Off Balance!

Firing Your Handgun From Awkward Positions.

We all know the importance of a strong, well-balanced stance for good marksmanship. Unfortunately, we also know the need to fire in self-defense often finds us in awkward, off-balance positions. That makes it important for us to know beforehand how to shoot effectively in those circumstances.

I was reminded of this at the 2013 National Championships of IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, hosted at the fabulous US Shooting Academy range in Tulsa, Okla. When the smoke had cleared and my Team Panteao teammate Bob Vogel had shot the overall winning score yet again, he posted on Facebook, “I am thankful for a solid performance. Ninth year in a row I’ve shot the match, and overall I think this was the hardest.”


Mas has run to final position and uses Ray Chapman’s technique to maintain
cover as he shoots the last of the targets on Stage 13. He is up on the ball
of his right foot, shooting right-handed around left-side cover with a
Springfield XDM 5.25.

Height Of Cover

Friend and colleague Clint Smith advises his students that the fight won’t be what we might want it to be; the fight will be what it is. Available cover is seldom perfectly sized for the individual using it, so we have to adapt. In Stage 3 of the Nationals, “Dinner Disaster,” you came under fire from an attacking gang in a restaurant and had to draw while seated and shoot the nearest attacker, then flip over the table for whatever cover it afforded and engage the other bad guys at varying distances.

For tall folks and flexible folks, a high kneeling position worked fine for the latter portion. For shorter people and us inflexible folks, it didn’t work as well. The answer for many was the Cover Crouch, in which the feet go out wide into a karate practitioner’s “horse stance” and your pelvis comes down to about knee level. Not as stable as kneeling, but it’s faster and more adjustable to varying heights of cover, and gives you more mobility to scoot laterally. At the Nationals, this technique worked well for those who needed it and knew how to do it.


Michael Fiorenza (right-handed, as you can see by his holster) goes southpaw-only
to shoot the difficult airplane stage with his 1911. Beneath him is the “body of
the good guy from whom he retrieved the gun.”

Angle Of Cover

In the old days, if you were taking cover behind a big tree or the corner of a building, you were taught to shoot left-handed around left-side cover and right-handed around the right side. Over the years, most of us “in the business” came to realize that few things violated human instinct more than putting a dexterity-intensive tool into the less-dexterous hand when fighting for one’s life in raw survival mode.

The late, great ex-Marine, ex-cop, and world combat shooting champion Ray Chapman came up with a great technique for shooting strong-hand around weak-hand-side cover more than a half-century ago. You keep the gun in the strong hand. Your weak side foot indexes main body mass behind cover, and you put your weight on that leg as you come up on the ball of the other, “inside” foot. This pushes enough head and upper body out from behind cover to aim and fire. You’re sacrificing a bit more head and torso exposure to gain faster, surer hits on your target. Right-handed shooters were all put into this situation for every shot in Stage 13, titled “Wrong House,” which many of us jokingly suggested must have been designed by a southpaw.


Jim Martin shoots from cover crouch over best cover available,
a flipped-over table, with his Glock 34.

Contorted Positions

I’ve debriefed two gunfight survivors, a New York cop and a security guard, who each had to kill their opponent firing from the ground, weak hand only, after they were down with wounded dominant arms. That hadn’t been in their training or qualification curricula. “Bad things happen to good people.” My first event in the match was Stage 13, “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” You are in a right-side window seat when four terrorists take over the aircraft. They stab the Federal Air Marshal, who falls at your feet. The terrorist who stabs him reaches for the dropped gun lying on the Marshal’s chest, which oddly enough is identical to your own. At the start signal, you stab the killer in the chest with your Tactical Pen, then snatch up the gun and nail his three cohorts, who are in positions spread over almost 180 degrees… and you’re not allowed to stand up.

The more flexible among us stayed strong hand, many using 2-hand holds, to accomplish this task. Those who didn’t fit that profile, including yours truly, grabbed the gun left-hand only. This allowed us to hold onto a seat with the right hand for balance, and more quickly get shots on the relatively close but very wide-spread, multiple targets. “Different strokes for different folks.”

I’ve run out of space without being able to cover some other examples in the 17-stage course of fire, but suffice to say Champion Bob Vogel was right—it was a heck of a challenge. IDPA matches are probably within striking distance of you. The scenarios will put you in places you don’t want to be… but places you’ll be glad you’ve been in before with a gun in your hand, if you ever find yourself there for real.
By Massad Ayoob

2232 CR 719
Berryville, AR 72616
(870) 545-3886

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