Skills are not all that important

Found this on the web recently; had completely forgotten that I had written it.  Written originally for an LE audience, but it applies to us all.


As police officers, we train in various physical skills. Besides basic fitness (which actually is basic – physical fitness is at the foundation of every physical skill we will ever use, including shooting), and which is now often called by it’s peace-love die-dye new-age politically-correct name, “wellness”, we have been trained in defensive tactics, firearms and hopefully some advanced skills like knife defense and gun retention.Too often, and in too many places, these skills are still taught by different people, who are not all on the same page. You know, the gun nut is the firearms instructor; the karate guy is the DT instructor, and so on.

A full generation ago, the enlightened in the training community came to blinding realization of two obvious points.
Point 1: The physical tool you use to win the fight-whether it be your hands, baton, Taser or gun-is secondary to your primary tool which is always your brain. Not in the cognitive sense, as if a fight was a logical problem to be worked through. But in the attitude sense, as in the person with the toughest, baddest, hungriest attitude will be the survivor, usually regardless of relative skill or prowess.  Point 2: Even when deadly force is justified or desirable, often we have to fight with our bare hands because we lack the time to get to our gun.

Thus, our DT skills need to be not only fully integrated with our weapons skills, but they need to address a far greater range of threats than simply uncooperative subjects. That is, we have to know how to use actual deadly force with our hands, if need be! Here’s three stories to illustrate these two points.

Story one: We had Hock Hochheim up here a while ago for one of his CQC camps, and a group of us were exposed to Hochks grit-realistic approach to empty hands, the gun, the knife, and the stick over four days. During gun day, Hock told a revealing story:  “I love and admire “A”,” he said [“A” being a famous shooting instructor, whose name I’m not using because I haven’t asked his permission.] “If we were even in a contest out at his place, having to shoot plates and just general running and gunning, “A” would be holstered up and halfway through a beer while I’d still be reloading and trying to hit the last bunch of targets. But, if it was just him and me sitting at a table and we had to go at it for real, we’d wind up killing each other.”  That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between fighting and shooting in a nutshell. Shooting is about fine motor skill; fighting is about attitude and conviction.

Story two: In the class were two Metropolitan Police officers from London, both having served in the defensive tactics training division of that body. Neither were shooters, and neither carried a gun on the job (which was not their choice, but just the rules of the idiotic British bureaucracy.) In fact, they had to borrow guns for the close quarter live fire shooting portion of the day.  One exercise in that module is for the shooter to strike, as effectively as possible, a large pad that is held with the holder’s back to the targets. After some pugilistic effort on the shooter’s part, the holder fades off quickly and the shooter is to draw and engage several targets at a distance of a couple yards as fast, and as combatively, as possible-as if their lives depended on it.  The point of the exercise is to integrate full power empty hand skills with actual shooting…just like you may have to in real life.  Well, the Brits did an absolutely splendid, aggressive, realistic job of it. They closed and aggressed on the targets as they shot, moved laterally fluidly, shot one handed, and just generally acted as if they were, in fact, fighting those close-range targets with their gun as if their lives were at stake.  The American shooters, by contrast, tended to plant their feet, assume a two-handed stance, and fire a few non-emotional rounds at the targets. I can tell you for sure who I’d less like to have fought that day, if I was a bad guy. The Brits, who do not shoot very often, were fighting. With a gun in their hand, yes, but fighting. That’s what they knew the exercise to be about. The Americans, who shoot often, were simply shooting, because that’s what they’ve been programmed to do with a gun.

Story three: Options For Personal Security Options for Personal Security recently hosted a training summit on the snub-nose revolver. Among the renown cadre of instructors there was the full-time police officer known as “Southnarc”, who’s extremely close-quarter shooting technique is the leading-edge stuff today.  In between classes there was a group of us picking his brain, and he demonstrated some ground tactics. I grabbed a partner, went to the ground, and was absorbing as much as possible from the willing instructor when I looked up and realized that of the 20 or so people in the group, my partner and I were the only ones on the ground. Everyone else was looking at us-but not participating! Apparently they didn’t want to get their clothes dirty, or they couldn’t figure why they needed to get a little sweaty and do this hand-to-hand stuff at a shooting seminar. This is a manifest case of not getting it!

These three stories all come from the training environment, where we can see the difference between simply acquiring a skill and training to actually win a fight. Stories from the real world of the street abound, too.  Too often officers are injured or even killed because they lack the empty-hands skills demanded by a situation which required a more serious set of empty-hands skills than they had been taught, or had themselves acquired.  Too often officers wind up hurt because they never learned to turn on the switch of full-out aggression-controlled aggression, and lawful use of force, to be sure-but aggression nonetheless.

We don’t usually start fights, but we always have a responsibility to finish and win those we find ourselves in. Winning a fight is about fighting. Fighting well depends acquiring an appropriate set of skills-which always includes a wide range of empty hands skills-and on developing the right attitude. If you lack either or both of these, you owe it to yourself, to your family, to the profession, and to the community that you serve to acquire them.

Finally: I’ll hit this point often and hard: if you carry a gun for self-defense, you have to know the law. Invest the money you’d spend on shaving a tenth of a second off your splits with Andrew Branca’s book or seminars — it’ll pay far greater dividends. Visit this link to learn more, and use the discount code “streetstandards” for a 10% discount.

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