When it comes to combative handgun training, the goal is to become highly skilled in using a handgun for personal defense. However, only a small number of individuals, including police officers and citizens with firearms, receive the necessary training to effectively handle their weapons. While some police departments require their officers to undergo training once or a few times a year, the frequency is not sufficient. Some departments even solely focus on qualification without providing additional training, which is inadequate. Similarly, many citizens with a CCW permit do not go beyond the minimum training required by their state.
It is crucial to recognize the importance of developing as much skill as possible to protect oneself and loved ones. The lack of training cannot be solely blamed on time constraints or limited access to ammunition. Police departments struggle to prioritize training due to various challenges and limited resources. Additionally, the cost and scarcity of ammunition pose further obstacles.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each individual, whether an officer or a citizen, to take initiative and ensure they are adequately prepared to confront potential threats. It is their lives at stake, and relying solely on minimal training is not sufficient. By acknowledging the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where individuals overestimate their abilities, it becomes evident that comprehensive and ongoing training is necessary to build the necessary skillset for combative handgun use.
For individuals who are not law enforcement officers, the prospect of purchasing ammunition or going to shooting ranges may not be as exciting or appealing as other activities. However, it is important to remember that many non-law enforcement folks carry defensive firearms not only for themselves but also for their loved ones. Neglecting training for firearms can have serious consequences, so it is essential to prioritize this training.
The Hierarchy of Combative Firearms Training is a three-tiered pyramid consisting of Essentials, Combative Aspects, and Interactive Aspects. Proper training in each level is crucial before proceeding to the next. For instance, one would not take a counter-terror driving course before receiving basic driver’s training. Similarly, attempting to use a pistol without proper training in shooting and manipulating it can be ineffective and dangerous.
The Essentials level is the foundation upon which everything else builds. It includes safe handling, grip, body position (stance), sight alignment, sight picture, loading and unloading, and trigger control. Good grip utilizes both hands and covers the grip as much as possible to avoid recoil and facilitate follow-up shots.
The “stance” is less important than the body position that permits delivering multiple shots in various directions without losing balance or stability. Balancing one’s weight on the toes and keeping the knees unlocked is crucial. In general, achieving the Essentials level of firearms training requires mastering the foundational skills necessary for protecting oneself and loved ones before moving on to more advanced combative and interactive aspects.
Clearing malfunctions and stoppages is a crucial skill in a gunfight, as it can be a matter of life or death. While it may seem challenging, it is essential to learn how to quickly and easily clear malfunctions, especially for semi-automatic pistols. Revolvers, on the other hand, operate differently when it comes to malfunctions, often requiring the expertise of a gunsmith to fix them. Some may argue that this is an advantage of revolvers over pistols, but the decision is up to you and your preferences.
The ongoing debate between using sights or point shooting is overshadowed by the significance of trigger control. Without proper trigger control, it doesn’t matter if you’re using sights or point shooting – the muzzle won’t stay aligned with the target, resulting in missed shots. In the end, hits are what count the most. While I personally advocate for sighted fire, I emphasize the importance of mastering trigger control above all else. Without it, all other skills are bound to fail.
The skills taught and practiced at the Essentials level are essential for keeping your firearm functioning effectively in a fight. Each skill has its importance, and while some may argue that certain skills are more crucial than others, it is impossible to predict which skills will be required to win in a gunfight. Therefore, having a mastery of all essential skills is necessary to adapt quickly to the situation at hand.
Above all else, a combative mindset is the most essential of essentials. However, you won’t find it listed among the traditional fundamentals of shooting or taught in basic marksmanship classes.
Moving on to the Mid-Level, the Combative Aspects, it’s important to not only know how to shoot a gun but also how to fight with it. This is easier said than done. You must be able to shoot from various positions, including close quarters and long distances, using both your strong and weak hand. Additionally, you should be able to engage multiple adversaries at different distances, shoot while moving, and adapt to less-than-ideal lighting conditions. It’s one thing to shoot at a stationary target from a fixed position, but it’s a whole different challenge to engage a target while drawing your gun, moving laterally, and delivering accurate shots at double arms-length to save your own life.
The ability to recognize cover from concealment is another essential combative skill, though whether something offers cover or concealment depends on what type of weapon your opponent is using. Do not underestimate concealment as it’s harder to be hit if you can’t be seen.
Shooting while moving is widely taught these days, and I have no problem with that. Just understand what your priorities are and be prepared to adjust as the fight develops. For example, don’t spend too much time trying to simultaneously shuffle-step and shoot accurately if moving quickly to cover will keep you from getting shot. I have found that moving quickly, planting and shooting accurately, and then moving quickly again to be more effective.
Combative handgun instruction is no magic, even though numerous trainers may try to convince you otherwise. It is now easier than ever to witness the reality of a gunfight. Replicate certain scenarios on the shooting range and acquire the skills to overcome them. For instance, shooting while in a prone position is not as challenging as it may seem; it simply requires dedicated training instead of attempting to learn it in the heat of a battle. The ability to react automatically, without conscious thought, is crucial in any altercation. Therefore, it is necessary to practice and refine the required skills before engaging in a fight.
Often referred to as force-on-force training, the potential to employ simulated weapons that enable students to shoot at each other is underutilized. Most instructors opt for Simunitions or airsoft guns for scenario-based training, overlooking the development of combative skills. Please do not misunderstand me: scenario training is important, but it should only be conducted once the skills acquired at the Combative Level have been reinforced. Skills such as drawing from the holster while in motion, shooting at moving targets, engaging multiple targets, firing from unconventional positions, and shooting from behind cover will have a more solid foundation if practiced against targets that shoot back. Take the drills that are done using live ammunition and paper targets and conduct the same drills with two or more individuals returning fire. This is the opportune moment to enable shooters to locate and use their front sight under the stress of conflict, if that is a desired skill. It seems logical to me to train and solidify these skills under fire before attempting to utilize them in scenarios.
Many law enforcement agencies refrain from participating in this particular form of training due to the expenses involved and the logistical hurdles associated with obtaining the necessary equipment. Simunitions and similar products offer the most effective approach to conducting such training. While students should wear protective gear, it is crucial to avoid excessive padding that renders the impact and feedback meaningless. When budget constraints make Simunitions impractical, airsoft serves as a viable alternative. Personally, I have achieved significant success by incorporating airsoft technology into my “Interactive Pistol” course. Regrettably, this class has been frequently canceled, primarily due to “performance anxiety” experienced by students, particularly armed citizens. This anxiety stems from the fear of being “shot” and experiencing genuine pain, the pressure of making mistakes, and the desire to project an impressive image to others. Consequently, in the weeks leading up to a force-on-force course, it has become common for numerous students to encounter sudden “family problems” and withdraw. It is unfortunate because training is precisely the time to make mistakes, better to learn from them when the consequences are not real. It is fascinating how the human ego struggles to grasp this concept. Despite considering myself an advanced-level instructor with a wealth of knowledge, I still make mistakes and “get killed” when participating in interactive training as a student. These mistakes serve as valuable learning opportunities that could potentially save lives, including my own and those of my loved ones. Some individuals avoid professional firearms instruction out of fear of making mistakes in public. Do not be that person! It is better to fail within a controlled environment, with an instructor readily available to address any shortcomings, than to fail in a situation where the stakes are much higher. Do not let your ego hinder your progress. The advantages of interactive training are twofold. Firstly, it compels students to make rapid decisions in crisis scenarios. There is no luxury of time for observation, orientation, decision-making, and action; one must act immediately, relying on the skills developed at the Essential and Combative Aspects levels. Secondly, it instills confidence in one’s ability to apply these skills in rapidly evolving situations. Throughout history, from the days of the Spartans onward, confidence in one’s abilities has proven to be the most crucial factor in overcoming fear. Conversely, fear is the main obstacle preventing individuals from acting during a crisis. Ultimately, to attain true proficiency in the use of handguns in combat, one must address all three levels of the pyramid without skipping or cutting corners. Each level is indispensable. Now, take action and pursue your training!
hierarchy-of-combative-firearms-training by: Dave Spaulding