Jeff Cooper DVC

By: Robert H. Boatman

Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas

In case you haven’t kept up with your Latin, the phrase Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas means Accuracy, Power, and Speed. It is the motto LtCol. Jeff Cooper came up with to define the essential elements of combat shooting when he was putting together an organization to govern realistic competition in combat shooting skills worldwide.

Combat shooting, by the way, is what you do when your intent is to kill another person in order to save your life or the lives of other innocents. As in war, law enforcement and personal defense.

Pistol instructors are not allowed by their political and public relations overseers to tell you that. They will obediently explain to you that you are not shooting to kill your adversary, you are simply shooting to stop his aggression, without going on to mention the obvious fact that the only way to stop a person who is in the process of trying to shoot you to death is to kill him deader than a Christmas Eve turkey.

You will not find the word “combat” as part of the name of any private organization related to combat shooting. Whichever political underling has the job of protecting us from provocative corporate names must have immediately sensed the danger in such a straightforward use of the English language. The most popular euphemism for “combat” is “practical,” occasionally “action,” and sometimes “defensive” or “tactical.” In the Bureaucratese language and in this context, these words simply mean “to kill,” just as the Latin words Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas reveal the not-so-secret recipe for doing so. From here on out, we will use plain English.

The three elements of Accuracy, Power, and Speed are not in any particular order of priority and must work together to be effective. Accurate shooting alone is of little use if your bullets do not penetrate your enemy’s body and destroy his vital organs. A powerful handgun does no good if you miss your shot, or take a fatal microsecond too long to decide to pull the trigger. Speed means absolutely nothing if you’re just spraying and praying or shooting blanks.

Given the internal politics that arise in any organization, combined with game-playing man’s inherent tendency to cheat at every opportunity, well-meaning combat competition has, for its own purposes, redefined the meaning of Accuracy, Power, and Speed.

Accuracy has become an exercise in shooting familiar targets from predictable positions at known distances. The necessity to factor in the different power levels of various handgun loads has proved to be an inconvenience at best, and has generally been dispensed with except for an arbitrary minimum beneath which gunshot wounds might be considered in the same category as mosquito bites. Speed, given the almost complete elimination of time-consuming decision-making regarding whether, whom and where to shoot, has been reduced to a leather slap of the sort seen in grade-B Western movies.

Imaginative combat scenarios, meant to challenge the mental agility of competitors, have been memorized, gamed out, rehearsed and added to the repertoires of the winning players. The gamers have learned to shave the dice at the expense of the true martial artist. The goal of learning to kill has been obscured in the dust kicked up by the run-and-gun crowd who, after all, just want to have fun.

Such “action” shooting does, indeed, increase your familiarity and facility with your weapon and there’s nothing wrong with it except that, in the end, it is neither very “practical” nor “defensive,” is “tactical” only within the narrow confines of the rules and regulations of the game, has little to do with “combat,” and is not exactly what I think Jeff Cooper had in mind. In a discussion once when we drifted from comments about the state of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) to another subject of mutual interest, Cooper said, “Fencing, of course, suffered the same fate as IPSC. The fencing foil is of no use at all in a fight.”


Let’s look at what Accuracy, Power, and Speed mean in the real world, a world which, naturally, is ever-changing and full of surprises.

You may have to shoot accurately at ranges from point blank to 50 yards. Your target may be as large as the distance between a set of nipples to as small as the distance between a pair of eyeballs. The target is highly unlikely to be attached to a metal stand facing you straightaway for your convenience in measurement, is more probably going to be in motion, twisting and turning and diving and leaping as it rushes toward your face or disappears behind a parked car to get a steadier aim at the center mass of your body which, hopefully, is not just standing there waiting for the bullet to arrive. There may be more than one target, all moving in different ways and divergent directions as you move yourself as rapidly as you can. How accurately can you shoot under these conditions?

And what happens when you hit what you’re aiming at? Hint: your adversary is not going to go flying backward through the air no matter what you hit him with. (Unless, of course, you take the time beforehand to strap him into a leather body-harness attached to steel wires running through an overhead pulley system and pay some guy in the background to give the wires a big yank at the opportune moment, which is the way they shoot people in California.) You know your gun is powerful enough to punch a hole in a piece of cardboard and ring a metal gong, but is it powerful enough to shred the heart or blow up the lungs or obliterate the brain of a human being? What if your bullet has to bore through a heavy winter coat or a fat leather wallet or an automobile windshield before it even touches the first layer of skin?

And how fast can you really shoot? The test of speed is not how long it takes you to whip out your gun, but how long it takes you to plant a killing shot in your adversary. To get from here to there, you have to process a lot of diverse information and make innumerable critical decisions at a rate more rapid than you may have thought possible. Most gunfights are over and done with in a few short seconds, but they are the longest few short seconds of the participants’ lives. The decision to draw your gun, fire, and devote the entire sum of your skill, knowledge and experience to killing the human being in front of you is a big step, but it is just step number one. You still have a long way to go in a very brief period of time after that, and heaven help you if you make the slightest error of judgment or allow yourself a microsecond of hesitation at any of the other steps along the way.

The tissue that bonds Accuracy, Power, and Speed together is a fourth and final crucial element called Mindset, without which the first three elements simply fall apart. Mindset is the total commitment to relentless violent aggression until the job is done, the ability to maintain absolute focus right through the jigsaw puzzle of muzzle blasts, recoil, counter-attacks, pain and injury to the ultimate goal.

The question naturally arises: How do you practice all of this, train up your physical and mental proficiencies and prepare yourself so that you’re confident you can step up on stage and perform flawlessly to the best of your abilities if and when your life is on the line? What makes you think somebody else can give you the answer to a question like that? Helpful training is available from a few select sources, and game-playing is a natural part of that training, but the real answer to the question is something you have to figure out all by yourself. All alone. Just like in the real world.

Robert H. Boatman is the author of five best-selling firearms books, Living With Glocks, Living With The Big Fifty, Living With The 1911, Living With The AR-15, and co-authored with his son Morgan How To Customize Your Glock.

Robert was instrumental in the startup of the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom and wrote shooting and hunting feature stories for Sports Afield, Petersen’s Rifle Shooter, The Accurate Rifle, Precision Shooting, American Handgunner and AH’s Tactical Annual, S.W.A.T., Pistols & Revolvers, Concealed Carry, NRA’s Woman’s Outlook , Very High Power, Law and Order, and South Africa’s Big Bore Journal.

Sadly, Robert passed away on on April 21st, 2009