The Gentleman Killer



So recently we had a discussion about this at warriortalk. The context was that certain famous instructors teach it, thus it must be a valid method. That is an interesting reasoning, because experience in one area, as notable as it may be, does not equate to experience in all things. Experience in off-sides proactive shooting is no more the same as unexpected, reactive gunfighting than brain surgery is the same as heart surgery. There are similarities, but a heart surgeon pontificating about brain surgery, having never cracked open a skull, is venturing into an area where he has no first hand knowledge.

The side step is in essence, an attempt by heart surgeons to explain brain surgery. But staying with the medical analogy, it may also be an attempt by brain surgeons to dumb down what they know so that those with no medical training will get the gist of the study.

I learned the side step back in the early 1990s. Yes, I know...some of you were not born yet. But at the time, the only other group that I am aware of doing any moving off the line of fire was LA Sheriff's SEB. In that era, where the US Military was basically not doing anything, we stood in line with SEALs, Force Recon guys, and even a Delta guy now and again when we attended SWAT training schools held by LAPD, LASD, the FBI, HK International, and many others whose names I'd have to look up. And nobody did any moving at all other than proactive assaults in buildings, or team movement outside.

Eventually some side lateral movement became common as early as the late 1990s. I began teaching it because of my gunfight outside the 7-11. I moved dynamically, avoided getting shot by the bad guy, and was able to kill him when he missed. The odyssey of discovery is well documented and to prevent writer's cramp I suggest you make the effort to look it up.

The issue of course was how the hell to teach this to a bunch of weaver shooting stand and deliver students. Range traditions and the safety nazis were quite strong and going against them would be worse than being found in a cheap motel with an underage coke whore, so the issue was accomplishing the task - teaching the concept of movement - without violating any rules.

Bam! The side step. Plenty of room to do that...nobody moving forward or back of the firing breaking of the 180...perfect! But that was in 1999-2000. We had not spent the time and done the work in the force on force realm. Simmunitions was as anti-civilian training as Barry Obama, and expensive as well. So expensive in fact that even police agencies used it sparingly and then only for role playing events. But sometime after the early 2000s we discovered Airsoft. Yes, it was toy-ish, not robust, and often problematic...but it was cheap enough that anyone could buy it, and unregulated so anyone could buy one.

The first thing I began doing was replaying reactive gunfights...not only mine, but others I was aware of. We did this in a drill format to test the timing, the lines of movement and the results. Initially of course we interjected what we had been doing on the range. The results of the 1990s range drills executed in the dynamic world of force on force was sheer and utter failure. Failure (ie, being shot dead by the bad guy) not being the objective, we scrapped everything we were doing and rebuilt our system from scratch based on the needs and desirables we saw in the force on force world.

Out went the side step, the speed rock, the block-draw- and shoot, and virtually everything being taught inside of seven yards on American ranges by American instructors from police, military and CCW backgrounds.

In 2005 we had the Warrior Talk Symposium. And I shared what we had found with everyone in attendance. The rules were simple. On "GO" each man was to draw and shoot the other man. Very similar to what we had done two years earlier. So what happened. A lot of guys got shot. Attempting to be faster than the other guy failed. Sidesteps failed. What worked? Dynamic "hauling ass off the line of fire" worked. The ability to draw while doing so was still in development and our studies in Appendix carry were in their infancy. But today, we do things far better.

Today we know that the initiative in the fight dictates your tactics. Few instructors realize that because recalling the earlier analogy, they are really good at heart surgery but understand nothing else. The man who has the initiative gets to start the fight. All he needs is decisiveness, marksmanship, and the will to kill. This where stand and deliver shooting comes in. To clarify, think of it as pistol ambushing. This is not what you do in a reactive event however.

In a reactive event the bad guy is already shooting at you, or is about to do so. He is well aware of you and has chosen you as a target. He, not you, has the initiative in the fight. If you stand and draw fast and try to beat him, you will have to be twice as fast as the bad guy. How many of you can guarantee that? An analogy to help you understand is to set up a 100 yard dash, but allow the other man to get 25 yards ahead of you before you start. Can you guarantee you can always catch him and pass him?

The side step is a recognition of the need to move, but indicative of the fear of violating range rules. Thus, like the step back and draw, and the speed rock, it addresses the concerns with a method that is only appropriate for the venue. A venue that is artificial, self-limiting, and totally unrealistic when compared to the real world and its unpredictable adversaries.

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If your movement off the line of fire does not look like the top image - involves explosive sprinting "off the blocks", and visual focus on the threat, with a compromise in marksmanship, you are fooling yourself about your reactive gunfight skills. And your instructor, regardless of who he is, has failed to prepare you properly.

To students who have been taught the side step, I urge you to question everything you have been taught regardless of the credentials of he who taught it. Test it in a dynamic force on force event and be honest with yourself about your results. I suspect you will drop the technique like a bad habit once you have seen its real world failure.

To instructors still teaching this I will say that you should know better. You have a responsibility to make your people better as they are coming to you to learn life-saving stuff. I know there will be instructors that are offended. They should not be if their goal is to make better fighters rather than checking off a box. I well understand the limits of taking a large group through a course of instruction, but the student should not leave the class thinking the side step will save them, when we know that is not the case. It is not your job to entertain them with outdated techniques and stories prior to ending early so you can catch your plane. It is your job to make them deadlier killers so when they face their test...the bad guy intend on killing them, the results will be them standing over the corpse saying, "Holy worked", and not a question of why it didn't as they move slowly into the light.