History and the Fighting Stance Part II: Pike, Shotte and Gunfighting
Continued from Part One: Firearms went from curious toys to battlefield nuisances to the primary arm of all self-respecting army an incredibly short period of time (relatively speaking). Training for the use of the weapon was adopted from what was already known: sword, pole arm (poll arm) weapons, and of course the crossbow. As with traditional weapons, new tactics were vetted on the battlefield and what didn’t work was discarded.
The natural and stable position of the feet looked much the same as it does today (though the shoes might have been different).
The firearm evolved, as did the consistency and quality of training to use it. Unfortunately for the line soldier, that natural desire genetically encoded in man to remain in a stance favoring quick movement in any direction was soon lost. Ironically, it was slowly regimented out of man by the same military training initially on that very instinct. Man still faced his enemy, but he did so in closed ranks. This began with the first known battle involving formations of troops, the the Battle of Kadesh. It was fought between men of the Egyptian and the Hittite empires who were the historical analog of today’s grunts. These early formations were the rough (very rough) draft for what would become known as the phalanx. The phalanx needs little introduction to anyone with even the slightest interest in history. It’s interesting to note that the phalanx may well be the most venerable formation ever used with regard to versatility and the sheer length of time it was employed effectively as an infantry tactic. The phalanx fell out of favor with the Roman Empire after it faced more lightly armored troops with the audacity to work independently of a massed formation in battle. It largely disappeared from combat after that, though some enterprising Scots under William Wallace dusted it off, changed the name, and stuck it to the English with it a few hundred years later. By the 18th century it had breathed its last breath.
From 1274 BC to the 18th century — not a bad run.
Other notable battle formations occurred during and after the phalanx, though widespread adoption of the firearm on the battlefield demanded some differences. The volley line of forward rotating soldiers saw use with the “Pike and Shotte” formations (such as the Spanish Tercios) and as the technology improved from arquebus to musket and the tactic took hold as an accepted and effective form of combat with all armies. Variations like the infantry square were developed to combat charging cavalry but used the same technique of fresh loaded rifles rotating forward to replace troops who had already fired.
We fast forward though the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and arrive at WWI, when the volley fire tactic finally became obsolete (along with cavalry) due to an inventor and later a more eccentric inventor; John Gatling and Hiram Maxim. The Maxim machine gun, predicated in part by the innovations and new technology developed previously by Gatling, changed the way war was fought forever.
What does this have to do with individual shooting stance? The same as fighting with knives and swords; bear with me.
Mass battle lines stood little chance against its power, though that didn’t stop countries from trying. Nature had the decency to say I told you so and tactics (slowly) evolved towards smaller, more flexible and mobile units. Man was facing his enemy again, free (to some extent) to move.
Science was behind in all of this. The study of combat was mostly relegated to tactics, techniques, and medical research. The mind was examined and discussed by some early pioneers in the 19th century, though didn’t develop into a complex field of study until WWI. From there it advanced quickly in the civilian world and, as usual, moved at a snail’s pace in that of the military. The psychology of combat would not be connected to the exercise of tactics in a meaningful way until the close combat nature of law enforcement necessitated it. Officers experienced things under stress that had no ready explanation (obviously the same affects are experienced by soldiers, but only during times of war and not with the same civil context). The nature of investigations into use of force begged answers for decisions made under extreme stress and the study evolved rapidly through the late part of the 19th century until today. What we have learned about the human mind and its actions and reactions under stress is amazing. From performance thresholds to motor skill function, the science is being perfected.
What we have also learned is what nature has programmed into us is something we are hard pressed to fight, even with repetitious memory created by training; squaring off to our threat is a natural response. Watch candid video of LEOs in gunfights and you will see how they revert to the same stance that was centuries old before the invention of gunpowder.
Firearms training in law enforcement as we know it today began with a focus on the handgun. This hasn’t changed. The handgun takes emphasis because it is the primary weapon of the law enforcement for defense; his own or others’. For decades, the handgun was also the only weapon a typical line officer had at his disposal. The revolver was the dominant firearm in law enforcement as well as the citizen until the semi-automatic designs came down in price and up in reliability. Because they held the spot as the handgun of choice for so long, many shooting techniques were developed around them.
As you will see in Part 3, those first pistol shooting techniques did not stray far from the fighting stance of the pikemen and musketeers who preceded them.
Aaron Cowan, Sage Dynamics
About the Author: Aaron Cowan is the Lead Instructor for Sage Dynamics, a reality-focused firearms and tactics training company that provides practical instruction for the civilian, police and military professional. Aaron served in the U.S. Army as an infantryman, as a private security contractor overseas, and as a police officer. In addition to patrol he worked as a SWAT team member, SWAT deputy team commander, SWAT sniper, sniper section leader, and in-service police training officer. Aaron holds multiple professional certifications including the National Rifle Association Law Enforcement Division’s instructor training program, California POST-certified academy instructor, Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Active Shooter Response Instructor and Simunitions Scenario Instructor, among others. He welcomes shooters of all backgrounds to his classes as long as they come with an open mind and a will to learn.