The Self Defense quick draw

I sometimes have very strong opinions on certain topics, especially in the area of shooting and self-defense.  I ran across this quote at a self-defense blog the other day, and because of my strong opinions felt the need to address it.

I’ve never been very keen on developing fast draw skills.  Though necessary for competition, they should be unneeded for defense as long as someone maintains a decent level of situational awareness.

The theory behind that is one that I’ve heard on multiple occasions, namely that you should be so aware of your surroundings that you’re ready to draw if a threat presents or you’ve already drawn and are ready in the event of an attack.  It’s a nice theory, but it’s wrong.  My own personal anecdotal experience would disagree with the statement.  When I was the subject of an attempted mugging, I was very situationally aware.  I saw my attacker at a distance, employed ranged weapons to keep him out of his effective attacking range, and successfully defended myself without injury.  One of the things I remember clearly about that moment was trying to draw my pocket pistol in a hurry.  While I’m sure it was the quickest pocket draw I’ve ever executed, it felt slow.  Because my attacker had a knife, there is nothing I wanted more than to get my gun out of the holster and in to action in a great big hurry.

That’s my big problem with the situational awareness theory of why you don’t need to draw in a hurry.  I was aware of my surroundings, but I posses the physical limitation that I can’t see through brick walls.  That allowed an attacker to get within a reasonable attacking distance for a contact weapon without me knowing he was there.  I was forced to react to his actions, but because I was able to react to his actions quicker than his thought process, the initiative changed to my favor.  Again, while this is only a personal anecdote from one experience, the lesson to take away is that speed in reaction can change the dynamic of the fight.

While I’m not a big fan of the whole OODA Loop concept for casual shooters, it does provide an adequate example of the benefit of speed in a self defense encounter.  The four letters in OODA stand for “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act” and represent the four components of any decision made and especially those made in a dynamic environment.  In a mugging situation, your attacker has already reached the “act” phase – he’s observed his target, oriented himself for max advantage, decided when and how to press the attack and is now on the “act” phase of the attack.

Generally, the act of fighting back in and of itself will interrupt your attacker’s decision making process and force him to do a battlefield risk/reward calculation.  The speed at which you react will help that calculation end in your favor.  Hypothetically example: you’re confronted by an attacker armed with a contact weapon but initially outside of contact range.  He’s in the “act” stage – you observe, orient (filter the information through your training and evaluate the best course of action), decide to draw your pistol, and then act on that decision by drawing your pistol.  Because you’ve practice your draw form concealment, you’re able to perform the entire action above in 1.5 seconds or less.  Because your attacker was not likely expecting you to react in such an aggressive fashion, you’ve now changed the dynamic of the fight.  Instead of you reacting to his initiative, he’s now reacting to your actions.  That’s a much more advantageous position for your to be in.

The key element that allows you to change the fight dynamic in a surprise attack is your speed.  Unless you walk around with your hand on your gun at all times, you’re not always going to be in a position to draw.  Yes, situational awareness will always help you be more prepared for that dynamic incident, but unless you’re able to act on that situational awareness faster than your attacker, it’s not going to do you a whole lot of good.

There is a reason that Gunsite Triangle on my challenge coin is “Accuracy, Power, Speed”.  Speed in a vacuum isn’t necessarily that valuable, but speed in action when combined with the will to defend yourself and the skill to act allows you to change the fight dynamic in your favor.  Simply “being aware” isn’t enough.  It doesn’t matter if you can see the threat coming if you lack the physical skill to act on that awareness fast enough to make a difference.

Speed isn’t a panacea, because you need the accuracy component as well.  Fast isn’t very useful if you can’t hit anything.  That being said, if one day my ticket gets punched by someone else, it’s my hope and prayer that I’ll be at the very least fast enough so that I don’t die with my gun in the holster.

Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas


  1. My thoughts on self defense are I want a win, I’ll accept a draw, but I refuse to lose.

    If we both go down at least I know this man won’t harm my family, and I can die content in that knowledge, any less is not acceptable.

  2. they should be unneeded for defense as long as someone maintains a decent level of situational awareness.

    And if you haven’t (because let’s face it, crap happens) you’re going to wish you had a fast draw.

    Is a fast draw 100% necessary? No. Might it be necessary? Oh heck yes. Therefore, it’s worth practicing.

  3. And I agree, no one can be “aware” 24/7.
    A decently fast draw can can to a great extent make up for a temporary lack of attention to details. A friend of mine who was serving some summons papers (and thankfully had on a vest and trauma plate) failed to notice the paper draped over this guy’s arm and hand concealing a 1911, when he saw the muzzle poking out as the guy swung on him he drew and fired as the guy shot him. He put a 357 mag slug in the guy’s chest as he fell back after being struck by the perps shot. He spent a few days in the hospital on blood thinners due to a HUGE bruise on his chest but otherwise was OK. The other guy did not fare so well, but at least he got out of showing up in court, alebet at a high price.

  4. Exactly. Speed isn’t a substitute for situational awareness, but when you fail in the area of being aware then speed can help.

  5. “…they should be unneeded for defense as long as someone maintains a decent level of situational awareness.”

    If my situational awareness were that high — at all times — I wouldn’t need to practice shooting skills at all, or martial arts either.

    If I need my gun at all, I’d rather be prepared to bring it to bear quickly. Should the occasion arise, I can always slow myself down deliberately, but I won’t be able to just speed up.

  6. So he thinks practicing the draw isn’t relevant to real-life, huh? I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told “The gun was suddenly there in my hand. I don’t even remember drawing it”. You don’t get there without practicing.

  7. Maybe the moral of the story is you should always carry a cup of hot coffe in you off hand? That way it doesn’t matter how slow your draw is, if the other guy is wiping a Grande Latte out of his eyes.

  8. “…they should be unneeded for defense as long as someone maintains a decent level of situational awareness.”

    Chuck Norris is the only person who can maintain his situation awareness 100% of the time!

    Ok, all kidding aside I think an important point to add is being able to get off the line of potential attack while you draw as quickly as possible…

  9. I also agree with that. I don’t want people to think that the only thing that I think is important is the speed draw, because that’s just one aspect of the puzzle. Movement, rapidly deploying your firearm, getting fast and accurate hits, and of course the aforementioned situational awareness are all components of a successful self-defense strategy. If you rely too much on any one of those you’re dooming yourself to failure.

  10. Hmmmm…it seems like every time I hear in person or in print/e-print words to the effect of, “someone who insisted that a 1.5-second draw wouldn’t help if” – my mind automatically translates the words to: “I can’t perform a 1.5-second draw(or whatever skill is being decried as useless/irrelevant in a given “real-life” situation), nor am I willing to spend the time/effort/money to learn how to do same – therefore I will take refuge in deriding/belittling those who can do what I cannot.”

    Whether a fast draw may be relevant or not at a given time, I can’t help but think that a slow draw from a cheap POS holster would be EVEN WORSE.

    Does that make me a hopeless cynic? 😉

    Get the gun out and point it at the target/threat as fast as you can without dropping or AD-ing the damn thing – a simple objective, but one which still requires training and practice…

  11. Honestly I think anyone who says developing speed in any part of your manual of arms is a complete fool. If something is worth doing well, it’s probably worth doing well and fast. When seconds count, I want to have every advantage possible.

    (Nice shooting tonight Caleb. 😉 )

  12. Very good information and one that many people don’t think about.

    I knew I was accurate but I thought I was fast enough and did a little demo to prove it to a friend. I put a toy gun in my holster, just to demo how quickly I could pull something out of it and “fire”. I set Rangebuddy out a few feet playing bad guy and told him to come at me while I drew my “weapon”. OK, he’s ex special forces trained and he’s younger than I but I was sure I’d “shoot” him before he laid a hand on me.

    I KNEW he was coming, but he was on me in a heartbeat, I didn’t even get it out and up to fire in time. All I got was a “see I told you – work on the speed” but it proved a very valid point. Speed IS important, not just hitting a small group at a target.

    It’s a lesson best learned before you need it for real.

    We’ll miss you at Atlanta this weekend, hope all is well.

  13. “Meditations on Violence” by Rory Miller was a wake up call along these same lines. Be aware, but also realize you’re going to be WAY behind the curve if the flag goes up.

    His text is both depressing and freeing. Surviving is going to take some luck. Hopefully you can call the toss.

    Of course, he also talks about what you can actually do. One of them is to practice a technique so often it transcends the OODA loop and you just GO! At that point, you’re somewhat even and can hopefully win from there. He comes from a grappling background, but I expect practicing concealed draws could make for a transcendent technique. It’s certainly not a bad skill to have!

  14. We just had an incident in Bryan, Texas, where a convenience store clerk was attacked by 3 robbers. He drew his Glock from concealment and shot one of the robbers – they all ran off when he drew and started shooting.–in-robbery

    In another recent incident another convenience store clerk (shown on video) nearly dies because her 5 second draw time from a pocket is only just barely fast enough.

    Over the past 20+ years I’ve run thousands of force on force scenarios in classes, mostly armed citizen scenarios. Timing – -which is a skill you can’t learn shooting live ammo at inanimate targets – plays a huge role in the outcome. Situational awareness gets you past the “OOD” part of the OODA loop sooner so at the moment when a draw is required, you start at “A”, not at “OO”.

    The biggest risk associated with not practicing the drawstroke is a fouled draw. The only way to get consistent is to practice with the gear you actually carry. Until you do it “at speed” under stress in training you may not discover problems that will turn a 2 sec draw into a 4 sec draw when things go wrong with cover garments or holsters.

  15. One of the things I learned, and practiced exhaustively, in the Army is: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

    A “quick draw” is vital, absolutely. But that quick draw has to be quick and perfect, or it isn’t quick. The perfection part comes from hours and hours of training with Snap Caps and your carry pistol in the holster you carry every day.

    I personally do a couple of Snap Cap draws (loaded mags in another room, of course) from my carry holster at “combat speed” in the clothing I am wearing each day. That’s probably a little extreme but it means that I get practice every day and, in doing so, I remove one less variable from the equation.

    The point is, the practice of practicing perfectly should lead to the ability to draw quickly and get inside the bad guy’s OODA loop.

  16. You know, I get what the originator of the “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” saying was driving at, but I feel like it’s lost its meaning lately. I get the meaning, but I hear so often repeated by people trying to justify not going fast that it drives me nuts. I feel like we need a replacement saying, but “practicing movements in a safe environment to develop the necessary muscle coordinator to execute those same movements at high speed is fast” is a little wordy.


  17. I had the same problem learning how to race cars, Caleb. “Go slow to go fast” is one of the biggest truisms of racing as well, but it’s nowhere close to enough information.

    It’s all about knowing when you need to be slow, and when you need to be fast, and smoothly transitioning quickly between those moments. Going slow without that is just going slow.

  18. One of the things that drives me crazy about training/practicing your draw is the latest technique that has you pivoting your wrist once you clear leather. The thinking is that the sooner you have the muzzle indexed to the target, the quicker you can fire, and that you can fire at any point between rotation and seeing the sights. Supposedly, this means you only need one draw technique for long distance or in your face adversaries.

    I call bullshit on this. 99% have no place to train or practice firing the gun from above the holster, or before having the sights/slide in vision. The odds of you being able to hit your adversary without a huge amount of training approaches 0%. Why do you think the hit ratio of the average cop is so bad? They are shooting without seeing the gun, in most cases.
    Ah, but now comes part two of this new draw: they tell you that the quickest route between two points is a straight line. So, they want to see the gun travel directly from above the holster to your firing point. They bitch about people “bowling” when they see an arc of movement.
    Again, bullshit. Talk to racers, they can set you straight on that. The equivalent is a curve or bend or a short straight between two corners. The direct line is to stay tight to the inside, which is the shortest distance. But you get a slow start leaving the corner because you have to turn the vehicle to get on the inside line, and you can’t accelerate as hard due to the tighter radius you are on. Your opponent swings wide exiting the corner at a faster speed, follows the widest curving line the track allows while accelerating harder due to a gentler arc, passes you 2/3 or 3/4 of the way down the track, and reaches the end sooner, because he is moving faster. (I use to do that all the time when I roadraced motorcycles)

    The reality is, the old “two different draws” is real world, and the new thinking is “technique for the sake of technique”. It’s an attempt to develop a “one size fits all” presentation. It fails on bio-mechanics, physics, and the fact you own every slug you launch on the street.
    If your opponent is in your face, you are going to do a protected draw, and if not, do a sighted draw. Shooting anywhere in between is a crapshoot. Why gamble by wasting ammo and recoil recovery time? You’re fighting for your life here! Learning how to point shoot in the middle of a lethal force encounter is stupid. But, unless you have trained/practiced at it, that’s what you will be doing. That makes you a candidate for a Darwin Award.

  19. 1. Grip
    2. Clear
    3. Click
    4. Smack
    5. Look
    Defensive Pistol
    Gunsite Academy 2006
    I like Tam.

  20. or before having the sights/slide in vision. The odds of you being able to hit your adversary without a huge amount of training approaches 0%. Why do you think the hit ratio of the average cop is so bad? They are shooting without seeing the gun, in most cases.

    I dunno – the thumbs forward, roughly indexed “retention position” (with the gun at mid-chest) WILL get you consistent COM hits out to ~7′ without a sight picture…

    Enos talked about it in the 80’s and “tactical” guys are doing it now…

    I do agree, that “hip shooting” right after clearing leather is a bit of a stretch…

  21. Why do you think the hit ratio of the average cop is so bad? They are shooting without seeing the gun, in most cases.

    People really don’t like to get shot – they move, you move, the guns moves… It is a total CF…

    Most recruits never shoot at dynamic/moving targets or learn to shoot on the move.

  22. The overwhelming majority of misses are due to bad trigger control, not failure to align the gun properly. I do a drill in one of my classes where we put masking tape over the rear sight and have students shoot a 5 yd IPSC target using only the front sight and whatever gross alignment they can get using the taped up rear sight and the slide. We do this after they’ve shot a couple hundred rounds and are reliably hitting the A zone. Most are shocked to find that they are still getting good hits – even more so when we repeat the drill in low light and they have even less visual input. There’s some loss of precision but as long as they are looking for the front sight relative to target and gun they are still getting some level of alignment.

    If we did this drill before fixing all the trigger control problems the results would be radically different.

  23. In watching the top IPSC shooters draw and fire in variouse demonstrations, one can be nothing but awstruck by the skill of these gentlemen.

    You do have to listen to them when they speak to the students, “I am not a LEO, I will not teach you tactics, I do not pretend I have been in violent encounters”

    At this time we are visiting our youngest in Sacramento, a wedding is the occassion, not immpressed with the youth who are walking the malls, and big stores, in the least.

    In coming out of a Walgreens asked a young guy for a store “Trader Joes” he was plesant enough, looked like crystal meth, was his steady diet, all his bottom teeth were black spikes, No flesh on his bones, quite a few kids were on somthing!

    Like a Hollywood movie! Soon be back in Orlando! Love Florida, our home. You can keep California, and the no CCW, 10 round magazines, and all the rest of the anti gun stuff.

Comments are closed.