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Firearms training: Train hard, fight easy

It’s not perfect practice that makes perfect, but the willingness to make mistakes in the pursuit of perfection

A little while back, Doug Wyllie asked for responses to the point shooting debate. After much deliberation, I decided to open myself up to the possibility of taking some shots from the masses. Hopefully the masses are point shooters so at least I’ll have a chance. Ha!

Sorry I had to start like this, but I’m pretty sure I now have your attention.

I’ve been teaching firearms skills for many years and have always taught sighted aimed fire. As an instructor, law officer, and competitor I don’t see how I can do anything else. My philosophy and the philosophy of my instructors is, “point shooting is a byproduct of properly performed sighted aimed fire.”

One Hundred Percent Shot Accountability
When I started writing this, I called my friend and fellow Top Shot competitor, JJ Racaza. JJ is a Federal Law Enforcement professional, #1 speed shooting competitor in the USA, and #2 in the world. I value JJ’s opinion — he’s extremely fast and deadly accurate with anything you put in his hands. He is also part of a team in the process of revising a large federal agency’s instructor-level firearms program. I ran everything in this article past him to glean his professional opinion. He concurred on all points and commiserated with me on how point shooting is a shortcutting of firearms instruction. JJ acknowledges that teaching sighted, aimed fire is much harder than teaching any of the flavor-of-the day techniques. He agreed, also, that once a person learns what it takes to hit and accomplishes a level of proficiency that you cannot take that away from them.

As a trainer of law enforcement officers I cannot afford to promote anything but one hundred percent shot accountability. As a professional law enforcement officer and trainer I have to stress it. An errant round can ruin more than one life instantly. It would be negligent to tell any operator that it’s OK to miss — especially in training, when we are shooting at inanimate objects that really pose no threat.

Don’t think that I’m not aware that there is a legal defense for the dynamic application of a trained technique. This does not, however, mean we shouldn’t try hard to do what’s right. What if I deploy my baton and go for a common peroneal strike and the bad guy flinches and I crush his knee? Bad day for him — probably for my agency too, because we’re gonna pay for it but — I didn’t do anything wrong. It was his fault for fighting in the first place. Same with an errant shot.

What if, in a spontaneous life-or-death encounter, I draw and fire and one of my rounds misses and hits an innocent civilian? Now it’s a bad day for the person I hit, the agency and ME. It’s not likely that I personally am going to pay financially. The agency will do that, but I will pay emotionally, probably for the rest of my life.

Training for When it Goes Dynamic
Say what you want, tough guys. If it doesn’t bother you to kill an innocent person no matter what the circumstance, you may need to find another line of work. You will be able to fight through it but, if you have half a conscience, you will likely struggle with it.

So why is it that we forgo the sights and attempt point shooting? Why do manufacturers put sights on guns? Why is it that when we point at something with our finger we often place the hand out high in front of our face so as to “sight” down our finger toward the object we are pointing to?

All good questions.

Why, when I attended Sgt. Bob Stasch’s (of Chicago PD and involved in numerous gunfights) class on gunfighting, did he like the XS Systems high-vis front sight? Yes, it was all one handed and fast moving but, even Stasch advocated flash front sight awareness. After all, it is not he who shoots first that wins but he who HITS first who wins.

Why do some instructors “peshaw” the sights in training? Because it’s hard to teach sighted fire!

“Far arms instructors” teach people how to qualify, not how to shoot. Firearms instructors/mentors teach people what it takes to hit as well as why they miss. If a shooter who is point shooting misses, what do you tell them to do? Move your feet? Adjust your elbow? Stare at the target harder? Shoot harder?

After all, we are training. We’re shooting at a piece of paper glued to cardboard, stapled to a stick, which is not moving nor shooting back at us. What the heck do you do when it goes dynamic?

When you get the opportunity to learn what it truly takes to hit you become self sufficient (sort of like teaching a man to fish). You also start to figure out why you miss. Combine all of that knowledge with solid motor programming for drawing and presenting and it becomes automatic. Gun high up in front of the face, some semblance of sight alignment, sight picture and a good knowledge of how to hold the pistol and what stress does to trigger management. BAM! You get hits. JJ concurs that when you understand the fundamentals and how they effect your shooting you can make shots happen no matter what the circumstance.

Winning in the Real World
One of our students was recently involved in a shooting. A man with a knife, intent on dying, charged the officer. That officer quickly drew and reflexively fired hitting with his first two rounds. When those rounds did not work he stated that he heard my voice say “Align the sights and squeeze the trigger.” His next two shots ended the fight with one to the throat and another in the eye. He was thankful to us for the time we spent with him teaching him draw, presentation, solid motor programs, as well as sight alignment, sight picture and trigger management. We showed him what it took to hit a target no matter how small — no matter that the target is moving. Just solid basics. Can you dispute that it is the basics that win the day?

Several officers we have trained in the past have been involved in gunfights. Each fully cleared, 100 percent shots on target and all suspects expired on scene. Each officer said they saw their sights and it happened exactly as they had been trained. That is something to hang your hat on.

We also have a large number of officers who contact us on a regular basis about qualifications. If not the officer themselves then a training supervisor. They often call to say that they have not failed a qualification in as much as 5 years or that their officer has not failed since the training. CCTG and its affiliates are proud of these cases. We work our butts off to get these results from our students.

I have been shooting competitively this last year in action type shooting sports and can honestly say that when I shoot targets with pistol (some as small as 3 inches) I cannot tell you that I always see my sights. Nevertheless, shot after shot, the targets go down in rapid fashion. I am positive that when I am missing and targets cease to fall, I have to stop, (if only mentally) to tell myself “Sights you idiot!” and then the targets fall again.

Surely you’ve experienced the instructor who shows off his hits (all over the target) and says, “See, and I didn’t even use my sights!”

Next time you run into the instructor who says, “Spread your shots out!” tell HIM to spread HIS shots out and put one in each shoulder, one in the head, one in each hip and one in the belly button. Then you’ll believe he is “spreading” his shots out. Forget that guy.

Train hard to fight easy!

As long as you are shooting as fast as you can, as accurately as you can, in a combat fashion, and ingraining solid motor programs that you can rely on under stress, you are practicing correctly. It’s not perfect practice that makes perfect, but the willingness to make mistakes in the pursuit of perfection. We strive for perfection and only settle at excellence!

Until next time remember,
Those who can, do.
Those who understand, teach.

Part-time police officer Chris Cerino is most recognized as the competitor that came in 2nd place in both Top Shot season 1 and Top Shot All Stars. He is currently the field host of Gun Talk TV, Guns and Gear and a trainer on The First Person Defender series on Gun Talk’s YouTube page. He is an internationally known firearms instructor who has been training law enforcement officers, military operators and civilians for more than 18 years. He has worked as Peace Officer in a variety of positions from municipal and county to state and federal agencies spanning 23 years. Chris continues to instruct through his company Chris Cerino Training Group at the national and international level. A published writer on the topics of firearms training and instruction he continually pursues validation of his skills and the skills he teaches by competing in three gun, precision rifle matches and NRA action pistol matches across the country.

Contact Chris Cerino