A Geneology of Shooting Schools and Instructors in the United States, Part One: The History
by: David Crane
Many gun owners out there have never taken a shooting course at a top facility
or by a well-known instructor. The biggest reason for this is that to do so means
a commitment of time and money that many people are
reluctant to make. This is understandable. Most of these
schools are located in far away places and even remote areas, and cost an arm
and a leg to attend. With regard to individual well-known
instructors, it is often hard to get them to come to one’s home town to teach a
To give you an example of the cost at a known school, a 5 day course at Gunsite
will run you, all by itself, a little over a thousand
bucks. Now add to that all the other expenses you will have to deal with, like
travel, lodging, food, and ammunition, and you’ve got
yourself about a $2,000 to $2,500 trip when all’s said and done. That’s
after-tax dollars, folks, unless you’re a gun writer. If you can
handle the cash outlay aspect, all you have to do now is choose your school.
And there are a lot of them to choose from. Wouldn’t it be
nice to know what your getting from each, in terms of the techniques that will
be taught to you? For instance, if you decide to go to
Rangemaster in Tennessee, wouldn’t it be good to know the pedigree of their
program? Of course it would, and that’s what we are going to
share with you in “Part Two” of this article. The intention of this first installment, a.k.a. “Part One”, is for the reader to be
able to use this as a reference, so that they know,
basically, what they are going to get at the various schools with regard to
handgunning technique, and also the rough backgrounds of the
various instructors. The instructors and schools will not be discussed in any
particular order. Links will be provided for all the
schools that have websites.
At this point, I should probably tell you that what I am going to be doing in the
second installment of this article(aforementioned “Part Two”), has, to
my knowledge, never been done before. No one has ever
provided a geneology of the shooting community and firearms training in the
United States, up to the present day. Some people may not be
happy with me for doing it, but I am going to do it anyway, because I believe it
to be important. Before I do this, we are going to go back a ways. In “Part One”, I’m going to give you the background history of the shooting community
and shooting techniques in the United States in the 20th century. I do this so that the reader has the
proper perspective and background to
understand “why” things are the way they are today, in terms of
which techniques are taught at the various schools.
We’ll start with two non-Americans, Captains William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes,
both British. In the 1920’s, these two guys, both very
tough hombres, went to Shanghai, China as police officers. Shanghai, at this
time, was one very tough town. Together, Fairbairn and
Sykes created a complete close quarter combat system that included firearms
skills in order to combat the dangerous individuals that they
would have to go up against on a daily basis.
firearms techniques they
taught their fellow officers were based on simplicity and ease
of training. They were only interested in what worked, and what would save
lives. The most notable aspect of their techniques were the
fact that they relied on natural physiological responses of human beings under
stress. One handed, non-sighted fire, now known as point
shooting, was the primary method for close and deadly encounters, as it was fast
in engagements and got the job done. Point shooting,
using one hand, was simply the fastest, most natural, and easiest-to-teach method of reactive shooting in lethal
engagements at close contact distances, the most
common type of combat situation in Shanghai during this time.
Well, in the early 1940’s, an army colonel named Rex Applegate, familiar with
Fairbairn and Syke’s techniques and their effectiveness,
instituted them as the primary training system for the troops in World War II.
For their firearms training, Applegate taught the G.I.’s
how to use one-handed point shooting to hit a target at 50 meters very quickly
with very little training. This was basically a technique
where one pointed, one handed, at the target with the gun, with the shooter
focusing on the target over the gun’s slide. The weapon was
brought up to line of sight, under control and using a straight arm, with the
strong foot forward. Many of the guys that went through
Applegate’s program ended up using these point shooting techniques to win many
deadly encounters during the course of the war. This brings
us to the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s.
This is the time of Jeff Cooper(considered to be the father of modern
pistolcraft, or the “modern technique”), Bill Jordan, and Chic
Gaylord. Jeff Cooper was the most outspoken of the three, and started the
Southwest Combat Pistol League (SWCPL) in Big Bear, California
in the 1960’s. He formed the league with 5 other “masters”. These were Jack
Weaver, Elden Carl, Thell Reed, John Plahn, and Ray Chapman.
Jack Weaver’s “Weaver technique” became the predominant technique used by the top
shooters, as those that used this technique were winning all
the competitions. The Weaver technique employs isometric tension, where the
strong hand pushes, while the support hand pulls back to
While using the Weaver, the shooter is bladed towards the
target, and the support elbow is in a downward position below
the strong arm. The Weaver technique simply proved to be superior to one handed
techniques for long distance shooting on the types of
shooting stages that were set up for the competitions of that time.
True to the politics of California, the SWCPL was soon forced to change it’s
name by the Governor of California at the time, to the
Southwest Pistol League (SWPL). The name change was forced on it because the word
“combat” was too strong for the politicians. Now, it needs
to be understood that the founding members of the SWCPL, and subsequent SWPL
were, at that time, considered to be the best shooters in the country. The SWPL became very important in the shooting world, and shaped the entire
shooting community in the ensuing years.
In the mid 1970’s, Cooper and others
from the SWPL established the International Practical
Shooting Confederation, a.k.a. IPSC. When it was first formed, IPSC was
designed to be a testbed for combat shooting techniques,
equipment, and mindset. Here was a place where the Weaver stance and other
combat techniques and principles could be tested in the safety
of competition. All the equipment used for this competition was defensive type
gear. The matches themselves were designed with combat in
mind. This would later change, and IPSC would become a pure shooting
competition where high-tech competion style gear, including
compensators and optical sights, would come to rule.
Enter the Modern Isosceles technique. In the early 1980’s several men came onto
the IPSC shooting scene that would forever change the
event, and the shooting world. The two main messengers of the new technique
were Rob Leatham and Brian Enos. These two men
basically blew away the rest of the competition by using the new Modern
Isosceles stance. The Modern Isoscles stance utilizes the concept
of body symmetry to provide a natural shooting platform and recoil control. The
shooter faces the target, and both arms are kept partially
bent and extended symmetrically. The feat are spread slightly greater than shoulder width. Usually, the support foot will be slightly
forward of the strong foot in a natural defensive posture, and
the shooter’s balance is on the balls of the feet.
By keeping the arms bent, the body symmetrical, and a proper balance (natural defensive posture–as if one is ready to be pushed from the front by an aggressor), recoil is naturally controlled by the shooter’s stance, not tension or fine motor skills.
Now, it must be understood, that by the time these three marauders came
onto the scene, IPSC had already transformed from a
practical “street combat” type competition to more of a pure shooting game, and
Cooper and others who had started it, had already started
to move away from IPSC. Cooper himself had already started his own school in
the late ’70’s, promoting Weaver. Martial artists like
Cooper scoffed at the new technique that these young upstarts were using, since,
in their minds, IPSC no longer had anything to do with
combat shooting principles, and all the “real” combat shooters “knew” that
Weaver was the best, because it was the technique they
themselves used, swore by, and proselytized. The fact that Leatham and Enos
were now in a class by themselves in IPSC did not dissuade any
of the martial arts crowd from their positions.
Today, ALL the top IPSC
shooters use the Modern Isosceles stance, without exception, while
many in the martial arts crowd still use and teach Weaver.
So, now that I’ve provided you with all the history, my next article will be a
rundown of the some of the most widely known shooting
schools in the country, and the method of shooting that they teach, specifically
with regards to handguns. We will not be getting into the
specifics of everything they teach or their various courses. Our purpose will
be to enlighten the prospective student on the primary
pistol technique they will be taught at each school–Modern Isosceles, Weaver,
or other–and highlight the basic background and shooting
style of the individual instructors. Please keep in mind that when I say that
someone shoots or teaches “Isosceles”, I am referring to the
“Modern Isosceles” technique. Until then, stay tuned.
Editor’s Note: The author would like to clarify that the “Weaver technique” was named after Jack Weaver, but Weaver did not invent it.
Weaver’s shooting technique had actually been around for quite some time before he started using it. The author has personally seen at least one picture taken in the late
1920’s/ early 1930’s of a man using this same isometric tension technique. I saw this in a book at a friend’s home. I will try to get the title of the book, so I can share it with my
Editor’s Disclaimer: The author is indeed aware that it is inherently unsafe to ever point a working handgun at something one does not intend to destroy, and strongly recommends against the practice. However, the cameraman was fully aware of the risk he was taking before he took the shots (pun intended). Also, you may have noticed that my left eye is closed in two of the picures.
In general, this is also not recommended. It is usually better to keep both eyes open at all times during a confrontation,
so that one can continually survey a wider area for the presence of additional
attackers. Due to an eye dominance problem, I sometimes use the one-eye-closed technique. If, God forbid,
I ever find myself in a deadly confrontation, and I end up getting killed or injured by an additional, unseen attacker to my far left side(because I have my left eye closed)
–while I’m busy engaging the guy in front of me–well, that’s my problem! I certainly wouldn’t want that to happen to one of my readers.