Every industry seems to have its "dirty little secrets" - things that aren't common knowledge, false assumptions, facts that run counter to common sense, etc.
In the world of handgun training, one of our dirty secrets is "There's stuff that sells and there's stuff that really saves lives". Running a close second is "We assign way too much value to labels". And coming in at third place is "We have a whole boat-load of outdated traditions and brand-new bad ideas" we accept as good technique.
Since you're still reading, I'll elaborate.
Stuff that Sells and Stuff that Works
The solutions to many of the worst situations we can face on the street are relatively straight forward - and they aren't particularly sexy. But sexy is always easier to sell.
Many of the martial arts, defensive tactics and shooting techniques being demonstrated in videos and taught in classes would crumble against a real attack "on the street". But they're cool to watch and fun to learn.
It's harder to draw people to a more plain and pragmatic curriculum, no matter how effective it might be. So why try?
Steve Jobs was paraphrasing Henry Ford when he said "We shouldn't be giving customers what they want. We should know what they will want and need before they can even imagine it."
If I'm the expert, why would I defer to the wants of an untrained public to decide what I will teach?
For one of two reasons:
1. I'm not really an expert and I don't know any better.
2. I'm more worried about making money than sharing knowledge.
I'm not trying to gin up a debate just for the sake of argument. If this was about soccer lessons, so what. But combatives instructors are standing up and saying "You can rely on what I teach you when someone is trying to kill or damn near kill you or someone you care about."
There is valid training out there, but it's not as easy as clicking on a video or following a "celebrity'" instructor you'd love to have a selfie with.
This leads to our silver medalist of dirty little secrets...
Too Much Value on Labels
I'm a veteran. I started in the 6th Marines as a Grunt and later, I was fortunate enough to serve in an Army Special Forces unit. I have nothing but respect for our "meat eaters" - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, all of them.
As a civilian, I've had the privilege of training with SWAT cops, Homeland agents, Air Marshals and the like. And once again, I have nothing but respect for the hard things they tackle day in and day out.
That said, none of those “labels” inherently imply any kind of expertise about how civilians, or even LEOs for that matter, should manage a deadly force situation on the street.
Expertise is specific.
Some or those job titles approach the realm of superhero status for us because the people who do those jobs are really good at a whole lot of stuff.
But where do they go, to get good at all those things? To a bunch of different individuals who are experts at just one thing.
Todd Hodnett never spent a day in uniform, but there isn't a military sniper alive who wouldn't give up a 4-day pass in Bangkok to get into one of his courses.
Angelo Dundee never boxed one round, but he produced Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and 13 other World Champion boxers.
Vanilla Ice isn't black but... Wait... I'm not sure where I was going with that. Anyway...
Finding an instructor who a) knows how to teach and b) teaches best practices for the street, is more involved than just picking someone with a "bad ass" label.
So, if you want to spend a few days at a course with your favorite door-kicker, that's totally cool. But don't assume that means you've learned the skill set you need for the street.
Being untrained and knowing it is nowhere near as dangerous as thinking you're trained when you aren't.
Outdated Traditions and Brand-New Bad Ideas
So, what do I mean by "outdated traditions"? Well, I have one ex-wife, three teenagers who hate me and a dog that pisses in my boots any chance he gets. So, I might as well go all in.
Let me site an example that is sure to evoke the hatred of thousands and perhaps even one or two death threats.
Jeff Cooper's safety rules are all wrong! (Scan left. Scan right.)
If you’d like to hear my arguments in detail (and leave all kinds of nasty comments) check out my article Who Dares Challenge Cooper's Safety Rules.
If you’ve read the article, then you understand why Col. Cooper’s safety rules apply to the range more than the streets.
The point is, good stuff - even good stuff that's been around for a long time - should give way, when better stuff comes along. Isn't that how the good stuff got started?
That doesn't mean "new" is always "better". So, evaluating new things is a bit of a tightrope walk. We need to be open-minded enough not to dismiss good ideas, but critical enough to filter out the noise.
One way to do that is to find the "why" behind the innovation.
Real World Example
Why are so many law enforcement agencies starting to mix defensive tactics and firearms skills into one training curriculum? Because over 450 cops were killed from attacks that were launched from within 5 feet, where the bad guys can get their hands on the cop and his gun.
So, it turns out we don't strictly use hand-to-hand techniques in one type of situation and firearms in another. More often than not, we need to consider how we should use them together. Our defensive handwork must work in concert with how we draw, aim and break our shots.
More importantly, there is a series of specific, well-documented, battle-tested techniques that have proven to outperform other techniques you commonly see being taught in many police academies and civilian courses.
Is this new information? Nope!
Instructors like Gary Drake, Don Gulla, Sal Mascoli and I have been teaching combined curriculums for "Inside the Five" as far back as the early 1990's.
In fact, it's these techniques that led to the design of our Combat Shroud. The Combat Shroud eliminates unnecessary steps in the techniques, increases shooting speed and accuracy and eliminates jams and malfunctions. (Click on the video to see a demonstration of some of these techniques and the Combat Shroud.)
Then why are these techniques and the equipment that supports these techniques just now becoming so popular?
Let's run through our list.
Is it sexy?
Not to the untrained eye. It's like watching a Judo match. If you don't know what to look for, it just looks like two guys in their jammies, trying to tear off each other's shirt. But there's really a chess match going on with dozens of moves firing off every second or two.
And without understanding the techniques, the Combat Shroud could easily be mistaken for just another gadget. But as you can see, it's not. The Combat Shroud plays an integral part in eliminating the need to clear your gun after each shot during contact, and keeps your entire ammo stack available at all times.
What about labels?
Who the hell is Gary Drake, Don Gulla, Sal Mascoli or me?
Were they on Seal Team Six? Do they have big name corporate sponsors? Were they in a movie? Do they train movie stars? Did they win a USPCA, IPSC or IDPA Championship? Do they have a "100,000 Subscribers" plaque from YouTube?
The answer to most of those questions is "No". But they do have a Metric Shit Ton of hours in a uniform, on a battlefield, standing between a principal and a threat or just generally dealing with situations where someone could get hurt or killed by violence.
Do the techniques and the shroud break with tradition?
Both the technique and the shroud look different. So, people have to be looking for something better or they'll likely jump to conclusions.
The bureaucracies that fund police departments would much rather stick to the status quo than introduce something new. And civilians are inundated with social media nonsense that glorifies stupid stuff, like curved pistols that match the shape of your ass. Have you seen my ass?
At the end of the day, there is so much noise out there that we need to know what we're looking for, then do some research to find it.
If you're looking for training that is deliberately focused on best-practices in combatives - ask questions, read blogs and watch videos that go beyond the basics. (Check out our Media Page.)
Then use what you learn to interview instructors.
Don't be afraid to ask them what's covered in their course - and why. And don't settle for hyperbole or generalizations. "We put you through real-life street scenarios." is a lot less meaningful than "We focus managing multiple attackers in low-light conditions out to 6 yards."
One good place to start is our Instructor Quiz. It's a good mix of questions you can ask, along with explanations that should help give you some insight about what you might want to look for in legitimate combatives courses.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I tried to keep it a bit lighthearted, because ultimately, we need to enjoy our training. This should be about bettering ourselves and enjoying time with friends - not fear.
PS - Have you ever seen a sweeter bunch of right-wing nutjobs?