Move, Shoot, Communicate

Few things are paid more lip service than "move shoot communicate". We lay out the skills you'll need if you want to be able to move, shoot, and communicate.

December 30, 2019


Kneeling or sitting while you and your ranger buddy are empty = swimming in $hi+ creek.

Imagine for a second that you're interrupted as you read this; gunmen storm the building you're in, you have seconds to make decisions that will impact your life, the lives of those around you, and the lives of your family. You default to your training...

What do you do?

Training for gunfights is a sticky subject because no two are the same. We've written at length regarding how much of what we see is just regurgitation or irrelevant - but there's another phenomenon we need to address: sloganized thinking.

How often do you hear things like "Move, shoot, communicate", "threat scan", "train like you fight", or "focus on the front sight"?

These phrases have been flogged to uselessness. While at one point they represented actionable knowledge, they've become just words.

Giving people generic advice like those above is as helpful as saying "eat healthy". If you don't know what healthy is, it's hard to just follow the recommendation. Without a solid understanding of what 'move, shoot, communicate' means, it's guess work and your results will reflect that.

If we do understand it, we can make it a habit that will benefit us before violence ever unfolds.

The Problem

The video and images above come from a very skilled 3-gun shooter named Corinne Mosher. In them, she and a partner are running a "Move, Shoot, Communicate" drill.

We want to make a couple bold statements about this kind of training:

  1. The phrase "move, shoot, and communicate" in the civilian world is spoiled leftovers from the military Sphere of Violence and it requires some translation to be useful to citizens or police.
  1. It can - and should - easily be adapted to the citizen's defensive skill set.

These tactics have their place and the video isn't bad in terms of skill. We're not using it to criticize the shooters, but it's a good example of how "move, shoot, communicate" is put into training without translating it to the citizen's sphere of violence. Let's start with some minor criticism of the techniques in the video. In it, what we see is just.. too much:

  1. There's too much shooting with no clear objective.
  2. There's so much communication that the words aren't actionable - they don't cue a response or communicate critical information clearly and efficiently.  
  3. There's too much moving; changing position costs you time and calories, which eventually hammers your efficiency. They're not using the cover to their benefit.

This video got us thinking about what it is that separates good tactics from bad. What makes a simple concept like "move, shoot, communicate" useful... or a dangerous over-simplification?

The answer is simple: if we parse it out to understand exactly what each piece of the puzzle represents. We need to separate Movement, Fighting, and Communicating, break down each one, understand how it relates to us, and how we can reassemble it into a useful template when fighting. Like all things, though, it doesn't start there.

Situational Awareness... again... always...

Long ago, a friend and mentor corrected me and said: 'don't move, maneuver. Anyone can move. Maneuver is deliberate. It means you chose to move there.'

Don't move. Maneuver. Anyone can move. Maneuver is deliberate. It means you chose to move there.
Tactics and strategy are chess, not checkers.

This simple bit of wisdom is the glue that ties some very important concepts together.

It tells us that we don't just 'move for the sake of movement'. We adjust our position in the world so that we expose the smallest amount of ourselves behind the sturdiest cover with the best view of the threat area. Like moving a piece in a game of chess. And like chess, knowing how to maneuver begins with awareness.

When we play chess, we evaluate the potential moves that could be made against us, we establish our defenses, and prepare to attack in such a way that doesn't leave us vulnerable. In life, awareness looks a little different, but it all starts by 'surveying the board'... in this case, our surroundings:

  1. How can I stop an ambush before it starts? By this, we mean neutralize the strength in numbers (stacking them along a linear path, for example), or regain initiative (by denying your enemies monopoly of violence or "fire superiority")
  2. Where are the most (and least) vulnerable spots near you?
  3. From what posture are we the most mobile? The least? Most exposed? Least?
  4. What constitutes good cover? Good concealment?
  5. What angles leave us exposed or vulnerable?

While this isn't an all-inclusive list, the points above are universal concerns in fights. Whether it's terrorism, active shooter, or even street level crime, the first step in getting an outcome you can live through is knowing what pieces are on the board, how they can hurt you, and how they're vulnerable.

Dropping the Chess analogy, that means we've got to understand angles and be aware of how the physical world works for or against us before we introduce communication. We have to be aware that we're playing the game before we learn the moves.

Maneuvering: Posture and Angles

Slicing the Pie: Easing around corners to reveal as much information as possible, while minimizing how well you can be seen. That can mean shooting from your non-dominant side.

When we study violence, there can be no mistake about our objective: to kill other humans. Whether or not we want it to be, violence is a component of the human experience that has been ever-present throughout our life history.

So when we practice anything martial it must be with a clear view of this objective.

After World War II, it had become clear that the most effective way of neutralizing enemies (see: killing human beings) was to pin them down in a position from which they couldn't escape and attack from an angle from which they couldn't defend.

This logic extended to attacking their ability to fight - not just killing the enemy. If he could be lured to a skirmish while his supply train was overextended and attacked, the enemy couldn't support their offensive.

This is loosely called "Maneuver warfare" and when scaled down to the unit, we discuss it in terms of tactics. Scaled down to the individual, we call it individual movement technique, but what it really is, is mastering angles.

A core difference between the spheres of violence is that for the individual citizen, we rarely have to rely on attrition (killing) of the enemy to succeed. In battle, it's often a non-negotiable requirement and that fundamentally reshapes how we use movement to succeed. For the citizen, a positive outcome generally means not taking life.

While we use awareness to detect the setup, we use movement to evade or counter the knockdown. Angles are both strategic (how we choose to attack) and kinetic (how we attack a weak point), so we have to understand angles from both perspectives.


When you're fighting a person, posture and position are of major importance. If you're not a fighter, think of how a football player stands: He's upright, strong, bent at the knees and hips. His weight is over his toes and his legs are "loaded". He can turn and adjust his balance quickly. Think about how a football player tackles another player. The player is taken down from the side, where he is least stable or his legs are struck, which uses his weight against him. In short, we're using geometry against him; we're making his weight unmanageable, which makes him vulnerable.

Now, let's imagine a gunfight. An enemy is facing you, his rifle up. He's steady, solid, and if he's trained his marksmanship will likely be true. Going head to head (i.e., fighting straight on) will likely yield a 'stalemate' in which both parties get dosed up with lead. This would be tactics of attrition. You handout punishment and see who folds from his injuries first.

The angle got us a dominant position (drawn in on an armed suspect) and that's what we want. He rounded the corner into the sight picture - not many options for him, but this is good for us.

Let's say we approach that same enemy from the side.

He must articulate his feet, hips, and his arms. He must re-acquire his sights and orient himself to a new visual field - all while dealing with the neuro-chemical cocktail of adrenaline that hits when you're taken by surprise in a fight.

We'll need an understanding of this if we want to successfully counter ambushes and fight our way back from initiative deficits - those fatal, fleeting moments in which the attacker has all the advantages.


The second piece of the puzzle for movement is how we use angles to cover our movement. Our objective is always to give our enemy as little information as possible while taking as much as we can for ourselves. Strategic angles are known as "slicing the pie" - a process in which you use small steps and concealment to mask your movements while seeing as much as possible. In its own way, this is also a form of dominant positioning. Done correctly, you'll see the enemy first, see more of him, and his opportunity to hit you will be diminished.

When blended, you seize the dominant position spatially, limiting his ability to engage you successfully, then kinetically, attacking while your adversary's movements are complicated by weak positioning.

So it's not just as simple as telling someone to "move", and it becomes even more complex when you are working with a team... or a spouse, children, or friends. To master that, you've got to understand the next step: Communication.

We'll need an understanding of this if we want to successfully counter ambushes and fight our way back from initiative deficits - those fatal, fleeting moments in which the attacker has all the advantages.

Communications: Coordination and the Language of Gunfire

Communications allow us to exploit angles by letting our team know where we are and what we're doing. Since World War II, we've trained our troops to yell to communicate over top of the chaos in an attempt to part the fog of war (overcome battlefield confusion) and better isolate and kill the enemy.

We see it often in training videos: a team yells at one another, while instructors overwhelm them with commotion. But does yelling equal communication?

Yes and no.

If you're moving block by block through Fallujah, calling for medics, and communicating with a battle buddy as part of an infantry platoon, then yes. Definitely... But across the spectrum of SOF, police, contractors, close protection agents, or clandestine intelligence officers, no single communication solution fits all situations.

It's important to recognize that similar to the loss of fine motor skills, our perception suffers under stress... Not just in gunfights, but car accidents, fistfights, even arguments. A phenomenon called "auditory exclusion" occurs - especially the first few times your body experiences that stress.

Don't expect that you'll be heard or will hear someone once lead starts flying.

Another major consideration is that it's really hard to hear even if auditory exclusion isn't a component. If you're a citizen, protracted firefights are not a common enough occurrence that spending a lot of time on drills like this makes the juice worth the squeeze for four reasons:

  1. Yelling is handing information to people who will likely be called to testify.
  2. Your partner is unlikely to take actionable information from shouts in a gunfight.
  3. The fight is unlikely to last long enough for it to be an issue.
  4. It could give information to those you're fighting.

Additionally and unlike foreign battlefields, the people you're going to be yelling around understand English (for the most part). So if you're screaming "EMPTY EMPTY!", it will only advertise your whereabouts and complications you're experiencing. Our communication needs to be adjusted in a couple ways. When we master awareness, understand the angles involved in fighting, we must coordinate.

Coordinated Cover: The goal is to ensure you are never surprised by a lack of covering fire.

In training, most of the work we do is "individual". We don't have to think of who else is moving, where they're going, what their condition is, or what happens when they get there.

To remedy this, instructors often construction training around the mantra: "Move shoot communicate"... but in the world of very small teams (or families), we need to carefully define what these words mean and how to use them in a practical sense.

Coordination is a type of communication using non-verbal cues. It can mean staying within visual range and behind effective cover.

It's knowing that dumping a mag with your pistol and going dry while your partner is moving or bringing up a long gun is bad! It's being aware enough to see where your partner is, and not passing in front of them, or how to hold your weapon while you're moving to minimize risks of negligent discharges. It can be an understanding between you and your partner that under certain circumstances, you have designated responsibilities (one person gets the kids while the other recovers the fire extinguisher, etc).

Said another way, coordination is the active component of Applied Situational Awareness for teams. It's moving the pieces once you've found a secure way to attack the problem.

We can't create a universal script for any kind of fight, but what we can do is use some principles to fight more intelligently.

Another things that needs to be mentioned is that while it's very hard to hear yelling, it becomes easy to differentiate the sound of different types of weapons.

Pistol, light caliber rifles, and major caliber rifles all have a different sound to them and it's reasonable to expect that with some experience and coordination, a person can listen to the sounds to intuitively understand what's happening.

For example, if part of your coordination is cover for a friend while they bring a rifle on-line, you'll know by the report (gunshot) and position of the rifle that they're 'up' and by proxy, covering you. That is a non-verbal 'cue to action'.

A more advanced extension of that phenomenon is listening to the cadence of gunfire. Rapid, panicked fire for example, could be a sign that your teammate is desperate and requires you to hurry and get them some fire. A controlled, slow cadence probably means they're providing effective fire.

Non-auditory signals can also be introduced, such as 'flagging' (holding vertically) a rifle when you're reloading. If you see your partner with their rifle in the air, you can read that as moving/reloading/cleaning malfunctions.

Verbal cues

Not everything ends up in gunfights though, and as with all Type I emergencies (high intensity, short duration), it may require you to give direction to people who are simply stunned and looking on. It also may be necessary to verbally cue your partner to move. In such cases, use short, direct statements while looking at them. "Call 911!", "get back!", "Help me", generally bring people out of their stupor.

If you're trying to move and you can't use coordination or coordinated fire, sounding off that you're moving isn't enough. You need your partner to confirm they're covering. Typically, the person who needs to move will shout "Moving" and wait until their partner gives the command to move. Once they do, the roles switch until they've moved out of the danger area. Similarly, if you're dealing with a weapons related task (reloading, malfunction clearance, etc), instead of having a word for each task, simply shouting "Red!" let's your partner know you're stopped. They should then cover you until they hear you yell "green!" or something similar. It's ambiguous to anyone else, but sends a very specific message to your teammate(s).

So when we say, "Move, shoot, communicate" this is what we want to reinforce. Coordinating movement with and without verbal cues, listening for your partner's gunfire to signal the condition, and using verbal communication to communicate critical information, such as movement.


Using angles to provide concealment while treating an injury.

Purpose should drive practice, and now we've given purpose to movement, angles (as they relate to attack), and communication.

We communicate in fights to give specific, relevant information to people who need it.

As we adjust to make this training methodology relevant to the citizen, we have to periodically reassess things like yelling "Loading!" to our partner.

Is that something your teammate needs to know? Can they be told in another way? Can coordination in training help minimize the necessity to give that information out?

As with all comprehension, the simplest, most direct information needs to be communicated and understood first.

Given this, it's bad practice to holler about every little detail of what's going on. What you need to do is provide information that cues action:

Is my partner:

  • - Maneuvering...
  • - Reloading...
  • - Fixing a malfunction...
  • - Bringing a better weapon online...
  • - Covering someone who doesn't need to be shot but needs to GTFO or engaging a threat...
  • - Negotiating a transitional space...
  • - Injured?

If so, I need to provide them with an element of cover that allows them to deal with that task without being killed. I need to do so in such a way that allows them to focus, which means my objective is to be aware and deal with anyone who threatens them.

If they aren't engaged in one of those tasks, we want our partner to instantly and naturally transition into providing us those same protections. That takes training and experience. When we train, from now on we should break down the tasks of moving, shooting, and communicating, understanding they are a process of:

  • - Translating awareness into deliberate movement that benefits you and costs the enemy a debt of time and awareness.
  • - Turning verbal and non-verbal cues into a binary decision tree (can I move, or do I need to hold what I got?), and;
  • - Positioning ourselves in a dominant angle to take a shot or escape unharmed.

As Marcus Aurelius said "Of each particular thing asked, what is it in itself?"
Although he was discussing something entirely different, applying that logic to "Move, shoot, communicate" makes us far more effective practitioners of a very serious craft.

Stay safe, stay dangerous.

ISG Team

PS: Yo, Army, we know it's out of order. It's prioritized because not getting shot is #1.

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