This series of articles isn’t meant to offer concrete, hard-and-fast rules about close-quarters combat. Like anything in life, there are dozens of paths to this destination—it’s efficiency and safety that make the difference. These ‘rules’ are more a reminder of things that many forget or are simply not aware of. In this series of articles, we will discuss the most important unwritten rules of CQB.

The reality of today is that the majority of tactical strategy has not been validated via scientific research. Much of it has been adopted following one dude hearing from one dude who heard from another dude. Some of the techniques work well on paper targets or deliver successful feedback to the team or the viewer on the catwalk with a timer, but they aren’t actually human-behavior compliant, or in other words, going to work when bullets are being exchanged. The purpose of this article is to highlight certain known or commonly performed errors that are not human-behavior compliant and work against our human instincts, but are still taught around the globe as a standard.

Sight fixation

Let’s begin with a small, very raw experiment. Stretch your arm while thumbing up. Now look at the thumb. It appears in great detail, but to its right and left, your vision is more blurry. Your vision acutely drops by 50 percent to each side of the thumb. Long story short, precision sight is limited by angle due to the unique structure of the human eye. The conclusion is that:

  • While on your sights, only a narrow field of precision information can be processed. In low-light situations, you can imagine how fragile that becomes.
  • A wider field of peripheral (not in-depth) vision can be triggered by OR (observation response, aka movement that attracts the eyes)

Focused vision (aka Foveal field of vision) is only 1.5 inches in diameter at six feet and 2.5 inches at 10 feet. The central visual field is 12.7 inches in diameter at six feet and 21.1 inches at 10 feet. The peripheral visual field has no ability to detect precision focus. In other words, anything the green circle below covers has no sharp detail/precision sight coverage.

This image is a rough estimation and might be few inches off. Our Photoshop skills suck.

Now that you are aware of the limitations, I can begin with my case. One of the biggest problems that I encounter with both experienced and non-experienced students in CQB is that they move into rooms with their eyes buried into optics or slightly above. To my observations, this is one of the most consistent errors I see even in the professional circles, and I believe that its source is inexperienced instructors receiving implicit knowledge from movies or from a dude who heard from another dude that reticle + target = success. Not always.

I’ll state the obvious: The average distance for CQB engagement is less than 10 meters and commonly ends up at three meters away from a threat. Things happen quickly and up close. There are two major factors that have a huge effect on human performance in CQB and should be considered: a lack of time and a limited visual field of view, both which impact our intake of critical data and our target discrimination.

Viewing the world through a toilet paper roll will result not only in missing vital visual information—such as that extra door behind a closet or an innocent-looking tango secretly holding a folding knife—but it also normally results in accidents, such as a wingman shooting the shoulder or elbows of the point man since he could not get that visual data while under acute stress response (see video above). While using pistols, this is even more fragile. From what I’ve seen with police officers, the wingman or the guy in the back will often experience target fixation and will flag the shit out of his partner’s head or body due to the sight fixation effect. In addition to that, a shooter may trip over furniture, debris, kids, or other obstacles that are quite low and won’t be visible when you reduce your field of view to a toilet paper roll.

I have also recognized that reaction time seems to be diminished until the individual receives a physical stimulus indicating there is, in fact, a threat in front of him. You are probably asking why. Well, it is simple: The shooter missed the critical vision information necessary to indicate the presence of a threat or a human being. In other words, the individual’s eyes were not receiving enough sensory data to understand and process, connecting training to reality and making a difference. Instead, his eyes were fixed on a reticle and linear perspective.

To summarize, sight fixation—moving with eyes locked on sights—is something that belongs in the movies. Sadly, the idea of clearing rooms while looking through optics is very common nowadays. Let’s be honest: Why do you need to aim down your Aimpoint at three meters, anyway? The only answer would be when precision shots (read: hostage situation) are a must.

Flashlights are a force multiplier

For many people, flashlights are associated with crickets, dark rooms, or night operations. In reality, flashlights could and should be used as a standard, even in illuminated rooms, as soon as you encounter a non-compliant person or a threat.

Assuming your flashlight is powerful enough (which it should be), it can act as a non-lethal weapon that will disorient or divide attention, impairing a threat’s attempt to OODA himself or to become proactive, since any kind of sensory stimulation moves them closer to a sympathetic response. For no-light/low-light situations, there are several nice techniques that can reduce significantly the capability of the threat to anticipate the moment of entry.

How can a flashlight be of help ?

  • It’s a great disorientation tool. A flashlight’s beam in the eyes can confuse and disorient an attacker while giving a shooter the specific location of a human inside a room.
  • It divides attention. Flashlights are the ultimate tool of deception and manipulation. Especially since in low-light conditions, the world looks like a framed picture without details, contrast, or colors. You get to fill that picture, to manipulate it to fit your needs. It also causes a threat to fixate on the light, soaking up their attention and keeping it off your partners, who are ideally triangulating the threat.
  • It’s silent. The flashlight has no sound or signature, and will not compromise you during daylight.
  • It increases reaction time. Simply put, being able to see clearly increases your reaction time when determining threats versus hostages or obstacles.

During daylight room clearing, we instruct our students at Project Gecko to use flashlights almost as a default (depends on law enforcement or military context) upon encountering a human presence in close proximity. A beam of 500 lumens can save your life. It will surely buy you more time and control, and in some cases, even concealment—assuming your training is solid. We will get to this later in this article series.

Acknowledge the potential of your flashlight—not only in total darkness. Oh, and don’t be cheap—carry two. One mounted, one handheld.