Tag Archives: Paul Gomez

Decisions and Drawstrokes – What’s really important?

A recent discussion about a man unintentionally shooting his stepson https://www.panews.com/2018/08/14/man-accidentally-shoots-stepson-12-after-meteor-watching/ got me to wondering “How fast is too fast?” A little research was in order, so I did two experiments. One was a decisional drill that’s an evolution of the Thinking Drills in my Concealed Carry Skills and Drills ebook. The other was a comparison of the times between Cooper’s original Five Count drawstroke and the Four Count drawstroke it has evolved into.

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The hardest part of the drawstroke

I had an interesting philosophical discussion during the Contextual Handgun, The Armed Parent/Guardian class this past weekend. The instructor, John Johnston, is very good about attributing his sources. One of his points was a comment by the late Paul Gomez.

The hardest part of the drawstroke is establishing grip.

I told John that I disagree with that. In my opinion, the hardest part of the drawstroke is gaining an adequate sight picture. Establishing grip is the most time-consuming part of the drawstroke.

A good instructor can usually get students to consistently establish grip in a relatively short period of training time. However, getting them to consistently get an adequate sight picture usually takes quite a while longer.

cw at rogers crop

Something to keep in mind during your live and dry practice.

Standards (Part II – Why)

A good man always knows his limitations.

–Inspector Harry Callahan

As early as the colonial times, it was recognized that shooting firearms is an athletic endeavor. Thomas Jefferson implied as much to his nephew, when he recommended shooting rather than “games played with the ball” as a pastime. In any physical endeavor, it’s useful to establish a benchmark. This concept applies in:

  • Medicine – what’s your blood pressure? Your doctor probably doesn’t just look at your face and decide if you have high blood pressure or not. A measurement is required. And that measurement is then evaluated in relation to established benchmarks for normal, pre‑hypertensive, or hypertensive conditions.
  • Sports – universally, sports rely on numerical performance indicators. A team would certainly not field a player without having looked at the player’s performance stats. While good stats are no guarantee of success on the playing field, poor stats are unlikely to lead to success.
  • Education – making acceptable grades is generally required to graduate from any educational institution. If your child went to a school that never evaluated performance, you probably would be unhappy about that. The general problem of that in our schools today is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice to say that any parent whose child can’t read but still is allowed to graduate from school should be very, very unhappy.

Avoiding Negative Outcomes is another key reason for why people might choose to have standards. This is where Dirty Harry’s statement comes into play. Two particular incidents come to mind as examples.

  • A woman in Mississippi shot and killed her husband with a handgun while trying to protect him from an attacking dog. One bullet missed the dog and struck the husband in the chest, killing him.
  • In Texas, a woman and her roommates were victims of a home invasion. When she fired her shotgun at the invaders, she missed them both but shot and seriously injured one of her roommates. This incident highlights a downside of owning a shotgun for home defense. There are few places those who live in urban or suburban areas can do any meaningful home defense practice with a shotgun.

“Weapons System” is a military buzzphrase that should be considered in the context of having standards. When a person picks up a firearm for personal protection, the combination of person and firearm become a ‘weapon system.’ Compatibility of the firearm with the person operating it is an important aspect of an appropriate choice.

  • What works for you? Although the Glock pistol is enormously popular, it’s not the right choice for everyone. The other side of the coin is that the snub nose .38 revolver often recommended for women isn’t necessarily the right choice either.
  • One of my colleagues somewhat rhetorically posed the question “What I shoot the best is a .22; is that what I should carry [or keep for home defense]?” That’s actually a really good question. If a person could only successfully shoot a very simple testing protocol with a .22, what’s the answer? Especially where senior citizens are concerned, how should they make a decision?

Psychology is yet another aspect of the standards decision. People like to think they know what they’re doing. Conversely, they don’t like not knowing what they’re doing. My friend and colleague Ken Hackathorn states a concept he calls Hackathorn’s Law.

You won’t do something under conditions of stress that you’re not subconsciously sure you can do reasonably well.

His Law has a distinct relationship to the concept of ‘Critical Distance’ in proxemics. Critical Distance is the distance at which pursued prey will turn and initiate a counter-attack against the predator. My analysis is that the North American subconscious Critical Distance is in the zone of 4-7 feet (the near phase of social space).


Diagram by WebHamster

Those familiar with the Tueller Principle will recognize that primal Critical Distance is only one-third of ‘too close.’ As the late Paul Gomez said, “We’re not teaching people to start shooting soon enough.” If a person never has an inkling of the standard they are capable of shooting to, most likely they will default to the primal Critical Distance.

Liability mitigation is sometimes cited as a reason for having standards. Other than as an unstated barrier to entry, standards have been mentioned as a way for issuing authorities to reduce their liability. To what extent this is actually true remains to be seen but it is stated as a reason.

A significant downside to standards is that encountering or testing them may force a conflict with a person’s ego. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a well-recognized aspect of human nature. It’s the opposite side of the Hackathorn’s Law coin. As one shooter wryly observed,

Getting better is not for everyone.

If a person never tests what their skill level actually is, then this ego conflict is avoided. Many people are okay with that. Unless meeting a standard is mandated, it’s a personal decision.

Situational Awareness and Positioning (part III)

When he got within 5 or 6 feet… Lawler leveled the Glock and fired once, hitting DeCosta in the groin.

Man pulls 13-inch knife during fight, gets shot

A previous post discussed The Tueller Principle, or as Dennis put it originally “How Close Is Too Close?” In light of the above incident, The Tueller Principle and two related concepts bear further clarification and quantification.

A concept that is seldom discussed in the personal protection community, among either instructors or practitioners, is proxemics. The term proxemics was originated by a cultural anthropologist, Edward Hall, in his book The Hidden Dimension.  Its meaning is how we, as humans, interpret and manage the physical space around us. This should be an integral part of planning for personal protection, but usually is not.

Professor Hall’s work breaks out several spatial zones that we perceive around us. Most important to us regarding the realm of personal protection is that we make instinctive judgments about whom we allow into these zones and what our reactions are to those who enter, or try to enter, the zones.

  • Intimate Space – where we only allow loved ones to be.
  • Personal Space – the area in which we are comfortable having people we know and trust.
  • Social Space – the zone where we communicate and/or interact with others generally.
  • Public Space – an area where we accept that people in general can be, regardless of whether we know them or are interacting with them.
Diagram by WebHamster

Diagram by WebHamster

It is also important to note that Hall’s work was preceded and partially inspired by the work of a Swiss zoologist, Dr. Heini Hediger. After extensive study of animals in the wild, Dr Hediger, in his book Wild Animals in Captivity, introduced several concepts about predator-prey behavior that are particularly relevant to the personal protection community.

  • Flight distance – the distance at which prey will seek to escape the approach of a predator.
  • Defense distance – the point at which pursued prey, which is being overtaken by a predator, will have a ‘defense reaction,’ in the words of Dr. Hediger.
  • Critical distance – the boundary at which prey that is cornered, or feels it is, will initiate a counter-attack on the predator. I.e., the prey has lost its ability to maneuver or escape (decisively engaged) and then reacts in an emergency mode.

Dr. Hediger states that these distances “are specific, within certain limits, and may be accurately measured, often within inches.” p20 When he says inches, he is referring to very small animals; larger animals will generally be measured at intervals of feet or yards/meters. The larger the animal, the greater each distance will be, generally speaking.

The questions that then arise are: 1) what is the overlap between the works of Tueller, Hall, and Hediger and 2) why is that overlap important? Hall theorized that Hediger’s concepts of flight, defense, and critical distance are no longer applicable to humans. However, I do not believe that is true. Human behavior during a criminal predation tends to follow Dr. Hediger’s concept quite closely.

The incident described in the first paragraph is an excellent example of a phenomenon I observed in my long term study of The Armed Citizen and other reports of armed self-defense by private citizens. My impression after the study of thousands of incidents was that people tended to allow human predators to encroach not quite to arm’s length before shooting. When I say encroach, I do not mean actually shoot at, as in a gunfight, but rather attempt to close the distance, whether armed or unarmed.

Encroaching is actually more dangerous than a full throttle attack. If an armed predator runs at us at full speed, it’s obvious what his intent is and our decision becomes fairly simple. On the other hand, an encroachment induces uncertainty into the encounter, in the form of the question “How Close Is Too Close?” Of course, if gunfire is being exchanged, then typical spatial boundaries and zones no longer apply.

Shooting a human predator, especially when he is encroaching, is a communication and social transaction. It is the strongest form of communicating “Stop, don’t come any closer!” Dr. Hediger would term this the critical reaction that occurs at ‘Critical Distance.’ My impression is that it will most likely occur in what Hall termed the ‘near phase of Social Space.’ For North Americans, this zone is between four and seven feet. In other words, our Critical Distance lies within that zone. We will do what we need to do to prevent a predator from crossing the boundary between Social Space and our Personal Space.

How does this relate to The Tueller Principle? The minimum safe boundary established by Tueller is 21 feet. However, the boundary that Hall theorized between public space and social space is only 12 feet. What this means is that we will have an inherent tendency to allow people, and specifically predators, to approach us well with the boundary of safety established by Tueller. That 12 foot boundary for Social Space may be the maximum boundary of our Flight Distance, even with a sketchy character. If our Critical Distance is only 4-7 feet, that could represent a major problem when dealing with a predator.

My late colleague Paul Gomez periodically quizzically commented that “people don’t shoot criminals far enough away.” The relationship between the concepts of Tueller, Hall, and Hediger may be the reason why. It’s something we in the training community need to do a better job of explaining and training.

Situational awareness is not just about seeing what’s going on; it’s also about interpreting that information and what to do about it.

At least a half-dozen times, I ordered him to stop.

Another of my colleagues commented to me “We only say ‘Drop the gun’ once around here.”

Using pepper spray effectively

The second class I attended at Paul-E-Palooza 2 was OC and “less-lethal” for CCW folks given by Lt. Chuck Haggard of the Topeka Police Department. There was a little humor about the class title because to many attendees, ‘OC’ means Open Carry rather than Oleoresin Capsicum. As a result Chuck had to explain he was talking about pepper spray.

Chuck has extensive training and experience with pepper spray. He is a National instructor for the National Law Enforcement Training Center and an Adjunct instructor for Strategos International.  He has also been featured as a guest on Ballistic Radio. Chuck stated that he has been sprayed with OC about 60 times, in the training context, and has sprayed somewhere around 1000 people. Most of his sprayees are Police Cadets since his department has a mandatory exposure to OC policy for its officers.

I wanted to take the class because I am a firm believer in carrying what I call ‘Intermediate Force Options.’ Pepper spray is one of those weapons that give us a response to predatory behavior not requiring deadly force. As I state in all my classes “Lacking an intermediate force option while you are armed with a firearm implies that all you are willing to do to protect yourself is kill someone.” That’s not a position most reasonable people would be comfortable in taking, given a little bit of thought.

The class began with a lecture including a review of OC history, products, training and best practices. It then moved on to aspects people need to know for effective use, carry and deployment. Once the lecture was completed, the class moved into the open for practical application with inert trainers. No live weapons, ammo or OC were allowed in the practical exercises. Dummy guns and inert pepper spray canisters, which sprayed water only, were furnished. Eye protection was also furnished to the students.

Once again, as at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of beginning the demonstrations by spraying Chuck in the face with an inert container. We demonstrated two scenarios. In the first, Chuck began to encroach on my personal space while I attempted verbal dissuasion. When he continued to advance, I gave him a good dose and then quickly moved away while he simulated remembering a previous appointment. In the second scenario, after I sprayed him, he became irate and threatened me with a training knife. At that point, I transitioned to my dummy gun and gave him a good cowboy “Pow, pow, pow” while maneuvering away.

The second scenario was especially interesting for me because I ended up with the pepper spray container in my left hand and my dummy pistol in my right. I shot one handed while maneuvering away from him. I’m not sure how things ended up that way because I started with the can in my right hand. I’m curious whether I transferred the can initially or if I did a ‘Border Shift’ with the can when I started to draw my pistol. I do remember seeing my sights while I was shooting. My dummy pistol has a rear sight notch cut in it because I cannot abide a pistol without sights, even a dummy pistol.

dummy sights

After our demonstrations, the students then split up into two groups. Initially, one group played the predator while the other played the role of the defender. Then the groups switched roles. The students enacted both the non-lethal and lethal scenarios while spraying each other. The class concluded with a critique of spraying and maneuvering.

CH OC class

I don’t practice as much as I would like with my personal OC, a Zombie Spitfire from Sabre. The class gave me a little tuneup, as well as some interesting background on the evolution of pepper spray as an Intermediate Force Option.

Tactical Decision Making (Part II)

There are numerous definitions of Wargaming. Most of them are too elaborate for our use. The definition I am using now is: The process of evaluating your options in light of your situation and the circumstances. Wargaming is a way determining if:

  1. Your tactics work.
  2. The tactics employed contribute to your strategic end goal.
  3. There are significant possible negative outcomes

Wargaming has the following characteristics:

  • Evaluates a possible Course of Action against opposing adversary.
  • It is an iterative process of action, reaction, and counteraction.
  • At a minimum, it should start if you go to Condition Orange. When you’re on the ground, in a pre-contact situation, the wargaming will not be very in depth. But the better your grasp of your end goals, possible options, and negative outcomes, the quicker and simpler it will be.

First, you have to decide what your end goal is. This should be done before you walk out the door of your home each day. Deciding your end goal does not mean saying “I would do this.” That is just one step of the process and not the first.

In my previous post about Tactical Decision Making, I listed some end goals and some possible negative outcomes. Both of those lists, and any additions you may have to them, are worth reviewing from time to time.

It’s extremely important to take into consideration the possible negative outcomes. Failure to consider consequences is a huge gap in most people’s analysis of the situation. Some of the consequences are legal but not all of them are.

Some concrete examples of negative outcomes are:

There are three areas you must consider as part of your wargaming. They are your situation, your options, and the circumstances; i.e., your surroundings and the event. We’ll discuss these in the next installment.

Understanding the risk of violent aggression

I couldn’t believe it was happening. It didn’t seem real.

–a common statement by victims of criminal violence

The first presentation I attended at Paul-E-Palooza 2  was The 5 Ws of Risk (of Violent Aggression) given by William Aprill of Aprill Risk Consulting. William is a criminal psychologist who gives the most in-depth look into the criminal mind of anyone in the training industry. Frankly, at times, it’s rather creepy hearing how crazy criminals can be.

His presentation used the classic 5 Ws; Who, What, When, Where, and Why to structure a discussion of how risk can develop and aggregate for the Private Citizen. Using that structure allows us to look at the ways we can put ourselves at risk and, conversely, how we can reduce our risk.

Beginning with Who, he explained the value of “pre-need planning.” Then he explained his concept of a ‘risk envelope.’ This concept describes how varying circumstances we put ourselves in can increase or decrease our risk of being victimized. The levels of aggression displayed by potential Violent Criminal Actors are the flip side of ‘Who.’

What explained the difference between being a target and a victim. The concept of ‘advantaging for dominance’ was also included among various factors.

The key point of When was “not at a time of our choosing.” This unpleasant fact resounds throughout the training community. Sage support for this comes from several sources.

  • “When it’s least expected, you’re selected.” –John Farnam
  • “You don’t choose when you’ll need your gun; someone else does. And they will typically only inform you at the last moment.” –Tom Givens
  • “Initiative Deficit – A criminal will stack the odds in his favor and usually only initiates action when there is a high probability of success.” –SouthNarc

The Where component emphasized that “there are no ‘good’ neighborhoods” where crime does not happen. Criminals prefer to choose the location of ‘highest yield.’ He also discussed the limitations of thinking that by avoiding certain situations or locations we can eliminate our risk.

William’s explanation of Why is where he gets into the inner workings of the criminal mind. He detailed the difference between ‘Instrumental Violence’ and ‘Expressive Violence.’

There were numerous concepts and explanations that he used to expand the 5 Ws explanation.

  • Primacy of pre-need decision-making.
  • Preparation failures
  • Response failures, e.g., “I couldn’t believe it was happening. It didn’t seem real.”
  • And my favorite about relying on ‘gut instinct’ “Remember, your gut has shit for brains.”

William and I will be teaching a Decision Shooting Course on September 27, in the New Orleans area. This course will introduce participants to some of the unaddressed realities of violent criminal aggression and effective defensive responses. He will be covering the 5 Ws and their implications for the Armed Citizen. My portion will be about consciously thinking while being armed, which is the exact opposite of ‘muscle memory.’ It consists of: 1) assessing one’s own skills in relation to the situation, 2) weighing the legal justification for using deadly force, and 3) consciously making appropriate decisions in the presence or absence of justification.

For more information and to register, visit the event website.

Tactical Decision Making (Part I)

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

-– Inigo Montoya

My main presentation at Paul-E-Palooza 2 was entitled Tactical Decision Exercises. I wanted to do it because I have come to feel we in the training community concentrate on teaching marksmanship and manipulation skills at the expense of tactics and decision-making skills. As strange as it sounds, coming from someone of my background, I think that’s a problem. When I look at incidents that have had negative outcomes for the Citizen, it’s rarely because of a failure of mechanical skills. Most of the time, the failure is due to a bad decision, poor tactics, or a combination of both.

Trainers often refer to the Holy Grail of achieving ‘unconscious competence.’ However, good decision-making is usually a thoughtful conscious process. Consequently, I’m not sure that focusing our training methodologies on an unconscious process helps our students develop the thinking skills they need to make good decisions under stress. We need to have our mechanical skills adequately developed so we don’t have to focus on them but we also have to realize that they are an end to a means.

In our Grand Campaign, our ultimate object is to wage successful war on land in the heart of EUROPE against the main body of the GERMAN strategic reserve. It is true that we have to cross the enemy’s beaches, but that to us must be merely an episode. True, it is a vital episode and, if it is not successful, the whole expedition will fail. We must plan for the crossing of the beaches, but let us make sure that we get that part of the plan in its right perspective as a passing phase.

General Morgan, Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander, 1943

It’s not hard to find examples of ‘what if’ questions about personal protection situations on Internet forums and some respondents refer to ‘wargaming’ these hypothetical situations. The problem is that the term ‘wargaming’ is frequently used, but what it means is often misunderstood. What most people do when presented with a hypothetical ‘what if’ scenario is ‘brainstorming,’ not wargaming. Wargaming takes brainstorming at least two steps further by including the elements of consequences and an adversary, who also makes decisions about what to do.

The management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton consults regularly for the Department of Defense and other large clients about the wargaming process. Their website contains much useful information about the fundamentals of the process.

In order to wargame effectively, it’s important for us to understand the difference between strategy and tactics.

  • Tactics – doing things right, which is what most training classes focus on.
  • Strategy – doing the right things. This results from a thinking process, hopefully done ahead of time.
  • The dividing line is physical contact. Once you make contact, you’re going to execute tactics, hopefully that support a strategy you have already developed.
  • In my observation and experience, the conscious mind rapidly disappears upon contact, for most people. So, there’s not going to be much strategy development going on once contact is made. If you haven’t thought about the right things to do ahead of time, you’re unlikely to do so once you encounter a threat.

There are various military, police, and firefighting models for wargaming. However, the weakness of applying those models to our circumstances is that they are based on receiving a defined mission statement from a higher level of command. For example:

You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other Allied Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her Armed Forces.

–Combined Chiefs of Staff directive to General Eisenhower for Operation OVERLORD, the invasion of Nazi occupied Europe

However, we, as Private Citizens develop our own mission statements, based on our values and goals. That’s a major difference from the institutional models.
Without a mission statement, even effective brainstorming is difficult and wargaming is impossible because it’s unclear what you’re trying to accomplish. The object of wargaming is learning to make decisions with a positive strategic end goal in mind. And we definitely want to avoid negative outcomes.

Some positive end goals you might consider are:

  • Enjoying life with your family and children
  • Seeing your children grow up healthy and prosperous
  • Participate in enjoyable hobbies
  • Build a successful business
  • Retire comfortably

Negative outcomes you most likely want to avoid are:

  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Serious Bodily Injury
  • Death
  • Misdemeanor or Felony conviction
  • Going to jail or prison
  • Loss of community and family associations (ostracization or separation)
  • Shooting or otherwise hurting an innocent person

When I asked the class to write down their individual mission statements regarding personal protection, I noticed many did not. Please reflect on your goals and possible negative outcomes and then write down your mission statement for personal protection. I’ll discuss how it fits into the concept of wargaming and tactical decision exercises in the next few installments.

Ego defenses

The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters.

While comparing notes from our experiences at Paul-E-Palooza 2, a friend of mine noted how many excuses for poor hits he heard during the live fire block he attended. “I haven’t gotten used to the sights on my gun.” “The offset I have to use at this distance is throwing me off.” “When I shoot pistol in 3 Gun, I smoke it, but I can’t seem to hit these little targets.” Etc., etc., etc. Those are all ego defenses shooters use to avoid saying “When put to the test, it’s clear I’m not as proficient as I like to think I am.”

Let’s compare that with the Facebook commentary of a very smart and honest lady I coached a little during the same block.

After this class I had a live fire with Dr. [Sherman] House. He did dot drills and eye targets. We shot at 3 and 5 yards at these tiny targets. Fact from Dr. House, under stress your shot pattern will double in size. [So,] We might as well practice on targets 1 ¾ inches big. Out of the 30 shooters, I suck because I anticipated recoil. [Obviously, from my point of view, she was far from being the only one whose performance could stand some improvement.] I got a private lesson by “THE PROFESSOR Claude Werner”. … Professor Werner taught me to focus on a slow trigger press. [Actually, I was trying to emphasize a smooth trigger press] When Doc Werner pressed my trigger while I had the sights aligned[,] I hit the target dead center. I know what to work on. I need to dry fire weekly.

10 eye target

At times, we all suck, on a relative basis. The way to get past it is to figure how to “shoot better,” as Bill Rogers puts it. Then accept that we need to do some work on our weakness and get to it without using a lame excuse as an ego defense.

A little coaching can help determine what the problem is. In the above lady’s case, she was very good at using her sights; when I pressed the trigger for her, the round struck exactly where it was supposed to. She just needs to work on her trigger manipulation. She self-identified the problem and the solution. I have no doubt she will work on it vigorously.

Many shooters spend a lot of time, money, and effort refining and changing their equipment in an attempt to improve their performance. It was interesting that even at a training conference like Paul-E-Palooza, during the charity auction, ‘cool’ equipment items sold at a premium to retail while training items sold at a discount to retail. My observation is that the solution usually resides inside the shooter rather than in a hardware solution. As one of my colleagues puts it: “I have a friend who will kill you with a Lorcin and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it.”