The Stance: A lot of time and energy is devoted to the shooting stance, basically how you stand and hold the firearm while shooting. This is as it should be, because if you are not holding the firearm properly and standing appropriately, you will not be shooting as well as you can. Today my focus is the stance I teach for self-defense shooting. This is different from how you would stand when shooting at targets, plinking at cans, hunting, or other “fun” shooting activities. When you need to use a gun to defend yourself or others, your needs are different.
Shooting a gun when hunting or target shooting is different from fighting with a gun to defend your life. Not only are the stakes much higher, the stance needed to be effective is also much different. I have carried firearms for self defense for over 30 years, and been involved with training in self-defense and taught people how to defend themselves with a firearm for decades. My thoughts and perspectives are based on that real world experience.
In Only Five Minutes
By utilizing the experience you already have, we’ll jump way ahead on the training curve — minimizing the time it takes to train you. I typically spend about five minutes teaching new shooters a good shooting stance that can used to build upon later. This is a physical skill, and actually showing them how to move into this stance, and then letting them feel how this stance works, and how it feels when doing it properly.
There are many details and elements that come together to have a good shooting stance. My goal is not to have them obtain a perfect stance — that may come later with additional training time and experience. Instead I want one that is a good, solid, basic stance, and one that can be easily taught, easily remembered — an extension of a natural reaction to a threat — and easily used — all at a moments notice, and without hesitation.
In my experience, the stance I teach helps new shooters very quickly gain confidence. Even before a single round is fired, any fears they have about being able to property hold a firearm or deal with the heavy recoil they sometimes expect to cause them problems. Once we get to the range, they are ready to shoot, and do so with great results very quickly.
Not Just Shooting: Fighting
Fighting with a gun, what is required during a gunfight, draws similarities to other fighting behavior. When you feel threatened, when you believe someone is approaching you with the intent on attacking you, your body has several natural reactions — preparing you to fight. Again, these are reactions that you can’t control, so lets take advantage of them, and incorporate the into a “Fighting Stance.”
When I train shooters, I have them stand up near me and I explain: if we were in a bar, and I was drunk and belligerent and told you I was going to walk the four feet between us and punch you in the head, how would you stand, how would you move your body, what stance would you take to defend yourself against me — show me what you’d do.
Depending on the student, I may also ask them to show me how they might stand if they were involved in a mildly aggressive game of basketball, and it was up to them to face off against another player who was directly in front of them – in just a moment, they will either need to take the ball away from the other player, or protect the ball from being taken away from them.
As I mentioned earlier, most of us have been in a position or situation where they were threatened, and probably had some sort of physical conflict (OK, a fight, or an aggressive action in a physical sporting competition) — the degree of how serious this physical contact was, and how many times it has happened in their lives will vary. But the reaction is already pre-programmed, and without you realizing it, when threatened with harm, you are very likely to move into this mode without even realizing it.
As I ask them to react, even those who haven’t been in a fight or sport contest since they were six years old, start to widen the distance between their feet and bend their knees a bit — lowering their center of gravity and solidifying their ability to stay standing should they be hit. They may move their hips a bit, shifting to blade their body “squared off,” instead of staying in a position where their body is parallel and directly facing the threat in front on them. Often they will bend forward at the waist, scrunch down their neck and raise their shoulders — helping to protect their head.
Quite often they will also raise their arms, bringing them from the sides of their body to a position in front of their chest, or maybe a bit higher — with their hand closer to their face. Depending on the degree of experience they have with being in fights, some may even be making fists and assume what might be considered a “boxer’s stance.”
I explain how when threatened — this is the natural stance they will likely assume. If their hands are lower than at face level, I may move my hand slowly toward their head — causing them to raise their hands without being directed to do so — using their natural reaction to danger by someone threatening to hit them.
This doesn’t require a lot of discussion. I don’t have to spend hours teaching them this. They’ve been doing this since they were very young — everyone has. No one wants to get hit in the head, and as a result, their pre-programmed reactions occur without needing to think about it or taking time to process — they just react. Now let’s build on what we have demonstrated they will do when a potential fight occurs.
I then duplicate the stance they have naturally moved into, or one very similar. I too hold my hands up in front of my face, and make fists, as if I were prepared to defend my self from a physical attack with my hands. With my hands in front of my face, I only need to move them forward about eight to ten inches, bringing them together as if grasping a pistol, and I’ve essentially moved into a robust shooting stance.
From Fighting to Gunfighting
My primary hand (the hand that will have the main grasp of the pistol), remains lightly closed in a loose fist as it would be were I holding the frame of a pistol. The primary hand is pushed out in front of me. My secondary hand, opens slightly, and the fingers wrap around the loose fist formed by my primary hand. The rest of my body stays in something resembling a “boxing” or “fighting” stance.
I then have the new shooter do the same, as they imagine holding a pistol in their hands. I use a solid plastic training pistol — a “red” or “blue” gun for training — there is no real gun that is “unloaded” enough for me to feel comfortable in using it during training situations like these. I hand them the training pistol, have them hold it, and revert back into the stance.
I start at the feet and work my way up explaining the elements of the stance (extra distance between their feet for a wide and solid footing, slightly bent knees to allow them to move as needed, lowered center of gravity, firm grip on the pistol, etc.). I then explain, and demonstrate how the proper stance will let them control the firearm’s recoil.
As they hold the plastic training gun in their stance, I “simulate” recoil by hitting the muzzle end toward them (another reason for a training pistol, there is also no real gun “unloaded” enough for me to do this as someone I don’t know that well holds it). If their stance isn’t robust, the impact tends to move them back and off balance. I do this several times, each time using a little more force, as they re-position their body to better compensate for the force.
Once their stance is strong enough to take a firm impact to the muzzle, I change it up a bit. This time instead of a single impact, I apply constant force at the same level as the individual impacts. Individual impacts can be absorbed even with a marginal stance. However, more often than not — the constant force tends to push them back and cause them to lose their balance a bit.
I explain what I have done, and why. I then have them reposition their body position as needed, and push once again. Doing this three or four times, alternating individual impacts and constant pressure, they quickly move into a very strong position, one that will enable them to control any recoil a moderate caliber pistol would generate.
As a follow-up, I begin to have them move: front, back, left, right. As they take a step, or maybe two, I again push against the muzzle of the training gun, and just as quickly, they begin to lean forward, naturally putting more weight on the balls of their feet, and actually feeling the difference between a poor and a solid stance.
Look at all the videos you want. Study all the pictures you see in the gun magazines. Have someone try and explain it to you using the best descriptive terms — none of these can have the effect of just a few minutes of walking them through the fighting stance, and then having them actually feel what they will need to do when shooting a firearm at the range, or when defending themselves, fighting with a pistol.
I have found that using these hands-on techniques, in five minutes, I can teach a student a very practical shooting stance that will be highly effective when fighting with a pistol to defend themselves or another. The key is the direct hits or pushes on the training pistol as they hold it up. If they have a good stance, they are able to resist the pressure. A bad stance, they know it immediately, and can change their body position to correct it.
For those of you who are interested in keeping score, some students naturally assume something similar to an “Isosceles Stance,” some more of a “Weaver Stance.” At this point, it really doesn’t matter to me, I’m looking to get them ready to shoot and defend themselves in a gunfight. Should they need to, refining their stance can come later, after additional training time.
Now that the new shooter has a strong shooting stance, its time to start building upon that, teaching them a proper grip on the pistol, then quickly moving into proper techniques to be used during manipulation of the pistol during loading, unloading, reloading, and clearing feeding issues — but, that’s another article.