Verbal Commands and Discretionary Shooting: A Good Pair


Before I begin, let me first say that there has been much said on the topic of the importance of Verbal Commands during a Self-Defense scenario by trainers and authors far more talented than myself. For those of you that like a visual (and audio) aid, try Southnarcs PUC DVD. For those of you that  like to read, check out Mr. Aaron Cowan’s excellent treatise on the topic at BreachBangClear.

Since Aaron’s article I linked above covers virtually every angle of the verbal command subject, what I want to cover is how we can integrate these two CORE principles of Firearms Self-Defense Training: Issuing Verbal Commands AND Practicing Discretionary Shooting into our drills.

As the article stressed, to stay REALISTIC and RESPONSIBLE, we should strive to NOT make every drill a SHOOT drill. Out there, on the street, there are far more guns pointed at people and verbal commands given than there are people shot; our training should reflect that. One of the ways we can do this is to make ourselves THINK before we pull the trigger. Contrary to popular belief, ANY Firearm self-defense training that endorses making “Draw and Shoot” a Conditioned Response is both unrealistic and reckless. As any CO should be aware, anytime there is a self-defense shooting by a legally armed citizen, be it deemed a justified shooting or not, very often that citizens firearm training records, due to our uber-litigious society, will be pulled and scrutinized by the DA’s office. Prudence dictates therefore your training be up to snuff when it comes to responsible training.

The question then becomes to make this PRACTICAL, how do I transplant this into my Drills?

The best way to practice verbal commands is without a doubt Force on Force, since as Mr. Cowan stated, we are practicing to shoot PEOPLE not PAPER. But, if FOF is not an option for you and you wanted to work on it at the range, I came up with  a “2 birds with 1 stone” type drill where you can work on both your discretionary shooting and verbalized commands.

This method uses 2D paper targets, so you can either buy some Discretionary Targets from LE Targets or make your own with some butcher paper and colored Sharpies (I mean all you are gonna do is SHOOT IT, right?) If you want to work on multiple targets, you will need to number each target so as to avoid confusion. You will also need a friend with a LOUD voice to be your caller. I like to stagger my distances, for pistol start at 5 yds, Rifle, 15 yds. Move your targets up in 5 yard increments each round until you reach your desired max distance.

  • Start by going thru your script for verbalized commands, be sure to go thru ENTIRE script, not just part of it.
  • At some point during this script, *as random as possible* the Caller calls out either a number, color or shape on target.
  • The shooter then engages said number, color or shape (Keep in mind there may be more than 1 shot required: this enforces not always shooting the same number of rounds)
  • If using Multiple targets, to lessen confusion, the Caller will call out which Target (1,2 or 3) and then just a color or shape. For Example: “One, Triangle” “Two, Blue”, etc.
  • Caller must also integrate ” No Shoots” by issuing No Command at all; as I said, make it random and mix it up.

There is a ton of ways you can vary this drill to include reloads, malfunctions, use of cover, etc. But typically, the best thing to do is just concentrate on a solid, LOUD and CLEAR Verbal Command Script and then making a clean and smooth discretionary shot.

I know this drill does not activate the “visual” stimulus of a weapon or threat gesture, like some 3D targets can, but it does do one very important thing: IT GETS OUR BRAIN WORKING! As Cowan’s article reiterated, always having a “Conditioned Reflex” of “draw and fire” is not REALISTIC nor PRUDENT. 

Also remember if you are giving verbal commands to a person, you have to be equally prepared for the person to FOLLOW those commands as you are to SHOOT them; thus, the importance of the caller not giving you any targets  (NO SHOOT) as randomly as possible. This is also the time to work out in your mind how you are going to handle the perp following your commands. As is obvious, these types of scenarios have so many “X” variables it is silly to try and “plan” what exactly you are going to do, but just like your verbal script, having a “Rough” draft at least gets you mentally prepared for the eventuality.

So there it is, two skills practiced for the time of one range visit. Always look for better way to improve both your time and ammo efficiency, as both ammo and your TRAINING time is valuable!

Stay Alert, Stay Armed, Keep Training and Stay Dangerous!



Addressing Fratricide in CO Training



Fratricide of “friendly fire” has been an unfortunate part of war since time in memorial. Several things contribute to “blue on blue” incidents, most of them stemming from poor communication between supporting units. Both the Iraq and Afghanistan War have seen their fair share of friendly fire incidents, one of the most tragic being when NFL star Pat Tillman was shot by his own Army Ranger platoon in Afghanistan in 2004. The most recent FF incident in Afghanistan involved  five SF Operators who were mistaken for enemy insurgents and bombed by a coalition aircraft.

So what can the CIVILIAN CO learn from these unfortunate military incidents? Isn’t this a military problem and not a civilian one? To answer that you have to first understand that to keep growing your skill sets as a civilian operator you have to always be looking for situations to learn from, regardless of the source. As a legally armed civilian, fratricide is a very real and potential issue and is something all CO’s need to address in our training just like the soldier on the front line. As civilians, we must understand that the “fog of war” is not exclusive to just military personnel in a war zone. No matter WHO you are or WHERE you are, the “pandemonium” of combat is the same.When you consider all of the anatomical issues working against you (tunnel vision, loss of fine motor skill, time distortion, increased heart rate) and then add the possible environmental stressors (poor visibility due to weather or time of day) the odds start stacking against you quickly. Although we can never take away the fog of war, control the weather or change how stress affects our bodies and minds, we can do the following:

  • Improve our odds by taking on the proper combative mindset so that we can make the right decision at the right moment
  • Learn to work with how our bodies respond to stress versus trying to find cute solutions around them
  • Drill realistically to reduce the probability of a friendly fire incident.

Training Philosophy

I still remember  the burly ex-army MSgt. instructor that taught my advanced CCW class I took a few years ago. The guy looked like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Bo-Bo Baggins. He was undoubtedly one of the shortest, hairy men I have ever met. “Every round you fire out there in the WORLD  will have  at least one lawyer attached to it; therefore, be G@# damn sure of your TARGET before you squeeze that trigger or you will be showering with your ass to the wall for the next 10 to 20 years of your lives while you are in PRISON!” he would yell as he walked down the line watching us like hawks as we cleared malfunctions and addressed threats down range. “Also consider that under stress, out there in the WORLD, you might get trigger happy and be tempted to fire just at movement before you have ID’d your target..take my word for it now, DON’T DO THAT!! I can tell you from experience there is nothing worse than to find out you have shot one of the good guys, or your buddies, by accident.”

That comment turned a few heads, because you could tell there was emotion behind it. After lunch, “Grizzly-Bo-Bo” (as I will affectionately call him), confessed to us that he had been “involved” in a “blue-on’blue” incident 6 years ago in Iraq where 2 soldiers were killed accidentally when they did not communicate their position during an ambush. During the AAR and de-brief  it was discovered that NONE of the National Guard soldiers involved had been thru anything but a 30 minute lecture on “Avoiding Fratricide”; no hands on training, no live-fire  drills, nothing. In the end, all of the soldiers involved were exonerated in the shooting, but it left a lasting mark on Grizzly Bo-Bo. He went on to tell us that not integrating some type of counter-fratricide training in any type of setting, whether it be Law Enforcement, Civilian or MIlitary is pure stupidity. It is a REAL threat in mortal combat, no matter the environment or circumstance. That being said, for the remainder of the afternoon (over 150 rounds) we all worked on “No-Shoots”  and “Cognitive Stress Drills”.

I left that class with the very profound sense of  responsibility placed upon me as an armed civilian and CCL Licensee. I also realized that to be truly prepared, the armed civilian (the CO) needs to have in their core training curriculum a set of drills to INDUCE DISCRETIONARY SHOOTING, or in other words, to THINK before they PULL THE TRIGGER. The safety of my family and innocent by-standers depends on it! Now I know in some “tactical” civilian training circles, this type of training is basically sneezed at because it is believed it induces “hesitation”in the response time and therefore increases the chance the shooter will not “act” at the crucial moment and will be hurt or killed in the altercation; I call BS to this ideal. It has been my experience that this type of training, if done repetitively, will not only will make you a better, smarter, safer shooter, but also a more accurate one to boot.

Discretionary Shooting

There are basically three components to “Discretionary Shooting” in civilian self-defense firearms training: Communication, Background and the Shooting drills themselves. The Communication part involves knowing where ALL your friendlies are before you go HOT. The Background part is basically a second “contingency” layer to the communication part. It involves knowing what is BEHIND that wall, that couch, that counter, etc. because bullets PENETRATE most mediums very easily. Now in a perfect world, we would have x-ray vision like Clark Kent and be able to see thru that wall 10 seconds before we need to make the shot, but of course it is not. The bottom line here is to attempt to AVOID shooting in the direction of where we are unsure of. Bullets do crazy things when they leave the gun guys, take my word on it. Remember: Every bullet has a lawyer attached to it. We have to ID where our FRIENDLIES are, ID our HOSTILE targets & ID our backgrounds. I know it seems that taking responsibility for every round that leaves your weapon is a HUGE undertaking in a high stress life or death situation and  just  seems like one more thing to have to worry about while some asshole is trying to kill you, but that is the price to be paid to be a responsible armed civilian in the world we live in today.

On to the drills. Most of us are all familiar with “no shoot” targets being integrated into hostile targets. This has been the standard “discretionary” drill for a while now. It is also the “Hostage 101” type target when training HRT and SWAT teams. For the civilian however, the “Cognitive Stress Target” is one of the best to induce overall discretionary shooting, better accuracy and just overall “tightness” to your shooting. I have been using the DT-ANTQ-A  and the 4 Color Discretionary Target both from LE Targets for a while now and they work great. There are a hundred variations to the types of  discretionary drills you can do with these things, but in my classes we focus on integrating movement, reloads and clearing malfunctions just to name a few to make it challenging. The basic premise of these targets is to have either a number, color, shape or a combination of all of them called out by your partner and then the shooter address them with a set number of rounds (for example each target gets two rounds).To make things interesting you can also call out either “all odd or even numbers”. You can then time each shooter to add stress or maybe have them run an “O COURSE” or do some quick exercises before engaging to get that heart rate up and add some real world stress.

So in a nutshell, there it is guys..a subject not really talked about a lot on most “tactical” forums and certainly not drilled on in most civilian self-defense shooting classes. But take my word for it, if there ever was a skill-set that will make you a more responsible CO and keep you out of legal hot water (and prison for that matter) this one is it!

Stay Armed, Drill Responsibly, and Stay Dangerous!!


Balancing Safety and Realism in Civilian Firearms Training

The following video was sent to be by a good friend who routinely trains with a former Spetsnaz member. At first glance, most people’s reactions are the same “This is CRAZY!!” but not until the end where Larry “arfcom” Vickers explains these are extremely advanced RUSSIAN FSB MILITARY Courses of Fire, meant for advanced SF MILITARY OPERATORS do things start to make some sense as to the reasoning why somebody would do a drill so risky and potentially lethal!

I had the opportunity to take a 2 day Advanced AK rifle class from a former FSB operator a few years back. I was aware of his background and “unorthodox” training methods well before I ever signed up for the class, and I was extremely excited to get to train with him. What I took away from the class was several things: (1) I need to shoot my rifle more (2) Unlike most firearms classes I had taken before, safety was not continually “harped” on; the training took priority, and because of that, I was able to assimilate much more information. This is not to say the class was unsafe in any way, quite the contrary, it was very safe, it was just that notorious “Gun-Range Safety Nazi” mentality did not exist for this guy; he was not raised around it in Russia, it was not something that was “ingrained” into him; the only thing that mattered to this guy was the training.

What I experienced at that class was what civilian firearms training should and could be. I realized in an instant that the focus and mentality of most civilian training here in the states was skewed. Safety had become the overwhelming priority to the point that a weird “sub-culture” had emerged around it, and now, instead of talking about new and better ways to train and improve our readiness as armed civilians, people were devoting entire online forums to trainers who were “unsafe”. Now let me be clear;  in no way am I trying to advocate that  the “Shoot me at close range” drill in the video above is something civilians should ever attempt or try to implement in their training regimen; NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! As stated in the video, that is a drill meant for Highly-Trained Military Operators, not civilians! What I am advocating is that we, as concerned, responsible, civilian operators, take a very hard look at how Civilian Firearms Personal Defense Training is done. Is the training really made a priority or is firearms safety too highly emphasized to the point of being “excessive/obsessive-compulsive” about every little thing, ie, “The Gun-Range Safety-Nazi-Syndrome??”

So, what happened to us? Why has this “syndrome” infected almost all gun ranges and firearms training courses in America? In a word: LIABILITY. In our overly “litigious” society, firearm trainers who operate independent facilities simply have to “CYA” in these areas; their very livelihoods and financial futures are at stake otherwise. Lawsuits, Lawyers and Umbrella Liability Insurance Policies are expensive; extended litigation in court for personal injuries or worst, a wrongful death/manslaughter suit, where a judge/jury could find the trainers actions either  “Reckless” or “Criminally Negligent” are basically a death sentence for the trainer and his company, even if he makes it out prison with his company financially soluble and intact, it is assured his reputation, in the internet age, will not be;  just check out some of those online forums I mentioned earlier.

Another reason I believe the “gun-safety nazi” craze is so prevalent is due in large part to the liberal agenda that ATTEMPTS to cast further dispersion on legal gun owners and people who train with weapons for self-defense. Oh, I can hear it now: “OMG!! Now, he is blaming the Liberals, what next, the Illuminati!?” But seriously, ask yourself, haven’t you noticed an inordinate amount of news “reports” or “special documentaries” by shows like Dateline, 20/20, Frontline, etc. on either “gun safety”, “kids and guns”, “accidents with guns by kids”, etc.? I know I am not the only one who has noticed this trend, right? The goal of course for all of this is to try to convince mainstream America that Guns are just”unsafe” and only “certain people” ie, Law Enforcement, need to have access to them. To further this point, consider President Obama’s current nominee for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, a rabid anti-gun activist and promoter of the “Orwellian” ideal of combining “healthcare and gun control”. Consider for a moment how that dovetails in nicely with “obamacare” and you get the picture. This is the  man the government wants to put in charge of the entire nation’s “Health and Safety”. Laughable.


Former Season 3 Top-Shot Champion, Dustin Ellerman , who owns and operates Camp His Way, which offer Marksmanship Classes for both adults and youth (see the Review of the Youth Marksmanship Class HERE) had this to say about the over-emphasis on Firearms Safety:

“Sometimes we get so carried away because of liability and the anti-gun homophobic crowd we can go overboard on safety.  This of course is magnified online and self-appointed “safety-nazis” who will flame a shooter if they see them shooting without ear protection even if it’s a suppressed firearm!”


Paul Howe, former Army Delta Force Operator and owner/operator of CSAT, gave us his take from a trainers perspective:

“Many instructors end up screaming at students for safety violations that students are unaware of.  This is counter productive to training.  Remember, students are new to your system and way of doing things.  Some are new students that do not know, some are older students that learned a certain way of doing things and have “training scars” to undo.  Instructors should build a stair-stepped training sequence that builds and ingrains a safe way of doing things.  In short, you have to show the students what you want them to do and how you want them to do it and then they need to practice it to ingrain it so they create a good habit during your training program.  Good instructors take the time to ensure this training sequence is in place.
Further, a quiet voice when talking to a student will go a long way to building a positive learning experience.  Also, having patience and taking the time to show them how to do it correctly once again goes a long way in building a solid and lasting relationship”.  

So after experiencing that rifle class, I knew that in addition to doing away with the “safety nazi’s”, the civilian self-defense firearm training paradigm needed to be overhauled if the CO wanted to train realistically and have a real shot at being adequately prepared. After some reflection, I came up with this to guide me.

1. Abandon the Square-Range: Literally if possible, Mentally if NOT possible

We live in a 360 degree world, where threats can come from any direction. In drills, a Square -Range cannot address that. Of course for some, this may be impossible due to not having access to a place to drill live-fire 360 degrees. That is why I added the caveat of abandoning the square range MENTALLY and then implementing live-fire later. Since repetition creates habits (good or bad), most of these drills can be done with dry fire, your goal being to flush those bad habits that the square range has bred.  I will be doing a series of installments on how you can do that incrementally in your training.

2.  Abandon the “Competition” Mentality

This goes along with flushing all the bad habits associated with the square range. Combat Shooting and Competition Shooting are not the same animal.  IDPA and IPSC used timed drills to induce stress to simulate the stress of combat shooting. What was born out of this, was a generation of shooters who placed more emphasis on marksmanship (“tight groups” and “shooting the x ring out”) rather than Combat Accuracy, that is to say, shooting to live and going home rather than points on a scoreboard to boost our ego’s. Bottom line: any hit on the attacker’s boiler-room (chest) or Hard Drive (head) is good for you, bad for them!

Two other “ill” side-effects of the “Competition Mentality” are first, allowing the course of fire to dictate the speed in which you move, regardless of the specific tactical situation and second, always firing a specific number of rounds instead of what the bad guy (or situation) dictates you fire to neutralize them.

Here is what Paul Howe said in his article “Avoiding Fantasy Gunfight Training”:

“Who dictates the speed of a fight? The bad guy and how fast he falls does. It might be a fast or slow process (the bad guy dying), but one should get in the habit of solving one problem at a time before moving on to multiple threats. You can shoot two rounds on paper or ping a piece of steel and move on to the next target, but in reality, two rounds punching paper or the sound of steel being struck may not solve your problem.”


3.  Coordinate Timed Drills with Cognitive Stress Drills to both Induce Stress and reinforce                           Discretionary Shooting

We saw an example of this in the second drill in the FSB Vid above. When me make the shooter engage the cognitive part of his brain while addressing threats we make him reinforce Discretionary Shooting. The civilian has to remember that in our overly eager “lawsuit happy” litigious society, that for every bullet he fires in self-defense, there will be a lawyer and a lawsuit attached to each one! So, as the LE/Military Operator has to make sure he can control the trajectory of each round he fires to avoid collateral damage, so must the civilian operator be certain that every round he fires is as responsible as possible.

One of the best Cognitive Targets is the multi-colored/shaped and numbered paper targets from LE Targets. We saw something very similar in the video, where a certain number/color/shape had to be shot while at the same time  negotiating various “stressors” (people yelling/pushing him). To be realistic as possible, the CO should use both Environmental and Physiological stressors.  Environmental Stressors would include things such as random gunfire, people yelling and screaming, car horns, etc. Physiological Stressors would include your own body’s reaction to stress, such as: increased heart-rate, sweaty palms, sweat in your eyes, tunnel vision, loss of fine motor skill, slowing down of time, etc. Prior intense exercise combined with timed evolutions and a continuous flow of movement will produce some of these effects.

 4. Movement = Life

Gunfights do not happen in a vacuum; they are dynamic and fluid and a majority of the time, over in under a minute. Despite what you see from Hollywood, when bullets start flying, people start moving, very quickly and to cover if possible. If our training is to be realistic, we must place a higher priority on displacement (ie Getting off the X) and moving toward cover than being able to shoot precisely 100% of the time. I remember a certain instructor once asking me if it was more important to “shoot the enemy” or “not get shot”; being young and full of piss and vinegar, I answered it was more important to be able to kill the enemy, thinking the alternative answer would make me sound like a coward. I was wrong. “If you get shot, your combat efficiency goes to ZERO, you are of no use.” To fully understand this concept, consider the OODA loop; when we move, even if it just a simple lateral sidestep, we reset our opponents OODA loop, he now has to REACT to you versus ACT on you, which puts you seconds ahead of the eight ball in the fight, and seconds count!

5. Fitness and the “Combative Continuum”

The age-old false belief that having a gun solves all your problems needs to be dismissed. It has encouraged laziness and lethargy in the area of CO fitness for some time. Being that most civilian shootings are well under 10 feet, having a set of combative strikes in your toolbox to gain both distance and time from your attacker is mandatory. You also have to understand that not all encounters will call for lethal force. The student must have the mentality of “One Mind, Any Weapon” and believe that no matter what they have in their hand; stick, knife, gun or even bare-fisted, they can still fight and inflict damage (even lethal), if need be. By the same token, if the CO is out of breath 15 seconds into the fight, or has zero upper body strength, everything we just talked about is a moot point. Now before you get discouraged because of age or disability, I am not talking about a “Rambo” Fitness routine, just a basic set of cardio and resistance/strength training that is tailored around handling the effects of stress during a fight. Combative sparring combined with Force-on-Force drills with training weapons is a great way to begin.

6.  The “Sight Continuum” Concept

Simply put, the Sight Continuum poses the question to the student: “When do you have to use your sights?” The KISS answer: “When you need too.” Understanding that the need for accuracy varies in combat shooting, unlike Competition shooting, where a majority of people have learned basic marksmanship (ie, The Modern Technique). Understanding that in Combat Shooting, Distance and Need for Precision are going to be the two biggest factors in having to use your sights. If a bad guy is 6 feet from you and closing with quickly, the need for sighted fire is a moot point, (unless of course he has a hostage and you can only take a head shot, in which case, a fast precision shot comes into play) otherwise, a “metal-on-meat” sight picture (the frame of the gun super-imposed on the attackers center of mass) would allow a much faster response.  The bottom line is that both sighted fire and point shooting have a role in the CO’s training, it is just a matter of understanding that no two combat situations are going to be alike (ie the continuum concept) and we must have both methods in our arsenal to call on equally to be adequately prepared.

This lapel-cam video of a December 13th shooting involving the Albuquerque Police Department involving an attempted officer assault by a hammer wielding maniac shows the speed, distance and sight picture of your average handgun engagement. Note the sight picture that the officer has when he begins firing, around 1:00; although the gun sights are visible, it appears the officer is using more of a “metal-on-meat” sight picture (the super-imposed image of the handgun frame on the attackers center of mass). Could this be because of the effects of stress the officer’s focus was not on the “front sight” but the guy charging his partner with a hammer? The distance (under 6 ft) did not demand a lot of accuracy, but the speed and veracity of the bad guys attack did demand getting rounds on target ASAP; thus the merit’s of point shooting in the CO’s toolbox.

In order to stay prepared, the CO’s  training HAS to reflect STREET reality, not Hollywood Fantasy!

Stay Armed, Stay Real and Stay Dangerous!