Application of the Fundamentals

From the very beginning in formal firearms training, we are all introduced to the fundamentals and are educated on their importance in all facets of training and practical application. We learn of the grip, stance, trigger control, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing and the all-important follow through. We are typically taught the application of several components at once and have this explained to us in easily digested steps or increments, such as having a draw and presentation explained in either a four or five step process. We have all even likely engaged in colorful and heated debates over the virtues of an isosceles vs. a weaver stance and have formed on own opinions on which we believe to be superior. Likewise, many have developed passionate, fiery attitudes over the virtues of a thumbs up or thumbs forward two hand grip on a handgun or had grown equally passionate over a C-clamp style grip on rifle forearm over literally every other way to hold a rifle, because no one ever shot a rifle successfully before the C-clamp was developed, right?

Those of us who feed our families, make our mortgage payments and keep the cabinet stocked with quality bourbon and pricey cigars from teaching, preach the value of the fundamentals. We use them to establish a solid foundation for the student and to cultivate better skills. To us the fundamentals are not just a tried and true practice for the safe and effective handling of firearms, but also a means to explain and communicate how and what we want done during a drill or an entire class. However, and I say this not to stir the proverbial pot to violently and cause any of the assimilated waste by-products to splash on anyone's brand new Solomon's. But often our dependence on the fundamentals, as they were taught to us and how we have opted to pass them down in that state, keeps our students and us anchored at an entry-level application of these fundamentals regardless of the circumstances we might find ourselves in with a gun in our hands. Let me try and explain.

I’m going to ask a question, don’t raise your hand if the question applies to you, as those around you may misinterpret your actions as some sort of questionably aberrant relationship with the inanimate object in your hand or on your lap. How many of you graduated high school? How many of you went to college? How many graduated college? In your first 3-4 years of school, your formative years of education, regardless of whether you went to a traditional school or some sort of metaphysical tie-dye, patchouli oil, magic crystals, and hemp clothing school, you received an early indoctrination into the tenets of education and learned a foundation that you would hopefully build on. These earlier years, typically kindergarten through third grade you learn the fundamentals (reading, writing, and arithmetic) and most of us continually applied those fundamentals throughout our formal education. The question is, when you were in college were you applying those fundamentals at a third-grade level or at an advanced college level? The same fundamentals, but they changed, matured and advanced to meet the skills required for them to be applied at the next level. Let me break this down a little further.

Grip is a hold on the firearm that allows for control, manipulation, recoil management, and accurate, repeatable results. Sometimes it's with both hands, other times it will be with one hand and with the abundance of rail mounted accessories, sometimes it has to be modified to run those accessories. But it never ceases to be the control of the gun and the initial relationship of a shooter to a firearm. But the idea of grip changes based on many factors ranging from the gun and caliber in question, individual hand size, mode of carry and what the intended use of the particular weapon is, but one thing remains a constant and that is the positive control of the firearm.

Stance, this one is frequently misaligned, a stance is not an exclusive description of two feet planted firmly stanceon the ground. A stance is a posture or position that creates a solid platform to stabilizes the shooter for accurate fire and safe manipulation of a firearm. It's not a matter of isosceles or weaver, it’s about the stable platform. This platform can be on your feet, your back, your side, you posterior, it can be assumed from a chair or the front seat of a vehicle and can even be while under the demand of lateral or linear movement. But regardless of where you must assume a solid stance, it is always a stable platform for accurate, safe and repeatable action.

Trigger control, this one has little difference as the fundamentals mature, but often when one starts having their tempo increased they start forgetting what they were taught and conversely start doing unimaginable things with the trigger and practicing those unimaginable things until they become a habit.

Sight alignment and sight picture, more frequently skewed concepts. These two work directly with grip and the relationship of the gun in your hands in-line with the eyes producing the end result of putting the front post continually and reliably in the rear notch and ultimately on a target. But what happens when we can't see the sights initially during the presentation, like in low light or no light environment or even in the time constraints of extreme bad-breath distance close quarters? Typically, what we see is a dramatic increase in time as a shooter struggles to gain standard sight acquisition under those conditions when in reality the fundamentals need to adapt or grow with the circumstances and what should be an ever-increasing skill set.

Breathing, if you're not doing this right now immediately hang up and call 911! But seriously, this is of breatheobvious importance and applies in firearms training to more traditional marksmanship or precision shooting where the rhythm and movement of the body by breathing deeply effect point of aim and point of impact, students and accomplished shooters work to master the natural respiratory pause to break a shot. But what about defensive shooting where things are potentially happening faster and other the terms of others, where does breathing come into play? To perform best under the demand of high stress, where the body alters function slightly (moving blood from organs to extremities, etc.), there is a distinct need for a continuous intake of oxygen to fuel the blood. This oxygen helps keep an individual lucid and performing at their best, without it, and we are setting ourselves up for problems.

Follow through, after trigger control is quite likely the most important of all the fundamentals especially under the likely demands of defensive shooting. Follow through, as its taught, is often characterized as the reacquisition of the sights after the gun has fired, but, it is the continuous application of all the fundamentals until the point when the gun is no longer needed, action has ceased, the threat is over and Miller time is calling. The application of follow-through may be taught slow and steady, but in the real world, it may have to happen at an unbelievable cadence, thus the need to modify, grow and adapt this fundamental to a more advanced platform.

The fundamentals are indeed the basis of all we do to manage the safe and successful use of a firearm, they stay the same as they change or modify. In your training, look at the application of the fundamentals constructively, not in such an unwavering dogmatic way that you stagger your growth. Think critically about everything you do and have been taught, are you still applying them the same way you did when you first learned to shoot, or have you successfully taken those very fundamentals into more advanced levels? As always, my message to all; Train hard, Train right, Train to Win! ~ Wes

Dr. Wes Doss PhD
Wes is an internationally recognized firearms, tactics, and use of force instructor with over 30 years of military and civilian criminal justice experience, as well as significant operational time with both military and law enforcement tactical and protective service organizations. Wes holds specialized instructor certifications from the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, Arizona POST, the Smith & Wesson Academy, the Sigarms Academy, the NRA LEAD, and FEMA.

Wes is the founder, President, and General Operating Manager of Khyber Interactive Associates, LLC and the Annual 1 Inch to 100 Yards Warrior Conference. Wes holds a Masters degree in Criminal Justice Administration and a PhD in Psychology. Wes is a member of a number of professional associations, including: The International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI), The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), The National Rifle Association (NRA), The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) The Military Police Regimental Association (MPRA), and the International Association of Counter Terrorism and Security Professionals (IACTSP). 

Wes is also a published author, with numerous articles in various publications, such as; SWAT magazine, ASLET “The Trainer”, and The NTOA “Tactical Edge”. Wes is also the author of the bestselling books “Train to Win”, and “Condition to Win” both training psychology/philosophy books focused on law enforcement and military trainers and professionals.