Throughout the professional hard skills training community, spanning federal, state, and local agencies, a majority of officers or agents who required the use of force training are divided into two separate training schools. The two being small arms (SA) and defensive tactics (DT). Although each is run by qualified personnel, each is focused on the specifics of either SA or DT with little, if any, crossover. Back in the day, an academy cadet was taught to stand and move from a certain standing position in a manner specific to that training school. To this very day, the most common physical start position is called a fighting stance.

In SA a stance is considered a stable position of the body. It’s employed to bring about the desired result of safe, rapid gun handling, and quantified marksmanship using a pistol, rifle, shotgun et al. In DT a stance is utilized to deploy a baton, chemical propellants, etc., or unarmed empty-hand technique, and may vary from that of SA training. Way back in the 1990s a student learned to keep their support foot forward when shooting a rifle but the strong foot forward when deploying a baton.

Two men establishing fighting stances

As time marched on and with the advent of mixed martial arts (MMA), UFC, and three-gunner competitive firearms matches, training started drifting toward what I called back then “a seamless progression” of applicable techniques. In other words, the same way you stand with a gun should be the same way you stand to deploy non-ballistic use-of-force options.

Fighting Stance | Shooting Stance

The very word “stance” invokes discipline-specific mental imagery. In the martial arts, for example, you may find a “horse stance”, “linear stance” or “boxer’s stance.” Whereas, in the gun world, you may be trained to use a Weaver stance, Isosceles, Modern/ Modified Isosceles, or other similar firearms stance(s).

In modern hard skills training academies, the word “stance” equates to a “fighting position,” “athletic posture,” or “delivery platform.” Law enforcement professionals found in a use-of-force response situation may need to go from asserting uniformed presence to issuing verbal commands to hands-on, to non-lethal force options, to deadly force, and or everything in between. Law enforcement professionals and defense-minded citizens alike should be prepared to respond effectively from a stable and reliable starting physical position.

“Whether it’s a small arms or defense tactics solution, the strong and versatile foundation of a stable fighting platform affords you optimal body position for maximum physical performance.”

Two Men Fighting, one from a more solid fighting stance.

What’s the purpose of a fighting stance?

The bottom line is that there should be no confusion or wasted time in the needless thought process of “What foot goes where?” The idea is that you should be able to issue commands (for example “Stay back!”), place hands-on (non-ballistic response) and deliver rounds down range all from a structurally sound and stable delivery platform.

The purpose of a ‘one body posture fits all’ stance is that you are ready to run the gamut from issuing commands all the way through the force options continuum through to the appropriate use of deadly force. It’s tough enough as it is to juggle the legal, emotional, physical, political, policy (if working for a state or local agency), and aftermath (criminal and civil court) considerations of an undesirable situation. All of this compounded by stress and urgency, now add on an unnecessary and time-consuming decision-making process of “Now, where should my feet be again?”

Since you would be using such a stable and versatile starting posture for some type of reactive physical response, it means you’re engaged in a physical altercation. Which, in politically incorrect terminology, amounts to a violent physical altercation. Aka “fight.”. As such I have adopted the term “stable fighting platform” because a fight is exactly what a stance is used for in all practical applications.

Fighting Stance High and Low: a Two-Part Focus

In the development of any stable fighting platform, there is a two-part focus, upper body, and lower body. Starting from the ground up (like any building the foundation is built first) the feet and legs are most important. Without a stable lower body (hips, legs, and foot position), the hands are rendered less effective with the entire body out of balance.

The feet should not be crossed as this will attenuate mobility and offers little or no support to either safe or combat-effective firearms handling nor defensive tactics. Feet crossed compromise both mobility and stability. Using the time-tested “tall thin candlestick in the wind” versus “short wide-base bowling pin in the wind” analogy, the feet should also not be too close together.

Kangroo having a better fighting stance than a woman.

Feet too close together compromises stability while too far apart, although stable, compromise agility and mobility. Bottom line, feet should be at least shoulder-width apart and in an athletic yet comfortable and stable configuration with knees slightly bent to support your body type.

What about the hands?

The human body naturally allows for three positions of the hands in a “fight or flight” stimulus-response. These are “hands below” – where your hands hang naturally below your belt. For example when you are walking with hands swinging naturally at your side. “Hands above” is the recommended hand configuration of protective services and law enforcement professionals (field interview position) with hands positioned above the belt. Lastly “hands away” where you may be placing hands out in front of you to engage an active physical threat.

Man standing beside path

Your movement from one hand position to another should not affect your balance and in fact, should be done with such economy of motion as to add structural support. An optimal stable fighting platform should include feet comfortably spaced – not crossed, not too close together, and not too far apart with knees unlocked and hands above the belt prepared for multiple response options.

Your weight (center of gravitational mass) should be shifted slightly forward (like a professional boxer) as if you were about to push open a heavy door. You do not want to be so far forward that you would face plant, but also not straight up or leaning too much backward should you be met with sudden and forceful physical impact and be knocked off balance.

More than the Hokey Pokey

A stable fighting stance offers a structurally sound and balanced foundation for individual force options delivery.

If you need to go to guns, then a stable fighting platform provides a reliable shooting platform from which the shooter may safely and deftly apply their gun handling and marksmanship skills.

If you need to go hands-on, then a stable fighting platform affords you a solid defensive tactics foundation from which techniques may be applied to deliver appropriate use of force.

Two men fighting in the street

Whether it’s a small arms or defense tactics solution, the strong and versatile foundation of a stable fighting platform affords you optimal body position for maximum physical performance.

About the Author:

Steve Tarani is a former full-time CIA protective programs employee, small arms and defensive tactics subject matter expert who served on POTUS 45 pre-election executive protection detail. He is the lead instructor for NRA’s non-ballistic weapons training program offered nationally and a widely recognized SME on matters of urban survival. Tarani is also a DoD and FLETC-certified federal firearms instructor who has been on staff at Gunsite Academy (AZ) as a Rangemaster for over twenty years. Formerly sworn, he is also a former federal contractor and service provider for the US Defense Intelligence Community, US Naval Special Operations Command, and other government agencies. Additionally, Tarani serves on the National Sheriffs’ Association Committee for School Safety and Security.Author Steve Tarani