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Christian over at American Firearms School put me through my paces the other night: tactical reloads, close combat leading to live fire, shooting while moving, low-light shooting and more. It was a genuine eye-opener; as far away from standing and drilling paper as you can get. Unfortunately, that’s all that most of us can get. Still, we can train within those limits. One of the most important stationary shooting-compatible skills: post live fire situational awareness. All self-defense-oriented shooters should get in the habit of checking their environment after every string. As Christian pointed out, if you don’t look around, you’ll probably become mesmerized by the gore your rounds create, leaving yourself vulnerable to God-knows-what. What do you do to add a self-defense component to your range time?

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37 Responses to Question of the Day: Do You Train for Self-Defense? Really?

  1. Preface:

    Last Saturday I was at a gun store waiting for a purchase to be approved and ascope mounted. There was an OFWG buying a Rugar LC9 and I happened to make a negative comment about the balistics of a short barrel. Both the OFWG and the salesperson countered with “I want something in my pocket that I can shoot a five feet at Walmart.” I didn’t say it but I thought “you have already made a serious error in judgement because you let the guy withn 5′ before you recognized the threat.” When you are that close the guy with the fastest reflexes wins and many jurisdictions you have to concede the first act to the perp.

    Self-defense starts before the gunfight and you have already failed if you end up in one.

    Inside the house:

    Understand your house’s geometry and locate the best positions to engage the threat. Be conscious of the time line and remember time is on your side. The more you strectch out time the higher the chance that you win. There is no such thing as a barrier, only obsticles to slow someone down. Make sure you maximize their use. If you can extend the pre-engagement phase there is high probability that the intruder will bug out before you need to fire your weapon. If he insists on pushing the issue the bad guy will be attacking while you are in superior defensive position. Not good for him because for you, it should be like shooting paper at the range. The last thing you need to do is see where you can get in 5, 10 and 20 seconds from any point in the house.

    Outside the house:

    Situational awareness is key but don’t get it like Harry Callahan, get it like Michael Westin. Blend into the crowd because you are less likeily to be singled out if you won’t be noticed. Look for things that don’t fit the scene and avoid them. Be aware of exit routes, watch your flanks and when you think something bad is going down locate a defensible position and walk (don’t run, it will draw attention) towards it. When it’s safe to move on do so but if trouble come looking for you the problem has been reduced to shooting paper again. It takes a lot of mental and practical practice to learn how to do surveillance/countersurveillance properly. Unfortunately, life being what it is you will propably be surprised and end up in a short range fight where a LC9 is just fine.

    When I am at range I shoot at distances ranging from 10′ to 25 yards which I consider the outside limit of where the cops will accept a DGU as legitimate self defense. I go on the principle that farther is better and if you can hit a man-sized target anywhere at 25 yards you will be deadly inside of 10′

    • train to look for hands. always make sure you can see their hands and what they are doing with them. A pan handler came up to my wife outside the mall yesterday, and he had his hands in his pockets. Wifey pulled the kids behind her, assumed a defense posture and declared she had no cash on her. I was very proud to hear she is paying attention.

      • Hi Dirk,
        Glad to hear your family is all right.
        If you don’t mind I would like to make a couple of suggestions.
        You used the correct term when you said “SEE their hands”. See their hands and notice what they are doing but don’t concentrate on them or anything else. Stay far enough back that you can see the whole person and what all of he or she is doing. Quickly (and continually if warrent) glance around for signs of danger or safety, while not loosing sight of the primary concern, and KEEP MOVING.
        The bad guys want their target to be stationary. It makes it easier to surround and they will usually make contact in the area that gives them the most advantage, which of course is where they want you to stay.
        In this case the best option would be to move in the direction of the mall if that direction appears to be safe. If not the next closest place that appears safe. If your wife truley believed this person to be a danger she could, and should, report him to mall security . Then ask for an escort to her car.
        If your children are old enough to not be afraid, teach them to help Mommy watch for suspicious people. Especially when approached by one.
        Just my .02

    • There is much that I could comment on here but most of it is not TOO serious.
      However I must take issue with your statements that a self defense situation could be like “shooting paper”. I certainly could be wrong but this statment leads me to believe you have never shot anything but paper. Unless you have the emotional fortitude of a professional sniper, any time you aim a gun at a living human it will be totally different than aiming at paper. It will not be like the range where you are relaxing, engaged in an enjoyable activity.It will be frightening. Unlike the range this target may shoot back, or first. Unlike the range you are betting your life and the lives of your family on the outcome.
      If you shop anywhere you come within five (5) feet of many people walking to and from your car.
      This next one is tricky so I’ll just say there are times when it is advisable to attack before you are attacked, but you had better be dammed sure you are about to be attacked or you will become the perpetrator.
      Your statement about blending into the crowd is only half right.
      A pocket gun is not only a good choice but if I had only one gun it would be a good pocket gun in .9mm. I carry a .40 S&W when out and about but knowing what I do now it would be .9mm because practice ammo is the cheapest of the major calibers and shot placement is the fourth (4th) most important skill to have in a self defense situation.
      Of all the statements you have made the only one I can agree with is that awareness is key. I rate the four most important skill to have in a self defense situation as:
      1. Awareness
      2. The ability to recognize a dangerous situation as it is developing.
      3. The ability to alter the situation or remove yourself from it before a confortation takes place.
      4. Shot placement

      • I have never been under direct fire. I have been under indirect fire which is fundamentely different. However, I know “a little” about surveillience/countersurveillance tactics, techniques and procedures.

        When I said “should be like shooting at paper'” I meant that your target is effectively fixed given ranges and muzzle velocities.

        Running gunfights are meeting engagements and if you know anything about combat you know that meeting engagements are the worst kind fight to be in. .If a civilian ends up in a running gun battle then he/she has done something very stupid or is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because most of us have never been in a direct confrontation it is better to seek a good defensive postion where you have taken a lot variables out of play so we con concentrate on the threat and make better decisions.

  2. tactical reloads, close combat leading to live fire, shooting while moving, low-light shooting and more.

    It might be training for attacking an insurgent position in Falujah, but is it self-defense training? I mean, is it really?

    I’m very skeptical. I think that self-defense training should involve things like: situational awareness at home, in buildings and on the street; threat recognition; rapid deployment with appropriate warnings (recognizing that sometimes, no warning is appropriate); and controlled fire while moving laterally or backward to move away from the threat and get the f^ck out of Dodge. You know. Defense.

    Most trainers are ex-mil or ex-cop and can only teach what they know, which is how to attack. Not many trainers teach defensive tactics because they’ve never learned how.

    • Yep. And I’d say the “XavierThoughts” blog nailed street awareness, for those who are interested. Scroll down to “Standing on the X.” That’s a read. In my experience intruders don’t want to be shot. Muggers respect a pocket pistol unless you’re in their neighborhood. In either case you’re unlikely to have a shot beyond 2-5 yards, if that. If you even smell trouble having a hand already on your pocket pistol (in your pocket) is a great way to start. It’s the main difficulty cops face…that the perp has the gun in his hand first. Fancy stuff means nothing. And much as I like it, three-gunning just isn’t involved. Even for cops, two gun’s probably the limit. laugh.

      • In my experience intruders don’t want to be shot. Muggers respect a pocket pistol unless you’re in their neighborhood.

        Yes. I just shake my head every time someone complains about the stopping power of say, 9mm vs. .45, or talks about reloading under stress. The reality of DGU, as seen in every DGU video I’ve ever seen, is that when the bad guy realizes he’s facing a firearm, he craps himself and sprouts wings. Stopping power and mag capacity are extremely minor considerations — almost inconsequential. Even a .22 revolver will get the job done.

        I think the arguments for stopping power are convenient excuses for buying a bigger gun. “Honest, honey, I need this .65 Belcher! The Ma Deuce just doesn’t say stopping power any more!”

        I like big guns. When it comes to handguns I’m currently packing .40. But I’m not going to pretend “stopping power” is the reason.

        • “9mm vs. .45”

          Well, they’re different beasts, and they are good at different things. 9mm is smaller, faster, and lighter, which generally means that it penetrates, often excessively. .45 is higher, slower, and heavier, which means that it requires a larger gun with lower magazine capacity.

          Which is better generally ends up being situational; need to deal with a single burglar? .45. Need to face down a flash mob? 9mm.

          Really though, well I can see arguments for both .45 and 9mm, I can’t understand .40; it has intermediate ballistics, intermediate size, and intermediate price; you end up paying about the same as .45 to get ammo capacity barely better than .45, with ballistics almost as good as .45. I don’t see why people don’t just go with .45 rather than .40.

        • Stopping power is a myth.
          Energy transfer is a myth.
          Temporary cavity damage is a myth.
          Street results are flawed.
          One shot stop results are flawed.
          All this has been known for many years but these myths are what keep people searching for the perfect gun and buying the next wonder bullet.

    • Ralph, you wrote what I was going to write. Some of it sounds more like combat training than realistic self-defense training.

    • Hi Ralph,
      I believe the answere to your question is yes it is. It really is. I believe you are correct in your assessment of what self defense training involves. I believe these skills along with the ability to neutralize a threat before it becomes a confrontation and shot placement to be the most important skills to have.
      I noticed you listed one of the prefered defensive skills as “controlled fire while moving” and one of the offensive skills as “shooting while moving”. These skills seem pretty much the same to me. Which brings me to my point.
      Why would anyone not want to have offensive skills in a defensive situation? If you are lucky enough to servive a gunfight you may want to reload just in case. It is very likely that it will be a close combat situation. If out at night it may well be a low light situation or even in your home.
      Once a fight starts you no longer using defensive skills , you are on the offensive. Offensive training gives you the skills to be on the offensive, to fight back.
      You stated “……. while moving laterally or backward to move away from the threat….” May I suggest that you never move straight back? An aggressor moving forward can move much faster than a defender can moving backward thereby quickly closing the distance. It is better to move in a backward diagonal direction left or right changing direction as needed. This gives you the advantage of knowing where your position will be while he can only give chase.
      I learned this skill in one of my offensive courses, or was it a defensive course?

      • Hi, Ron
        You wrote:
        It is very likely that it will be a close combat situation.

        That is exactly my complaint about the state of training today. Combat? No, it’s not a close combat situation, there is no combat, I’m not a soldier and shouldn’t be trained like one.

        My sole and exclusive purpose in a DGU is to escape harm, not to conquer Stalingrad.

        • +1

          combat/tactical style training is different from defensive training. Different objectives, different scenarios, different priorities, different mentality, different threats, different probabilities of events… etc. What suits one can be very detrimental to the other. (somewhat related, look at how cops make bad soldiers and soldiers make bad cops…)

          -D

        • Hi Ralph,
          My question was simply why anyone would be against having the training and resulting knowledge to go on the offensive when it becomes necessary to do so?
          Combat: noun
          1 : a fight or contest between individuals or groups
          2 : conflict, controversy
          3 : active fighting in a war
          Merriam-Webster

        • Hi, Ron
          I’m not against training, no way. I train and I support training. I train at the same place as Farago and I respect Christian, too. I just want training that prepares trainees for the real deal, not some fantasy situation involving heroism, storming the Bastille and rescuing the fair maidens.

          Such training is available, but is harder to find than hen’s teeth. Why? Because it’s not glamorous.

          I’ve been in life and death situations. There’s nothing romantic about them.

    • These are the BASICS of weapon manipulation.

      They are a STARTING POINT for learning how to utilize your firearm.

      The things listed should be trained until you can do them without having to think about it. Mentally, you should be focused on the things you talk about, tactics, position, future action, predicting the action of the threat.

      Training in low light, etc, is what allows you to do so without tripping over yourself and your equipment.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Ralph. Also, training in physical combat like breaking holds and quick moves to gain distance are key.

      I do not believe anyone in polite societ can successfully spot every threat and maintain distance from all potentials. It’s just not possible. You will end up in jail or an asylum.

  3. At the range I listen to weapons as I fire and try to mentally roughly keep count of how many from each side of my stall how often. I fire more when the range is quiet and like to step back from the line and see who is firing. I acknowledge each practicing shooter as a threat and reload. You can’t go into too many tactical maneuvers at a range withothers who aren’t participating but at least making the attempt to remain aware makes the action of paying attention an easier habit to keep.

  4. The house, from the master bedroom we practice; I draw a weapon and hand the phone to my wife(who has drawn her weapon) who locks herself in the bathroom to dial 9-1-1. I stay in the bedroom in a corner facing the door to the room. We wait 15 minutes(our assumed Police response time), then call the all clear. I also practice house clearing technique. We live in a reverse “L” shaped home. the window by the front door is the kitchen. Blinds are usually closed, but can be peeped threw. Two doors storm and wood door to open. Once in the front door I do a couple moments of silence(small house 1300 sq ft) to listen for sounds. Then I move front of house to back….

    • “I also practice house clearing technique. We live in a reverse “L” shaped home. The window by the front door is the kitchen. Blinds are usually closed, but can be peeped threw. Two doors storm and wood door to open. Once in the front door I do a couple moments of silence(small house 1300 sq ft) to listen for sounds. Then I move front of house to back….”

      This is not self-defense. This is HUNTING. If you think the house is empty except for an intruder, then you should remain outside, dial 911, and hunker down outside. If the intruder comes outside and threatens you or your family, then self defense would be justified. If you think there is an intruder, and a family member may also be in the house, then ‘house clearing’ might be appropriate. Depends on the other circumstances at the time.

      • I disagree. If there is an intruder, he has already announced his intent to do you harm by invading your home. The only rational reason to retreat is statutory, and that varies state to state. States with strong statutory castle doctrine are places where such retreat is not generally a legal necessity.

        • Rational reasons for retreating:
          1.Not getting killed.
          2.Not getting injured.
          3.Not killing someone else.
          4.Not injuring someone else.
          5.Not having a loved one killed.
          6.Not having a loved one injured.
          7.Not going to jail.
          8.Not standing trial.
          9.Not going to prison.
          10.Not getting sued.
          11.Not spending all your savings and much more on lawyers.
          12.Not having to fear reprisal.
          13.Not having to move.

        • +1. If there is an intruder, find a your most secure possible position, even in a Castle Doctrine state. If your most secure position is jumping out a window and running away while calling the police, do it. This is just common sense. If the point of having a gun is protect yourself and your family, why risk an avoidable confrontation with a criminal? Justice and vengeance are not your job. Protecting your family is. You can argue about protecting your property, but really, how much is something a crazed methhead can run off with worth?

          If you’re protecting a family member in a different part of the house, that’s a totally different situation.

        • +1 Ron and Bob. Get your family safe and gtfo. Only “hunting” should be in the act of getting to your family members to get them out.

        • Mostly reasonable, but I would prefer finding a defensible position with the family semi-bunkered in behind it and my weapon covering the approaches.
          Big problem with retreats, is that they can become routes.

    • I’ve taken a class from a guy who’s a SWAT team member and damn handy with all sorts of weapons and he says he wouldn’t go out to clear his own house in the case of an intruder unless he couldn’t account for a family member. His standard plan is to gather everyone in the master bedroom, lock the door, and get everyone behind cover while his wife calls the police and he manages the gun while loudly announcing he’s armed. Once the police are there, he’ll have them clear the house, since they’ve got their partners there. His primary concern is the safety of his family, his stuff is a very distant second.

  5. Christian is a great instructor, and I think that adding what Ralph just said to the mix would make anyone a better defensive shooter.

  6. In Arlington Texas today a crazed lunatic hit two cars then ran up the road at approx 100mph and plowed into six more, killing one guy. A concerned bystander went up to the SUV that the crazed guy was in to check on him. The SUV driver took a handgun and fired one shot at the citizen, killing him at point blank range. How in the world would someone have a defensive expection from this sort of incident? Why would you even expect to have to defend yourself from what should have been a severely injured driver? His vehicle looked like he couldnt have even survied, but was walking away in handcuffs, laughing and commenting that he would do it all over again. Whatever that was or he meant by that.

    Up untill now I would not have ever hesitated to help someone, especially in a car crash. But what about now? Do we check on someone with our guns drawn and ready to fire? Its getting more nutty out there by the day!

    • I think you know the answer to your question.

      We can not and will not be prepared for any and every situation. We can and should be prepared for the more likely situations.

      Being shot as you attempt to rescue someone is a zillion-to-one, completely unpredictable situation. To be prepared for that, one would have to assume that everyone was a potentially lethal threat, and that simply isn’t possible, let alone healthy.

      That situation in TX can be dealt with thusly: “Shit happens.”

    • Half jokingly, I say “approach any strange crash, fire, or raving lunatic with your hand on your pocket pistol (in your pocket). You won’t need 15 shots, just 3 or 4 if any. If you have to shoot, then run like hell and regroup. No, we’ll never be ready for everything. Agree. I pocket carry a G36 in a custom Kydex pocket holster, usually behind a checkbook or appointment calendar. To each his own. I’ve never had anyone comment and I’m able to put it in a locker as I enter the courthouse. I often carry a 10 mm G20 SF in cool weather and in the field. Compromises. Again I recommend Xavier’s take on street smarts.

  7. Well I refuse to be paranoid in any situation. And the shit happens catagory to me fits more into a hunting accident from one shooter not being able to see another shooter because of brush and landscape. I have seen this kind of catagory before, as this can happen where we live and what we do.

    My point is that when you are around some of these big city gangsta types, no amount of training can help much. They are crazy and dont care about their own life anymore. Clearing houses, looking at hiding places for a nut to surprise attack and understanding criminal planing is one thing. Training and surrounding awareness is still a great thing and needs to be practiced to the point that it is as subconscious as walking.

    We do, I do when varmit hunting, or you can get hurt or killed from these critters. They are quite unpredectable.

    But these two legged critters that dont even care if they live or die can be the most unpredictable, anywhere, anytime.

    When I am somewhere, or with my wife, or she is by herself, and dont like the looks of certian people or groups of, that we are approaching or approaching us, we have developed an exit strategy that doesnt look like an exit to avoid them. We dont want to be appear in fear, antagonized, or otherwise draw any attention that could paste us as a target. It feels like paranoia, but moving along without being paranoid. That zillion to one chance is actually going on more and more in differing places and situations. It used to be attributed to drug influence, alcohol abuse and such. Now it looks more like a developing culture now made up of “I dont give a shit” attitude which also means they dont give a shit about themselves either. It almost like its now ‘cool’ to be a killer and be executed for it. And in Texas, if you kill us, we WILL kill you back! I am glad I live in the country where the most I defend from is critters, the four legged type. But we still have to go to places like the DFW area where this craziness is more common.

    I do carry, so does the wife. We stay aware or where we are at and what we are doing. We both have attended awareness and proficiency classes and we talk to each other all the time about all kinds of crazy possibilities and what we could do to counter. But unless this “I dont care” culture is stemed, even a military guy can get killed. The police are killed more often from this culture. Its worse than fighting terroists.

    Do I sound paranoid?

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