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Problems in technique and tempo

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By Brian C. Hartman

Principle 1

One of the greatest benefits of teaching tactics is, how many students from varied backgrounds we come in contact with. Like all of us, students bring to class, a willingness to learn, and a host of both good and bad habits.

A problem I often observe is a lack of situational discretion as it applies to tempo. Another is an operational misunderstanding of the occupation of space versus the clearing of space.

While clearing a structure or space, a shooter will encounter walls, doors, steps and all the other defining attributes of a building. Obviously negotiating these will necessitate the use of movement. By proxy, this means that as our shooter ‘moves’, their body will physically occupy “new / conquered” space, while surrendering “old / relinquished” territory. Meanwhile as the shooters eyes and muzzle pass through areas, they are indeed “searching” for the common indicators of human presence: form, shape, shift, noise, weapons, light, flash, color/contrast, etc. And it is here where the problems begin...

Occupying does not necessarily equal clearing, while clearing does not necessarily mandate occupying. The following principles will attempt to explain this further.

Principle #1: You can clear a great deal without occupying.

Imagine a shooter is tasked with clearing a football field in broad daylight. With nowhere for threats to hide, he needn’t set foot on the field. In this case, a simple orderly visual search pattern does the trick.

A more practical example is a glass-doored shower in a residence. Here, a physical barrier prevents spatial occupation (unless opened) but does not prevent visual clearing. Simple concept right? It stands to reason that when operating at a methodical deliberate tempo, that the majority of the clearing effort should be undertaken before entering a given room. Try to make the brass land in the hall.

Principle 2

Principle #2: Vulnerabilities stem from occupying without clearing.

Imagine this: From a hallway, our shooter hears a distinct loud noise from a closet within a bedroom. The hero boldly charges into the room focused on the closet and the closet only. By occupying a space first without clearing, this action exposes our man to any additional unknowns or threats in the room.

Another example showcasing lateral vulnerabilities is a center-fed room with an open door on the opposing wall. As our shooter enters, he focuses his attention on the far wall (opposite the door). As he has been trained to not dwell in the doorway / fatal funnel, he sidesteps, left or right three paces into the room. Thus with gun and eyes in alignment, the shooter is moving, and occupying unobserved territory 90 degrees to the axis of coverage. Left or right corners may contain viable threats that the shooter not only doesn’t see, but is advancing on! Add low light variables to the equation and you may as well be blindfolded.

Principle #3: You can only clear so much without subsequent occupation.

For years, shooters have been taught that an area can be rapidly assessed using the turkey look, or quick peek. But let’s ask ourselves: What do we really gain? What do we give up? Well for one, we surrender the information we risked our heads for as soon as we get it. One cannot assume our adversary will remain static once we spot him. And it is even less likely he will not go mobile if he spots us performing the peek.

Principle 3

Oftentimes, the peek is performed with the predetermined intention of yanking the head, and weapon right back. How pointless is a technique that deprives us of the ability to shoot should a legitimate threat present itself? Conventional wisdom holds that you set up to pull back in case the bad guy tries to shoot you. I say anyone who tries to shoot me when I perform a peek deserves to get shot himself... no matter where you live! You don’t necessarily have to occupy the space, but you can visually hold it.

We hammer the principles of proper body orientation, strobing & wanding, as well as vertical displacement while slicing corners for a reason... it works in a deliberate tempo environment. Choose your battles, but don’t give up what you’ve gained. Remember our brass in the hall, but at some point you will have to enter and search up close.

Principle 4

Principle #4: You can overclear through myopic occupation.

From principle #4 stems principle #5. We know that using a semiautomatic pistol with a typical military or law enforcement cartridge, our ballistic efficiency is roughly 50 yards. We also know that with 20/20 vision, we can see a man sized target over 500 hundred yards away. Unless you make a habit of clearing jumbo jet hangers with a pistol, it’s safe to say that in typical room combat your threat will be well within visual, and ballistic range. In fact, it is a widely accepted fact that the overwhelming majority of all gunfights occur at nine feet or less.

So we pose another question: At a range of 1~5 yards, how long does it take to clear an empty corner? 1 second? 2 seconds? Well it certainly depends upon lighting, any obstructions, and ones tempo, but time and again, other instructors and myself find ourselves puzzled as students moving deliberately, or dynamically act as thought their weapon, is the anchor, and their designated corner is the bottom of the ocean.

This act of digging the corners, proves that you can have too much of a good thing. Are head and eyes up and aligned with the weapon? Yes. Is the shooter moving smoothly with a good safe platform? Certainly. Do they look cool? Without a doubt. But whether dynamic, or deliberate, the shooter must break their myopic fixation from an already cleared area, and traverse their weapon (structure dependent) left, or right. The beautiful part is that the shooter, if practiced, need not move off the axis of advance to accomplish this. I liken it to taking bites, on the move without a doorway (especially in the dark). After all, cutting the pie is predicated upon concealment, not cover.

Seasoned operators assess living threats in quarter seconds, and act. Empty spaces can be done in even smaller fractions. Don’t get shot with your head stuck in an empty bucket saying, “still empty... still empty... still empty...”

Principle 5

Principle #5: Working the lion’s share causes poor angle management, and under-clearing.

At times, a search team may consist of 1 under trained, or 1 untrusting member. This may cause the point shooter to feel as though they need to clear the entire room by themselves. With such a hefty duty, our point shooter, will whip their muzzle from their primary wall, corner, or area, and bring it to bear in the opposite area of responsibility. This action presents a myriad of problems.

First on the problem list, is very similar to the quick peek dilemma: did the shooter clear their area completely? Or perhaps they are so fixated on the other half of the room, that they “looked, but didn’t see.”

Next is of course the danger of masking the secondary shooter with our weapon as we turn to face an area of responsibility that is not our own. At best, this is dangerous, and at worst, this can result in fratricide.

And finally, our secondary shooter will be basing his actions off of either an SOP/ plan, or reading the point shooters movements. If we change tactics halfway through the entry while banking on telepathy, the results can be disastrous. Interlocking sectors of fire are a sound proven tactic, but total redundancy means an area of interest is being neglected. Working in pairs (or more) requires flexibility, but also committal. Commit to your area of responsibility, and your teammates proficiency, even if it means not partaking in the almighty action.


Even with superior equipment and training, clearing rooms and structures is a formidable dirty business. Against an inferior adversary lying in wait, the odds are still very strong that you will be shot, or at a minimum shot at. So before undertaking the challenge, manage your risk with a few simple questions:

1) What is my goal / mission?

2) Do I need more support? Backup? Weaponry?

3) Am I legally justified?

4) Should I be clearing and occupying (deliberate)? Or clearing by occupying (dynamic)?

SAFELY practice working the rooms in your house w/ an inert weapon, or simulator. Use differing speeds and techniques, and objectively assess your vulnerabilities. Hopefully, you’ll never need the skills to face the bear in his den. But if you do, you’ll be ready. Train hard, and stay safe.

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