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Defensive Handgun Training: 3 Critical Fundamentals

Defensive Handgun Training: 3 Critical Fundamentals

There are three major areas of training and practice that are critical for the armed citizen to master. Col. Jeff Cooper, the founder of Gunsite, called them the Combat Triad: marksmanship, gun handling, and combat mind set.  Let's look at these three areas of study and see why they are so important to the defensive shooter.

MARKSMANSHIP—The essentials to hitting a target, any target, with a handgun or rifle are always the same, regardless of the target. They include sight picture, trigger squeeze, and breath control. Frankly, it is not difficult to learn to hit the thoracic area of a human target, especially at the ranges that deadly encounters usually occur.

However, the defensive shooter must learn to get a proper sight picture as quickly as possible. And he must learn to press the trigger, instead of jerking it, even when under extreme stress. With training we learn to perform these marksmanship tasks correctly. And with practice they become a strong habit, which helps us overcome the panic and stress that we naturally feel when our world is shattered by a criminal attack.

GUN HANDLING—It is not necessary to know how to properly operate every kind of defensive firearm, though that would be nice. What is important is to know how to operate and manage the firearm that you have chosen to use for personal defense. 

With proper training in gun handling, the shooter knows how to quickly manage a particular firearm’s various safety controls and he or she learns to quickly reload that firearm. And the shooter also learns how to clear any malfunctions that might be common to a particular firearm.

Most importantly, the shooter must learn to perform these functions while focusing a minimum of visual attention to the firearm. The focus should be upon the threat, and what is going on around the shooter, as much as possible. With good training and lots of practice, the defensive shooter can master these skills in a relatively short time.

COMBAT MINDSET—In my view, this is the most difficult of the three areas to master, and it is one that involves continual study and evaluation. The armed citizen must begin to understand how the criminal mind works. He needs to understand how criminals select their victims and, most importantly, he needs to know what to do about it.

The defensive shooter must train himself to be as aware as possible of the things that are going on around him. He needs to begin to look at the common objects that he sees every day in terms of their value as cover that will stop, or seriously impede, bullets. The combat mindset also requires a person to develop his own personal defense plan so that he will already have some idea of how to respond when trouble occurs. In short, he has to learn to fight with a firearm.

For many people this means that they have to change habits that they have spent a lifetime developing. And that is difficult. However difficult, it is a skill that can be developed and one that can be added to with serious thought and study.

Any training school truly worth a student’s hard-earned money should incorporate these three elements as a foundation for the training. Instructors may call them something other than the Combat Triad, but they must address and teach these techniques or the tuition has been wasted. Learning to hit a target under extreme stress, learning to manage the defensive firearm, and learning to fight with that firearm, are the foundation of personal defense.

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