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Underground Tradecraft: Tactical Application of the Defensive Sidearm, Part Three

August 28, 2013

Underground Tradecraft: Tactical Application of the Defensive Sidearm, Part III


(My apologies for the brevity of this article. It was going to be significantly longer, covering more ground, but I’ve been on the road a lot, and have a lot more traveling in the forthcoming weeks. The next installment, we’re going to focus on some other software issues with the sidearm.


In the previous installments of this article series, we’ve focused mostly on the hardware involved. Now, it’s time to begin looking at some of the software issues involved. How do we apply the weapon we’ve chosen, or had thrust upon us by circumstance? It really doesn’t matter after all, whether you prefer a 1911 or a Glock 19, a Smith and Wesson M&P or one of their wheel guns, a brand-new IPSC race gun, or a beat-up, rust-pitted Makarov. When the rubber meets the road, a smart man will take whatever weapon he can get his hands on. I may love my Glock 19, but you can bet your happy ass that I can run a 1911 or a Makarov; a Luger or a Browning Hi-Power, just as effectively as I can run a modern miracle of Teutonic Tupperware. –JM)


Performance Standards, Training, and Reality


From the FBIs annual reports on crime statistics, to every gun magazine article written in the last twenty or thirty years; from gun shop counter tall tales, to internet gun-porn forum braggadacio, every “expert” knows that “most” defensive shootings occur inside of 9 feet, or 3 meters. Why then, do so many people, from local range Nazis to NRA basic firearms instructors to IDPA course designers and local defensive shooting instructors, insist on shooting all or most of their training and practice drills at distances closer to 10 meters?


There are two primary reasons for this, in my experience: The first, and most legitimate, although decidedly incorrect, is that it’s harder to shoot accurately at the longer distances, so if you can get accurate hits there, then doing it closer in will be easier. While it is, obviously, more difficult to shoot accurately at range, it’s more challenging to fight, draw to retention, and shoot at contact/collision range.


The second, and far more honest reason, is that people are scared to train and practice on realistically close range drills. This fear is not grounded in their inability to hit the targets, or even of accidental wounding from shooting fast, from retention positions. On the contrary, this fear is completely, one hundred percent, grounded in the realization that if you train at those ranges, you very quickly begin to understand that simply shooting well is never going to be enough. It’s easy to teach someone how to shoot well. It’s easy to learn how to shoot well. It’s not easy to teach, or to learn, how to fight with a gun.


The root word of “gunfight” is not gun. The root word is “fight.” The frightening truth, to the “I’ve got a gun, so why do I need to fight?” crowd is that, if you don’t know how to fight, you’re never going to get your gun into action, and most people simply do not know how to fight, especially when guns and knives are part of the equation.


Dennis Tueller, creator of the famed “Tueller Drill,” or “21-foot rule,” demonstrated that the average man can cover 21 feet or more in around 1.5 seconds. A good pistol shooter, drawing from concealment, should be able to consistently draw and fire, off the beep, in around 1.5 seconds. An expert shooter can break the one second mark consistently (for the record, I’m not considering myself an expert. I can do it in sub-1:00 most of the time, probably slightly more than 75% of the time, but not every time. –JM) That of course, is off a beeper, when they are expecting the signal. In the real world of self-doubt, and the vagaries of poor lighting, uncertainty, and denial, it takes considerably longer, because you have to factor in the reaction time for the shooter to make it through at least one complete revolution of the OODA Cycle, before he can even start getting his pistol out.


How fast, by the timer (guessing doesn’t count), can you draw your weapon, from concealment, and get hits on target to a vital area, such as the sniper’s triangle, the hips, or the head? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are an expert shooter, and consistently break a sub-1:00 second draw stroke to first shot, from concealment. Can you do that while you’re moving? Moving fast, like your life depends on it ( because it does), or only while moving, simply for the sake of claiming to train realistically?


Let’s even give you the benefit of the doubt, and say it’ll only take you one-quarter of a second to observe a threat, orient to the fact that it’s a lethal threat to you, and decide to shoot, before you move to draw your gun. Now, we’re looking at a total elapsed reaction time of around 1.25 seconds. Pretty fucking impressive, huh? You could beat the dude with the knife….except, as we already established, he’s not going to be at 21-feet, he’s going to be at nine feet!


If it takes 1.5 seconds to cover 21 feet, how long does it take to cover 9 feet? If we simply assume half the time, it’s only .75 seconds. You lose, with your 1.25 time to first shot break. What if it doesn’t even take that long, since 9 feet is less than half of 21 feet? We’ll say however, again, giving you the benefit of the doubt (because I’m far more generous and kind than reality will ever be to you), that it takes him .75 seconds to get close enough to go hands on with you.


I don’t care who you are; I don’t care if you’re Nietzsche’s Ubermensch himself, if I can get hands on you, before your weapon clears the holster, I can fuck up your draw stroke and presentation. It doesn’t even require being a bad-ass former SOF soldier. An eight year old, with a bad attitude, and a little bit of fear or determination will fuck up your draw stroke, if he’s got his hands on you. Period. My mother, with zero martial arts or combatives training, if she gets her hands on you, before your weapon clears the holster, could fuck up your draw stroke and presentation. It’s not hard.


So, let’s repeat something, then see what it means to us:


The root word of “gunfight” is not gun. The root word is “fight.” The frightening truth, to the “I’ve got a gun, so why do I need to fight?” crowd is that, if you don’t know how to fight, you’re never going to get your gun into action, and most people simply do not know how to fight, especially when guns and knives are part of the equation.


If you don’t know how to fight, you’re never going to get your gun into action. Can you execute your flawless, sub-1:00 second draw stroke when a bad guy is blowing his decayed tooth and meth breath in your face, as he’s trying to knock your weapon out of your hand? Can you execute your flawless, sub-1:00 second draw stroke when the steroid-shooting, iron pumping bad guy is banging punches, left-right-left-right-left-right, trying to take your fucking head off with every one? It’s okay to admit the truth that you cannot, because no one is watching you right now, so you can be honest. Not for me, because I don’t give a shit. Not for the other readers, because they’re not the ones who will be there to help. You only need to be honest with yourself.


That’s why “training” so often happens at “long” distances for pistols. It’s a lot easier to stand and punch holes in paper at 10 yards than it is to admit that you need to be willing to hit people, get hit, and get sweaty and tired learning to do both. No sane person likes to get hit. Seriously, only idiots enjoy getting hit, I don’t give a damn who you are. If you claim you LIKE getting hit, you’re a fucking moron and a liar. Unfortunately, we don’t get to determine what the fight will be, so we have to face that fear and learn to live with the necessity of learning how to eat a punch or ten, before we worry about getting our pistol out.


Focus on the Fight


If you can wean yourself off the Hollywood and pulp fiction fantasy of the High Noon showdown quick draw, and learn to understand that the fight will be whatever the fight wants to be, you can begin to overcome that fear.


There are a couple of fundamental issues that come into play, from the pistolero’s perspective, when you start focusing on the fight, rather than focusing on the gun. Number one is, obviously, you need to be able to fight. This involves more than the black belt’s knowing HOW to fight. It involves being able to fight. Are you able to feel someone else’s facial bones fracture, grind, and crush under your knuckles, as you punch him, repeatedly, in the face? Are you able to plant your thumb in his eye and feel the fluids and jelly-like consistency of viscous fluids as you gouge it out of his skull? Are you able to deal with the tactile feeling of his bones fracturing and splintering as you break an arm or a leg?


Are you ABLE to eat a punch, delivered with skill, precision, and force, by someone who’s delivered hundreds, if not thousands of them, in real fights, and may be completely convicted in his belief that his punch will crush your facial bones? Are you ABLE to keep fighting, even as you feel your eyeball get popped out of your skull, despite the pain and terror? Are you ABLE to shut out the pain and fear of feeling and hearing your bones break in your arm or leg? Can you suffer all of that, and still be ABLE to punch, kick, grapple, or even just bite your way to victory?


What if the guy you’re fighting has spent six of the last eight years in a penitentiary, and the other two training in MMA at the local gym?


Number two, you need to be able to MOVE! You need to be able to move off the attack axis. A simple side-step might work if the other dude is going for a gun too. If he’s coming after you with conviction and hate though, a simple side-step to the left isn’t going to do much except give you another half-second or so to realize that you’re about to be eaten. You need to be able to move, left, right, or forward, aggressively and fast, while creating the opportunity to create havoc and despair on the enemy, even as he’s trying to kill you. Then you need to be able to move to exploit that opportunity to the fullest of its potential.


Number Three, you need to be able to hurt, maim, or even kill the other dude, while still protecting your weapon. Beating his ass is great. Beating his ass, but then getting shot with your own weapon by the guy you just beat the shit out of would be really, really, really embarrassing. Not to mention, detrimental to the ultimate goal of surviving. If you want to practice karate, or kung-fu, or Krav Maga, or World War Two-style combatives of the Fairbairn-Applegate-Sykes schools, or Gracie Ju-jitsu, or MMA, that’s fine. Whatever whets your whistle. You’d better recognize however, that whatever you’re doing, it’d better involve a great deal of thought to protecting your weapon while you’re beating the shit out of the other dude. If he’s not going for your weapon, that doesn’t mean his buddy isn’t. That doesn’t mean some otherwise uninvolved by-stander won’t make a grab for your gun (I actually saw that happen once, during an arrest-turned-fight in a parking lot in FayetteNam, NC, as a rather intoxicated young paratrooper from the 82d made a grab at a cop’s gun, while the cop was embroiled in a wrestling match with another soldier. Fortunately, several of his companions grabbed him in time from making a very, very serious mistake. If the cops hadn’t shot him, I’m pretty sure one of us half-dozen or so SF soldiers standing there watching would have intervened post-haste…and just because I KNOW someone is going to ask why we didn’t intervene to help the cops in the first place? They had the situation in hand well enough, and throwing a couple extra bodies into the melee would have hindered more than helped).


This is, ultimately, one of the three primary reasons that I so strongly advocate a grappling-centric combatives system. Not because “94.15 to the fifteenth power percentage of fights go to the ground.” It’s because, when you are dealing with a fight, in a weapons-centric environment, you have to maintain positive control of your weapon, while hopefully, keeping the enemy from effectively using his weapon. The single surest way to do that is to control where his hands are. Grappling allows you to do that. Of course, knocking the dude’s head off, or crushing his skull with a solid, well-placed left hook would do so as well, but can you really pull that off? Unless your striking-centric combatives system is boxing, kick-boxing, or some other combat sport that actually allows you to throw full-power punches at an actual, living, breathing, MOVING opponent, and you’ve managed to knock a guy out in training, and conceptual idea you have that you can actually KO someone is strictly hypothetical. The same, of course, goes for so-called “gutter fighting” systems, that focus on eye gouges, biting, and other esoteric techniques. I’m not opposed to sticking my thumb in a fucker’s eye and trying to scramble his cerebral cortex. I also know however, that I’ve had a lot of guys stick their thumbs or fingers in my eyes, trying to end a fight, to no avail. Hell, my younger brother used to try that shit before we were teenagers. I’ve still got better than 20/20 vision. Eye gouges and related shit MIGHT make a good “flash bang” type of technique, but counting on them to finish a fight is a good way to end up with the bad guy tearing your arm off and beating you to unconsciousness with it. A grappling-based system, on the other hand, allows you to practice the actual techniques you expect to use in a fight, against an actual, living, breathing, MOVING, resisting opponent. It’s very empirical. Either you can control the other dude long enough to get your gun out, or you need to train and practice more.


Number Five, if you do manage to get your gun out, you’d better know how to shoot from retention, when the bad guy is actively fighting you. As students in two different classes in a row have now seen demonstrated rather dramatically, if you think the “speed rock” is a viable retention shooting position, you’re deluded, at best, and more likely, suicidal. Keep the gun in, tight to your body, maintaining leverage for control, and be aggressive, driving into the opponent to keep the initiative of the fight in your favor. Don’t be afraid to shoot the fucker off of you.


I would argue that 80-90% of your training for defensive shooting with the sidearm should take place inside of three feet, shooting from retention. Adding the ability to work up a solid, exhausted sweat, through a series of combatives drills immediately prior to each shot will do even better for you. It sucks, and its work, but it’s far more effective than gnat’s eye shooting at 50 feet.


Number Six, this requirement to protect your gun is also one of the primary reasons I utilize and advocate the Appendix-Inside the Waistband carry for concealment of the defensive sidearm. It puts the gun in the one place that provides maximum security and the ability to actively protect the gun.


Learning to Fight to the Gun

Most of us do not have the time nor the inclination, to go spend five or six or ten hours per week, in the gym, learning to fight (alright, I actually do, but as far as I can tell, the closest MMA gym to me is three or more hours away. The closest MMA gym I would actually trust to train at is at least five hours away). If all you can do is get together with your training group or buddies and learn, what are you going to do? One option is to simply try and make shit up as you go. Someone in your group of friends has been in a fight, at some point in his life. Most of you have watched a boxing match or an MMA match. You’ll get a little way along a path going that route. Unfortunately, it’ll probably be the wrong path, headed in a direction you really don’t want to go.


My advice is, get to some training clinics on the subject. Specifically, on fighting in a weapons-based environment, where the focus will not be just on unarmed combatives methods, but on creating space to gain access to your weapons and getting them into the fight.


Number two, once you’ve got some time in a combatives clinic or two, so you’ve started to gain some frame-of-reference, and can understand some of the physical applications, start looking at quality training videos from quality instructors who specialize in the subject.


Arguably the single best instructor in the business today, for teaching combatives in a weapons-centric environment, is Craig Douglas of Shivworks, with his ECQC courses. I’d argue that he’s followed closely by Cecil Burch out of Arizona.


For video follow-up, both guys have done videos on the subject. Otherwise, Straight Blast Gym out of Portland, Oregon had a series of videos, a long time ago, the best of which featured Paul Sharp, who I’m flattered to learn is a reader of the blog. Even better than the SBG videos, in my opinion, are the ISR Matrix videos that Paul and Luis Guiterrez put out (Paul, if you have a newer video series, or are doing clinics, feel free to chime in and pimp them here...). For all the cop-haters amongst the readership however, I feel obliged to advise you, Craig is a retired police officer and former Ranger, and Paul is, to the best of my knowledge, still a serving police officer (Paul also happens to be a frighteningly large man with the ability to crush skulls with a single hand, from what I’ve heard rumored….) So, if you’re categorically anti-cop, I’d look elsewhere, I just wouldn’t know where to point you. These guys come, from me, for whatever that is worth, HIGHLY recommended as the noveau pioneers in teaching the reality of the sidearm in personal protection, with all that implies.


I, of course, am willing to do combatives classes, focused on weapons retention and getting your gun into the fight, but honestly, while I’m pretty fucking good at it, these guys make me look like an eight-year old on the school yard in this particular sub-discipline.




We can stand on the range and practice shooting the eyes out of gnats all we want. We can fantasize about being The Virginia, facing down black-hatted Trampas and other ne’er-do-wells on Main Street (showing off my literary chops with that reference, aren’t I?). We can even focus on our combat rifle skills, facing down hordes of cannibalistic San Franciscans. However, the threat of violent crime imposing on our lives as conditions continue to deteriorate is an immediate danger, and the realities of fighting with your sidearm mean you’d better be able to focus on the fight that will be, rather than the fight you want. Master your weapon (besides, if you shoot a pistol expertly, as an instructor at SOT once pointed out to me, shooting a carbine is fucking cake), and master the skills you’ll need to get it into the fight. And, of course, do more PT (you KNEW that was coming). All other things being equal, such as aggressive, offensive combat mindset and technical skill, the bigger, stronger dude WILL win. As the man said after all, “Quantity has a quality all it’s own” and big guys have a lot more quantity than us less big guys.




John Mosby

American Redoubt

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  1. Yankee Terrier permalink

    Very well written article John Mosby..The best pistol training I ever recieved included at least as much retention and pistol”ground fighting” as range time..So the trainers definitely shared your views.

  2. thespartanmonkey permalink

    I can vouch for Craig/ECQC. ECQC was a physical smoker (I didn’t try to pace myself) and a total eye-opener. Once you take the course and see the light, the next challenge will be finding a training partner (and range..) that’s willing to practice this stuff with you. I forget if it was Craig or someone else, but the story went that Craig taught ECQC to some USASF and it was such an eye-opener that a newly minted 18 series dude decided that that line of work wasn’t for him and he left the regiment.

  3. I hadn’t heard that story, SpartanMonkey. That’s pretty interesting.

  4. Reblogged this on Jesse Talks Back and commented:
    Some great advice

  5. Phil permalink

    I tell folks ECQC will be the lens through which you view your defensive training. You might suck at S&C, you might suck at stand up grappling, striking, grounded work, or simply making a good decision under stress. If you honestly evaluate what happened the class gives you direction on what you need to work on.
    I’ve taken Cecil’s two day class and am taking it again this fall. For those of us that don’t have a big background in MMA, it is a great class focused on striking and grappling when the other guy has a gun or a knife.
    A great draw stroke is an essential skill, but that draw stroke is a bit different when there’s a 250lb pipe fitter sitting on your chest dropping punches into your face.

  6. hillbillynick permalink

    Great stuff here! Right on the money! The truth is scary to people who don’t want to hear it and this be some scary shit to the fat ass range monkeys! Carry on!

  7. Slim permalink

    Any suggestions for a 56 year old guy with arthritis in his hands, a bad back, and failing eyesight (other than stay away from dangerous people)? I’d rather not play the part of Delbert Belton.

    • Phil permalink

      I’m 50; Craig says the oldest person he’s had in ECQC was 72 and had to lace up knee braces before the physical sections. Take the class and he will structure it to what you can do.

    • Hi Slim, I’ve been an AI for a number of ECQCs. Most memorable physical impairment was a guy that had double lung and a heart transplant. He did all the evos and did a heck of a job. I would encourage you to jump in. Craig uses the Aliveness model which is based in progressive resistance. The key to progressive resistance is to add resistance as you’re ready and only as you’re ready.

      Outside the context of ECQC; MUC = managing unknown contacts, is your friend. Knowing how to see a problem before it becomes a problem is the prime directive whether you’re 56 or 26. Working from an initiative deficit is tough at any age, skill level and physical condition… it gets worse with injuries and such. Managing that side of things so you aren’t in a deficit is primo. For hands on stuff, I would recommend some sort of chemical; O/C. I have a bottle of red sabre on my key ring. If I can hose a guy prior to closing, good for me and bad for him. If that hosing causes him to drop or stop, even better as I’m now getting out of dodge or dealing with his accomplices.

  8. Good stuff, the truth hurts sometimes. Five star article because of the reference to FayetteNam. I wonder if the BLUEGOOSE is still in business? Ahhh Mindy Ling, now there was a barmaid you did not want to go to the mat with. Thanks for the Flashback.

  9. RobRoySimmons permalink

    Guns & Ammo TV had a piece done by their cop element about going to ground and how to retain, create the space for a draw stroke and how to line up the barrel to the opponent’s face, pretty good I thought, maybe some of the experts could critique it. Of course if I had been awake I would have realized that all their show is about the square range and there they went talking about a fight that had none of that BS involved. So thanks Mosby you prove yourself useful once again, you sure you’re an American?

    The man at Combat Studies made the case for the pistol craft about a month ago by simply stating that most of the time you will be pistol equipped, very logical, but counter intuitive since we all want to be rifle bad asses and so per usual we go with want over need.

  10. blake g permalink

    This column should be a primer for pistol carriers/end users!!! I’ve no doubt that you’ll be censured sooner or later by the “training mafia”, however I have even less doubt that you’re saving lives by presenting information like this (though it’s all open source, sometimes we still need to be hit over the head with it). Bravo Zulu…

  11. Francisco permalink

    Isn’t this 2, since the last one was 1.5? I had to scroll back thinking I missed one!

    Whatever the hell the number is, thank you very the great advice.

  12. Reblogged this on disturbeddeputy and commented:

  13. Brooks permalink

    I trained in Pittsburgh with Craig last October, ECQC with an additional edged-weapon day. There were 21 of us of all different sizes and backgrounds. Everyone switched partners and to some degree- everyone got a taste of that “oh shit I’m going down” feeling. The 2 on 1 exercises and the vehicle scenarios ensured that.

    What was my takeaway? More effective for H2H than anything I learned in the Marines, and the most useful and applicable training I’ve ever taken. It changed: 1) how I read distance and ‘threat’ 2) how I present myself 3) everything I conceived about edged weapons 4) everything about how and what I carry

  14. Brian Black permalink

    As usual, great stuff here! Situational awareness also goes a long way.

  15. Good stuff JM!! Big thanks for the props, I’m humbled and honored!! I don’t have anything recent on DVD but I’m working on some things related to the new course work. Every time I think about putting something out one of my friends, like Cecil, put out a DVD that says everything I would say, only they say it in a much better way. In all seriousness, we should team up and offer a weekend of training.

    • Matt permalink

      Paul Sharp, are you doing classes in Portland?
      I’m a firefighter near Seattle, and I think your skills would be helpful on duty as well as at home where I can and do carry a concealed pistol.
      Do you mind posting your contact info?

  16. Blake permalink

    This makes me want to buy an airsoft replica of my glock and take it into my dojo with a couple guys, then practice trying to shoot them while they’re trying to fight me. I would put this article into your top 10 ever written. Nice work.

  17. Max Ordnance permalink

    You hit this one out of the fucking park, bro.
    Great job. Hope you and family are well.

  18. This is so timely. Strangely enough just recently in the dojo one black belt and I were messing around with how to react to someone surprising you and sticking a gun in your side, if they’re trying to abduct you off the street. Came to the conclusion that likely you’d get shot but maybe you could get the muzzle down to where the round would just graze your side instead of go straight into you. But we couldn’t find the fake rubber gun so we were using the hilt of a fake knife instead.

    It’s better to resist right there on the street than to let someone remove you to another location – it’s only the difference between dying fast and dying slow, perhaps, but I’d rather die on my feet and free than tied up – and statistically those who get taken away don’t ever come home. Do keep in mind that the gun is only one thing in a fight and you could possibly win by stomping on their foot or kicking them or something. Like Mr. Mosby said, the operative term in gunfight is fight, not gun.

  19. Good article! But, I have to mention that Jim Grover, AKA Kelly McCann had been teaching these skills way before they seemed to be Trendy and Valid, and a lot of the more recent trainers started to begin promoting their importance in the real world of PREVAILING in a FIGHT.

  20. bchieppa permalink

    Reblogged this on Self Defense 4 All.

  21. Matt permalink

    If your in the Northern VA area. Hooligan warrior teaches this type of stuff.

  22. Barry G. permalink

    Excellent article. In my opinion, directed primarily at law enforcement. Taking a reluctant offender into custody demands a strong set of physical and mental skills. And yes, Craig Douglas’ classes are top notch and very demanding, you will go home really sore. For civilians, the rules are very different. In my personal experience, well practiced gun handling is very useful. And, physical fitness goes a long way. Hands on fight training and force on force training is a big plus. Mostly, the early decision to put the attacker out of business before he/they can put you out of business is the real decider of the outcome. Be so aggressive that your attackers look for a ‘safe room’. Be hell bent on delivering a horror story that any survivors won’t forget. As a citizen, you might not be as concerned about taking an offender into ‘custody’ as much as returning him/them to their maker, as having been ‘defective’. Mentally accept the fight, and your intended methods, so that the part of your brain that manages life threatening emergencies will know what to do rather than having to mull it over when the fight is ON. And yes, I been there, done that.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mosby’s Latest | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  2. Mosby’s Sidearm Tradecraft Part 3 | Prudent Survival
  3. Weekend Knowledge Dump- October 12, 2018 | Active Response Training

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