.
Treat the shotgun safety like a switch…when you pick up the gun, ascertain it’s condition of readiness (“clear the gun”) or prepare to fight with it (if it is loaded). Turn the safety switch off when you pick it up, reapply it when you put it down. Vang Comp (the big round ball) 870 safety buttons can inadvertently deactivate when a large-handed user picks up the gun in a firing grip. If you have big mitts, you need to know that!
The safety on the shotgun is a safety for the other guy (the bad guy). If it’s on, and you need to shoot, you’re going to wish it was OFF! It is a hazard to the user because it is a pain in the butt to disengage and can be left on inadvertently. Therefore and again, when you pick the gun up, disengage the safety, keep your finger in register, and you’ll be fine! Do you worry about inadvertently touching off a round with your striker fired pistol when your finger is in register? The shotgun is no different.
SLUGS are used when the situation requires either deeper penetration (dangerous animals or vehicles in a police context) or when accuracy is required at ranges outside the usable envelope of buckshot.
“In a civilian self-defense scenario, whether in the home or business, the shotgun is the weapon of choice for repelling home invasions or gang hold-ups. The range will always be short (within two car lengths) so buckshot (either 0, 00 or OOO size) is our preferred primary load. There is no need for extended range or penetration, so slugs are largely superfluous in this role. You don’t need a sling, as it can hang up on door knobs and other things (if you use it on the badguys, you’ll either hand it over to the police when they get there, or put it back in the closet/rack/safe from whence it came. No need to sling up since it is outside the purview of the civilian to handcuff, hurdle fences, etc. A light is optional and situationally dependent for civilian use. You need a short, light, fast-handling weapon for close-in work.”
The first inception of the shotgun was utilized by horsemen (aristocracy) against groundlings (pikemen) as a multi-projectile weapon was more effective since it had increased hit probability at close range (greater than or equal to eight feet away)
Anyone using a shotgun for defensive purposes will benefit from having a length of pull less than 13″ (unless they are exceptionally tall…I’m 6’4″ and I prefer a 12″ LOP, although I can use longer). Even small statured individuals and women can use short LOP shotguns (in 12 gauge) comfortably.
Pistol grip only shotguns provide no index of deflection, and are very limited in use (I fully admit I have a PGO 870 TAC-14…which I’m waiting on a tax stamp for to turn into a SBS!)
The Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies, “PLUS ONE,” magazine extension provides one extra round with a minimum amount of bulk.
BOLT ON ammo carriers (based on the original, “Adventurer’s Outpost Sidesaddle,” require the action pins to be replaced with threaded screws. Under recoil, these screws can untighten, and the sidesaddle will fall off. On some guns, this will tie up the action, rendering your combat capable shotgun into a very unergonomic boat oar. Velcro attached sidesaddle cards are preferrable since they don’t interfere with the action, nor will they loosen with firing. ALSO, sidesaddles can (if overtightened) can tie up the gun completely, by compressing the receiver. Again, congrats on the unergonomic hammer!
28 gauge shotguns were invented for sporting shotgunners that could clean skeet matches with the 12 and 20 gauges. So the 28 gauge was invented to make a hard game harder.
Double barrel coach guns are useful for one purpose…they are shorter than pump guns because the action isn’t as long. In every other way, they are technologically inferior to pump or semi-automatic defensive shotguns.
PATTERNING YOUR SHOTGUN
Many folks fail to grasp the importance of patterning their shotgun. As Tom says, “Each shotgun barrel is a special snowflake!” The NIJ Standard for 12 gauge shotgun barrels is .725″ to .745″. That is a HUGE disparity which doesn’t lend itself to scientific analysis, uniform accuracy or even trueness of bore (when analyzed in context to the long axis of the barrel). In addition, the bore can be off center, or not concentric, which will throw odd patterns with some (and sometimes all) popular defensive loads. Bearing these eccentricities in mind, testing every shotgun intended for defensive or duty use is crucial! Would you field a hunting or sniping rifle with an unzeroed scope? Patterning your shotgun should be considered just as critical! Also, if you are unlucky enough to find yourself saddled with a poorly patterning shotgun, get rid of it all together, or get a new barrel.
I found that my barrel patterned adequately with the Federal Flite Control 8 pellet OO loading, but patterned SUPERBLY with the Hornady version of the Flite Control 8 pellet loading. Thus, for this particular 870, I will put a laminated card onto the buttstock with the gun’s preference, and that’s what I will feed it!
MY SHORTCOMINGS AND LESSONS LEARNED
I’ve used a shotgun in an official capacity for two decades PLUS now. And while I can shoot one and run it well, there were still, “scars,” and personal idiosyncrasies that I had to overcome to be successful in this course. In my years of armored truck service, I got lazy with my unslung shotgun, and I would simply rest the toe of the buttstock, muzzle up, on the front of my pistol ammo carrier on my gun belt. I found myself defaulting to this position a few times in class, unconsciously, and Tom would tell me, “That isn’t a ready position.” I admit that my ready position wasn’t ready for much of anything! Although my strong hand was on the pistol grip, it wasn’t really in a position to do much at all immediately. That required conscious thought and effort to repair that weakness, and use a proper ready position.
I also found that shooting a high pedestal bead, ghost ring, or Express type sight, as I had become accustomed to, made shooting a gun with a barrel mounted bead very difficult. I felt like I couldn’t get my face low enough on the stock to get a good cheekweld. I eventually found that, “sweet spot,” but I can say with absolute certainty that barrel-mounted-beads are not my favorite!
I also (prior to the course) felt that the wide patterns that a typical police shotgun would make with EXPRESS OO buckshot at 20-25 yards was an asset, as the wide (round) pattern would most definitely hit, at least partially, the threat I was aiming at. I never gave much thought to the stray pellets that fly off into the great unknown, only to strike an unsuspecting innocent. Tight patterns with high-tech wads keep their patterns constrained to the threat, with no stray pellets (as long as you are within the effective range of your target). Judging that distance, by eye-balling, is necessary so you can tell in an instant if you’re within your effective range. If you are too far out, either keep moving away from the threat, switch to a slug, or wait until the threat moves closer to you if no avenue of escape exists.
If the game show, “Jeopardy,” had a, “SELF DEFENSE SHOTGUN,” category, this course would prepare you for sweeping it! In addition to busting myths, correcting police and media folklore, and helping Instructor-candidates truly UNDERSTAND the intricacies of the shotgun, Tom’s class is both fun and challenging.
One of my favorite quotes from the course, and what really sums up shotgun effectiveness in general is: “You know what birdshot is for? Shooting BIRDS! Hell, half the time birds don’t even die from the shot, they die from falling out of the sky, and sometimes that doesn’t even kill them! So if a 4 ounce bird won’t die from getting hit with a load of birdshot, what do you think an angry man is going to do when you hit him with it? Exactly whatever he was doing before you shot him! Some other experts out there will recommend birdshot for home and business defense because they say it lacks the penetration capability to over-penetrate interior and exterior walls. My answer is that buckshot, when aimed properly, will neutralize a threat with no more than two good hits. And the bad guy’s body will contain the buckshot and keep it from hitting any of your walls, as long as you aim it. As Paul Howe says YOU CANNOT SEW UP HAMBURGER!”
Get to this class. It’s not commonly offered, but for two to three times per year. And the more folks we have instructing sound curriculum that truly utilizes the shotgun’s many strengths, the longer this friable knowledge will remain in the gun culture’s collective intelligence!
My flagship course I call, “HAC,” (Hemorrhage Arrest Course) will be offered in Tennessee later this month (May 26th in Murfreesboro TN) and on July 15th in the Memphis area. This is a short format (4 hours)/high-yield course for ANY person to learn how to control life-threatening bleeding.
I’m sure everyone knows due to the mass media news coverage, but another multi-casualty incident struck the Middle Tennessee urban center of Antioch, when an emotionally disturbed man shot several people at a Waffle House. In September of last year, Antioch suffered a church shooting. Acquiring counter-violence skills is at the forefront of many people’s mind’s, currently.
Although it is fun to train with firearms, knives, combatives and evasive driving, medical skills are often given short shrift by many members of our community…until they absolutely need them. I can say with mathematical certainty that you are more likely to use medical skills than you are to need defensive force skills. I commute 150 miles a day to work, and I see motor vehicle collisions on rural highways WEEKLY (sometimes daily). Basic medical skills like CPR/Rescue Breathing, AED usage, Heimlich Manuever use and life-threatening bleeding control SHOULD be skills that every American has at their disposal.
I assembled the HAC curriculum to be very accessible to everyone. You DO NOT need to be a high-speed operator to take this class! I’ve had school teachers, housewives, church parishioners, factory workers, firearms manufacturers, and a whole host of everyday people take this class and grasp the entirety of the training. So don’t be intimidated by the material. While all modern trauma field medicine borrows heavily from the military’s TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care), I have condensed and simplified the curriculum so that everyone can use it. I never thought American society would reach the point where Kindergarten teachers NEED to understand basic trauma care, but here we are, ladies and gentlemen.
Space is limited in these courses, and admission is very inexpensive ($50)! Before you wonder, “Can I afford this?” ask yourself, “Can I afford to watch the people that I know, love and/or are charged with caring for, die because I don’t know what to do to help them?” If you’re in the Tennessee area, check out my upcoming classes here:
Also, THE TACTICAL MEDIC has recently begun carrying a kit that I spec’d out to contain the HAC materials I’ve used (and prefer) to use for life-threatening bleeding. I don’t make a penny off of these kits, I just like being able to offer people the convenience of getting all of the required materials for my classes in one place, from one vendor. Spending semesters upon semesters of schooling in the university bookstore getting obscure pieces of equipment and books from here and there has imparted on me the need for simplicity and one-stop shopping!
I recently had the pleasure of hosting and attending a weekend of training with Lee Weems. Lee is a Rangemaster-Certified Instructor, as well as running his own training company, First Person Safety. Lee is the Chief Deputy for the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia. And although Lee embodies the archetype of the quiet, Southern Lawman, he has quite a bit to say about the lifestyle adaptations required to be a competent, safe, thoughtful man (or woman) at arms.
Lee began the class by talking about what most of us know as the, “Firearms Safety Rules,” according to Jeff Cooper. Sure, the NRA has their own modified version of this, but Lee gave the Cooper iteration. However, Lee deviated from conventional thinking when he outlined the rules in the framework of not just, “safety,” rules that we adhere to when on the range, but rules that are in-play, ad infinitum, whenever guns are present. Thus, when one goes about armed as a professional gun handler, it is incumbent on the user to think about, and unconsciously enact all four lifestyle rules. But wait…there’s more!
After outlining the emergency medical algorithm, the class bundled up in their winter wear (it was snowing, after all, and yes, it was April in Tennessee!) and headed outside to the well appointed Humphreys Country Sheriff’s Office range complex. After systematically unloading (and verifying empty guns) Lee took the class through a series of dry-practice exercises beginning with the 4-count draw stroke and presentation, which is standard doctrine of many other Rangemaster affiliates, like the great Tom Givens himself, as well as others like Craig Douglas. Lee walked the line and adjusted the grips, positions and presentations of several students until everyone was working competently and safely through the dry practice iterations. Then the class loaded their pistols, and were expected to keep their guns running thoughout the course, without further instruction, as Lee runs a hot range. Several short range drills demonstrated deficiencies in trigger control as well as eye darting issues.
A little bit about training in the cold. I am from Washington State, which isn’t well known for its sunny weather or tropical climate. Despite this, I find it very hard to run my gun like I want to when it is cold out. I hate shooting with gloves on, and I simply lose dexterity and proprioception in my fingers and hands when I am in the extreme cold. If you’ve never experienced this sensation before, give it a go under controlled circumstances, and I think you’ll be surprised at how much it dulls your senses!
We took regular breaks to rewarm ourselves and hydrate in the climate controlled classroom. During the breaks, Lee would review concepts he wanted us to know, and also gave us more information that was relative to the subject matter. In between breaks, Lee ran us through a series of drills that required an intermediate level of skill to negotiate, but, more importantly, the drills required absolute mastery of the understanding and utilization of the 4 FIREARMS LIFESTYLE RULES to pass…
FROM THE READY
Like all other Rangemaster-Certified Instructors, Lee teaches a, “ready,” position. Tom Givens, the progenitor of all Rangemaster doctrine, teaches a ready position where the student stands, arms extended in a firing position, but with the sights and muzzle of the gun at or below the belt line of the bad guy, so that the adversary’s hands are in full view. Lee teaches a variation of the, “Metro Ready,” popularized by famous LAPD super cop and SWAT pioneer, Larry Mudgett. To use the, “Metro Ready,” imagine aiming in at the belt buckle of the adversary, and then simply deflect your sights and muzzle off to the side of the adversary. On a conventional wooden target stand, I accomplished this by aiming in at a knot in the wooden target stand, just lateral to the IDPA target. My gun is pointing near the bad guy, but it is not YET pointed directly AT him. Thus, with my finger off of the trigger and in register, all FOUR FIREARMS LIFESTYLE rules are not being violated, and nobody is going to be shot, until it is time. From this position, on the command, you can simply bring your eyes to the target area, then the sights and press the trigger as required. Also from this position, you could transition to another target, or even holster your weapon and move or go hands-on, etc! It’s versatile and offers the gunman an option that gives a tactical advantage (gun is out of the holster, at extension and simply needs to be brought to bear on target) but also doesn’t violate the FIREARMS LIFESTYLE rules AND still is effective in sending the non-verbal message of, “DANGER!” and it also looks presentable on surveillance footage and thus would help avoid an errant aggravated assault charge if the adversary was inadvertently mistaken as a threat.
MUZZLING THE GOOD GUYS
In a real-life scenario, as armed professionals (whether by vocation or not) we simply cannot run around the country with guns out, muzzling good guys that don’t need to be shot, with our pistols. Doing so would result in numerous criminal charges depending on jurisdiction. So, the armed professional must use the absolute pinnacle of precision when it comes to who and where to point their weapon when it is out of their holster. Lee incorporates drills that encompass the need to complete the exercise, coupled with the intensity of man-on-man competition, and/or the peer pressure of having other students watch you, laugh at you, and tease you (all in good fun) all while being 100% mindful of the firearms lifestyle rules. A big rule, and automatic disqualifying error was, pointing the muzzle at ANYTHING you’re not willing to destroy!
I’ve shot IDPA and USPSA matches before, and many of the stages set up in both leagues of competition, incorporate, “no-shoot,” targets that incur a penalty, when shot. Of course, the verification for the penalty requires a bullet hole in the no-shoot target! So as long as you don’t shoot the, “no-shoot,” you don’t incur any kind of negative penalty, but of course that is just competition. There IS NO penalty for muzzling every no-shoot, essentially pointing your pistol around, “looking,” for bad-guys to shoot. But not so in real-life. As many instructors are fond of saying, “Each bullet has a lawyer attached to it.” Along with that heavy consideration, comes the further need for understanding that there are cameras everywhere! From the surveillance cameras, traffic cameras and personal cellphone cameras that everyone carries in their hands at all times, if there is gunplay afoot in public, chances are, it’s going to be filmed, everyone is going to see it, and any misplaced, dangerous, or ineffective gun handling is going to be forever memorialized in digital format. Thus, it is HIGHLY incumbent on the competent shooter to use extreme caution and care when handling their gun at all times.
I’m hammering on this point so heavily because, as someone carries a gun both in my personal and professional life for two decades PLUS now, it is very easy to get complacent with gun handling. Sure, whenever we are on the range, we are, “ON,” and handle the guns appropriately, but even the most steadfast man-at-arms can become lackadaisical in their routine, and screw up. Unfortunately, it only takes one screw-up to have a career ending or life-altering mishap. SO, Lee’s heavy emphasis on this idea of the, “4 Rules,” as LIFESTYLE rules and not simply RANGE RULES, makes a ton of sense! As my old, late buddy Paul Gomez used to say, “There are two kinds of gun owners in the world: those who’ve had a negligent discharge and LIARS.”
And while we can all agree that negligent discharges are bad, they happen because of the ignorance and improper execution of at least two of the the four firearms lifestyle rules. Meaning, to park a round into the wall next to your gun-safe, you have to 1. IGNORE that all guns are always loaded and 2. IGNORE that you are allowing the muzzle to cross something you aren’t willing to destroy, and 3. IGNORE keeping your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you’ve made the decision to shoot. So, you can virtually avoid having a negligent discharge if you DO NOT violate two of the four firearms lifestyle rules, simultaneously. HOWEVER, you can find yourself in a tremendous amount of legal trouble, lose your right to carry a gun, and possibly find yourself a felon and face incarceration if you unknowingly or accidentally point your gun at someone who doesn’t deserve it. I have to say, in the years before this course, I never really gave much thought about this, and I simply kept my gun in the holster, at the ready, or pointed at things I intended to shoot. Now, after this course, I give much more thought into the full application of the firearms LIFESTYLE rules.
The astute reader will notice that I didn’t break down this essay into specific sections, or days. I think reviews for classes these days are largely dull, and I don’t often read them because of that. I’ve taken thousands of hours of classes at this point, and the unifying theme between all is that the engagement material, i.e. how to shoot effectively under pressure, doesn’t vary between instructors. Everyone is falling off of different sides of the same table when it comes to the simple execution of shooting skill. For me, the difference in instructors and courses boils down to their application and differences of philosophy. And Chief Lee Weems brings a unique philosophical perspective. He isn’t the first person to call what is commonly referred to as, “Cooper’s Firearms Safety Rules,” into the 4 FIREARMS LIFESTYLE RULES, but he is the first person in my experience to emphasize them as the cornerstone and substructure of his range training program. Experienced shooters, who have no issue with common marksmanship and shooting tasks, will find themselves flummoxed when they have to dodge around no-shoots WITHOUT MUZZLING THEM! It’s a simple concept in theory, but one that training scars and competition scars makes very difficult to negotiate under controlled circumstances, and even more difficult under peer pressure!
This pair of classes was Lee’s first foray into out-of-state training, and he mostly teaches at his home range in GA. However, as he branches out further, consider hosting him at your facility, or attending his courses in or near your area. He’ll expose you to a block of thinking and philosophy not commonly encountered in modern defensive firearms training.
John Farnam is a front runner in the training industry over the last (nearly) five decades, more so than most people know. He has been conducting, “road show,” or offsite training classes, since the 1970’s. Anyone who teaches remote classes (meaning classes off of a range that the instructor owns/leases/operates) owes a debt of gratitude to John. Although there WERE private sector trainers both prior to, and during the US Civil War, John was the first, post-war (I fully expect him to kick me squarely in the pants for that remark, next time he sees me). He has been a Law Enforcement Officer, and remains so today, since 1970, after his time in Vietnam as a Marine Corps Officer (LT). John is one of the few trainers today that has quality, actionable intelligence and information that is usable by all vocations of professional men-at-arms. His, “Vehicle Tactics,” course is vocationally generic, but the lessons and skills it taught are applicable to military, law enforcement and Civilian Defender missions/contexts. I have attended lectures by John at several Polite Society Conference/Rangemaster Tactical Conferences in the past, as well as read all of his books, but this was my first live-fire class with him.
What you reap from your own experience in this class, will be significantly different from mine, but as I’ve done in past essays I’ve compiled on this site, I’ll give you some of my key takeaways, and things that I’ve spent some time reflecting on. I spent a decade working out of an armored truck, and nearly 20 years working out of first responder trucks and patrol vehicles, and of course I’ve driven since I was 15 years old. I learned or re-tooled a number of my own ideas because of this class.
Parked vehicle threats are down, nationally, due to the improvements in anti-theft technology. However, carjackings are up, statistically, because now the technology demands that the vehicle be occupied to be moved, and thus the driver must possess a key-fob or electronic card to, “activate,” and operate the vehicle. Keyless entry is great because it minimizes the amount of time you have to spend fiddling with your keyring, pocket, bag or purse, and you can simply enter your vehicle and then get underway.
Stationary vehicles are dangerous; when the vehicle isn’t moving, get away from it, or get it moving as quickly as possible. DON’T DITHER (This is a commonly used, “Farnamism,” or repeated theme throughout the class. Weapon down? Don’t dither, do something about it. Weapon run dry? Don’t dither…do something about it (eg reload, transition to a backup or move to cover. Vehicle inoperable? DON’T DITHER!)
Driveways and parking lots are the most dangerous places in the country. Robberies and car jackings occur there frequently (because that’s where the cars are) and the construction and layout of modern parking lots allow the attacker concealment from onlookers. If you’re forcibly proned out in between parked cars, nobody can see you to rescue you or call for help
Another Farnamism that is probably not adequately attributed to John is, “Don’t go stupid places with stupid people to do stupid things.” If you think about this, it would allow most folks to avoid many confrontations. And as John has said, “You win 100% of the gunfights you DON’T get into.” Thus, John’s prescription of, “Avoidance, Deterrence and De-escalation,” make great sense, and great advice for anyone who doesn’t want to engage in interpersonal violence. And that should be everyone! Furthermore, avoid sleazy bars, protests or sporting events where people are in close proximity to each other and tempers can flare. Although these places seem to skirt around the, “stupid trifecta,” they really do equate to, “stupid,” since stupid people, regardless of YOUR intentions (to enjoy the game, have a friendly drink with your peers, or voice your political opinion) gravitate to these venues and wreak havoc. So avoid them if possible.
The term, “Good Tactics,” more appropriately equates to, “the best BAD tactics which seem to work based on the outcome.” Just because the outcome was favorable, doesn’t mean the path to get there was good. Don’t allow bad tactics that worked, guide your heuristics for tactics. Use the tactics that work indubitably
Practice what John calls, “Aggressive Disengagement.” Meaning a firmly voiced, medium volume, “NO THANK YOU.” This will go a long way in dividing the focus of the inquiring individual. Bad guys tend to probe a probable victim and if you fail their screening test, they’ll move on to someone that has a higher likelihood of success. The average net from an armed robbery is $13…going to prison for 25 years isn’t a plan indicative of intelligence. These kinds of predators understand aggressive, visceral action. So broadcast your non-compliance quickly and succinctly, and then move along. Be pleasant and you’ll avoid most fights you might otherwise get into. “Nice,” doesn’t mean, “weak.”
Oddly, there is less penetration by bullets into vehicles that are moving, then there are on stationary vehicles. I’d wager a hypothesis that this observation occurs based on Newton’s Laws of Motion. Newton’s First Law States, “Every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.” Thus, a projectile, weighing 123 grains, flying at a velocity of 2300 feet per second impacts an oncoming vehicle, weight 4000 pounds and moving at a velocity of 60 feet per second…the vehicle can change the straight line travel of the bullet by inertial disruption. Also, Newton’s 3rd Law says that, “for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If both the vehicle and the bullet are moving, using the formula f=ma, the change or transfer in force results in an asymmetric reaction that can (and does) change the trajectory of the bullet. This is testable in a laboratory with controlled conditions (Karl Rehn? Let’s do this!) Thus, if you’re in a vehicle, and someone starts shooting at you, GET OUT OF THERE AND DRIVE AWAY WITH GREAT HASTE!
Don’t crowd cover, especially cars! Incoming rounds can bounce up and hit you, or roll across the sheet metal and have enough velocity to be lethal or incapacitating
“We,” (the good guys), use, “force,” which means, “to compel by physical means.” They, (the bad guys), use, “violence,” which means, “the unlawful or inappropriate use of force.”
Rifles like the AR and the Kalashnikov has a sight line/boreline offset to compensate from the radiant heat issues (mirage) caused by fast cyclic rates of fire. This is great for dealing with the mirage issue, but it creates other issues, that folks commonly overlook, and results in bullets ending up in vehicles because people do not compensate in their technique for the offset. Also, close in targets require an adjusted hold to compensate for the sight/bore offset, otherwise the round will go low
John recommends a 40 yard zero for 5.56 long guns, as this gives a maximum pointblank range of about 260 yards, since the projectile crosses the line of sight at 40 yards, and again at 240 yards. This means that from the muzzle to the maximum pointblank range (~260 yards) the projectile will not be more than 6cm above or below the light of sight
John’s classes are literally filled with quotable material, and a few that I particularly liked are: “We’re here to inspire our students, not impress them.” Students know who they are taking classes from. If they want your entire resume, point them to your web page where they can read about it. Don’t waste time in class reciting it. “Learn from my mistakes so that you don’t repeat them.” John has been in the game for decades, and he self-admits that he hasn’t always had great successes. Yet, in the industry, despite the preachings of men like John and his peers/contemporaries like Mas Ayoob, Clint Smith, Ken Hackathorn and Tom Givens, HUGE bodies of knowledge and lessons learned go virtually unstudied or unnoticed, until some newbie on the scene, “Unearths,” some colossal truth, only to declare an eponym and commercialize it. There is nothing new under the sun…listen to the wise-men of our community. They know that of which they speak.
Safety Not Guaranteed
According to John, “There is no perfectly safe gun handling. Even if you want to live in a perfect, gun-free utopia, guns will still exist because others will have them.” Thus, you need to accept that there are relative risks in life, whether we talk about guns, cars, travel, sex, childbirth, medicine, food, etc. Every interaction in this world contains an element of relative risk. If you want an interesting and worthwhile life, there will be risks! The thoughtful part and what John conveys through his unique teaching style, is that the student is left to devise the path best intended to get from, “POINT A,” to, “POINT B,” as safely and efficiently as possible. But there is no, “perfectly safe,” way. John is purposefully vague in the range commands he gives during his drills, because he wants students to think through and negotiate those types of problems on the fly, and then correct the errors after the students experience demoralizing failure. “WE ARE HERE TO FAIL!” The learning occurs when the student can not only see the WHY of their improper choice, but also formulate the correct path and the WHY behind it.
When a student comes to a fork in the road, they must make a choice…go left or go right. But which is the right path? Because they fear that they will make the wrong choice, MANY choose to do, NOTHING. NOTHING? YES! “The beauty of doing nothing, is that nothing can be done perfectly.” It requires zero effort! This all boils back to John’s point earlier about DITHERING. “Dithering,” is the absence of perceptible progress nor failure…and results in absolutely NOTHING. Don’t be a ditherer, and don’t tolerate dithering from your family or teammates when only decisive action and good tactics will allow you to regain and maintain the initiative.
The 4 “D’s” of Fighting
DIVIDE his focus
DISRUPT his plans
DISABLE his body
DESTROY his will to FIGHT
John applies this thought model to the style of unknown contact interaction he teaches, as well as how he recommends you solve tactical problems. Don’t think of it as a replacement or re-manufacture of the OODA loop, but an expanded progression of it. For example, in the aforementioned verbal interaction with the aggressive panhandler, the loud, clear, “NO THANK YOU,” with a simultaneous sidestep DIVIDES the focus of the possible threat. Your self elected removal from his proximity as well as your verbal command alerts others in the vicinity and DISRUPTS his plans. There is no need to DISABLE his body, nor DESTROY his will to fight, because the confrontation was avoided in the selection phase and both parties go about their separate ways.
Imagine this confrontation if the panhandler changes his motive from the acquisition of spare change to the forcible theft of your vehicle, by using a small revolver he has concealed in his coat pocket. On your unsuccessful verbal exchange, and your aggressive body posture, the man produces a weapon and you do as well, simultaneously sidestepping while bringing your front sight to bear on his upper chest region. His continued actions indicate to you that he intends to shoot you, and thus you fear for your life and are prepared to defend it! The aggressive sidestep/lateral movement DIVIDES his focus. Even the most calculated miscreant gets a good buzz from the effects of epinephrine on their nervous system, and thus tunnel vision shrinks their usable field of view considerably. A quick lateral movement can seem like you literally disappeared! And, as Tom Givens is fond of saying, “If you can get two WHAT THE F**K’S?? out of a bad guy that is usually enough to win the fight.” You’ve also DISRUPTED his plan, because he was hoping for a compliant victim, not a resisting fighter. Your bullets DISABLE his body by involuntarily overwhelming his nervous system and his cardiovascular circulation by lowering his blood pressure, or through organ damage and system failure. And finally, you DESTROY his will to continue fighting by not surrendering the initiative and maintaining a tactical vantage point through the use of sound, useful tactics that leave the adversary at a disadvantage.
I don’t mean to sound snide when I say that John truly is the Elder Statesmen of our community. The amount of knowledge he has contributed to the craft has been immense, and the contributions evolve, and continually expand! I spent each meal from the start of class on Saturday, until the end on Sunday evening, listening to John talk about all manner of subjects from Churchill and the Boer Wars, to Abraham Lincoln and even Thomas Custer and the role he served in evacuating his brother’s remains during the Battle of Little Big Horn. John’s knowledge base seems limitless, and even so, his inquiry into his students own experiences and what they do, is both humbling and kind. John spent no less than a half hour asking one student about his 30 year experience as a bail bondsmen and fugitive recovery agent. I think that to really be engaged with the field of personal self-protection, the instructor should truly be a man-for-all-seasons; a fighter, poet, philosopher, psychologist, empath, historian, physical therapist, medic, race car driver and an eloquent speaker and comedian. John Farnam truly embodies all of these traits into a very quotable and approachable, Man-at-Arms. Many trainers from the law enforcement and military communities have difficulty in transmitting Civilian Defender curriculum, that is accessible to the average Joe or Jane, but John’s course, like I mentioned earlier, is completely vocationally generic. Train with him every chance you get!