Standing on the Shoulders of Giants February 05, 2018 15:54


As I sit here writing this, I am grateful to the men of the past whose experience, patience, and character has made modern training possible.  Without their writings, without their advice, and without their foresight to share their insights, the knowledge of the past would have been all but lost, leaving us to repeat the same mistakes, failed theories, and experimental nonsense that has cost many lives.  They sought to preserve and pass on to posterity their knowledge, in order for Americans of the future to become better marksman, as well as gunfighters.  Many trainers of the past were true educators, patriots, and selfless men who sought the improvement of others, often at their own expense.  In times past, real experts had actual exploits on which their training and advice was based.  Information was credited to the proper source if borrowed.  It was a different time.  They represented a time of professionalism, poise, experience, and knowledge that must be upheld by the next generation of instructors.  Although there are a handful of experts still with us, the gap of the last generation to this one is alarming.  If this body of knowledge is to continue, the right people, for the right reasons, must take up this profession of firearms instructor.

 Real Experts of the Past

 Author’s note-- The individuals mentioned in this article represent a shift in thinking, technique, and influence regarding the use of firearms.  I am not purposely omitting any names, as there are many others in the past who have contributed to the body of work we now have the luxury of analyzing.  No disrespect is intended to anyone not mentioned. 

 In my library, there are many books containing knowledge about the use of firearms.  The advice and techniques shared by those of the past have been proven in combat and deadly force.  Unlike today, there is nothing theoretical about the men or the books.  Their experience ranges from law enforcement to military operations.  

The “old guard” experts of the 20th century—and I use this term in the most reverent manner possible-- served in WWI, WWII, Korea, and in law enforcement in places such as Shanghai, China, New York City, and the US Border Patrol.  Men such as Capts. Fairbairn and Sykes, J.B.L Noel, William Reichenbach, Bill Jordan, Jim Cirillo, and Jeff Cooper possessed a vast amount of working knowledge.  Each brought invaluable aspects of gunfighting to the forefront of the puzzle.  Each has been influential to our craft today. 


All were extremely competent marksman who were more than capable of demonstrating the techniques they taught.  Every one of them had shooting accomplishments, and every one of them was involved in combat in one form or another.  It was said that Bill Jordan was so quick that he could hold a ping-pong ball in his support hand, drop it, draw his pistol, and hit the ball before it hit the ground.  That is lightning quick!

 Fairbairn and Sykes gave us the concept of training with the pistol for gunfights at extremely close range, rather than slow-fire bullseye shooting.  Their book, Shooting to Live, incorporates training methods much different from their societal status quo. Rapid hits early on in the sequence was their emphasis.  Their techniques came from hundreds of gunfights in Shanghai in the early 20th century. 

 J.B.L.Noel was one of the original officers in the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in 1914.  Later in the war he was attached to the machine gun corps, where pistols were carried by the men as the weight of the WWI machine guns all but precluded the carrying of rifles for each member.  In the trenches he found the pistol to be quite a useful weapon in close quarters.  In his book, The Automatic Pistol, Noel’s definition of a crack shot was six hits to the chest at 15 yards in 3 seconds, with a 1911.   Noel was able to see his methods put into practice in two world wars by the British Army.  One of his best quotes is, “If you are a good pistol shot, you will have nothing to fear from any man in the world.” 

William Reichenbach was a WWI veteran and highly accomplished revolver bullseye shooter.  Ironically, he was one of the earliest American proponents of the automatic pistol over the revolver for civilian use.  Emphasizing both speed and accuracy, Reichenbach despised caliber debates, as is evident in his work, “Automatic Pistol Marksmanship.” He emphasized a foundation in fundamental target shooting, and then moving to combat shooting.   He also emphasized training while under physical stressors such as running, fatigue, and unknown distance targets. 

Bill Jordan’s landmark book, No Second Place Winner provides an old lawman’s perspective on speed, proper drawing, and close quarter techniques.  Especially valuable are his tips on combat shooting and gunfighting. Jordan emphasized a first-round hit every time, as well as a never-quit attitude.  Like Reichenbach, Jordan emphasized training on the fundamentals first, then working on speed once the fundamentals were well-ingrained in the shooter.

Jim Cirillo was a police officer in New York City.  He volunteered for a special unit called the Stakeout Squad. The unit was involved in countless gunfights with armed criminals, having never lost.  What is even more impressive is the unit’s marksmanship, having never hit an innocent bystander despite being in the crowed confines of New York City.  It is from Cirillo’s real-life gunfight examples that we can glean a vast amount of insight, knowledge, and perspective from a true modern day gunfighter. In his book, Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights, Cirillo gives his techniques that enabled him to survive and win several armed conflicts with violent criminals, including multiple head shots.  He emphasized the importance of sighted fire, practice, consistency, and proper training in advance of conflict.   

Jeff Cooper, along with Jack Weaver, Elden Carl, John Plahn, Ray Chapman, Thell Reed, Al Nichols, Bruce Nelson, and Leonard Knight, brought us the two-handed, sighted fire method of the pistol.  The Bear Valley Gunslingers deemed it the “modern technique” and to a large degree much of what they taught is still with us today.  Although there were undoubtedly others before who had used aimed, two-handed fire, Cooper managed to organize and teach the method as a systematic technique.  In addition to marksmanship, Cooper stressed gun manipulations and combat mindset in preparation for violence. 


 The Torch was Passed

As the “old guard” passed away, the next generation of experts took the torch and contributed to the body of knowledge.  Men such as Clint Smith, Paul Howe, Bill Rogers, Louis Awerbuck, Pat Rogers and Tom Givens took up the mantle.  Although some of these men are still teaching as of present, we do not know for how much longer they will choose to do so.  The late Pat Rogers and Louis Awerbuck passed relatively recently, and they are not replaceable.

Clint Smith served in Vietnam in the USMC and later in law enforcement. He went on to teach with Jeff Cooper at Gunsite and later started his own company, Thunder Ranch, which continues in operation as of 2018. His landmark contribution is Urban Rifle, which emphasizes the use of the rifle at various distances, to include close quarters use of the rifle.  Clint recalibrated the paradigm by shifting away from slow-fire, known distance use of the rifle to realistic combat use up close, where even today the vast majority of rifle gunfights happen, especially in the USA. 

Paul Howe served in the US Army for 20 years, many of them with Special Operations.  He has also served in law enforcement.  Paul currently runs Combat Shooting and Tactics (CSAT) where his brand of battle-proven fundamentals, techniques, and weapon manipulations buck the trend of modern day flashy, theoretical techniques.  The consummate quiet professional, Paul teaches tried and true applications and stresses simplicity over sizzle.  His ability to teach material so others can easily understand is second to none. 

Bill Rogers started his professional career in the FBI.  Although initially trained in point shooting at the FBI Academy, a short time later Bill was introduced to two-handed, sighted fire by another highly influential man named Ken Hackathorne.  Convinced of the superiority of sighted fire over point shooting, Bill pitted sighted fire against the FBI’s point shooting champion Rollie Swanson in 1980.  The demonstration was so convincing that a year later, the FBI revamped its point shooting pistol program to the sighted fire techniques Bill used in his demonstration. Advocating sighted-fire at reaction speed, Bill has proven time and time again that sighted fire is just as fast as point shooting, but far more accurate.  Bill runs the Rogers Shooting School, largely considered one of the most challenging courses of fire in the world. In addition to his contributions to shooting, Bill has fundamentally changed the way law enforcement carries firearms, as his holsters are in use worldwide.

Louis Awerbuck was a South African expatriate who contributed a great deal to the body of knowledge. During his time, he ran Yavapi Firearms Academy.  His greatest contribution was his ability to analyze what was being taught, question the methodology, and differentiate between range and reality.  His emphasis on movement during training remains a testament to his understanding of deadly force.

Pat Rogers was a veteran of the USMC as well as law enforcement.  His company, EAG Tactical contributed largely to the manipulations and maintenance of the AR-15 rifle.  Pat wrote many articles and passed his knowledge and perspective on to others willingly. 

Tom Givens has a law enforcement background and many shooting accomplishments. He runs Rangemaster, based out of Memphis, TN.  Tom has written several articles, books, and presented at numerous conferences around the country.  His emphasis on two-handed, sighted fire has proven successful, as dozens of his students have prevailed during deadly force using those techniques. 


Present Day

There are some good trainers in the present day.  What is troublesome to me is the vast gap of credibility and knowledge from the last generation to this one.  One can count on less than two hands the credible places to train.  Long ago there were not hundreds of places opening every week to bilk people out of their hard-earned money with failed techniques based on theory made up in the owner’s mind.  

Sadly, in our internet culture the status of expert is ascribed to certain individuals whose only qualifications to teach are a video camera coupled with questionable credentials at best and cult following at worst.  There are people teaching others about topics in which they have no working knowledge. To the uninitiated or naïve, some of these present day “experts” may appear competent or authoritative.  They are the opposite of the men of the past who carried and passed on the torch of knowledge of the true martial art of gunfighting.  Many do not understand the heritage, lineage, or concepts of the past.  Many are nothing but posers. Many seek endorsement deals and sponsorships to bolster their relevancy, image, and status.  This is the opposite of the men who came before.  It used to be about passing on knowledge, not stroking the ego.   



Before training with someone, you need to ask yourself if the individual has all of the following:

 1) the ability to teach others in a manner that is easily understood

2) experience in combat and/or dealing with violent criminals

3) shooting accomplishments

4) the ability to demonstrate—on demand—the techniques taught to students

5) focus on student’s improvement, not the instructor’s status.  In other words, lack of ego.

Those are the traits that make an expert.  In these times, it is simply standing on the shoulders of giants.