Everything they taught us was wrong

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) was giving a lieutenant some close-quarters handgun training when the young officer threw up his hands and said, “I am so angry. Everything they taught us was wrong!

What he had learned at his basic training were the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship. They weren’t wrong, they were just incomplete. Beginners need to learn safety. It’s stupid to accidentally kill yourself. They need to get some feeling for success and how the weapons work, so they become a stable platform. They learn grip and sight alignment and sight picture and breath control and trigger press.

They learn these fundamentals in a context that makes it easy for the instructor to monitor and easy for the student to correct — good lighting, good footing, hearing and eye protection, safety monitors and not moving.

Those environmental basics are rare as hell in real life. Gunfire is loud and muzzleflash can be blinding in low light. Often not only is the footing bad, but it may be too dark to tell how bad. And you’d better damn well be moving unless you already have good cover. If you do have good cover, think about moving anyway because the threat should try to flank you. And cover geometry can be counterintuitive- cover is often better the farther you are away from it. Said it was counter-intuitive.

There are details that came at a price — when and how to fire from retention; why the weapon should be canted out when at retention. Details that aren’t on the beginning syllabus.

Combat shooting, whether raiding or counter-ambush, is a whole different animal than range training. Honestly, range training is probably closest to assassination skills, which aren’t that useful for good guys.

And there are things that work very well on the range that are ineffective in real life. I was a weaver shooter for decades, trained that way from a pup. But there are three significant flaws in the weaver — it is almost impossible to maintain while moving. It points the biggest hole in your body armor (armpit) right at the threat. Most damning is that according to research no one has been able to pull it off in a firefight. An assassination maybe. I wish I could reference the study (library not here!) but in reviewing all the videorecorded gun encounters he could get (which I had a hard time believing was a lot…), the researcher couldn’t find a single one where the person fired from a weaver, even if he had trained weaver for decades. (Some corroboration from, if memory serves, “Men Under Fire”.)

But that doesn’t make dojo or range training wrong. I go to the range. I practice my dry-fire and failure to fire drills. When I have access to a good instructor, I go to my martial arts classes. Nothing is wrong, but it is incomplete. So when I practice my dry fire, I know what I will see when the projectile hits flesh and I know what it will do to my mind and body- because I have experienced it. Once. When I go to classes I know when I am practicing moving and when I am practicing breaking people. Often, in my experience, the instructor does not know that crucial difference.

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