Some people sign their letters “sincerely yours.” The late, great armed-defense expert Col. Jeff Cooper used “DVC” for his signature line. It was the acronym for Diligencia, Vis, Celeritas. It came from Latin. Diligencia means diligence, doing things correctly, and in Cooper’s view stands for “accuracy.” Vis can translate to “power” or “force.” And celeritas means “speed,” the root word for the English term “celerity,” with the same meaning, as in, “The intended victim solved the problem with great celerity.” Thus, the Colonel’s “DVC” stood for “accuracy, power, and speed.”

The formula is still accepted. Accuracy is essential, because a bullet that doesn’t hit the right place can’t be counted upon to stop a violent attack. Power, because the more he is damaged, the sooner he becomes incapable of continuing his lethal assault. Speed, because if you don’t stop him in time,he stops you.

Col. Cooper has left us, but his teach-ings continue under the able manage-ment of Buz Mills at the school Cooper founded in the 1970s, Gunsite. There are many good drills to be learned there, which will make you a faster, surer, more competent manipulator of handguns. A cottage industry of private citizen training options has burgeoned since Gunsite paved the way, and going to one of the good ones puts you on a fast track to developing defensive handgun skills.

As good as those options are, theyare simply not practically available to many good citizens in our nation’s currently stagnated economy. Lots of folks don’t have the funds for it. With that in mind, let’s look at a few drills you can do by yourself to enhance your reactive capability with a sidearm.


Most firearms instructors agree that starting with speed and then trying to develop accuracy is like pushing a rope. The history of shooting shows that developing accuracy first, and then accel-erating the skill set to enhance speed, is a much more effective approach.

Another thing most seasoned instruc-tors agree on is that trigger control is the single most important component of an accurate shot on demand. That little lever inside the triggerguard has to be brought straight back, smoothly, with the exact instant of the discharge coming as a surprise. You’re applying more thant he gun’s weight to that trigger—sometimes many times more than the gun’s weight—and the least bit of anticipation will jerk the shot away from the path you intended for it.

Exemplar Drill

One thing I like to do as early as possible in the training continuum is what I call the Exemplar Drill. It’s hard to verbally explain a felt sensation…and it may be impossible to adequately describe it verbally to someone who hasn’t felt it before. So, my advice to the person who doesn’t think they’ve got it down pat is: “Have someone you know to be a good shot put their trigger finger on yours and show you.”

The way we do it is, the shooter takes his or her preferred two-hand stance and locks their sights on target. They hold the pistol firmly with all their fingers except the index finger of the gun hand. The coach comes in from the student’s dominant hand side. Then the student’s trigger finger lightly touches the trigger, exerting no pressure in any direction, and the coach’s trigger finger goes in front of theirs. The coach gently presses the student’s trigger finger straight back until the shot is fired.

I’ve found that six shots done that way, followed by six more with the student and the coach applying the same amount of pressure at the same speed, and finally six rounds fired by the student with the coach’s finger just lightly touching theirs to monitor the movement, is sufficient to make “the light bulb come on.” Once the shooter knows what a good trigger pull should feel like, the path to good shooting has been smoothed dramatically. He or she now knows what they’re supposed to be doing.

The Exemplar Drill can save thou-sands of rounds and literally years of ingraining bad shooting habits, when three sequences of six shots can keep that from happening when an educated trigger finger trains the uneducated one.

Ya know, I’d love to be able to say I came up with something that works this remarkably well. Alas, I didn’t. I learned it from the great Ray Chapman, more than three decades ago. I would love to be able to say that Ray developed it, because he certified me to be one of his instructors and I could proudly announce that I got it from The Source. However, Ray told me he learned it in the Marine Corps in the 1940s. Further study indicates the USMC was using this in training since before WWII.

Focus Drill

I introduce all my first level students to what I call a Focus Drill. Pick a tiny spot on the target and make that your aiming point; some instructors use dots and call it a “Dot Drill.” Same concept. Start in close. The object is to put every shot “on the mark,” or “on the dot.” When you’re done, you hope to have every shot in one hole.

When I have the luxury of training for a major match, I’ll start and finish every shooting session with a Focus Drill. As I’ve told my students for many, many years, it hardwires everything from the trigger finger to the brain for what it takes to make a perfect shot.

And that, really, is the best foundation I’ve found in 60 years of shooting. You can’t build anything of value with-
out a foundation.

Blind Swordsman Drill

What I call the Blind Swordsman Drill comes next. It’s named after Zaito-ishi, the fictional Japanese hero who was blind, but so attuned to his senses and his body that he could wield his sword, the katana, with deadly skill to defeat any assassin who thought him an easy mark. In this drill, the student locks in on the target with a sharp sight picture…and then closes the eyes and fires a single shot. Keeping the gun on target, the student removes the finger from the trigger guard and opens the eyelids. This lets the student see if the sight picture has moved since last seen, and to assess the hit. The student takes aim again, closes the eyes, and repeats.

This drill puts the shooters in a “sen-sory deprivation tank” where they can concentrate on the key element of trigger
pull, the sense of touch. We’ve pretty much solved the distraction of hearing with good ear protection, and taste and smell don’t really enter into it. It’s vision that distracts the shooter. The eye sees the sight picture crossing the exact spot he wants to hit; the shooter thinks “Now!” and jerks the trigger, resulting in a bad hit. With the eyes closed, it’s actually easier to keep that trigger rolling smoothly straight back.

Give this a try. You’ll be amazed at how well you can shoot with your eyes closed. Some people actually do better than they did with their eyes open. The trick is to open the eyes between shots, every time. Otherwise, you can’t assess which shot went where. There could also be a safety problem with multiple shots “fired blind.”

I do all these drills at close range, 3 to 5 yards. Why not from, say, 25 yards? If you miss by 3 inches at that distance,
it could be the ammunition. It could be the gun. But if you miss by 3 inches from four or so paces away, you’ll know
it was something on the shooter’s end, and you won’t kid yourself about what you’ve just learned.

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