Recently, I was teaching a combative pistol course to a group of law enforcement professionals and legally armed citizens. Although many instructors call the basic handgun skills fundamentals, I prefer to use the word essentials because shooters must have these skills in order to use a handgun for personal security.
I begin many of my courses with several “time in” drills in order to evaluate each student’s skill sets. My “time in” drills are fired at 20 feet into an 8-inch square as follows:
- One shot from the ready position of their choice in one second;
- One shot from the holster in two seconds;
- One shot, slide closed reload, one shot in four seconds; and
- Six shots from their ready position in three seconds.
I look for essential skills such as proper grip, trigger control, recoil control, aggressive body position and general weapon handling ability. I also look at whether they’re confident in their gun handling or confused and uneasy. Bottom line: Do they look as if they know how to “run their gun”?
During class, one of my students drew their firearm and shot in a very slow, deliberate manner—it took him almost three seconds in all. It was, I supposed, an attempt to be deliberate and on-target. So I asked him to do it again, assuming he’d step up his pace on his second run. But he performed the drill with the same slowness. When I asked about the speed of his draw stroke, he said, “I have found that it leads to a higher level of success when I shoot the XYZ Drill. I have been working toward a faster time on this.”
I then asked him what other skills he practices regularly and he told me: none. “I feel this drill is an excellent compilation of what I will need in a gunfight … it covers it all.”
After a brief pause I said, “Except someone shooting back at you.”
It was obvious he didn’t know what to say.
I find this mentality in my classes more often than I’d like. Few people have experienced armed conflict, so they confuse their competition experience with combat. They’re not the same. Although both involve shooting guns and stress, the stress level isn’t equal in severity.
I’ve competed in scholastic and collegiate sports as well as shooting and I’ve had someone try to kill me on multiple occasions—the stress isn’t the same. The activities themselves aren’t the same either. If there are rules, it’s a sport/competition. There are no rules in a gunfight—so if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough to win. This is an obvious difference in mindset compared to sport/competition.
Armed conflict should be avoided because you always run the risk of losing, no matter how well trained and prepared you are. Worse yet, many people believe they’re better trained and prepared than they really are. They enter conflict with a serious disadvantage they don’t know they have. Confusing proficiency in a particular drill with combat preparation is a symptom of this affliction. Shooting standards and drills during training are an excellent way to build and maintain essential skills, but they aren’t a solution to armed conflict!
A standard is “something established for use as a comparison in measuring quality” while a drill is “systematic training, practice or teaching by repeated exercise.” A skill is “an ability or proficiency; an art, craft, etc., using the hands or body.” As these relate to the combative application of a firearm, skills are those essential physical activities needed to shoot well enough to save your own life, a drill is used to reinforce the physical activity and standards are used to measure performance as training progresses. None of these are a gunfight and to confuse them as some type of equivalent is unwise—and potentially deadly. Standards and drills should be viewed as vehicles toward preparation, as should competition, but neither should be confused with being prepared to act.
With this understood, drills and standards are useful tools and most every student of combative weaponcraft is always looking for new ones in which to test their skills. I thought I’d share some of my favorites and why I like them. They’re not all-inclusive, nor should any drill be thought of as such.
El Presidente Drill
One of my favorite drills is the classic El Presidente, as pioneered by the late Jeff Cooper.
This drill is still used in classes at Gunsite (www.Gunsite.com) and I like it because it tests a number of essential skills in a short exercise. From a distance of 10 yards, 12 rounds are fired at three targets one yard apart. The targets should represent the high chest region.
Col. Cooper used 10-inch circles while Gunsite currently uses an 8-inch circle. I use 8-inch squares, but 8-x-11 sheets of paper work fine too. With your back to the targets, turn and draw from your holster and shoot two rounds at each target. Perform an in-battery reload and then fire two more rounds at each target. Try to get all hits in at 10 seconds or less.
A Set of Standards
An excellent example of a set of standards comes from former Delta Force Operator Paul Howe, founder of Combat Shooting and Tactics in Texas. Howe’s standards are realistic and designed to test the shooter’s essential skills. His pistol course is built around the successful completion of these standards while his instructor course is directed at how to teach them.
The below listed drills are designed with three purposes in mind: 1) to give you a measurable standard to maintain, 2) to give you an efficient stair-stepped workout program that covers all the bases and 3) to test the individual shooter at various times to show areas needing improvement.
Only score shots in the “A” zone of an IPSC, FBI or CSAT target. If an enemy turns sideways, that will be all you have to engage, resulting in a worst-case scenario. All drills can be performed in assault gear or while wearing a protective mask.
Notes on the standards: Drill #7 has the pistol set up with an empty chamber. On the start signal, a dry round is fired and then the malfunction is cleared, followed by the live round. Drill #8 is a slidelock reload. Drill #9 uses a round fired from the carbine (which must be a hit) followed by the pistol transition shot. Drill #10 begins in a standing position. The shooter gets one chance at each drill in sequence and must pass at least eight to pass the standards. You can’t aggregate passes in some drills and add on successes. You have to pass them all in one testing process.
Hopefully the difference between drills and standards is apparent. Both are designed to build and test skills, but they should never be confused with what will occur in armed conflict. In a gunfight expect nothing, plan on everything potentially failing and be prepared to move on to a contingency plan. The person who will win in armed conflict is someone who can adapt their essential skills to the situation they face. This isn’t something that can be taught in a drill or standard shoot.