WARNING: The following article is not a substitute for training from a qualified firearms instructor. It is intended to offer advice, from one firearms instructor to another, as to what basic training techniques they may wish to consider when training students to defend themselves with a handgun when facing an attacker armed with an edged weapon. (See note 1 at end of this article)


 This February will mark my 45th year in the Pekiti-Tirsia system of Filipino martial arts. In addition, for over 30 years I worked as a New York State Court Officer and spent several of those years as a defensive tactics and firearms instructor for my department.

Having said that, my guess is that very little here will be new to most experienced combat firearms instructors. Therefore, think of this article as my suggestions to my fellow firearms instructors on how to decide which tools you should pull from your toolbox first, when teaching LEOs and CCW citizens basic handgun defenses against a knife, coming from someone with long experience in both types of weapons.

Here are the subjects I will cover in this article:

HOW TO STAND: One common stance is shared across all fighting platforms; empty hand, baton, firearm.

WHERE TO LOOK: Once things go bad, look at the heart or hips, not the eyes.

WHAT TO SAY: “Police! Don’t Move!” for LEOs  or “Knife! Drop the Knife!” for civilians.

WHERE TO SHOOT FIRST: The first shot fired against a knife attacker should be into the pelvis and then work your way up from there as needed.

HOW TO MOVE: How to step (and not step) forward, back, right and left.

 Note: I’m going to use simple terms like Right and Left and Him instead of They to keep things easy for me (I’m retired, so it’s my prerogative.) Besides lefties are used to doing the translation in their heads, so it should not be a problem.


Here is how I teach a basic shooting stance. It is based on these principles:

1.  As much as possible, keep your main fighting stance the same across all your weapon platforms; empty hands, impact weapon and handgun.

2.  Keep a slight forward lean when in this stance. This will help prevent misses above the target and help keep the shooter’s balance during the stress of the fight. (See note 2)

I start my teaching of the shooting stance by beginning with the empty hand defensive stance. Start with the student in an interview stance, weapon side back, with their feet about shoulder width apart, or about the distance of their normal walking step.

Students should be turned about 45 degrees to the opponent. Here’s why. Obviously, if you stand facing the opponent, with your shoulders and hips parallel with his (i.e. "square"), your groin and centerline of your body are open to attack from the opponent directly in front of you.

However, if you turn 90 degrees to the opponent and have your side facing him, this will leave your kidneys and spine more open to attack.

A practical compromise is the 45 degree stance, as this gives balanced protection to the centerline and groin in the front of the body and to the spine and kidneys at the back. If possible, have your lead shoulder in front of the opponent’s centerline, as this will put your weapon even farther away from him.


To move into a defensive stance for empty hand defense, raise your arms so that your fists are up guarding your head, with the knuckles level with your forehead (this has your hands a bit higher than a boxing guard, but a sport boxer does not have to worry about getting stabbed in the eye with a knife and in the street you do). Another difference from a standard boxing stance is that I prefer that the student keep both feet flat in a street fight. This helps maintain their balance and keep them on their feet if struck unexpectedly.



As your arms are going up, your weapon side foot should move back about 6 to 12 inches.

Why are you moving the weapon side foot back, instead of sliding the lead foot forward?

1.  It puts the weapon on your hip 6 to 12 inches farther away from the opponent.

2.  You have already walked over this ground and should have knowledge of any obstacles that are present immediately behind you.

3.  When training a group of new shooters on the range, this footwork means their heads and chests are more likely to stay on the line and not move downrange. (Remember, we want one stance for all weapons platforms. Our people have enough to worry about during a fight without them having to remember “Is this my empty hand stance, or my baton stance or my handgun stance?”) 



Your baton stance is simply the empty hand stance with the baton gripped firmly in your dominant hand. (More on how I train police baton in my next article)



I begin training the shooting stance starting from the empty hand defensive stance. I first have the student rotate his shoulders and put his right fist out, as if he has just thrown a right cross. The arm should be at no more than 90 to 95 percent of full extension, so the elbow joint can better absorb impact during a punch or recoil during shooting.  I then slap or push his fist and ask them to decide in what position their legs feel the most solid and secure (this will determine how far back he puts his right foot). The position your legs and torso take should resemble the stance you would have if shooting a 12 gauge pump action shotgun or a high powered rifle. This stance is especially helpful for new shooters and small statured students, who may be intimidated by the recoil of a firearm.





The next step in the shooting stance is to turn the fist to the vertical position.


The final steps are to grip the right fist with the left hand, first with no handgun in the right hand and then with either an inert training weapon or a weapon made safe and visually and physically double checked just before use and while on the line. I like to push on the fist once more at this point to reinforce where their stance needs to be for good balance and to have a stable and consistent firing platform.


 After the shooting stance is taught, it's time to teach the draw from either the on-duty or concealed carry holster. (This assumes a right side carry). 

READY STANCE: This is the first version of the draw I teach. This was chosen because I believe it is a relatively safer version to teach to those who have never had defensive handgun training before. (Most of the recruits coming into the NY state court academy were completely new to shooting and had never even held a real handgun until their first day of firearms training. I'm sure firearms trainers in red states will have had a much different experience with their students).

Photo 1 in this section shows the gun after it has been drawn from the holster. Note how the left hand is in contact with the abdomen, (this indexing on the body helps keep the left hand from being put in front of the muzzle during the draw). Also notice how the forefinger is kept out of the trigger guard until the decision to fire has been made and the firearm is on target. 


Photo 2 shows the side and top views of the pistol being brought up and pushed forward so that the muzzle is downrange and beyond all parts your body.


Photo 3 shows a low-ready position. After the pistol has come forward, the left hand moves to wrap around the fingers under the trigger guard. The left forearm is across the front of the abdomen, while the right forearm is closer to the right side. Consider the low-ready position as a draw that is done before a decision to fire has been made. I also teach this as a good way to draw a pistol before securing it for the evening. Practice this draw slowly and smoothly

To reholster, simply reverse the motion of both arms, left hand moving back first,  returning to its position on the abdomen. After this, the pistol retracts to a position above the holster and then is secured back into the holster.

The draw to the low-ready position can be done from the interview stance, so that only the upper body is moving. 


Photo 4 is a draw to a combat ready, two hand position. It comes from the same start of the draw from the holster as the low-ready position, but this time the left and right hands meet at the centerline of the body.  The muzzle is pointed downrange, level with your elbows. When seen from above, the forearms form close to an equilateral triangle. The handgun can then be pushed forward into the full shooting stance from here, (but if needed, it can be fired as soon as the muzzle is on target). As the arms are pushed forward, the right leg is moved back 6 to 12 inches into the shooting stance. 


Photo 5 shows the next draw I teach, after the student has become proficient with the basics. This is a one handed, close quarters draw. The photo shows the position if the pistol were drawn from an exposed holster, such as a police duty holster. If the pistol was drawn from concealment under clothing, then the pistol should be turned sideways with the palm-side up, to help prevent the slide catching on clothing. Also notice that the fingers of the left hand are touching the side of the head. This indexing on the head helps prevent the left arm from coming in front of the muzzle during firing. 

I usually teach this draw after the basics have been well understood by a student and they can move smoothly and safely through the draw techniques already taught them. 



 When things are about to go bad, stop looking into the opponent’s eyes and look at the heart or hips. Why do I say this?

In the late 80s and early 90s, I was one of the DT instructors at the NY State Court Officers Academy. During that time the NYPD academy would regularly send us their annual “use of force” report and give us other info on their department. One of the things that caught my attention was how common it was for bullet holes to be found in the second story windows behind bad guys who got into firefights with NYPD officers.

The explanation I received was a combination of three possibilities:

1. The officers often were looking at the face/eyes of the opponent when about to fire and therefore, they had a tendency to shoot high if they missed.

2. During the stress of the gunfight, most officers were firing as fast as they could, and this caused them to ride the recoil of the handgun upwards and therefore, they had a tendency to shoot high if they missed. 

3. Some officers were backpedaling during the fight and therefore, they had a tendency to shoot high if they missed.

At the start of a conflict it is instinctive to look a potential opponent in the eyes to try and assess if they are a danger to you. However, when you do perceive him to be an actual threat to your safety, this tends to bring out an emotional response on your part. This emotion may be anger or it may be fear, but in either case, raised emotions cause stress and stress can cause tunnel vision, (i.e. a loss of peripheral vision). This is partly why the US army now trains their snipers to aim for the heart instead of between the eyes. From the sniper’s point of view, this turns a living, breathing human being into just a human shaped silhouette and helps remove emotion from the equation.



Basic two hand shooting at range:

Note: That phrase "at range" is relative. The average police gunfire in the US occurs at an average of 7 yards; meanwhile the average gunfight in NYC for NYPD officers is 7 feet. Back when I was reading NYPD use of force reports, the hit ratio for gunfights for NYPD personnel at that average 7 foot range was 20 percent.

I remember an incident many years ago during which a NYC transit cop emptied his 6 shot revolver and a bad guy his 15 shot 9mm at each other at a distance of 6 feet and the only hit was one round into the bad guy from the officer. 

For the purposes of this article, I would define long range as being where the bad guy can't cut your hands when extended in a shooting stance; middle range is where he can cut your hands but not your body, and close range is where he can cut your body. I consider both middle range and close range defenses, such as close quarters one hand shooting-especially against an armed attacker- to be advanced techniques and therefore outside the scope of this article, which is focused on basics. When I have taught advanced gun vs knife, it is to instructors with experience in both firearms training and FMA knife work.

Let's return now to the basics of where to look when using a handgun vs an armed opponent.



This is how much of the waist area and hands you may see if you aim at the chest.



This is how much of the waist area and hands you may see if you aim at the pelvis.

When using a two hand grip with a handgun, I recommend that you look at the opponent’s pelvis, while either aiming at the pelvis, or keeping the handgun in the low ready position aimed just below his feet; meanwhile still keeping the firearm within your field of view. Why? Because if you aim at center mass (upper chest/heart) with most two hand firing stances, you stand a good chance of blocking your own view of your attacker’s waistline, which is where he may have a weapon concealed.

 In the empty hand or baton stances you usually don’t have this problem, because your forearms are positioned in a rectangle with an open space between them that does not block your view of the opponent. In both the empty hand and baton stances, I recommend that the students look at the opponent’s chest or heart area. This allows you to keep an eye on the opponent’s hands and waist area, while still helping to avoid tunnel vision. In addition, lowering the gaze to the either heart or hip level (instead of the eyes), also helps widen your peripheral vision, so you can see more of your surroundings.



Vocal commands: “Police! Don’t Move!” for LEOs and “Knife! Drop the Knife!” for civilians.

Departmental policy for most law enforcement agencies in the U.S. dictates that officers shout a warning (when possible) of “Police! Don’t Move!” when drawing their weapon.

When I teach civilians basic pistol shooting, the command I teach is “Knife! Drop the Knife!” (or whatever weapon it is at the time).

I like to teach each of these commands as two separate sentences, with a single word as the first sentence. Why? Because I’ve seen reports of people trying to finish the complete sentence before firing, despite the need for speed to counter an attack. Conversely, some people have difficulty with two things going on in their minds during an emergency and try to pay equal attention to both, when one should take priority. 

Therefore, I want students to yell out a single word as a stand alone sentence first, before delivering the rest of the command. For civilians, that should be naming the weapon that their attacker is armed with. In the legal aftermath of a lethal force event, you want any witnesses present to look for and see the item that is causing you to take action. For LEOs, that first word tells witnesses who you are; (which is of great importance when you are taking action while in plain clothes or off duty and an on duty officer who does not know you is nearby).

Only if you have time, then your next sentence should be the remainder of the command; “Don’t Move!” for LEOs and “Drop the Knife/Weapon!” for civilians.



 I believe the first shot against an attacker armed with an edged weapon charging at you from a distance should be in the pelvis.  Even if you do not break a bone or sever a major nerve, shooting into the pelvis should slow him down enough to allow time for the next shot, if this is needed. If you do miss the pelvis on that first shot, you are likely to miss high; which should still hit within the torso of the attacker. In addition, the first part of the torso that your firearm will cover when drawn from a strong side holster will be the pelvis, which should mean a quicker shot on target under stress. The first time I heard this recommendation was in the early 1980s from a police firearms instructor in Texas, who was also a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. This was before I became an officer myself and had access to the info I had at the NYS court academy, but everything I have learned in the years since first hearing this confirms that it was wise advice. 



 When moving forward or backwards over short distances, use the shuffle or sliding step. This helps reduce the chance of tripping over objects on the ground and keeps you in a good shooting stance.

I’ve seen too many videos of officers trying to backpedal when attacked by a knife wielding opponent and they all lost their shooting stance, and therefore, their control and accuracy, in the process. Far too many end up tripping and falling onto their backs, while the attacker is slashing and stabbing at their legs and groin. Therefore, don’t backpedal, instead shuffle or slide step for short distances and run when you have to move far. (Note: Even on a slowly advancing opponent, moving more than a step or two backwards while under stress is difficult to do reliably.  If you are have the space to move laterally, this is a safer direction than backwards. See the next section for this.)

A shuffle or slide step to the rear is done by sliding the rear leg back so you have a longer stance, then the front leg is brought in with the same sliding step so that the original distance of the stance is recovered. The feet are never crossed with this type of step and you should have less likelihood of tripping, since you are passing over ground that you have already covered. To shuffle step forward, simply move the front leg forward first, then the rear foot recovers the distance to regain the stance.

One thing everyone who may use the shuffle step for a "tactical retreat" should know is how fast backwards can they move and do so without falling. This also means you should know how fast an opponent can walk towards you, before your shuffle step no longer makes sense and it's time to turn and run. The first step to knowing this is to test your time in a turn and short run. Here's a short drill for this:

Stand in a shooting stance and facing your training partner.

Have your partner stand two or three steps away from you in a fighting stance.

On the "go" signal, you turn and run and your partner runs towards you trying to touch your back with their fingertips. If they do touch you, restart the drill with them farther away. If they do not touch you, restart the drill with them closer.

If you do this drill with a wide variety of people of different heights and physical conditions, it it help you learn how to judge a person's potential foot speed at a glance.

The goal in this drill is two fold: one is to know how long it takes you to turn and run and the other is to know how long it takes your partner to quickly close the distance between you. This knowledge will help you understand when it's time to stop a shuffle step back and to turn and run.


Moving right or left:

When you need to move laterally to one side or the other, then use a normal walking step and face in the direction you are moving. You are far less likely to trip and fall when walking this way. However, while there is no difference in how your legs move when walking right or left, there should be a difference in the shooting position with your upper body.



When moving to my right, I like to bring my hands into a position somewhere between a low ready and a classic Weaver stance. The point to keep in mind with this position is to keep your arms close to you, so that you reduce the chance of bumping your weapon on an obstacle. This position also makes it more difficult for a bad guy to disarm you. In addition, without your arms stretched out, you will have better balance while moving, and can see more of the ground and any items there that you might trip over. You can use a version of this position, if you have to run at full speed, by bringing your hands to your center, with the muzzle pointed about 45 degrees off to your left. Keeping your forearms tucked tight against your ribs and parallel with the ground while running will help keep the muzzle pointed away from your left arm, body or head. 


When moving to my left, I like the classic one arm 45 degree position; with one small adjustment. In this position, I will use my left fist as a spacer, tucked tightly between my cheek and my shoulder. This really helps stabilize my right arm and gives me noticeably better groups when shooting from this position. When moving, simply look forward, while leaving your left fist on or near your shoulder.

If you need to shoot, simply turn your cheek back to your fist and shoulder, which should have remained on target. Think of this like the process of shouldering a rifle, but your right arm is the rifle and your left fist is the adjustable cheek weld you see on fancy target rifle stocks.

When moving laterally, your instinct will still be to keep your eyes on the opponent, rather than on the path ahead. But if you practice walking using peripheral vision, you can learn to do both; for at least the few steps needed to give you some room to turn fully and run.

Here's a drill for this skill. In an open and safe area, pick a fixed object 90 degrees from your path. Next pick a spot to look on the ground between that object and your path-roughly 45 degrees or so. (Remember, lowering your gaze helps to spread the angle of your peripheral vision.) Now walk slowly along the path while trying to keep both the object to your side and the route in front of you within your field of vision. Since the average human field of view is about 135 degrees, you will only get a few steps before you begin to loose sight of your opponent. That's your signal to turn and run towards cover. Think of this as a transition drill. It bridges the gap between looking at the bad guy and looking where you are going, in a smooth transition that keeps both items on your radar screen.  

Another tip for better accuracy while moving is to bend you knees slightly while you walk. This is important, as it helps keep your eyes at the same level as you move. If you head is bobbing up and down (as it does to a degree in normal walking), your brain has to recalculate the distance to the target with each step.

If you keep your head at the same height while moving, then you are giving your brain one less thing to worry about during a fight.

You see tactical teams move like this when going through a building and many martial arts do the same while closing the distance on an opponent, and for the same reason; to give themselves more accuracy when trying to hit a target.


My last point is about a training drill I saw several years ago on video. It was a version of the Tueller drill in which the officer's Simunitions trainer was already drawn and aimed at a fixed distance on the ground. (Since the training gun was already drawn, I'm assuming this was less than the distance normally used in the Tueller drill).  The "bad guy" was a few yards beyond the aim point of the officer and armed with a rubber knife. On the go signal, the bad guys walks forward while the officer shouts commands. If the bad guy ignores the officer's commands and crosses the "red line" the officer fires. 

The drill as I saw it might not fit in well in all jurisdictions, but I did like the general concept. It has the potential to teach an officer to measure distance accurately and can help train to make decisions under stress in real time. 


Train hard, but train smart,

Tuhon Bill McGrath



1. If you are not a firearms instructor and would like training on the subjects discussed in this article, please consult your local Police/Sheriff Dept or NRA certified firearms instructor. You should ask them to read this article and consider which techniques discussed here will fit within your local laws and regulations. I want to emphasize though that the techniques outlined here are just my suggestions for the basics of training and it is up to your local instructor to conform this information to your local needs, laws, regulations and departmental polices.

2. When you smile, your brain releases “feel good” chemicals called endorphins that elevate your mood, and when you frown your brain releases a chemical called cortisol that depresses your mood. Something similar goes on with your fighting stance. Remember that “fight or flight” instinct we all have? Leaning forward signals your brain to go into fight mode, while leaning back signals your brain to go into flight mode.