Step Into Pistol History

The purpose of studying history is to develop the ability to judge and evaluate current circumstances. This is true of all things, but especially today as it relates to firearms training and tactics. By reading and studying previous gunmen and trainers we’re able to understand how the tactics and techniques we use today developed, but at the same time, we learn there is very little “new,” and that the old is constantly being rediscovered.

One of the earliest works on the defensive pistol I’ve found is “The Pistol as a Weapon of Defence in the House and on the Road,” written by an unknown author in 1875 and published by Paladin Press in 2004 with a foreword by Jeff Cooper. For its time, it’s actually a well-written treatise on pistol work, and even discusses the various target zones of the body. To stop a threat efficiently the author recommends shots to the chest for their effectiveness, and avoiding shots the head, “bearing in mind that the head is difficult to hit and hard to penetrate …”

“Shooting,” by J. Henry FitzGerald, and “Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting,” by Ed McGivern, were published in the 1930s.  FitzGerald’s book appeared in 1930; he was a Colt revolver man.  McGivern, a Smith & Wesson revolver fan, published “Fast and Fancy …” in 1938. Both books cover in-depth the mental and physical aspects of using a pistol and contain sections on defensive work including shooting on the move and from moving vehicles. McGivern also discusses what he called “Five Position Training,” which is shooting from the ground on your back, stomach, and sides along with other unusual positions. A lot of the “new” things being promoted today were being taught and practiced almost one hundred years ago.

“Shooting To Live,” by Fairbairn and Sykes was first published in 1942. Fairbairn and Sykes oversaw the Shanghai pistol tigerPolice during the 1930s, a time when Shanghai was considered the “toughest” city in the world. After engaging in hundreds of gun battles the principles and techniques they used and taught were recorded in “Shooting To Live,” which according to Rex Applegate was the first written manual specifically focused on combat with the handgun. While some of the material is dated, there is still plenty of information worthy of consideration. For example, at a time when revolvers still were the favored weapon, Fairbairn and Sykes are on record stating that for fighting “we unhesitatingly avow our preference for the automatic pistol.”

In the 1960’s we start to see works by Chick Gaylord - “Handgunners Guide” - and “No Second-Place Winner,” by Bill Jordan, and a host of works by Jeff Cooper. These books cover a variety of subjects such as selecting a pistol, holster, and related gear. Again, some of the ideas are dated, but there is still plenty of information that applies to shooters today.

In reading these books and researching the history of handgun combat you begin to understand when and how the techniques we use today developed. You see the evolution of handgunning techniques, and while the fundamentals always remain the same, especially the mental aspects, changes occur and techniques evolve, such as the shift from one-hand to two-handed shooting and more efficient ways to manipulate the weapon. Most importantly, you can judge what’s being taught today with an eye towards techniques that have worked for years as opposed to something created just as a marketing tool or to be novel. Without knowing where you came from it’s difficult to figure out if you’re heading in the right direction.

Tiger McKee
Tiger McKee is the director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama.  He is the author of “The Book of Two Guns” - http://shootrite.org/book/book.html writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html  McKee’s new book, AR-15 Skills and Drills, is available off Shootrite’s website: http://shootrite.org/AR15SkillsBook/AR15SkillsBook.html