All skills are an amalgamation of basic skills and things we have learned. The problem is that many folks do not study, and if they do, they study things that are of no utility in personal defense. Most shooters engage in superficial dabbling. They may try the inside the waistband holster and the appendix draw briefly, and sometimes try the crossdraw, but not thoroughly examine any of them. They do not repeat the draw 500 times. Some fire from one stance or the other for a box of cartridges or so, and declare one works best for them. That is dabbling. To master a technique you must immerse yourself in the drills. This means total concentration with body and mind. If you have not trained your body, you will be unable to execute effective techniques.
Study of previous incidents indicates the usefulness of each drill or tactic. Let the logic ladder lead you to a good choice. If you do go to a school or conduct your own practice, you must have an open mind. Always be the student. If you have a formed opinion, then your experience may not be profitable.
Most personal defense situations occur at close range, and the tactics used are about close quarters battle. It isn’t about being a good shot—it’s about gunhandling. If the adversary uses open hands, edged weapons, or blunt force, you must be ready for a response at intimate range. If your set of skills is limited to the firearm, you are ill prepared for the reality of personal defense. Simply firing at stationary targets at 7 to 10 yards isn’t preparation for a CQB event.
Initial familiarization with the firearm must be done before we proceed to advanced drills, but recognize this experience for what it is. By the same token, the handgun cannot be the only weapon. The hands and edged weapons should be learned. You must have effective skills that are useful when you are not justified in using lethal force.
Even if you are justified in using deadly force—as would be the case against an edged weapons assault—you may not be able to access the weapon if the adversary is attacking you with an edged weapon or blunt force. If you draw too soon in such a clutch, the action may turn into a fight for the handgun, which you may not win. There is always one gun in any situation, and that is yours.
There are drills that serve well in close range combat, and those with a great deal of experience developed them. One is effective for unarmed use, and the others are effective short-range shooting drills that may be learned relatively quickly.
Dempsey Drop Step
Jack Dempsey was a master of the art of boxing. Boxing is perhaps the most underappreciated martial art and one that offers solutions to many problems. The Dempsey Drop Step offers a devastating blow when properly delivered. No matter your weight or strength, if you are able to deliver force equal to your body weight on the point of the fist, it may be a life saving blow.
While executed in different forms by experienced individuals, the Dempsey Drop Step exhibits an explosive forward step rather than a shuffle. The Dempsey Drop Step directs most of the individual’s mass in the direction of the strike. It is important not to over reach. Don’t fall forward if you miss, be certain that you have many repetitions under your belt.
Some believe the jab is used to sting only or used in repetition in defensive blows. A jab with real power behind it can be effective if used in conjunction with the Dempsey Drop Step. Don’t ruin the execution with poor mechanics. The body will be loose as the drill is executed.
Ideally you will be standing with the strong-side foot to the rear. The strong-side foot and strong-side arm move in unison. The foot goes forward quickly, and as the striking arm is thrust forward, the foot lands hard. Landing hard increases your footing and the power of the blow.
The blow is delivered from the abdomen to the face, depending on the opportunity. An open palm is preferred to a fist. If you strike the skull with the fist, you may break a knuckle. An open hand is more likely to land on target.
When you strike, and the hand comes back, the hips will tighten. This is an involuntary movement that cannot be controlled. The muscles are loose on the move, then tighten when you stop movement. The accomplished martial artist will learn to cope with this and avoid allowing this tightening to stop his motion.
The Applegate Drill
Colonel Rex Applegate was tasked with training men quickly during World War II. He trained hundreds of OSS operatives. Applegate became a master of CQB tactics. His research centered on tactics useful for fast, close range work. He needed to provide some type of skill or tactic that would be useful to men armed with handguns and a minimum amount of prior experience.
They were often armed with the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless, a handgun with minimal sights. The pistols were carried concealed by those operating in Nazi occupied Europe—most often without a holster. There might be a need to quickly discard the handgun.
Applegate read accounts of how western gunfighters, particularly Wild Bill Hickok, had survived gunfights. Hickok wrote of using ‘snap shooting’ or quickly bringing the pistol to bear and taking a very fast sight picture—using only the front sight. Similar work was done by Fairbairn in Shanghai, China, while working with the international police force.
Sometimes called combat point shooting Applegate’s tactics called for aiming the handgun but using an unconventional sight picture such as the slide of the handgun or only the front sight. In dim light, body aiming was used to achieve hits.
In the most commonly accepted Applegate drill, the user draws the handgun and steps forward on the foot of the firing hand. The handgun comes forward at the same time, rising to eye level. The eyes are on the threat.
As soon as the sights break the plane between the eyes and the target, the pistol is fired. The hand is flexed stiffly to avoid shooting low. This drill is very fast, and accurate enough at ranges of 2 to 7 yards. Hickok called it snap shooting, some call it instinctive shooting, and others point shooting. It is a viable exercise for close range defense.
Many CQB skills are inherently dangerous. It is imperative that you practice these drills dry fire until you are certain you will not cross the body with the muzzle of the handgun. By the same token, there is a danger in CQB when dealing with an adversary, so be smooth and practiced in these drills.
The muzzle must not cross limbs and extremities. Both the body and the mind must be trained and muzzle discipline is maintained. A proven technique for CQB is the Speed Rock. The assailant’s body may be in contact with yours, as in an edged-weapon attack. The method usually taught is to face the target flat-footed, or in the interview position. The non-dominant hand will deliver a strike to the threat as fast, and as hard, as possible.
The gun side hip has pivoted away from the threat to prevent interference with the draw. As the striking hand immediately retracts, the gun hand draws the pistol. The pistol is thrust toward the threat and fired as soon as it clears the holster. This delivers a bullet to the adversary’s mid section.
The wrist must be locked to prevent a short cycle. This is a good time to execute a double tap, firing two rounds quickly. A variation I have seen is to tilt the muzzle upward to turn the bullet into the vital organs. I feel that this is an over complication of a simple drill that may lead to a short-cycled handgun.
The speed rock might be executed at such short range that a revolver may be thrust into the opponent’s body to increase wound potential. A semi-automatic handgun will jam after the first shot, if used in such a manner, save for the Honor Defense 9mm with FIST stand off device. Be certain to practice rapid controlled movement. There is a tendency of the body to recoil back to its original defensive position after a drill is executed. This reaction should be understood and mastered.
Carefully consider these drills and decide if they fit your skills and likely scenario. The life you save may be your own.