John Shaw dominated the competitive shooting scene during the 1980’s. While being the captain and nine-year member of the World Champion U.S. I.P.S.C. Team, he won, or was the runner-up, in every major shooting competition in the world including:
- I.P.S.C. National Championships
- I.P.S.C. World Championships
- Bianchi Cup
- Steel Challenge ‘World Speed Shooting Championships’
- Second Chance
- Soldier of Fortune
He is a self-taught shooter who recognized that the techniques and lessons he learned could be used to train our war fighters. Accordingly, he founded Mid-South Institute for Self Defense Shooting (MISS), in 1981 just south of Memphis, TN where he developed the most comprehensive firearms training program in the country. For over 41 years, Mid-South has been continually regarded as one of the premier shooting schools in the world by the United States Special Operations Community. To this day, their shooting principles and tactics have become the operational doctrines for numerous Special Operation Forces as well as Federal and State Level Law Enforcement. Mid-South Institute for Self Defense Shooting (MISS), is still operating (under different ownership) and is only open to military and law enforcement personnel.
In 1997, John retired and moved his family to Southern Idaho. Shaw’s son Houston was also a top competition shooter. Houston has his own training company, Shaw Shooting, that continues the family tradition of providing quality firearms training in the Idaho area.
In 1982 Shaw and Michael Bane published the book “You Can’t Miss” (with introduction by Massad Ayoob). The book captured the best knowledge of what the top shooters in IPSC were doing. The Isoceles stance, 1911’s with barrel weights and compensators, steel lined holsters, and shooting B8 targets were all core ideas from which current shooting training and technique evolved.
Historical Note: Shaw and Ken Hackathorn were both early pioneers in shooting B8 targets at combat, not bullseye, speeds. Modern era trainers coming from the special operations community have certainly mainstreamed and popularized this practice in the past decade, but they were not the first to do so.
The content and techniques shown in the book should look very familiar to graduates of any modern pistol course, with the only significant change being the shift from the bent support side elbow to a more balanced extension of both arms. In the 1980’s, it was common for matches to require some shooting from the prone position at 25 and 50 yards. The only remnant of this exists in the Bianchi Cup (NRA Action Pistol) matches. Instinct and hip shooting are topics that come and go, with the most popular current variant being the techniques taught in the Shivworks ECQC program. Classic cowboy flat-and-level one handed hip shooting, as shown in the book, has basically disappeared from all modern training programs in favor of close quarter shooting techniques that integrate better with defensive tactics and unarmed skills.
Shaw’s grip and stance, circa 1982, with support side elbow partially bent. Classic thumb over thumb grip is used. Modern “thumbs forward” grip didn’t become dominant until the late 1980’s when Rob Leatham and Brian Enos popularized it.
In 1982, revolvers were still in common use by law enforcement, and used for Bianchi Cup matches.
The classic Steel Challenge start position, wrists above shoulders. The popularity of the “surrender” start for competition, particularly in the 1980’s, became a topic that tacticians more concerned with defensive shooting criticized. I remember going to a police dept “fun shoot” in the early 1990’s, and they made a big deal about not using the surrender position to start any course of fire. These days outside of Steel Challenge stages, where it’s still the required start position, the surrender start is rarely used.
Classic early 1980’s belts, holsters and mag pouches from Gordon Davis.
My 1911 in .45 ACP with Bomar rear sight. This gun is basically a 1980’s competition setup, except for the more modern synthetic grips and the fiber optic front sight.
1980’s Gordon Davis outside the waistband, steel lined leather gamer speed holster.
Most of the gear section includes all the standard advice regarding modifications of the 1911 pistol in .45 ACP, which was the platform everyone in the practical shooting world used at that time. Shaw had a close association with the Clark family (Jim Clark Sr, bullseye shooter and gun smith, and his son IPSC & 3 gun shooter Jimmy Clark). Clark’s development of the pin gun (adding a muzzle weight to the pistol and extending the sight radius by moving the front sight to the muzzle weight, evolved into the compensated pistol. Early comp guns had a single port, and as competitors shifted to the higher capacity and higher pressure .38 super round, comps began to be longer, with multiple ports.
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, compensators were considered “gamer gear” and unsuitable for carry — a situation that didn’t change until the Roland Special and factory ported guns were suddenly acceptable to “tacticians”, and social media influencers in the past decade. Compensators do reduce muzzle rise, and their value is most noticeable on the current generation of very small, lightweight carry guns like the SIG 365.
In the book, Shaw lists his favorite pistol training drills:
NRA B8 at 7 yards, open carry, one shot draw
2.0 sec par, then 1.5 sec par
X ring hits, 2.0 sec
back up to 10 yards,2 sec par, X ring
2 shot draws, x ring, 5 yards, 2.0 sec
3 ft by 6 ft cardboard
3 across, 4 rows
three targets, one shot each, X ring, 5 yards, 7 yards, 10 yards
In the book, Shaw also shares the training drills recommended by Mike Dalton and Mickey Fowler, who ran International Shootists, Inc, out of Southern California. Dalton and Fowler were two other top shooters from the late 1970’s/early 1980’s formative years of IPSC, Bianchi Cup, and Steel Challenge.
Dalton/Fowler International Shootists, Inc Mission Hills, CA
25 m, 6 shots prone bullseye, no time limit
7 m, 6 one shot draws, 1.5 sec (2 hands up, 2 hands down, 2 hands clasped)
7 m, 2 shots each on 3 targets, SHO, 5 sec
7 m, 2 shots each on 3 targets, WHO, 6 sec
10 m, El Pres, 10 sec
10 m, 1 RL 1 – 5 sec par (6 times total)
15 m 2 on 3 targets, RL, 2 shots WHO, 14 seconds
25 m 10 single draws, freestyle, 2.5 sec
Michael Bane Interview
I interviewed co-author Michael Bane to get more information and history about the book and John Shaw. From my notes from that conversation, Michael’s comments (paraphrased):
“John Shaw and I grew up together in Memphis and played together as kids. We reconnected in the early days of IPSC, and that’s how I ended up helping him with his book. In the early 1980’s John was still developing the curriculum for his pistol training, and I was one of his first students, training with him when I went home to visit family in Memphis. He had a Mississippi Highway Patrol trainer (I can’t remember his name) that assisted him. John was a Weaver shooter but wasn’t a purist. His approach was to experiment with grip and stance and do what the targets and timer showed gave the best results. If a technique felt bad then you probably weren’t doing it right or the technique wasn’t working for you. John spent a lot of time with Jim Clark Sr. and Jimmy Clark at their family range in Louisiana. I believe that the Clark’s had a big influence on John’s shooting and his curriculum.“
“After winning all the major matches, John shifted his focus on teaching. He had gotten big contracts with the Navy SEALs, and he used that money, along with rent income from older houses in Memphis he had fixed up, to build the Mid-South Institute for Self-Defense Shooting facility. He built a bunkhouse and basically constructed what the SEALs needed for their sessions.”
“The book was the first one ever published specific to practical shooting competition (pistol, rifle and shotgun). His second book, Shoot To Win, which he wrote with a different co-author in 1985, didn’t sell as well as the first one.”
Shaw also published two videos on shooting technique, one for shotgun and one for pistol. I am in the process of cleaning up digitized copies of those videos and will share them, along with a review of his second book Shoot To Win, in a later post.