When I first met Louis Awerbuck I wondered if I had made a big mistake.
We were in a deserted parking lot in front of a public building. I was early, unlocking the door for the class. Louis and Leigh Lambert were there even earlier. I strode over with my brother to introduce myself to them. As we shook hands and I greeted him, his lips parted and moved. I’m not sure any words came out as a residue of cigarette smoke wafted out. I was rattled. At that point I wondered if this class was going to be a big mistake.
His initial body language I read in those first moments was unmistakable: cool, reserved, uneasy, and suspicious. Yet it was to be that my concerns were entirely unfounded. Over the course of our time with Louis (pronounced /LOO ee/) Awerbuck, we found him to be patient, personable, and quite talkative. His initial response, in retrospect, was the response of a careful individual when approached by two unknown adult males. Looking back on it, I realize now that I had just met someone in Condition Yellow (or perhaps orange!).
What do I have left to do that I haven’t done? Nothing. Except maybe golf, but I ain’t going to try to hit a 4-inch golf ball into a 3-inch hole.
I had the pleasure and privilege of taking a three-day tutorial-format class with Louis. I embarked with certain expectations, all of which were far exceeded. Today, students of armed self-defense are living during a changing of the guard. I believe that the recently deceased Col. Jeff Cooper ushered in a new world for armed civilian self-defense through his teachings and writings, the fruits of which we are reaping today.
He is now gone. Many of his original, early staff members are still alive and teaching, but they are older men, many in their late fifties. They are in their prime years in many ways, for they have had three decades to watch, digest, and hone their craft. Men like Clint Smith and Louis Awerbuck (and there are others) are established—established in their reputation as teachers, established in their outlook, and by their age, established in greater wisdom and humility. These men are able to process and evaluate new developments without being carried away with the chaff of tool and technique fads. They are able to teach and help novices and returning students alike.
And so, while they remain with us, and while they continue to choose to teach, a golden opportunity exists, for it has not yet become clear who will be their successors. The school of fighting and firearms awaits the next generation of master teachers.
Louis Awerbuck turns sixty next year, though you’d never know it by looking at him. Quick, agile, and aggressive, his strength does not seem to reflect his years, nor does it seem diminished. After standing in as the bad guy for the CQT material or the disarm material in class, you feel sorry for the bad guy that might someday pit himself against Louis, but then you catch yourself thinking, “Wait, this guy is almost sixty years old!” As Louis sees it, he has just been blessed with an amazing metabolism.
Louis’ classes have lots of lecture content, whether on the range on in the classroom. If you’re a thinking student, interested in understanding, the pace is just right. If you are into dumping a thousand rounds downrange per day, forget it. It’s just not that sort of class. Louis has a reputation as being one of the top diagnosticians—troubleshooting and fixing shooting problems for students. From what I observed, that reputation is well-deserved, and watching him identify and attempt to fix the problems of students greatly helped me in my own shooting, even when I was not the immediate subject of his attention.
The shooting in his class is not “target shooting”. Louis focuses on moving, shooting, and hitting 3-D humanoid targets. The goal is to get good hits on demand, at all angles, at all distances. Techniques and tools have to be simple and they have to work.
Because of his associations with Col. Cooper and Gunsite (Louis was Chief Rangemaster at the original Gunsite), you might be surprised at how he almost scorns single-stack guns (e.g. stock 1911s) when a double-stack gun can be had. Though his primary gun is a double-stack 1911, he’s comfortable with plastic as well, highly esteeming the Springfield XD. He’s not militant about stance preference (e.g. Weaver vs. Isosceles). It seems that whenever his gun comes out of the holster, he’s usually moving, and often he’s holding the gun with one hand. He’s more interested in fighting than assuming a frozen stance.
Regarding backup guns, if you spend time in Louis’ class, you’ll likely be convinced of the necessity of carrying a second gun. Over and over, throughout the class, whether reloading or practicing malfunction clearances, Louis will remind you that having a second gun would have enabled you to continue shooting. He’s not mean about it, but he takes every opportunity to make the point. By the end of the class, you’re seriously contemplating putting a second holster on your already overflowing belt. What would your mother think?
Everyone is unique, but Louis is unusual. If you have the choice between buying another gun or taking a class with Louis, take the class, and bring a notebook. Unless you’re arrogant or unteachable, you won’t regret it.
Louis and Leigh maintain a grueling travel schedule, driving tens of thousands of miles every year to teach students in almost every state. I was grateful for the opportunity to sit down with him one evening for the following interview:
Q: You’ve been teaching civilian firearms training for over thirty years. From your perspective, give us a thumbnail history of what has come and gone during that time. What have been fads? What have been advances that you have seen?
LA: Simplicity is gone. Fanciness has replaced the brain. Technology is trying to replace the brain; it doesn’t work. The 1911 has come back into fashion after 105 years. Too many lies, too many false resumes, which weren’t there thirty years ago. It’s sadder than it was; it’s less honest than it was—just like everything else.
Q: It started to become prosperous, and began to rot.
LA: Yeah. Values have gone 180 [degrees], I think, and technology is not going to replace the human brain. It never will.
Q: You’re involved in teaching skills and a mindset that involve defending life and potentially taking life. Do you think about your mortality more than the average person?
LA: Yes, but I…:
Q. How often do you think about your mortality, the fact that one day you will die?
LA: Almost permanently now. But I don’t care; it doesn’t matter. I don’t have any family, so it’s not a big deal. It’s literally going back to what you were talking about earlier—the Asian way of thinking… the Japanese way of thinking. Everybody holds life so precious; I don’t. I mean, I’d like to live to a hundred and fifty if I were healthy, but [pauses] death and taxes.
Q: So in your understanding, what’s after death?
LA: I don’t know, but I think there’s got to be something. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have a five year-old killed, ridden over by a bus, for no reason. There’s got to be something out there. There’s got to be a reason one person lives to be a drunken murderer for 105 years and a good kid gets run over by a school bus when she’s four years old. There’s got to be something. What it is, I don’t know. I’m not a theologian. I guess it’s just a stepping in-between steps.
Q: You teach skills involving preserving life. What’s worth living for in life? What makes it worth preserving?
LA: Different people are different-
Q: For you?
LA: For me? For preserving my life? Honoring my parents. That’s why I didn’t die fourteen years ago. Not much else. I don’t trust anyone. Can’t trust anyone. So, that’s why I say I really don’t care about my death. I’ve had a hundred years packed into sixty. Why would I? I’ve got nothing to live for. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve got no Achilles heel. I’m not the average person. I’m an exception to the rule. The average person— wife and kids, lineage, wants to see their grandchildren play football or through college or whatever. Fine. I’m the end of the line. I’m the end of the blood line, completely.
Q: Most adults wrestle with some sort of fear or anxiety. It can be their financial well-being, their health, or their personal safety. What do you fear most in life?
LA: Probably physical incapacitation, if I were cognizant of it. Dependency, physical dependency, and being cognizant of it. Having Alzheimer’s and knowing I’ve got Alzheimer’s and not being able to [pauses] end it. That’s it. I don’t fear anything else because … Mr. Roosevelt said, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” I don’t want to be dependent on anybody else. There is nothing else.
Q: Any regrets or things you would have done differently in life?
LA: I would have given my parents more time, of my so-called “valuable” time, when I was younger. That’s all. I was going to say I wouldn’t have put in as much of my side of the pound of flesh as I did, but I probably would have, but that’s it. I owe nobody anything. Nobody owes me anything. I’m happy. You get up with daily fears—“I hope the kids are alright, I hope the wife’s alright, I hope I can pay the bills…” I don’t have those worries. I go broke? I’ll make some more money, somehow, somewhere. No wife, no kids, my dog’s dead, so what am I supposed to be concerned about? No family (none living). No lineage. I mean it sounds pathetic, or pathos-tic, but why would I have worries in life? All of the general person’s worries, normal worries.
Q: You’ve written many columns over the years. Are there any that particularly stand out in your mind? Any specific ones that you would like to have remembered after you’re dead and gone?
LA: Two Pieces of Silver. I think the only really decent article I wrote was, I am the Bullet. I think [they] were the only decent articles I wrote. Two Pieces of Silver was a tribute to my Dad. Responses from a lot of readers … it seems to have touched a raw nerve with a lot of people who lost their fathers. That’s it. The rest of it—just ravings of a lunatic.
Q: …Published, though!
LA: Published ravings of a lunatic.
Q: You have the advantage of having lived in South Africa as well as America. What’s right about American culture? What about it concerns you?
LA: What concerns me is America is what South Africa was thirty-five years ago, and people are too blind to see it. What’s right about it? It’s still got a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, if people will abide by it. But … it’s never coming back to what it was. If anyone’s that stupid….The cycle’s over. World powers have cycles, and America’s is over.
Q: So you’re not optimistic about the…
LA: I’m not pessimistic. I’m realistic because I’ve lived through this before. I’ve seen it all before. Without trying to sound supercilious, I’ve seen it all before. It’s just déjà vu, all over again, to quote the lyric. It’s going to go in no other direction. I think people would be shocked to know what is not American, owned in America, and I’m not going to give specifics. But there’s hardly anything “American made” that is American made. They’re trying to do things the right way…. The nice-guys-finish-last syndrome applies. That’s it.
Q: Let’s shift gears a little and talk about carry guns. Most people who carry guns seem to change their carry choice over time. Tell me about your various carry gun choices over your lifetime, over some forty-five years of carrying.
LA: I’ve never changed my primary gun system, except to go to a bigger capacity magazine, in forty-five years. Never.
Q: So what is it?
LA: It’s John Browning. John Browning, stock. Does that mean it’s the best? No. Do I think the Springfield XD is going to make a great gun? Yeah. But, I’ve never changed. All I’ve ever carried, as a primary pistol was a Colt, a Hi-Power Browning, or a double-stack .45. I’ve never changed that, the primary pistol.
Q: How about secondary?
LA: Secondary has changed because of changing a 5-shot .44 Special for an 11-shot 9mm of the same physical size, or something like. That’s the way it is. The other one has never changed.
Q: So what have you gone through for a secondary?
LA: 5-shot… [in the] old days, .38 Special, Smith [& Wesson]. Then I went to a .44 Special Charter Arms. Then, Glock 26, or Kel-Tec P3AT, dependant on circumstances. As a secondary. Lately, Springfield XD is looking a lot better. I may be switching the Glock 26 for a subcompact 9mm from Springfield. Maybe. That’s all.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about equipment. This is just what works for you, what you like. Let’s say you’re going into town. You’ve written about lights, boot knives, backup guns, etc. We see pictures of some of what you’ve got on your belt. What do you prefer to carry on your person? What works for you these days that you are willing to talk about?
LA: Same stuff. I don’t care about not talking about it. Two guns. Always. If the primary is a pistol, there’s another pistol. If the primary is a shotgun, there’s a pistol, at least one. Two guns, flashlight, two 12-guage cartridges, and a knife because—just because—every little boy should have a knife.
Q: Or two.
LA: Or two. That’s every single day, whether [or not] I’m going to town. Do you wear a seatbelt going to the post office? Do you wear a seatbelt going on a five-hundred-mile trip? Or do you wear a seatbelt, period? That’s it. Same place, every day.
Q: What light is working for you these days?
LA: Surefire. Won’t use anything else. Haven’t, for twenty years. Ain’t going to use anything else. I think everybody else has been chasing them, and they’re going to be carrying on playing catchup for the next twenty years.
Q: Which Surefire do you like?
LA: The 6-volt Executive, LED bulb.
Q: And the shotgun cartridges?
LA: They’re there because I like having the double available, where legal. Where legal, in a vehicle. The weapon’s unloaded. I have the ammo for it if it’s a grab-and-go, and that’s just what I like. And that’s if I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere and need a distance shot.
Q: Is general popularity or preference for the shotgun something that goes in cycles?
Q: When would you choose a shotgun over a rifle?
LA: If it wasn’t an extended duration conflict, and by that I mean if it’s going to be a couple of weeks, with an unknown situation.
Q: Like after a hurricane, you’re stuck…
LA: Shotgun. How much ammunition do I need? And who am I fighting? If that’s what it comes to and it’s that bad, I can get somebody else’s rifle with my shotgun. I want a shotgun, and I run slugs only. I do not run buckshot, period. Slugs only.
LA: Because I have the confidence to hit with a big bullet. I may miss the same as the next guy, but I have the confidence to hit, and I want a big bullet. And I want the reliability. The rifle and a lot of the semi-automatic carbines that are around today are completely unreliable. I want something that’s reliable.
Q: When people think about the defensive use of shotguns, there’s only one person and one work that people refer to, and that’s the video that you did, as well as the material that you teach. Has anything changed since that video came out?
LA: Things always change. Some techniques for the better, others for the worse. I don’t think we fight as well.
Q: [Has anything changed since that video came out] for you?
LA: For me? Yes.
Q: What’s changed since that video?
LA: The one major thing is I’m press-checking the magazine tube on a tube-fed shotgun before I’m checking the chamber, to make sure that there’s a round in the magazine tube. I could care less if there’s a round in the chamber. I want to know that I’ve got ammo. So that technique has changed. The rest of it? I don’t change for the sake of change. I think people a hundred years ago fought better than we do. Shot better, fought better, were more intelligent, and had better strategy and tactics.
Q: And we’ve succeeded them.
LA: No. They’ve died of old age. And generations have died. We haven’t succeeded them. When it’s all over, there’s going to be one guy standing there with a bolt[action] Mauser on top of a hill, with no armor plating on, in short pants and tennis shoes with a hundred year old 1898 Mauser. He’s going to the last man standing. It’s as simple as that.
Q: Can you relate to us a story of a student who got into a dangerous situation and “got it right”? No names.
LA: I’ve gotten feedback. I won’t give you names, and I won’t give you offensive instances, which have happened (one was eight days after a class). What I will tell you is we’ve had a couple of letters thanking us that they could walk away from something because they felt they had it under control, where prior to the class they would have probably pulled a gun and gotten involved in a gunfight. They managed to evade it because they knew they could control it. But other stories—with all due respect, I’m not going to recount it … out of courtesy to those people… We have on our brochure, “All business conducted on a confidential basis.” That’s where it stays.
Q: Can you tell us a story of when you were pleased with your performance when you were placed in a hazardous situation?
LA: No comment. I said it to your son, and I’ll say it to you. No comment.
Q: Like it or not, you’re a respected figure and personality in the firearms world. Can you tell us a story of when you once made a big tactical mistake?
LA: Every day of my life I goof up. I’ve stabbed myself in the butt. I’ve slit my own throat. I’ve gotten my finger jammed in the roll-down garage door. I think every strategic exercise starts off wonderful, and every single one is a blooper, and if you walk off the other side, you’re a tactical genius; You’re Sun Tzu. And that applies to everybody and I’m pretty much at the bottom of the pile when it came to the brain selection. I make no bones about it. I don’t think I’ve ever done a brilliant tactical or strategic move in my life. Lucky, lucky, lucky.
Q: You’ve seen many students come to you over the years. What are some of the mistakes in their mindset when they come? What are some of the challenges that they have to get over in order to profit from the material?
LA: Primarily, in the United States, anything is for sale. So, people think they can buy knowledge. It’s not for sale. You’ve got to put your 10% in. You can’t just buy knowledge. What I try to do is to make sure that when I walk away, they know what can go wrong, as opposed to what can go right. And, a lot of people mix up shooting with fighting. They’re symbiotic. If you can’t think, you lose. If you don’t have a fighting brain, you lose. You have to have both or you lose. Or, if you’re the one in a hundred who’s the 1% lucky person, lucky you! Good luck to you. People hit a piece of cardboard, a flat piece of cardboard, and they think they’re a gunfighter—not because they’re swell-headed, that’s not what I’m intimating. They think it’s the same thing as a gunfighter; it isn’t.
Q: What does the future hold for Louis Awerbuck and Yavapai Firearms Academy?
LA: The Academy, I don’t know. For me, not much. It’s twilight and the sun’s going down. Am I … despondent? No. I reckon I’ve had a hundred years of good health, but … I’m jaded with mankind. That’s my problem. I’m jaded with mankind. Too many people. Too many years. Too many lies. Too many people with no morals, no ethics. Money, money, money. Me, me, me. Nice guys finish last. I don’t mind finishing last, but I’m tired of running, running the race. There’s no point to it. What is the end of it? What is it all? Nothing that I haven’t seen before.
More knowledge, hopefully. In fact, you can cancel the whole preceding three paragraphs and say, “Hope for more knowledge.” Just learn, learn, learn. It’s the psychology that I’m interested in. But otherwise, nothing.
What do I have left to do that I haven’t done? Nothing. Except maybe golf, but I ain’t going to try to hit a 4-inch golf ball into a 3-inch hole. Snow skiing? And I ain’t jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft, so there’s nothing left to do that I haven’t done that I wanted to do, except learn. That’s it. The show’s over.
[ For information about classes with Louis Awerbuck, contact Yavapai Firearms Academy at Yavapai Firearms Academy, Ltd., P.O. Box 27290, Prescott Valley, AZ 86312 (928) 772-8262 www.yfainc.com ]