Once you’re in contact, the defensive problem changes

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Last week I talked about the mistaken notion of seeing self defense and personal safety as a battle to be won, because such a mindset can lead to bad decisions. Today let’s look at a related topic: your view of the place for your concealed carry gun might be affected by some mistaken training notions.

Shortly after I wrote last week’s article someone sent me a link to a 10-minute promotional video for a training company. In it, the students were being taught how to defend themselves when in contact with an attacker. It’s certainly a valuable skill to have, and I recommend training in it, but at the same time it’s one that’s devilishly difficult to teach.

It’s not about shooting, but about being able to physically maneuver and control your opponent to buy you the time to do something else — be it accessing a tool (weapon) or something else entirely. I know only a handful of instructors* I’d trust to teach that material, and I’m not one of them. It requires an understanding of the dynamics of defense that go well beyond shooting.

This guy didn’t have any of that.

Gun-focused

In this class, the apparent end goal** of everything the students were doing was to break away from their attacker so that they could draw their gun and order him to the ground. They’d pummel their attacker, break away, and then rather than continue getting away they withdrew only far enough to draw their firearm and “hold” their attacker at gunpoint.

Everything revolved around getting the gun into play even if it wasn’t the right response.

If this had been a law enforcement class the process would have been understandable, but this  wasn’t. It was simply another private sector defensive shooting class (emphasis on “shooting”) where the activity wasn’t making the students safer, but trying to get them to ‘win’ the conflict — winning being defined as “getting to your gun”.

Distance is your friend

Ultimately, your self defense goal should be to get out of danger; to get to safety. Sometimes that means shooting the other guy until he’s unconscious, but many other times it means simply getting your person away from his person; making distance so that he can’t hurt you and then running for help, or even getting into the car and driving away.

The exact details aren’t particularly important to our discussion because it’s the concept you need to focus on: your self defense skills should be employed to get you out of danger. Once that’s been achieved, don’t voluntarily put yourself back into danger unless it’s necessary.

That’s not what the students I watched were doing. They did a good job of getting out of their opponent’s grasp, of hitting/kicking to reduce their opponent’s ability to hurt them, and of getting on their feet and out of immediate reach, but that’s when they turned around and got into the fight by standing and drawing their gun.

This is the result of a gun-centric approach to defensive training. The gun isn’t always the best tool, and isn’t even always the appropriate tool. Sometimes simply moving your feet rapidly is the best tool!

Once you’ve escaped, get out of town

If the gun is the only thing you understand, instead of taking that hard-fought chance to get away you’ll focus instead on getting separated from your attacker only enough to get your gun into play. That may not be the best choice in the circumstances, and if done poorly or prematurely may simply give your attacker added incentive to continue his attack.

As my friend Cecil Burch commented, “you also need to remember that once the distance is gained, it doesn’t mean the distance will remain. Against a committed attacker, it is extremely tough to stay away if you have not trained for that.” In other words, you can’t expect to back off to a specific distance where you can draw your gun and expect the bad guy to just lay there while you do so. If he’s committed to his attack, you end up shuffling back to try to maintain your control distance while he closes the gap faster than you can shuffle.

Once you’re out of immediate danger, don’t volunteer to stay exposed. If you’ve gotten out of his hands, and particularly if he’s still down and you’re on your feet, that’s the time to get as far away as you can. Yes, that might mean your gun never comes into play.

Some would see that as “losing”, but I submit that if you can get away unharmed and not have to alter the entire course of your life by shooting someone, that’s a big win.

– Grant

P.S.: Did you catch last Thursday’s PDN Training Talk show? My guest was Mike McElmeel, and we discussed how to be a good student in a defensive shooting class. Mike had lots of great tips, and it’s a show you should listen to before your next class! You can listen to the recording here.

* — One of the very few is Cecil Burch: http://www.iacombatives.com

** — It’s entirely possible that in the actual class they were taught something different than what their video showed. However, it’s probably safe to assume that the video was picked to show the best of their course, or the skills/concepts the instructor felt were most important. If this was the best of the most important things in that class, from where I stand it’s a failure.

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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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