Monday, January 26, 2015

My Thoughts on Combative Firearms Training:
Decades in the making!
Dave Spaulding

Once again another “tac-tard” has spouted off on the internet, talking about something they know nothing about but feel the need to be heard anyway. Ron White is correct…”you can’t fix stupid!” In this case I was able to track down who this person is (yes, they hid behind a pseudonym) and they have NO practical/tactical background at all. No law enforcement, military not even time working private security…nothing that would put them in harm’s way. He is a professional student that feels his tuition money gives him the right to bark about things he knows nothing about on a personal level. It turns out he is an office worker who faces nothing more dangerous than a paper cut. Thus, I feel the need to rant one again…

I attended the State of Ohio Firearms Instructor certification course at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in 1983. At the time it was a two week course, one week for revolver, the second pump action shotgun. I returned in later years for a one week certification for semi-automatic pistol, a week for sub-machine gun and finally a week for assault (I prefer battle) rifle. There was also an additional week for instructional skills, but since I had a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education I was allowed to take a pass on this course. I have attended most of the big name shooting schools and many of the traveling instructors, learning from each and every one. I have done all I can to sharpen my craft and since my initial certification, I have trained literally tens of thousands of students in basic academy firearms, in-service use of force and now multi-levels of skills based on what I call “the combative application of the pistol.” I have decided not to teach carbine courses as I never used the AR-15 while on the job. When I was assigned to SWAT our perimeter weapon was the Steyr AUG-P and the entry weapon the Heckler & Koch MP-5. It just seems a bit disingenuous to train students with a gun I never used.

Over the last three decades plus, I have been contacted by many students (over 100) who have prevailed in armed conflict, sharing their stories of what occurred and how their training made the difference. Ten of these incidents were caught on cruiser videos and I have been permitted to view them. Along the way, I have interviewed hundreds of people who have been in armed conflict including veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, The GWOT, cops, citizens and yes…felons! I have combined my interviews with my training and my personal experiences (SWAT, patrol, surveillance unit, narcotics, undercover operations, homicide investigations, etc.) to create a doctrine of combative pistolcraft and I believe deep in my heart I have it right! It is more than a money making endeavor for me…it is a calling!

I could write volumes on my thoughts and feelings about shooting and combative skills training, but I have space limitations here and I don’t want to bore you. No matter who you talk to, when it comes to shooting or tactical skills, you will get a mixed bag of opinions, depending on who you speak with and as we know, opinions are like a rectum...everybody has one and most stink! My opinions and beliefs are based on what I have stated above, thus I believe they are valuable in that they were many years coming, not just based on reading a few articles, watching a video or two or becoming the fanboy of some famous instructor.  Years of training and some real world practical application have gone in to what I am about to say. Some will agree, some not and truthfully…I DON’T CARE! Many people offering opinions, especially those hiding behind a pseudonym, are just haters looking for a way to raise their profile. At least my opinions have substance. How about this idea…instead of being an internet sniper or troll, spend YEARS developing knowledge and skill on the range leaving the keyboard behind? Nah…that would take too much effort…

My thoughts based on DECADES of personal experience, training and research…

- Understand your true ability, capabilities and your limitations as it applies to your combative skill(s). Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It is a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is real. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude…what I prefer to call “stupidity”. Conversely, highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, mistakenly assuming tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others. I see this effect in every class I teach…many of whom are the keyboard commandos I referenced earlier.  The person who over estimates their ability is far greater danger than the person who under estimates their ability and I want to be nowhere near that person when bullets start to fly as they might get me killed along with them! Oh yeah, talking with a particular tactical/military lingo does not make you knowledgeable either…

-  Your ability to run your gun must be automatic, something that occurs on “auto pilot”.  When a bad guy decides to rob you or invade your house it is unlikely you just finished a practice session. Just because you remember being trained in a technique does not mean you can perform it! I used to run into this all the time when teaching law enforcement in-service. Cops would whine “we did this in the last session” and I would have to respond “that it true but you still suck at it!” Repetition and consistency of action/motion are key here. This means practice, practice, and more practice. How often do you practice? Six times a year? Great! Would you bet five bucks on an NFL Quarterback that practiced with the ball six times a year? Keep in mind you will have to run the gun wet, cold, hot and on demand.

- Be alert and aware! Nazi Ace Erik Hartman once said “the person who is surprised is half beaten!” I think it may be more than half.  If you are familiar with Jeff Cooper’s Color Code of Awareness take stock in them and know how they work. Just because you can shoot slow bulls-eyes out to 25 yards does not mean you will catch up if caught off guard. Marksmanship and fighting is NOT the same thing, though many believe they are. Why? They have no personal frame of reference for what conflict really is, so they equate it to what they do know. THIS IS NOT ENOUGH! Marksmanship is a component of combat, not the whole answer. Do you have a sub 1 second draw from the holster? Great! Outstanding bragging rights…but if you don’t see the threat coming it does not matter as you won’t have a chance to go for your gun!

-  Have you heard of the OODA Loop? Do you really understand what it is? The OODA Loop reaction/response cycle has been studied for years and most grasp it is a physiological reality that cannot be changed. The faster you can cycle through it the better you will perform. That said, if you have to truly “orient” to what is going on before you respond you will likely fall short. Orientation is a process that sorts through incoming data and already anchored bias you have within. Col. Boyd understood through “Implicit Guidance and Control” (proper training, preparation and experience) a combatant can go from observation to action more quickly. Do not think the OODA cycle is as smooth as water from a pitcher. Preparation is not paranoia…

-  Never give up accuracy for speed. As Bill Jordan said, “There is no second place winner”. I also like my friend Dennis Tueller’s (yes, The Tueller Drill) statement “If you don’t think you have enough time to aim you certainly do not have enough time to miss!”

-  If you carry a weapon (gun, knife, stick, cane, etc.) for personal security, train realistically and at distances that are real world. Use realistic targets if at all possible. I shoot bulls-eye targets in some of my drills, but I like to use humanoid shaped targets most of the time. 3D targets covered with shirts are even better.  In a gunfight, you will not have a target to shoot at but an outline of a human silhouette, possibly in the dark. Both SLA Marshal and Col. Dave Grossman have established if you want to shoot a human you must train on human-like targets. History has shown the majority of gunfights happen at very close quarters, 7 yards and under so I would keep that in mind when training. There is a trend to practice at 25 yards these days with the admonition “Mistakes are amplified at longer distances” and this is true. That said is it a training scar to spend too much time at distance, something I am now seeing regularly? Are you practicing your shooting or your fighting?  Only you can decide what your “real world of work and play” really is…

- If you are using competition-style shooting to practice for the “street” you might want to consider this: any “miss” is the end of your fight! Why? Because you probably the proud owner of a gunshot wound and not a point penalty. Forget winning the match or getting a trophy…if you miss your first shot you are giving your opponent the first shot. Do you want to be first or second place in your gunfight?

- Keep it real. If you carry a pistol for self-defense train with the gear and firearm you actually carry. There is no such thing as a carry holster and a range holster. Practice from the clothing you normally wear while you are carrying.

- Bruce Lee once said “Advanced skills are the basics mastered”. Be less concerned with taking it “to the next level” (I might smack the next student who says that!) and mastering the skills you need to prevail! While they are normally called the “fundamentals of shooting” I prefer to call them ESSENTIALS as you must have these to shoot and fight well! Regardless of what some tells you THERE IS NO WAY TO SHORTCUT THE PROCESS! The trick is being able to perform all of the essential skills while under the stress and duress of someone trying to take your life! It may sound easy, but I can tell you that it is what separates the combat shooter from the tactical twit. Former Delta Operator Kyle Lamb said it best, “The difference between the competition shooter and the combat shooter is the combat shooter is shooting back when bullets are in bound.” If you have never had someone try to take your life and take action to thwart it, then you have no business telling people how to go about it because you don’t know…


Rant over…boy, do I feel better! Thanks for checking in! 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Targets are Important!

Targets are Important!

Survive means “to remain in existence”… it is what one does if they have no say in what is occurring, much like the passengers on the Titanic. When engaged in armed conflict, the goal is to win… to be victorious…nothing else is acceptable. To survive means you are hoping luck is on your side and while I have heard it said it is better to be lucky than good, I prefer to make my own luck by being as skilled as possible. You see, the harder I’ve worked, the luckier I’ve become!
Training is just a step in the process of skill. First, one must understand they are at risk and decide on a course of action to thwart danger. In the case of criminal attack, this course of action will involve training in combative skills (“verbal judo”, open hand, impact weapons, chemical sprays, firearms etc.) as just buying a gun is not enough, though many believe it is. Yes, the first rule of gunfighting is to have a gun, but the person skilled with the gun is MUCH more likely to prevail. We have known since the days of the Spartans that the single biggest factor in overcoming fear in conflict is confidence in personal skill(s)!

While the handgun is not the best weapon for security, it is the one you will likely have on/with you when you need a gun! Thus, the focus of my training company is “the combative application of the pistol” meaning I want to make students ready and willing to fight with the handgun. I really don’t care if I help them with their next match, what I want is prepare them for the most serious few seconds of their life. The person who says the stress of competition is the same as combat has never been shot at. I have competed and I have had someone try to take my life, trust me the two are nothing alike. Competition is fine and should be pursued, but there is no expectation of injury or death…no one is shooting back at you.

The primary goal of training is to hit your opponent well enough to stop their immediate action…death is irrelevant! The problem with handguns, of any caliber, is they are underpowered weapons and require hits to vital areas of the body to get true incapacitation. You have to hit an important part of the body…period! I have seen many different caliber bullets removed from bodies at autopsy and I no longer concern myself with the 9mm vs. .45 arguments. I have seen with my own eyes that current generation hollow point ammo works well and bridges the gap between calibers. Pick an HST, DPX or Gold Dot and use the caliber you can control well in rapid fire and hit what you are shooting at multiple times…that is where stopping power comes from in a fight…

Targets are important in this training process though many do not understand this. Some instructors are more concerned with using a target they designed than having one that trains their students to hit vital areas. It is well recognized through the research of SLA Marshal and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman that a combative target must look like a human being. People must look across their sights and see a person if you want them to shoot humans. Bulls-eye targets are fine for marksmanship, but if you want to prepare students to take a life they must train on “people”. A combination of paper, 3D, steel and covered targets works best. It’s certainly acceptable to shoot shapes and objects while working essential shooting skills, but to prepare for conflict the student must shoot human-like targets to be truly prepared.

 I have designed a number of targets over the years that emphasized shot placement to vital areas and they have been successful, based on the reports I have received from my students (after doing this for almost 30 years with the majority of students being cops, I have a sizeable number of former students who have won in gunfights!) who have prevailed in gunfights. I have never lost one and all stopped their assailants with accurate outgoing fire.  When possible, I combine paper targets with steel plates to stop the student from trying to “score” their targets between shots, an act that takes their eyes off the sights, moves their head and shifts the eyes to the target. Unfortunately, I have had to limit my use of steel targets due to wimpy students who have been hit by bullet splatter and have threatened to sue. “Pussies with guns” I call them since they cry about every little discomfort including being sweaty while training. 


While I understand shooters will want to focus on what is attacking them, especially at close range, I believe sighted fire is the best way to stop a threat quickly and if I can keep the shooter on the sights until the target falls in front of them then I have given them a precious skill. Falling 3D targets and knock over steel plates are invaluable for this and I try to incorporate them as much as possible.  The final “target” in the process is interaction with moving humans that show impact via Simunitions, paintball or Airsoft and people who are struck do react somewhat even if it is not the same way as they would if incapacitated. When training to save your own life, choose your targets wisely…they may mean the difference between success and failure…and in combat failure is not an option!