Ed Head’s Practice Drill

A little while ago, Karl and I went out and shot a drill from Gunsite Instructor Ed Head. It’s a good drill in our continued study of Minimum Competency.

Here’s a video of us demonstrating it:

And here’s Karl’s analysis. Karl has a few suggestions to make it a stronger standard, and how you can use the drill in your own practice to improve your skills.

More Perspectives on Minimum Competency

Four years ago I wrote about Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol. Since then, I’ve had additional writings on the topic. I’m not the only one that cares about this topic. A couple of days ago I saw a summary of a presentation from John Corriea of Active Self Protection and was going to write on it, but Mark Luell over at Growing up Guns beat me to it!

In fact, Mark’s write-up is even better, so I’ll just link to his article: Meta: Critical Skills and Goals for Personal Protection.

In his meta-article, Mark examines the findings from various trainers:

What’s good to see is the overlap. People who study and research this area, and what their conclusions are – and while we do different work, how we tend to reach the same conclusions.

As Tom Givens would say, “That’s what we call a clue.”

Much of this data isn’t new to me, but sometimes seeing the same data presented in a new manner helps you view the data in a new light. Mark’s post did that for me.

Reading Claude’s findings really helps to hit home what is and isn’t important in the context of self-defense firearms skills. For example, retrieving the handgun is a pretty important skill, so however you carry/store your firearm, you better be able to retrieve it successfully. Reloading? Not so much (it’s arguable since you have to load, reload, and unload a firearm just to use it, so long as you do that in a disciplined manner that’s all you really need).

I always love watching John’s videos and analysis. It’s one thing the magic of CCTV, security cameras, camera phones, and YouTube (DailyMotion, Worldstar, etc.) has brought to us: real fights, real incidents, and we can see how they work, how they unfold, how brutal they can be, the realities of what happens, and what we can learn from it. I think John’s collection has done a lot to dispel false notions and beliefs about what goes on, and really give people a good dose of reality.

I regret missing an opportunity to train with Darryl and look forward to that opportunity. There’s a lot of good and unique stuff in Darryl’s notes, but one that stood out to me is the split times. I’ve wondered about doing a long block of training forcing myself to shoot to that standard and seeing what it did for me. I think it would be quite insightful.

John Hearne is becoming the E.F. Hutton of the firearms training community: when he talks, you should listen. His examination and study of human performance is a higher-order topic, but a vital one towards really understanding and working to maximize performance. It helps steer training, both as instructors with curriculum and individuals determining what skills to focus on. I especially like the last point about training emotional control.

Give a read to Mark’s meta-post. Seek these people out. Read what they write. Take classes from them if you can. You will be better for it.

As seen in The Tactical Wire

Looks like my series on Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol got featured in the July 25, 2017 issue of The Tactical Wire.

As well, a nice nod to my two primary mentors, Karl Rehn and Tom Givens.

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Addressing Assumptions

I’d like to revisit my Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol series. And just like my “Revisited Again” was inspired by Claude Werner, so too is this revisiting – Addressing Assumptions. As well, it comes from some recent work we’ve been doing at KR Training with curriculum revision.

The original article series was primarily focused around gun and shooting portion of the equation. That was a reasonable focus, but if you look a little deeper into the conclusion you can see there are precursors/prerequisites that are assumed or taken for granted.

This would be things like basic gun manipulations: how to load a gun, how to unload a gun, how to load and unload a magazine (and that it’s a “magazine”, not a “clip”), basic range etiquette, how to practice effectively, how to seek out good training and instruction.

One thing I admire about Claude is how he often focuses and finds ways to work with people in less than ideal circumstances. For example, many gun ranges do not allow people to draw from a holster, or it may be impossible to use a shot timer due to noise levels. Claude often works and formulates curriculum and drills to work within these constraints.

In a recent discussion on minimum competency, Claude structured a drill with a loose structure like:

  • Load 7 rounds into the magazine
  • Load the gun
  • Shoot 6
  • Unload the gun

While at first glance it seems odd to enumerate the steps of loading the magazine, loading the gun, and unloading the gun – and some may desire to gloss over those steps – they’re actually quite an important part of the drill. They are giving the student practice at loading and unloading, they give the instructor a chance to observe the student performing these operations to ensure they are doing it correctly and safely.

When discussing a topic like “minimum competency”, it’s important we mind our assumptions so we do not overlook the complete set of skills necessary for competency.

Minimums aren’t enough

A permit class isn’t training…a permit class isn’t practice.  A permit class is the bare minimum information that state bureaucrats think you need to be able to safely load, unload and carry a pistol, in legal locations, in the state in which you reside.  If you want to actually LEARN how to use that gun, you’re going to need training.  You don’t have to look far on this site to find great places to train, that will actually prepare you for what you will really encounter on the streets and parking lots of America.  Even if you think you, “know all there is to know,” about defensive pistolcraft, shooting under the supervision of a competent instructor who can see things you cannot, relative to technique, is invaluable.  I highly recommend you seek out competent instruction…getting the, “paper,” is just a legal hoop you have to jump through!

Dr. Sherman House

Practicing by the Odds

When I read “The Bell-Curve: Shooting Practice by the Odds” over at the Growing Up Guns blog, it bore a striking resemblance to the article series I wrote last year on “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol“. Just shows that great minds think alike. 🙂

We took similar approaches: look at the realities of private citizen gunfights (vs. military or law enforcement engagements, which are a different context), see what actually happens in them, and thus what has the highest probability of happening. Based upon that, it makes sense for those of us with limited training budget (time, money) to at least initially focus our skills in those areas. I mean, if no encounter ever uses weak-hand-only behind-the-back while hanging from the rafters shooting skills… is that really something you should spend 90% of your practice time on? Instead, if 90% of encounters involve being able to draw from concealment, get acceptable hits, in a small area, from close range, quickly, with both hands… maybe that’s where you should focus your training time.

It’s not to say other skills should be ignored, it’s just a matter of prioritization due to the fact we are all limited on time and money. So, spend that time wisely.

We arrive at some slightly different conclusions, and provide a different set of drills (tho we both started with Gila Hayes’ drill). But ultimately we’re saying the same thing in different ways.

I encourage you to give the DefensiveDaddy’s article a read. It’s further perspective on this important topic.

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Revisited Again

I just re-read an article from Claude Werner on “Practice priorities for the Armed Citizen“. (h/t Greg Ellifritz). As I was reading it, it reminded me of my article series on “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol“. I did revisit the series a few months back, but Claude’s article gave me a few more things to think about, and perhaps revise/refine in my suggestions for practice and skills progression.

Claude speaks about a progression, a “where do I go from here?” sort of thing. Claude offers his own suggestions, like the NRA Defensive Pistol Qualification. But what really got me was pointing out a key problem most people have when it comes to live fire practice:

Most people have to limit their livefire practice to indoor ranges where drawing from the holster is not allowed. This presents an issue to those who carry pistol in holsters. There are solutions, though.

Indeed this is a problem. I’ve gotten quite spoiled at KR Training and with the host of good ranges around Austin where you can do things like practice drawing from a holster. Of course, there are still those people that go to one of the local indoor ranges that have these restrictions, and of course others around the country tend to have these restrictions as well. I overlooked that reality. Claude offers:

Like many of my colleagues, for a long time I said the hard part of the drawstroke is establishing grip. I’ve changed my opinion on that. The hard part of the drawstroke is getting the pistol indexed on the target enough to get a good hit with the first shot. John Shaw, a World Champion shooter, clued me in to this many years ago. Note that I didn’t say a ‘perfect’ hit.

Indexing the pistol to the target (presentation) is easily practiced from a high ready position starting at the pectoral muscle of the body’s dominant side. Starting this way is not generally a problem at an indoor range. And since I recommend practicing one shot per presentation, the ‘no rapid fire’ limitation at many indoor ranges isn’t an issue either.

This is one of those smack your head because you wish you could have had a V-8 sort of moments. What Claude writes is so true. The press-out, the presentation, whatever you want to call it, it’s the hardest part and such a vital skill. When you draw? You then must press-out. After a reload? You must press out. Clear a malfunction? You must press out. The press out is such a vital skill (it’s a key thing stressed in so many of the KR Training courses). And yes, you can practice this at the indoor ranges. You can start from that high, compressed ready position (step 3 of the 4-step drawstroke), and press out and break one shot. While you might end up eventually moving fast in doing this, your single-shots will still be “slow” relative to each other (i.e. you’re not double-tapping) and thus no range rules broken. So so so true, and so important.

Thank you Claude for my “V-8 moment”. Regardless if you take a progression like Claude recommends or I recommend, the underlying issue remains the same: that you’ll use some particular course of fire (e.g. TX CHL test), assess your skills, then focus on improving the areas you identified as weak. For example, my last live-fire practice session I shot numerous drills not so much to shoot the drills (i.e. throw lead in a semi-organized manner), but to exercise the fundamental skills I consider important and identify what I was doing well and what I needed work on. I saw I needed to move faster, and doing a lot of one-shot draws are in my future. So yes, working that press-out is in my future.

Another thing Claude touched on.

…to get a good hit with the first shot…. Note that I didn’t say a ‘perfect’ hit.


What I like about it most is that it is a 100 percent standard, not 70 or 80 percent like a qualification course. We need to accustom ourselves to the concept that if we shoot at a criminal, ALL the rounds we fire must hit the target. That’s being responsible.

These remind me of my concept of “(un)acceptable hit“. I just prefer that phrasing over “good hit” or “miss”, because like Claude said, it’s not necessarily a “perfect” hit. It’s also understanding that all the rounds must hit what we need it to hit; we must make acceptable hits.

Thanx, Claude!

Standards of Performance

Karl emailed the following to me. He said:

I put this together for Kathy Jackson to use as part of her talk at
the AG&AG conference next week. If you want to use it on your blog, go ahead.

It’s going to become part of a larger article I’m putting together based on my slides from the Polite Society talk.

I asked what the greater context of this was, given the percentages. Karl said:

Kathy is trying to show the AG&AG Facilitators (club leaders) some points along the path to instructor level skill, or at least reasonable competence.

So with that, here’s what Karl provided (reformatted for presentation). Karl’s stuff is blockquoted, and I added some additional comments in between.

A reasonable skills progression to recommend:

0. Purchase a shooting timer. The Pocket Pro I is the ‘best buy’ on the low end of timers, and the easiest to operate. Without a shooting timer, you can’t fully measure performance.

Note that there are some cheaper options too, in the form of “shot timer” apps for smartphones (both iPhone and Android). Your mileage may vary with them however, just due to limitations of the hardware microphone being able to pick things up. IMHO it’s not an unreasonable way to start, but long-term you’re going to want to pick up a dedicated and proper shot timer.

1. 100% on the Texas CHL test shot using an IDPA or IPSC target, not a B-27. IDPA/IPSC has a smaller A-zone. Shooting 100% on Texas CHL is basically 25% of GM.

Note: when Karl gives “percent of GM” he’s referring to IPSC/USPSA Grandmaster-level. This isn’t to say you need to shoot at that level, but it gives you some idea of where things lie along the continuum.

2. Learn to draw from an open carry holster and be consistent i your shot to shot timing.

Bill Drill = par time of 5 seconds at 7 yards with all A’s on IPSC or IDPA target. That’s a 40% goal.

Aside: just a few weeks ago, Bill Wilson himself (creator of the “Bill Drill”) discussed a new version of the Bill Drill, called simply enough “Bill Drill 2“.

3. Learn to do a speed reload. Practice “Four Aces” with a par time of 7 seconds, which is 37%.

4. Learn a slide lock reload. Practice the FAST drill. Set a par time of 12 seconds, from open carry. This is a 40% goal.

5. Learn how to draw from concealment, practice shooting one handed. Shoot a perfect score (100 points) on “Three Seconds or Less“. That’s a 50% goal.

6. Learn how to clear malfunctions. Practice the “Farnam Drill“. Set a par time of 15 seconds, which is around 50%.

Finally, shoot the IDPA Classifier (also found here) with a goal of shooting at least 160 seconds (162 is 40%, 130 seconds is 50%).

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Revisited

I’d like to revisit a series I wrote some months ago about “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol“.

After presenting the series at the 2nd Annual SDS Conference, I looked at how I did and coupled that with some feedback I received from an attendee whose opinion I greatly value (thanx, Sam!). His assessment and feedback reinforced my own thoughts on my performance, and with that, I figured it was right to revisit some things.


The presentation itself? I thought I could have done better. I realized as I was putting the presentation together that I had organized it well for serialized presentation on the blog, but that didn’t lend so well to a public speaking forum. Alas, I didn’t have time to revise the presentation, so I presented it with only minor adjustment. It went over alright, but I know there was structure I could have improved.

One of the biggest parts? I spent a good deal of time talking about defining minimum standards, but not enough on how one can go about achieving them. Again, this worked well for the serialized blog presentation, but wasn’t as engaging for a listening audience.

I also realized, I never explicitly defined a drill or other test that helps one assess meeting those minimum standards. I implied it to be the “3 Seconds or Less” drill, but as it stands now? Well….

On Minimum Standards

If you haven’t, go back and read the original article so you can be aware of the foundation.

In the end, I think “minimum competency for defensive pistol skills” lies with the ability to:

  • Draw from concealment
    • Perhaps with movement (sidestep) on the draw)
  • Make multiple, acceptable hits
  • In a small area
  • From close range
    • Think “within a car length” (0-5 yards)
  • Quickly
    • 3 seconds or less
  • Using both hands
    • Enables multiple acceptable hits, quickly

Skills beyond that (one-handed shooting, reloading, malfunction remedy) are useful but above minimal. And of course, both safety and etiquette are expected.

Remember: this is about “minimal”. Put it this way. You have a friend whose crazy ex is now stalking them, threatening to do them harm. They have the restraining order, but they know how useful that is so they choose to get a gun. You have an afternoon to get them some basic skills. What is most vital for them to learn how to do? That’s what I’m talking about.

So yes, I was figuring the “3 Seconds or Less” drill was a good answer to this question. But now? Not so much.

Karl has evolved the drill. One change was in the ordering of the course of fire, merely to facilitate running the drill (eased the ammo and reload requirements so you could more easily run it with semi-autos or revolvers). That sort of change doesn’t really matter towards answering the question, and frankly it’s a good revision.

But Karl also changed the content of the drill. For example, in the current version of the drill there’s a reload, some walking backwards while shooting, and a turning draw; none of these were present in the original version of the drill.

This is why I think this drill no longer answers the question: it involves skills that are above minimal. This makes sense for the context in which Karl uses it: as a core test for KR Training’s “Defensive Pistol Skills” course progression. However, it is doing more than minimal, so it’s not strictly the correct answer for “minimum competency”.

That said, I’ve maintained that minimum competency is not good enough. You need to work to a higher standard (that Paul Ford comment about 70% of your worst day). I would say the current “3 Seconds or Less” drill is a good “higher standard” to work towards. Other good “higher standards” would be:

But again, this is higher. We’re talking minimal.

A Possible Minimal Drill?

As much as I hate to say it, I think the Texas CHL test COULD be it.

But it needs work.

Here’s the drill:

  • 3 yards
    • 1 shot, 2 sec., 5x
    • 2 shots, 3 sec., 5x
    • 5 shots, 10 sec., 1x
  • 7 yards
    • 5 shots, 10 sec., 1x
    • 2 shots, 4 sec., 1x
    • 3 shots, 6 sec., 1x
    • 1 shot, 3 sec., 5x
    • 5 shots, 15 sec., 1x
  • 15 yards
    • 2 shots, 6 sec., 1x
    • 3 shots, 9 sec., 1x
    • 5 shots, 15 sec., 1x

Here’s how it could be changed to make it a better test of minimum competency:

  • Needs to be shot from concealment
    • Current test has you working off a bench, and shooting from a ready position. Unrealistic.
    • Must shoot from concealment, whatever your chosen carry and concealment method would be. If that’s from a hip holster under your shirt, fine. Pocket carry, fine. If that’s from a purse, fine.
  • Use a better target
    • The B-27 is like hitting a barn wall. Furthermore, it’s not anatomically correct.
    • Use a target like an IPSC or IDPA target. There are a host of such targets out there. The key is a target that provides a smaller “acceptable hit” zone, and that is anatomically correct.
    • Make scoring more difficult. It’s “hit or miss”, “acceptable or unacceptable”. There is no graduated scoring scale, it either is or is not. If it’s on a line, if it’s questionable, score it unacceptable. 90% minimum score, or better, 100%.
  • Do not adjust the listed par times.
    • Having to shoot from concealment adds enough time to make the published par times more difficult.
    • This could be debated, and probably debated per-string. Like the first string (3 yards, 1 shot, 2 seconds) is probably sufficient, but the last 3 yard string (5 shots, 10 seconds), should that time be lowered? Probably, but this is splitting hairs at this point. Keep it simple and keep the test as written. These other modifications are more important.
  • The 15 yard strings are debatable.
    • That’s a pretty long car…
    • If I was using my above example of needing to get a friend some quick skills in an afternoon, I’d focus on the 3 yards, then on the 7 yards; I’d skip the 15 yards.

Shooting the TX CHL test with these changes (call it “TX-CHL++”, that’s “Texas CHL plus plus”) doesn’t make you any sort of bad-ass gunfighter, but I think it does a fair job at addressing the minimum requirements.

Remember: the intent of trying to establish “minimum competency” is because we, as humans, tend to overestimate our skills and abilities. We tend to think we have the skills, that we’ll handle ourselves just fine when the flag flies. It’s better to test yourself against standards such as these to see if you really do or do not. It’s better to have a dose of reality now, when you can afford it and can then work to remedy any shortcomings.

How to get there

So you’ve shot some tests and determined you need some work. How to get there?

After talking with Sam, I felt like maybe there should be a program to help you out. Like when doing all this weight lifting, a program like Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is a great way to get going and address a lot of things. Could such a program be devised for shooting? I think so. Look at the books and DVD’s from Mike Seeklander. He takes a bit of a different approach, but that could certainly get you there.

I think in most regards it’s going to come down to the individual. What is your learning style like? Are you self-motivated?  Do you have enough to be able to self-diagnose and improve? In the beginning, we all need good teachers, and there are good schools and instructors out there. Take advantage of those opportunities to have a teacher, a mentor. There’s a lot of DVD product coming out that can be a help for sure, but I’ve found that those tend to be most useful to folks that already have a clue. You don’t have a be a master, but a rank beginner is going to get a lot more from having a real instructor looking over their shoulder, that can see precisely what’s going on and offer ways to correct, improve, and progress.

You have to practice the things you don’t want to practice. You have to be willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone. And I think another key factor is having a tangible goal. You can have a lofty goal, then break it up into smaller milestones. Perhaps it starts with shooting the TX-CHL++ clean with no time limits. Then you work towards the time-limits. Then you pick a harder standard, like the Farnam Drill, with a 15 second par, then 14 second. As you work, you’ll find where your weaknesses are and use dry fire practice to improve those. And so on. Be willing to be patient, but work consistently.

In the end, the desire is improvement. That we understand what “minimum acceptable” is so we can ensure we’re at least that, but then work to exceed it. Set a new level, then rise above it. And so on, and so on.

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol

Minimum Competency.

Minimum – the least or smallest amount or quantity possible, attainable, or required.

Competency – the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

When it comes to the use of a pistol for self-defense, minimum competency would be the least amount of skill and ability needed in order to use that gun to successfully defend yourself.

What would that be?

I got to thinking about it. I see people at gun ranges that blaze away at a target 3 yards in front of them, and they are barely hitting paper. I see people slow plinking, taking one slowly and carefully aimed shot, checking their target, taking their time to set up again for another shot, repeat. I see videos of people attending “tactical band camp” training, throwing lots of lead, but are they hitting anything? are they doing anything effective? I see people passing their Texas CHL shooting test, and their B-27 target looks like it was peppered by a shotgun blast. I see people who are really good at shooting competitions, but struggle with defensive concepts.

Will this cut it? Is this enough true skill and knowledge to survive and win? Or is it a false sense? Sometimes in life it doesn’t matter if our assessment of our competency is different from the reality. But in a case like this, when your life is what’s at stake, you need to be soberingly aware of your skill and ability.

As friend and fellow KR Training Assistant Instructor Tom Hogel likes to say, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. If you don’t know what it takes, if you don’t know what you can and cannot do, well… what’s that going to get you? So, I started to think about what a minimum set of drills would be to try to illustrate this concept to folks. That is, if you shot these drills and could not do them cleanly on-demand, then you don’t have the minimum competency. That someone who thinks “I’ve got what it takes”, you give them this drill(s), have them shoot it right then and there, and if they cannot do it no they don’t have what they think they have.

This isn’t to say once you can do these drills then you are done and can rest here; no, because this is minimum. Karl Rehn likes to point out something he learned from Paul Ford (former Austin Police SWAT member). Paul pointed out that in a gunfight you will do about 70% of your worst day at the range. Think about that: take your worst day (under the ideal circumstances of the range), and now make it a lot worse, and that’s how you’ll do. If this is how it goes, how good do you think you really need to be so when the flag flies and your skills degrade to being “worse than your worst”, then that level is still high enough to get you through? So, you must train well beyond these minimums.

But that said, if you cannot perform to the minimum, the sooner you can know that the better. The sooner you can work to remedy it.

Hasn’t this already been defined? Well, maybe. Take a look at this extensive collection of handgun standards. If we have so many standards, do we really have a standard? Well, we do have to consider these standards are likely within a particular context, e.g. qualifying for police, carry permits, etc.. Furthermore, every trainer out there wants to have their own set of standards and performance assessment, but are their standards truly testing something? are they well thought out towards achieving a particular end? or did they just string together a bunch of stuff so they could slap their name on a drill? And is there really a “standard” or “drill” that is trying to answer the question I’m asking?

Ultimately, my motivation is trying to bring some cold truth to folks. I speak to people all the time that passed the Texas CHL shooting test, maybe even got a perfect score. They are quite proud of their accomplishment, and consider that the end – that they have passed the CHL test, they know all they need to know, that they are as proficient as they need to be, and will be able to handle themselves should they ever need it. I speak with people who grew up around guns, learned to shoot in the back pasture, but it’s evident from watching them they really couldn’t shoot their way out of a paper bag much less deal with a response to being assaulted. I’m no expert, but I’ve learned enough to know that I don’t know. Furthermore, I know it’s better to have your bubble burst when it doesn’t matter, than to see your world fall apart when everything is on the line. If I’m in the business of helping people protect themselves and their loved ones, I’d like to see what I could do to come up with a simple way to help people assess if they truly have the minimal skills or not.

So then, what is minimum competency? The Texas Legislature and Department of Public Safety think the TX CHL Shooting Test is minimum. Karl Rehn formulated the “3 Seconds or Less Drill” that’s based around the typical gunfight, and this test gets used in the various Defensive Pistol Level 1,2,3 classes at KR Training. I could be remembering this wrong, but I swore one of Tom Givens’ students only took Rangemaster’s Level 1 class and was able to successfully defend themselves. Claude Werner seems to come up with different statistical analyses of gunfight realities, and one could argue it’s mostly (only?) important to have a gun and draw it.

Defining “minimum competency for defensive pistol” is hard.

However, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should avoid doing it.

I think before we can answer the question, it’s important to define and frame the problem. If we’re going to define minimum competency for a self-defense situation, then we need to first know what is a self-defense situation. We’re not hunting. We’re military nor police (tho it’s possible there’s some overlap). We’re talking about private citizens going about their daily lives, but having to deal with robbery, assault, burglary, rape, etc. and refusing to be a victim of such crimes.

Tom Givens has examined incidents of FBI and DEA agents, along with the 60+ student incidents he’s had. What are the common threads?

  • Distance between victim and assailant? up to about a car length. But exceptions can occur (e.g. out to 25 yards)
  • You’re in plain clothes, gun is concealed, you need fast access.
  • Occur in public areas such as parking lots, shopping malls. Home is rare.
  • Shots fired? 3-5, on average
  • Multiple assailants are not uncommon

What Tom’s data concludes is that a typical private citizen “incident” is:

  • armed robbery in some form
  • 1-2 assailants highly likely
  • 3-7 yards
  • limited response time
  • “3 shots, 3 steps/yards, 3 seconds”

I know I lean on Givens’ teaching and data a good deal, but Tom’s a top-notch researcher. Certainly to an extent he’s biased, but what Tom is biased towards isn’t necessarily “pro gun, rah rah rah”. Rather he has a bias towards helping people stay alive in the face of a violent world (like Memphis, TN), and to do so you better have a solid, methodical approach towards finding the Truth and what really works; anything else will get people killed. So I consider Tom’s research serious and genuine. Besides, you don’t have to take his word for it: the data is out there, so you can see for yourself.

Another way to look at it? It’s the ability to get:

  • multiple hits
  • in a small area
  • from “close” range
  • quickly

Unfortunately, if you just say that, everyone’s going to define it their own way. So we need to have clear definitions and create standards based upon the clear definition.

In her book Effective DefenseGila Hayes described a simple test:

  • 5 shots
  • in 5 inches
  • a 5 yards
  • within 5 seconds

Some people refer to it as the “forty-five” drill, some the “4×5” or “5×4” or “4^5” or “5^4”. Claude Werner has a “5^5” variation, adding “repeat the drill 5 times to eliminate luck and ensure consistency”. Greg Ellfritz made a “6×6” varation. However you label it, doesn’t that seem to mesh directly with multiple hits? small area? close range? quickly? It’s quite a simple drill, and looks like it can fit the bill.

Looks are deceiving tho, because it doesn’t require you to draw from a holster. If the data shows that most incidents are going to be in public spaces, that means you need to be carrying the gun (i.e. it’s not on a table, in the nightstand, in the glove box, etc.), which means it’s in a holster, which means it’s concealed (under clothing, in a bag, etc.). So this implies you know how to draw and present a gun from concealment. That’s actually two implications: drawing from concealment, and being able to carry concealed in public.

If you’re going to carry concealed in public, in most states in the USA that means you need to have some sort of concealed handgun/weapons/carry license/permit. Many times that means you have to pass some sort of shooting test. To receive a concealed handgun license (CHL) in Texas, there is a shooting test. Notice the test is structured around getting multiple hits, (somewhat) quickly, from various “close” ranges. It’s a bit better than Gila’s test since it works different amounts of shots and different distances. But it fails on a few counts. First, the B-27 target and “within the 8-ring” is akin to hitting the side of a barn; that’s not “in a small area”. Second, just like Gila’s, there is no drawing from a holster. Did you catch that? The Texas test for obtaining a license to carry a concealed handgun — which implies a need to draw the handgun out of concealment — doesn’t require you to show you can draw the gun from concealment. Note, I’m not advocating changing the test because there are reasons why it is the way it is. But do these tests truly provide you with the needed skills? or a false sense?

I will say this.

Both of these tests are something I could label “sub-minimal”. That is, they are reasonable tests, but not quite to the standard we’re trying to define.

I believe the primary reason for Gila’s test isn’t so much a proficiency test as a shopping test. That is, if you get a gun, you need to be able to do her test with that gun. If you cannot, that is probably not a suitable gun for you. All too often I see a woman that comes to class with the gun her husband or boyfriend gave her: she has small, weak hands, and he gave her a Sig P226 which she simply cannot operate — she would easily fail Gila’s test. As soon as we swap her with a more reasonably fitting gun, her skills and abilities didn’t change, but now she could pass Gila’s test. If you read the linked-to article on the 6×6 variation, Greg Ellfritz struggled with the Ruger LCP because it’s too small a gun (fit) for him. So perhaps consider this test more of a good way to suss out appropriate equipment than skill.

But certainly, if you cannot perform Gila’s test (or I’d say Claude’s variation, to ensure you didn’t get lucky on the one run) or if you cannot clean the Texas CHL, and you cannot do these consistently and on-demand, then certainly you do not have the minimum competency. These aren’t enough due to shortcomings in the drills themselves, but they are a rung on the ladder.

So if these are “sub-minimal”, what might be minimal?

It seems we have expanded our criteria:

  • multiple hits
  • in a small area
  • from close range
  • quickly
  • drawing from concealment

To see what else might be necessary, we can also look at video. Hooray for video! Hooray for dashcams, security cameras, everyone having a phone with a camera, and then a willingness to share all of this on video websites like YouTube. You can see a lot of what really goes on.

One thing that happens often? Hands. Shooting with two hands, shooting with one hand. There’s no question you should try to shoot with both hands. Why? You’re faster. This goes back to “quickly”, and shooting slower is the opposite of “quickly”. That said, the reality of life is your situation may require you to shoot one-handed — and perhaps with your weak hand. You may have something in your hands that you cannot drop: like a child. Or another reality is, sometimes you just start shooting with one hand. I’ve seen it, I’ve done it — we know better, but yet something happens in the head and you just start shooting one-handed. It’s good to know how to do it.

At this point, a drill like KR Training’s 3 Seconds Or Less Drill starts to come into play. This drill was intentionally designed around the the “3 shots, 3 yards, 3 seconds” typical gunfight. It works on multiple hits, in a small area, from close range, quickly, drawing from concealment, two- and one-handed shooting.

The drill also adds in another aspect: movement. Do we need to move in a self-defense situation? You betcha. Karl often asks, “is it better to shoot, or not get shot?” not get shot. Some like to phrase it that incoming bullets have the right of way. Thankfully since bullets only travel in a straight line (well ok, an arc, and there’s wind, but go with me here, this isn’t Wanted), a simple but large enough side-step is important. It “gets you off the ‘X'”, it causes the assailant to reset their OODA loop, and well… movement is going to happen.

That’s the thing. Movement is going to happen, or at least, it should. Generally, something happens and people scatter, running away from the source of trouble. This of course is a good thing (distance yourself from the problem). However, it’s really either move or shoot, not shoot on the move. Paul Howe pretty much says to do one or the other:

shooting on the move, it’s a skill all shooters aspire to learn and spend a great deal of time and effort trying to master. I’ve never had to use it in combat. When moving at a careful hurry, I stopped, planted and made my shots. When the bullets were flying, I was sprinting from cover to cover, moving too fast to shoot. I didn t find an in-between. If I slowed down enough to make a solid hit when under fire, I was an easy target, so I elected not to.

As for shooting and closing on a target, it only makes the bad guys accuracy better and walking into a muzzle may help you to test your new vest sooner than you wanted to. Diagonal movement works, but again if you have to slow down too much, you re an easy target, and are generally in the open. Speed can act as your security in this case to get you to a point of cover.

Training to “shoot on the move” with a Groucho Marx walk? Well, nice skill, but is it really important within our context? Howe’s case was military, and if he doesn’t need it there, would we really need it in the “3 seconds” of a private citizen self-defense incident? A little movement, like a quick and decisive (and far enough) side-step on the draw is good. Much more than that? Not really needed.

So now we’re starting to find things we don’t need.

Are there other things we don’t need, in terms of minimum competency?

I asked Tom Givens, of his 60 students that were involved in self-defense incidents, did any need to reload? Further clarifying, if so, did any reload as a part of the fight? Or was it administrative after the fight was over?

Tom’s response to this question:


None of ours had to reload and continue shooting.

I can think of four off the top of my head that went to slide lock, however, further shooting was not required at that point.


Think about reloads. If typical private citizen gunfights are 3-5 shots, that’s not even enough to warrant reloading a snub revolver. Of course, that’s average. With Tom’s students, I think the range was 1 to 11 shots fired, but again, no reloads (tho apparently some came close). So do we need reloading as a minimal skill? It would seem not.

For that matter, how about malfunction clearing, be it simple failure to eject, stovepipe, double-feed, whatever type. Do malfunctions occur enough that we need to consider them a minimal skill? Again, data would point towards no. This isn’t to say it’s not useful and good to know, but remember we’re looking at minimal competency.

So if you start to look at tests like the FBI Qualification or Rangemaster Level 5, are these reasonable “minimal” tests? Nope. I would say there are somewhere above the minimum. They cover shots out to 25 yards, which doesn’t fit the bill of a typical gunfight. They cover reloads. They cover malfunctions. They also cover things like changing positions (e.g. going to kneeling). Again, all good skills to have, but beyond minimum.

Look at the FASTestthe Farnam Drill (or Tom Givens’ flavor “3M Drill”), IDPA ClassifierGunsite StandardHackathorn Standards, the list goes on. At this point, what new skills or techniques are being added? Shooting from kneeling, from prone, around barriers, turn and shoot, multiple targets, transition to a backup gun, disability (e.g. loss of one hand so must do everything with the “other” hand, including reloads), using a light (weapon-mounted or held in the other hand), and the list goes on. Are these skills that are involved in the typical gunfight? Well, maybe one here or there but the exception does not prove the rule. All in all, these sorts of things just aren’t being done in the typical incident. Thus, it’s hard to argue they are part of “minimum competency”.

So have I been able to define “minimum competency” required for defensive handgun use?

Maybe, maybe not – I’m sure there will be folks who take issue with what I’ve written. It seems when we look at what unfolds in a typical incident and what needs to be done to handle that typical incident, you get:

  • drawing from concealment
    • And perhaps moving on that draw (like a side-step then stop; not shoot-and-move)
  • getting multiple hits
  • in a small area
    • 5″ circle? 6″ circle? 8″ circle? consider human anatomy
  • from close range
    • Within a car length, so say 0-5 yards
  • quickly
    • 3 seconds or less
  • using both hands, or maybe one hand (or the other)

In his email to me, Tom Givens said of this:

If I had to list the prime skills for concealed carry, the list might be
presentation from concealed carry
shoot with 2 hands
shoot with 1 hand, both dominant and non-dominant
reload, slide forward and empty gun
fix simple malfunctions like failure to eject, TRB.

Everything beyond that is certainly good to know, but unlikely to be used by typical CCW.

When I asked Karl Rehn, his answer is what I expected:

[My] 3 seconds or less [drill] is my answer to that question.

All in all, the same set of minimal skills are being presented.

So what you need is the ability to do the above – at bare minimum. If you cannot do the above, you’ve got work to do. If you cannot do the above, there is no shame in that, if you use it as motivation to get better. However, there is shame in letting your ego continue to lie to you.

Remember that I am working to establish a minimum.

Let me restate the problem: Private citizens being the unfortunate victim of a violent crime. The choice to use a handgun as a tool to contend with their immediate victimization. To use the tool with some measure of effectiveness, one needs some modicum of skill with that tool. And, that you should have a realistic assessment of your skill with that tool, instead of a false impression.

We have to look at what really happens in a violent crime. No, nothing will be perfect, nothing will be absolute, but we can see enough of a pattern if we look at enough crimes, we can then formulate a solution for dealing with it. This is like solving any problem.

That you can plink tin cans in the back pasture is a false sense. That you can pass the TX CHL test is a false sense. You need to be able to draw the handgun from concealment and get multiple fast, accurate hits on a small target within a reasonable distance. You need to be able to do this with both hands, and one hand (each hand). This is the bare minimum.

Tests like Gila Hayes’, the TX CHL, those are good starts but sub-minimal. If you cannot do these, seek further instruction and practice. Tests like “3 Seconds or Less” are a good standard for bare minimum. It might look easy on paper, but I’ve been through more than enough classes where students struggle — yes, more practice is needed. Even a test like the FBI Qualification can be considered a good minimum (can you clean stage I and stage II? maybe stage III without the reload, and stage IV?).

I would suggest this.

Start with a test like the Texas CHL. Work until you can clean it on-demand. Then make it a little harder by drawing from concealment, but otherwise change nothing about the test. When you can clean that on-demand, use a better target like an ISPC or IDPA target, Rangemaster RM-Q2, IALEFI-Q, QIT-99, etc.. Work to clean it on-demand.

Move up to the “3 Seconds or Less” drill. Work to clean it on demand.

After this, you’ll start to move beyond minimum competency. Skills like slide-lock (emergency/speed) reloads, malfunction clearing, shooting at distances out to 25 yards, etc. are going to come into play and are well-worth your time to learn and study. Courses like the FBI Qualification, the Rangemaster Level V, are good for this. But if you want something simpler, I’d say the Farnam Drill is probably one of the most compact tests out there. When you start to get into this level of things, you’ll find lots of drills out there you can use as testing and assessment, so you’ll be able to find what you need.

Note: that doesn’t necessarily mean to shoot these drill as your practice. Rather, shoot the drill and see how you do (test, assess). See what you do well, see what you need to work on. When you identify what you need to work on, your practice time (both live fire and dry fire) should work on the fundamentals necessary to help that. Formulate a plan and a program to help you achieve the goal of cleaning the drill. Work on those skills for a while, then come back and shoot the drill again. Keep notes on your progress.

Keep in mind the Paul Ford “70% of your worst day”. Look at how you’re performing “at your worst” and think about how much worse that will really be. Use that as a guide to establish where you really need your skills to be.

So many things push to a higher standard, and that’s good. The problem with always pushing for higher standards, to have the most uber-tacticool or difficult challenging drill/test/standard is it starts to make you wonder where the baseline is. Everyone’s out to push things high, so how does that look to someone just starting out? Does it make it seem like an unachievable goal? That if it’s going to take me 5 years of dedicated work to get there, how does that help me deal with the death threats I’m currently receiving from my crazy ex-spouse? Or if some standards are setting the bar too low, are people getting a false sense of accomplishment and ability that could wind up doing them more harm than good should they need to call on those skills?

You don’t need to be a Rob Leatham in order to protect yourself. But you likely need to be better than you think you are.

The point I’m trying to make is to not make this the standard to train to , but rather I’m out to bust false senses of ability. I think it’s wise to know what minimum competency is, and to not consider “minimum” to mean either some really low-level that’s essentially equated to “skill-less” or to mean once you’ve met the minimum that’s satisfactory and you can stop your journey. It’s none of those things. It’s merely a way to come to some sort of realistic terms of where your skills and ability lie. When your life is at stake, you need honest assessment. Ego or pretense could get you killed. But sometimes it’s neither of those; it’s simply that you don’t know what you don’t know, so here’s an opportunity to learn.

(I’d like to thank Karl Rehn, Tom Hogel, and Tom Givens for their input, mentorship, and contribution to this effort).

This article was originally posted as a multi-part series. I had originally written it as a single article (what you see here) but when it was evident how long it was, I thought it made better sense to break into smaller chunks. Here are links to those smaller chunks: