Let me start off by saying that I am not an expert on handgun training. I train often, have been through some good courses and even have certification as a basic handgun instructor…but I teach Krav Maga. The mindset, philosophy and thoughts on training that we teach for real world violence and unarmed self defense, in my opinion, matches up perfectly for handgun training.

If you are training handgun because you like target shooting, do it for fun or just think firing guns is cool, train anyway you like. If you are practicing with your handgun for self defense, there are some things that you should consider. First and foremost, study violence. Study what stress, exhaustion, the adrenaline dump, fear and pain do to you. As Rory Miller says in his great book on the subject MEDITATIONS ON VIOLENCE “You do not fight like you train unless you train clumsy, blind, deaf and stupid”. These things that our bodies do under stress can be a major game changer.

This was driven home for me when we had our black belt candidates go through an RBT course with us a few years ago. We had a couple of people in this training who were gun geeks. They had been to every shooting course known to man, had very good training. They could shoot the eye of a flea at 100 yards, they knew their weapons. We geared them up, gave them weapons with sim rounds and put them through a scenario. When it came time to make decisions, when the “bad guy” started shooting…they went to shit. They froze, stood there, fumbled with drawing and getting their weapons on target. They had trained for shooting targets that weren’t shooting back. The stress and adrenaline that they faced in RBT was something they hadn’t trained for.

Again, I am not an expert on handgun training. I do know Krav Maga, I do study the heck out of real world violence. For example; When we practice knife defenses we do not practice against a partner who thrusts at us once with a half assed stab and then keeps his/her arm straight and still for two seconds. We practice after already being stabbed by a blitzing attacker who is on us fast and furious. The attacker will keep us off balance, hit us hard, use their off hand to keep us from blocking or getting to the knife, will “hockey punch” with the knife over and under our block and pump that knife like a sewing machine needle. To practice against that first attacker will get us killed on the street because the attack on the street is much more likely to be like the second attacker. The other thing we do is slather KY jelly on both of our arms to mimic the slippery blood that is most likely going to be there. Now, when it happens on the street we have been there and done that.

Let’s start with stance while firing. I dislike the Weaver stance for self defense simply because if something startles me I am going to square up to it, thrust my arms out in front of me and hunch down (yep, just like the isosceles stance). This is a natural body reaction. To think during the stress, fear and adrenaline dump of an attack I will do anything else is a mistake.

Practicing on a range standing still and getting accurate is, of course, what we start with. We have to get basics down. In our Krav classes one big rule is that, once we have the basic technique down, we always go balls to the wall. We always go all out and hit things our hardest. In handgun training once we have these basics down we won’t train like that anymore. In the real world if someone is firing at me I had better be moving and looking for cover. At the range we had better be practicing this way. We had better fire on targets while egressing, retreating and moving sideways to cover. We had better practice firing from cover. IF I ever find myself coming under fire this is what I had better be doing so…this is what I better spend almost all of my practice time doing!

If in a gun fight must I always go forward to end things and take down the bad guy? I am not a cop nor in the military…I shouldn’t be training as a cop or soldier. The video above of Keanu i think is great training for the role he was playing. This isn’t necessarily what i want coming out of me for self defense. Again, i am not a cop nor military personnel where my goal would be to go forward and kill twenty guys who have weapons. There are scenarios where this may be the thing to do but for me…i want to train firing as i escape. Shooting as few times as i have to to get the heck out of there! Not firing at all and not being fired at would be perfect! Firing as I get the heck out of Dodge and run like I’m on fire to safety sounds like good training to me! You think during a fight for your life there is a possibility that you may trip and fall or otherwise be knocked down? Better practice shooting while lying on the ground as well then. Furthermore, if ever in a gunfight I would think that it’s a good idea to keep my eye on the person trying to kill me. On the range do you practice reloads and clearing jams while keeping your eyes on the target and not looking at your handgun? What you practice is what’s going to come out of you under stress.

Again, we need to practice for what we’ll see. Personally, I don’t like shooting steel plates that fall after one hit. There are three ways in which a human is stopped by bullets. One; an extremely accurate shot that shuts down the brain and central nervous system instantly which isn’t likely in sudden real world combat. Two; the person bleeds out, which means they keep shooting at us while they do. Three (and the one we should be training) is massive shock and trauma, putting as many bullets into the attacker as we possibly can in a short period of time. In the real world people take multiple hits mid chest and keep coming. I don’t want to train that one hit takes care of the problem.

We had better change our distances as well. Back to that knife attack. I had better be practicing fighting that off, accessing my weapon and shooting close range from the hip with my front arm keeping the target at distance. If this is what I am likely to see, this is what I had better have practiced. Since the FBI has documented that most shootings take place, or at least begin, within 3 to 5 feet, we feel that one of the most important aspects of self defense and gun training is the ability to go from empty hands to accessing the weapon and hitting a target at very close distance quickly.

How about time of day and weather? If the only time you ever shoot is on a nice, sunny day you are assuming that’s the only time/weather you can be attacked in. Night training, training in the rain, training during a snow storm when it’s zero degrees suck…but so does having to defend yourself in those conditions.

Part of the reaction to the fear, exhaustion and adrenaline (actually a cocktail of chemicals) is that your arms will feel heavy, your hands numb and your fine motor skills will degrade due to the blood pooling to your core (vasodilation). We had better be ready for this, had better practice this way! As a shooter I need to try to replicate this in my training. Instead of standing at a table and firing at a target down range while being all nice and comfortable I need to practice under stress and exhaustion. How do we train? We run several sprints, do push ups, do pull ups, have some partners push us around, knock us down and then, and only then, fire on targets. Get tired, get the pulse rate up, get shook up a bit then see where the holes are in our shooting. Did we keep dropping mag’s? Did we have a hard time getting the mag’s from where we keep them? Did we have things snapped or buttoned that we couldn’t maneuver very well? Our brains will scramble under this stress and exhaustion, we will not come up with plans but our training will surface automatically.

The point is, if we are practicing shooting for self defense we need to educate ourselves on what realistic attacks are, what our bodies will do under this stress and train for what we’ll actually see. We had better train real and not think that blasting holes in paper is all that we’ll need. If we are ever attacked we want a “been there, done that” feeling. Be safe, my friends.

Thanks to SGT Brannon Hicks for his help with this article. SGT Hicks is lead instructor for the USKMA’s Law Enforcement training, our RBT training and our handgun course. E mail us for info on these courses.

Mark Slane is the lead instructor for the United States Krav Maga Association. A black belt since 2003 (now a 3rd dan) he has taught thousands of LEO’s and civilians, has written four books on the subject (see his author profile on Amazon) and has had an article published in Black Belt Magazine. To contact email Mark@uskma.com.


1 Comment

  1. Excellent write up!

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