Tactics – A Consumer’s Guide

Article 056 – A consumer’s guide to tactics, techniques and procedures.

Tactics is a word that is often thrown around. Unfortunately, this frequently happens without much understanding of what it means. Humorously, sometimes it is easy to forget that “tactics” does not simply refer to covering oneself with earth-toned clothing, molle loops, and Velcro. In this article, we want to take some time to set this straight because tactics are important.

We will start by defining what the word actually means. In a nutshell, tactics is problem solving. It requires understanding your own limitations and capabilities, as well as those of any potential adversaries. It then involves understanding your objective, followed by applying your own capabilities against, preferably, your adversary’s limitations to accomplish the objective within the environment that the confrontation occurs in.

If this sounds a bit cerebral—you are correct! Tactics are in the mind, not in the muscle. The muscle simply carries out techniques.

Good tactics heavily depend upon the variables involved. Is it good tactics to swim across a lake to conduct an assault on a military objective? Who knows? Can you swim? Are there alligators in the lake? Can you climb out of the lake on the other side?

This is, of course, some hyperbole for the purposes of this article. However, it should highlight the point. Tactics are about problem solving.

If you do not define and understand yourself, the adversary, the terrain, and the objective, you cannot discuss tactics. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to encounter classes, writings, videos, or training that purport to teach tactics without the requisite background information to do so.

For example, suppose you were to attend a class called, “Low Light Tactics.” In it, perhaps you learn several different methods to use a handheld flashlight with a handgun, as well as several methods for using a flashlight to navigate barriers such as walls and doors.

At the end of the class, imagine that you have learned to hold a flashlight two different ways. You have also learned two different ways of manipulating a handheld light while moving towards a doorway or barricade.

Are these tactics? The answer is no. Without information such as what environment you are in, who the adversary is, and what you are trying to accomplish, you can only practice skills that may (or may not) be relevant when actual tactics are involved.

You have learned techniques in this hypothetical class. This is not a bad thing. It is just worthwhile to understand that there is a difference.

If this seems like needlessly splitting hairs, you have a point with respect to the terminology. Cleverly defining words ultimately does little good. While we do want to provide the correct definitions here for informational purposes, “gotcha” word games are not the intent.

We would also advise against quibbling too much with others on the subject, especially instructors. After all, “tactics” is a good search engine keyword and marketing matters in any commercial endeavor. The primary reason that we are taking the time to address this is because the concepts in this discussion are extremely important to you as a consumer.

Consider the following example: During the Author’s time in the Navy, a security force member learned a flashlight technique called strobing during a training class. In this context, strobing means rapidly flashing the light on and off. There are some benefits to this lighting technique in combative environments. For example, it can disrupt an adversary’s ability to tracking your exact location or pace of movement from an adjoining room when you are inside a building.

Believing that he had learned “low light tactics” rather than simply a flashlight technique, this sailor pulled his flashlight out in the middle of a field, in the woods, at night, while approaching what he thought might be a potential human threat—and began strobing. By doing so he gave away the position of his team to anyone within several hundred yards, compromised his team’s natural night vision (gained after spending several hours in the dark) and threw away any potential tactical advantage his team might have had from being unseen (at least up until that point) by any adversary.


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Fortunately, this event occurred during a training exercise and no real harm was done. It also hopefully illustrates why these concepts matter.

Techniques (such as flashlight strobing) are important. They are used during tactics (i.e., problem solving). However, tactics and techniques are markedly different things. Just because a technique can have great tactical value does not mean using the technique is good tactics.

While the specific terminology is not overly important, understanding these different concepts is very important. For example, learning and practicing multiple techniques can be a treacherous slope to navigate when the differing techniques are fundamental mechanics and are used to accomplish the same objective.

Suppose that you were to learn and practice several different methods for gripping a handgun with two hands. The task is holding the gun. The objective is controlling it to allow you to place accurate rounds on target quickly.

During a high-stress, real-world situation, which of the different techniques would you use? Would you, could you even perform any of them correctly when under stress?

The answers to these questions are difficult because you would have learned competing techniques to do the same thing. Gripping the gun could be part of a rapid response in a very stressful environment (such as an attacker charging you with a knife or a home invader kicking down your front door).

There are multiple ways to grip a gun that can work for self-defense. However, you cannot perform more than one technique at a time.

Learning and practicing multiple techniques has little practical value. In fact, this may even interfere with your ability to grip a handgun effectively.

Importantly, this relates to your selection of technique and what skills you choose to practice. It also relates to what classes you take, who you choose as instructors, and what written / online content you consume.

In most cases you should only seek to learn and practice a single technique for accomplishing a specific fundamental task and objective. This is especially important if it will be performed during a self-defense situation.

This does not mean that there are not multiple techniques that can work. In fact, there is usually more than one way to do most skills that are adequate for self-defense. It does mean that you should pick instructors and sources of information that are both valid and grounded in the applications that you wish to pursue (such as competition, self-defense, etc.).

By choosing wisely at the beginning, you can ensure that you do not learn and practice techniques that do NOT work for your intended applications. For example, some techniques that may be adequate for self-defense will fail miserably in competition and vice versa, while some techniques will work fine for both—at least up to a certain point in competition.

If you learn suboptimal things up front—things that you then need to go unlearn—it will make your path to competency far more difficult and time consuming than it needs to be. What is the best way to avoid this? Choose a good instructor and a good source of information.

With respect to tactics though, this same concept does NOT typically apply.

For example, there are several different ways to approach, and move through a door. These types of sequences can be considered procedures, or higher-level techniques (as opposed to fundamental techniques such as gripping a gun).

Each of these different procedures has advantages and disadvantages—choosing which one to apply should be based on factors such as the objective, environment, adversary, etc. Do you want to search the building for something? Or do you want to solve a specific and acute problem in the building?

If you find what you are searching for, what are you going to do? Will you approach? Will you shoot? Will you be shot at? Will you back away and leave the building?

Understanding the answers to these types of questions will help you determine which advantages are critical to your success, and which disadvantages are most (or least) likely to hurt you. These answers will inform your choice about what to do—this is the essence of tactics.

Unlike gripping the gun—a more-or-less consistently performed skill to accomplish a single objective—the more complex skill sequence, or procedure, of moving through a door may be used to support accomplishing any number of different objectives.

It may be performed going through many different types of doors, in many different lighting conditions, with many different sets of circumstances involved. Everything will have its own advantages and drawbacks. Having multiple options to apply to maximize the chances of success can be extremely beneficial in a tactical environment.

This is not intended to be a lesson on tactics. We simply seek to explain the terms and provide a set of considerations for you to use as you choose instructors and sources of information. Given the subject matter, however, we do believe that it is important to make one specific point.

Decision-making is usually the key to prevailing in tactical environments and indecision is a killer. In most cases, mediocre decisions and tactics will ultimately get the job done if they are performed well and in a timely manner. Perfect decisions that never get made will always fail. Please do not misinterpret this article as advocating for “paralysis by analysis” in tactical situations.


This article is adapted from a chapter in the latest book from Building Shooters: Becoming Shooters: A Guide for New Gun Owners by Founder Dustin Salomon.

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Author, Training at the Speed of Life
Co-Founder of Simunition