Fundamentals of Fighting in Low Light Environments (Revised)

This is one of my very first articles and it is now newly revised to keep up with my learning/teaching progression.

Many people may not know that I had two training obsessions before I got to my point shooting/dynamic movement obsession. Low light and CQB were my focus for nearly four years before I added point shooting and dynamic movement to my tool box and specialties. This is the ninth year that I will be teaching my low light curriculum.

I consider my low light courses the most valuable and essential courses that I teach.

Fundamentals of Fighting in Low Light Environments

By Roger Phillips, Owner of Fight Focused Concepts

In my humble opinion, the basic concept for fighting at night is that “darkness is your friend.” If you are in the dark, stay in the dark. If you are in the light, light up the dark. Night vision would be of the utmost importance in this concept. As we age, our night vision may be negatively affected by the aging process. It is very important that you know your night vision limitations and that you tailor your tactics to your specific circumstance. Older eyes may also affect your ability to use night sights, keep this in mind and know your limitations.

The eyes are made up or numerous sensitive nerves called cones and rods. The cones are at the center of the retina and are best used for direct vision during lighted situations. They detect color, detail, and far away objects. The rods encircle the cones are best for peripheral vision, movement and low light situations. In low-light it is best to not use direct vision, but to use your peripheral vision in a slow sweeping manner to pick up shape, silhouette, and movement. Look just “off of center” to get the most out of your night vision.

Obtaining your maximum night vision takes nearly thirty minutes, but it can be lost in the blink of an eye. After approximately 5 to 10 minutes, the cones become adjusted to the dim light and the eyes become 100 times more sensitive to the light than they were before. Nearly 30 minutes is needed for the rods to become adjusted to darkness, but when they do adjust they are about 100,000 times more sensitive to light than they were in lighted areas. After the adaptation process is complete, much more can be seen, especially if the eyes are used correctly. If you have achieved your maximum night vision, protect it as much as possible. One trick to preserve night vision (if you have no choice but to go into the light that will negatively effect your night vision,) is to close your dominant shooting eye and protect your night vision in one of your eyes. The temporary blinding affects of having your night vision suddenly taken from you can cause illusions, after images, vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance. This is something that needs to be known to understand how important protecting your night vision is. In a fast pace, chaotic, self-defense situation, dealing with any of these negative factors could be the difference between victory and defeat. But on the other hand, this is a double edge sword and can be used to your advantage against you adversary.

In most urban environments there will be ambient light sources, some brighter than others. As you are working these irregular brightness levels, keep in mind the preservation of your night vision and the use of darkness and shadows in this regard and as a form of concealment. Your movement should be dictated (in part) by theses simple concepts. The three basic rules of camouflage are very important here. The understanding that they are double-edged swords that work both ways is absolutely vital. The three rules are Shine, Shape, and Silhouette. These rules must be understood from the aspect of both the predator and the prey. Tactics such as “keeping low” and using the horizon or ambient light sources to back light the adversary’s silhouette are crucial. You also need to remember that the adversary “in the know” will be trying to do the same thing to you. You should try to use this tactical advantage to benefit yourself, while at the same time mitigate the chances of it being used to your detriment. This may require you to look/search lower than you would during lighted situations. You may want to start you’re looking/searching at about knee level first before you raise your search level. While it is important to look/search at all levels during lighted situations, keep in mind that a lower search levels are even more important during low light situations. Other tactics such as the use of your hearing can be a real asset, while working in the dark, do not under-estimate the tactic of just stopping and listening.

Shooting in low-light/ambient light

As in anything that we do in regards to self-defense, there is a continuum/progression/matrix of fighting at night. IMHO this continuum is even more prevalent and important in the dark. In my basic philosophy of “react as you need to react, see what you need to see, and move as you need to move,” the continuum is very clear. In the dark it is even more pronounced due to the loss of visual input. The lessening of visual input negatively affects all three parts of that basic philosophy. In the reaction phase, you absolutely need the visual input to understand the situation. Awareness and threat identification are both compromised in the dark. The reaction to these two things, in turn is also compromised. On the necessary visual input, this is pretty self-explanatory. Every aspect of this concept is affected in low-light due to your ability to not see as well. On the necessary movement, I have found that all of the movement is toned down due to the “safety considerations.” Since you are not able to see the terrain/footing as well, there is the huge desire to not go down. The balance shifts slightly towards insuring the hit and slightly away from “not getting hit.” I do not see this as a problem because once again we are talking about a double edge sword that both combatants are dealing with.

On pure marksmanship in low-light, the necessary visual input is affected all along the sight continuum due to the loss of light. Your limitations on each sighting technique may be affected by the loss of visual input due to darkness. Since absolute knowledge of your limitations is in direct relationship to your confidence, knowing your limitations at each lighting level is extremely important. Confidence is important due to the fact that there will be even less visual verification that your hits are good. Your ability to see the hits or call your shots will be severely hampered. Therefore you must have absolute knowledge of your limitations. Although, you can use the muzzle flash for hit verification, this is not really a sighting aid…it is an aid for verification or calling your shots. If your muzzle flash is centered on the targeted area, and the silhouette of the gun is centered inside of the muzzle flash (very much like metal and meat) you are getting the hits. This verification could be key, especially if the adversary is wearing body armor. If you have absolute knowledge of good hits and there is not the desired effect, you can transition to the head quicker for the fight ending shot.

In my teachings situations dictate strategies, strategies dictate tactics, and tactics dictate techniques. I teach my students the exact same necessary visual input techniques at night as I do during the day. It is up to the student to know which tools they prefer for each specific situation. But, I believe that in low-light situations that you should always get as much visual input on the gun as the specific situation will allow. Obviously, this may not be the best solution during the day. In low-light there is a definite need to examine the balance between speed (of the draw stroke, movement, and trigger) and accuracy. This balance may not be the same as the day due to less visual input due to darkness.

The Floating Light

I prefer to only use a flashlight when, it gives me a tactical advantage or when I absolutely need to use the light. There are times when it is absolutely necessary, so these tools should be in your skill set. Some of you may have recognized that I am a huge proponent of fluid transitions between skill sets, that are dependent upon the situation. I do not see these transitions as being overly complicated or complex. To me, they fit into the KISS principle, but more importantly, they cover all of my bases. Keeping it simple is important, but I see being well-rounded and versatile as being just as important. My basic concept for the flashlight is the versatility of what I call the floating light. I really do not have a default flashlight technique. My technique is all situational dependent. The positions that I use flows from one to another seamlessly, giving me the best tool to use on each job. The positions that are incorporated into my system are the FBI, modified FBI, neck index, center-line index, and the Harries. They all have their place and I transition through them as situations arise. I tend to keep my handgun in a one-handed compressed ready. This gives me a good retention position, one that I can fire from immediately, and a position that I can shoot accurately throughout my extension.

I like the FBI and its modified positions for searching in large areas, due to the fact that a light source is a bullet magnet. These techniques keep the light source away from the body. If someone is to shoot at the light the chances of a solid hit are reduced dramatically. I really like this for searching, while incorporating “wanding and strobing.”

Wanding is a search technique that incorporates the old “light on/light off/move” principle, using irregular stokes and arches of light, much like painting a desired area. The random strokes/arches give enough light to see an area to maneuver through or to identify a threat. They also make it harder for an adversary to determine your position or your direction of movement, if they do not have a visual on you already. Wanding works best in large areas. I strive to never have my light on for more than two seconds. Along with that, I strive to move constantly during the “light on” portion. I try to make sure that I have used the light in a manner that lets me see what I need to see, before the light goes back off.

Strobing is random, quick, bursts of light that are manipulated in both direction and angle. Strobing is best used when you are approaching a corner or a doorway that must be taken. The concept of strobing is to use the bursts in a random pattern that makes it more difficult for the adversary to know where you are or where you are going. If done correctly you can “take” the corner or make entry into the door in a manner that is much more unpredictable by your adversary. If you use the old light on/light off/move without wanding and strobing, you are telegraphing your position and your movement by setting down a recognizable pattern, where the movement of light and the shadow gives the adversary useful information.

The neck index is an outstanding position. It works great with the fourth eye principle. As you maneuver/turret your body your flashlight and your gun are pointed the exact same direction as your eyes. The flashlight is also in a very good position to be used as impact weapon. The horizontal elbow is an outstanding platform to launch an offensive impact weapon attack from and it gives some good protection to the head. There are very good retention properties in this position and a lot of very good options out of this position. Where this technique really shines is its use with dynamic movement. The body mechanics of the position just seems far superior to all of the other options. Of course there is the balance between making the hit and not being hit. The neck index brings the flashlight closer to your center-line and right next to your head. This could be problematic if the adversary is shooting at the light. But on the other hand the position facilitates excellent dynamic movement and accuracy. I am leaning to the fact that the dynamic movement and the accuracy outweigh the lights possible problematic position. This really gets deep into the study of the fight continuum, the balance of speed and accuracy, and the perfect balance to hit and to not be hit that I have mentioned, many times, prior to this.

The center-line index brings the flashlight out of the neck index and positions the flashlight on the center-line right next to the gun in the compressed ready. The exact position of the flashlight is fluid on the center-line; it can be used center ,to the right, or to the left of the gun depending on the angle of vision/lighting that is needed. This position also gives you a better field of vision than the neck index. It also brings the flashlight elbow in closer to the body, cutting down on the chances of “leading” with the elbow. This is also a very good position for taking corners and doors in conjunction with a quick and easy transition to the vertical elbow.

The Harries position is the long-established and preferred “two-handed shooting from full extension” methods for most people who have trained with a flash light. It is a very versatile position that fits into many portions of the fight continuum. There are some issues due to it being fatiguing over long periods of time. This issue can be alleviated by making slight adjustment in the concept of the isometric tension that is required in this position. Another issue that must be recognized is the phenomenon of the sympathetic response and contra-lateral contractions, that is compounded by the crossing of the hands.

For pure marksmanship, The Rogers technique has many advantages. It is about as solid a two-handed position that a flashlight will allow. This is often called “the cigar hold.”

Be versatile, flow from one response to another, have all of your bases covered, and have the best tool for the job at your disposal.

With that said, does it make sense to be bi-lateral in your flashlight system? I believe so. Here is the flashlight transition that I use. Extend the pinky of your gun hand. Place the flashlight, bezel up, in between the pinky and the ring finger. Curl the pinky around the flashlight. Acquire the back strap of your handgun with your support side hand and transition over, reacquired your flashlight grip.

Necessary use of the flashlight

I believe that the biggest asset of a good flashlight is in making the threat identification. Many aspect of the fight can be dealt with, without the use of a flashlight, but the threat identification can be the very hardest thing to achieve. As in during the day, it is the hands that kill, but that is not the only thing that needs to be identified. One of the most important things that one can stress in a low-light course is “shoot/no-shoot situations.” Of course FOF is the very best way to do this. The problem is that this type of training is not as prevalent as it should be and a full course can be a logistical nightmare due to the time limits imposed due to most people wanting to be able to sleeping at night. Often the instructors are stuck with doing the best they can on the square range. This is definitely a problem that needs to be examined and alleviated. Square range training will only take you so far, and seeing firsthand the effects of a good flashlight in the eyes is an absolute necessity.

On making the threat identification with a flashlight, there are three ways to go about this if you are in a reactive gunfight. You can keep the light on, move, and engage. You can turn the light off, move, turn the light back on, and engage. You can turn the light off, move, and engage with ambient light. This will all be situational dependent on the amount of ambient light, and the user’s skill level. If the user is dependent on a maximum amount of visual input to get the hits, they will have to use their flashlight. But, if the user needs minimal visual input, going at it in the dark can be a huge advantage.

Once again “darkness is your friend!”

Come on out to Las Vegas on March 21-24, 2015 and meet me at the Boulder Rifle and Pistol Club and I will show you that this is not about point shooting…..this is about what is possible because of point shooting. Come on out and pick up some of the most important skill sets, techniques, and concepts and you may ever need. Come on out and learn how to win while fighting at night.

One thought on “Fundamentals of Fighting in Low Light Environments (Revised)

  1. Hi Roger, been meaning to share a non FFC training experience.Call it low light/night;left hand corner using a flashlight with a lanyard.The set up: two targets beyond a left corner (positioned close to the wall). All students right handed w/ flash lights with lanyards.Instructor has stapled white/shiny/butcher paper to each side of the corner.So it becomes obvious that working the corner using a right handed Harries technique may not be optimal (shooting over exposing himself and reflected glare off the wall). I went to the back of the line.Then retrieved my blue gun and went over the berm and practiced transitioning the gun to my left hand and then my right hand taking the flash light (lanyard still on my left wrist) and doing a left handed Harries. I tired the drill a second & third time. My home made lanyard is longer than any retail lanyard I’ve seen; which is a positive because I was able to move/position my light about one foot away from my center line when approaching and shooting from the corner.
    Plenty of lessons learned/training confirmed that night.Bi-lateral transitioning for shooting and for your flash light is a must.One handed shooting..own it.Lanyard…hhmmmm.
    Finally, thank you for excellent post on “Revised low light night fighting” especially the flashlight transition info.

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