Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Massad Ayoob: 5 Lost Secrets Of Combat Handgunnery

By Massad Ayoob, Gun Digest

Evolution of doctrine is a strange thing. Sometimes, we do something after we’ve forgotten why we started doing it. Sometimes, we forget to do things we should be doing.

There are secrets the Old Masters of combat handgunning knew, secrets that have been lost to most because they weren’t incorporated into this or that “doctrine.” Just because they are lost doesn’t mean they don’t still work. Let’s look at a few of them.

Lost Secret #1The Power Stance

In true combat handgun training, as opposed to recreational shooting, you are preparing for a fight. This means you should be in a fighting stance. Balance and mobility can never be compromised in a fight. Accordingly, your primary shooting stance should be a fightghting stance.

When the body has to become a fighting machine, the legs and feet become its foundation. You can expect to be receiving impacts: a wound to the shoulder, a bullet slamming to a stop in your body armor, and certainly the recoil of your own powerful, rapidly fired defensive weapon. Any of these can drive you backward and off-balance if you are not stabilized to absorb them and keep fighting. The feet should be at least shoulder-width apart, and probably wider.

Whether you’re throwing a punch or extending a firearm, you’re creating outboard weight, and your body has to compensate for that by widening its foundation or you’ll lose your balance. We have long known that humans in danger tend to crouch. It’s not just a  homo sapiens thing, it’s an erect biped thing. The same behavior is observed in primates, and in bears when they’re upright on their hind legs.

In his classic book “Shoot to Live,” Fairbairn observed how men just on their way to a dangerous raid tended to crouch significantly. Decades before Fairbairn had noticed it, Dr. Walter Cannon at Harvard Medical School had predicted this. Cannon was the ?rst to attempt to medically quantify the phenomenon called “fight or flight response” as it occurs in the human. While we know now that Cannon may have been incorrect on some hypothesized details, such as the exact role that blood sugar plays in the equation, we also know that on the bottom line he was right on all counts.

The most precise, almost surgical, accuracy comes when the eye focuses on the front sight, with the rear sight in secondary focus and target in tertiary focus.

The most precise, almost surgical, accuracy comes when the eye focuses on the front sight, with the rear sight in secondary focus and target in tertiary focus.

When threatened with deadly danger, the erect bipedal mammal will turn and face that danger, if only to observe and quantify it before fleeing. Its torso will square with the thing that threatens it. One leg will “quarter” rearward. This is seen today in the boxer’s stance, the karate practitioner’s front stance, the Weaver stance of pistol shooters, and the “police interview stance” taught at every law enforcement academy.

The head will come forward and down, and the shoulders will seem to hunch up to protect it. The knees will flex, lowering the center of body gravity, and the hips will come back, coiling the body for sudden and strenuous movement. The feet will be at least shoulder-width apart laterally. The hands or paws will rise to somewhere between waist and face level. This, and not the exaggerated “squat” of the ancient FBI training films, is the true and instinctive “combat crouch.”

The body is balanced forward, rearward, left and right, its weight forward to both absorb and deliver impact. There is no good reason for the combat shooter not to stand like this. Indeed, there is every reason for him or her to do it.

A key element of the power stance as we teach it at Lethal Force Institute is the application of the drive leg. In the martial arts, you generate power in a punch by putting your whole body behind it. Whichever leg is to the rear is the drive leg. Beginning with the knee slightly flexed, the practitioner digs either the heel or the ball of the foot into the ground, straightening the leg. This begins a powerful turn of the hips.

The hips are the center of body gravity and the point from which body strength can most effectively be generated. The punch and extending arm go forward along with the hip. The forward leg has become the weight-bearing limb; it needs to be more sharply flexed than the rear leg because as force is delivered forward, it will be carrying well over half of the body’s weight.

Lost Secret #2: The High-Hand Grasp

A high-hand grasp on a Kimber Gold Match .45; note the “ripple of flesh” at the web of the hand.

A high-hand grasp on a Kimber Gold Match .45; note the “ripple of flesh” at the web of the hand.

It’s amazing how many people come out of shooting schools and police academies not knowing the most efficient way to hold a handgun.

The primary hand’s grasp, which some instructors call “Master Grip,” needs to be able to stand by itself. In a shooting match that calls for a two-handed stage, we know we’ll always be able to achieve the two-fisted grasp.

In the swirling, unpredictable movement that occurs in close-range fights, however, we can never be sure that the second hand will be able to get to its destination and reinforce the first. It might be needed to push someone out of the way, to ward off the opponent’s weapon, or simply to keep our balance.

That’s why the initial grasp of the handgun with the dominant hand must be suitable for strong control of one-handed as well as two-handed fire.The hand should be all the way up the backstrap of the grip-frame. With the auto, the web of the hand should be so high that it is not only in contact with the underside of the grip tang, but pressed against it so firmly that it seems to shore up a ripple of flesh.

On the revolver, the web of the hand should be at the highest point of the grip-frame’s backstrap. There is only one, easily fixed potential downside to a high hand grip. If the grip tang has sharp edges, as on the older versions of the 1911, this can dig painfully and even lacerate the hand. Sharp-edged slides on very small autos, like the Walther PPK, can do the same. Simply rounding off sharp edges or installing a beavertail grip safety fixes that.

Now let’s count up the many advantages of the high-hand grip. (1) It lowers the bore axis as much as possible, giving the gun less leverage with which to kick its muzzle up when recoil hits. (2) It guarantees that the frame will be held as a rigid abutment for the auto’s slide to work against. With too low a hold, the whipsaw recoil that follows moves the frame as well as the slide, dissipating some of the rearward momentum needed to complete the cycle.

The result is often a spent casing caught “stovepiped” in the ejection port, or a slide that does not return fully to battery. (3) On most handguns, this grasp allows a straight-back pull of the trigger. If the gun is grasped too low, a rearward pull on the trigger becomes a downward pull on the gun, jerking its muzzle – and the shot – low. Draw is hastened because (4) the grip tang of the auto is the easiest landmark for the web of the hand to find by feel.

Pick up a gun magazine with one or more stories on action shooting championships, and watch how the winners hold their guns. The webs of their hands will be riding high. Now you know why. The champions know what so many other shooters have missed.

Next, The Crush Grip