By Ari Kandel, 4th degree Guided Chaos

A critical aspect of self-defense using a handgun that is neglected by most trainers and unknown to most students is the dynamic of movement inherent in most deadly self-defense situations. This gap in understanding and training can spell the difference between hitting and missing, living and dying in a deadly force incident.

To begin to understand the context in which most civilian self-defense incidents occur, consider what the armed citizen is attempting to defend against: criminal predation, in the form of violent robbery, assault, kidnapping, rape and thrill killing. (We’ll leave aside for now the far less common incidents of terrorism and spree killing.) All of these forms of predation take place at what most would consider intimate proximity, and initiate from arms’ length distance, or at most across a room of a dwelling or business. Criminals do not typically announce their intentions and charge from 25 or even 7 yards away over a wide open field. Recidivist offenders become very good at using subterfuge and circumstances to close with and corner their selected prey before initiating the assault, giving the victim little to no space and time to escape or counter.

If you are aware enough, and your attackers are blatant enough that you see them coming from some distance away, consider yourself lucky. This is typically the scenario where you have a chance to escape or, failing that, the time and space to dissuade your uninvited guests with a verbal warning and/or some very clear body language, to include possibly accessing your weapon. Only the most insane, desperate or dedicated criminals would press their attack at this point. Many will abort simply if they perceive you are aware of their nefarious intentions before they can make it into your personal space.


If you’re forced to stop an attack via physical means, it will be in the context of the violent crime being committed: close, sudden, fast, spastic and chaotic—VIOLENT. The movement dynamic of violent crime is not leisurely, predictable or smooth. Violent criminals are fighting to intimidate, overpower, control, injure and/or kill you. You have to fight to stop them. It’s a FIGHT. When was the last real fight you saw where someone stood still or moved slowly or predictably?

Now consider whether those real fights you saw had truly lethal intent behind them. The higher the stakes and the greater the risks, the more visceral, instinctive, chaotic, spastic, fast and unpredictable the movement becomes. Nothing raises the stakes more abruptly than the introduction of a deadly weapon or two.
Of course, all this assumes that your mindset is such (whether via training or character or both) that you do not “freeze” in panic, denial or indecision in the critical moment—a topic for a different article, important as it is.
Most people with an interest in self-defense these days have at least passing familiarity with the “fight or flight” response, a/k/a the “adrenaline dump,” and the physiological effects it has on the body within a couple heartbeats of the perception of a serious threat.

In a simplified nutshell:

The amygdala, a portion of the brain responsible for identifying threatening stimuli, among other tasks related to emotions, detects a serious threat. It engages the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the portion of the autonomic, or automatic/involuntary, network of nerves throughout the body responsible for "activating" the body for action. The SNS, acting in part on various areas of the endocrine system (including the adrenal glands which secrete the hormone epinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline), immediately brings about the set of physiological changes collectively known as the "fight or flight" response.

  • - Increased heart and respiratory rates, increasing supply of oxygen to body
  • - Constriction of arteries, increasing blood pressure
  • - Release of fatty acids, glucose reserves and clotting agents into blood stream, increasing available energy and reducing bleeding
  • - Increased blood flow to vital organs and major muscle groups, improving performance of gross motor movements such as (real) fighting and running, while potentially worsening performance of fine motor skills such as knitting, calling 9-1-1 and eloquent speaking (significant when considering verbal de-escalation plans—well rehearsed single syllable words are best)
  • - Suspension of reproductive and digestive system activity (experienced as feeling of tightness in abdomen), reducing need to allocate body resources to functions not vital for immediate survival
  • - Decreased perception of pain
  • - Pupil dilation, increasing visual sensitivity
  • - Increased sweating, related to the cardiovascular changes
  • - Increased visual processing rate, causing "slow motion" perception
  • - Tunnel vision, extreme exclusive threat focus
  • - Increased muscle tonus (“pre-tensioning”), readying the large muscle groups for explosive action, often experienced as “shaking knees”
Rarely are all of these possible symptoms experienced or recalled at the same time, but at least several of them are usually obvious during moments of danger.


Some self-defense trainers talk about “overcoming” the adrenaline dump through repetitive training. Their idea seems to be that practice in a sterile, non-violent environment will enable the student to go against his instincts and stand tall, focus on the front sight and squeeze off a rhythmic series of shots to stop a gang of violent attackers. Or, the student should be expected to recall and execute a pattern of predetermined unarmed self-defense techniques when suddenly faced with violent chaos.

Think for a moment about how well that image matches up with the context of violent crime we just discussed...

Effective self-defense training needs to not only account for, but fully leverage the actual movement dynamics and physiological conditions inherent in actual interpersonal deadly violence.

It’s happening at beating/stabbing/raping/robbing/threatening/home invading/murdering range, which is usually quite a bit less than 7 yards, and often far closer than what many trainers call “contact distance”. (Note that in 2012 an FBI review of nearly 200 agent-involved shootings during a 17-year period found that 75% of incidents involved suspects who were within 3 yards of agents when shots were exchanged. Further note that the average distance for law enforcement shootings should be greater than for non-law-enforcement incidents, due to the different circumstances and missions.) Sometimes it’s too close to even throw conventional punches. Sometimes it’s on the ground, or sitting, or kneeling, or somewhere in-between. Sometimes it’s in enclosed space. Distance can change drastically in split seconds, not the 1.5 seconds of the “Tueller Drill/21-foot drill,” which was originally intended only to illustrate the true danger of hand-held weapons to handgun-equipped police officers. It is not a training drill, nor an example of a likely self-defense scenario or how to handle it.

Movement is instinctive, fast, spastic, chaotic, unpredictable and adrenaline-fueled. Humans move quickly during violence. Humans move VERY quickly when faced with deadly violence! Trained or not, as deadly violence gets very close and immediately imminent, the subconscious tends to take over (indeed the conscious mind often does not have enough time to fully perceive what’s happening) and do some basic, evolutionarily adaptive things that have kept humans alive for millennia. We focus intently on threats and square our binocular vision to them to gather maximum information. We drop our center of gravity and crouch to offer a smaller target and gain balance and coiling to move explosively. We recoil, lean and move away from threatening things, protecting especially our eyes and throat area. Enemy muzzles, often described by gunfight survivors as appearing impossibly large due to adrenaline-fueled threat focus, are obvious threats that the body naturally attempts to move away from in close quarters. We naturally try to swat away threatening objects to keep them away from our vital organs. This is the mechanism behind the many “defensive wounds” usually found on knife attack victims. The large majority of cuts and stabs is usually sustained on the hands and arms, the result of this natural instinct to swat away danger.

All of this happens at what we call “adrenaline speed.” No matter how fast or slow you normally are, within the limits of your muscles and nervous system, the fight or flight response makes you (and your attackers) move at maximum speed, which you can approximate as the speed and suddenness with which your hand would withdraw from a gas stove top that is unexpectedly turned on.

Untrained or improperly trained people can often appear awkward and clumsy in this state. The adrenaline fueled body can move more quickly and explosively than the person’s balance can control, challenging the person’s ability to remain standing and effective. The limbs can move so quickly that body coordination and efficiency are compromised. The primed large muscles may strain inefficiently against superior force, reducing mobility.


Hopefully now you can understand why even supposedly well trained (in conventional marksmanship) shooters can be seen on dashboard and security cameras reverting to crouching, spastic backpedalling and “dodging” and single-handed cyclic rate unsighted shooting when faced with an enemy muzzle or blade at near contact distance. Their subconscious reactions to the immediately imminent lethal threat don’t allow them to attain a static, upright stance and focus on the front sight. Just as the body would instinctively try to avoid a thrown object or strike, it focuses on and tries to avoid an enemy weapon being brought to bear. Two hands often can't be brought to the handgun as practiced because the non-weapon hand is outstretched or moving to help maintain balance during this fast ballistic avoidance motion, or is being used to shield against or disrupt the threat. The instinctive urge to gather maximum information about the imminent threat keeps the eyes focused on the threat and actually discourages the body from doing anything that would block the view of the threat, such as raising the gun or any other object into the eyes’ central field of view. The result of such a disparity between training and actual combat conditions is unfortunately predictable: combat ineffectiveness, lots of missed shots, and in some cases, the injury or death of the combatant.

There is little question that the best shooting and training methods to optimize speed and accuracy in the absence of any combative context are those used by the top action competition shooters. The modern isosceles shooting stance and vision techniques centered around a continuum of soft to hard front sight focus clearly wins matches designed to test shooting speed, accuracy, athleticism and planning. Certain aspects of these methods can also be helpful in proactive combative contexts, where the combatant can largely dictate the timing, range and movement of the incident. However, it is clear that such optimized marksmanship methods have little to offer in the context of close quarters reactive defense against violent attack.
So, given the nature of violent crime, the kind of proximity and motion it involves, and the body’s natural reactions to it, whither our armed and unarmed self-defense training? How can we best train to deal with this?
First, we must train our awareness to help us avoid getting into such a situation in the first place. The further away in space and time we can perceive an imminent attack, the more opportunity we have to avoid or dissuade it. A battle not fought is a battle won. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, as criminals and circumstances sometimes conspire to elude our awareness and press the attack. Just a couple seconds’ forewarning, however, could allow us to get our hand on our weapon before the attack strikes, which can make a huge difference in the outcome. If the violence begins before we can touch our weapon, it is unlikely we’ll be able to use the weapon at all to counter the assault unless we can successfully fight—unarmed—to create space and time to access it.


Given the speed, unpredictability and chaos of real lethal violence, we can forget about any unnatural movements that conflict with the instinctive movement that accompanies the fight or flight response. We can likewise dismiss pre-planned, by-rote martial arts “techniques” that are unlikely to be recalled or “matched” to a suitable enemy movement when the actual chaotic movement is too fast and unpredictable to consciously parse.

What we CAN do is work to increase our combat applicable balance (on our feet and on the ground), muscular efficiency, whole body coordination and subconscious visual and tactile perception to yield freer, more effective motion when under full adrenaline effects. Through the training methods of John Perkins’ combative system called “Guided Chaos” (www., students are able to greatly enhance these attributes (shorthanded as Balance, Looseness, Body Unity and Sensitivity to yield Freedom of Action) to maximize their effectiveness under lethal combat conditions. Fortunately, this effective combative movement translates directly from unarmed combat to all hand-held weapons, including firearms.

As applied to handguns, this training methodology enhances your ability to effectively use the weapon within the context of close quarters lethal violence. Both the attackers and the defender are assumed to be in constant adrenaline-fueled chaotic combative motion while using all means available to take each other out. Fast, accurate (spine and head shots) intuitive shooting from zero to seven yards, without any fixed stance or position nor dependence on conscious/foveal sight alignment, combined with combative whole body movement, is developed in concert with the combative attributes. The training is expressly designed to develop subconscious abilities that are enhanced, rather than suppressed, by the context of lethal violence and the attendant natural responses of the human body.

An added benefit to such training is that while the focus of the training is the close quarters context where most interpersonal violence occurs, the developed body coordination and “flow” with the gun enhances the student’s ability to quickly gain skill in more traditional marksmanship disciplines and longer range, proactive combative contexts.

We need to be prepared for anything, from best to worst case scenarios, at all practical distances and in all situations. We don’t know in advance whether our moment of truth will involve trying to survive a point blank ambush or trying to stop home invaders before they can reach our children’s room. For that matter, we may unluckily find ourselves at ground zero for a spree killing or terrorist attack. A proper mindset combined with the appropriate trained skills gives us options beyond “victim” we might not otherwise have. Realistically, however, the type of violence we are most likely to have to deal with combatively is close range criminal predation. Best to optimize our training to deal decisively with that type of situation.



You can be the best target shooter in the world but if you can't fight HAND-TO-HAND at CLOSE RANGE you will never even GET to your gun. Worse, you could be shot with your own weapon! And if you get the microsecond to draw, traditional Isosceles or Weaver stances could get you killed.

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