Realistic training to enhance your close quarter core skills

By Ralph Mroz

At the Police Officer Safety Association we teach a course called Close Quarter Handgun Core Skills. It is a course focused on just what the title suggests: fundamental skills and drills for close quarter lethal force encounters.

I always like to start this course by lining up the participants at seven yards, facing an IPSC or IDPA target. I ask them to perform two reasonably standard handgun drills. Drill number one is to fire a magazine into the A zone as fast as they can make the shots. Drill two is to put two into the A zone and one into the head, on command, repeating until the magazine is depleted.

Then I ask the class, "What relationship to real-life street encounters did either of these two drills have?" A surprising number of the attendees have the correct answer on the tips of their tongues: "Almost nothing."

That's right. They were all standing in a row, facing a designated direction. They fired on command. They were at least four times the distance that they were likely to have to fight at with a handgun for real. They were using sighted fire. They didn't move. They were placing their shots carefully. The targets weren't moving. The targets were all facing them head-on. And most important: the targets weren't shooting back.

So why is so much of our current so-called "training" so much like these two drills?

Theory of Operation

The answer to that question is "because this kind of training is challenging for students and safe for the instructor to teach." But that begs the critical question. That is starting from an answer, not from a question; from a conclusion, not an analysis.

Before we can design an effective training curricula, we have to answer the question: "What is the problem we are trying to solve?" And the answer to that is that we are trying to keep people alive in close quarter, spontaneous violent assaults that our adversaries usually initiate. Our training drills therefore need to instill skills that contribute to that objective-not achieving some artificial "range standard." Which means, of course, that we need to use drills that mimic close quarter, spontaneous violent assaults that our adversaries initiate. That's curricula design criteria number one.

The other thing that we need to understand to design an effective training regimen is what resources we have to work with, or in this case, what the capabilities of ourselves and our equipment are. Our own capabilities under severe, close-quarter stress, are well known: target focus, loss of fine motor skill, etc. Curricula design criteria number two is therefore to accommodate target focus and gross motor skills in our training.

Our handgun's capabilities are also well known, but often ignored. Essentially, there are really only three ways that bullets stop someone:

1) central nervous system hits that prevent the brain from directing the body,
2) loss of blood pressure, or
3) such overwhelming pain and shock that the body shuts down.

Further, all handgun bullets are extremely ineffective. None of them (even .357s and .45s) are reliable one-shot stoppers. Now, the "shot placement" school of handgunning advocates central nervous system (CNS) shots or center-mass shots to accomplish either 1) or 2) above. But brain stem or head shots are all but impossible to realize in the violent chaos of a real-life encounter, while hydraulic pressure loss occurs too slowly to be of reliable use, even with major blood vessels hit.

That leaves 3) above - inflicting massive shock or pain. Accomplishing this is done with many shots placed on the adversary as fast as possible. They don't all have to be center-mass or CNS shots - just lots of hits quickly.

And so this is our theory of handgun "stopping power": Put a lot of hurt onto your enemy quickly. Caliber is not very important--any significant caliber will do. Just hit 'em often and fast. So curricula design criteria number three is to train in multiple shots delivered quickly.

To review, our curricula design criteria are:

1) train at close quarters,
2) employ target focus and gross motor skills, and
3) deliver multiple quick shots.

Making it real

What follows are descriptions of three of the basic drill sets we currently use in the Close Quarter Handgun Core Skills course. We are always adding, and sometimes dropping, drills as we continually develop the course.

Some of these drills employ airsoft technology. If you aren't training with airsoft, you need to be-if you are concerned with self-defense. Airsoft is far less expensive than other projectile-firing simulated firearms technologies, and more reliable, to boot. It is widely available and easy to obtain. Little protective gear needs to be worn, and as a non-marking technology, you can train in your actual tactical environment: in your house, in your car, in your business, and so on.

WARNING: About two police officers a year are currently being killed in simulated force-on-force training, because a live (real) firearm was introduced into the training area. It is imperative that you get proper training in running simulations safely. The Massachusetts Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors & Armorers Association offers the leading airsoft simulation instructor course, and POSA has just committed this course to DVD-it's available to any LEO by visiting our website,

Drill #1 -- No time to draw.

Situation: A deadly force attack that comes so close and so fast that you don't have time to draw your gun. Since most such attacks occur spontaneously and at very close distance, this is a typical attack.

Drill 1A: Face the target, 1 yard away. On cue (such as the command "danger") drive towards the target and strike it with an effective, devastating empty hand technique. (Don't know any? Learn some. Also, you'll need sturdy target stands for this one.) While maintaining forward pressure on the target, draw your gun and fire several shots onto the target with your gun hand's fingers touching your ribs (sometimes called a "gun retention position".) Airsoft version: Two participants face each other, 1 yard away. The bad guy launches a simulated deadly force attack on the good guy, who responds as above with his/her airsoft pistol. Note: without protective equipment such as a FIST suit, the instructor will have to compensate by mandating less than full power strikes, and strikes to non-sensitive areas (e.g., the chest instead of the throat.)

Drill 1B: If the bad guy in the airsoft version of this drill chooses to go for or present an (airsoft) gun as his deadly force attack, then fouling his draw or presentation first, and then striking and then drawing/shooting your own gun, is a valuable skill to learn.

Drill #2 -- Shooting after falling.

Situation: You are knocked to your knees or onto the ground as a deadly force assault initiates. If you think this doesn't happen much, you haven't been in many fights.

Drill 2A: Face the target, 1 yard away. On command such as "falling", draw your gun as you fall to your rear knee. Keeping the gun close to your body, cant it up to the target, achieving either a "normal" angle of the gun, or a slight sideways "gangbanger" angle, and fire multiple shots on the target.

Drill 2B: Face the target, 1 yard away. On command such as "falling", fall to the ground, and onto your back. (Again, don't know how to do fall safely? Learn!) Kick violently towards the target using a bicycle pedaling type motion. At some point, plant your feet on the ground, draw your gun and put multiple shots onto the target. Airsoft versions: same drills as above, but with role players using airsoft weapons. The bad guy actually pushes the good guy to the ground. Note: using mats for this exercise will cause you to want to practice it more than otherwise.

Drill #3 -- Hooded drills.

Situation: You are surprised by the sudden bad turn of events as the people right next to you launch an attack. Remember-attacks occur suddenly! This drill protocol is nothing more than the use by firearms students of the common hooded drills that martial artists and reality fight trainers have used for centuries.

Drill 1A: With the shooter not able to see the range, set up several target stands in realistic positions. Staple a human picture shoot/no-shoot target to each. Place a hood over the shooter and lead him/her into the middle of the targets so arranged. Standing in a direction away from any target, pull the hood off and let the shooter deal with the problem presented, making the necessary shoot/no-shoot decisions.

Drill 1A-1X: Any number of variations of this drill can be done, using different human representational targets and props. Variation: Also place objects of cover or simulated cover in the training area, and let the shooter use them. Airsoft variation: same drills as above, but using airsoft weapons and real people instead of targets.

In conclusion

The above three drills should give you some idea of how realistic training is conducted. You can design your own drills using our curricula design criteria, which are, once again: 1) train at close quarters, 2) employ target focus and gross motor skills, and 3) deliver multiple quick shots.

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