Monday, April 04, 2005

The Golden Triangle

In my post "Mixed Drill" I talked about Golden Triangle targeting in my weekly practice; and various training targets, specifically the IPSC standard Silouhette, and the NRA TQ15 target:

...The IPSC and NRA TQ15 targets...

Obviously the IPSC target has a smaller scoring area, that conforms generally to the standard Center of Mass (COM) targeting area.

COM targeting is the standard that's been tought since the developement of practical pistol instruction by Col. Jeff Cooper, Sherrif Jack Weaver, and others; in southern California in the early 50's.

There are some pretty good reason for that: it works pretty well, it's easy to teach, and it's easy to accomplish (relatively).

The goal of practical pistol training is to teach people to "shoot to stop"; stop the fight, stop the attack, stop the threat.

So how do you shoot to stop?

Shock (in the medical sense) is the most effective way of stopping a fight, but it is impossible to reliably predict what will cause shock, or what it's effects will be, so you can't deliberately shoot to cause shock. To be effective, you have to shoot for what you can reliably predict as a high percentage stop (not just a high percentage hit). The only reliably predictable means of rapidly ending the ability of a hostile to be a threat are as follows:
  • Destroy or stop the heart.

    If blood can't pump, it's not long before the threat stops moving. Other organs will kill almost as effectively (especially the liver), but won't be fast enough to end a fight before the assailant can effectively fight back.

    Even a "destroyed heart" can sometimes be survivable, and it is possible for someone with an effectively destroyed heart to function for several seconds, up to several minutes; but generally speaking, a solid heart shot is the easiest way to stop someone with a handgun (presuming one can adequately penetrate the chest cavity).

    Remember also, the heart itself need not be destroyed for an effective heart stop. If major vessels surrounding the heart, or the muscle itself are seriously damaged, the pericardium (the sac around the heart) will fill up with blood and cause congestive failure relatively rapidly.
  • Cut a major blood vessel (or several if possible).

    This will cause a rapid and massive drop in blood pressure, and a large drop in the oxygen saturation of the blood (also potentially causing heart, lung, or organ failure). No blood pressure and/or low oxygen means no motion, and potential loss of consciousness.
  • Destroy the airway, or the diaphraghm.

    A lung shot can be effective in killing, and it's easier to accomplish (because the lungs are the largest target in the body), but a single lung shot is relatively slow in causing death so it isn't very effective in stopping a fight.

    With one lung disabled, destroyed, or filling up with blood, a person can still breath and function. Without a diaphraghm however, the lungs cannot be inflated or compressed to breathe; and without a clear airway, air can't reach the lungs.

    With no air at all, a person will have a few seconds, to at most a few minutes (4 minutes at rest, and as little as 15 seconds in an excited state) of effective action.
  • Cause a critical central nervous system (CNS) disruption.

    By destroying or seriously damaging the spinal cord, the brain, or less effectively, a major nerve junction (such as the brachial plexus) you can effectively stop someone completely, or at the very least significantly reduce their effectiveness.

    This can be the most effective means of ending a fight, but it is also the most difficult shot to accomplish of these listed; both in accuracy required, and in damage required, because the targets are relatively small, deep in the body, and heavily protected by bone and muscle.
If any of the above prove impossible, destroying a major supporting skeletal structure such as the spine, the pelvic girdle (the hip joints), or a primary joint such as the brachial junction (the shoulder area where the scapula, clavicle, and humerus come together) CAN be effective, but they aren't reliably so. What they WILL do, is effectively limit the mobility of your target, and enable you to retreat more effectively. In any case, these shots will be ineffective in stopping a fight unless a major caliber, and a heavy, solidly constructed bullet are used.

Center of mass targeting is designed specifically to give you the best chance of doing any of those things. The largest blood vessels in the body, the diaphragam, the pericardium, the heart itself, and the spine, are all clustered into the center of mass.

COM is a relatively large area, and humans are good at judging the mid point (or midline) of objects, instinctivley pointing to the middle of something; so it can be instinctively easier to hit the center of mass.

If you aim at the center of mass, and miss high or low; you are going to hit the throat, face, or pelvic girdle, all of which can be effective targeting areas as well.

For all of these reasons; for most people, and in most situations, the COM is the easist stopping shot to make, and the best shot to take.

Actually an important principle: THEY are actually the best SHOTS to take, because you keep shooting until the threat is neutralized or removed.

lets say that again: Keep shooting until the threat is neutralized or removed

Over the last few years, a supplemental targeting location has started to become popular. Called the "Golden Triangle", it consists of the area described by a triangle from either the center of the forehead, between the eyes, or the bridge of the nose; to the nipples, the level of the elbows on the torso (the bottom of the rib cage), or the kidneys. It's fuzzily defined, because there are a few different people teaching this, and the doctrine isn't well developed yet.

The idea behind the golden triangle is that the COM targeting area has a few weaknesses:
  • COM ignores the head, upper blood vessels, and upper airway
  • The lower half of the COM targeting area is relatively inneffective for rapidly stopping a fight, except for the major blood vessel shots, which are deep in the body.
  • The vital structures so emphasized in COM targeting are heavily protected with muscle and bone, are very deep in the body, or both.
  • COM is the most protected area on armored subjects, and handguns will most often prove to be inneffective with the COM targeting area on an armored subject. In fact, if the subject is wearing a trauma plate, many rifles may be inneffective (relatively) as well.
The strengths of the golden triangle can counteract these weaknesses to some extent, because the golden triangle specifically emphasises the chest from the diaphraghm up, the heart, the lungs, the throat, and the face:
  • The golden triangle contains the entirety of the most effective upper portion of the COM
  • The golden triangle gives a better chance of a heart or pericardium shot
  • The major blood vessels are more exposed, with less tissue and muscle, and less depth in the body, in the area of the golden triangle.
  • The CNS is more exposed, with less protection and depth in the body in the area of the golden triangle.
  • The golden triangle specifically allows for head shots, in the areas of the skull with the thinnest protection.
  • The golden triangle allows easier transition to direct headshots, and to femoral artery shots if only a leg is exposed in a cover or crouched position.
  • Golden triangle shots are highly likely to result in broken ribs, and sternum, which can send fragments into the lungs, heart, and/or pericardium. With proper multiple shot technique, and a major caliber (small calibers will most likely simply deflect off bone), this can be a very effective stopping mechanism.
  • If a golden triangle shot is not possible, or is more difficult, it is easy to transition into a COM shot, or a pelvic girdle shot (the pelvic girdle should be shot off the center line).
  • On an armored subject, the upper portion of the golden triangle will be the lighest armored (or unarmored) part of the body, and even when the armro does not fail, there is a significantly higher likelihood of a disabling shot through crush or fracture.
The golden triangle isn't intended to replace the COM targeting area entirely, it is meant to be a supplement to it. Effective use of a handgun to stop a fight is a matter of percentages. Even a direct heart shot from a handgun can be survivable, and in some cases will not effectively stop an opponent, but it gives you the highest percentage chance of neutralizing a threat. What you want to do, is maximize your percentages whenever possible.

The COM give you your best hit percentage (because it's easier to hit than the GT), but the golden triangle gives you the best stopping percentage (because more vitals are concetrated in the triangle) - if you can make the hit.

So the basic idea is this. You try for the GT shot when possible, and when not possible you transition to the COM shot, or to the direct head, femoral, or pelvic shot.

Advanced techniques can also be taught, such as "shooting the triangle", where three shots (or even better three doubletaps) are made at the points of the golden triangle, starting at the low dominant side, allowing the natural rise of the weapon in recovery to bring your point of aim up to the center of the face, and then your natural muscle tendencies during the recovery to pull your point of aim to the offhand and bottom of the targeting area. If your motion is correct you will end up with an upper lung or a peri or heart shot, a face or throat shot, and a second upper lung shot on the other side. Doubletaps will make this procedure far more effective, as your natural tendency will be to spread the taps along the line of your motion, producing more wounded tissue over a greater area, and greatly increasing the chances of a critical hit.

You can change this up to the "illuminati" drill very simply, by transitioning from the stong side lower shot, into a midline shot instead of the face shot, then allow the recoil of the midline shot to carry the point of aim up into the face, and then finish describing the triangle with the offside lower shot.

This drill is especially effective from a strongside holster (Assuming you have your body rotated off axis to the buject as you should), because it uses your natural sweep, and muscle motion tendencies to describe the arcs for your points of aim. It is a great improvement over the basic mozambique in terms of wounding potential, though it is more difficult to accomplish from ready position.

If you really want to seal the drill off you can "describe the diamond", where again you let your natural muscle tendencies pull your point of aim back in and down, and put a shot into the pelvic girdle. With a doubletap, your natural tendency will be to place one hit on both sides of the mid-line, the most effective possible pelvic shot.

While it is possible to survive this (hell it's possible to survive almsot anything), it's HIGHLY unlikely, and nearly impossible that the subject will continue to be a threat; which is what this is all about.