Updating the Modern Technique of the Pistol at Gunsite Academy, 2017

I’ve posted over a dozen times about various aspects of Col. Jeff Cooper and Gunsite but recently realized I never got around to the question of how the teaching at Gunsite Academy today compares to the classic Modern Technique of the Pistol articulated by Cooper.

This is a bit of a touchy subject at Gunsite. As I noted previously, Gunsite COO Ken Campbell often deflects criticism that Gunsite Academy is the “Southwest Dinosaur League” (a derogatory modification of the original “Southwest Combat Pistol League” started by Jeff Cooper), arguing that the curriculum at Gunsite has evolved over time.

Memorabilia from the Southwest Pistol League in Col. Jeff Cooper’s armory at The Sconce, Gunsite Ranch. Photo by David Yamane

Some outsiders recognize this evolution, as well as the challenge of evolving without fundamentally breaking with the foundational doctrine. According to Rob Pincus, “The Modern Technique was bad ass in 1983.” That said, “Even Gunsite has moved on, though they have the weight of legacy hanging over them.”

How much has Gunsite evolved or moved on from the Modern Technique of the Pistol? That depends on how you DEFINE the Modern Technique, what ASPECTS of the Modern Technique you consider, and whether you look at the EXPLICIT curriculum or the IMPLICIT curriculum.

I will take up these questions in 3 or 4 posts based on my observation of the 250 Defensive Pistol course (“The Gunsite Experience”) in June 2017, in particular the opening presentation, the mid-week “mindset lecture,” and the 30 hours I spent on the range with the two groups of students in attendance.

Poster displayed in the classroom at Gunsite Academy. Photo by David Yamane

If you identify the Modern Technique with the classic Weaver Stance and a .45ACP 1911 pistol, then Gunsite has moved on quite substantially.

If you look at those as two of the five core elements of the Modern Technique (the other three being the presentation, flash sight-picture, and compressed-surprise break), it has evolved some but not completely.

But if you look at the Modern Technique as a broader whole, the vast majority remains intact. I have taken the outline I posted previously and highlighted in green those parts that are still in evidence in “The Gunsite Experience” in 2017 and in yellow those which are different. As you can see, it is mostly green, with the exception of the Weaver stance and the heavy-duty self-loading pistol. (I leave readiness “Condition 0” white because it seems to be more of an add-on than an integral part of gunhandling in the Modern Technique as codified by Cooper.)

In my next post I consider how the Weaver Stance and the Heavy-duty Self-loading Pistol are treated in the EXPLICIT curriculum, and then I will explore how the combat mindset is treated in the IMPLICIT curriculum at Gunsite today.


  1. Jeff Cooper was a personal friend and he wrote the foreword for my first book – Tactical Pistol. During that time I was working in LE and had the opportunity to involve myself in armed events regularly. I had lengthy discussions with Jeff about these and I think the most important point and attribute that Jeff Cooper brought forth was the proper attitude about armed combat. At the end of the day the methods used are secondary to the mental attitude. If the mind is right, everything else follows. That is likely Jeff’s greatest gift to the world of the gun and Gunsite’s greatest legacy…it got people’s minds right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just wanted to say that I am really enjoying this series.

    I have found in recent years people have found it fashionable to attack or degrade the teachings of Jeff Cooper and the organization that Gunsite was and has become. As someone who trained at Gunsite in the 90s, and has since trained with many other trainers and organizations (a few now defunct), I have found that their training even in its oldest form can be considered quite relevant. The reason why is that is taught people to shoot quickly and accurately from the holster. Their course graduates could get hits quickly and in the end it doesn’t matter as much how they looked doing it and what they were doing it with.

    I was actually taught the weaver stance and took all my classes with a Colt 70 Series 1911 that Ted Yost worked over while he was still in their shop. I later was politely teased while at Blackwater in the early 2000’s about my stance and choice of carry, that is until I beat everyone in a king of the hill type competition. Then they didn’t mention my gun or style after that. They made fun of my choice of shoes though.

    I don’t carry a 45 ACP 1911 in a strong side leather holster anymore. I carry 9mm Px4 Compact Carry in a kydex appendix holster. I don’t shoot modified weaver anymore, but I don’t shoot a true isosceles stance either. I shoot something in between that works with how my body has aged overtime. The overall lessons I learned in my first five days at Gunsite though have lasted the test of time.

    I think that many people who question things like compressed surprise break as a method of explaining trigger press may be missing out on how Col Cooper explained things and would benefit from watching him talk through it. Is it the only way to explain pressing the trigger, no. But it is a way that might help someone who is completely uninitiated understand the importance of avoiding recoil anticipation and flinching.

    Gunsite had the need and the ability to take the uninitiated and in 5 days make them a rather competent shooter. In addition they encouraged shooters to go home and practice both live and dry so that they could continue to build on the foundation they developed.

    People do not realize that he was in his 70s when the Glocks really hit the scene. Light weight concealed carry was not really that reliable and you were wearing a boat anchor on your hip one way of the other. Cops were still carrying revolvers. In addition people do not realize that many of the modifications they hold so dear come from ideas he pushed or postulated. Now a days you can walk into almost any gunshop or big box sporting goods store and find a reliable service pistol with a good trigger. They can find self defense ammo that elite units would have been jealous of back in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

    It’s a brave new world out there and a lot of that has to do with Cooper and Gunsite.

    I appreciate your research into this and that someone is telling this story.

    I recently discovered your blog and look forward to reading it more often.

    Liked by 1 person

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