Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fetchez la pistolet!

British friend-who-lives-in-my-computer knirirr is a scholar of modern but endangered European martial arts. One of his ongoing projects is the translation of French instructor Joseph Renaud’s 1912 book on street defense, "La Defense Dans La Rue". This is a great service to English-speaking enthusiasts, and I'd recommend it to anybody interested in practical, untheatrical defensive martial arts and how they've been taught through the twentieth century. "Every person walking the street at night should carry a revolver," he says, and this was just 99 years ago.

Knirirr could tell you better than I could how much unarmed fighting instruction has changed since Renaud, but of greatest interest to me is his brief chapter on self defense with a revolver.

The biggest difference, of course, is that Renaud assumed his Parisian students could simply decide to buy revolvers and carry them in their overcoats. It's easy to forget just how recently Europe decided to get collectively hysterical about guns.

He recommends carrying a "38 Smith and Wesson", but avoiding the newfangled hammerless models because you want to shoot single-action when taking a shot at a fleeing mugger. He considers "semi-automatic Browning" a "fashionable weapon of today", but declines to recommend it as he can't vouch for its reliability. He insists on practical training at short distances with the actual gun you carry. He recommends unaimed point-shooting at slightly undersized silhouette targets, evidently counting a hit anywhere on the body as a success. He recommends against using a holster, and suggests that at very close ranges you plan to shoot the attacker through your overcoat pocket. He suggests the reader try shooting with the index finger along the gun's frame, pulling the trigger with the middle finger, because it "makes instinctive shooting more accurate".

It's a very, very strange mix of advice.


  1. If he should choose to shoot avec le doigt du milieu, then watch out for sparks from that forcing cone! Ouch.

  2. From Renaud himself:

    Always use this technique with a good quality revolver, as it will prevent any spit of lead from between the cylinder and the barillet that would burn your fingers.

    I recall reading about an American army commander who sent a letter to Colt ordering revolving rifles for his cavalrymen, and specified that he wanted only the best quality specimens so his soldiers could avoid burns from powder and lead particles escaping the forcing cone.

    I've seen unpleasantness jetting from the gap in every revolver, high-quality or not. I wonder, was that old belief in jetless high-quality revolvers a myth, or did it work differently with black powder cartridges?