By John Perkins and Ari Kandel
In the main, firearms training is little more than target shooting. More “advanced” courses teach students to “get off the X” and “find cover and concealment.” They offer courses on “firearms retention” and “close quarters combat.” Some add stress to try and simulate a “real” attack. But most firearms training fails to take account of a simple, inescapable fact: once a violent attack begins, it’s bound to be a full-contact, hands-on fight, quite possibly to the death. Situational awareness, shooting stance, trigger control, muzzle discipline – when push comes to shove, none of those is going to cut it when the fighting gets up-close-and-personal. Which it will . . .
A 2012 an FBI review of nearly 200 agent-involved shootings during a 17-year period found that 75 percent of incidents involved suspects who were within three yards of agents when shots were exchanged. Note: the average distance for law enforcement shootings is likely to be greater than for non-law-enforcement incidents, due to the different circumstances and missions.
If you’re forced to physically stop an attack, the fight will be close, sudden, fast, spastic and chaotic. The movement dynamic of violent crime is not leisurely, predictable or smooth. Violent criminals are fighting to intimidate, overpower, control, injure and/or kill you. You have to fight to stop them and they do not want to be stopped. In short, it will be VIOLENT.
When was the last time you saw a fight? Boxing? MMA? A hockey brawl? A couple of drunks at a bar? Those fights had rules. More to the point, they lacked lethal intent. The higher the stakes and the greater the risks, the more visceral, instinctive, chaotic, spastic, fast and unpredictable the movement becomes. Nothing raises the stakes more abruptly than the introduction of a deadly weapon or two.
[This analysis assumes that you don’t “freeze” in panic, denial or indecision in the critical moment. That’s a topic for a different day.]
Most people with an interest in self-defense have at least passing familiarity with the “fight or flight” response: an adrenaline dump’s physiological effects within a couple heartbeats of the perception of a serious threat. Physiological changes associated with the fight or flight response include:
– Increased heart and respiratory rates, increasing supply of oxygen to body. Constriction of arteries, increased blood pressure
– Release of fatty acids, glucose reserves and clotting agents into blood stream, increasing available energy and reducing bleeding
– Increased blood flow to vital organs and major muscle groups, improving performance of gross motor movements such as (real) fighting and running, while potentially worsening performance of fine motor skills such as knitting, calling 9-1-1 and eloquent speaking (significant when attempting verbal de-escalation—well rehearsed single syllable words are best)
– Suspension of reproductive and digestive system activity (experienced as feeling of tightness in abdomen), reducing need to allocate body resources to functions not vital for immediate survival Decreased perception of pain
– Pupil dilation, increasing visual sensitivity Increased sweating, related to the cardiovascular changes Increased visual processing rate, causing “slow motion” perception Tunnel vision, extreme exclusive threat focus
– Increased muscle tonus (“pre-tensioning”), readying the large muscle groups for explosive action, often experienced as “shaking knees”
As deadly violence gets very close and immediately imminent, the subconscious tends to take over (indeed the conscious mind often does not have enough time to fully perceive what’s happening). You are likely to have some basic, evolutionarily adaptive responses that have kept humans alive for millennia. You’re going to
– Focus intently on threats and square your binocular vision to gather maximum information.
– Drop your center of gravity and crouch to offer a smaller target and gain balance and coiling to move explosively.
– Recoil, lean and move away from threatening things, protecting especially your eyes and throat area. (Enemy muzzles, often described by gunfight survivors as appearing impossibly large due to adrenaline-fueled threat focus, are obvious threats that the body naturally attempts to move away from in close quarters.)
– Try to swat away threatening objects to keep them away from our vital organs. (This is the mechanism behind the many “defensive wounds” usually found on knife attack victims. The large majority of cuts and stabs is usually sustained on the hands and arms, the result of this natural instinct to swat away danger.)
All of this happens at what we call “adrenaline speed.” No matter how fast or slow you normally are, within the limits of your muscles and nervous system, the fight or flight response makes you (and your attackers) move at maximum speed. You can approximate this as the speed and suddenness with which your hand would withdraw from a gas stove top that is unexpectedly turned on.
Untrained or improperly trained people can often appear awkward and clumsy in this state. The adrenaline-fueled body can move more quickly and explosively than the person’s balance can control, challenging the person’s ability to remain standing and effective. The limbs can move so quickly that body coordination and efficiency are compromised. The primed large muscles may strain inefficiently against superior force, reducing mobility.
That’s why even experienced shooters revert to crouching, spastic backpedaling and “dodging” – not to mention single-handed unsighted shooting – when faced with an enemy muzzle or blade at near contact distance. Just as the body instinctively tries to avoid a thrown object or strike, it focuses on and tries to avoid an enemy weapon being brought to bear. Two hands on the gun? Not so much. The non-weapon hand is outstretched or moving to help maintain balance during this fast ballistic avoidance motion, or is being used to shield against or disrupt the threat.
The instinctive urge to gather maximum information about the imminent threat keeps the eyes focused on the threat and actually discourages the body from doing anything that would block the view of the threat, such as raising the gun or any other object into the eyes’ central field of view. The result of this disparity between training and actual violent confrontation: combat ineffectiveness, leading to the injury or death of the armed self-defender.
So how can we best train to deal with these inherent response? We need to
– Forget trying to master unnatural movements that conflict with the instinctive movements accompanying the fight or flight response
– Dismiss pre-planned, by-rote martial arts “techniques” that are unlikely to be recalled or “matched” to a suitable enemy movement
– Work to increase our combat-applicable balance (on our feet and on the ground), muscular efficiency, whole body coordination and subconscious visual and tactile perception to yield freer, more effective motion under full adrenaline effects.
We’re looking for training that teaches fast, reasonably accurate intuitive shooting from zero to seven yards, without any fixed stance or position nor dependent on conscious/foveal sight alignment, combined with combative whole body movement. Training that’s expressly designed to develop subconscious abilities that are enhanced, rather than suppressed, by the context of lethal violence and the attendant natural responses of the human body.
To that end, I highly recommend John Perkins’ “Guided Chaos” (www.attackproof.com). It enhances students’ natural attributes to maximize their effectiveness under lethal combat conditions. Perkins teaches armed combat with a gun, knife, cane, pen, laptop, ANYTHING. Under any circumstances. Because . . .
We don’t know in advance whether our moment of truth will involve trying to survive a point-blank ambush or trying to stop home invaders before they can reach our children’s room. To defend our lives and the lives of our loved one, we need proper mindset and appropriate skills. It’s high time The People of the Gun rejected rote training and square range preparation for more realistic and thus effective armed self-defense techniques and strategies.
Help me out. What other training do you know of that works with our natural instincts, rather than against them?