MARCH 26, 2015

Skill Set: SUL Position

I first saw the SUL position around the year 2000 during an advanced handgun class I was attending. (See photo for a visual of SUL.) Alan Brosnan and Max Joseph created SUL, Portuguese for south. They were teaching in Brazil with guys who didn't have holsters. Once the problem was solved they needed a "safe" position to hold the handgun and the ability to work around others without muzzling anyone. After a short time people began using SUL for a variety of other applications, and this is when things got distorted. The SUL position is a "safety" position, only to be used once the action was over; it's basically an administrative position, an option to holstering the weapon. I've seen SUL used as a ready position, for clearing corners while searching buildings, for inside vehicles and as a retention position. SUL was never designed to be used for these applications, and in fact can put you at a disadvantage and be downright dangerous. From a safety aspect when SUL is used incorrectly you're almost guaranteed to sweep your body with your weapon. Any movement of the torso must be preceded by moving the feet and legs first, moving them slightly in advance of the hips and upper body to ensure you don't cover them with the muzzle. See Safety Rule #2: Never point the muzzle at anything you're not ready/willing to put bullets into. This includes parts of your body. SUL isn't a ready position. Your "ready" technique should allow you to fire a shot with the least amount of movement and time necessary. What I call a "low-ready" - pistol extended out in front of you with weapon, hands and arms low enough so you can see what you need to or prevent covering/sweeping anyone – only requires you to bring the sights up to eye level, rotating the arms at the shoulders. We also teach a "retention" position, which has the pistol chest high at the side of the body, tilting outboard slightly. This makes it more difficult for the threat to grab, and when the threat is too close to extend the arms out in a normal fashion you can fire from here. SUL is not a ready position. Obtaining a sight picture involves the joints/muscles of the shoulders, elbows and wrists. While this is going on the hands must acquire a firing grip. You can practice it and get pretty fast, but simply bringing the arms up to eye level is more efficient, ultimately quicker. To fire up close from SUL you have to get into the retention firing position, again to locate the weapon as far from the threat as possible, ensuring the slide can cycle without hitting your body or clothing, creating a stoppage. From a retention standpoint, keeping the threat from taking the weapon away, the SUL has you starting at a disadvantage. SUL requires bending the wrists into an unnatural angle, where the wrist is weak. In fact it's one of the same angles used to manipulate the joint in order to take physical control of someone. Keeping the wrist locked is always stronger. SUL has a time and place to be used, but it's very specific in it's application, the context, time and place for its application. When it comes to your fighting skills keep it simple. Hick's Law states that the more options you have to choose from the longer it takes you to select one and act. This principle should apply to all your training and practice. One or two techniques, learned well, will normally serve better than having five or six options to achieve the same goal. But also remember, there are techniques such as SUL that when applied correctly and under the proper context fill a specific need. Regardless of what you use the key is completely understanding the technique, both the pros and cons of its application, and then as always, plenty of practice. Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of "The Book of Two Guns," writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911 - Website: