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Defensive training in context: even dinosaurs evolve!


A story in USA Today a few weeks ago is potentially good news for defensive shooting training in the private sector: the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently overhauled their own training protocols. (Please go read the article - it’s surprisingly good.)

The FBI went back through 17 years of data and analyzed the kinds of gunfights their agents faced. They concluded their training, which historically emphasized long distance marksmanship, wasn't applicable to the threats their agents were actually encountering in the field. That data convinced them they needed to instead emphasize fast, close-quarters reactive shooting. Starting in January, handgun training and qualification at the FBI changed to reflect the realities of the field.

This is a major shift for the FBI, an admission that what they've been teaching for decades didn't match the circumstances under which they were actually shooting. They figured out that they needed to train in context: under the plausible conditions their agents would need to shoot. According the linked article, that means a greater emphasis on getting good hits in realistic strings of fire (3 or 4 rounds) at realistic distances (around 3 to 7 yards.)

What they found is surprisingly consistent with what researchers in the private sector have long known: that most defensive shootings come as a surprise and happen within roughly 15 feet, or about a car length (which makes sense when you think about it.)

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Why is this good news for the private sector? Because many schools and trainers base their courses, to some degree, on what the FBI does. You'll find lots of classes that use a variation of the (now 'old') FBI qualification course, shooting out to 25 yards and emphasizing tight groups irrespective of the precision required by the target. If these same instructors change to reflect the new FBI protocols they'll have their students training and shooting at more realistic distances and under more realistic conditions, which will make them safer.

There will, of course, be those who won’t acknowledge what the FBI now knows (and the rest of us have known for years.) Just recently I saw a blog post (with accompanying videos) from a shooting school in California which insisted the only way for a student to be assured of performance in a defensive shooting was to practice precision marksmanship at long distances. If they did that, the article insisted, they would 'automatically' be able to shoot closer and faster.

That's what the FBI used to think, too, but they've figured out it just isn't true. They've learned that training under false expectations doesn't lead to excellent performance when the conditions change; only training under those conditions of use will give the desired results.

The FBI has finally realized what many of the more progressive trainers in the private sector have been saying for years: training needs to be based on the realities of use, and being a "good shooter" at long distances does not magically translate to being able to efficiently defend yourself in a much closer, more rapid encounter. I hope that many instructors follow their lead and evolve their own programs in similar fashion!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Task fixation in critical incidents.


One of the concepts that we talk about in
Combat Focus Shooting classes is that of task fixation: the diversion of attention to a particular sub-activity during an attack. We discuss this specifically relating to looking at the gun while reloading.

The concept is clearly illustrated in this video of a very dynamic simulation during a Craig Douglas ECQC class (one of the few on my "short list" of classes to attend.) Note that the gun fails to fire and suddenly the defender's entire attention is diverted to getting it running again, rather than dealing with his attackers. Craig even mentions that to the student at the end of the exercise, and the student admits to a fatal task fixation.



Many trainers maintain that the best place for the gun is in front of the face so that you can see both it and the threat while you reload. I don't believe that's a rational expectation when the body's threat responses have been activated, and believe instead what will happen is the task of reloading will divert attention completely from the threat in the way that a malfunction did for this fellow.

In the couple of seconds that any normal person is going to take to reload their pistol the threat can shoot or stab quite a few times, or cover a lot of distance to bring himself into contact with the victim. During that time it's more important that you avoid being shot/stabbed/beaten than it is to get a small (and theoretical) advantage in reloading speed. The first order of business is not getting hurt or killed in the process of defending yourself! That sounds silly, but the popularity of techniques that increase your exposure to danger rather than decrease it make it necessary to point such things out.

Instead of looking at the gun, we teach making the reload process a strictly mechanical activity that can be done with the gun out of the direct line of sight to the threat. (The specific ways to accomplish that are beyond the scope of this post, but it's not difficult to do for either autoloading pistol or revolver.) While the gun is being reloaded in that repeatable, mechanical fashion the defender is able to keep an eye on the threat and move, seek cover, or do whatever else is necessary to avoid becoming a casualty.

This is also why we approach the act of malfunction clearing similarly to that of reloading the gun, teaching a non-diagnostic approach to the problem which doesn’t result in the kind of attention diversion that happened in the video.

With the gun in front of the face, as some recommend, I believe (and this video supports my contention) that what will happen is fixation on the reload rather than on the threat. There are other downsides as well, some relating to the perceptual distortions that accompany the threat reaction and how they affect the “look at me” type of reload, but that’s another topic for another time.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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The Double Tap.


At SHOT I made a passing comment to Pharmacist Tommy that, in the context of defensive shooting, practicing double taps was a tacit admission that a person wasn't able to control their gun. He looked at me quizzically, as I'm sure you're doing right now.

(Let's get some terminology out of the way. Most people shooting double taps are firing two rounds in quick succession with one sight picture. Adherents to the so-called "Modern" Technique would scream that the term is used incorrectly, and that they are actually shooting 'hammers'. I'll concede the point, in the same way I concede that the Battle of Bunker Hill was in fact fought on Breed's Hill - you'll note it's made no difference in elementary school history lessons, however. I'll continue to use Bunker Hill and double tap to describe what the majority hold that they describe, because arguing the point wastes my time and doesn't change the outcome anyhow.)

Let's start with a question: why practice the double tap as a defensive tactic? When I watch surveillance and dashcam videos, regardless of the training level of the shooter, I don't see the stylized double tap. What I see instead, very consistently, is a string of fire without artificial pauses. After all, bullets are what stops bad guys -- and the faster those bullets get to him, the better.

If you need to shoot your attacker six times, and choose to do so with three double taps, that means the half-second pause between those strings gives him a full second to hurt you more. How many bullets can come out of his gun in one second? How many critical stab wounds can he inflict? How far can he move? Giving the bad guy any extra time is counter to your own self interest.

How about double-tapping, then assessing (as is still the recommendation in some training backwaters)? The answer is that there is no way to know ahead of time how many shots it's going to take to make your bad guy go away. That being the case, why on earth would you stop shooting at an arbitrary point if a threat is present? The time to asses is after the threat is no longer in front of your gun, whether that takes one, two, or five rounds. Practicing to always do that at two rounds means that if your fight goes longer and you stop to make your well-rehearsed assessment, you're exposing yourself needlessly to danger.

I could go on, but my point is that the double tap makes no sense in the context of surviving a lethal attack. The logical practice routine would be to always fire a random-length string of shots: two, three, four, and perhaps even occasionally five or six. Mix 'em up; don't get locked into any one pattern.

The double tap really doesn't have a use in defensive shooting, yet people all over the country continue to practice it. I believe the answer is simple, and I've observed it in action: if you ask any random shooter, regardless of his or her proficiency or training level, to shoot a string of three or four or five rounds at the same cadence (with the same "split time", or elapsed time between shots) as the double taps they're flinging downrange, the chances are almost certain that they won't be able to do so.

What usually happens is that the first two shots land in acceptable proximity to each other, but the third will climb significantly and the fourth is usually off the target. In order to land all their shots inside whatever reasonable target area is chosen, they need to slow down - sometimes significantly. In other words, they can't control their gun at that inflated rate.

Now, just about everyone will be faster at the double tap than at an extended string of fire. The point is that the longer strings of fire are what are most likely in the context of a defensive shooting, because the natural reaction is likely to be shooting until the threat goes away. If the gun can't be controlled in such a realistic or plausible shooting scenario, then that shooter needs a different gun (or much better technique) instead of gaming his or her practice to artificially inflate competence.

Shooting double taps instead of more realistic strings serves as proof that one cannot control the gun for the use to which it is likely to be put. It's up to the shooter to recognize, admit, and change.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Hyperbolic training.


Sadly, I’ve seen it before: tactical 'expert' pronounces that if you don't use his pet technique, "you're going to get hit". A variation: "well, if you don't want to take a bullet you'd better do this."

Whether or not I agree with the technique being presented, I hate that method of getting a point across because everyone knows (or should know) it's nonsense.

Take, for instance, moving off the vector of an attack (which some refer to as "get off the X") while at the same time shooting at the threat. This has been raised to a religion in some schools, and one such congregant recently defended the idea by saying "people who stand still get shot."

Really?

If that's true, then there should be a whole lot of people around (whether alive or deceased) who can be used as examples. Humans have been defending themselves with firearms for more than a century, and the huge overwhelming majority of those people had no formal training before doing so. Since they were likely not trained to move, how did they manage to survive not getting hit? The fact that they generally did leads us to question the logic behind the statement.

I'm sure that with enough digging you could find one or two, but this fellow's absolutist statement would require that there be a whole lot of those folks - and I think even a little searching will show that there aren't.

This is the case with so much defensive training: when there really isn't logic or fact behind what's being taught, instructors will sometimes fall back on hyperbole to prevent the student from asking the hard questions. There may in fact be a benefit to a certain technique, but the benefit is less than the cost; there may, in fact, be zero benefit. It's up to the student to recognize when hyperbole is being used to mask a deficiency, and respectfully ask for a logical explanation of what's being taught.

Do I believe there is a benefit to moving offline during an attack? Yes. Do I believe that it is
always a good idea to continue that movement while I shoot back? No, and I think that I do a pretty good job of explaining “why” to my students without insulting their intelligence or trying to scare them into compliance. There is a cost/benefit ratio with any defensive move, and I think it’s a disservice not to communicate that to a student.

Reason. Fact. Ask for them by name. Politely, of course!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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The snakepit of groupthink.


Every so often I'll have a spare moment and just happen to be sitting near the computer. It's at those times that I visit one of the gun forums (fora?) just to see what's up with the world. More precisely, what's up in some very small portion of the world, one which is usually severely skewed.

One such moment happened last weekend while I was waiting for dinner to finish cooking. (Actually, I was waiting for my wife to finish cooking dinner since my culinary skills are limited to "I'd like to place a to-go order".) I dropped in on one forum where the main topic of conversation appeared to be the emergence of flash mobs for nefarious purposes.

Up until lately flash mobs existed to do stuff like umbrella dances and public sing-alongs. I'd always found them charming in an urbanites-need-something-to-take-their-minds-off-the-cage-they're-in sort of way, but over the last several weeks they've come to be used for criminal activity. It was, in hindsight, inevitable.

The discussion on this particular forum centered on how to protect oneself from a flash mob attack. It started out with a discussion of how much ammunition you should be carrying on your person (naturally there was the obligatory picture of one guy's carry rig with the proud explanation that he'd found a way to tote over fifty rounds, ready to go at a moment's notice.) Talk quickly devolved to OC grenades and how many of them you should have in your car. Some were even wondering if they were legal for concealed carry.

Yes, grenades. Yes, they were serious.

You can't prepare for everything, if for no other reason than you can't carry everything you'd need for all contingencies. Like Steven Wright says: "You can't have everything -- where would you put it??" You have to decide what are the likely threats you'll face and pick your skills and equipment to deal with those situations. Whatever level that may be is going to be different from others, because the probabilities are dramatically influenced by your environment and your habits.

Just because some anonymous nut on a forum is carrying OC grenades doesn't mean that you need to. Remember, a dispassionate review of the risks involved would probably lead to the conclusion that HE doesn't need to either. Finally, keep this in mind: whatever hardware you decide is appropriate for you, it needs to be such that you can carry it all the time. Loading up for the Apocalypse on the weekend but having a .380 automatic in your pants pocket for the bulk of your week isn't consistent, and it's probably not congruent with the threats you're really facing and where they're likely to occur.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Why I continually caution about off-body carry.


I’m busy as can be today, so I’m going to pull an
Uncle and tell you to go read this.


-=[ Grant ]=-
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