By Chis Upchurch, Suarez International Staff Instructor
About a year ago I was helping fellow S.I. instructor Alex Nieuwland with one of his CCW classes. A friend of his who already had his CCW stopped by to observe and complimented my on my firearms skills. The interesting thing was that he hadn't actually seen me fire a single shot. All he'd seen were my demonstrations of drawing from the holster, loading, unloading, and ready positions to the students. He made this judgement based entirely on my gunhandling skills.
I've often done the same. At the beginning of one of our intermediate level Rifle Gunfighting classes all I have to do is watch how the students unsling their rifles, mount them from various ready positions, perhaps perform a reload or two and I can tell you which guys are squared away and which probably would have been better off taking our basic Fighting Rifle Skills class instead. The students whose gunhandling is smooth, precise, and deliberate, with positive muzzle control are almost always going to do well in the class. Those with jerky or indecisive movements and wandering muzzles are going to need more of my help. All this is obvious before we even send a single round downrange.
When I mentioned this to a student recently, he thought it was a bit like judging a book by its cover; that actual shooting skills were more important than this gunhandling stuff. The reality is that pure marksmanship is a surprisingly small part of what we teach here at Suarez International. Gunfights rarely begin with your gun pointed in directly at the target. You're going to need to deploy that pistol or rifle before you can even bring your marksmanship skills into play. Drawing the pistol from the holster or mounting the long gun from a sling or ready position are among the most critical skills for fighting with a firearm. Once you've got the gun on target, you need to drive it from one target to another and keep it running in the face malfunctions or emptied magazines. Gunhandling is the price of entry in a gunfight, you don't even get to the shooting until you've paid it.
So what does good gunhandling look like? There is an old saying in the martial arts world, "The beginner appears to move quickly, the master appears not to move at all." Good gunhandling is the same way: smooth, precise, with no unnecessary movement. Bad gunhandling often involves a lot of fumbling and flailing about with the muzzles wandering where it will as the shooter tries to accomplish a given task. Fast gunhandling is much more about eliminating inefficiencies and wasted motion than it is about raw speed.
In addition to its greater efficacy, precise, deliberate gunhandling is also going to hold up better under pressure. This kind of gunhandling can only be achieved through countless repetitions and extensive practice. Someone who has achieved this level of skill will also ingrain these techniques at an unconscious level. Combine this with the 'caveman simple' gunhandling that S.I. teaches and you've got a skill set that will hold up even under the intense fight-or-flight reaction when you're fighting for your life.
Take a look at your own gunhandling. Videotape yourself or do some dry practice reps in front of a mirror. What do you see? Are your movements smooth and precise, or herky-jerky? Does the gun come to the same position every time or is there a lot of variation? Do you have to think your way though every move of the technique, or can you just reel it off without thinking?
Go out and do dry practice. Don't try to do it fast. Start out doing it slowly and correctly; speed is the byproduct of countless repetitions. Whether at the range or during dry practice, never allow yourself to get sloppy or lazy. Do it the same way, the right way, every time. "An amateur practices until he can do it right, a professional practices until he can't do it wrong." Once you have it down dry, take it out to the range and run it live. Then come back to the next level of Suarez International class and put that gunhandling to use.
Developing good gunhandling requires sustained effort, but the reward is worth it. Good gunhandling won't just impress your friends and instructors, it will also impress your enemies.
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