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Posted on April 5, 2023 by in Steve Moses


Members of the Firearms Trainers Association members receive as a benefit legal liability training coverage at no additional cost. We are frequently asked if unarmed combatives and force-on-force training are covered, and the answer is yes. I have been a martial arts, defensive tactics, and firearms student and instructor since the early 1980s, and am currently a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt. I earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do in the early 1980s (back in the day when sparring injuries were frequent and broken bones were common) and since then have taken multiple combative classes from Craig Douglas, John Holschen, Cecil Burch, Jerry Wetzel, Larry Lindenman, and Paul Sharp. It may come as some surprise to readers to find that Firearms Training Association co-founder Mike Darter and employee Rob High are both former law enforcement officers and highly skilled martial artists that have gone hands-on with violent criminal actors. Not only does some skill in unarmed skills allow us to bridge the gap between too little force and too much force but it may be the one thing in a lethal force encounter that allows our students to survive long enough to gain access to a concealed handgun and successfully fight off another person (or persons) attempting to seriously injure or kill them.

The purpose of this article is to share some thoughts with other firearms trainers on supervising drills that involve two partners when the sole purpose is learning how to perform new techniques correctly. It is necessary to make sure that both partners understand what the drill is supposed to accomplish and abide by the directions or learning is compromised. The ability to “feed” or allow another person to practice a technique correctly is important. For example, if the technique to be learned is escaping a wrist grab, retaining a handgun, or defending against a knife thrust then the job of the “feeder” is to simulate attacking their partner using an appropriate level speed and pressure. The result of using too much of either early in the training process can be discouraging and delay learning or cause students to develop sloppy or improper technique. 

It is not uncommon for the feeder to not follow the directions given or at some point to discontinue following directions. The drill may become literally a competition or the feeder overwhelms the others and denies them the opportunity to practice the technique properly. 

Some students simply are unable to process the directions the first time they are explained to them. This may be because I failed to clearly explain to the students what I wanted them to do or dragged out the instructions too long and the students got bored. 

It may be because the students were not listening, daydreaming, or having a conversation with another student (or even an assistant instructor). Instructors can politely ask them to pay attention because what they are about to be told to do is important, and if they do not pay attention then not only are they missing key information but that they are no longer being a good partner. Body language is important, and the message will probably be better received if delivered with a smile and non-critical tone.

If students see an instructor demonstrate a new technique at even a moderate level of speed they may try to replicate that speed. Others start off slow and as they progress try doing it at higher speed, often at the expense of technique. At the beginning I think it is important to learn how to focus on each individual move within a technique, then work on reducing the transition time between moves, and finally to speed up each individual move. My first BJJ instructor was fond of telling students that if they were unable to perform a technique properly slowly they certainly could not perform it quickly.

Some students may actually panic a little when working with another student because they are fearful that they will not be able to keep up or look bad. If that occurs, they may either speed up or start using muscle at the expense of technique. Simply bringing that to their attention may be all it takes. If not, the other feeder can be asked to slow down in order to make sure the drill is performed directly. Feeders that are willing to do that often find that by “assisting” their partner and slowing down they are actually learning the technique better

I have observed some feeders intentionally ramping up the speed and pressure or attempting to “trick” their partner during training. In some of those instances it appeared that it was actually either a good-faith effort on their point or that they were working with a good friend and merely engaging in what is sometimes referred to as “horseplay.”  In most of the instances that I have seen the intent of the feeder was benign. In the event of the former, I might tell the feeder to feed the technique correctly so that their partner can learn how to defend it properly and that we can add layers later. In regard to “horseplay” I tend to allow very small amounts of it on an occasional basis if I can see the partners are having a good time as long as it does not interfere with the class. 

Finally, there are those students that are unable to control their actions. These are the same persons others either do not want to be paired up with or think are bullies or narcissists. These students may behave in a manner that suggests that the purpose of partner drills is to benefit only them. I have seen feeders actively resist any attempts by their partner to correctly perform a technique and when called upon it look surprised. The longer I live the more convinced that I become that there are some people out there whose lack of impulse control is nearly impossible for them to control. It does not necessarily mean that their intent is bad, just that they are unable to be a good partner. It may be necessary to explain to them that what they are doing is detrimental to both them and their partner. 

Nothing set out in this article should be taken as Gospel. There are multiple members of the Firearms Trainers Association whose teaching experience and skills dwarf mine. Nothing pleases us more than receiving feedback from our members, including suggestions. I think a concealed carrier who has only their handgun to resort to is more vulnerable to an attack and more likely to unjustifiably brandish their handgun. A few basic unarmed defensive skills can go a long way toward helping them fill a potential hole in their game.