Why Do We Teach?
By George T. Williams
WDWT: “Sul” Position
When to use it and when not to use it
This is one of a series of articles on multiple topics exploring training subjects in police academies and in-service training, as well as general combatives concepts. It is incumbent upon every instructor and trainer of combatives to be able to defend any challenge to the curricula of any training course.
Many handgun shooters use the “Sul” Position” as a “combat ready” position, both on the range and in the street. The Sul Position is characterized by the weapon hand being held close to the torso approximately at solar plexus level, muzzle down, with the support hand in various positions as needed or trained. The muzzle is intended to be directed just to the side of the lead leg to comply with safety rules of never allowing the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to destroy or kill. It is also presently fashionable as seen in many magazines and training videos. So it makes sense to train cops to use the Sul Position as a safe combat ready position, right?
Well, no, not really. The Sul Position is not suitable as a combatives ready position, and was never intended for that purpose. Often, when something becomes a “position” or “technique”—especially when someone gives something a name—it becomes both fashionable and misunderstood. Doing anything because someone else does it without knowing why they are doing it that way can lead to wasted years of training, or worse, tragedy, injury, and sometimes loss of life. While the Sul Position is useful for its intended and very limited purpose, as a ready stance, it decreases efficiency of the weapon’s presentation and can create a safety problem.
History and Reasoning for Sul
“Sul” is Portugese for “south,” and its concept was originally developed in Brazil. The original intent was to provide a safer way to move with a handgun in-hand through a crowd or past a person without improperly muzzling someone. Sul is also used in diamond team formations during rapid response situations to avoid sweeping fellow officers.
The Sul Position works from a practical ready position with the handgun in a one- or two-hand hold, muzzle directed toward the threat area. It is performed by bringing the weapon to the torso with the muzzle directed downward, or south, and pointed off to the side of the support hand’s leg (if in the right hand, the muzzle is directed down and just to the side of the left leg). As the muzzle moves downward into the Sul, the support hand either comes off the grip and flattens naturally, palm down on the torso (ready to quickly move into a two-hand grip), or it comes up over the weapon, covering it.
The support hand is available to reach out and grab a subject if the situation demands (never the first choice with a firearm in-hand, but being forced to go hands-on with a threatening or resistive subject happens far too often to be ignored or simply dismissed by saying, “Never touch anyone with a gun in your hand.”). Your support hand may reach out and touch a person you are moving past, ensuring you know his/her position, to let him/her know you are moving past, and making sure he/she doesn’t move unexpectedly.
If moving through a crowd, the weapon moves into a safer muzzle position against the body, and the support hand moves to cover the weapon as the first line of defense against weapon retention threats. The support hand comes off the handgun as needed to guide others, creating a path to quickly move through the crowd while still having the handgun in-hand. As quickly as the support hand moves from the weapon to reach out, it comes back, covering the weapon as the shooter continues to move.
When the shooter is past the individual or through the crowd, the muzzle comes up and the weapon again floats away from the mid-torso, pointing wherever the shooter needs it for quick response to an imminent threat.
The Sul as a Ready Position is Problematic
Because so many lawful shootings in defense of life are an immediate response to a reasonable perception of imminent deadly threat behavior, everything the shooter does must be efficient to obtain first round hits on target—as well as each subsequent round. Hits are the only thing that counts in a gunfight, and looking good in a cool stance or weapon hold just before you die doesn’t count for much of anything.
Neural pathways (muscle-memory) are created by doing the same efficient movement the same way, getting the same consistent results. The Sul cannot support habits of efficient weapon presentation because it was never intended to be a “Ready Position,” and its fundamental presentation mechanics are faulty.
Flipping the muzzle
A “ready position” facilitates the weapon smoothly—and rapidly—interrupting the eye-target line with the muzzle (actually, the bore-axis) aligned with the threat and with minimal disturbance to that critical alignment, ready to put a bullet into the target. The handgun in the Sul Position is flat against the body while the muzzle is down. As the handgun is brought up and punched out, the shooter must accomplish a lot more than just presenting the weapon to the target. The handgun must rotate in two directions—laterally and vertically—while speeding to get on target. While a three-pound weight held in your hand(s) at the end of your arm(s) doesn’t seem like much, the rotational forces while punching out with the pistol combine to create the critical problem of precisely controlling muzzle flip. Flipping the muzzle creates muzzle over-travel and inconsistent first-round hits. These first-round hits are essential to officers who are almost always behind the suspect’s first moves in a gunfight.
Rigidity in the Body, Shoulders and Arms
Creating a “technique” can manifest mental mind-games in many shooters. It is not unusual to see shooters on the line, handgun in-hand in the Sul Position, waiting for the execute command, their entire body rigid, elbows held out at their sides and sometimes unnaturally forward. This becomes a variation of a position of attention, locked both mentally and physically. Brain studies show that if we are “doing something,” the brain must first tell the body to stop “doing this,” and then find the neural pathways to tell the body to begin “doing that.” This is measured in tenths of a second for each command—first to stop, and then to begin. Ready stances should be relaxed and as natural as possible.
Muzzling One’s Body Parts
There are safety issues with this position. It is not unusual for a shooter using the Sul to muzzle body parts, whether a foot, leg, or, um…other highly valued areas. When the Sul Position becomes a ready position, it is easy to lose track of the muzzle because the eyes are downrange watching the threat target or searching for one. The most common safety violation we see on the range is from those trained in Sul pointing their weapon at their own bodies.
What Should be Taught?
There is nothing wrong with moving the muzzle in any direction that safety demands. On the range, that’s easy—downrange where the backstop is located. On the street, that can be problematic. Cutting Edge Training’s Master Trainer, Thomas V. Benge, developed the idea that the weapon should be pointed in the “safer” direction—the area where the least amount of injury or damage will occur if the weapon is discharged. Sometimes that direction will be downward depending upon the context of the situation. Sometimes it’s safest pointing at that person you might soon be forced to shoot.
With a weapon in-hand, there is an anticipated need for a possible immediate response, otherwise the handgun would still be holstered. The muzzle of any in-hand handgun (or firearm) should be pointed in a safer direction between you and the possible threat. Whether or not the weapon should be leveled at the individual depends upon your reasonable perception of imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.
The suggestion is for a “floating” ready position, that is, the weapon floats to and away from your body as the situation demands, pointing at the threat or possible threat location until it is safer to point somewhere else.
• With the weapon lightly gripped in your dominant hand while traveling from one point to another toward the suspect’s threat’s location, both hands on the weapon, your upper body is loose and relaxed. Loose muscles move faster than tense muscles (fewer neural commands seeking pathways to achieve movement).
• As your perception of threat increases, your grip will tighten as the weapon naturally floats out farther from your body toward the threat. We also see the weapon getting higher, nearer to the eye-target line.
• Upon challenging a possible threat, your arms move to near maximum extension below the eye-target line, generally in the crotch/belt buckle area as you make shoot/no-shoot decisions. The muzzle is on the subject. This allows you to see his hands and waistband. This is a deadly force warning that, if the circumstances permit, will likely be accompanied by an oral warning to comply.
• If the perception of imminent threat to life is sudden, the weapon is quickly pushed forward and brought up, interrupting the eye-target line well before the arms are extended, and the trigger depressed as the weapon is slowing to a stop.
Rather than a fixed position, the ready position moves as the situation changes. The weapon moves up and down, left and right, away and back until it is punched out as a warning or a deadly force response to a reasonably perceived imminent threat.
The concept of the Sul is absolutely valid—it just is not useful as a “ready position.” If crossing, either an uninvolved person, a teammate, or through a crowd, the weapon moves against your body, muzzle pointing down and away from body parts, with the support hand either touching, grabbing, or moving someone, or covering the weapon. The Sul is useful until it is again time to point the weapon in a safer direction—toward the suspected or actual position of the threat. PM
George T. Williams is the Director of Training for Cutting Edge Training in Bellingham, Wash. He has been a Police Training Specialist for more than three decades, as well as an expert witness in federal and state courts nationwide and a widely published author for more than two decades. Mr. Williams develops and presents revolutionary concepts within integrated force training solutions through a problem-solving format, functionalizing police skills and tactical training. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. The “Sul” position is performed with the weapon flat to your chest, muzzle angled away from any body parts, permitting you to move around another person or through a crowd. It was never intended as a “ready position.”
2. A more efficient ready position is muzzle toward the threat/possible threat, and allowed to “float” where it is needed based on your perception of threat.
3. Using the Sul as a ready position forces you either to turn the weapon before punching out to respond to the threat, or, as is most commonly seen, flipping the muzzle toward the threat, risking muzzle over-travel and a miss.
4. With the muzzle oriented at the threat, the weapon smoothly and efficiently intersects the eye-target line with the muzzle on target earlier, permitting the trigger finger to engage the trigger and take up slack as the weapon is presented to the target.
5. The “Sul” position is performed with the weapon flat to your chest, muzzle angled away from any body parts, with the non-gun hand ready to either defend the weapon from grab or to support the weapon firing.