Thursday, 8 November 2012

Five Fingers of Tactical Proficiency

I use the human hand as an aide-mémoire to remember the principles of tactical training to which I adhere. There are a few reasons I do this: you use your hands to manipulate weapons and other tactical equipment and you will always have your training mnemonic with you!

Thumb –Safety
                Opposable digits and the ability to reason separate humans from animals. Both of those attributes play a huge part in training safety. Safety is designated by the thumb as it is impossible to operate a weapon without a thumb. You should not operate a weapon or participate in tactical training without safety being first and foremost in your mind. This is a good time to state the Big 4: 

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Weapon Manipulation-Trigger Finger
                Building fluid and natural weapon manipulation skills is a cornerstone of tactical firearms proficiency. There are four levels of skill competency.

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These skills can only be developed to their full potential with regular dry training. The good thing about this training is that it is inexpensive. The only required investment is a handful of dummy rounds. You just need a place and to make the time. A few minutes a day can have long lasting effect on your learning potentiation. 

The place and conduct warrants some discussion.  It must be a quiet place; free of distraction. You must decide on which skills you are going to practice before you start. All firearms must be cleared prior to starting any dry training. Absolutely no live ammunition should be in the vicinity of your dry training area ever! Practice perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Speed comes with familiarity and fluidity.

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Practice admin loads, unloads, immediate actions and remedial actions. Practice presentations, dry firing, adopting different fire positions, and post engagement drills. Run these drills slick, with belt kit and with full order. Train the way you will fight.

Dry training  needs to be constant. One spring a couple years ago, I was invited to audit Phase Line Green Tactical One Day Pistol Course as a participant. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I got into dry firing and weapon manipulations drills extra hard the week before the course. It really showed on the course who was familiar with their firearm. Part of it was experience but, part of it was the constant refresher. As an aside. the course, for myself, was a rock solid review of fundamentals. Well worth the time.

Accuracy-Middle Finger

"Speed is fine but accuracy is final." Larry Vickers

      The primary objective of tactical firearm training is to survive tactical encounters. Solid hits on your adversary or adversaries is the most effective way to survive. I am talking about combat effective accuracy. However, to achieve combat accurate hits under a body alarm response will require you to practice accurate shooting drills regularly. The effect of your natural physiological reaction to life threaten situations will deteriorate your skill. Additionally, these skills will fade without regular practice.

       Start this by getting a solid zero for your chosen firearm at a realistic distance for your environment. Shoot groups in the five conventional positions from that range. Once you are confident at that range, expand the to longer ranges and shorter ranges. Learn the hold offs for your sights at those ranges. Practice shooting around, over and under cover. Shoot supported and unsupported; learn how that affects your accuracy. Learn and apply unconventional shooting positions; the hold offs for your sight will be different. Shoot slick and full kit; learn how your gear can affects your accuracy and ability to adopt fire positions.

Speed-Ring Finger

"Smooth is fast, but slow is just frickin' slow" Kyle Lamb

     This is gunfighting. Shooting as fast as you can maintain combat effective groups is a life skill. However, speed without causing terminal effect on your target is futile. This is more than timing and cadence than rushing for the sake of going fast.Time and distance affects the requirement for speed. The shorter the distance to the threat the shorter the reactionary gap. The greater the distance to the threat the longer the reactionary gap.

      Set realistic goals. Work engagement drills to increase speed: controlled pairs, hammers, zipper, Two and One and non-standard response. Use a shot timer or shot timer app to set limits and increase stress.  Do all drills at combat speed. This includes immediate action, remedial actions, reloads and post engagement drills to complete the cycle of training. Push your limits but once your groups are not combat effective or making errors then dial it back a notch.

Tactics-Little finger

"You should not be figuring out SOPs as your SUV is being remodeled by a PKM in Tikrit" a US PMC

Tactics are the final building block of tactical proficiency. They must suit the environment  mission, threat and your own level of skill. They must be executed with safety, accuracy and speed to be effective.

Work on individual tactics, pairs and team tactics. Consider different environments and threats. Build slowly at the speed of the slowest member of the team. Remember, what works in the sandbox might not work in the arctic!

"What worked yesterday would be fine, if it was yesterday." CTOMS Website

Practice, Practice, Practice.


"It is not about shooting. It is about fighting with a gun" Pat Rogers

You may have noticed that I did not include mindset in my principles of training. Think of mindset as the glove. Some people wear gloves in tactical enviroments, others do not. Though everybody should. It is a personal thing. Mindset cannot be taught. It is product of experience and personal growth. It is part of the overall training experience.   If you are reading this blog post, then you are on the path of personal growth towards the correct mindset.

A good tactical mindset can be guided and hindered by well-intentioned bystanders and trainers. Good instructors provide experience and expanded the 'toolbox' of their students. A tactical mindset is a highly personal thing. Developing your mindset affects your lifestyle and it is up to you how far you down this path you are willing to go.

In closing, these are the principles to which I conduct my personal training, range activities and the courses that I teach. This is, by no means, an exhaustive article on The Five Fingers of Tactical Proficiency. It is, merely, an introduction to the concept.

Take care out there.


  1. Change "Speed" to "Timing" and you have an easy to remember SWATT

    1. Speed denotes a swiftness of action or a sense of urgency, not just timing or tempo. Timing is the control of incident, pace, or coordination to attain the desired endstate. Tempo is a distinctive rate or rhythm of activity. While timing and tempo play a part in the actual shooting portion of this ‘Finger’, the use of the word speed was intentional. This is gunfighting and precise alacrity is a requirement for the presentation, response, immediate actions, remedial actions and execution of movement. I would contend that there is little control or regularity once the fight has commenced.

      An example of this is shooting on the move. Older doctrines taught shoot when you’re left foot is forward or shoot to a pace when making movement. This is fine for skill development and learning your limits. The reality you engage the threat when there is meat in the sight. Not to any timing or rhythm.

      Feel free to adapt the concepts put forward in this article to match your personal doctrine. I was looking for something more metaphorical and slightly abstract when using the hand as a mnemonic; thus adaptable to the individual and their development. I find acronyms to be narrow. There is a place for that in tactical training but not in principles.

      Thank you for your comment.