Fairbairn “Shooting to Live” drills

At the 2023 NRA Annual Meeting, Claude Werner (The Tactical Professor) handed me a print copy of his edited version of Fairbairn’s famous “Shooting To Live” book.

I wrote a full review of the book on this blog (Linked here). It includes his “editor’s synopsis” of the Shanghai police recruit training program. When I get home, I set it up and shot it.

I used a B-21 style target, which was the largest man sized target I had. In the book, Fairbairn uses an 8 foot by 8 foot canvas with a man drawn on it. The B-21 is 35″ wide. Again, according to the book, getting 50% of the shots on the man target is a passing score.

Dry Practice

The process begins with dry practice, drawing and racking the slide each time. Recruits were taught to carry on an empty chamber. They were taught a two handed grip (fig 15) that looks similar to the thumbs-forward grip popular today. I chose not to use the “grip the wrist” technique shown in fig 15A.

Recruits were then taught a “ready” position (note that in Fairbairn’s ready position, the finger is on the trigger), and a firing position.

Loading and Unloading

Recruits then spent an hour doing these tasks:

  • Charging and uncharging magazines (Fairbairn used this term, not “loading” for the task of putting rounds into a magazine or removing them)
  • Inserting the magazine
  • Loading the pistol (chambering a round)
  • Removing the magazine
  • Unloading the pistol
  • Disassembling the pistol for cleaning

Live Fire Drills

Initial practice was done at 2 yards on a man sized target. Four single shots, then 2 shots as a pair. (Use the term “pair” was carried forward by Jeff Cooper and the Gunsite curriculum.)

During the second practice, the recruit was given a magazine loaded with 5 live and 1 dummy round, with the location of the dummy round unknown to the student. For my range demo, I had my videographer load the magazine. Three two-shot pairs were fired, which would include one malfunction clearance.

Third practice was the double the distance to 4 yards and repeat the 5 live/1 dummy exercise.

For all these drills, the gun was brought up to the eye target line, but the sights were not used. The eyes were focused on the target.

The final recruit live fire exercise was shot from the 3/4 hip position.

The illustration shows the gun pointing down. My approximation of it was to bring the gun high enough that I could see it in the bottom part of my peripheral vision, which was higher than the “position 3” of the typical draw, where the hands join. That position is closer to Fairbairn’s “half hip” position which is truly a point shooting position with no visual information.

From 3 and 4 yards, “bursts” of 2-3 shots were fired.

For my range demo, I used a SIG 365 .380, which was the gun in my collection most similar to the Colt 1908 .380 the Shanghai Police were issued.

For the dummy round drills, I ended up using my Glock 48, because I had 9mm dummy rounds with me and no .380 dummy rounds handy.

The complete recruit training program was 21 rounds. I actually fired 26, because I shot “burst” of 2 and 3 at 3 and 4 yards, doing more than the required minimum. I ended up with all 26 in the X ring of the B21, which more than passes Fairbairn’s recruit criteria.

What Was the Point?

From Claude’s abridged edition (which I hope he will make available soon):

The hope is that the methods forged by all these early pioneers of self-defense pistol shooting will be of value to the modern day pistol shooter who owns a “one-hand gun” for protection of self and loved ones.

I made a video of the drills so people could see what Fairbairn and Sykes were teaching. As the late trainer Paul Gomez once said: “Point Shooting works if you move close enough and make the target big enough”, which pretty much defines their 2-4 yard, ginormous target training approach. The drills in their program, however, aren’t that different from the 3 yard strings of the Texas License to Carry shooting test, using the giant B-27 target and strings of 1 and 2 shots. The techniques that Fairbairn and Sykes were teaching in the 1940’s were actually better than what the FBI was teaching in the 1940’s, which was pure hip shooting. The 3/4 hip and target focused full extension techniques of the 1940’s did eventually lead to Jack Weaver bringing his head down so he could see the sights from that 3/4 hip position using a two handed grip, which led to all the improvements in technique that followed.

Claude has also written about, and shot, the Fairbairn drills.