The self-defense moves you implement, once you’re in a close-quarters fight for your life (See How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Part 1: Rob Pincus on the Principles of Using Firearms as Self-Defense Weapons!), can be broken down into the following three steps:
How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Step 1: React and Respond
Counter-ambush training dictates that your battle plan of self-defense moves must integrate the body’s natural reactions to fear and being startled. At the outset of an attack, you experience several predictable automatic responses, including raising your hands to protect your head and lowering your center of gravity to prepare for movement. Both should become part of your self-defense-moves training.
The leader in the unarmed startle-response world is undoubtedly Tony Blauer. I began training with him, in his SPEAR System, a decade ago. I’ve attended several of his courses on how to defend yourself against an attacker, worked closely with him and incorporated several of the self-defense moves he espouses into my armed and unarmed programs.
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Time and time again, his concept of converting the flinch and using an “outside 90” arm position to block attacks or apply force through the forearm and onto the attacker has proved intuitive and effective in force-on-force training. I’m aware of no other technique that consistently allows people with limited training to gain control at extreme close quarters by creating space and gaining time to access more self-defense moves, be it striking or deploying self-defense weapons.
Also vital is the ability to fight back while you’re off-balance. Because it’s the first part of your response, it needs to include isolating your attacker’s ability to use a weapon, keeping that weapon away from you, pinning him to a wall or the ground, and/or establishing your own base from which to take further action.
How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Step 2: Gain Control
I fully acknowledge that, as a Black Belt reader, you may have dozens of great ideas about how to defend yourself against an attacker using self-defense moves to control your opponent and make his initial attack less threatening, and that they may allow you to free your hand so you can access your self-defense weapons.
Over the years, however, while training under numerous masters such as Royce Gracie, Randy Couture and Craig Douglas, I’ve cherry-picked what I think are the most efficient and reliable techniques. At least as important, I’ve taught those techniques to hundreds of law-enforcement and military special-operations personnel, as well as average citizens interested in personal defense, and found that a couple of these self-defense moves stand out as being intuitive and easy to execute under stress.
The two I teach most often — the “duck-under to side control” and the “pass and trap ” — are designed to achieve a crucial goal in any shooting-while-in-contact scenario. I’ve taught this material since 2000. At that time, while I was still a police officer, it was evident that traditional SWAT training was emphasizing shooting scenarios while the overwhelming majority of actual SWAT team activity involved controlling subjects who were nonlethal threats.
Figuring out ways to train for maintaining control of a rifle while subduing a combative but nonlethal threat became a focus of mine for many years. In fact, it was this type of training that led to my meeting Tony Blauer.
Remember that both techniques assume you’re carrying your firearm on one side of your body, presumably the side of your strong hand, and that you’ve established some level of control, as explained above. Craig Douglas is the trainer who opened my eyes to the importance of establishing same-side control before accessing self-defense weapons.
In the descriptions that follow, “same side” refers to the side of your attacker’s body that’s mated to your gun side. For example, if you’re chest-to-chest and carrying your gun on your right side, the attacker’s left side would be the “same side.”
How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker: Duck-Under to Side Control
This is a tried-and-true technique from competition that has real-world applications. It works best as a segue to using a firearm when you’re in a tight clinch or pinned against a wall or the ground. I learned to appreciate the elegance of this move years ago at a combatives seminar taught by UFC legend Randy Couture.
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First establish an underhook with your strong-side arm and capitalize on the opportunity your adversary presents when he lifts his same-side arm to escape or counterattack. When that arm comes up with the intent to punch you in the head or neck, you’ll be feel the change in arm pressure. Rapidly lower your body and duck under his arm, then rotate your torso off to his side as much as possible and stand up straight. Be sure to keep your hips as close to your attacker as possible while doing this. Finish by placing your head against his shoulder blade to establish some level of side control. At this point, your right hand should be clear to access your gun.
How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker: Pass and Trap
This is the less-technical of the two self-defense moves in this article, but it can buy you time and space to get to your gun and use it while in contact. At any point in the conflict, if you can pass the attacker’s same-side hand and forearm across your centerline and then trap it there with your torso, your shooting arm and hand should be clear to go for your weapon.
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The best way I’ve found to execute the move is to apply pressure to the back of the adversary’s elbow or triceps as you attempt to pass the forearm. By applying inward and upward pressure with your arm, you’ll maximize your efficiency and recruit core (and possibly even leg) strength. Your attacker, on the other hand, will have significantly less musculature to hold his arm back or down. Also, it’s entirely possible that your efforts will initially be aided by your opponent’s efforts to move his hand toward your throat or head to attack.
Once the elbow is passed, angling your torso to block it is much easier if you’ve used bodyweight and maneuvering to press him against a wall or the ground while you established control.
How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Step 3: Draw and Orient Your Self-Defense Weapons Before Using Them.
Once you’ve weathered the storm and established same-side control, if your attacker continues to threaten your life, your next step is to use your self-defense weapons — a firearm, in this case — to defend yourself.
It’s possible that, through the actions already described, you’ve fought to a place where you’re no longer facing a lethal threat and can end the fight without shooting. It’s also possible that you’ve merely achieved a stalemate that could evaporate at any moment and result in your death.
In the latter case, once you perceive the need, you’ll want to draw and fire.
Now that your shooting hand is free, you can access your gun from under your clothing, achieve the best possible firing grip, pull the weapon straight up out of the holster and orient the muzzle toward the threat.
That last piece may not sound like a big deal, but it’s the crux of extreme close-quarters shooting. How do you get the gun into a position in which the muzzle is pointed at the threat, not at yourself? By remembering principle No. 4: Place the base of the grip of your firearm and your shooting-hand thumb against your torso when you pull the trigger.
Think about all the possible positions you can be in relative to the attacker at the moment you shoot. Because it’s impossible to practice every angle, focus on maintaining as much contact as you can with your adversary to ensure proper alignment of the gun. If you have any wrestling, grappling or ground-fighting experience, you know you can track an opponent’s body without looking. At higher levels, you can even predict his movements based on subtle shifts of balance and pressure that you feel as he telegraphs his next move by prepping a limb or altering the angle of his torso.
Introducing a firearm into this scenario means you can use your contact with his body to dictate the position and angle of your gun. By applying principle No. 4, you provide a stable base for the weapon to operate and increase the odds that it will operate.
At this point, you’re clear to touch the trigger and then smoothly press — much the same way you would if the gun were at extension. Continue pressing the trigger until the threat is eliminated. If the attacker stops attacking, you stop shooting.
Hopefully, you can now break contact and get out of striking distance in case of a follow-up attack. This is an essential step because the effect you’ve had on him may be psychological, which means when he realizes he isn’t incapacitated, he might resume trying to kill you. If you’ve created space and maintained awareness, you’ll be in a better position to defend yourself now that your gun is in your hand and at the ready.
Learning to shoot guns is something you can do easily in an afternoon. Carrying them as go-to self-defense weapons, however, requires a much more serious dedication to training — one that will take your skills to a higher level than those of the average person you see on the firing range.
Preparing yourself for the many defensive situations in which you might need to use a firearm is part of that responsibility. And while needing to shoot while in contact during a lethal struggle is a worst-case scenario, you can deal with it if you apply the principles and techniques presented here.
Rob Pincus is an internationally known firearms trainer. He has produced more than 40 training DVDs and offers both end-user and instructor-development courses. For more information, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit icetraining.us or combatfocusshooting.com