I have been thinking recently about the rise of the civilian gun training industry in the 1970s. Of course this leads me immediately to the late Col. Jeff Cooper (1920-2006). If there is a person in the firearms self-defense community who is quoted more reverently than Col. Cooper, I do not know s/he is. Gun trainers mentioning his ideas sound like Jesus’s disciples quoting the Messiah: “According to Col. Cooper. . .” and “To quote Col. Cooper. . .” And there is no stronger credential for a gun trainer than to have sat at the feet of the Master and learned from him. His name and ideas were invoked more frequently than any others at the Rangemaster Polite Society Tactical Conference I attended in 2014.
Browsing the internet for videos of Cooper – I was actually looking for the DVD “Man in Full” – I came across a series of interviews Michael Bane did with Cooper in 2006, not long before Cooper died. The interview video is broken down into five parts, all accessible from Bane’s Down Range TV website (as of March 2015).
The interviews cover a range of topics, but two points stood out to me.
First, Bane asked Cooper why his techniques of modern pistolcraft have been so influential. Cooper’s response was as simple as it was profound: “It solves a problem. The modern technique of the pistol solves the problem of what the pistol is for. Whereas before that time we weren’t quite sure.”
I found this interesting because every cultural tool or technology solves problems. But here Cooper suggests that whatever the original problem was that the pistol solved had somehow been lost. So the existence of the pistol itself becomes a problem to be solved, which Cooper suggests his modern technique does.
Second, Bane suggested that Cooper’s approach to modern pistolcraft was “not just technique … but it was [developed] within a structure of moral authority that self-defense was more than just a right, but was an obligation to a free person.”
Cooper responded: “Yes, I think so. I think that’s true. The ability to defend yourself, to hold yourself up as a free citizen in a free country without regard to oppressiveness or oppressive governments is only possible if you can fight, by one means or another. So a free man is fighting man. I don’t think you can dispute that. Likewise, a fighting man is a free man. … It goes, as you say, beyond just a training exercise.”
Part of modern pistolcraft, therefore, is not simply the technique, but a broader understanding of the ethic of responsibility entailed in personal defense.
I have yet to read Cooper’s classic works on the modern technique and principles of personal defense, but I have heard his ideas invoked so frequently it seems like I have. I am looking forward to delving into these works more fully soon.