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Rules for Combative Handgun Training

Rules for Combative Handgun Training

There are a sizeable number of people trying to make a living conducting firearms training these days. Some focus on competition, but far more emphasize the defensive or combative aspects of handgun use. While I have conducted more than a few such classes, I consider myself more of a serious student of the topic. I have searched for and faced more than a few armed men (and women) during my three decades in law enforcement, but in no way do I think that I have all of the answers on how to prepare and train for armed combat. One thing that I do know for sure is that there are a number of folks out there who are teaching techniques that make the process more difficult than it needs to be. The fact is, we know what is needed to prepare for such situations, and God knows that there are only so many ways to shoot a gun. The problem is that these proven methods don't sell tickets to an "advanced" firearms training course.

I don't spend much time surfing the Internet chat rooms, but recently I was looking in on Evan Marshal's website and chat room ( when I came across an interesting conversation on what was really needed to prepare for a gunfight. Much of the conversation centered on mindset, and justifiably so, but one post really caught my attention and made a great deal of sense.

The post said, "There is no such thing as an advanced gunfight€¦just gunfights in which the fundamentals were performed really well."

I wish I would have been the one to say this, as never have truer words been spoken. There is no way to prepare for every potential gunfight situation, as the variables are just too great. What needs to be done is to practice those things that are likely to happen based on past situations.

For example, we know that fights involving handguns occur at relatively close distances, are over in just a few seconds and involve multiple subjects who are moving. Thus, practicing to draw from the holster while moving laterally and engaging multiple targets at varied distances makes a great deal of sense. It also makes sense to practice this as fast as possible, but only as fast as you can deliver solid hits.

The increased emphasis on force-on-force training is another thing that makes a great deal of sense, but not at the expense of the fundamentals of shooting. Knowing how to think fast and sort out what is unfolding in front of you is a necessary skill, and Airsoft or Simunitions training does this like nothing else. The ability to recreate actual shooting incidents or create situations that are possible, based on where you work or live, trains the mind for conflict.


The brain is an interesting organ in that it really does not know the difference between a real confrontation and one that is simulated, so it can learn how to respond from the event regardless of whether it is real. However, please remember that all training, including force-on-force, is artificial in that no expectation of injury or death accompanies the exercise. This being the case, it is wise to never stop emphasizing the fundamentals of shooting and how to "run your gun," as this knowledge will never let you down in a clutch.

I have known J. Michael Plaxco for almost 20 years. I first met him when we worked on a promotional video together (Mike was there because of who he was; I was there because the owner was a friend) for a firearm accessory company that manufactured products for all shooting situations including competition, hunting and law enforcement. Prior to this meeting I thought of myself as a decent shooter, but after watching Mike run his gun I faced the harsh reality that I did not possess the level of skill that I thought and I needed to study up on the subject.

During breaks in the filming, Mike took some time with me and corrected many of the fundamentals that I was doing wrong. It was from Mike that I learned of the thumbs-forward grip and how it helped direct the gun, control recoil and get it back on target faster. He worked on my draw stroke, my upper-body position and generally rebuilt how I was shooting. In reality, he only spent a few hours with me, but the impact was immense and irreversible.

My quest for knowledge and improvement was established and remains to this day. Mike's book, Shooting From Within, was my starting point and was the catalyst for my trips to the Mid-South Institute for Self-Defense Shooting, Gunsite, the Smith & Wesson Academy, the SIG Arms Academy, Thunder Ranch, the Tactical Defense Institute, the Heckler & Koch International Training Division and Blackwater, just to name a few.

Even though Mike's book was originally intended for competition shooters, there was much within its pages that directly related to those of us who were training to defend our own lives, and this value was quickly realized across the country. Of all the worthwhile information that is contained within its pages, it is what I call "Plaxco's Rules for Successful Shooting," or what Mike calls quite plainly his "Performance Guidelines," that I remember the most. What follows are these guidelines along with Mike's explanation as to what each means. Keep in mind that he was referring to a match, but the correlation to defensive shooting is amazing.

  • Accuracy takes precedence over speed. "The most important thing is to hit what you are shooting at. No matter what else happens, you must hit your target."
  • Learn to apply your skills on demand. "Consistent top performers in any sport have a thorough understanding of the basics and have learned to apply the principles at all times. Don't be distracted from the shooting." Note: The obvious addition here is that no one knows for sure when an attack will occur and that being able to respond skillfully, without conscious thought, is essential or you will not be an active participant in your own rescue.
  • You must compete at your natural body speed. "Don't attempt to speed up or slow down. You must learn to allow it to happen." Note: In a fight, panic fire will not solve the problem. You must keep yourself in check and shoot no faster than you are capable of doing.
  • Speed is economy of motion. "Every move is directed toward gaining something. There is no wasted motion or effort." Note: Don't do anything that you are not required to do. Keeping your actions simple will oftentimes keep them effective.
  • Speed will increase through practice; it is a byproduct of proper training and technique. "You don't have to try to be fast. As your skill increases and you are able to execute at the subconscious level, speed increases naturally."
  • Let the sights dictate your cadence of fire. "Sight alignment is your speedometer--it shows you how fast you can or cannot go. If the sights are acceptably aligned, fire the shot. If the sights are not acceptably aligned, don't fire the shot until they are--whether it takes a quarter-second, half-second or two seconds." Note: Only hits end a fight; fast misses are like shots that are never taken, as they hav

    e no affect on the outcome. Don't believe in using the sights in defensive shooting situations? That's up to you.

  • Learn what is an acceptable sight picture, and trigger squeeze for the required shot. "Quality of sight alignment for a 15-yard shot is not as exact as for a 50-yard shot. You'd like to always see perfect sight alignment, but you must learn to accept less if it will still allow you to hit your target."
  • Shoot one shot at a time. The next shot you are about to fire is the most important one of your life. "Don't fall into the trap of thinking of strings of fire. A match [or a fight] is won shooting one shot at a time."
  • When all else fails, align the sights and squeeze the prepped trigger. No matter what else happens, if you align the sights and squeeze the prepped trigger, you will hit the target."

Shooting From Within is not a new book, but the information contained within its pages is just as valid today as when it was written almost 20 years ago. Mike recently sent me a copy of the third edition of the book with an addition to the above guidelines. While it does not carry the same impact of those listed above, it is certainly true: The one thing worse than a miss is a slow miss. If you are interested in becoming a better shooter for any discipline, his book is a great place to start.

Shooting From Within is available directly from J. Michael Plaxco. He can be reached at 2109 Oakcrest Court, Corinth, TX 76210; (940) 367-2463.

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