An exchange I had yesterday with a POlice Use of Force Instructor reminded me of a quip by a JAG prosecutor I knew years ago.
Some people have 22 years of experience and some people have one year of experience 22 times.
One of my professors in college had taught the exact same math class for 10 years. She used the same overhead transparencies all 10 years. They were scuffed up and she had to write over parts of them to make them readable during our class. That’s the style some subjects are taught in many fields. Concepts are frequently not updated with fresh information. While mathematics doesn’t change much, social sciences and the law can and do change rapidly.
In the exchange with the instructor, I mentioned a recent case that seemed to invalidate his opinion. I even gave him the search string to bring up the case. Rather than doing one minute of research on the case, he trotted out an appeal to authority meme. “I’ve been a cop for 22 years and I teach Use of Force.” I’m afraid to even find out what he teaches his clientele.
In any field, staying up to date is an excellent idea for anyone. For instructors, it’s absolutely mandatory. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with a stated opinion but there needs to be some fact finding and analysis to support the disagreeing opinion.
As my colleague Wayne Dobbs of Hardwired Tactical Shooting says, there are three fundamentals of handgun shooting that can make you or break you in a defensive situation; grip, sights, and trigger [manipulation]. I would also add follow through, as a student who came back today from the elite Rogers Shooting School called to mention to me.
For this segment, let’s look at the autoloading pistol grip discussion contained in Advanced Pistol Practice.
- Maximize our hand friction on the handgun. The way we prevent the handgun from moving around in our hand(s) is simply via friction. Therefore, the more hand surface we have in contact with the gun, the more friction we can achieve.
- Minimize the gun’s motion during recoil by stabilizing the supporting joints, principally the wrists, when the gun fires.
- Reduce the distance between the line of the handgun’s bore and our hands to the smallest amount possible. This diminishes the rotational torque generated by the handgun upon firing.
After establishing the appropriate grip, a series of index points can be used to feel when the grip has been properly achieved. Especially in defensive encounters, there is no time for visually checking whether the proper grip is in place. Having a set of index points allows a shooter to establish a proper firing grip in the holster and during the drawstroke to know that the grip is as it should be.
With an autoloading pistol, this grip is commonly referred to as the ‘thumbs forward grip.’ Being aware of four specific index points will allow a shooter to know that a proper grip has been achieved without having to visually verify it. There are nuances to this grip that sometimes escape even experienced shooters, however. The first three index points are essentially the same for all shooters. The fourth index point may vary among shooters, dependent on individual physiology.
There is still debate as to how hard the fingers of the support hand should grip the firing hand. In any case, they should certainly grip firmly enough to not break free of the firing hand during recoil.
Web of the firing hand
The firing hand should be as high as possible on the back strap of the pistol. Gripping the pistol low increases the rotational torque of the pistol in the hand. So the first index point is the relationship between the tang of the pistol and the web of the hand. For most people, there should be no space between the tang and the web. The shape of a few people’s hands will leave a small space even when the gun is gripped as high as possible but this space should be minimal. Those with large hands may experience contact by the slide on the firing hand when it is held this high. The use of a beavertail or Grip Force Adapter on the Glock pistol can reduce this contact.
Bases of the thumbs mate
As much of the support hand as possible should make contact with the pistol to maximize the friction the support hand can generate on the pistol. To achieve maximum contact, the bases of both thumbs should make contact firmly. This is the second index point. It is common to see space in shooters’ grips between the bases of the thumbs. This is a clear indicator that the support hand is not making maximum contact with the pistol.
Support trigger finger touches trigger guard
The support hand should be as high as possible on the pistol to reduce rotational torque. Lightly touching the underside of the trigger guard with the side of the support hand trigger finger is the third index point of a proper grip. When the support hand trigger finger touches the trigger guard, the support hand is properly high on the gun. The ‘cup and saucer’ hold used by most TV and movie actors is an excellent demonstration of how NOT to form the grip of the support hand. Because blanks generate no recoil, controlling the handgun is not of importance to them. The ‘cup and saucer’ method does keep the actor’s arms down and allows a better view of the face, which is why it is used so often in that format.
Wrist is extended downward
Stabilizing the support wrist is a key component of a proper grip to achieve recoil control. This is the element that many people do incorrectly when forming the grip. The wrist is most stable when it is extended downward.
Wrist should not be straight
The downward extension is initially slightly uncomfortable and feels somewhat unnatural. As a result, shooters tend to unconsciously keep the wrist of the support hand straight instead of extending it downward.
So, it is common to see the wrist held almost straight when the support hand is applied to form the grip. This is incorrect and does not provide much stability to the pistol when it fires.
Firing thumb on support thumb
Consequently, the fourth index point is the contact point of the firing thumb on the support thumb. By knowing location of this point when the support wrist is properly extended downward, a shooter can immediately tell whether or not the best grip has been achieved. For most shooters, the tip of the firing hand thumb should be aligned in the area of the base knuckle of the support hand, rather than on top of the knuckle, as is commonly seen. The support hand thumb can either float free or lightly touch the frame of the pistol. It should NOT apply any significant sideways pressure to the pistol frame, as this can create a shift in the pistol’s point of impact.
Two components of fourth index point
The fourth index point has two components. First, it verifies that the support wrist is extended downward. Second, it is located such that the firing hand thumb clears the slide stop to the maximum extent possible.
If the firing hand thumb is placed directly alongside the slide of the pistol, it’s easy for that thumb to prevent the slide stop from functioning. This will prevent the slide from locking back after the last shot fires. The subsequent click upon a firing attempt when the slide does not lock back can be either annoying or fatal, depending on circumstance.
For most shooters, the firing thumb should be placed directly in line with the support thumb, as opposed to beside it near the slide. Learning to place the firing thumb in line with the support thumb will minimize the possibility of interfering with the slide stop.
In summary, the four index points of the proper grip on an autoloading pistol are:
- Web of firing hand meets tang of pistol.
- Bases of both thumbs mate closely.
- Support hand trigger finger makes contact with trigger guard.
- Contact point of the firing thumb on the support thumb.
Developing a proper grip takes some effort and analysis but yields big dividends in terms of your shooting ability. Note that the issue of sights is important enough for me to cut a rear sight notch in my blue guns. I cannot abide a gun without functional sights, even when it is an inert gun. The sights discussion is for another time, however.
Several times, I have been pointed to an article about a cop who decided he needed to carry a lot more ammo on the job. The story is an excellent example of having the answers right in front of you and then ignoring them. While I don’t disagree with the idea of having plenty of ammo, it wasn’t the real solution to the problem in his case.
The nitty gritty of the story is that a cop got into an extended shootout with a determined attacker. The shootout went on for quite a while with a lot of spraying and praying on both sides. Eventually, the cop shot the suspect in the head and the situation was over.
As the incident progressed, he figured out that the answer to his problem was a software solution.
Then I told myself, ‘Hey, I need to slow down and aim better.’
My mother used to frequently comment about life in general, “If you don’t take the time to do it right in the first place, what makes you think you’ll have the time to do it over?” That’s a good commentary about situations like the one the officer encountered.
In retrospect, the officer mentioned that there were also other software solutions available. “ ‘I didn’t have time to think of backing up or even ramming him,’ Gramins said. ‘I see the gun and I engage.’ ” I’ve never put it on a timer but I bet that stepping on the gas pedal is faster than drawing from a security holster while seat belted in a car. Just recently a police officer proved the efficacy of this solution. As Massad Ayoob said many years ago, “What is a car to a pedestrian? A multi-ton high speed battering ram.”
But the officer’s overall conclusion about his experience was a hardware solution, i.e., ‘Be ready to do a bunch of spraying and praying’ by carrying 145 rounds of ammo on his person. His conclusion doesn’t follow from his self-evaluation of the solution to his problem. Perhaps, despite being a “master firearms instructor [I’m not sure what that means] and a sniper on his department’s Tactical Intervention Unit” he needs to learn to shoot a handgun on demand in a way that gets good results.
He did draw one conclusion I agree with, to wit: the mighty .45 ACP isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The officer switched from carrying a Glock .45 to a Glock 9mm. He’s not the first police officer I know of who has drawn that conclusion after a gunfight.
In one of the incidents my colleague Tom Givens describes in the DVD Lessons from the Street, the citizen came to the conclusion that he needed a larger caliber pistol. My analysis in that case was similar to the solution the author of the story about the police officer’s situation drew, “Practice head shots.”
I often see people draw erroneous conclusions from their experiences. While we think about ‘the fog of war’ as occurring during the battle, it often sets in afterward, too.
The Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference is over and I am processing the things I observed and learned from it. The Conference has a long history, dating back to the early days of IDPA in 1998, when it was a sanctioned IDPA indoor Championship. Over the years, it has evolved into the foremost tactical training conference for private citizens in the United States. It is held annually, early in the year, in the Memphis area. The venue for the 2015 Conference was the Memphis Police Training Academy, a truly fine and modern facility.
This year, three dozen of the top personal protection trainers in the country, many of whom are referred to as “T-Rexes,” came together to present or conduct training blocks of two to six hours over a period of three days. The agenda has grown so large that it’s not possible to take in all the training that is available, since sometimes five blocks are going on simultaneously. Some of the training is classroom lecture, some is hands-on with sterile weapons, and some is livefire. There is also a shooting match, for those who choose to participate.
There were a wide variety of topics, ranging from psychology and communications to contact based skills to firearms manipulation. I was able to attend nine sessions.
- Yes, I Shoot Like a Girl, Would You Like a Lesson?
- Surviving Lethal Encounters
- The Law of Self-Defense
- Practical Small Knife Principles
- Performance Under Fire
- Rehabilitating the Experienced Shooter
- The Training/Reality Mismatch
- Kneeling Positions and Combining Them with the Use of Cover
- Women’s Holsters and Accessories
In addition, I was able to make two classroom presentations.
- Tactical Communications for Couples, with my co-presenter Linda Hoopes, President of the Resilience Alliance.
- Negative Outcomes of Firearms Ownership
Upon my return, several people have asked me what my most significant takeaways were. As usual, I learned a great deal, so it’s difficult to say what were the most significant, but here are a few that stand out in my mind, in no particular order.
- A conversation with a mentor of mine, John Farnam, elicited from both of us the experience that when approached for help in a parking lot, it’s almost always a scam or criminal ambush. Fellow trainer Melody Lauer pointed out that there are a few legitimate exceptions, but John and I both feel they are the exception rather than the rule. This indicates that a default response should be formed to immediately and firmly decline the invitation to be a victim and then rapidly vacate the area. Exceptions to that rule should be based on specific articulable reasons and conscious decision-making, rather than by default.
- The T-Rexes are constantly working along the path to excellence. That path includes attitude, skills development, tactics, and a host of other areas. Recognizing that there is an element of chance in every encounter, we work hard on stacking the deck in our favor. ‘Doing the work’ means training regularly and practicing on a daily basis. ‘Good enough’ is never good enough for us. That’s probably why we’re regarded as T-Rexes.
- There is an enormous amount of erroneous, misapplied, or misinterpreted information floating around in the broad firearms and personal protection community. This is especially true in relation to prioritization, legal issues, and skills development.
- The community has a lot to learn about integrating women into it. There was a record turnout of female attendees and women trainers at the Conference this year, my co-presenter being one. Conversations with them, as well as the presentations, were highly enlightening. Many male paradigms either don’t apply at all or don’t work particularly well when used by women. My own presentation was an eye-opener to me in that regard. The Women’s Holsters and Accessories presentation, which was presented by a woman, gave several good examples. A pet peeve expressed by several T-Rexes is men who have women shoot excessively powerful firearms and then laugh when they fail. Our universal attitude is along the lines of the desire to give such jerks a knee lift in the crotch followed by a crack in the jaw and then laugh when they fall down writhing in pain.
I have several pages of notes but those jump out at me. Undoubtedly, more will occur to me as I reflect on the event. I will have more thoughts on specific topics in the near future. There is a photo gallery of the Conference training blocks available on the Rangemaster website.
Claude, I really like your blog, I have been a fan and a reader, since I saw it linked over at georgiapacking.org
I’m scheduled to get my NRA certification as a firearms instructor for basic pistol next month.
Do you have any advice for me, in starting out as an instructor?
My main recommendation would be to continuously improve your knowledge and skills. I can’t tell you how many NRA Instructors I know who haven’t
read a single gun book beyond the NRA manuals, have never taken another
class, and who don’t do anything to measure and improve their skills.
My personal library has over 400 books about guns, shooting, tactics, police work, and military history. The subjects run the gamut from appropriate rifles for African hunting in the early 20th century to analyses of the effects of using deadly force by the shooter. My collection has over 100 DVDs in it too. Granted that took me over 40 years to accumulate but it’s indicative of what I try to know about the subject. Many instructors have neither depth nor breadth to their repertoire. They learn one set of skills at a mediocre level and stop there. I see it time and again. That’s a mistake; never stop learning.
I take classes from others regularly, frequently just short evening courses. Those short evening courses are how we are going to begin to reach the majority of new gunowners. And, even if someone else’s class is terrible, like one I took at an indoor range last week, you get important insight about how NOT to do things. Learn from others’ mistakes as well as your own.
With regard to measuring one’s skills, I think it’s important for everyone to benchmark where you are and try to improve that continuously. For an instructor, it’s doubly important. There are a lot of different benchmarks you can use, just having one is the important thing. Shoot it periodically and try to get better at it. You may find that the benchmark you use changes over time to something more challenging and that you have multiple benchmarks that measure different aspects of shooting. One of the main advantages of shooting in competition is that you find out you’re not as good as you think you are. Ego is the Achilles heel of many shooters and instructors.
I also think it’s important to demonstrate drills for the class. Time dependent, it doesn’t have to be all of them, but the first drill and any complex drills should be demonstrated. People are visual learners, for the most part. Telling people how to perform a physical skill is simply not as effective as showing them, IMO. And don’t take your subject matter knowledge for granted about what constitutes a ‘complex’ drill. I have had very intelligent students who couldn’t figure out what the NRA MQP drills were until I demonstrated for them.
Have an inert gun to do this, where it’s appropriate. If it’s livefire, I use a live gun. If I’m demonstrating gunhandling or tactics, the inert gun comes out. I have both of them on me when I’m teaching.
Most importantly, don’t get complacent about anything. Your skills, safety, communication, etc. need to be at the forefront of your mind whenever you’re teaching. Every story we hear about an instructor having a Negligent Discharge or shooting a student in class has complacency as its root. Complacency is a killer, don’t go there.
Structured shooting is a whole new world for most people. Help them understand it in every way you can.
I was thinking about Trevor‘s comment regarding “keep showing up” today.
I’ve found that there are three rules to successfully getting into a new discipline, and these rules have proven true across martial arts, shooting sports, Crossfit, and other endeavors:
Rule 1: Show up ready to learn and give good effort.
Rule 2: Keep showing up. Show up more than anyone else. If you don’t feel like going, see rule 2.
Rule 3: Put in the work and measure your progress honestly.
One of the ways I used to keep my mind occupied during road marches in the Army was to calculate how times I had done something. For instance, I was marching around Korea in 1980 and calculated I had already spent well over 1000 days in the field. That is one reason I have not the slightest interest in camping. At that point, I was about 1/3rd of the way through my career. I stopped counting after that.
Tonight’s exercise was figuring out the extent of my measured shooting performance when others were watching. There are two quantities I can calculate; IDPA stages shot and demos in front of classes I have taught.
Roughly, I shot about 200 stages a year for the first 12 years I shot IDPA. Quite a bit less per year since then but I’m working on increasing it. So let’s say some 2500 stages where I’m in front of a group.
Demos in classes would be Rogers classes and my FST classes. Rogers demos are grueling because the class oftentimes is looking for the instructor to screw up. I taught roughly 60 or so classes at Rogers. Probably at least 12 to 15, perhaps more, demos per day for 3 of the 5 days. So, let’s say 40 demos per class. That’s another 2400 exercises while I’m being watched and graded.
Then we have my Firearms Safety Training LLC classes and seminars. I believe in demonstrating most of the drills for the students unless the drill is really simple. Over the course of 16 years, I’ve taught 4 to 6 classes per year, plus quite a few seminars. Let’s say 100 total classes and seminars with around 12 demos per, average. So another 1200 evaluations in front of a group.
Overall, it looks like I’ve stepped up to the plate over 6000 times to stand and deliver while people are watching and, in many cases, waiting for me to screw up.
The value of that much experience at problem solving and having to perform to a standard is incalculable to me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I feel sorry for those who deprive themselves of that opportunity. It’s a very valuable form of stress inoculation, readily available to anyone who wants it. But you have to be willing to fall on your face for awhile because I certainly did.
Fortunately, over the course of my life, I have been around and been associated with some of the most dangerous men in the world. Early on, I came to the conclusion that compared to them, I am a Boy Scout. There are no illusions on my part about where I stand in relation to the really focused and competent among them. All of them, in some way, serve as inspirations and examples to me.
The principle in this is that no matter how good a shooter, fighter, or trainer you might think you are, there’s somebody, perhaps a lot of somebodies, better than you. Competency and capability are always relative.
In addition, as SSA John Hall, former head of the FBI Firearms Training Unit put it: “In every encounter, there’s an element of chance involved.”
There’s a saying among police officers that “Some police have 20 years of experience and some have one year of experience 20 times.” What that means is that some people do the same things over and over again in the same way. They don’t learn from their experiences and they don’t try to expand their experience base or skillset.
That’s not the way my personal approach to life works. In this blog, I am going to relate the things that have broadened my experience and skills. That’s a never ending process for me. Hopefully, you will find something of value in it.