Way of the Gun

Robert W. Young
Black Belt
ca. March 2003

Intentionally incompetent. That’s how Ignatius Piazza describes people who have the potential to defend themselves but don't learn how to do it the right way because they're lazy or afraid of being criticized. Graveyards are filled with their kind, he says.

Unconsciously incompetent is the term he uses to describe people who are in pretty much the same boat but a little less guilty: They don't know that they don't know how to defend themselves.

Together, the Americans who fall into these two categories make up more than 95 percent of the population. Since they've never been in a fight, they have no idea how poorly they will fare. Until it’s too late.

Before you get your get bottom in a bunch, know that the mere act of enrolling in a self-defense class or reading a magazine dedicated to the subject places you above those two groups, for you have taken voluntary action to preserve the safety of yourself and your family.

Welcome to the upper echelons of Piazza’s world of self-defense: the consciously incompetent (students who know they need to build their skills and diligently seek to do so), the consciously competent (practitioners whose bodies and minds function efficiently under pressure), and the unconsciously competent (masters who act instinctively in the face of danger).

When making those statements, Piazza, founder and director of Front Sight Firearms Raining Institute in Front Sight, Nevada, was actually referring to America’s 65 million gun owners, but his points apply just as succinctly to anyone interested in self-defense. That’s why he founded his school in Bakersfield, California, in 1996. To help more civilians learn how to use deadly force responsibly, the following year he purchased the real estate that would become his expanded Nevada base of operations. Now he’s forging ahead with his plan to offer the public intensive training in contact weapons (knife and stick) and empty-hand defense.

The Academy

Piazza’s current facility sits on a 550-acre chunk of land located some 30 minutes from Pahrump, Nevada, and one hour from Las Vegas. A freshly paved 4-mile-long driveway leads to a compound that’s a virtual paradise for students of self-defense.

Want to learn how to safely and effectively fire a handgun, rifle, or shotgun? Front Sight has 15 operational ranges and 400 yards of underground training tunnels. Want to learn knife fighting or grappling? Front Sight has a 5,400 square-foot martial arts gymnasium. Want to learn how to tactically descend a rope like a SWAT officer? Front Sight has a five-story, world-class rappelling tower.

After having built a reputation as one of the United States' premier firearms-training facilities, why is Front Sight sinking millions into ancillary aspects of self-defense? Because Piazza, a 42-year-old retired chiropractor from Santa Cruz, California, is a firm believer in the individual’s right to preserve his own life, and with that right comes a responsibility to rise above the intentionally incompetent and the unconsciously incompetent in all phases of fighting back.

To better meet the needs of students, on September 1, 2002, he launched a new program called Family Safe Forever. Aimed at the spouses and children of Front Sight’s primarily adult-male clientele, it is composed of courses on child safety, mental awareness, pepper spray, edged weapons, empty-hand self-defense, and fear management. The curriculum was developed by martial arts masters who combined the street-proven techniques of numerous disciplines into a coherent and comprehensive program, Piazza says.

Training Philosophy

Everyone’s interested in protecting themselves, their family, and their home, Piazza says. If you have some type of weapon, you're much more likely to be able to defend yourself. Firearms are the ultimate tool, the great equalizer.

Most Front Sight students agree. There’s a great need for women in this country to learn all aspects of self-defense, says Donna Glidewell, a Victor, Montana, resident who recently attended Front Sight’s four-day defensive-handgun course. I trained in Hapkido for about five years. I'm here now because I decided I wanted to learn how to use a gun safely-for times when the size and weight of a man are too much to overcome.

But for occasions when you're unarmed, Piazza says, it is essential to possess skill in empty-hand fighting and contact weapons.

Obviously you will not always have a gun with you, but you will always have your hands and feet, says Gary Hibbard, a part-time Front Sight shooting instructor who also owns a tang soo do school in Dover, Arkansas. You have to be prepared for anything.

At Front Sight, being prepared for anything means learning the proper skills from a qualified instructor, then practicing them regularly so they don't atrophy. In a real fight, you will be only half as good as you were on your best training day, Piazza says, noting the effects of stress and adrenaline. Therefore, you have to train twice as much as you thought you had to.

The more training you get, the less likely you are to have to use your skills because you'll possess the awareness needed to avoid trouble and you'll be confident in your physical abilities, he continues. You will learn to swallow your pride and let the little things go by. It’s a concept every martial artist knows well.

Future Plans

Upcoming development at Front Sight, which now trains up to 500 people per weekend, includes a martial arts gym that will expand to 12,000 square feet. Six additional firing ranges and a state-of-the-art evasive-driving course are scheduled to open later this year.

If Ignatius Piazza’s track record in the firearms-training community is any indication, Front Sight may soon become the 800-pound gorilla of the reality-fighting and personal-security world.

About the author: Robert W. Young is the executive editor of Black Belt.