Keith Sanderson: Off Season Position Building

The following is training advice from SFC Keith Sanderson. Among his many accomplishments he is the USAR Combat Pistol Coach, an Olympian (having set the American record in International Rapid Fire Pistol) and the winningest pistol shooting in AFSAM history.

Heed and succeed!

Any upcoming shooting event may seem like it’s far in the future but in reality it is just around the corner. The time to start preparing for that match is now!

There are four (4) fundamentals of pistol shooting: Position, Grip, Trigger, and Sights. We’ll first start building our Position. This will lead us into working on perfecting our other fundamentals. Right before the event we will perfect our match strategies and zeros.

The best (I’m tempted to say only) way to build your position is with Holding Drills. But before we can start with any drill we have to have a good “picture” and/or feeling of what a good position is. It is absolutely critical that we strive to build the perfect position. This is the foundation that we will build our shooting performance (and wins) on!

It’s hard to talk about Position without first building a Grip, but, to keep this brief, we’ll skip Grip until next time. In fact, so much of Position and Grip can’t be explained properly without demonstration or at least a really good imagination so I need you to try and remember the demonstrations you’ve seen of really great shooters. This is more of a refresher than anything else.

Start out with your feet staggered, about shoulder width apart, maybe even a little more than shoulder width. Put your toes in the corners of an imaginary square while keeping your feet about parallel. This is a good combat warrior stance (boxer’s stance). It doesn’t really matter which foot is in front however most right handed shooters lead with their left. Keep your weight on your toes, about 60-70% toes, 30-40% on your heels. That means you are leaning forward slightly aggressively. Keep your shoulders and your chest square with the target. Keep your head centered on your shoulders and tilted forward, as if you were mad. DON’T lean your head to one side. You WILL bring the sights to your line of sight not your head to your sights!

Everything above is the same for both right and left-handed shooting. From this point on reverse what’s described for left-handed shooting. I’m also going to assume that eye dominance follows handedness.

Asymmetric position. That means that if you split an overhead picture of your position in half, the left half would NOT match the right. Your chest and shoulders are perpendicular (square) to the target and your head is straight over your shoulders and tilted forward. To bring the pistol’s sights to your line of sight you must bend your left/right elbows differently. To get the pistol to your right eye without moving your head you MUST bend your right elbow MORE than your left, therefore your left elbow is STRAIGHTER than your right. Try and have your left elbow almost locked out straight and your right bent enough to get the sights in front of your eye.

Try and get both your elbows pointed out. What I mean is that your elbows had a “elbow cap” like a knee cap it would be on the outside of the arm. If your arms were to bend in recoil they would bend out and your pistol wouldn’t point up.

This will give you the sensation similar to breaking a turkey’s wishbone or the way you torque into a machine gun. Be aware of all the muscles that you use to build this position. Tighten your legs, abs, shoulders, and especially your forearms.

Let’s recap. Feet in combat warrior stance, chest and shoulders square to target, elbows out (left almost straight, right bent out just enough to align sights), head aggressively tilted forward.

Now to train with this position. The primary position building tool is Holding Drills.

Build your position as described and hold it for a minute. It sounds easy but it is not. During that minute, tighten all your muscles. Imagine the pistol was going to go full auto and you were trying to hold it on target. Use 100% gripping force with every finger AS HARD AS YOU CAN! Shoulders very tight. Abs very stiff. Ass and leg muscles activated.

Now keep every angle of every joint exactly the same. EXACTLY. Gripping HARD. Intensity in your whole position for the entire minute.

The routine will be six to eight Holding Drills, one minute on, two minutes off (rest). Start out just once or twice a week and cautiously build up to five times a week.

At first, perform Holding Drills perfectly stationary. As your position improves incorporate movement, as if transitioning between targets. While holding, point your chest left and right ensuring your sights stay aligned. Do this slowly and then faster. This will develop your position and muscle memory so that you can shift between targets quickly while maintaining sight alignment and have very fast recoil recovery. By using 100% gripping force in your Holding Drills you will develop the ability to do this all consistently even when tired.

After you feel strong with your strong hand start working on your weak hand. Then work on building your barricade, prone, and kneeling. Left and right. We’ll talk about the other positions later. The above is the foundation for all positions.

Train hard but most importantly, train smart and be disciplined. Be your own coach. And be a hard coach. Don’t accept anything less than perfect. Everyone on this team is capable of winning AFSAM. Who is going to?

SFC Keith Sanderson
USAR Combat Pistol Coach

Right now the enemy is training hard.
So am I.

3 comments on “Keith Sanderson: Off Season Position Building

  1. mark anderson says:

    Great segments on recoil and follow-through! I especially like the way you described how live fire “masks” what we (really) do on the gun. It is a word/term I’ve used for years. One of the ways I used to discuss follow-through was to explain that virtually all the errors of the fundamentals(sight allignment & trigger control)were rooted in anticipation, and that follow-through helped eliminate anticipation. one must be careful not to incorporate any “bugs” into their routine for shot delivery. One time as a young marine competitor, I inadvertantly incorporated recoil(M-14) into mine. you can imagine the result. In the middle of the MC Championships I would one down the middle, and the next would be just out the top. Thank the good Lord for Sgt.Tim Curl and his keen eye. He was able to pick up on what I was doing during a dry fire session and get me squared away. Anyway, (sorry for rambling) wanted to say thanks, and good shooting. Semper Fi!

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