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There is no Magic Bullet

Over the years, I have received many phone calls that went something like this;


“Yes, do you teach self-defense classes?”

“Yes we do. What are you looking for?”

“I’d like something for my daughter and me. She is going off to school soon and I often work late.”

“OK, great. We have a class coming up that covers several options – Pepper spray, less lethal, and empty hand techniques. The class is about three hours long”

“Hmm … Do you have anything that’s about an hour? We don’t have much time and I don’t really think we need the pepper spray thing.”

As you might imagine, the conversation usually went downhill from there.

Similarly, I get requests about shooting classes as well. Folks will ask what kind of classes I teach and as soon as the word “basic” or “fundamental” enters the conversation, the caller usually says something to the effect of, “I don’t need that. I’ve been shooting for ‘X’ years” or, “I was in the military and learned how to shoot there.” More on this later.

In the plethora of magazines - books and videos as well - that are now out there, you see article after article describing the “one thing you need to defend yourself”. These run the gamut between OC (pepper spray), ‘tactical pens’, batons and any number of other alternatives, each one more effective than the next.

Some of these offerings are written by martial artists, while others are by authors who may have had some training while they were in the military. There are others I question whether they have ever had any actual training. Some of the drivel that is put out there often borders on the unsafe. While able to turn a phrase pretty well, some authors sound like snake oil salesmen trying to make readers believe that mastery of their particular method/system/technique will save the day.

One recent article touted the use of pressure points during a fight. While there is a place for pressure points in a pain compliance situation (generally used by law enforcement), it would be a non-starter in a dynamic confrontation. Pressure points are relatively small areas that would be difficult to hit while in motion and while defending against your opponent’s strikes. The mistaken belief that merely hitting a particular area and expecting to devastate an attacker, can be quite enlightening when the desired results are not achieved.

It seems people believe there is some kind of magic bullet out there that can instantaneously incapacitate an attacker, turning them into a quivering blob of Jell-O. Watching John Wick, Jack Reacher, and Jason Bourne taking more than a little literary license, and turning bad guys into piles of crushed bones, while entertaining, gives a false impression as to what is effective and what is not. All I can say, if I ever hit someone in the face with three to four full-power elbow strikes and they shook it off, I’d quickly drop back and punt!!

I can’t count the number of times I have been asked what I thought of XYZ gun caliber or other piece of equipment. While I have my preferences, and make recommendations accordingly, I am not apt to run down another’s decisions. However, what I do see is that many seem to think their skills are as advanced as their equipment. One example are those who purchase a 1911 type handgun believing that if they don’t, they are less than prepared. However, when they get to the range, their performance is lacking. The 1911, while a formidable weapon, is not a gun for beginners.

Another example comes from many students who have come to class decked out in operational gear like they were going to war - chest rigs, leg holsters, battle belts, and innumerable pouches - all of which found their way to the ground or the trunk after about an hour of drills. One of my students once introduced me to his friend who was getting his gear out of his trunk prior to a 3-gun fun match. He had just about every bell and whistle he could fit on all his guns. About an hour later, I saw him packing up and walked over to him, and asked how he did. He began lamenting about how his pistol fouled on one stage and his shotgun on another. He asked my advice, so … I told him what Louis Awerbuck told a student in a class several years ago when he was asked if a certain accessory would make him a better shot. The student had several accessories on his shotgun already and I’ll never forget what Louis said, “If you really want to be a better shot, take all that garbage off your gun, sell it, buy some ammo and go practice.” ‘Nuff said.

Gen. Robert H. Barrow, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, once said, "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics." If I were to paraphrase the General I’d say, “Amateurs talk equipment, professionals talk training.” While having good equipment is important, believing it will do what you can’t is dangerous thinking. Truth is, most guns manufactured today will probably shoot better out of the box then most people can shoot them. So that leaves the shooter as the weak link.

On-going, consistent, and relevant training is the best way to increase your skills with your chosen weapon system. I believe obtaining skills with a handgun before moving on to shotguns and/or rifles is a good place to begin. Why? Shooting a handgun is more difficult than shooting a long gun and. if you can hone your fundamentals with a handgun, transferring them over to the long gun is much easier than doing it the other way.

There is no shortcut to developing your personal protection empty-hand skills or becoming a competent shootist. It takes time and effort. You cannot rely solely on technology or equipment. Anything made by man will fail at some point. Add to that the fact the bad guy gets a vote when it comes to the fight – he gets to determine when it starts and when it ends. There is no magic bullet.


Tea and a Pistol
Go Practice


The Director's Desk

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