Denial Kills You Twice

“Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: You didn’t bring your gun; you didn’t train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by fear, helplessness, horror and shame at your moment of truth.”

Lt. Col. David Grossman

Self-Defense Lessons from Concealed Handgun Carry Course

This article originally appeared on the Defend University web site and detailed a number of items which apply to everyone carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense from an instructional module in a high level executive protection course.

This particular course had representatives from the military, law enforcement and the security industry. There was also a very skilled martial artist taking the course as a way to get into the executive protection business.  Many of the students have experience at the highest level of the special warfare and special forces business.

The lessons learned by the experiences that happened during this course are the same that instructors will see time and time again — and they have direct applications for any one carrying a handgun for self-defense or for the defense of others. What this class presented to these students was a good dose of stress (much of it probably self-inflicted since they wanted to pass the shooting module to graduate from the course), movement and drawing from concealment.

My observations:

  1. Shooting a handgun quickly and accurately involves perishable skills.  All of the mechanics that go into smooth, effective and accurate handgun shooting are fine motor skills — and that means they don’t hold up well over time without practice.  I witnessed operators with world-class experience right out of the hottest combat zones having a difficult time presenting and shooting their handguns well. I’m not saying they were terrible — they were adequate, but I could tell visually that there was a lot of rust in their technique and it was not what you would expect from this strata of operators. Their comments to me indicated they were not happy with their performance. The comments were not so much an excuse, but more of an explanation like “sheesh, I’ve not really shot my handgun in the last 18 months” or a lot of head shaking and muttering under their breath. It’s obvious there was room for improvement. (To be fair here, it’s a whole different story with other courses I’ve done with active military personnel that involve carbines. Obviously, the M4 is their sword and the one that they spend their time shooting and not handguns.) All of the students’ targets improved significantly as the course went on, some from getting back into the groove of their potential skill level and other because they were benefitting from the instruction and coaching.
  2. Shooting is not a natural behavior. It’s a skill that requires putting together multiple actions over a short period of time. There is a grip, presentation, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press and follow through. Then there are other aspects like ammunition management and the re-holster. That’s a lot of thoughts and actions in what should be a simple sequence. It’s a bit like golf in that regard. To become a superior golfer, you need instruction. To become a superior gunfighter, you need instruction. Practice and then get more coaching. Practice what you’ve been coached on. The most proficient shooters where those who have been taught an efficient drawstroke and delivery of rounds on target. They have practiced and can smoothly repeat the action over and over again. The self-taught and uncoached students were inconsistent and seemed to be searching for an answer to their inconsistency during the course. This second group of students did benefit significantly from the instruction (my point in #1 above), but they were still outshown by those who had good technique to begin with.
  3. Practice with your concealment equipment. This is probably the number one problem I observed during this course. A good number of the students have not regularly shot from concealment. Police officers and military members are almost always overtly armed and carry a duty rig that is configured the same all the time. Security personnel and citizens almost always do their shooting on the range. But carrying covertly or concealed means you will have some sort of garment covering your holster. In fact, many people carry a different type or sized handgun for concealment than they do for duty or the range. Many people then use a different type of holster for concealed carry than they do for duty, range or competition. Let’s look at this — shoot all the time on the range with one handgun and one holster on a belt, but now carry a different handgun in a different holster under a garment for self-defense. See where I’m going with this? I saw some serious flubs on draws caused by unfamiliarity with the concealed carry. I saw draws that got tangled up in shirttails. I saw two students fumbling with the safeties and magazine release buttons on unfamiliar pistols. I saw a student literally draw his holster — his paddle-style holster was still attached to the pistol when he drew it. It had come right out of his waistband. I also talked with one operator who carried a compact .45 semi-concealed on his plate carrier in Afghanistan only to find out one day that it had become rusted sometime during his deployment. Practice with what you are going to carry. Shake down your set up. Does it work? Does it work under stress? You should probably rethink your handgun system. Instead of having different types of handguns for different activities, take a look at having the same handgun in different sizes, i.e. duty, compact and subcompact. For Glock people that could mean a Glock 17 full-sized handgun for duty or range; a Glock 19 compact model for concealed carry or a Glock 26 subcompact model for deep concealed carry. In this example all of the models use the same caliber (9mm) and are the same size with the exception of shorter barrels and grips for the compact and subcompact models. If you are a .40 caliber fan, then you could repeat this system with a Glock 22 full-sized handgun for duty, a Glock 23 compact for concealment and a Glock 27 subcompact. Staying with one handgun system means the same manual of arms, the same sight picture and the same “feel” for all of the handguns.

Your super-stressful self-defense incident should not be the time to be figuring out your equipment. It should not be the time to find out that you haven’t kept up your skills.

There will be no warm up.

You will not have time to get ready — you will have to be ready.

Train like your life depends on it.

Review: Speed Marksmanship with J.J. Racaza

TSG signed up to take a course with J.J. Racaza called Speed Marksmanship held at the Clark County shooting facility in Las Vegas. Some of you might know the name from the television series “Top Shot” and some of you might know his name from the competition world.

J.J. Racaza instructing students at Speed Marksmanship shooting class.
J.J. Racaza instructing students at Speed Marksmanship shooting class.

But what most don’t know is that he has spent a substantial part of his career dedicated to the Department of Homeland Security in operating and training.

That combination of competition and practical firearms perspective made this course extremely interesting.

First things first: this a high-level class. It is not for beginners. The subtle concepts will be lost on those who have not attained an advanced level of skill. Seriously — if you are not willing to explore the advanced concepts of trigger control for 6 hours, this is not the class for you.

The exciting aspect of this course was the focus on breaking through the “normal” concepts of shooting and give you a doorway into the physical and mental aspects of the world’s fastest competitive shooters. It is designed to ruthlessly push your boundaries and force you onto a whole new level of shooting. And J.J. does this in a really, really engaging way.

That being said, J.J. emphasized the “marksmanship” aspect of the course title. It doesn’t matter how fast you are shooting if you are not hitting your target. He reinforced this concept during some of the competitive challenges during the course — only the times with hits were counted. In other words, students with extremely fast misses were disqualified leaving slower students who achieved hits as winners.

Here is a video from the course showing J.J. coaching Brad. The goal of the drill is to increase the speed of the shot transitioning from the near paper target to the far steel target.

As you can see, J.J. is saying Brad had a “delayed press” on the first string. He is coaching him to begin prepping the trigger even as he transitions from the paper target to the steel one about 15 yards beyond. The coaching yields a dramatically improved time for the second string.

Speed Marksmanship Course Concepts

  1. The fundamentals mastered.
  2. Trigger control.
  3. Presentation.
  4. Target transitions.

Class Pros and Cons

These are impressions coming from our experience for one particular day.  Remember that variables such as a different day, a different location or a different group of students can have an effect on the course experience for you. In other words, your mileage might vary.  Also take into account the yin/yang aspect of a positive aspect creating a corresponding negative aspect. Increased personal attention and coaching = pro. The corresponding drag on the rest of the class = con.  You decide what’s more important to you.


  • J.J. has an engaging personality and his teaching method is a good blend of friendly and firm. He’s the type of instructor who pushes you in a way that makes you want to perform.
  • Surprising amount of personal coaching and one-on-one time.
  • The concepts are extremely advanced which challenge you.
  • Instructor who DOES what he is teaching.  J.J. demonstrates the concepts giving you concrete examples for some very esoteric information. Demonstrating the drills and the concepts at a very, very high level also reinforces the credibility of the instructor. In this case, J.J. makes most of it look easy.  When he pushes himself towards the upper limits of his own speed, you start to see his accuracy degrading — just like students experience.  In business leadership, this expression of vulnerability (J.J. showing us he is human as he begins to “fail”) establishes trust among the group.
  • The concepts are measured. The shot timer is out and used religiously giving students a very real barometer of performance. This is important because some of the methods, particularly for transitions between targets, are perceived to be “slower”, yet the timer proves they are actually faster.
  • Friendly competition and making a game out of the drills adds to the fun and keeps interest.


  • The length of the course might challenge your concentration and attention for a skill  that demands concentration and attention.
  • The personal coaching time for individual students leaves the rest of the group with some down time. This is great for reloading magazines, hydrating, snacking. But it can make the overall course tempo feel somewhat slower — particularly later in the evening.


$250 for 9 hours of instruction and training.  Expect to shoot about 500 rounds.

Check out more background on J.J. in the video below:

Mindset of Successful Defense Against Knife Attack

We have another post concerning a murder spree in  New York where Maksim Gelman killed four and injured another five people during a 28-hour rampage with an 8-inch chef’s knife.

His rampage finally ended on the subway when he ran into Joseph Lozito, a 40-year-old ticket seller at Lincoln Center.  He had noticed Gelman earlier and pegged him for a suspicious type. When Gelman tried to break into the motorman’s car and was repulsed by the cops there, he ran back through the car lunging toward Lozito yelling “You are going to die!”

Lozito’s actions and his story is a brilliant example of the successful self-defense mindset.

Lozito instantly counter attacked, taking down Gelman with a leg sweep. Gelman produced the 8-inch knife from under his jacket and began slashing at Lozito who was grappling with the killer, trying to control his wrist. During the onslaught, Lozito suffered a number of slash wounds to his head, hands and arms — typical

Joseph Lozito knife injuries
Joseph Lozito’s actions stopped the murder spree. (Photo credit NY Daily News)

defensive wounds suffered by stabbing victims.

Tying the bad guy up gave enough time for New York’s finest to charge onto the train and subdue the attacker.

Let’s look at the lessons we can take from Lozito’s brave and unselfish actions on that train:

  • Lozito is basically an untrained fighter although he is described as a “MMA buff” who watches the UFC on television. If he can do it, you can do it.
  • Lozito was highly aware of the suspicious nature of Gelman.  ”You could tell this guy was shady,” he said. “I had my eye on him”.  AwarenessHe was already ‘switched on’ to possible danger and was not surprised when the confrontation began. 
  • Lozito reacted to the threat immediately, most likely crashing into Gelman as the madman lunged forward, then kicking or sweeping the attacker’s legs out from under him. “I wouldn’t win any style points for taking him down, but it did the job,” he said. You are not in a competition, no one is scoring you on the looks of your techniques. Only the effectiveness of the techniques count. Remember, there is no second place in a lethal force encounter. 
  • His bulk (he is 6-2 and 270 lbs.) undoubtedly helped negate the charge from Gelman. Mass and firepower count in combat.
  • Lozito had a clear sense of his mission — take the bad guy down and control his wrist.  Concentrate on the immediate task at hand. Reject negative or disassociated thoughts that can enter your mind. Keep a clear mind and focus on what needs to be done right now, which is stop and secure the weapon. 
  • During the attack, Lozito pressed for a psychological advantage by telling Gelman, “You better hope that I die because I’m going to come kill you.” The tide of a battle or a deadly assault often turns in favor of the combatant with the sheer determination to fight to the end, to never give up.
  • Lozito’s commitment is obvious and he continued to fight despite being slashed severely.  However, as is often the case in the heat of defending against a murderous attack, he was unaware of his injuries until after the event when blood was pouring out of his wounds. You might have already been stabbed, cut, shot or knocked down. But that’s not the end of the fight. You must press on and persevere — finish the fight! Heinous injuries are survivable and modern emergency medical services will be there shortly to give you the best care on the planet. Better to act and be injured than freeze and allow yourself to be killed.
  • Lozito said, “I’m glad he picked me. There were a lot of women and children on the train who couldn’t defend themselves. He picked me and instinct kicked in.” You are morally justified — indeed morally obligated — to protect the weak and innocent from evil. 
  • He had something to live for.  After the cops subdued Gelman and a good Samaritan came forward to put pressure on Lozito’s wounds, he said, “I told him, you gotta get me out of here. I can’t die on this train.  I have a wife and two kids.” You have something bigger than yourself to live for: your wife, your kids, your parents. Don’t let him cut your life short — you have more to do in this life. You were not destined to die on the floor of some subway train or in a filthy gutter or deserted ditch. Keep fighting to preserve the life you deserve.

“I wasn’t going down without a fight,” he said. “I took his best shots and I am still standing.”

Kudos to Joseph Lozito for modeling the way of a successful defender.

This post has been revised from the original on the Defend University website which no longer features articles. 

Awareness for Self-Defense: It’s the People You Need to Watch

Most of the “common-sense” sort of self-defense includes some variation of the theme, “be aware of your surroundings and look for something out of place”.

We like to recommend something more specific and recommend that you watch the people in your surroundings.

Case in point: a weekend at one of the big box retailers.  Lots of people coming and going through the doors of the business with the corresponding volume of traffic in the parking lot.   About midday, tons of happy people walking.  Sunny and warm.

The ‘surroundings’ and the general environment were totally normal.  Almost festive.  If you simply vibed your surroundings, it all seemed normal and totally harmless.

Except for one car.

A car that blended well into the kind of crowd coming and going.  Nothing remarkable about it at all, except that it passed by the front of the store three times which is not normal.  Unless it’s someone waiting and trying to pick up a shopper coming out the front door.  But this car was stopping and talking with random people in the parking lot.  Wait — not just random people — only women.  And the women’s reactions seemed to be less than cordial to the driver.

What could possibly be going on?  Whatever it was, I’m not taking changes.  I wrote down the license plate number and the description of the vehicle.  Then I asked an employee to call the store manager.  I explained the situation quickly and pointed out the car.

The store manager walked out into the parking lot to investigate which prompted the car to speed away.  Probably a good indication that the driver’s motives were not entirely innocent.

Because parking lots are high-risk, transitory areas, it is particularly important to be aware of who is moving through them and who seems to be ‘hunting’ for prey (and not just hunting for a parking spot).

It’s the people you need to watch — not the environment.

This a revised post which originally appeared on the Defend University website which now does not feature articles. 


Successful Self-Defense Strategies for Multiple Attackers?

It’s the nightmare self-defense scenario – facing multiple attackers.

Sure, it’s entertaining to see movies and television shows where the hero defeats multiple attackers, often with entertaining moves and running comedic dialog.

However, this is no joking matter when you are faced with multiple opponents. Studies show that assaults are more likely to escalate into homicides when there are multiple attackers, particularly when the attackers are juveniles.

Whether this is because the victim is absorbing multiple trauma or because the wolf pack mentality of the group causes the fight to go far beyond the limits that a single attacker would go, I cannot say.

But if you are faced with multiple attackers you are in deep, deep, trouble.

Multiple attackers mean angles, weapons and levels of attack increase exponentially, not just by the sum of the number of attackers. Four attackers don’t just mean you have to worry about four times the trouble, now you have 16 times as many weapons to contend with.

Yet, it is possible for a single person to defeat multiple attackers.

I have seen a video of Royler Gracie avoiding and evading two of the largest L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies present in a seminar. These two officers could not control Gracie and it was obvious that they would not have been able to keep him in one place long enough to assault him.

Conversely, I have a video tape of a single suspect virtually destroying two Texas State Troopers. To make matters worse, the two officers are both hitting the suspect with expandable batons and the suspect ends up flooring both officers with punches.

Evidently, in these situations, the two combatants were not equal in the skill or strength of the single combatant.

So how do you train to become so skillful that you can reasonably expect to defeat multiple opponents? Is there a style that most advantageous to study? What are the best strategies and techniques?

“A mass attack can happen in a variety of situations and so quickly and unexpectedly that you have little or no time to think about it,” says Loren Christensen, a former police officer, defensive tactics instructor and now author on self-defense. “It’s important to think about it now and experiment with it in your training.”

He gives these tips:

1. You must think quickly and anticipate the attackers’ moves.
2. Think in terms of striking targets that either stun or are potentially lethal. Consider striking the temple, throat, mastoid, spine, solar plexus, kidneys, groin, and knees. These targets maximize the effectiveness of your blows, thus conserving your strength and energy.
3. You must control your breathing to keep your anxiety in check and your energy level high.
4. Move fluidly with grace and balance.
5. Power can be increased by adding leverage, speed of delivery, and mass.
6. If you are fighting with your hands, be careful not to injure them.

Christensen has a substantial background in karate with seven black belts. He also has two black belts in jujitsu and one in arnis.

Marc MacYoung, an ex-bouncer and a prolific self-defense writer, goes for the “single out the mouth” concept. He confronts the leader of the group and tells him, basically, that no matter what happens; Mr. Mouth is going to pay severely for the fight.

MacYoung advocates maneuvering opponents into a single line so they cannot all reach you at the same time. “Triangles are bad” he says. “Stay moving” and try to breech their line so you can get to a more advantageous position.

But however you do it; MacYoung says keep it simple and get it over with quickly.

“I always planned my violence for both the shortest time possible as well as the simplest, most bulletproof moves I could find, “he says. “When I streamlined it down to the bare basics, all I was doing was keeping it so simple that things were less likely to go wrong.”

To world-famous bouncer Geoff Thompson, it’s all about offense.

“I have probably been involved in more than 100 fights where the numbers were against me,” he says. “I won because I was first to initiate the physical attack.”

Thompson also fears getting flanked by opponents. “Part of the attacker’s ritual is the pincer movement. One attacker, usually the one facing and threatening you, will deploy your attention while the others attack from your blind side.”

Thompson’s training is traditional karate, boxing and judo. He usually advocates knock out blows.

“If you feel an attack is imminent, attack first. This is the most critical factor in such a scenario,” he says.

“My own preemptive strike would be a right cross/hook to the jaw preceded by some kind of mentally disarming verbal communication, hopefully neutralizing the first person,” says Thompson. “Then I would attack with headbutts, punches, or kicks to the remaining antagonists, depending upon my distance from them.”

Thompson’s tactics would be supported by the writings of the ancient Japanese swordmaster Miyomoto Musashi, who said, “When facing multiple opponents, you must attack first and keep attacking until the danger subsides.”

The keys for victory from these professionals and others who have successfully defeated multiple opponents could tend to be generalized as:

1. Constant and effective movement;
2. Aggressive attitude;
3. Superior striking skills;
4. Use of weapons.

Style or Fighter?

But is it the style you train in or you as the fighter that makes or breaks your self-defense ability?

I think the answer is it’s the fighter. Evidence to support this can found in mixed martial arts tournaments and reality fighting matches where fighters of every conceivable style of martial art have won and lost. There have been dominant fighters, but there are no longer dominant styles.

I know of, and have seen, people of vastly different martial arts backgrounds who have successfully defeated multiple opponents.

I witnessed a highly-proficient Tae Kwon Do stylist  knock down five opponents in a parking lot using classical TKD techniques. Three of the five opponents were dropped with head kicks! Many would say that these are impractical for self-defense, but they obviously worked well for this guy in this situation!

I also know of a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu student who successfully defended himself against two larger opponents in L.A. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not usually held up as an example of a style made for fighting multiple opponents because practitioners usually take their opponents down to the ground to wear them out before punishing them with a submission hold.  In this case, the BJJ stylist broke one attacker’s arm then put the other in a rear naked neck choke. Our good guy finally stopped and let go of the neck restraint after his wife was screaming “YOU’RE KILLING HIM!”

Obviously, there are a huge number of variables that come into play here like your skill vs. their skill and your physical attributes vs. their physical attributes.

You will need to have superior:

• Movement and evasion skills;
• Striking or kicking skills;
• Knockout skill or ability to render opponents unable to continue in the fight.

You’ll also need superior verbal judo or “woofing” skills.

Woofing is what Payton Quinn calls the smack talking that precedes a fight as the opponents “interview” each other. Quinn says instilling fear and doubt into an opponent through verbal means has allowed him to avoid a number of messy fights, potentially saving him from numerous nights spent in jail.

Royce Gracie of the famous Gracie family advocates a strategy similar to MacYoung. He told me that you can make the group choose a leader to fight. Tell the guy, “You want to fight? You and me one-on-one. You don’t need anyone to help you right? as you point to the crowd. Now his honor is at stake. He can’t very well admit that he needs help.” Royce explained, “If a guy came in here and said he wanted to fight me, do you think my brother Rickson would step in front of me and say, ‘‘Oh, Royce, I will fight him.’ Of course, not! Same with this guy, his friends will urge him to fight you.”

If there isn’t a leader, Royce says you can punch the first guy, turn to the second and say, “you want some?”, punch him and advance on the third. So even the world-famous Royce Gracie doesn’t advocate taking someone into your guard when faced with multiple opponents.

For public safety personnel it is often effective to ask, “You want to go to jail?”

Otherwise, don’t threaten. This only serves to give away your element of surprise. Don’t put your MagLight on your shoulder and strike a pose; you’ve given the group time to think about what their response will be and to fuel their group rage.

Remember here, running away is a very, very good option for the civilian.  The LAPD has found that officers in foot pursuits were usually only successful in capturing the suspect in the first 200 yards of the chase. After 200 yards, the odds of catching the bad guy diminished rapidly. The same experience should also apply to you. If you can string the group out over a couple of hundred yards, then you can engage each opponent separately.

But for all this talk of verbal or physical responses to multiple opponents, the general rule for handling multiple opponents is to use a weapon.

Even a famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylist who is noteworthy for his many  victories concedes the tremendous disadvantages of facing multiple opponents. After a workout, we were in the locker room when I saw him putting a folding fighting knife in the waistband of his jeans, he said, “This is for two on ones.”

The disadvantages of facing multiple opponents are staggering. When we’ve run training drills with two, three and four opponents against one, it is literally a few seconds before the one defender is swamped by the group.

Sometimes you just have think pragmatically and heed the advice, “More than one, use a gun.”

This article has been revised from the original which appeared on the old Defend University self-defense blog.

Self-Defense Shooting Techniques for Low Light or No Light Scenarios

Chances are, your self-defense shooting will take place in an area where there is either low light or no light.

The estimates of shootings that happen in the dark range from 60% to an incredible 90%. I’m always leery of statistics because slight changes in methodology can have huge effects on the final results and the results are often skewed by what the party might be selling.
But, there is a preponderance of weight to the evidence suggesting that your self-defense shooting will most likely NOT be on the range during bright daylight hours (where we always practice). It will most likely be in your home at night, on the street when the vampires are out, in a parking garage or other dimly lit and dark areas frequented by predatory criminals.

Here’s a quick video with some of the highlights of self-defense shooting techniques in low light scenarios or in the total darkness:

There are numerous issues to deal with when engaging in this very neglected area of training:

  • First and foremost, we almost never train in the dark. That’s a bit of a problem — we rarely practice the very scenario we are most likely to face.
  • We gather 80% of our information visually. Anything that interferes with our sight has a huge impact on our performance.
  • Most of us are not used to manipulating our firearms in the dark or without looking at them.
  • Perceptions of time and space are affected by the lack of light or different kinds of lighting.
  • There is a natural fear of the dark that can distort your perception of the threat and play tricks on what you think you see and hear.
  • Perhaps most importantly, low light often makes target identification difficult or impossible.

Your Obligation to Identify Targets in the Dark

You have a legal and moral obligation to positively identify your target before you shoot. Shooting at sounds and fleeting shadows without knowing exactly who or what you are shooting is a disaster waiting to happen. This is where you hear the stories of the homeowners accidentally killing the drunk brother-in-law or the teenager trying to sneak in after curfew.

To avoid this legal and moral problem you need to know the difference between “sighted fire” and “lighted fire”:

  1. Sighted fire is what you normally use when you get a sight picture and align the sights on the target.  It can also include sighting with lit optical scopes, night sights (sights that glow-in-the-dark) or with lasers that project a dot.
  2. Lighted fire is what you need in a low-light or no-light situations where you must use an ancillary light source or a light source you’ve brought.  These can be weapon-mounted white lights or, more commonly, a flashlight (a ‘torch’ for our UK cousins) .

The sighting devices in #1 can all make it easier to deliver more accurate shots in the dark. But none of them address the problem of positively identifying your target. Even though EOTechs, Aimpoints and other lit-reticle optical sights, night sights and lasers are great at lining up your sights at night, they do not light up the target so you can tell who you are training your firearm on.

This is where you need to have a light. Seriously, if you have a firearm for self-defense you need to have a way to project a light onto your target to make a positive identification. The flashlight/torch or weapon light is a must:

  • It provides target I.D.;
  • It provides the light needed to line up your sights;
  • It can be used to startle and temporarily “blind” an adversary (by affecting their night vision);
  • It can be used to deceive an adversary of your location or movement by flashing or ‘wanding’ the light;
  • It solves the front/back lighting problems described below when using ambient light.

The flashlight also has utility as a tool:

  • It can be used as an impact weapon (providing you with a less than lethal force option).
  • It can be used as an attention-getting or signaling tool.
  • It can be used for way-finding or guiding others.

The Two Sides of Ambient Light

When you take a look at the video above, you’ll see a number of scenarios which rely on using ambient light.  One is using the illumination of car headlights and another which uses just the light from vehicle emergency flashers.  In these scenarios, you are using the lights from behind you to front light the target. Unfortunately, when your adversary is front lit like this you are back lit. Ambient light is like a coin with two sides — when you have one side your adversary has the other side. What you don’t see in the video is a scenario in which the targets are back lit, meaning you are front lit. Your training needs to address both sides of this ambient light coin so you can use the light — whether it be from the front or the back — to your advantage. This is crucial since it is often impossible to see your dark sights against the dark silhouette of your back lit target.

As I mentioned, the use of your flashlight can overpower either of these two types of ambient light giving you the advantage regardless of which position you are in. If he is front lit and you are back lit (the source of light is at your back like the headlight scenario in the video) your flashlight can now be used to provide a “wall of light” that originates in front of your body which masks your silhouette created by light at your back. Of course your flashlight also provides a bright front light on your target making I.D. possible and allows you to line up your sights.

 Weapon-Mounted Lights vs. Hand-Held Lights

You can either use a flashlight or a light already attached to your firearm to illuminate your target. There are pros and cons for both.

When you use a flashlight:

  • They are more readily available;
  • They are less expensive than a weapon-mounted light;
  • You have a impact weapon that you can use as an intermediate level of force tool;
  • You don’t have to point your weapon to search;
  • You can use different holds and methods for illuminating targets, rooms and pathways.
  • Any hold you make on your firearm with a flashlight is less stable than a two-hand hold;
  • They make weapon manipulation (administrative loading, reloading, malfunction remediation) more difficult since both hands are now occupied;
  • You are limited in ways to do things like open doors or use your cell phone;
  • It is very difficult to use one with a long gun.

When you use a weapon-mounted light:

  • They are always with your firearm;
  • You can manipulate the light with either your dominant hand or your support hand;
  • You can use your standard two-handed grip on the firearm;
  • You can still have your light on the target and keep your support arm free for defending against strikes, manipulating objects, opening doors, using your cell phone, etc.
  • Reloads and other weapon manipulations are “normal”;
  • You are muzzling everything at which you point your light;
  • Any intermediate force strikes will need to be done with your firearm and not just your light.

As you can tell from this post, this is an area which demands much attention, yet we almost always neglect it by virtue of training in the light.

Bottom line: you must become familiar with this subject for your self-defense. You must train in the environments you are likely to encounter.

Train like your life depends on it.

This post has been revised and updated since if first appeared on the Defend University website. 

Is it Reacting or Responding to an Attack?

This post originally asked for your comments regarding using the word ‘respond’ to an attack instead of the word ‘react’ to an attack.

Definitionally, both words are close in meaning.  The verb ‘respond’ means to react favorably or, in physiology, to “exhibit some action or effect as if in answer”. The verb ‘react’ means to act in response to an influence or to respond to a stimulus in a particular manner.

So you can see they are both somewhat circular using the other word during the description of their definitions. ‘Respond’ uses the word ‘react’ in its definition and ‘react’ uses ‘response’.

However, for self-defense purposes, I am trying to make a semantic differentiation to communicate a mind-set.

When you ‘react’ to an attack, it infers that you are acting in an immediate, instinctive manner. When you ‘respond’, you are assessing the stimuli and choosing an action that is the most appropriate. To me it seems that ‘react’ is natural and ‘respond’ is trained.

There are basically three natural actions when you are attacked:

  1. Flight
  2. Fight
  3. Freeze

The untrained reaction puts the defender, who is under tremendous stress, in danger of simply hitting the freeze button to answer the attack.  This is especially likely for defenders who don’t know how to to fight and who cannot flee because they are trapped or are co-opted by the attacker who threatens harm to their person or friends or loved ones.

The trained response follows more of Col. John Boyd’s famous OODA Loop that is comprised of observe, orient, decide, act.  Using this theory, the trained defender can process this OODA cycle quickly to events that are unfolding and use it to interrupt the opponent’s OODA loop (called “getting inside his OODA loop”) and gain the advantage.

I’m trying to get students to think about responding to an attack in a way unlike the untrained person who simply ‘reacts’ to the stress.

Am I simply splitting hairs here and making too much out of a slight semantic difference?

Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.

Self-Defense: But It’s Only a Knife, Right?

This subject seems to come up whenever citizens and police officers are forced to shoot a knife-wielding attacker.

There seems to be something insidious about many people’s attitude to the deadly nature of a knife.  Perhaps it’s because knives are so utilitarian in our daily lives that we become overfamiliar with them and complacent.

We all need to remember the extremely deadly nature of knives. Take, for example, the killing rampage by Maksim Gelman in New York. Four people killed and five wounded. This should be a sobering reminder that you are automatically involved in a deadly force encounter when facing an adversary armed with a knife.

But, it’s only a knife, right?

Say that to the terrified victims who got away from Gelman after he stabbed them during two separate car-jackings during his spree. 

Read their stories at the link above and then refocus your mindset of what the level of response you need to consider when attacked this way.

You must be prepared to use lethal force against the knife.

Lessons from Katrina: Neighborhood Defense

Here’s an article that originally appeared on the Defend University website about a real-life example of how you might be forced to defend yourself in a catastrophic event where there is no law enforcement around. 

A number of my team members from the agency I was connected to at the time volunteered to go to New Orleans to assist other LE units trying to restore order when local cops fled.  They told of some eerie scenes at night where the bad guys would assemble in certain intersections under the cover of almost complete darkness with just the lights of their cell phones making out their activities. They would assemble for a few minutes and then promptly vanish off into different katrina devastationdirections. The assumption at the time was that these groups were obviously up to no good — but the LEOs who were on station at various checkpoints had no directions to pursue or investigate.

Here’s the impressions I get from the news stories about this one particular neighborhood defense organization:

  1. These are not professionals.  Clearly they are a mixed bag of personalities and skills — however their motivation and creativity to protect their neighborhood is admirable. (If they can do it, you can do it).
  2. The first rule of gunfighting is to have a gun. You can argue that a .22 magnum pistol and an antique 8mm Mauser are less than optimal as self-defense firearms, but having a firearm that you can manage and are confident with is a major advantage in these sort of situations.
  3. Yes, Virginia, real gunfights do occur and you have to have the will and the skill to defend yourself when no one else can.

katrina_defendSome of the other anecdotal stories I had heard about successful defense of homes and neighborhoods included the use of cars as barricades in front of homes and, in one case, the success by a single defender driving off an armed group of gang members with a 12 gauge shotgun.  Supposedly, the guy’s front porch and steps were littered with about 25 empty shotshell husks following the incident (meaning you might have to reload — multiple times). Other neighborhoods hired outside security firms to patrol the perimeter.

You and I may never find ourselves in this sort of situation again in our lifetimes.  Then again, we might.  You can never say never. Find your knowledge from others’ experiences and successes.

Train like your life depends on it.