I’ve noticed for a good while now that the principles and concepts of Krav Maga and effective self-defense in general are being misinterpreted and/or outright ignored in several handgun defenses. And, while I recognize that there are several ways to perform a technique that still conform to the principles of Krav Maga, often isolating and examining an individual movement to explore an optimal solution can prove helpful.

In this case, I’d like to propose we isolate the concept of “leaving the line of fire” within the handgun defenses category. I’ve discussed on several occasions with a number of students and instructors, the concept of redirection when applied to a handgun defense against a threat from behind. For our purposes, the handgun threat is approximately centered (to eliminate the confusion a discussion on short and long lines and other related issues might cause).

In short, the movement required to “leave the line of fire” and facilitate a consistent and successful defense is made with the a rotation of the body, ending with the point of the shoulder pointing approximately at the gunman’s elbow. This movement efficiently moves the body out of the line of fire while simultaneously setting up a bursting movement that (1) closes the distance, (2) secures the gun hand, and (3) delivers a powerful combative. That’s the truth. It is not negotiable.

Others have argued that the redirection of the handgun is achieved by swiping the arm/hand back and around leading the body rotation – some describing this motion as swinging the arm to the opposite back pocket of the defenders pants. This is dangerous and sub-optimal. There’s not another way to say this.

There are several issues with this movement, but the three biggest issues with this motion are (watch the video for detailed information):

(1) When the hand and arm lead all other movement to the handgun, the reaction clock (known as lag time) within the gunman’s brain begins. Because the body follows the hand, the body leaves the line of fire later than is possible and optimal. This unnecessarily leaves the body at risk longer than required.

While some may argue that the hand can move faster than the body to redirect the handgun, this simply isn’t true when compared to an efficient rotation (and for those of us with tight shoulders, it’s not even a contest). Even if this were true, the body lags behind the arm’s movement and redirection, so the defender is later in facing the gunman and later with the resulting burst – reliably allowing the gunman to withdraw the handgun to his hip (putting the defender back in the line of fire).

(2) When the hand sweeps or swings aggressively to the opposite back pocket in an effort to redirect the handgun, the momentum of the arm pulls the same shoulder open at a dangerous angle – often making the bursting movement toward the gunman unnecessarily wide.

As a result, the wide angle and the arm’s force of momentum (from swinging) often cause the defender to land short (due to the wide angle of approach) while bursting to close the gap. And, attempting to wrap and control the gun hand/arm before the gunman can withdraw or otherwise move the gun away becomes very difficult and obviously sub-optimal.

(3) When the hand and/or blade of the arm swings or sweeps out in front of the body, the risk that the blade of the hand or arm forcefully contacting the inside of the gunman’s forearm (or wrist) dramatically increases. This process nearly guarantees that the muzzle of the handgun will move back towards the body (as the wrist flexes back towards the defending hand) even as the gunman’s arm moves physically away from the defenders body. Not sure? Pretend you’re holding a handgun, flex your wrist to the inside of the forearm as if someone has struck it – making your forearm muscle flex. Where does the pretend muzzle point?

These three issues, taken one at a time, would be sufficient to cause a change in thinking in anyone arguing for an initial sweeping or swinging motion of the hand/arm in a handgun defense from behind.

To be blunt, the only reason to discuss the hand or arm moving during this defense would be to describe how sharply and quickly the defender must rotate out of the line of fire and turn into the gunman.

If your articulation of the arm creates a more efficient rotation and turn of the body, then you are now making the defense more effective. However, if you get caught in a discussion of the defending hand or arm sweeping the gunman’s handgun – walk away. The person talking has, without doubt, misinterpreted the defense and the role of the defending hand/arm should play. Period. End of story.

Invoking Hands, Body, Feet

Often, as I explain this to other instructors, each invariably invokes the concepts of moving the hand and arm first during a gun to the front defense, and more broadly the hands, body, feet principle of movement.

These would be excellent points if the defenses were – in any way – similar (and/or if the danger was in any way similar). However, these threats are not similar, and in fact, share only one real similarity – the major, initial danger is a handgun. That’s where the similarities that matter to a successful defense start and end.

In this case, the hand and body move approximately together (at the same time) purposely to avoid the violation of the specific principles of handgun defense (most egregiously, in Krav slang, “get out, and stay out” of the line of fire principle).

Let us first recognize that borrowing concepts from one technique and applying them to others based on some vague similarity in a vacuum is a dangerous idea. In this case, a handgun threat from the front takes advantage of three specific capabilities that are impeded or totally compromised when the handgun threat is presented from behind.

Specifically, when considering handgun from the front defenses, remember (1) the threat is presented in the direction you are facing (no turn necessary), (2) your elbow can bend and deliver your hand to where the handgun threat is specifically located, and (3) your knees are capable of bending, accepting weight, and facilitating an immediate burst in the direction of the gunman.

With a defense to a handgun threat from behind, we are not facing the danger, and our elbows and knees are not positioned to function optimally. Because the body is in danger based on the handgun location, the hand rushing ahead of the body is not helpful when considering (1) the need to redirect the line of fire permanently, and (2) the need to facilitate the remaining defense.

The nature of the handgun makes controlling the handgun a vital priority, and any movement that achieves only one (temporary redirection) of the several principles needed to make a consistent and safe defense (to the detriment of the other principles) is simply dangerous and sub-optimal by definition. Don’t do it.

Don’t believe me? Try 10 repetitions your way with a gunman trying to resist. Then try 10 repetitions my way with the same gunman. You decide.

As always – train safe, train smart, and walk in peace…

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