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BEYOND THE ISOSCELES
ADOPTING A HOLISTIC FIGHTING STANCE
‘LIKE A WHAT?’
You often hear instructors say that your torso should “function like a tank turret.”
But is that really a good plan, and is the traditional isosceles stance really the best for self-defense training?
The isosceles stance is arguably the most commonly taught and used technique today — especially among private citizens. To the credit of its developers and promoters, the isosceles stance addresses several of the shortcomings of other popular techniques when applied to high-stress, high-adrenaline situations. For example, the Weaver stance, while proven effective in competition, is more difficult to master and relies on fine motor skills that evaporate under the adrenaline rush of life-threatening danger. The isosceles stance is easy to teach and easy to understand, making it a boon to instructors and new shooters alike, who may often have only a few hours together (at best). Still, the widely used isosceles stance suffers from major shortcomings. Even though it’s easy to grasp, it is rarely executed correctly, especially by relatively new shooters or those who shoot infrequently, thus magnifying its limitations.
Having taught shooting and personal-protection classes for decades, I have closely observed how both new and experienced shooters manage their firearms and how they absorb and respond to training. The isosceles stance, despite its virtues, suffers from a host of issues. In short, the isosceles stance is unnatural and thus destined to fail without constant training. While it seems simple on the surface, it is actually difficult to perform correctly, especially under stress, because it is counter to the body’s natural tendencies and attributes. Even when someone is practicing scenarios on the range, the isosceles stance has proven to lend itself to poor accuracy, poor gun-handling, poor recoil management, slow rates of fire and poor situation management. I have watched countless shooters start out on the range in the classic isosceles form, only to watch it fall apart within just a few rounds as nature takes over.
Even worse is that it is a poor choice in a real-world tactical encounter because it is unstable and severely limits both the threat area an individual can cover and his or her ability to move — whether to engage targets, find a better position or exit.
Despite any claims to the contrary, the isosceles stance is a static range shooting stance for limited target presentations.
At best, it allows a person to engage a stationary target, directly ahead, at close range. Adding a few closely spaced targets does not change that reality. It is inflexible, unnatural, unadaptable and immobile. It severely restricts a person’s ability to effectively maneuver, rapidly respond to a changing situation or multiple opponents, maintain accurate shooting, or develop the situation to bring it to a successful close by either exiting the danger zone or winning the fight. It is not a tactical fighting stance.
If we are to be effective in defensive deadly force encounters, we must do better.
Breaking down the “holistic fighting stance,” for lack of a better term, the first step is to embrace the concept of a stable fighting platform. Make it second-nature to instantly check your ability to move into one at any given moment. The stable fighting platform is at the heart of your primary stance. It is essential to sustained accurate shooting and to effective tactical response.
To get into the appropriate stance, crouch slightly and position your feet shoulder-width or slightly farther apart, with one foot a short-to-medium comfortable step ahead of the other. Your body weight should be shifted forward so that about 60 percent is over the front leg — as if facing a strong wind — and your upper body slightly forward or upright, with your weight slightly on the balls of your feet. It will become a simple second-nature act because it matches your body’s natural response to a perceived close physical threat.
Notice that it is stable and that knocking you off-balance would be difficult.
The isosceles stance is unnatural, which brings with it a whole host of issues for almost all shooters.
You can easily rotate in a great arc and move explosively in almost any direction. Should you place your right foot or left foot forward? It doesn’t matter, so adopt whatever is natural for you. I tell students not to think about it but rather to just do it. Some surprise themselves; I can push on them and not disturb them, which helps them realize just how stable they really are in this position.
Now let’s compare the holistic fighting stance to the isosceles stance. If a person correctly executes the isosceles stance, he or she is always on the razor edge of instability. (Most do not execute it correctly.) Your feet should be in line, shoulder-width apart, with your knees slightly bent. You should be leaning forward from the waist, with your arms pushed straight forward. Who stands like that?
The answer is nobody.
Stability is nonexistent, and the slightest push — let alone people careening into you during a real-world encounter — will send you reeling for balance or flat onto your back or face.
Your upper body rotation is severely limited, and forget about moving rapidly in any direction — especially at an angle from where you are. Most shooters begin to lean backward in a misguided (and unsuccessful) attempt to manage recoil, but that is a natural response induced by the isosceles stance itself.
Few maintain the necessary forward upper-body lean.
A great many people devolve from an isosceles into a “Frankenstein” stance: locked knees, locked elbows and an immobile position. Although not intended, that is almost its natural endpoint. To make matters worse, those same people will often shoot with unlocked wrists. A shooter will control his or her pistol like a fisherman has control of a fish on the end of the line: The fish might not get
away, but the individual is hardly in full control of the rod as he or she struggles to reel the fish in.
As shooters push their arms forward in the isosceles stance, watch how many fully extend them, with their elbows turned down and locked. The recoil is now focused entirely on their skeletal frames.
The stance is like the cannons of old in that, when fired, they roll backward out of position and their crews have to haul them back into place for their next shots.
In such a position, a shooter cannot rotate his or her upper body more than about 45 degrees to either side. Combine this inability to observe and engage with the inherent instability and immobility and you realize how poor a fighting stance the isosceles really is. Your body has skeletal, muscular and hydraulic (circulatory) systems that are your natural recoil-management tools if you use them correctly.
At full, locked extension, gun control comes only from the arm muscles, which rapidly fail. Here’s a simple test: Hold a dumbbell fully extended to either the front or side; your arm muscles rapidly get fatigued and fail. Move that weight just halfway back toward your body and it is much easier to maintain control for a much longer time. Now consider that at the end of that locked arm, with overstressed major muscles, you are trying to make small, very controlled movements with a minor digit (your trigger finger) using very minor muscles. The problems continue to compound.
For the holistic fighting stance, after you’ve learned a correct two-handed hold and proper trigger control, hold the handgun with the correct grip directly in front of your chest, with your elbows touching your body. You must have a stable fighting platform. Now, as in the isosceles stance, with both eyes open and your head up, simply push the gun toward the target, but stop the instant your arms want to stop moving. Having a stable fighting platform will make it easy to resist the isosceles stance’s unnatural-but-inevitable inclination to keep pushing your arms out until your elbows lock. Viewed from above, the arms form shallow “V”s, running from the shoulder to the elbow, then back into the gun.
With your stable fighting platform and effective upper body “turret,” you can rapidly turn to observe and engage over 90 degrees in either direction. Simple, small, natural foot movements add to this. As the upper body turns, the inside arm’s elbow naturally bends more and drops down, allowing the turn to continue. Swinging back, the arms smoothly and naturally assume their former positions, or anything in between. Your unlocked elbows and natural weight-forward posture make for effective recoil control and rapid, accurate shooting.
The holistic fighting stance provides rapid, stable, 360-degree rotation and coverage — the opposite of the isosceles stance. Let’s say you are left-foot forward in your stable fighting platform and a deadly threat appears to your right. Your natural body rotation lets you smoothly and easily traverse your upper body 90 degrees to the right.
Need more? Simply pivoting to the right on the balls of your feet lets you turn your stance 90 degrees to the right without disturbing your stability or fast, accurate shooting.
Need to turn completely around? Just a pivot on the ball of your right foot and a short step with your left positions you in the opposite direction from which you started — still stable, still shooting fast and accurately, and still fighting.
Need to go left? Pivot left on the ball of the right foot, make a short, sweeping step with your left foot, and you are still in your stable platform — still shooting effectively, now facing 90 degrees to the left of your original orientation.
At any moment, you can move explosively to another position. It would take at least four people in a defensive
square using the isosceles stance to match what you can do in the holistic fighting stance, and they would still lack your mobility and flexibility. In a deadly force encounter, you must dominate your personal battle space, and the holistic fighting stance provides you with the best chance to do so.
A HOLISTIC STANCE
A more natural stance allows for greater range of movement and higher endurance.
It lends itself to effective instruction because it can easily be taught, understood and practiced one component at a time before bringing them all together. Students find that it is natural and smooth, they tend to quickly grasp it, and they are soon able to execute it well and intuitively — which is exactly what we strive for in effective shooting and tactical response.
Today, the isosceles stance is widely taught and used, and for plenty of very good reasons. When he or she executes it correctly, a shooter can accurately engage targets to the front, and when performed correctly, it is more than enough for most shooting applications. But it is often not performed correctly and, while it seems simple, it requires regular training in order to be effective (and that’s if you have perfectly functioning shoulders). It can suffer from instability, immobility and limited fields of observation and fire, especially if the shooter in question experiences physical limitations. The holistic fighting stance is a system that is in harmony with the body and provides for rapid, accurate shooting and effective response in real-world tactical situations — not just higher scores on the firing line.
FAITHFUL TO THE HI POWER
SPRINGFIELD ARMORY SA-35
A TRIUMPHANT RETURN
Shooters who’ve been seeking a newin-box 9mm Hi Power can finally scratch that itch — and it’s American-made too.
e have to credit Dieudonné Saive with finishing the Hi Power’s design a little less than a decade after John Moses Browning’s death. Since its release in 1935, more than a million FN Herstal Hi Powers have been procured for military use by more than 50 countries. After nearly a 90-year run, FN discontinued the renowned pistol in 2018. But in 2021, Springfield introduced the SA-35, a modern version of the Hi Power, which has great promise both for commercial success and as a personal-defense handgun.
THE HI POWER’S ALLURE
FN Herstal discontinued the Hi Power because it had not been a good seller for many years (perhaps, in part, because its MSRP rose to well over $1,000). There have been quality copies, including the Argentine FM and the Tisas, but neither is readily available. And used FN and Browning models command high prices, so getting hands on a shooter-grade pistol can be difficult
This is not without good reason. The Hi Power is a well-made pistol with good fitting of the barrel, receiver and slide, and its historical significance in conflicts worldwide makes it appealing to collectors. I have seen heavily worn examples but never a Hi Power with a factory defect. One flaw is that the safety in most renditions is too small for rapid manipulation, but late-model versions remedied this by including a larger safety that affords greater purchase.
With such a modification, the speed to an accurate first shot is unrivaled. Combine that with the fact that the Hi Power has proven to be one of the most reliable handguns out there and you’ve got a recipe for an in-demand pistol.
As with the 1911, the SA-35 should be carried “cocked and locked” — hammer back,
safety on. Never attempt to
Whenever a military pistol makes its way into private-citizen hands, the topic of its performance with jacketed hollow-points always pops up. I have fired Second World War Hi Power variants that are completely functional with modern hollow-points. Yes, the Hi Power at one time was criticized for poor reliability with JHPs, but this had more to do with the short 90-grain “Super Vel” rounds and inferior ammunition branded for a major pistol maker than any other attribute of the handgun. With Remington’s JHP, Federal’s 9B and Winchester’s Silvertip, I never experienced a stoppage. Modern loads from Black Hills, Hornady, the Big Three and Speer are reliable in any 9mm handgun.
In all fairness, the Hi Power trigger was seldom very good and was tricky to address, which made for a difficult combination. The sights and safety were too small (save the MKII version).
When properly set up, the pistol is a joy
to use and fire and is a
formidable handgun in every way, but the key there is “when properly set up.” Opening the box was the beginning of the job, not the end.
Springfield Armory has produced the 1911A1 handgun and M1A rifle for many years, both of which have enjoyed an enviable record for reliability and value.
So it is no surprise that the SA-35 —
Springfield’s take on the Hi Power — is a quality product.
The pistol is a single-action handgun, meaning the hammer is cocked as the slide is racked. The user must carry the pistol with the hammer to the rear and the safety on for personal-defense readiness.
A longtime home-ready mode is hammer down on a loaded chamber, but this involves intentionally lowering a pistol’s hammer on a live round when
you do not intend to fire, which is about as unsafe as it sounds — especially when you consider practitioners of this technique are basically never doing so on a firing line but rather in their residences. Carry your single-action pistol as it should be carried: cocked and locked, all safeties engaged, and in a proper holster. No carry condition is safer.
The Springfield SA-35 looks like and operates in an identical fashion to the FN Hi Power. The slide and frame contours are the same. The Hi Power is similar to the earlier Browning-designed 1911 but with no separate barrel bushing, swinging link or grip safety, which makes it simpler to manufacture than the 1911. The trigger action is more difficult to tune than a 1911’s, but it can be accomplished. The new SA-35 gets a nod of approval on faithful design.
The pistol is all steel — as a Hi Power should be — and it has a matte-blued
finish similar in appearance to Springfield’s “Mil-Spec” pistols, with grips of nicely checkered walnut. The barrel, slide and frame are forged, which ensures strength and durability. (Late-model FN Hi Power pistols used a cast frame, which works fine, but forged steel is superior.)
The SA-35’s lockwork is free of metal injection molding (MIM) parts.
BOB REESE AND SPRINGFIELD ARMORY, INC.
Robert Rost Reese, a veteran of the National Guard, took up farming after being discharged in the 1950s. But Reese’s real passion was competitive shooting and guns. He bought surplus firearms from the government arsenal in Rock Island, Illinois, and began to resell them. He took a leap of faith when he took a mortgage out on the farm and acquired a surplus company based in San Antonio, Texas. He loaded two semi-truck trailers with equipment and drove them back to Geneseo, Illinois. Reese; his wife, Carol; and their sons, Dennis, Dave and Tom, established Springfield Armory, Inc. in 1974. He chose to name his company after the famous armory that closed in 1968 after over 150 years of supplying arms to the U.S. Army. The Reeses set up their new business at a former diner and began building M1A rifles from the surplus M14 parts. Fast forward to 2022 and the company now manufacturers high-quality firearms, such as the 1911, SA-35, XD, Hellcat, SAINT AR-15 and more. In April 2021, the company announced it would break ground on a new 200,000-square-foot facility. Reese passed away in 2019, but his son Dennis currently serves as CEO.
— Frank Jastrzembski, Contributing Editor
It would be beyond understatement to say that the modern sight configuration is an improvement over the original. The front sight is a dovetail post, and the “Tactical Rack” rear sight is a considerable improvement over even the late-model Browning MKII-type sights and may be used to rack the slide on a sturdy belt or boot heel. The wedge-type unit uses a U-notch, which makes for rapid acquisition of the sight picture and is the ideal combination for personal-defense use.
The pistol may be fitted with aftermarket grips intended for the original Hi Power, and Hi Power holsters are the same for every Hi Power, including the SA-35. Original Hi Power magazines lock and function as they should, but the Springfield-designed magazines hold 15 rounds rather than the original 13. The mags are manufactured by Mec-Gar, which translates to fit, finish and function.
The extended thumb safety isn’t the size of a gas pedal, but it is much improved over the original and even the MKII types, and the indent is positive.
The hammer isn’t quite true to the Hi
Power design, but this is a positive, as the improved geometry prevents “hammer bite” on the web of the hand.
The majority of Browning Hi Powers feature a magazine safety — unless it was specifically removed to meet contract requirements — which will not allow them to fire without a magazine inserted and seated. Such a safety sometimes interfered with a good trigger pull. The SA-35 has no such device, and the trigger is among the best I have experienced, breaking at a relatively clean 4.9 pounds.
TO THE LINE
Though a 34-ounce 9mm doesn’t kick much, the SA-35 seems to recoil more than the polymer-frame guns.
That is simply the nature of the beast.
However, it will be more accurate in fast combat shooting in trained hands.
Before I received the pistol, I ordered a Bullard Leather IWB holster for this assessment. I carried the pistol under a concealed carry vest during the initial drills, and it cleared leather quickly and got on target fast. It balances well and doesn’t have the heft of the 1911 or the blocky feel in hand of a Glock. Draw, push the pistol toward the target, and engage. I was able to remove the X-ring at 7 yards with the sample I evaluated.
I alternated 124- and 147-grain Federal American Eagle loads during the test with no problems on either end of the spectrum. The pistol never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject, and loading the SA-35 magazine and several Mec-Gar magazines on hand wasn’t difficult.
The advantage of the SA-35 is partly due to excellent hand fit to a wide swath of the shooting public’s hands and the crisp, straight-to-the-rear trigger action. Between that and the fact that this pistol is carried cocked and locked, with only a thumb safety that must be disengaged before firing, it is brilliantly fast to an accurate first shot.
The cavernous mag well and tapered magazine make magazine changes fast and easy, and all of this combines to leave the Hi Power with few peers in the hands of a trained shooter.
To test for absolute accuracy, I settled into the MTM Case Gard K-Zone shooting rest, which is a fine piece of gear that removes a great deal of human error and allows a trained shooter to discharge firearms right up to their true potential. I tested three loads at 25 yards with five-shot groups — Federal 124-grain HST, Federal 124-grain American Eagle and Speer 147-grain Gold Dot — and accuracy was consistent, with the Speer load cutting a 2.25-inch group, the American Eagle load a 2.5-inch group and the HST a very nice 2-inch average. This is accurate enough for any chore.
REIMAGINED FOR MODERN USE
Cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and technology are incorporated in this classic design. Though some were likely skeptical at first blush, Hi Power aficionados will be pleased with the SA-35. And so will new shooters who desire to have a piece of history that is still practical to carry nearly 90 years after it was first introduced.
TEACHING AND PRACTICING POCKET CARRY
Without a doubt, the most convenient way to go armed at home or concealed in public is with a gun in the pocket.
Though often not thought of initially, convenience is one of the primary considerations for concealed carry. If donning a gun and going on your way isn’t as simple as pocketing your wallet, keys or phone, an excuse not to carry will invariably evolve over time.
While the objective of shooting is hitting your target, teaching or participating in a concealed carry class specifically focused on pocket carry emphasizes the handling aspects of the gun — with safety being at the top of the list. Realistically speaking, an individual considering pocket carry should be an individual with some experience in the foundational skills of shooting, including marksmanship and safe gun-handling.
Unfortunately though, when an individual is inserting and removing a handgun into and out of a pocket, there is a high likelihood of the gun’s muzzle covering body parts that he or she would rather not have shot.
Taking it a step further, when a person is seated, walking up or down stairs, reaching for something high on a store shelf, or bending over to pick something up, the gun’s muzzle is likely to violate the “laser” rule to which many of us adhere: In essence,
if an individual is adamant that the muzzle of a gun should never point at anything that he or she wouldn’t want to destroy, he or she should reconsider attending a pocket-carry class.
Perhaps a better option for such an individual is to find a way to carry concealed using another method.
A POCKET HOLSTER IS EXCELLENT FOR BREAKING UP A HANDGUN’S OUTLINE. A GOOD ONE WILL KEEP THE GUN POSITIONED PROPERLY FOR ACCESS WHEN IT’S NEEDED.
However, with the very popular inside-the-waistband appendix carry or belly-band carry (among many other examples), the muzzle of the gun “covers” body parts almost continuously.
It’s an undeniable fact that an individual must compromise if he or she is going to carry a gun in the appendix location, in a pocket, in a belly band or even on the hip while conducting daily activities.
When one considers that a quality, well-maintained gun will not fire without its trigger being pressed all the way to the rear, the aversion to where the muzzle might be pointing should lessen. Understanding how a trigger operates mechanically in a pistol and a revolver, as well as the internal passive safety systems with which each is equipped, will satisfy many of the reservations a user might have.
Such an education leads to an increased interest in the triggers on various pocket-carry handguns. This is also usually when the manual-safety discussion happens. These concerns could be offset by the pistol or revolver in question being equipped with a double-action-only or otherwise long, heavy trigger mechanism (such as the KelTec P3AT in the SwapRig CargoPack II holster at left).
Practically every snub-nosed revolver is double-action-capable, and many semi-automatic pistols have that option as well. The longer, heavier initial double-action pull makes it less likely that the firearm will be discharged during administrative handling.
If an individual wants to be absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt sure the pistol won’t fire when he or she is reholstering or handling it, a mechanical safety that the user consciously operates can see to that. And although there may be concerns as to where the muzzle points when he or she is carrying concealed, addressing those issues by strongly considering the trigger and mechanical safeties should help most any pocket carrier allay those worries.
THE RULES REMAIN THE SAME
When instructing on or training in pocket carry, the same basic rules apply no matter where the gun is being carried.
The primary rule is that an average observer cannot determine that a gun is present on your person. Concealed carry, by definition, means that others don’t know you have a gun on you, regardless of its location, unless you somehow make them aware of it.
As such, the outline of your gun must not be distinguishable when you’re carrying in a pocket. The cut of your clothing, the depth of the pocket and the location of that pocket all contribute to the gun’s concealment.
Loose-fitting clothing makes it easier to conceal a gun and any accessories that might go with it. The pocket must be deep enough that no part of the gun shows out the top. And although most people think of the dominant-side front pocket as the ideal carry location, a cargo pocket or back pocket offers a good option in the right circumstances.
A pocket holster is excellent for breaking up a handgun’s outline, and a good one will keep the gun positioned properly for access when it’s needed. A pocket holster also protects the trigger from being pulled inadvertently and protects the gun from pocket lint and other material that tends to collect there. And a good pocket holster helps with retention in a physical confrontation by keeping the gun stable in the pocket until it’s needed.
In addition to concealment and retention, access and recovery are absolute essentials when you’re carrying concealed. The pocket is one of the most difficult carry locations from which to draw, and if you’re in any position other than standing, the draw is tenuous at best. The physical characteristics of the carrier heavily influence the efficiency of the draw from the pocket.
Recovery to the carry location can be equally as challenging for some of the same reasons. Recovery to the pocket should be done deliberately and with conscious thought to ensure the trigger is protected from contact with anything that would cause the gun to discharge. Ideally, the holster should be removed from the pocket for reholstering.
KEEP AT IT
When training on pocket carry, the instructor — as well as the students — will find that there are many compromises to address, which differ from conventional everyday carry methods. It is prudent to initially practice any pocket-carry handling techniques using dry-fire — slowly and deliberately for safety. Once a student is fully familiarized with the necessary manipulations to comfortably carry in a pocket, the convenience factor will go a long way to ensuring the gun is there when the need arises.