The Evolution of the Modern Shooting Stance
By Ron Avery
Let's look at the Modern Isosceles and see what it has to offer.
Elements of The Modern Isosceles stance:
- Muscles and tendons of both forearms, the elbow joints, wrists and hands are set in a medium to firm static contraction, depending on amount of recoil. The rest of the body is more or less relaxed, based on individual preference.
- Both arms are braced behind the handgun with the elbows at natural extension. This allows two pivot points at both shoulders. Shoulders are relaxed and down.<O:P>
- Gun is centered close to midline of body.
- Recoil is absorbed passively by the body through both arms. The axis of recoil is roughly through the centerline of the body. The upper body is generally more squared to the target, though the spacing of the feet is a matter of shooter preference. Stability is achieved by shifting the center of gravity forward and keeping the hands close to the same height as the shoulders in order to keep the arms from pivoting up in recoil.
- The shooting grip places the heel of the support hand very close to boreline which decreases the leverage the gun has in recoil .as well as putting the tendons of the support hand and wrist in a straight line, resulting in a biomechanically stronger grip. Both wrists are set.<O:P>
The major difference between the Weaver and the Modern Isosceles is the active use of isometric (push/pull) tension in the former to control recoil vs. an static contraction of the hands, arms and wrists, passively absorbing recoil with the body.
In my research using the Weaver stance, I found that when shooting under different stress loads, the amount of isometric tension I applied varied. I saw this in competition, during tactical training exercises and in actual confrontations on the street while involved in law enforcement activities. When using the correct amount of tension, the Weaver stance is very effective in holding down the gun. However, if your attention is distracted by events, there is a tendency to either relax the isometric tension or overdo it. This directly affected shot placement and dispersion.
Another issue was trying to ascertain how much extension of the strong arm vs. how much bend and angle of the support arm provided optimal control. Ray Chapman had great success early on with his strong arm nearly straight like a rifle stock whereas Ross Seyfried shot a radically bent arm style.
When shooting at high speed, such as performing two shots under a second from the holster, I found, when using the Weaver Stance, that even though my support elbow was bent, I was really just freezing it in place in a static contraction, rather that pulling back with the weak arm.
With the classic Weaver stance, the axis of recoil is mostly through the strong arm, on the right side of the body if right handed. This can cause the body to turn slightly under recoil, resulting in lateral dispersion if the shooter is not braced correctly.
Also, with only one pivot point at the strong shoulder ( the weak arm only assists in providing tension for the strong arm) the gun can move in a circular fashion if strong tension is not maintained.
Shooting the Modern Isosceles, there are two pivot points. What is most important about this is that both arms are braced behind the handgun. The strong arm is set and holding from the right side and the support arm is supporting the gun from the left side. This helps keep the gun from drifting left and right when shooting at high speeds.
The question that most shooters ask next is "What keeps the arms from flying up under recoil like they did in the early days of isosceles?" To answer this question, we must take a closer look at the biomechanics of the stance.
In the pre-Weaver era, the Isosceles stance as promoted by the FBI and others had the shooter squatting down with the back straight, head upright, arms fully extended and weight centered neutrally or even back on the heels.
This put the body weight back and placed the hands higher than the shoulders, creating an upward angle to the arms. When trying to shoot out of this position, the body would rock back under recoil and the arms would pivot up at the shoulders.
With the Modern Isosceles, the center of gravity is shifted forward towards the balls of the feet. The upper body is curled forward slightly. The arms are held more in line with the shoulders. Both wrists are set and the support hand thumb and wrist are held in a straight line, resulting in a very strong grip, which, when set, assists in controlling muzzle flip very effectively. Now when the gun is fired, the arms move in and out like a piston, instead of in and up.
In the early to late 80's, the arms were held rigidly out with the shoulders extended forward as well. Gradually, as the years passed, we learned that the shoulders could be held relaxed and down. This contributed to helping absorb recoil more effectively. Then the elbow were allowed to come to a more natural extension, further assisting in recoil absorption and a lessening of muzzle flip. The head was moved forward to get a clearer view of the relationship between sights and target as well as bringing the center of gravity forward.
What these subtle changes did was allow the shooter to relax more behind the gun and allow him/her to concentrate on the shooting without worrying about maintaining active tension in the stance. In addition, both sides of the body were doing the same thing and the resulting symmetry was easier to do, especially under stress.
But the bottom line was performance. With the lessening of body tension, the shooter was able to execute all moves with more finesse and speed. This goes hand in hand with modern motor learning principles and sports psychology, which emphasizes relaxation for peak performance and execution.
Having the handgun at the centerline of the body, with the axis of recoil through the centerline, keeps the gun centered on the target, with less horizontal dispersion between shots.