Defining Realistic Self-Defense

These training scenarios prepare you for violent encounters far better than marksmanship, martial arts.

Story and Photos by Paul Pawela

Firearms instructor Sherry Myers of Shooting
with Sherry fires at a lifelike target. Myers is going
to be the next national female firearms leader in
the country, in author Paul Pawela’s estimation.

As this article is being written, today’s headline news is a barrage of horrifying violent crime reports.
• Iowa church shooting leaves 2 victims dead.
• Tulsa, Oklahoma, hospital shooting leaves 4 dead.
• Uvalde, Texas, school shooting leaves 19 students, 2 teachers dead.
These are the current facts: violent crimes, murder, armed robbery, armed carjacking and physical assaults are skyrocketing throughout the country. Many root causes are poverty, inflation, unemployment and dramatic social change in the trust of governmental public institutions like the police.

When people can’t trust the police, crime goes through the proverbial roof, which is exactly what we are seeing today! And of course, the quick-fix answer that our liberal political leaders propose is to impose more restrictions on law-abiding citizens from carrying personal weapons and/or banning the most popular types of rifles. Thank God for the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down the New York mandate prohibiting its citizens access to concealed weapons permits to defend themselves.

IN LIGHT OF the rapidly apocalyptic events going on in the world currently, especially as it pertains to the citizens of the United States, I have been asked to address my views on realistic self-defense, as I have led several courses of the same name via my self-defense training company, Assault Counter Tactics. For the past 30-plus years, I have been providing realistic self-defense training to civilians, using real guns, knives and authentic-looking replicas in simulated scenarios of violent encounters that happened to civilians.
Reality-based training has been proven in both military and law enforcement communities as an excellent approach to gaining experience and exposure to various types of missions, and force-on-force scenario training has been proven to be the best way to prepare for worst-case lethal-force encounters. Unfortunately,
this type of training has not been widely available to civilians, although it has been my specialty for years. Realistic self-defense is training that is consistent with the ways in which one may have to defend against a violent encounter. Violent encounters have been described as surprising and chaotic, with the attacker threatening aggression and extreme violence against the victim. It doesn’t have to make sense and often
won’t, yet one must learn to be able to deal with it efficiently at that moment.
All violent encounters and attacks against your person come from distraction and surprise in the form of
an ambush. So the “defense” part comes when you’re not in control and when you’re not prepared. It is a worst-case scenario. The common three elements in a criminal ambush assault generally are: close range, more than one assailant, and the presence of a weapon.

Whether the assailant attacks with fists, knives, blunt instruments or even guns, these encounters all take
place at close distances. According to the FBI, half of all murder victims are killed from a range of 5 feet or less. On the flip side of that, in the majority of cases when a good guy is shooting at a perpetrator in a deadly-force encounter, the shooting distance is under 6 feet. This proves that point index shooting is more effective in personal self-defense than traditional marksmanship shooting.

In a simulated ground-fighting situation,
best-selling author Andy Tolbert ends a
violent encounter with a headshot

GIVEN THE ABOVE information, I have noticed in the number of years I have been training or received training that most self-defense-oriented programs, be they martial arts or from the firearms industry, fail to cover the true nature of violent encounters.
Consider the sport martial arts community; their sparring in the dojo pales in comparison to an actual street fight. Even the mixed martial arts world forbids headbutts, eye gouges, throat strikes, grabbing the trachea, biting, and groin strikes – techniques that actually work in violent encounters.
The commercial shooting world is pretty much the same, with an unrealistic emphasis on shooting real fast at targets that are standing perfectly still and not shooting or fighting back Many top-notch self-defense trainers will say that the primary goal of self-defense training should be to expose the brain to all of the situations it is likely to encounter. Yet many fail that goal by not addressing real issues of violent encounters at all. Examples of this are in the martial arts world, where the majority of trainers have zero understanding of firearms or how they work.

A handgun is an equalizer for Jenkins as she
faces off against a course participant portraying
a bigger, stronger violent offender. The green
laser dot tells her where she is aiming. Pawela
says that at close distances, head shots are
highly encouraged to stop the threat.

They may practice gun disarms or gun takeaways but have no understanding of the mechanical
applications of the gun itself. To make it operable or inoperable is benign to the martial artist, which I find disgraceful The gun crowd is just as bad, thinking their gun skills are the only thing they will need in a deadly force encounter, and having no clue what to do when they are looking down the barrel of a gun. Having no hand-to-hand combatives in their repertoire is just as egregious a sin as the martial artist not being familiar with firearms because trying to go for one’s gun when one is pointed at you already is very
detrimental to one’s health.

Force-on-force and shoot/don’t shoot scenario
training is the best thing possible for civilians
when combined with manmarking cartridges
and a Spartan Tactical training suit

ARMED WITH THESE facts, there are four elements to keep in mind when it comes to a life-threatening situation in an ambush encounter: dialogue, deception, distraction and destruction. These need to be discussed, taught and practiced. For example:
• Know simple dialogue to interact with the bad guy to set up a deception move, like faking a heart attack, throwing something in the face of the attacker, or slapping the offending weapon, in order to set up destruction techniques that you will be using against your assaulter.
• Have a basic understanding of hand-to-hand counter-assault techniques, such as head slaps, throat punches, elbow strikes to the chest, groin strikes or shin kicks.
• Be comfortable with pointing real guns at real people.

In regards to the last bullet point above, before every realistic self-defense class that I teach, all participants are ordered to bring their guns to slide lock and show an unloaded empty and cleared gun. The individual checks their gun to show that it cleared by checking both the magwell and then the ramp of the barrel with their pinky finger. Then the student is required to do the same to the student to the left and right of them. Then I have two range safety officers check the students’ weapons and, finally, I perform a personal safety check.
At this time, the command is given to point the gun at the threat (the target). Then I go down the line to evaluate grip and stance, while standing in front of the student pointing the gun. Lastly, I stand in front of the class and say, “Now point the gun at the threat – I am the threat,” all the while giving the command to keep the finger off the trigger until the gun needs to go bang!
The point of this exercise is to address the hesitation that comes with pointing a gun at a real person. After all these safety checks and verifications by several different people, if you are still hesitant to point your gun at another person, what makes you think you will do it in a real-life situation?

After pointing the gun at the threat, the students are ordered to give the suspect loud and firm commands:
“Stop. Don’t move. Don’t make me shoot you.” The problem with most commercial shooting is that all they do is teach the student to draw the weapon at the target, shoot the target and reholster, and repeat a million or so times. But what if it is a no-shoot situation?
Recently a popular female LAPD officer, who is also a competitive shooter with a substantial YouTube
following, was involved in a shooting of several bad guys. Defense attorneys for the family members of the suspects that the officer shot brought up the fact that many of the officer’s shooting competitions included simulations of shooting people. The attorneys asked her one question: “In any of those competitions, did you have a scenario where you did not shoot your gun or give a verbal warning for a simulated suspect to drop his weapon?”

Of course, the answer was no. I submit that had this been a civilian in these same circumstances, the outcome would have been much different. In the gun safety inspection exercise illustrated earlier, students
learn how to inspect a safe and unloaded weapon. Students are able to safely point a real gun at a simulated threat and do not have to shoot that threat and document it for possible future court proceedings.

Training with real guns – thoroughly
double-checked by range safety officers
and the course operator himself – helps
“address the hesitation that comes with
pointing a gun at a real person” who may
be threatening your life, writes the author.

HERE ARE SOME points to further define what realistic self-defense means from my Assault Counter Tactics perspective:
• You must understand the need to know how to shoot at point-blank range and shoot contact shots, both standing and on the ground, if it goes to a grappling situation.
• If the lethal threat goes to the ground, you should be trained to go automatically to a backup weapon
should your primary weapon fail. A backup weapon is defined as either a gun or knife to stop and end the threat.
• In dealing with a lethal threat, it is very easy to get myopic and focus on one threat; realistic training should have you engaging and prepared for multiple threats.
• Violent encounters are bloody; that is a sad reality. Contact gunshots cause blood splatter, gun and knife
wounds are bloody, and fake blood should be used in training for realism.
• Criminals use harsh language and harsh language is what they understand; learn to use it. “Don’t f-ing
move; don’t f-ing make me shoot you!” Take command of the situation.

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• If the overwhelming data suggests violent encounters happen at close range, then why in the hell are gun instructors still insisting on teaching marksmanship? Force-on-force training, stress inoculation, and shoot/don’t shoot scenarios with real people simulating violent attackers using blanks, man marking cartridges and fake blood is the way to go, period.
Our great country has always been involved in violent encounters, from its birth to present date. The only true way to deal with violence is to deal it right back. The reality of dealing with violence to save one’s life quickly is with the use of a gun or edged weapon, and that’s a fact. That’s my two cents!
Editor’s note: For realistic self-defense training, see Author Paul Pawela is a nationally recognized firearms and self-defense expert based in Florida.