Center Axis Relock: John Wick Fighting Style

The 2014 movie “John Wick” was a revelation for most of us in the firearms community. Keanu Reeves’s titular hitman moved like he knew what he was doing, handled firearms like a real shooter, and even reloaded his guns correctly! With the fourth one coming up, let’s take a look at his styles and separate fact from movie fiction — let’s talk about Center Axis Relock and the evolution of John Wick’s fighting styles.

First off, let’s talk about what’s awesome about John Wick… Freakin headshots! The dude goes straight for the finish. Headshots aplenty, because that’s how you end fights immediately with a pistol.

John Wick shooting: headshots aplenty

If you look at the movie critically, his gun handling is excellent (and there are lots of John Wick guns). He has definitely been well trained, but his actions on onscreen are highly stylized. That’s one of the tough things when talking about the gunfights in John Wick, remembering that despite how awesome it looks, it’s still a movie and some things are done simply because they look cool. One of the most controversial things as far as the difference between Hollywood and real life is probably the extensive use of the Center Axis Relock. With this technique, the pistol is held in a stylized stance, almost like a compressed Weaver, in front of the shooter’s face.

Supposedly it helps when in a CQB environment, which is total bullshit. Here’s the deal…ready for it?

Hardly anyone that really hunts bad guys for a living uses this.

The idea that Center Axis Relock is an effective fighting technique is bullshit.

When you’re hunting for assholes, you don’t want your hands in front of your face. You also don’t want your pistol crossing the threshold of a doorway before you do. That’s a great way to have your pistol bashed into your own face during a fight, but whatever. That being said, it looks badass. In fact, it looks very similar to some stances from Iaido, and with the Director of the film stating in print that he was influenced by Samurai films, it’s easy to see why this particular technique was used. As far as actually running his pistol, I’ve seen clips of Keanu working with some Israeli guys and it looked like a total shitshow.

Luckily he also worked with Taran Butler, who seemed to get all of the lameness out and had him absolutely shredding. I’ve shot with Taran before, and I know how hard he works to get his actors on point. Of course, when it came time to burn down targets, all of the stylized bullshit went out the door and Wick used a solid Isosceles with high thumbs forward. Just like the rest of us do. His long gun handling was also on point, and you could tell that he put in lots of work here with Taran as well. That’s why his long gun manipulations reflect some very mainstream techniques. I actually broke down the film that Taran released of him in slow motion, and besides some little stuff like looking his gun into his holster, his manipulations and accuracy are very impressive.

It’s gratifying to see an actor give a shit like that.

C.A.R. is often mislabeled as "Central Axis Relock"
Whether you call it “Center Axis Relock” or “Central Axis Relock”, it’s as trendy as craft beer and coffee shirts, but the system is not something you should actually be doing on a two-way range. That said, there’s no denying it looks good on the big screen!
The CAR system was devloped by Paul Castle of what was then "Sabre Tactical".
The CAR system was developed by Paul Castle of what was then “Sabre Tactical”.

Next, let’s talk about his empty-handed combatives. Remember folks, it’s a damn movie! It’s completely and totally choreographed. Many of the scenes defy logic and gravity at the same time. But the fact that the star has spent so much time training in Judo, Traditional Jiu-Jitsu, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu allows him to really sell the fight scenes and make them look not only plausible but very grounded in reality. If you watch the movie enough and you also pay attention to the trailer for the sequel, you can really see the elements from all of the previous mentioned martial arts. I’ve also seen a little kickboxing and Krav Maga thrown in there, but with the “gun-fu” style of the action scenes, the thing that has impressed me most is acrobatic take-downs where the actor actually keeps his weapon pointed in a safe direction. It’s obviously choreographed, but Reeves’s ability to pull it off shows not only his athleticism but also his dedication to the craft. The martial arts he trains in don’t care if you’re a movie star, they only care that you put in the work. He obviously does.

Regardless of stylization, Reeves has put in the work to make his character believable.
Regardless of stylization, Reeves has put in the work to make his character believable.

In this day and age of legions of Hollywood elite lining up to deprive us of our rights, It’s not often that an actor like Keanu Reeves is willing to put in the work, the sweat and the blood to portray his character in a manner that actually impresses the firearms community. Likewise with Director Chad Stahelski, who decided to let the physicality and hard work take precedence over computer-generated bullshit. I know that many in our community no longer go to the movies because most of the people starring in them detest our culture, but if you only see one next year, go see John Wick 4. They give a shit where most don’t, let’s support them with our cash and enjoy the anchor shots.

John Wick using Center Axis Relock

Note: Center Axis Relock does have its adherents, obviously. You can read Matthew Collins’s opinion on the matter on Pew Pew Tactical.

The CAR system is used with a variety of weapon systems.

Center Axis Relock demonstrated

Here’s the originator of the technique talking about it several years ago before his untimely death by cancer.

Here’s a little more on it from just a couple weeks ago (as of this writing).

Jeremy Stafford has been an LAPD officer for nearly 20 years and was a Marine as well. He's a court-recognized Use of Force and Firearms SME who has worked many assignments over the years - Patrol Officer, Field Training Officer, Narcotics Officer, a tour undercover with the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, and Senior Firearms Instructor at their academy. He's a combat veteran of Iraq, where he helped rebuild the Baghdad Police Department and helped develop the first Iraqi Police-USMC joint patrol program. He served in SE Asia as a CT liaison, in the Horn of Africa in a similar capacity, and is the recipient of the Bronze Star with "V" for Valor. Stafford is an accomplished Krav Maga instructor and a longtime mentor in various youth programs, including for the Spartan Race. Stafford is a prolific writer whose work can be found in dozens of publications.

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20 thoughts on “Center Axis Relock: John Wick Fighting Style

  1. The PPT article starts with the title question, “Is John Wick Right Or Wrong?” And I don’t think it really matters, either for that article or this one. The character seems to have been taught to do this, retained his training and then practiced it until he could fight like a boss. He’s been successful and, even though he could retrain into a different style, he seems so comfortable with this style that why would he? Habits that have been reinforced with thousands of reps are difficult to break (check me out trying to switch from tennis to pickleball in my old age) and could cause “short circuiting” at an inopportune time. However we, on the sidelines, may feel about it, from his point of view “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

  2. I used to compete in judo & jujitsu, I shoot recreationally so I can pretty much do the component parts of John wick. It is stylistically interesting for screen. Much like wheel kicks you see all the time in Kung Fu movies & never in MMA, I’m sure it’s not deigned to be optimally effective in the real world. It’s designed to look really cool. Which it does.

  3. “When you’re hunting for assholes, you don’t want your hands in front of
    your face. You also don’t want your pistol crossing the threshold of a
    doorway before you do.”

    Ok there Big Kahuna, what does cross the threshold first……your nose? I’ve NEVER seen a room clearing where the gun muzzle was NOT the first thing in the room…….WTF? Surely, this was a mis-statement on your part, right?

    1. Well, I have done my share of room clearing in the real world DOD,DIA,DSE, and the are times when you really do not want to lead with yourvfirearm, but,then only an idiot would clear a room on their own unless there was no other alternative and lives were at stake. Even then,do not kid yourself that you are at a severe disadvantage to anyone waiting to do you harm.

  4. Matt of Demolition Ranch was at the same range and got a photo with Keanu about 1-2 years ago.
    Keanu was there training for the Wick-Work, he puts in some serious dedication and time!!!

  5. To each his own……this old law dog was pushing a black and white around the mean streets of California in the 1970’s with a .357 Python in a Hoyt swivel and dump pouches. No semi auto, no high cap mags, no optics, no weapon light, no T handle baton, no Taser and no damn body cam! Just a Colt, a hickory stick, cuffs, a can of “special sauce” and nothing between my blue shirt and bronzed skin except a white T shirt. Back then, the isosceles was the soup du jour. 21 years later I punched out with a laundry list of OJI’s and a lifetime medical. But not before I came to love the .45 and the Weaver….both of which served me well on two auspices occasions. Enjoy your isosceles……I’ll stick with Weaver!

    1. Even though this is all a year old I am revisiting to view comments. “Buck” you are absolutely the “MAN”. You have been and done in the hard times……You have made your training an intricate part of your life and THAT is the key……..It is better to practice one technique ten thousand times than ten thousand techniques one time………

      1. “Better to practice one technique ten thousands times than ten thousand techniques one time”…That statement should be the motto of every LEO trainer in America! I’m going to have to borrow it from you! Outstanding! Thank you!

  6. You might have noticed that Steven Seagal has used a similar gun handling technique in his scenes. I won’t go into whether he is legit or deserves a “white hat” category. In his appearance in the A&E reality series “Steven Seagal: Lawman” he shows an older, less-than-fit (admittedly a lot like me) deputy how to use the method to help train for an upcoming firearms requalification. (The deputy did requalify.) I have tried CAR and find that there are some elements that are useful and some that I was doing already. However, for the average “I just want to be able to defend myself” guy like me, I think the best path is to seek out a qualified instructor/program and train, train, train. It’s also important to realize that there are some distinct styles such as target, law enforcement, competition and military. “Double-super-secret-agent assassin” is not one of them but it’s fun to watch in the movies.

    1. I was a close friend of the late Paul Castle and trained under him to advanced certification. I’ve seen the tacticool JW movies and I got to tell you that Keanu is not using the CAR System exactly correct. I wish I could of been on set to correct what appears to be bastardized attempts of CAR.
      In todays tactical fighting world we use it all. We do not throw the baby out with the barh water so to speak.
      At our training school we use Isosceles, weaver and CAR. All technics have great value and the right place to use them.
      I am an expert at CAR and you never telegraph your gun as your clearing or making Entry. You would be more likely to do that with weaver and Isosceles.
      I did enjoy all of keanu’s ooda movement and combat reloads. Sweet.

  7. when you have PART of your body in FRONT of the muzzle, you are asking for some BAD things to happen.

    I’ve been in on some house to house chit in Cholon in Tet 68 and I’d have been dead if I would have used your hollywood technique!

  8. There is no one size fits all in combat shooting,period. Styles have changed but the basics remain. Safe firearm handling,no sweeping your partners etc. Use of sights,trigger press,it is all the same,just utilized in a different format. I find isoceles to be etremely uncomfortable and un natural ,where a modified Weaver works fine. I have seen shooters use the hook on the trigger guard and other trainers swear it is useless yet many top firearms have one. I trained with it and find it allows a higher hand hold for better control! Point is,if you train with peopke who tell you there is only one way to do something right, get a new trainer! Practice your technique and basics and you will do fine,which ever style you choose. When the lead starts flying I have yet to see anyone use their 4pt Gunsite draw,because they are usually too busy trying to stay alive then to utilize gunfu dogma.

  9. Have you looked into what the CAR system actually teaches? What Keanu Reeves does in the movies is incorrect as far as CAR goes, so using it as any kind of example of CAR is wrong right off the bat. As far as your statement that “Hardly anyone that really hunts bad guys for a living uses this”, while that may be true, it’s really not a great argument. It’s basically just saying that because a technique is unpopular, that it must be bad. I’m sure there are many great things that didn’t catch on immediately or maybe never do. Politics and how things are marketed have A LOT to do with people adopting new techniques. It’s also odd you call it trendy. I almost never see it. Ever. I think what is more trendy is civilians aping anything any number of ex-military members (especially SF) are teaching, without questioning it. Anyways, the gun isn’t right in front of the face all the time. You hold it in a low but compressed ready. In fact it takes up very little of your visual field. I believe target transitions, reloads, and draws are also faster with CAR, simply because the distance covered is shorter thanks to the compressed positions. Simple economy of motion. Hard to argue that. Beyond that, Paul Castle and Jeff Johnsgaard (the current official instructor of the system) DO use an extended position which is essentially a Weaver stance. I don’t think you made any mention of the weapon retention aspects of CAR, which is one of it’s most obvious and defining characteristics. I don’t recall that ever being in the Wick films. It’s also pretty useful for shooting from a vehicle, since your mobility is restricted. I’m not an expert or an instructor in CAR, but I’ve studied it and practiced it a fair bit, and It seems to me like you didn’t really research it much at all. If you had, you’d pretty quickly see the discrepancy between what you wrote and what CAR actually is. Sort of a lazy criticism of it in my opinion.

  10. I think the quick dismissal here of CAR is more a matter of “I wasn’t taught that and I don’t teach it,” than a real critique based on training, knowledge, and application of the technique, nor did the author present a comparison to more common forms of handgun handling, none of which are perfect.

    1. I was taught the C.A.R. by the man himself; Paul Castle, and it has served me well in numerous scenarios…..It is a tool for the tool box; It may not always be the optimum position for every operational requirement but neither is ISOSCELES or WEAVER, or COMPRESSED HIGH READY. Operators train with different weapons and different operational techniques to be able to apply them without much conscious thought. The “Mind of No Mind” as Musashi has been quoted. Oh yes, clearing as much of a room from outside is THE way to avoid nasty surprises……….IF time allows……..The absolute best way to “clear” a room is with a grenade, LOL.

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