Thumbs Forward/Locked Wrist Grip

By Roger Phillips, Owner and Operator of Fight Focused Concepts

The grip that I am going to be discussing in this article is nothing new. It has been around for a while, has been taught by some of the best Instructors in the world, used by many of the very best Competitors in the world, who have in turn taught it to the very best Fighters in the world. While it is nothing new, I have found that a very large percentage of my student base does not know about this grip or if they do know about it, they are not using it to its full potential. It really is this “not using it to its full potential” that this article is all about.

The place where I made a name for myself has been about advancing the art in regards to the reactive gunfight. That was my focus for years, well after putting years of study into the proactive gunfight using Col. Copper’s Modern Technique. After bringing the reactive gunfighting pieces of the puzzle up to a decent level and witnessing the world around us changing, my focus switched to a seamless integration of high level reactive and proactive gunfighting. I started teaching handgun courses that were geared towards high level, fight focused, sight fire skill sets. While teaching one of these course in June of 2015, I overheard a couple of very advanced guys discuss the fact the they were getting flyers on their third or fourth shot. This surprised me because I had not noticed that problem and did not know there was an issue. Since this course was a small advanced course I thought it was a perfect time to try to work shop some stuff that I had heard and seen from some of the top Instructors and Competitors in the world. As soon as the three of us started using these grip enhancements, the groups tightened up significantly and the flyers went away. To a man……all three of us improved substantially within minutes.

Since then, I have been studying, using, and teaching this thumbs forward/lock wrist grip. Every time I work with the grip I learn something new. I identify something that I had not identified before and I make connections that I had not made before. This is a very important fact that people need to understand. There is a true learning progression to this grip and just because you were taught it once before, you simply may not be getting all of the benefits out of the grip because you may not be taking it as far as it can be taken, both physically, mentally, and intellectually.

As an Instructor, my job is to provide facts and knowledge so my students can make well-informed decisions. In other words “train the brain and the rear end will follow.” In all of the years that I have been teaching and with all of the controversial stuff that I teach, I have never asked for the student to “do it my way.” I usually accept the toolbox that the student has arrived with. I help add tools, I help organize the tool box, and I teach them how to be better fighters with their newly stocked/organized tool box. But this grip has changed all of that. I now ask the student base if they are willing to give me 2-4 days doing exactly what I am asking them to do. I ask because I feel that it is that important! For the students who come to me, because they know who I am, what I think, and how devoted I am to the advancement of their skill……the answer has always been “yes.” As a matter of fact every student so far has said “yes.”

The teaching of this grip is usually asking somebody to hold their gun like they have never held it before. It is a serious habit change! It is so serious that I usually repeat “new habits” at the start of almost every string of fire as a reminder……because “habits are habits.” Giving this new habit the consideration it deserves takes serious commitment. It is hard! It is uncomfortable! It can be straight out painful! But the significance in the improvement of skill level simply can not be denied. It is a game changer!  Out of all of the important things I have ever passed onto my students, this grip is as important, if not more important, than anything they have ever learned from me……….and I say that earnestly and without hesitation.

It is that important!

Verify an unloaded handgun.

Master Grip

I am going to steal some Bob Vogel quotes here to make sure that we understand that we are changing more than just our support hand. The master grip needs to be high! High under the tang and high under the trigger guard. As we grip the gun with our firing side hand, we are not gripping it like a “monkey holding a hammer.” We are using a “pinching” like motion…….like we are trying to squeeze toothpaste out of 3/4 empty tube. This pinching motion puts forward pressure on the upper portion of the back strap, at the web of the hand and rearward pressure on the lower portion of the front strap, at the little finger. It also puts our firing side wrist into a very flexed downward position. This pinching motion raises the web of the hand at the tang and gets us as high as possible. Guys with ham hock hands may even get cut by the slide at the top of the web of the hand. If you are getting cut… are taking the concept of the “pinching” master grip as far as you can take it.

When I first started working with this grip, I was surprised to see that I was better at shooting one-handed than I used to be.  I could not figured out why, because in my limited understanding, I had not made the connection between what my locked support wrist was doing to my master grip. The locked support wrist was forcing me to no longer use my master grip “like a monkey holding a hammer.” The physical change on the support hand was forcing physical change in my master grip…….the concept of the locked down support side wrist was forcing a conceptual change in my master grip. This conceptual change in the “pinching” grip of the master-hand was reducing recoil and allowing me to recover from recoil more consistently. BAM! There it is……I am now better at shooting one-handed just because I changed the way that I used my support hand while shooting two-handed. Oh, and that applies to sighted fire and point shooting, at full extension and in retention positions. This is something that has to be seen for what it is…….something that makes us much better across many portions of the fight continuum. You know how I always say “it is not about point shooting……it is about all of the things that point shooting allows us to do!” Well, guess what! “It is not about a thumbs forward/locked wrist grip……it is about all of the things that the thumbs forward/locked wrist grip allows us to do!” I will be getting even deeper into that fact later in the article.

Locked Down Support Side Wrist

It is my opinion that your new habits should be built around this one aspect of your new grip. This is the most important factor and this is where the vast majority of people do not take it as far as it can go. There are three main reasons that this one aspect of the grip is not taken as far as it can.

  • It is foreign, it goes against what you are already doing, it feels awkward, and it uses muscles and tendons that we are not used to using
  • It is uncomfortable because these seldom used muscles need to be worked into shape and you will get blisters in places you have never gotten blisters before
  • Lack of understanding of the obvious benefits and wondering why you would put in so much work when what you do already works

These are all training issues and every once in a while you need to simply “trust the process.” You need to trust that the guy that you are paying to show you the best information that he can find and that he is teaching you something that he knows will make you a significantly better fighter.

Hold your support side arm straight out in a blade hand, with the thumb on top. Pronate your wrist downward to its full extent and lock it there. Point the thumb straight forward. Your fingers should be pointed roughly at a 45 degree angle to the ground. Your support side shoulder should have risen when you pronated your wrist downward This is your starting point. This is the foundation of your grip and you build the grip from this foundation.

Verify an unloaded gun, pick it up into your “pinching” master grip and mate it to your pronated support side locked wrist. This will give you a thumbs forward grip with the support thumb extremely extended forward on the handgun. Do not worry about having a “full purchase” on the handgun. There may be gaps here and there. The concept you are looking for is “both hands has high as possible with support wrist fully locked downward and firing side wrist firmly flex in your pinching position.”

This locked support wrist will move your support side fingers significantly forward under the trigger guard. There are some things that need to be figured out due to your body/hand type and preference.

  • You will notice a competition for space around your trigger finger that you have never had before. You need to figure out the placement of your fingers so that you are “high and forward” and the trigger finger is not impeded. Please understand that the tips of your index finger is not essential to your grip.
  • You need to figure out your support side fingers “high and forward” under the trigger guard. Some people stay under the trigger guard, some wrap the index finger around the front of the trigger guard. Whatever you find, make sure it is significantly forward. If your support side fingers are not significantly forward, you do not have a locked down wrist.

One Unit

Hopefully at this point you have your hand positions correct, but it is not just about your hand positions…….it is much more about creating one unit. Two hands, plus one handgun, must equal one unit! During a string of fire, there can be zero separation in this one unit. All three components must be one robust unit. This is achieved with the addition of the inward torque put on the top of the grip by rotating the elbows outward. If the elbows are down the inward torque is at the bottom of the gun, where it is not needed. The locked down wrist is taking care of that recoil management. The torque needs to be inward at the top of the gun to hold everything together as one unit. If both hands are not staying securely on the handgun during recoil, you have not mastered making it one unit.

Staging for the Grip

Habits are tough to break and to do so takes  a lot of hard work. To work on ingraining new habits during an explosive sub-one second draw stroke is going to be even tougher. One of the tricks to implement these new habits at a high percentage rate is to stage the support side hand in a manner that best facilitates the correct mating of the hands in the correct new position. If we stick with our old habits of placing the support side hand flat against the diaphragm, on our count one of the draw stroke, you are going to end up in the very same support side grip you have always used. New habits begin with a new staging of the support side hand in the count one. The best way to find this staging position is to reverse engineer it. Start from full extension of your optimal thumbs forward/lock wrist grip, then bring it back to the point where the hands first come together, notice the position of the support side hand. That will be your new staging position for your count one. For me, it is a knife hand with the palm positioned upward, pressed against my diaphragm.  On the firing line, when I am working on ingraining my new habit, my mental focus is all about getting to my new staged position. The new habit is only possible if I nail my new staging position. My new habit is impossible if I do not stage correctly.

The Concept

To commit to the necessary work to go from what you have always done, to something better is hard work. But, I guarantee that it will be hard work well worth the commitment. Remember, this is what the very best Competitors in the world are teaching to the very best Fighters in the world. This is what the very best Fighters in the world are using. That is simply a fact that can not be ignored. If you think you know a better way, all I can say is, if I wanted to commit suicide I would climb your ego and jump to your IQ.

This is all about being faster and more accurate through recoil control and consistent recovery from recoil. I have consistently witnessed a 50% reduction in muzzle flip in my students after I taught them this grip. Better recoil management means we are ready to press off the next shot sooner. That is the speed portion of the equation. The consistent recovery from recoil  is the accuracy portion of the equation. We are able to press the trigger quicker and the front sight has landed in the rear notch in a much more consistent and reliable manner due to dropping back down into a locked wrist position.

I know that there are going to be some people who simply can not do this grip for various reasons. They either can not do it at an optimal level or they can not do it at all. But, what is really important is that we honestly evaluate why we can not do it. Is there a physical reason? Has there been an intellectual decision to not make the changes in habits because it is seen as not needed or not worth the time? These two reasons are totally acceptable. The problem comes when you decide to not try something because it is different, feels awkward, or does not make sense due to your lack of understanding. This is the point where your mind is the limiting factor, where you are holding yourself back from possibly learning something amazing. This is the point where the new information is not the problem……your closed mind and fear of trying something new is the problem.

The Diagnostics

An Instructor regurgitates what he was taught by somebody else. I teacher teaches you how to solve your own problems and how to teach yourself.

When I first stated learning this grip, I watched for a number of things inside of my follow through. Here is my list of things that I look at to diagnose myself whether I am doing this at my optimal level, after a string of fire.

  • Was I able to track my front sight barely leaving the rear notch and did it drop back into place consistently.
  • Is my support wrist locked down to its full potential?
  • Is there any desire to re-adjust my grip after the string of fire?
  • If I open my support side hand, do my fingers point to the ground at roughly a 45 degree angle?
  • Is my support side shoulder higher than my firing side shoulder?
  • Are my elbows out and am I putting inward torque at the top of the handgun?
  • Am I high under the tang with my master grip?
  • Did it feel as if it was all working as one robust unit?

The Amazing Unidentified Benefits

This is the newest and the most important of the intellectual connections that I have made while working with this grip. I firmly believe that 85% of all marksmanship problems come down to one major factor…..recoil anticipation! Recoil anticipation is the absolute bane of a huge majority of shooters that I  have seen or trained. It rears its ugly head at a level that no other marksmanship problem even comes close to. To solve that problem in a “recoil anticipation problem shooter” is the Holy Grail of training…..and I know this from direct experience due to having to fight my way through one of the very worst recoil anticipation problems I have ever seen.

As you read this article, I imagine that many of you have questioned the locking the support wrist down to its full limit. But it is this locking of the wrist that will allow a student with a recoil anticipation problem to help mitigate this nightmare of a problem to the fullest of potential. If the wrist is already locked down to its full limit, how are you going to counteract the inertia of the felt recoil? Where is the “counter acting of the inertia” going to take place? We all know it takes place in the wrist, but now, with this grip, the wrist is maxed out  and has nowhere else to go. The physical act of recoil anticipation becomes very difficult……if not impossible if the support wrist is lock down to its full extent.

I also believe (no actual proof here, but it makes sense to me as a guy who has fought recoil anticipation for my entire life) that it is not just about making it physically difficult (if not impossible) to anticipate the recoil. It is also about absolutely physically dominating the unnatural explosion in your hand and the felt recoil. The psychology of  visually seeing a 2″ muzzle flip drop down to a 1/4″ muzzle flip leads to confidence in recoil management that leads to an understanding that the recoil is something that does not have to be counter acted……something of no concern…..something that is a non-issue.

The True Point of this Article

Nobody taught me this stuff. I mostly heard of it in passing. Many of you have work shopped this with me as we tried to figure it all out, without any formal training in it. It’s a concept that makes sense and most of us see it as a puzzle that is worthy of taking the time with. As I studied this, along with many of you, It became clear to me that people (including myself) like the concept, but it is so foreign they do not embrace it fully at first. What they seem to do is slowly move in the optimal direction as they get more and more comfortable with it. It’s like we move to the optimal use of it, in small increments. This could be just the way that we are wired.

What I would truly like to convey to everyone reading this, is if I could just give you one piece of advice, it would be to forget about how we are wired and jump into the deep end with both feet. Take this concept and push it to its limits. Do not waste your time doing it in small incremental steps.  Lock that support side wrist down to its full limit and take the concept as far as you can take it.

I’ve learned a lot of good stuff, I know a lot of good stuff, I teach a lot of good stuff. This is as important as anything that I have ever learned, known, or taught.

Bottom line.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s