Friday, September 25, 2009

Footwork, footwork, footwork...

This semester, I decided to take Beginner's Fencing: Introduction to the Foil, as part of my never ending attempt to complete my desired renaissance man persona. That just meaning that over the years I've made a conscious effort to learn a valuable skill every 3 to 6 months. Some skills, I continually work with, others get filed away and come out when needed, yes they are a bit rusty, but there are only so many hours in a day.

So, I thought maybe it was time to try my hand at something a bit more physical. I won't lie, most of my skills are academic, some or hands on, but none, besides shooting, and a bit of martial arts, are physical or fighting. Fencing is exactly those things, fighting, physical, and academic. Footwork, many think fencing is a focus of bladework, but it's not, it's a focus on footwork and good footwork at that. It is a three to one ratio of footwork to bladework for success. The very first thing you learn is your on-guard position, which after 45 minutes of standing in has your begging for mercy. Then there is advance and retreat, and these two are the things I really want to focus on. The extension of the weapon arm makes an attack, but without being able to advance or retreat on a target, we are nothing.

Advance is made by picking up your forward, dominant, leg, kicking it out and down, then stepping forward with the back foot. If this sounds dramatic, it isn't, you should be able to do a proper fencing advance without making a sound. Also, the step you take is SHORT, and this is the key, you can take lots of small steps without losing your balance easier than you can take big steps back. You follow a similar method with retreat, where the back, non-dominant, foot leads and the front foot follows. Again, completely silent and with some practice taking steps the length of your own foot, you'll discover you back up 40 feet of fencing platform in less than 3 seconds.

The retreat is very useful, I feel, in a shooting situation that might require you to back away from the target and it is, I feel the number one reason to use Weaver over, Isosceles, stance, because your feet are splayed and your body slightly bladed, in Weaver, your ability to use short, backwards steps while facing forward is greater. As a test, I retreated from contact distance with a training partner, in my house, down my hallway which is a measured 21 feet, exactly. We engaged and I retreated, using fast, short, fencing style retreats, while he continued to come forward. Before you ask, yes, he did manage to stay virtually on top of me during that time, but, he was unable to knock me backwards, or, land what I felt was a fatal blow, in that time.

Two reasons for this, first, it turned out that I moved faster than I thought I would, backing down 21 feet in less than a second, but also, it turns out once he was at arms length, I could keep him there. His advances were fast powerful, but unbalanced motions, that were easily redirected. After several goes, his attacks were predictable and we knew the test was over, when after taking four retreats, I made an attempt to disengage that had my training buddy on his ass (basically he kept coming and I bounced him off a wall and knocked him down, by redirecting his motions, don't try this at home folks!).

So, that's one of my cases for the purpose of footwork, footwork applies to shooting, especially, competitive shooting, as much as it does in other sports. The short step retreat found in fencing could and probably should, find its way into your repertoire of skills to have when training for engaging a target that we might encounter on the street.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meditations on TactiCool

One of the things that I've noticed seems to bother a lot of folks, is the increasing use of the word "tactical" to describe everything. I tend to agree with those who have voiced their opinions before me, that "tactical" is an over-used marketing term these days. TactiCool is just tactical on stupidity pills and it is...rampant. At the BBOD we carry a few "TactiCool" accessories that are just that, cool looking, not useful in any sense of the word. We carry some of the cheap ProMag accessories which should immediately be synonymous with the word, JUNK. Other greats are the BSA "Stealth Tactical" Laser/Flashlight/RedDot combination monstrosity for your AR.

Their are plenty of gadgets, widgets, and doodads that you can hang from your gun to make it more "tactical". The trouble comes not from the thing-a-ma-jig but from the word, tactical. The Oxford English Dictionary, gives one definition of tactical as, " 2. a. Of or relating to arrangement, esp. the arrangement of procedure with a view to ends." And that folks is the trouble with tactical and tacticool. When you chose your firearm accessories are you considering them with a view towards the end goal?

Good tactical decisions are based not on what looks cool or seems to perform well, but on what helps you achieve your final goal with maximum efficiency. So, for instance, I use three dot sights on my carry gun, some will disagree with me for it, but I have trained with three dots for so long that they make the most tactical sense for me. In another case, I also have a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips on my S&W J-Frame that I pocket carry. Why? Because I find from a tactical stand point that they make the most sense for me. I focus on the front sight and have the laser properly sighted in, per CT's intructions. This allows me to have a glowing red front sight, even in the dark, that is extremely hard to not focus on (if you don't understand what I am saying, see end of the post)*.

The reason I bring up my meditations on tactical and tacticool, is because of a couple of recent discussions with some of my customers. One gentleman wanted to purchase an AR15 and one of the aforementioned BSA scopes. He asked me honest opinion of the combination and I told him, I wouldn't rely on the BSA scopes, simply because their battery life was atrocious. He said, "but the red dot is more tactical, right?" My question then was to inquire as to the needs of his rifle, ultimately we got to the root of the issue. He just wanted the gun to shoot it at the range and to show off to his buddies. That's a fine reason to purchase an AR, in my book, if he so desires and that wicked (ugly) BSA scope, fills the job of looking VERY tactical/tacticool.

On the flipside, another gentleman came in and purchased a Springfield XD handgun to use in a home defense scenario, he queried me on flashlights and ended up purchasing a Steamlight TLR-2, which is in my opinion, one of the best purchases a person can make for a night stand bound gun. The ability to light up a target, identify, see your sights, and engage, with the element of surprise garnered by a bright light, can be an important tool. In this case, he made a sound tactical decision, and even decided to seek training from a local academy to improve on his shooting.

In short, remember the definition and origin of the word "tactical". It is a word derived from tactic, and is supposed to pertain to military or navy tactics (of which gunfighting is one), and furthermore, a tactical decision or device, is to aid you in reaching your final goal, whatever it may be.


*CT Laser Grips should be properly zeroed at your choice distance (mine for instance is 7 yards), such that when you look down the sights, in succession you should see rear sight, front sight, and only a portion of the red dot, such that it is blocked by the front sight. This allows you essentially a super bright bullseye to focus on while squeezing the trigger. I've found that zeroing at 7 yards will allow you to accurately use this method out to 15 yards and as close as 3 yards, with hit derivation at 3 yards actually being more than at 15 (I.E. POA=POI at 7, POI at 15 is half inch low, POI at 3 yards is about 2 inches high). I personally feel that shooting out past 15 yards with a snub nosed J-Frame is an exercise in frustration, I do it, but only by force. At 25 yards the dot helps some, but not as much as at closer distances, in those cases, it is best to concentrate hard on the front sight and use a 6 o'clock hold on the target.