[Ed. note: This training article and video are on the firearm handling technique known as Position Sul. Position Sul is not a replacement for the low ready, rather it is an alternative that officers can use depending on the circumstances, training and department policies. Your thoughts and feedback are welcome in the comments at the end of the article.]
During the last 25 years we have witnessed the monumental push in law enforcement to get beyond punching holes in paper at the range, to a more realistic training regimen that includes critical skills to be successful in a shooting engagement (combat if you will). One of the most difficult skills to train into officers and civilian shooters alike, is the ability to be constantly aware of where the muzzle of their firearm is pointing when the potential of shooting is a constant.
When officers were simply standing in front of a paper target and punching holes it wasn’t all that difficult for instructors to ensure that muzzle’s were pointed “down range”. However, the increased awareness (and Court rulings) that officer training must be realistic to satisfy requirements for this occupation, instructors have been increasingly more versatile in their firearms range days. For many in law enforcement today, shooting from multiple positions, off-handed shooting, shooting with a partner, shooting from barricades, and shooting on the move, have become staples of training and not simply a challenge course as in years past.
Realizing that holding a firearm at arm’s length for any extended period of time can become taxing to the muscles, firearms instructors began teaching one of a variety of “low ready” techniques. This involved a 2-handed grip on the firearm, having the weapon ready for use, but pointing the firearm in a safer position then directly at the target or threat area. Unfortunately, this training concept varies widely among instructors and regions of the nation. I’ve seen anything from holding a firearm pointed almost completely toward the ground, to holding it just below the line of sight. There are varying reasons and justifications for holding a firearm anywhere in between too. So simply saying the weapon was held at “low ready” almost becomes specific to the agency where it was taught.
If you’ll notice I’m using the term “firearm” instead of “sidearm” as the techniques should be able to be universally taught regardless of whether you’re training on sidearms or long guns. However, the primary concern of this training article will be the use of sidearms (handguns).
If you’re curious, my department teaches that a “low ready” hold is lowering the firearm just enough from point of aim (looking through your sights) that the officer can view their target or threat area without the firearm obstructing their view. Interestingly though, this means that targets that are closer to the officer actually requires the firearm to be displaced downward more than those targets that are further away. In the close up encounters, officers are trained to lower their firearm to the point where they can observe their subject’s hands and waist area. Some officers will transition to a tucked position, or Position Sul if the subject is very close.
Regardless of which “low ready” position your department uses or teaches, the “low ready” idea is to be able to have your sidearm out and ready for use, without creating undue dangers to your partners or anyone down range. Of significant importance is the cardinal safety rule of pointing your muzzle in a safe direction until you are ready to fire.
However, as many can probably attest, the “low ready” position is not the easiest or most comfortable position to use when attempting to move at any speed beyond a slow walk. If the officer needs to hurry to a new location, that “low ready” position can quickly break down. Try running at a full sprint at the “low ready”. Something, somewhere is going to break-down, guaranteed – whether running movement or the “low ready” platform.
Depending on how high of a “low ready” carry your department uses, any quick officer movement can create a very unstable platform. If you are taught to carry the sidearm pointed directly to the ground method, then any movement of the legs begins to create an awkward situation as you try move and maintain the sidearm in that position. If you train to carry the sidearm at a 45-degree or even higher angle “low ready” position, then any significant moving beyond slow walking will likely create the “figure-8” movement of the muzzle. If the officer fixates too much on the muzzle movement, then their actual body movements will likely become tense, awkward, and unsustainable.
THE HISTORY OF SUL
Sul is the Portuguese word for “south”. The training concept came about when instructors Max Johnson and Alan Brosnan, then of TEES – Tactical Explosives Entry School, went to Brazil to train and instruct Brazilian officers on firearms and tactical matters. What these instructors observed horrified them. The Brazilian officers (whose native language is Portuguese) had almost no control over their muzzles, had fingers on triggers, and were deploying out of SUV’s and trucks on raids in a manner that routinely violated the “laser” rule. These violations were also observed on training ranges. Very quickly these two instructors realized that something had to be done for everyone’s safety, and they developed the Position Sul training concept and technique.
One of my fellow SWAT Team members was afforded the opportunity to receive explosive breaching training from TEES back in 2003. In addition to learning how to blow locks off doors, doors off hinges, or port a hole in a wall, the training also covered many techniques on room entries and dominating a structure. Thankfully this team member was also a firearms instructor and our department has enjoyed being trained on Position Sul for nearly 10 years now. Even the most challenged of firearms users has shown the ability to master this technique.
Position Sul teaches officers and shooters to hold their firearm close to their body with the muzzle pointing straight down towards the ground (south, or “Sul”). This is incredibly beneficial for both the officer holding the firearm in Position Sul and other officers nearby.
By using Position Sul officers can safely and confidently maneuver in tight positions, in close proximity to fellow officers, or in situations where a crowd has gathered. In addition, Position Sul allows a much greater opportunity to safely teach officers the concept of 360-degree threat assessment. In the “low ready” position the movement of the officer’s body will always present a danger of failed muzzle control. With proper Position Sul techniques officers can scan 360-degrees in a safe manner.
The officer’s off hand is placed flat against their chest with the palm against the chest. The off hand fingers are fully extended, and the thumb is pointed up towards their head. The position of the off hand on the chest can vary slightly, but in most situations the placement is somewhere from the navel to directly over the solar plexis.
TRIGGER FINGER PLACEMENT
Having the trigger finger extended down the slide should alleviate any negligent discharges (ND) from having the trigger finger near the trigger. Having the trigger finger in that position creates another positive contact with the slide that allows the officer to know that his trigger finger is in a safe position.
FIREARM AND FIREARM-HAND PLACEMENT
The firearm is then rested directly on top of the off hand with the trigger finger extended and pointing down the slide. The firearm hand rests against the officer’s chest in the L-shaped pocket created by the extended off hand. The traditional Position Sul then has the firearm hand thumb extended up and touching the off hand thumb. This creates an upward pointing triangle when completed correctly.
By having the firearm resting against the off hand the officer has positive contact with the firearm. What this means is that without having to look, the officer knows where his firearm is pointed and located, because he can feel (positive contact) that firearm on his hand.
ARM AND SHOULDER PLACEMENT
In Position Sul the officer’s arms and elbows should be tucked in towards the body, and the shoulders should be in a relaxed position. If the officer’s shoulders are scrunched up the stress of that position will wear an officer out in short time. By having the arms and elbows tucked in the officer reduces their profile, and it helps reduce the possibility that the officer will get snagged on something during movement.
MODIFIED POSITION SUL GRIP
For some officers and shooters having the thumb of the firearm hand extended up and not wrapped around the firearm creates a lack of confidence in their grip, or an actual weakness in the ability to hold the firearm. For those officers, a modified Position Sul should be employed where the more traditional firearm grip is employed with the thumb wrapped around the firearm grip. However, the trigger finger MUST still be extended down the slide and outside of the trigger well to establish that positive contact that the trigger finger is not going to contact the trigger accidentally.
Once the officers master how to hold the firearm in Position Sul, the next step is to train how to transition to a shooting platform. With Position Sul this actually is remarkably easy and natural.
Many “low ready” positions require an officer to move the firearm into a shooting position with a swinging motion – in effect causing the officer to have to track their firearms movement onto target. With Position Sul, the officer is simply required to “punch out” both arms in a natural extension. As the arms extend the hands rotate into a 2-handed support grip. The thumbs rotate forward and down to grip the firearm. What is amazing is that punching out the firearm in this manner brings the firearm almost to the point of aim instinctively. With either very minor adjustments or no adjustments at all the officer can engage a threat immediately. No more tracking or wild movements that often result in rounds off target.
RETURNING TO SUL
When the officer is ready to return to Sul they simply reverse the punch out method and steps taken to prepare to fire. The trigger finger is extended down the frame of the firearm. As the arms begin to bend in toward the body the off hand fingers extend out while maintaining contact with the fingers of the firearm hand, which are still gripping the firearm. The firearm hand begins to rotate so the muzzle is pointing down, and the barrel is resting on the back side of the off hand. The thumbs begin to extend out until the off hand makes contact with the chest, and you’re there – Position Sul.
MOVEMENT WITH POSITION SUL
By keeping the arms in close to the body, Position Sul allows the officer to maintain a great amount of control over the firearm during movement. It is true that as an officer moves they will likely laser their own legs, however by having the trigger finger in positive contact with the firearm’s frame should alleviate any accidental discharges.
Another concern is when officers turn to evaluate the threat areas to their sides and to their rear. Many officers try to maintain a good shooting platform whenever their firearm is out. This usually involves a slight bend forward at the waist to give the shooter a shock absorber for recoil, and a spring action ability to move quickly. Being in this position however will cause the muzzle to start to creep upward as officers twist their torso to check threat areas to their sides or rear.
To prevent this the officer should do one of three things:
- Simply have the officers twist their head left or right. This should provide 180-degrees of coverage, and is the easiest to perform.
- Have the officer step in the direction they want to check. This allows the natural Position Sul to stay intact.
- If the officer does twist their torso they should extend the elbow of their firearm arm outward. This exaggerated movement will provide leverage that will force the firearm hand to stay in a downward pointing (Sul) position despite the movement of the torso.
To check to the officer’s rear, the officer should pivot and step until facing the rear. The rear can be safely checked when the officer steps to check right and left by simply turning the head in the proper direction to examine the surroundings. However, from that position the officer may see a threat, but will not be fully ready to engage that threat until further moving the body towards the threat. For that reason, if the officer is going to check behind him it is better to completely step and pivot to face to the rear.
Position Sul has been widely taught and in many cases accepted by law enforcement agencies as a viable technique. No technique is fail proof, but for the general purpose it is intended for this technique has much to offer. The technique fully supports two cardinal firearm safety rules:
- Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
- Finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
I’ve attached a video of the proper manner to get into Position Sul, punch out to engage targets, return to Position Sul, and how to check your 360-degree threat areas. If you’re not already using this technique I highly recommend that you give it a try. I firmly believe that it is the best method of having your firearm out, pointed in a safe direction, and yet readily capable of moving into a shooting stance. What do you think?