Rob Pincus and Bob Owens arguing over the Weaver stance: a critical analysis of the controversy.

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About a week ago, Rob Pincus put up a video at Personal Defense Network regarding the use of the Weaver Stance in defensive shooting. Bob Owens at BearingArms apparently took exception to Pincus’ points and posted a personal invective at his own site titled “OH, DEAR: Rob Pincus Doesn’t Understand The Weaver Position.”

Rob asked me to take a look at both his video and Owen’s article; he said, and this is an exact quote from his email, that “I want an educated honest opinion about the critique they [BearingArms] are making.” He also asked me to make the analysis public on my site. I agreed.

Before I get started, I think his request shows a lot of integrity. There aren’t many people in this industry who would ask someone else to provide a balanced and (relatively) neutral opinion on their work, and I’m honored that he asked.

I say “relatively” because, of course, I know Rob and have worked with him on projects in the past. I’m also a contributor at Personal Defense Network, where he’s the Editor, and I host the Training Talk show at their site. One could opine that I cannot be completely neutral, and I would agree with that contention, but I also promised Rob that I would not pull any punches in my analysis. (It’s worth noting that I have, on more than one occasion, told Rob that he was wrong and/or that I disagreed with him. I am not in the habit of fawning over anyone, and there are more than a few people in this business who will attest to that!) I promised him that I would analyze the article as objectively as I could.

For the record, I do not know Mr. Owens and cannot recall meeting him (though it’s possible we have at some time in the past.) I have no reason to either like or dislike him, and have on occasion shared his content in this blog and on social media.

Here’s the video in question:

What, exactly, is a Weaver stance?

Owen’s article makes several key assertions:

1) Pincus’ illustration of the Weaver stance isn’t really a Weaver stance;

2) The conclusions he draws from his experiment (using Christina Dennis as his model) therefore cannot be applied to the “real” Weaver stance;

3) The “real” Weaver stance is what is currently taught at Gunsite, where Owens says he’s studied;

4) That the “Isosceles stance” is what Pincus advocates and is a competition-only stance in comparison to the “fighting” stance that is the Weaver.

I’ll take these assertions one at a time.

First, in order to claim that what is shown in the video isn’t a Weaver stance requires us to define exactly what the Weaver is. That’s a problem, actually, because no two “experts” seem to agree as to what, exactly, constitutes the Weaver stance. Exacerbating the problem is that Jack Weaver didn’t even do it the same way all the time, a contention that is supported by both pictures of him at various times and interviews that he’s given over the years. To cite any particular collection of details and say that it is “the” undisputed Weaver Stance is really impossible.

We can only look at Weaver stance in the aggregate. From my understanding through training and study, the “classic” Weaver stance is most often characterized by a slightly bladed torso, both elbows bent sharply downward, an isometric “push-pull” of the strong and support arms, feet arranged with the strong leg noticeably behind the weak, and a generally upright posture. This picture of Jeff Cooper, the foremost proponent of the Weaver stance and the person most closely associated with its promotion, shows this rather clearly:

Jeff Cooper, Gunsite founder, showing the Weaver Stance

Photographer unknown; courtesy Harris Pub.

It is fairly consistent with pictures of him over the years. (Cooper has been accused of a lot of things, but lack of consistency has never been one of them!) This is how Massad Ayoob, among others, has historically taught the Weaver stance. I used a stance very similar to this in my early days of defensive pistol shooting and competition, and it was in fact Ayoob who showed me that there were other ways to do it!

A variant of the Weaver stance was developed by famed competitive shooter Ray Chapman and taught at his school, the Chapman Academy. Some authorities consider this a “modified Weaver”, while others (such as Ayoob) classify it as a completely separate stance. It is most often characterized by a straight strong arm, a bent support arm, a slightly more squared-off torso, with the feet generally offset and about shoulder-width apart.

Again, details vary and can be different even with very well-informed instructors, but the most important is that you can find many instructors who call this stance a Weaver or a “modified” Weaver; like Ayoob, I refer to it as the Chapman. Here’s a picture by Ken Smith, taken during a Massad Ayoob class some years back during the Chapman stance portion of the course; note the slight variations in body positioning between the supervised students:

LFI-1-Chapman Photo copyright 1998 by Ken A. Smith

Further muddying the waters is that, with just a little Googling, you can find any mix of details between those two stances labeled as “the Weaver stance.” In fact, what is taught at Gunsite today (as illustrated by the pictures Owens used in his article) looks far more like what Ray Chapman popularized than what Gunsite founder Jeff Cooper taught.

What Pincus has Christina doing in the video is one such combination: the upright, bladed torso and foot positioning of the classic Weaver with the straight arm of the Chapman. Is it a “Weaver” stance? I’d say no; then again, the current Gunsite “Weaver” stance shown in Owens’ pictures, by the standard set by Jeff Cooper, isn’t either. I think the assertion that Pincus isn’t showing a “true” Weaver is therefore overblown.

All of this is complicated by some inconsistencies in Owens’ argument; for instance, he says that a picture of Jack Weaver and Thell Reed in his article shows that Weaver didn’t use, as he puts it, “crazy” foot positioning — but Weaver’s feet are clearly at a 90-degree angle with the lead foot pointed straight ahead, which I’d call just a little “crazy”! The current-day pictures he uses are mostly cropped in such a way that foot positions can’t be readily discerned, yet are still used to support this part of his argument.

Can we really “test” a stance for defensive viability?

The second charge Owens levels, that Pincus can’t draw conclusions regarding the performance value of the Weaver stance as practiced by Christina, depends largely on the conclusions that one draws from the first point discussed. Because the details of the Weaver stance are so variable, you can pick and choose any of them to display just about anything you want. Pick those that Pincus did, and you can show that its performance (especially for a svelte subject like Christina) is inferior to that of a stance which relies on skeletal support rather than muscle (isometric) tension. (I think this is the weakest part of Pincus’ video, but I’ll get to that later.)

If you modify the classic Weaver enough, as Owens’ pictures of modern-day Gunsite clearly show, you can make it out to be superior in some aspects of performance to other stances. I could argue his case either way if I could cherry-pick the stance details the way he does. Which brings us back to the first point: exactly what is a Weaver stance? Since it’s clearly open to interpretation, any performance advantage or disadvantage is up to the details one chooses to recognize. Pincus chooses one set of those details, Owens chooses another.

Who can lay claim to being “the original”?

By now it should be clear Owens’ third assertion, that the “real” Weaver stance is taught at Gunsite, is unsupportable. Since the available photographic evidence shows that Gunsite’s legendary founder, Jeff Cooper, did not adopt a stance that really looks much like what Owens’ own pictures show, it’s impossible to conclude that this is the case. (Actually, I think that it shows Gunsite has actually evolved over time — a Good Thing, from my point of view.) Owens continually moves the goalposts by going back in time to show Weaver using a stance that is really completely different than what he calls the “Modern Weaver”, and pretty much ignores Cooper’s version while relying on the reputation of Cooper’s own school for teaching the “correct” method — which, again, doesn’t look like Cooper ever did it. Frankly, I find the whole affair quite tedious.

The bottom line is that the definition of the Weaver has changed significantly since Weaver himself shot that way, has been interpreted very differently by many respected instructors over the years, and to say that one version of it is “incorrect” and another cherry-picked version is “correct” isn’t intellectually consistent.

“It’s just for competition.”

To the final point, Owens insists that Pincus teaches a “competition” stance, the Isosceles. Pincus teaches what he calls a “neutral, athletic, intuitive” stance as illustrated by this student on one of his classes:

Natural, athletic shooting stance

Here, again, we get into a semantic argument: there are probably as many variations on the Isosceles as there are the Weaver, and pointing to one as being correct or definitive is a fool’s errand. The stance Pincus teaches, I’ve observed, is routinely criticized by competition shooters as “turtling”; if competition shooters say it’s not a competition shooting stance, how can Owens make the case that it is? He is doing to Pincus what he claims Pincus does: using his particular definition of a stance to discredit someone else’s different interpretation of that stance. (We used to refer to that as the pot calling the kettle, though that term is probably out of date in this age.)

This whole line of reasoning is particularly silly since Jack Weaver has long admitted, in at least a couple of articles I’ve read over the years, that he started shooting in his characteristic way in order to “game” the quick-draw matches he was competing in! Even Jeff Cooper indicated in a long-ago article that Weaver figured the slight time disadvantage he had in getting into his stance was offset by his superior control and resulting accuracy. In reality, the Weaver stance can be honestly called the original competition gamer’s stance!

Some thoughts about the video in question

I do think Pincus opened himself up to the kind of attack Owens makes by not pointing out the differences in the various Weaver-named stances. It’s still a pedantic attempt to discredit Pincus with little logical or historical support, but he did open the door through which Owens walked.

Beyond that, though, I think the points Pincus made were not only hard to prove, but also pretty much irrelevant. The reality is that the value of the stance Pincus teaches lies in how humans use tools, and particularly tools when under great stress — as in a threat to their life. I’ve watched a ton of dashcam videos as part of an ongoing curriculum development  project, and what I see time and time again is that, regardless of prior training, when police officers are surprised by a threat they thrust their pistols out in front of them, on their centerline, with their elbows locked (or generally as close to it as their armor allows), their shoulders rolled forward, and their head in a protected position. If this is the natural reaction — and I’m sure Pincus knows this — then it seems only logical to train to use it to its greatest effect.

This is also consistent with the way that our visual systems work, with the focus of interest (the threat) on our centerline and the tool (the gun) brought to the “work”. Putting the gun off-center is non-intuitive by definition, since doing so doesn’t allow the visual systems to work as they have evolved to.

(Owens asserts that shooting from his definition of an Isosceles stance “can leave a shooter on his back in a real-world fight.” I must say that, in all of those dashcam and surveillance videos I’ve watched of actual attacks where the defender used some form of the Isosceles stance, I have yet to see one left on his back after the fight regardless of the number or rate of rounds fired. It is an incredibly specious statement that I’m surprised is even being made today. It’s nothing more than a rephrasing of the widely and justly derided “it’ll get you killed on the street!”)

Some personal observations

As I said, it’s not one of Pincus’ best videos or even one of his better ones, but hardly the mess Owens seems to believe. By using the semantics of labels (Weaver, Isosceles, competition, fighting) that have variable meanings, one can make arguments that resist factual analysis. That’s precisely what I see in Owens’ article; I find his criticisms inconsistent, not always supported by the illustrations he provides, and using cherry-picked examples with continually changing details for each point he makes.

On the whole, it’s a rather disappointing rebuttal to what is one of Pincus’ weaker videos. One should be able support what one champions with facts and logic, not semantics and arguing over who did what and when. The article in question is quite strong on the latter and too weak on the former. It reads more like a personal attack than a real educational effort; it’s a throwback to the gun forums of the turn of the century, and that saddens me.

– Grant Cunningham

 

 

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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