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Center Axis Relock: Is John Wick Right or Wrong?

John Wick does it...does the center axis relock (CAR) method have any place in real training? Or is it another Hollywood movie gun sin?

    If you’re a hardcore gun guy or gal like all of us here at PPT, chances are you’ve probably seen the movie John Wick and/or the equally-awesome sequel John Wick: Chapter 2.  

    We love these movies so much that we actually interviewed Taran Butler, the man who trained Keanu Reeves to be able to do all of that impressive shooting in the movie.

    We’ve recently learned that filming has begun on the third (final?) chapter in the series, and that’s got us thinking about the films, particularly the shooting techniques we see in them.

    Now, for those of you who haven’t seen the film, or read our article on it, the directors, stunt coordinators, and the actors themselves all went out of their way to make the stunts and gun handling in the film as accurate as possible to real life.

    Of course, if you have seen the film or even just the trailer, you’ve probably wondered what the heck this is all about.

    car shooting john wick
    John Wick…gangster?

    What you’re seeing here, with Keanu tilting his gun to the side like that, is not creative license, but is actually a real shooting technique created by law enforcement trainer Paul Castle.

    paul castle
    Paul Castle, inventor of CAR

    Before his untimely death due to cancer in 2011, Castle developed what he called the Center Axis Relock (CAR) system as an alternative to modern weaver and isosceles stances.

    So we’ve established that its a real thing, and not simply movie magic…but is it worth learning?

    Let’s find out.

    Why Center Axis Relock was Created

    Most self-defense scenarios happen at close range, in confined spaces, usually within 8-10 feet, sometimes even closer.  

    The problem with moving in a confined space in a traditional stance is that you have the gun way out in front of you, and you’ve more or less got your arms fully extended.  This gives you very poor leverage in the event someone gets their hands on your gun.

    Isosceles Stance, PoliceOne
    Isosceles Stance

    The CAR system allows for less time between drawing and getting the target in your sights, as well as providing better weapon retention.  Getting shot with your own gun is more common than you’d think, especially dealing with an attacker at close range.

    Armed defense against intruder
    AKA “Oh SHIT distance”

    For shooting and moving, or shooting at the range, a standard isosceles stance is going to be much better, but what about shooting inside a narrow hallway, or from a vehicle?  What about when the target is already at contact distance, maybe even inside where your arms would normally be in an isosceles stance?

    These are the problems the CAR system seeks to address.  For this reason, it was never really intended to replace the weaver or isosceles stance (though we recommend the latter) but was meant to be another tool in your shooting toolbox.  

    One more tool to keep you alive.  

    How Does the Center Axis Relock System Work?

    There are two main parts to the CAR system, each a shooting stance in its own right, and each with a specific purpose.

    First, there’s the High position.  This is what you’ll be drawing into, with your body facing perpendicular to your target.  The support (non-gun-holding) hand clears clothing or other obstructions while the strong hand brings the pistol up and close to the chest.   The support hand then moves up (be careful to never sweep the muzzle over your support hand) and meets the strong (gun-holding) hand from beneath.

    At this point, your weak-side foot should be at a 90-degree angle to your target, and the barrel of your gun should be up, level, and pointed at the target. 

    Although not a goal or recommendation, it is possible to place accurate fire at a target within contact range from here – if you really needed to. You can also use your elbows to get distance from your attacker.

    CAR high position
    Be sure to check out this awesome article from GunsAmerica writer Wayne Lincourt that goes over the fine details of drawing into the CAR system.

    This is your ready position.

    From here, you have the option of transitioning to the Extended position, whereby you rotate your support elbow down while rotating your strong hand up to bring the sights of the firearm up into alignment with your strong eye (read up on Cross-dominant shooting if you aren’t sure which eye is your strong eye).

    CAR extended position.
    This is the extended position.

    This is the position you’ll use for accurate aimed fire at range.  From here you can engage targets as normal, using your support hand to pull back on the gun, while using your strong hand to push it forward towards the target.

    This creates a very stable, yet flexible “locked-in” firing position, while also presenting as small of a target as possible to your attacker.

    Level 1 CAR System
    You can watch this video for an idea of how the transition works.

    What’s the CAR System Good For?

    The main goal of the CAR system is to get your sights on the target quickly while maintaining solid weapon retention and a stable firing position.

    It does this by using your body’s instinctive reactions and gross motor functions in a high-stress situation.  In such a situation, you may have trouble getting your sights aligned quickly, and if you are not strongly dominant with one eye or the other, it may be difficult to quickly choose the correct sight picture.

    vortex viper red dot
    This is less of an issue if you’re using a red dot optic on your pistol, but still worth thinking about.

    The Center Axis Relock addresses these issues in two ways.  One, the first position, or High position, is designed to facilitate the maximum point-shooting ability for engaging a target that’s already at contact distance.

    If you have an assailant in your face, punching the firearm out towards them gives them ample opportunity to begin wrestling for your gun, which is a dire situation indeed.  From the High position of the CAR system, it is much harder for such an assailant to get their hands on the gun in a way that will allow them to take it from you.

    It also makes it very easy to point shoot without bringing the sights up, meaning you can stop such an attack before it gets going.

    If the target is further away and you need to utilize your weapon’s sights to make an accurate shot, the Extended position offers an easy-to-use position for quickly and cleanly bringing the gun up and into a firing position that still offers a stable shooting platform and good weapon retention, while also allowing utilizing the correct sight picture automatically.

    What’s it Not Good For?

    Sounds good, right?

    Make no mistake, I truly believe the CAR system is something every defensive-minded shooter should learn.  Another tool to have in the “Don’t Die” toolbox.


    I won’t go so far as to say the CAR system is a replacement for the isosceles stance most modern shooters are more familiar with.  This stance offers a better chance of moving and shooting “getting off the X” and out of the situation in general.

    Isosceles Stance, thewellarmedwoman.com
    Turns out, the modern isosceles stance should still be your go-to in most situations.

    Remember, unlike John Wick, you want to be in as few gunfights as possible, and a well-armed retreat is better than a well-armed engagement any day.

    The CAR system is also not great (in my opinion, there are those who disagree) for room entry.  If you enter a room with an attacker in an unknown location, you may have to pivot your entire body to make a shot, especially if the attacker is to your support side.

    That being said, how often does that happen?  In most situations, if you have to draw your gun, you’re already reacting to a visual threat, probably one right in front of you.  For that, the CAR system is incredibly effective.

    It’s also very good for moving through confined spaces with your gun in a ready position that reduces the likelihood of your gun being taken from you.  And believe me, you don’t want to be the person on the news who got killed with their own gun.

    Parting Shots

    The Center Axis Relock system is a shooting technique that may have been popularized by Hollywood, but it is way more than just filmic flim-flam.  This is a real-world technique, developed by a professional with over two decades of military and LEO experience.

    And if used properly, as another tool in the “Don’t Die” toolbox, it can even save your life.

    For more information, be sure to check out Sabre Tactical, the company founded by Paul Castle primarily to teach the CAR system.

    Do you train with the CAR system? What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments!


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    22 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      Robert MacIntyre

      I'm kind of tired of tacticools pushing the Isosceles stands over the Weaver stance. In my opinion Isosceles stance is best suited for a person wearing full body armor, as it squares you up perfectly with your adversary. Allowing you to move effectively efficiently and fluidly, while your vital organs are protected by the armor. So it makes sense with armor.. Now on the other hand, if you're not wearing armor, why would you square up perfectly with your attacker leaving your main bodily organs completely exposed. That's just stupid! I think the Weaver stance is better for people that don't wear armor, don't have armor or for normal people in general. In other words, if you're not wearing armor use the Weaver stance. Make yourself as small a Target as possible. The car system is an incredible tool to add to your toolbox. As many said when you're in cars, around cars, CQB, almost any situation it blows the Isosceles stance/system out of the water. I have yet to find a better system in the car system.

      In summation. Isosceles stance when wearing FULL body armor. Weaver stance when NOT wearing body armor. For medium to short distance CQB, in cars, around car, etc. use the CAR Systems.

      December 18, 2021 8:38 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Rod Rojas

      I've successfully used this to defend myself. It works.

      June 23, 2021 2:26 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      George Matheis

      My name is George Matheis and I own Modern Combative Systems LLC. I contacted Paul in early 2001 about hosting a CAR course after being shown the technique from David Williams from the Decatur AL Police Department when he was deployed with the reserves to Aberdeen Proving Ground Maryland. At the time I was working patrol & SWAT with the City of Aberdeen Police Dept. Paul did come and conducted a users course and some of us were selected to complete his instructors course. Later that next year I was one of about 30 people, military, police, and citizens that were invited to attend the Master Instructors Class at Ft McCoy Wisconsin. It is with this background and knowledge that I will comment on the article.

      First of all it the only system in history that teaches you to fight with a pistol in your hand instead of fighting with a pistol. Most people who have negative things to say have never been trained in it by an actual CAR Instructor, but rather had it explained to them by someone who probably never trained with it either.

      When it comes to shooting in and around vehicles or while moving there is no better option than CAR. Try running forward with your gun in the isosceles position, now do it in the high ready, one or two handed. You will quickly see the benefit of CAR. When you ask most people about weapon retention they will automatically assume you are talking about defending their holstered gun. when your gun is out CAR is the best way to defend your pistol because it uses the combative principles of using elbows and knees. These parts of your body are great for causing damage to your attacker while at the same time not injuring your body. Also a close distance, if your gun went dry or malfunctioned, Paul taught what he called a "pistol punch" where you used the muzzle of your pistol to punch your attacker in the face or chest. Anyone who has done a SWAT entry will tell you that peoples response to having a gun shoved in their face will often be to reflexively grab your gun. I along with several team mates have used the pistol punch as a response to this over the years.

      A major problem with firearms training has always been that students are taught to focus on using their gun in the fight instead of fighting with a pistol in their hand.

      I very much enjoy Pew Pew Tactical. Thank you for recognizing Paul and CAR. He was an an amazing man and ahead of his time. He is greatly missed. Feel free to check out my site Sheepdognation.com with any questions. Stay Safe.

      December 16, 2020 1:12 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jason Newell

        Just saw your comment George -- outstanding contribution, thank you.

        September 23, 2021 8:41 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      andre glenn

      The system works Working providing protection and training in 52 countries hands-down it’s definitely a need in everyone’s toolbox . I think you need to train in CAR first before writing this article it works for handguns ,shotguns and AR’s.
      Yes and if you get a chance get with Jeff Johnsgard, he will open your eyes up to what the system has to offer. Since Mr. Castle is no longer with us It would do the shooting community some good to know that you really know what you’re talking about because you have experienced it firsthand. ✌

      September 7, 2020 5:03 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      In regards to entering a room, in my opinion it’s best to always slice the pie and clear from the apex of your room. CAR at least helps with keeping your muzzle back from the threshold so you don’t give up your element of surprise before you get PID on your threat. Should there be one anyway. I assume in the context of single man clearing, you never want to just go balls out and get into the room as quickly as possible.

      January 19, 2020 6:44 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Question: why do you favor the isosceles stance over the weaver stance? I learned both, and while the weaver stance takes more practice to perform properly I've found the advantages are far superior. It seems to me the CAR could simply be a modified and improved close-quarter weaver stance based on the video above. The footing looks similar, but with a tighter arm positioning.

      July 11, 2019 7:54 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Your assessment is entirely wrong, and the positions displayed here are also crazy, if you want to intelligently write an article about the car the system, train couple days with Jeff Johnsgard, he is the true heir of Paul Castle and an expert. After two or maybe three days you will not only understand CAR but will write the truth about it. Taran is a competitive shooter and doesn't know CAR

      May 7, 2019 3:40 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I've been practicing this at the range. the canted gun, revolver in my case, makes it more of a challenge to evaluate technique errors. I'm right hand and left eye, so that might work out. I think it will be better once I get my shooting glasses with lenses that correct for astigmatism. I am not ready yet for combat training,

      March 6, 2019 5:15 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      This was a great write up on the C.A.R. system. I’ve taken 16 hours of formal training on this system by a group certified by Paul Castle prior to his death. This is by far the most natural and ergonomic shooting method for close range self defense situations I have experienced.

      Room entry: From the Combat High (position 4), you can very easily transition your gun from one hand to the other by rotating your hands 180 degrees and adjusting your grip to the off hand. This will allow you to have minimal presentation when turning corners. With a some practice, this can become a very fluid, natural to clear rooms.

      Again, this was a great article and covered the core elements of Center Axis Relock beautifully.

      December 19, 2018 12:01 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      The thought that came to my mind when I watched the video is that you are turning your armor away and exposing yourself to a round through your chest longwise. I can see where it would be useful, but as you said just another tool. All else equal, I'd rather be able to move quickly and keep my vitals protected.

      November 28, 2018 3:47 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I wonder sirs, what about if the enemy is likely to be at your back? how can we execute the CARS in this particular situation? We don't have schools here in Philippines, but I like the technique.

      July 2, 2018 10:38 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I wonder sirs, what about if the enemy is likely to be at your back? how can we execute the CARS in this particular situation

      July 2, 2018 10:36 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I completed the CAR Training course in 2017. Excellent course. I used to be a right eyed right handed shooter only. The CAR system solved that. Now I can equally shoot with either hand or either eye. I'm more confident that I can keep my gun from being taken away from me and defend myself within the small confines of my home. The bonus is how fast and easily I can execute a combat or tactical reload. Because the system is based the natural movements of the bones, joints and muscles, one doesn't have to train very extensively to become good with it. That's because it feels natural. It flows naturally. If you're still deciding which course or shooting system to train on, include the CAR system in your considerations. Good luck, stay safe.

      May 28, 2018 11:32 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      oh wow. sometimes I do use this form and didnt even know someone already came out with it. I do not think its an issue of right or wrong but does it work for you and how efficient are you with it. everyone is different.

      May 21, 2018 5:20 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jdljlr sdkf;W

      THE best training for the CAR system is located throughout LA County and Las Vegas and other ranges. The are conducted by one of the longest standing trainers TIM GEORGE Civilianarmstrainingsystem.com

      May 20, 2018 4:02 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Lee David

      CAR has been very useful for us older guys with bad eyes. You get easy rapid target acquisition but you line up under your non-dominant eye. That’s my left eye and I shoot right handed. Accuracy to 15 yards is same compared to ISO or Weaver. In CQB you can lay down a blistering accurate POA and protect your weapon. Reloads are faster. I like the bladed stance since you are a smaller target and it is more natural with my martial arts training. I shoot both eyes open which incr my peripheral vision. It isn’t meant to be a stand alone system since you switch to ISO. with longer engagements. Overall it it is more natural and ergonomic. Just need to train like everything else. Great tool for those with bad eyes and Close Encounters. Rec to watch Mr. Paul Castle on YTube and decide yourself. Just don’t hold your weapon too close to your face.

      May 16, 2018 2:57 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Silver fox

      I read the article and watched the video of the guy shooting at 2-3 feet. I will probably try that the next time at the range. Until then I still like the 1/2 second faster Josie Wells draw-and-fire from the hip. That close I wouldn’t miss.

      May 15, 2018 4:30 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      That was a well written article and appreciated by someone who has had the good fortune to train with Paul before he passed. One correction though, once you go to the extended position, it is NOT meant to line up with your dominant eye. If you go to extended with the pistol in your right hand, you line up to your left eye. If you extend with your left hand, you line up to your right eye. The idea is your nose will block the “other” eye from causing double vision or “ghosted” sights. Therefore giving the shooter a crystal clear front sight picture, regardless of eye glasses, gas mask, or goggles.

      May 15, 2018 4:14 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Ray Williams

        That makes sense.

        May 15, 2018 5:10 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        And a second correction... I
        If trained properly in the CAR method, one would not have to pivot the entire body to make a shot when entering a room for clearing.... Swap hands and eyes.

        May 15, 2018 6:10 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          Timothy George

          You're absolutely correct Jay, good job.

          August 17, 2018 6:28 am
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