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The Evolution of the Modern Shooting Stance

By Ron Avery

 

There seems to be a great deal of controversy these days in regards to which is best for defensive handgunning; the Weaver stance or the Modern Isosceles stance.  Some stylists claim that the Weaver stance is the "gunfighting" stance, offering superior control of the handgun.  Others claim that research shows that the Isosceles stance is being used in gunfights at close ranges.

Having been involved with handguns for most of my adult life as a law enforcement officer, firearms trainer and professional shooter, this question is of particular significance to me.  What I am interested in is which stance provides the best all around control, under duress, using a defensive handgun without benefit of compensators, porting, weights etc.

Before we begin our comparison of the stances and the various permutations of each, a little bit of the history associated with them is in order to establish the development sequence.

In the mid 1970's, Jeff Cooper helped establish the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC)  All competitors were using handguns, ammunition and leather which were deemed suitable for defensive use.  Matches were freestyle and shooters were free to solve the shooting problems as fast and precisely as they could.

Cooper used the sport of IPSC as a test medium to evaluate technique, equipment and , to a lesser degree, mindset.  At that time, a deputy sheriff by the name of Jack Weaver developed a two handed hold which utilized isometric tension as the basis for controlling recoil and allowing faster follow-up shots.  Since Jack Weaver was doing quite well with the technique and a lot better than the folks who were trying to shoot with one hand, his stance became the one that others emulated.

Cooper helped quantify the elements of the Weaver stance as well as others principles and used them for the basis of his world famous training facility, Gunsite.

It is important to understand that the Weaver stance was developed in competition among shooters who were competing in a structured environment.  This was one of the more or less scientific ways of testing and evaluating the merit of technique, equipment and, to a lesser extent, mindset.

The basic principles of the Weaver stance are:

  1. Isometric contraction, pushing with the strong arm and pulling with the weak arm with the elbow bent downwards to control muzzle lift.
  2. Body more or less bladed to the target.  (Shooter preference)
  3. Upright stance, head up or canted sideways according to shooter preference.
  4. While not really an element of stance, the thumb on thumb grip, popularized by Cooper and Gunsite, places the heel of the support hand well below the axis of recoil.

I was introduced to the sport of IPSC in 1980,  by my patrol supervisor and friend, Sgt. Dalton Carr, while working as a deputy sheriff in Northwest Colorado.  Having been involved in the martial arts since age 16, I looked at firearms as another form of martial art and viewed the matches as a way of gaining skill with the handgun for defensive purposes.  Dalton, an accomplished pistolero in his own right, had just recently returned from Gunsite and he shared with me the shooting techniques used there.  I practiced the Weaver stance and the others skills as taught at Gunsite.  I went to several pistol schools taught by Ron Phillips and Dan Predovich, both of whom were senior instructors at Gunsite.  I learned about the development of the Weaver stance, as espoused by Jeff Cooper.  I read as many articles and books on the subject of combat handgunning as I could get my hands on.

At that time, the Weaver stance was king.  No one ever questioned the efficacy of the Weaver stance and it was just assumed that the Weaver stance was the defensive shooting stance.

In the early 80's, the tone of IPSC started to change.  The use of weighted barrels and then compensators to control recoil came into vogue.  I learned about a couple of hotshots by the name of Rob Leatham and Brian Enos who were taking the IPSC world by storm.  John Shaw also gained prominence.  What separated these shooters was that they were using the isosceles stance.

It was during this period, when IPSC started to drift away from the "street practical" mindset into more of a game that Jeff Cooper and others started to distance themselves from IPSC.

As a martial artist, I did not favor the use of "gadgets" on defensive handguns.  It was generally believed that the use of compensators and later, the switch to the .38 Super cartridge, allowed the current crop of top shooters to use the isosceles stance with success.  The current thinking of martial artists was that the isosceles stance would not work with a "real" gun, i.e., a .45 ACP.  I let myself be influenced by that thinking and continued to shoot the Weaver stance for several more years.

In 1984, I attended my first U.S. IPSC Nationals and got to watch Leatham and Enos in action.  They were simply head and shoulders ahead of anybody else in the match.

As a martial artist, I have had exposure to various styles of martial arts in the past and I have learned that the person who can learn from different styles will be able to expand their abilities and those that stay locked in their own belief systems tend to stagnate.  I believed there was more to it than just compensators and "wimp loads" that were allowing these guys to shoot so fast and precisely.

I believed that the testing methodology used by Jeff Cooper, i.e., evaluating technique in a controlled environment as well as using observation, personal experience and interviewing other persons involved in lethal force situations was still a valid concept and I directed my research along those same lines.

I started asking questions of Rob Leatham and other top shooters.  Most were very open and friendly.  I learned as much as I could and then started trying to apply what I had learned.  In late 1987, I determined to learn the isosceles position and then thoroughly test it against the Weaver stance.  I went to a class with then IPSC World Champion Rob Leatham in the Spring of 1988.  I learned a lot of new information that was to prove invaluable to me.  In the summer of 1988, I attended Gunsite, to learn from Jeff Cooper and his staff.

I spent the next two years researching the various techniques I had learned.  I compared both stances against each other.  I looked at draw times, time between shots, dispersion of shots, reloading time, time between targets, precision under stress etc.  I fired roughly 60,000 - 70,000 rounds. in that two year period. I attended numerous competitions, interviewed as many top shooters as I could, researched human biomechanics, stress reactions, motor control learning theory and motor behavior as well as spending countless hours on the range researching the principles behind the isosceles and Weaver stance.  This research, as well as my own experiences on the street as a law enforcement officer,  convinced me that the Modern Isosceles offered superior control over the Weaver stance.

Many thanks to: Ron Avery at the Practical Shooting Academy, Inc.

                          American Handgunner Magazine

                         http://www.americanhandgunner.com

 

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