September 24, 2010
The author's Third Eye ready position succeeds where others fail.
The true Guard position. Problem is, it's fatiguing and the arms may drop to the point where the gun is pointed at one's own feet.
Webster's dictionary defines the word ready as "prepared to act" while the word position is "the way in which a person or thing is arranged." Putting these together, the words "ready position" as they relate to tactical handgunning would be "the way in which a person is arranged so they are prepared to act."
Every defensive firearms course I have attended, and there have been many, has taught its own version of a ready position. In all cases, the position taught either supported the shooting style the school advocated or emphasized firearm safety. Both of these are important, but sometimes they are not enough.
When I entered law enforcement in the mid 1970s, the Modern Technique of the Pistol, founded by the late Col. Jeff Cooper, was new to many police firearms instructors, and there was a great enthusiasm for the system. The ready position taught with the Modern Technique was called the Guard position or more commonly the Low Ready. The position was described as holding the gun out in front of the body but depressed at a 45-degree angle when the gun was not actually being fired, for safety and observation purposes.
When used properly, the technique was both fast and efficient as the gun only needed to be raised to the target and the trigger pressed. Simple! The problem was the technique was not used properly as many officers became fatigued while holding the gun out and allowed it to drop straight down until their elbows rested against their torsos, leaving the gun pointed toward the ground. While a number of instructors recognized this and corrected it, a great many more allowed the practice to continue as, after all, pointing the gun at the ground was range safe, so what the heck.
The problem was, defensive firearms training is supposed to prepare one for what will happen on the street to a level that is safe within the confines of the range facility. Tactics or techniques that are not safe for live fire must be dealt with during interactive training such as blue-gun scenarios or Airsoft/Simunitions training.
Due to improper Low Ready execution, I saw officers in the field searching for and engaging suspects from positions in which the gun was basically pointed between their feet. I watched this happen repeatedly during the decade plus that I spent working the street.
When I transferred to investigations and was involved in search warrant execution, I saw investigators move into threat areas with guns pointed either at their feet or at their head (thanks, television) as they looked for suspects. I would also see officers trap their guns against the wall while they looked around corners, making it impossible to use the gun if they needed it.
I frequently asked why they did this, and most would shrug their shoulders with indifference.
When I took over my agency's training program in late 1991, I continued my education into the misuse of the Guard position. During this period, I not only conducted training for my agency but contracted with other agencies for training, thus in a given year I would see between 650 and 750 officers for multiple training sessions--not including another 100 cadets from the regional police academy.
When shooting simple one- and two-shot drills from Low Ready, I would continually see officers either under- or over-shoot the high chest region of the target as they tried to raise and stop their two-pound gun from a position pointing at the ground. The inertia created by the gun's weight being extended to arm's length--combined with the loss of motor skill associated with any critical incident--make stopping the gun precisely quite difficult. During shoot house search drills, entire targets were missed at very close range.
As the history of gunfighting has continually shown that the person who gets the first solid hit will normally prevail, I viewed this with great concern. Efforts at getting officers to keep the gun at a 45-degree angle lasted only as long as their strength and concentration would hold out, which was not very long. I would be told over and over, "Why worry? When the time comes I will have it up," but from my personal experience, I knew better.
Col. Cooper understood this problem and actually took steps to correct it, but this seems to have been missed by many officers and instructors. In his excellent book The Modern Technique of the Pistol, Dr. Gregory B. Morrison wrote: "The Guard is ideally suited for working with the Weaver Stance. To get acquainted with it, point in on a target and simply depress the arms--and thus the pistol--by pivoting them down at the shoulders. The arms remain locked in their normal firing position, the finger locked straight, and the safety on (or decocker off). The eyes remain on target.
"One lowers the gun mount until the back of the upper support-arm contacts the rib cage. This bone to bone support avoids much of the fatigue from carrying a pistol around at arm's length for extended periods."
While one would believe that this would solve the problem, it didn't. What happened was officers got tired of keeping the elbow against their torsos and would just collapse the entire package until the gun was actually sitting on their stomachs.
What we needed was a way to keep the gun in a true ready position, one that would not not tire officers out and would still be safe for working around other officers. This led me to start using what I call the Third Eye.
Over the years, the name Third Eye has been associated with positions such as Chest Ready or Air Marshal Ready, but they are not really the same. The reason I call it Third Eye is because once the position is obtained, it allows the gun's muzzle to rotate along with the torso and follow where the eyes look. I could have called it the Bent Arm Ready or Rested Ready but Third Eye was more visually descriptive--something I think is important when teaching anyone a physical skill.
The position I am talking about is actually quite similar to what Dr. Morrison describes but with the shooting arm also bent. To understand what I'm talking about, pick up an empty handgun (double check that!) and assume the classic Weaver stance with the support arm bent downward. Lower the gun until the support upper arm is resting against the torso.
Do you note a bit of tension in the shooting arm? In an effort to relax this, bend the arm until this elbow is resting against your torso. Does this alleviate the weight of the handgun but not relocate the pistol dramatically from where it was in the Guard position? You are now in what I call Third Eye.
It is not the same as Chest or Air Marshal Ready in that the gun is not pointed at the target, as many detractors claim. The gun's muzzle is slightly depressed and is similar to the Guard/Low Ready position. Don't believe me? Get an empty gun with a laser sight attached and see for yourself.
When in this position, the shooter can move safely around other people by merely keeping the muzzle depressed and moving the elbows in and out around the torso while keeping both hands on the gun in a shooting grip. Safety circles or close-chest positions are not necessary unless there is near body contact such as an entry team "stack" where one person is right up against another.
I view the support hand as a wonderful "windage adjustment" when the gun needs to be taken to the target quickly, and I do not want to give up this advantage. In addition, the Third Eye makes it easy to deploy the gun because all you need to do is push the gun straight to the target instead of lifting it.
When pushing the gun to the target, it does not matter if the support arm ends up bent or straight. Both methods work well, and shooting stances are not the topic of discussion here.
For those who use a thumbs-forward shooting grip, the straight thumbs can actually be used as a sighting tool because they can be pushed straight to the target, taking the gun's muzzle along for the ride.
This technique has proven to be quite effective in actual shooting situations, getting the gun on target quickly, accurately and efficiently with little movement. As a matter of fact, I tell my students, "If it feels like you are hardly moving, you are probably doing it right."
The fact is, we all point shoot. Before you throw this magazine across the room, let me explain. The front sight can be used only once the gun is brought to the eye/target line. To get the gun to this position, the upper body and arms must complete a series of movements that allow the gun to arrive at this juncture.
The more consistently this is done, the quicker the gun will be brought into the fight. If this upper body motion is not point shooting, then what is?
I am a firm believer in using the front sight to confirm what our upper body and arms needed to accomplish, but if this does not happen, it's nice to know that I will be pretty darn close to where I need to be to save my life.
The fact is, it's not point shooting versus sighted fire: It's the understanding of both and using them in conjunction with one another that will get the job done. The Third Eye position I have described here helps with this task.
Is Third Eye all one needs? Absolutely not. Any "ready" position needs to be considered based on the situation at hand.
The Third Eye is not as "on target" as a properly executed Guard/Low Ready position. In Guard, the gun should be no more than 12 or so inches below eye level depending on how tall the target is. If the gun's muzzle starts to move off the torso (below the crotch) of your opponent, then I believe the gun should not be lowered further; the elbows should be bent and brought into the Third Eye so the gun can be pushed straight on to the target.
Through experimentation with many students, I have found the groin to be the "point of no return" when trying to get the gun on target efficiently. When at groin level or higher, the Guard position is quicker for the first shot. When lowered below the groin, the push action from the Third Eye is quicker.
I see the Guard as a threat management position that is used when a hostile is being covered or confronted whereas the Third Eye would be good if you are moving or need to be in a ready position for an extended period. When in extreme close quarters, then the ready position needs to be a one-hand, close-retention position, an example of which is illustrated in the lead photograph accompanying this article.
No single ready position will keep you, well, ready to act at all times. Situations constantly change, and so do ready positions. Or at least they should.
Any worthwhile ready position needs to keep the gun ready for combat or it is worthless. At the same time, it needs to be safe while training and while operationally active. But then, safety is really a function of the brain and not an arbitrary body position. Be safe, be alert and most of all, be ready.