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  • Rowan

Why normal people learn CQB wrong

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

I was going over some room-clearing fundamentals with a client the other day when I realized the traditional way CQB (close-quarters battle) is taught has some major flaws that I don't see instructors addressing. So often single- man CQB is taught to civilians with the justification of clearing your home. I think many people have this John Wick'esque fantasy of slickly clearing their house for a potential intruder just like everyone does on Instagram. I see videos all the time of people doing dynamic entries, bursting into rooms to clear them and engaging targets as they pie around doors.

John Wick

Count how many times John Wick gets shot in his last movie and remember you don't have a magic bullet-proof suit...

For a little context, my client was a woman who was currently living alone. After a few minutes of instruction on limited entry CQB and how to pie a room she asked an extremely valid question, "If there are two different angles and I pick the wrong one don't I just get shot in the back of the head?" My answer was an honest one...yes. Very often in the real world, you cannot cover every angle and you are forced to choose a 50/50 chance and hope for the best.

The kind of CQB that gets plastered all over Instagram is modeled after military and law enforcement tactics. If you ask someone who actually cleared rooms in the Middle East for the military they will tell you that they did it with copious amounts of grenades, rifle-rated body armor and helmets, full-auto machine guns, and explosives. There were no Marines in Fallujah clearing houses by themselves in their t-shirts with a pistol.

Marines in Fallujah

Notice the lack of sub-compact pistols...

On the law enforcement side we have moved away from rapid, dynamic entry for a more slow and methodical approach as we realized throwing a bunch of guys into a doorway as fast as possible can have terrible consequences. What works for military units operating under completely different rules does not necessarily work for law enforcement.

As a "civilian" your priorities will very likely be different from that of a military unit or law enforcement team. When I say civilian, I simply mean someone whose job is not to clear buildings and find bad guys. The military clears buildings in furtherance of tactical and strategic objectives, law enforcement clears buildings because there is some sort of exigent emergency that has occurred and they are there to solve the problem.

A professional SWAT team

These guys are slightly better equipped than the average concealed carry holder...

As a civilian who is not getting paid to clear rooms with 10 of your most heavily armed friends, you should ask yourself why you might conduct single-man room clearing. Make no mistake, clearing a structure, even your own home, is one of the most dangerous things you can do. It probably doesn't seem that way because 99% of the time...there is no one there. As a patrol cop, I cleared many homes and businesses, often after signs of forced entry, and never found anyone. After clearing dozens of buildings it is easy to become complacent or to forget that if there actually is an armed assailant waiting for you...the odds are severely stacked against you.

The reality is that for most people performing single-man room clearing it is simply not worth it. I totally understand the feeling many people have of "my home is my castle and I want to protect it." I get it. With that being said, are any of your possessions worth your life? If you knew that you had an 80% chance of being shot by someone hiding in your house...would you go in there? After seeing the realties of how room clearing actually works in real life my client came to the conclusion that it was really not something she could justify doing under most circumstances. If you come home at night and see your front door kicked in...what do you have to gain from going in there? Nothing. What do you have to lose? Everything. Now, that equation changes under two circumstances. You have loved ones you need to protect, or you have found yourself responding to an active shooter. We will get to those later.

Bad guy hiding

This guy doesn't have to know anything about CQB. He just needs to see your shadow under a door and you lose.

First I wanted to point out why most training for CQB in a shoot house misses some key points of how things work in the real world.

Noise - Watch any video on room clearing and you will likely see people working their way around doors, pieing angles, and generally being fairly cautious (if they aren't just barging in like a SWAT team from the 1990s). Something I learned very quickly as a cop was that I really couldn't sneak around inside a quiet house. I tried hard to keep all my gear as secured and quiet as possible but it still made noise. If someone is hiding in a room they will very likely hear you coming down the hall or shuffle stepping around doorways. All it takes is someone sticking their gun around the corner and shooting, or even just shooting through the drywall, they don't even need to see you.

Stationary Targets - Most shoot house training is done with targets placed around a room. If it is a really well-equipped facility there might even be a bullet-ridden couch or bedframe in there somewhere to put targets behind. In the real world, houses are full of doors, furniture, closets, stairways, and basements. In the real world a bad guy doesn't have to just stand perfectly still waiting for your to slowly pie your way around a door. If they do feel like hiding they can do it under beds, behind curtains, behind couches, or in closets.

Shoot house training

This paper target can't drag his hostage into the doorway and shoot you around the corner

Target Mentality - Almost all CQB training I've seen focuses on the basic principle of utilizing movement and angles to try and see your target before they see you, and then shooting it. Realistically if you aren't a professional who practices room clearing for a living, it is far more likely you will see each other at roughly the same time. What does everyone do in a shoot house when they see a target? They shoot it. They aren't called shoot houses for nothing. Now what have we trained ourselves to do? You come home and find your door open, you decide to draw your CCW pistol and get to clearing your home. You do absolutely everything right, you pie around a corner and you see the edge of someone's shoulder in the corner of a room. What does traditional training dictate? Take that angle and engage the target. Unfortunately, you just killed the neighbor's kid who came home drunk and ended up in the wrong house. Or maybe there really was a burglar in your home but he happened to see your shoulder at the same time you saw his. You shoot him, he shoots you. Let's remember that in the real world people don't instantly stop being threats the second you shoot them...they aren't pieces of paper on a wall. Pistols are generally very poor at instantly ending a fight, and the thin drywall in your house will provide you with zero protection from someone shooting back at you. Now, let's imagine two different ways we could have handled that situation.

#1: You pull up to your house and find your door wide open. You reverse back down the street a few doors to where you can still see your front door. You call local law enforcement and tell them you left with your door closed and now it is open and you'd like them to come check it out. Don't feel bad, this is what cops get paid to do and it is great practice. Not to mention they actually train for this, they are wearing body armor, and they have access to tools you don't, namely big snarling fur missiles. A K9 cop shows up, yells at your front door that he is sending in a dog and the burglar in your house decides to give up and walks out.

K9 police officer

This guy lives for room clearing.

#2: Maybe you live out in the country and it might take 2 hours for cops to show up. You decide to clear your own house. You do everything right, you pie a corner, and boom, you see just the edge of someone's elbow hiding behind a door. You immediately retreat down the hallway and train your gun on the doorway. Instead of walking into an ambush, you have now set up your own. Now you know where the bad guy is, but he doesn't know where you are. From there you could give commands like "I know you are there, if you come out of that room I will shoot you!" You now have the opportunity to call law enforcement and get them rolling to finish dealing with your intruder. Now that you haven't just shot whoever you find maybe he yells out that it's your neighbor and he found your door open and was checking on you. Bet we are glad we didn't shoot that guy right? A simple misunderstanding could end up in an unjustified homicide.

I don't mean this as a rant against learning how to conduct room clearing. There are times when your hand is forced and knowing the basic principles is better than having never practiced before. The odds are so stacked against you anything you can do to improve your skill set helps. I still teach people the principles of room clearing but I do my best to address the harsh differences between the theoretical in practice, and the real world, where there are consequences. Once you learn the basics go the extra mile and take quality force-on-force training. Without that added realism you will be sorely prepared for a real encounter. Finally, if you ever find yourself thinking about clearing a building alone, ask yourself, is this worth dying for? If it isn't, get the professionals to do it.

Stay safe and keep training!

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