The Fallacy of the “Retention Position” (Revised)

By Roger Phillips, Owner and Operator of Fight Focused Concepts

This is something that I originally wrote in 2006 or 2007. This was a time period where people believed that they did not need to know how to point shoot and that two shooting positions (full extension with the use of the sights and a very compressed retention position) covered everything that they could ever possibly encounter. The retention concept used as a fluid concept has become much more prevalent since those closed-minded and dogmatic days.

As I move forward in the training progression and now teaming up with renown knife and combatives Instructor Tom Sotis and the study of integration of hand to hand, knife, and pistol this old article comes to mind, so it has been revised to reflect what I believe is of the utmost of importance. If you have read it before, I would suggest that you read it again because the revisions are directly related to my upcoming courses with Tom Sotis.

The Fallacy of the “Retention Position” (Revised)

The retention position is another sacred cow that simply does not stand up under the dynamics of the reality of the fight, critical thinking, or inside force on force (FOF) training. The idea that you have only one retention position that will take care of the full spectrum of retention problems, that you may come across, is simply ridiculous. If you adopt and train in only one retention position, then you are forcing a sub-optimal niche technique into a concept driven, continuum based skill set. The study of force fitting of niche techniques, in order to replace fluid concepts, is the undoing of the technique based training of the recent past.

As in almost anything that we do in regards to self-defense, there is a continuum in regards to retention. This continuum is once again based on the distance of the threat and the dynamics of the encounter. The distance aspect of this equation speaks for itself. The main goal is to protect your gun, gun hand, and gun arm by extending out only as far as is needed, dictated by the difficulty of the shot. This concept is very cut and dry….at least until we add in the variables of the dynamics of the encounter. It is the dynamics that much of the training of the recent past has completely ignored. The context of the fight dictates the amount of extension of the gun that is allowable and necessary. The weapon used and the forward drive of adversary are additional factors that must be considered. Your movement response to these factors also must be taken into consideration.

As we recognize once again, that this is not a “one size fits all” world and that the situation is the dictating factor. It is plain to see that having only one retention position ties our hands is so many ways. Retention is a concept…..not a position. It is a fluid skill set…. not a locked in positional technique. The retention positions that I have been taught in the past were geared towards very limited situations. On the most part they were stand and deliver techniques that were only good at “hands on” bad breath distances. Now this may be good for “one foot” but what about one yard, two yards, three yards, four yards, against a knife, against an impact weapon, with dynamic movement, and after you have gone “hands on” and created some distance?

From my personal experience and while watching other experienced people in combat and FOF, I feel that we all need to start considering retention at about the four yard mark. The reason for this is simple. Remember the retention main goal;

“The main goal is to protect your gun, gun hand, and gun arm by “extending out” only as far as is needed, dictated by the difficulty of the shot.”

Four yards with two men extended towards each other is really only a two yard gap. A two yard gap can be closed by a stationary adversary in around .5 of a second. Contact at .5 of a second…… and that is without a weapon that extends the adversaries reach. Factor in an adversaries forward drive and the time is considerably less. To come out to full extension on an adversary within four yards is just daring for a gun grab attempt or an attack on the gun hand and arm. By compressing the gun inward you accomplish two very distinct things, you take the gun further out of reach and you let the adversary know that you are not an idiot. Projecting the gun is a fool’s mistake. By compressing the gun you are limiting the adversary’s choices and possibly taking away his best choice.

If we accept that compressing the gun is a good tactic at four yards, well then it is obvious that compressing it even more so, is a good tactic, as the distance decreases. If all of this sounds familiar, it is because this concept has been around since the 1930’s. Fairbairn and Sykes understood the need for a fluid retention concept. Quarter hip, half hip, and three-quarter hip were designed, in part, with the main goal in mind. One thing that we need to keep in mind is that these “hip” positions are just points that you can flow to and through. They are not set positions….. they are fluid points that had to be given names so that they could be discussed.

Work the concept not the technique!

This concept of retention is so far superior to a retention position. It takes in the reality of a violent encounter…..which is all based on distance. The fluid use of kicks, punches, strikes, the use of a knife, a sword, etc, etc are all based on distance. To have only two shooting positions make as much sense as having only two ways to throw a punch. It is like only having a very short upper cut and a very long right hand……with nothing in between.

As we look to the dynamic movement skill set, it is very important to consider retention as we work the oblique angles or parallel tracking. At certain distances, with certain movement we actually close the distance. This fact must be kept in mind. Do not project the gun and open yourself to an attack on the gun, the gun hand, or the gun arm. Compress the pistol as you close in on the target and extend the pistol out as you create the distance from the target.

In my humble opinion, there are no hard rules in gun fighting, but there are plenty of general guidelines. An example of some of these guidelines are as follows.

The further you extend out, the more accurate that you can be. On the flip side of that coin is, the further you extend out the more you open yourself up to an attack on the gun, the gun hand, and the gun arm. There is a balance that must be sought out and trained in. This takes time, work, training, and testing. To compress the gun back to keep yourself safe, while still not having the ability to put fast and accurate hits on board is simply not good enough. You must have the fluid retention based skill sets of quality point shooting and dynamic movement skills, to make it all come together.

In regards to fighting against blunt weapons and edged weapons, this retention concept is of the utmost importance. We have all heard the phrase “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” but we also know that the opposite is true “don’t bring a gun to a knife fight!” Dependent on our skills, what tool we choose to use against a blunt/edge weapon attack comes down to being user dependent. If you are a gun guy and want to use your pistol as your go to tool, you are simply going to have to use you “defense against blunt/edge weapon attack” skills to get that weapon off of you and create some distance to be able to get your tools in play.

You are looking to turn a knife fight into a gun fight.

How much distance you are able to create is what the fluid retention concept is all about. Ideally, I am going to want to create seven yards. If the stars align and I do my job, I can create that much space. But, while fighting things do not always go as you would like them to go. The seven yards you wanted may be substantially less and you are going to need the combination of the retention concept, dynamic movement, and point shooting to keep the distance you created from being closed on you again.

I have seen the training where a small amount of distance is created and the knife attacker gives up as soon as he sees the pistol or is shot once. But that is not reality! They all do not quit or stop that easily. When you shoot some people with a handgun, you just piss them off more! It is not just about creating the distance and getting our tools into play, it is about taking control of the dynamics of the fight by turning a knife fight into a gun fight……and keeping it a gun fight until the fight is over.

If we look at the retention concept from an open-minded point of view, it becomes very apparent that any retention training that does not incorporate quality, fluid, combat proven point shooting, and dynamic movement skill sets is simply training to be ineffectual.

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