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Imagine you’re new to firearms and want to be armed for self-defense. You’re probably wondering which gun to buy, what type of holster you need, and what kind of ammunition would be best. Some will argue the gun is the most important element because it must work every time. Others will insist the holster matters most because if you’re uncomfortable carrying, you won’t carry. And then there are those who maintain that ammunition is paramount because ultimately, it’s the bullet that does all the work. Without question, all these items are important and can contribute to your survival, but what is most important?

The Combat Triad

Former Marine Jeff Cooper founded what is now known as Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, in 1976. It is the oldest and largest civilian firearms training school in the world. In an effort to codify the basics of using a firearm to survive a lethal confrontation, Cooper established what he called the Combat Triad. This triangle of guidance consists of mindset, gun handling, and marksmanship. Though the three sides of the triangle are considered equilateral, the base or foundation of the Triad is mindset, for without the combat mindset, your skills and abilities with weaponry and tactics are of little value.

Defensive Drill with Wounded Shooter
Having the proper mindset will help be prepared for and even avoid bad situations. It will also allow you to fight to the end no matter what. Richard Mann

Mindset

Your awareness, anticipation, concentration, coolness, and self-control are part of your mindset. With the proper mindset you will not be caught off guard. You will be able to unleash your inner monster in order to prevail upon your antagonist. With the proper mindset you’re prepared to win. To stay alive and fight – kicking, clawing, and screaming – until you’ve expended your last breath. It also means you’re prepared to act in a manner that, while not with malice, could ultimately result in the death of your attacker.

The proper mindset for self-defense is not something you can get from a book or purchase online; it’s a state of mind that must be matured. Good marksmanship and gun handling contribute to the proper mindset because they breed the confidence that you have the necessary physical skills to deal with an attack. The employment of a handgun for self-defense is nothing more than an extension of your will; you fight with your mind; the handgun is just a tool you use.

Steel target handgun self defense shooting drill
Marksmanship matters. Delivering fast and accurate fire is necessary to stop a threat. Richard Mann

Gun Handling

Gun Handling deals with skill at arms. It encompasses your ability to swiftly access and present your defensive handgun into the fight. It concerns your ability to keep your handgun operational; you must be able to reload when necessary as well as efficiently and effectively deal with any malfunctions or stoppages that might occur. But safety is part of gun handling as well. It represents your commitment to being a responsible gun owner who does not endanger others while handling a firearm, and it deals storing the handgun so that it’s secure from unwanted access.

Can you present your handgun to the target in less than a second and a half? Can you conduct a reload in two seconds or clear a stoppage in three? Can you holster the handgun safely or move in a crowd without pointing the gun at innocent people? These are all elements of gun handling. 

Marksmanship

Simply explained, marksmanship is the ability to maintain the proper sight alignment while the trigger is pressed. If done correctly, the bullet lands exactly where you want it to. But as it relates to self-defense, marksmanship it is much more than that. Marksmanship is the ability to shoot with speed while under enormous stress. It’s not about trick shooting or little groups, it’s about being able to hurriedly deliver single or multiple shots into an attacker’s lethal zone. Marksmanship is not about how well you can shoot on your best day; it’s about how you will shoot on demand, when the stakes are at the highest.

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Can you execute a critical-zone hit at five yards, from the holster, in less than two seconds? Deliver a head shot at 10 yards in three seconds or less? Can you fire an accurate double tap or perform the failure drill with two good torso hits and one to the head? These are basic marksmanship benchmarks that should be your goal.

Combat Triad Jeff Cooper self defense expert
When it comes to self-defense, The Combat Triad is what’s most important. Richard Mann

Building the Triangle

If you’re aware that when it comes to survival you are your own first responder, you have taken the first step in the development of the correct mindset. Acquiring a firearm and related gear is often the next step. This should be followed by the training you need to develop the skills of gun handling and marksmanship, because they provide the confidence and foundation you need to help cultivate the proper mindset to fight and survive.

While guns, holsters, and ammunition, are a part of the self-defense equation – the parts that often get the most attention – they are a distant second to what is most important and that’s the Combat Triad. Built it and develop it; make it your aim.

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