I Only Want a Special Operator to Train Me!

By Dave Spaulding

I have just been contacted by another “prospective” student who states if I am not a former member of the Special Operations Community I have nothing useful to teach. I’m sure this person still lives at home with mommy, surfs the internet in his boxers and has no real, practical street experience as the phraseology he uses is obviously recycled from other posts he has read. While they might not realize it, it is easy to tell who these people are by the words, sentences and tactical lingo they use in their messages. Reading is not skill…

I have a number of friends who have or are serving in the military, some in the Special Operations Community, and I have discussed the use of the combative pistol with them. While all like having a handgun they consider it a distant second weapon to their long gun, usually an M-4 of some type but not always. From what they tell me, the pistol is seldom used so there are very few pistol fights occurring, though the handgun has been used.

The handgun always has been and always will be the PRIMARY firearm of American law enforcement due to the reactive nature of the job. The handgun is drawn and used during rapidly changing situations which are the NORM for cops, thus the handgun is used in a reflexive manner, usually at close range (but not always) while adapting to a rapidly evolving situation based on the actions of others. The carbine/shotgun is used as a responsive weapon, deployed when cops have some idea of what is happening as they arrive on the scene. Thus, the carbine is a cop’s secondary weapon…

I have studied the use of the combative handgun for decades, including the old west lawmen who were as likely to use them as an impact weapon as a firearm. The dynamic involved when an armed citizen uses a handgun in defense of their life (or the lives of loved ones) is far more likely to be similar to law enforcement use of a handgun than that of a military Special Operator which is why I focus on teaching the handgun. If you want to learn how to shoot an M-4 then you should seek out one of the former military instructors…that is what most cops are doing! It is what I have done. That said, police instructors have been teaching the handgun for a long time and we know how to do it well…like the armed citizen it is our LIKELY weapon in a fight.

I hope this message can make its way into the ears of the “tac-tards” of the world so they train for their real world of work and not for a Battlefield II fantasy in their basement. Rant off…

Gear I Like

By Dave Spaulding

As my small training company has grown, I have become increasingly associated with a few products I helped develop. The Ameriglo CAP Sight, the Ghost Bullet Forward slide release lever for Glocks and the X-Concealment/Templar Custom CAP holster/magazine pouch being the primary products. But did you know that I helped design the CQC and CQC-S holsters along with Lou Alessi? These two holsters proved to be two of his most popular designs. How about the “Dave Spaulding” rig from FIST Holsters? This holster is essentially a CQC-S made from Kydex instead of leather. I was also involved in the early development of the Smith & Wesson M & P as well as the Ruger SR-9 pistols. I am proud all of these products have met with great success, but you should also know that I do not make a dime on any of them.  When I tell people this they look at me like I have a third eye ball, but when I described these products to their eventual manufacturers, I was more interested in getting useful products in the hands of good guys and gals than I was making money.  You see, you can’t take money with you when you die but your legacy lives on and products can end up being a big turd if not done correctly and no one wants to be associated with a pile of shit, especially once they have moved on…

While I’m happy these products have proven useful, I will be the first to admit that they are not  “end all, be all” products. None of these products will work for everyone and I will be the first to tell you give critical thought to ANY product before you jut it…make sure it will work for you and just don’t buy it because some famous instructor says so!  Critical thought seems to be lacking these days and we all need to rekindle it. Because I do not make money from the products I helped create, I can say this out loud without concern. That said, please understand the mentioned products ARE good choices and I do use them, but there are other products I like and use semi-regularly. For example, I like the Larry Vickers designed Glock slide release lever as made by Tango Down. Larry’s lever is essentially an OEM lever but with an outward bend so it can be more easily engaged by the thumb on either hand. I have to grind off part of the lever’s tab at the rear or my shooting hand thumb rests on it, keeping it from locking the slide open, but once I do this it works very well and I think it is a much better choice than slide levers that ramp backwards and sit under the shooting hand thumb.

As far as holsters are concerned, I like rigs from Hillsman, FIST, Richie Leather, Blade-Tech and X-Concealment depending on what I am looking for. Dan Hillsman created the Scalding Spaulding rig when all of the other holster manufacturers blew me off. This Bolatron rig is one of THE BEST holsters I have ever owned. Skip Richie was Lou Alessi’s partner for many years and we became friends. After Lou died and his family sold the company, Skip moved in to the old Alessi shop and started building holsters based on the original Alessi designs. If you want leather, it is hard to beat one build by the folks at Richie Leather. Blade-Tech is one of the pioneers in Kydex holsters and also makes a great line of injection molded rigs. While I have not embraced appendix carry to the level of  others (my generation of cop called it “felony carry” as that is where most felons carry) I do use it on occasion and Blade-Tech makes a quality, but cost effective, appendix carry rig. FIST makes both leather and Kydex (some of the FIST Kydex rigs are stitched like leather!) while Shin Chen at X-Concealment sticks with Kydex only. His pancake-style holsters ride flat and are available molded for weapon mounted lights. I am trying to talk Shin into building one of his square cut holsters with a light mount and using the belt claw of the CAP holster, but as a small business he can only do so much, so fast. The truth is there are a large number of companies making holsters that are very good so if you have not found one that works for you, you probably are not looking hard enough.

Pistol sights are a personal issue as eye sight varies greatly among the shooting populace. I’ve never had good eyes and have constantly looked for a “better mouse trap” when it comes to combative pistol sights. I always liked the red ramp/black rear sights of my Smith & Wesson and Ruger revolvers and never really understood why pistol sights consisted of dots and bars. Since we are trying to achieve “equal height, equal light” whenever we are lining up handgun sights I do not comprehend the use of round objects to align straight edges. For years I have painted the front sight of my semiautomatic pistols and found great success doing so. The only problem is cleaning solvents wash away the paint in just a few cleanings. I tried to get multiple sight manufacturers to make what I now call the CAP sights but was blown off by all but Rick Callihan at Ameriglo who took the project on. The CAP sight is now one of his most popular products!

If the CAP Sight did not exist, I would default back to Heinie Sights made by master gunsmith Dick Heinie.  I still use Heinie sights on all my 1911’s and believe them to be some of THE BEST combat sights ever made! Did you know the Heinie Sight was used on the first batch of Browning High Powers delivered to the fledgling FBI Hostage Rescue Unit back in the late 1980’s? I don’t know why they switched to Novak sights later on, but the agents I spoke with really liked the Heinie sights. If you have never tried a Henie Sight, they offer a “crisp and clean” sight picture with a thin front sight set into a deep rear which is both fast and precise. I have always painted my Henie front sights due to my poor vision and this works very well as the serrations hold the paint even when solvents do their work. The ramp of the Heinie rear also allows for one hand manipulation of the pistol’s slide.

For many years I used wide leather belts made by most of the major holster manufacturers, but in recent years have used nothing but nylon belts from The Wilderness or what is also known as l Wilderness Tactical. Their 1.5 inch Instructor Belt has broken the code for belts, in my opinion, as they are both flexible and sturdy enough to support the weight of a holstered handgun and related gear. There is no break in period like there is with a leather belt and with varying colors, the Instructor Belt will go with most casual clothing. The only thing I did not like was the fast rope buckle used as I have no intention of doing any helicopter repelling or urban climbing at my age, though those who might face those situations will likely prefer the buckle. I replace the fast rope buckle with a polymer slider buckle that I heavily stipple to increase drag and have obtained great success with this combination. Shin Cen at X-Concealment will be introducing a new belt line in the next week or so that will use a dual layer of scuba webbing with both Cobra Buckles and a Velcro-based buckle-less system which I am looking forward to.

I make it a point to select my gear wisely and I buy once! Sometimes my gear does not perform just as I want, so I modify it to meet my needs. You see, gear is intended to supplement the performance of the man (or woman) and is not a replacement for hard earned skill. Learn, train and select your gear based on your needs and just not on the basis of what it “in” at the moment.

Photo 1:  Top quality holsters including the Scalding Spaulding from Hillsman (top left then clock wise) X-Concealment C Series, CAP Holster, Blade-Tech AIWB, and Richie IWB rig.

Gear I Like 1

Photo 2: Reduced size Vickers lever with the Ghost bullet forward

Gear I Like 2

Photo 3: The CAP Sights (left) along with the excellent Heinie sights.

Gear I Like 3

Photo 4: The Wilderness Instructor Belt along with the author’s polymer buckle version

Gear I Like 4

9mm Takeover?

By: Dave Spaulding

There has been a great deal of talk about a “9mm takeover” on the internet/blogosphere and, of course, anything you hear on the internet is correct, right? Like the insurance T.V. Commercial says…”anything printed on the internet has to be the truth.” Let’s take first things first…over half of what is printed on the internet is complete and utter bullshit. Most of it is recycled from other sources by people who are not in the know and then embellished to cover “their take” on the circumstance or situation. Second, many of the people who write a good game on the internet have no real background to make their claims which really hurts those that do talk from knowledge. Suggestion: if an author gives this long biography that says he was deep in the thick of black operations, ninja-hood and “shadow ops” but won’t give his/her name to protect themselves from retaliation, it could be true, but then why would this person be drawing attention to themselves? While I would never say “I trained the Navy SEALS, Delta, Green Berets, Para-rescue Jumpers, Rangers, CIA SAD or GRS”, etc. I have had individuals from these units in my courses and all are true “quiet professionals” who do not feel the need to brag about their exploits…they KNOW they have the goods! Usually these folks stay to themselves, shoot VERY well (maybe not at IPSC Grandmaster level but they don’t have to as it is more about willingness than X ring accuracy), ask smart questions and are open to suggestion…they WANT to learn, not talk. Have you ever been in a class with one of those students that does nothing but talk and try to raise their profile? This person is NOT a quiet professional…he is a “Mommy’s basement commando”…

One of the “trends” crossing the internet is the “re-emergence” of the 9mm in law enforcement circles and any number of ex-spurts are adding their opinion to the fray. Much of this discussion is led by the FBI returning to the 9mm because they struggle with getting recruit agents through the firearms portion of the basic academy. Many laugh at this assertion as it was the FBI in the late 80’s and early 90’s that spearheaded the creation of the .40 via their “10mm lite” cartridge after the “failure” of the 9mm Silvertip in the famed Miami Shootout of 1986. Much was learned from this event and we are still learning, in this case it is that the .40 S & W cartridge can be tough to shoot due to the added slide velocity of the cartridge and the effects this has on the shooter via felt recoil. In the end, if you can’t hit your opponent quickly and repeatedly with a given handgun cartridge all of the on target power is for nothing.

Finding all this talk about an FBI change to be interesting, I contacted a friend that works at the FBI Academy and bought him dinner. We talked for several hours and while he admitted there is some interest in the 9mm there is no whole sale move back to the 9mm…yet! Before this happens there will probably be a review of handguns as well as if you are going to review the rocket it makes sense to review the launcher as well. This is not to say the Bureau is unhappy with the Glock…they are not! Like many agencies they had some problems with the Glock in .40 caliber, but they are very happy with the trigger and ease of use in training, but to not look at new designs would be remiss, especially those that have reconfigurable grips. I think we can all agree that Glock did not go far enough in the adjustable grip department with their 4th Generation series and I for one really like the Glock, but I must have a substantial grip reduction before I can shoot it to its maximum potential.

Is it true the FBI has found a 9mm cartridge that “matches the wound ballistics of the .45”? My friend told me they are “very encouraged” by the load they are currently testing in 9mm, but all he would tell me is it is a non-traditional bullet weight and configuration traveling at a non-traditional velocity in order to achieve this performance. OK, even I am enough of a “gear queer” (no sexual disrespect meant here!) to wonder what this is all about! I have been a long proponent of the 9mm due to its accuracy and ease of use and I find current generation 9mm ammo to be quite good. Such loads would include:

115 grain Corbon DPX +P

124 grain Speer Gold Dot +P

124 grain Federal HST +P

127 grain Winchester SXT +P+

147 grain Speer Gold Dot

147 grain Federal HST +P

All of these will do the job if the shooter does THEIR job. While at the 2014 SHOT Show I ran into a number of fellow instructors and the subject of the “9mm takeover” came up repeatedly. Ken Hackathorn, Kyle DeFoor, Ed Head, John Benner, Mike Janich, Kyle Lamb, Larry Vickers, Rich Nance, Mike Boyle, Kevin Davis and John Farnum all maintain no concerns with a move back to the 9mm, even though they may personally prefer a different caliber. Why? Because people can hit with it and hitting is what it is all about. Like most of you I will watch the FBI with interest, but don’t expect anything real soon as they do study the hell out of things before they change and maybe this is not a bad thing. Only time will tell…

Thoughts on Instruction and Conflict

By: Dave Spaulding

It’s fashionable these days to refer to a gunfight as a “critical incident” or a “crisis point” but I don’t think such phraseology tells the whole story. A crisis is defined as “an emotionally stressful event or situation involving an impending, abrupt and decisive change. Throughout our lives we will all face any number of crisis events, but not all crises turn out bad…some change us for the good. A crisis can involve an event like a natural disaster or a situation like a car crash or hazardous spill, both of which require some type of action but these events or situations do not involve a clash between human adversaries which is what is known as conflict, an irreconcilable clash between opposing wills, a situation involving an adversary opposing the will of another…a fight. While a conflict is certainly a crisis, not all crises involve conflict and I think this needs to be understood when discussing the subject.

I have nothing against anyone who wants to teach the use of firearms… I applaud those that take the time and effort to become an instructor, but I have been criticized…trashed, actually… for my belief that an instructor who has faced conflict will teach combative firearms “better” than an instructor that has not. While I use the word “better” it is not the quality of the instruction I am referring to as anyone who has good presentation skills can teach concepts, lessons, documented information, tactics and techniques. What I am referring to is having a better understanding of what is being taught and its application under stress and duress. For example, most everyone who teaches combative skills knows the human body goes through what is known as “fight or flight” or “body alarm reaction” during conflict. This physical and psychological phenomenon is usually described by its symptoms (tunnel vision, loss of digital dexterity, auditory exclusion, slow motion, etc.) and an instructor worth a salt will inform their students of its existence, but do they really understand it enough to truly prepare their student for what it will do to them? Fight or flight is a result of threat information being transmitted to the Hypothalamus that in turn sends a signal to the Pituitary Gland creating a “chemical cocktail” of epinephrine, cortisol and norepinephrine that travels through the body creating some pretty dramatic changes to the body.  I can honestly say that I did not totally comprehend it until I went through it. Now I have true empathy for the phenomenon that an instructor who has never experienced it just can’t have. I believe this experience allows me to explain what will happen to them “better” than someone who has not.

Seems reasonable, right? So who is so vocal in their opposition to my suggestion? Instructors who want to be considered experts in the field of armed combat but have never faced real danger, usually due the path they have taken in life. I had one such person tell me “I thought about a career in law enforcement but decided there was no money in it and the military? Forget it!” I have no problem with a person who wants to pursue higher wages or a better position; however, when it comes time for me to draw on my experience(s) don’t act like you are an equal in the field because you have taken some classes. Does this lack of street or field experience make them bad instructors? Of course not! But, no matter how much they want it to be to the contrary, experience counts! Dispute it is you must, but reality is just that…reality! A person who has faced physical danger willingly possesses a level of personal knowledge that someone who has merely taken a training course or read a book cannot comprehend. You see, most anyone can share what they have been told, but only those who have faced a life threatening situation can share it in the first person…re-telling someone’s war story is not the same.

Another example is how one deals with the fear that WILL accompany such a situation. Fear is a natural occurring phenomenon and it is truly your friend…something not understood by those who have not been there. I once attended a training course taught by an instructor who told the students “ignore your fear and just drive on” which told me instantly he had never experienced true, life threatening fear…the kind of fear that makes you want to shut down. Those who have actually faced conflict know you don’t ignore fear, you embrace it! You see, courage is not the absence of fear, its one’s ability to control it, use it to your advantage and take action in spite of it. You see, once action is taken fear slips away and those who have experienced conflict and fear resolution understand this.

Recently I was confronted in a parking lot by a younger man and his girlfriend who said I “took their parking space”. In the first mille-seconds I thought “oh shit” but then experience kicked in and I took note of how he was standing, which hand he was likely to punch with and recalling I had been punched before knew I could fight through it. I moved to a fighting stance and immediately took note of his soft spots (eyes, throat, groin, knees, shins and feet) and figured which he was defending least. His girlfriend suddenly stopped him and said, “No…walk away Joe…it’s not worth it. The boyfriend stopped, looked around and said “aw f*#k you, old man” and they walked away.” I watched them until I knew they were gone and then LEFT! Experience helped me prepare and also told me to not tempt fate. Am I calling for all combative firearms instructors to be conflict veterans? Should you seek out such experience? Nope…not a good idea as anytime you enter conflict you run the risk of losing! And if you are injured which is likely (if not probable) is medical assistance readily available? Simultaneously, if training was the sole key to prevailing in conflict then we would never lose a member of our military as they are certainly the best trained military in the world. In conflict, shit happens…

Killing is not the “experience” I am referring to…hell, anyone can kill. Give a ten year old a steak knife and they can walk up and kill someone with no prior thought or training. The experience I am referring to is action(s) taken to save your life or the life of others while willingly placing yourself in harm’s way… that is what I feel is truly instructional. Over the last 30 years I have interviewed many people who have been in armed conflict, have written several articles about it and one thing that stood out time and again was the person who prevailed in conflict was the one who took action…not necessarily the one who was the better shot, could shoot the fastest strings, had the more expensive gun or the latest tactical knife. In many of the encounters I studied no one was killed (which is instructional in itself) and this was due to the actions taken by the person(s) involved.  I have long realized these actions were the lessons learned, not whether a person was killed in the melee.

A person who has taken such action has an understanding of conflict that cannot be obtained any other way, thus, they instruct the subject “better”. Keep in mind, however, there are many combat veterans who do not have the personality/capability to teach the lessons they have learned …many are just not teachers…but that does not mean we should not learn from their experiences. At the same time, the best combative skills instructor will be the one who has both experience AND skill. I say this as I have met many instructors that do not demonstrate for their students because they can’t shoot! A solid instructor does not have to shoot to the level of a national champion as these folks are “freaks of nature” much like an Olympic medalist…they have something in their muscular/skeletal system that makes them truly exceptional. A solid instructor must shoot well enough to demonstrate their lesson(s) on demand understand their relevance and communicate them both verbally and physically. Like an NFL coach, seldom can they play the game like their star players, but they did play so they have the “been there/done that” empathy I spoke of earlier.  I am not a gifted shooter and have worked hard to develop and maintain the skills I have, but due to my experience I realize I do not have to shoot a sub-two second Bill Drill to prevail in armed conflict…just be more WILLING to fight than my opponent and this willingness/confidence comes from skill and experience.

No, the combative firearms instructor does not need to have experienced conflict, but do you think presenting the essential skills will be enhanced if you do? Let me ask this…would you be better served taking a course in race car driving from someone who has actually been in a race versus someone who has just trained to race? How about mountain climbing? Would you prefer being taught by someone who had actually climbed a mountain, understanding the dangers one will face, versus someone who had only trained on a climbing wall? Admittedly, you can be taught solid concepts and techniques by someone who had trained on a race track or climbing wall, but they will not be able to share the knowledge based on experience of someone who has actually “been there, done that”.

Please keep in mind that I am not talking about someone teaching how to shoot…shooting is not fighting, shooting is merely a component of fighting. Most local CCW/CPL certification courses are about firearms safety and basic shooting skills and there are many people who do this well, but such courses are just the beginning of a journey and few (if any!) basic concealed handgun courses have anything to do with combat.  I have had the good fortune to receive training from some of the finest military, law enforcement and competition shooters/instructors in the world and have learned something from them all. No one taught me more about shooting than John Shaw but he did not teach me how to fight, for that I went to Gunsite, Thunder Ranch or to instructors like Kelly McCann…those who had been in conflict and know how to deal with it. By the way, such training institutions seek out instructors with combat experience as they understand its importance on how the instructor views and teaches the subject.

We are all products of our life experience…it can’t be helped and this is especially true for combative firearms instructors. As I have made my way through the training circuit, I have noticed how an instructor’s background affects the content of their course(s). In the case of competitive shooters who make the “jump” to combat, the focus of the course is usually on the electronic timer and how fast drills can be shot, while the instructor who has been shot at tends to focus on accuracy and building particular purpose driven skills, skills that will help you save your life and can articulate why they will do so.  A drill should be a confirmation of a particular set of skills being mastered, they should not be the focus of the course but I see this more and more these days as shooting fast seems to be “in”. It’s not the instructor’s fault, really…they are teaching what they know, what their experience base is. Recently I was talking to a student during a break in one of my classes who told me he had spent a huge amount of time and ammo trying to shoot a particular drill in a given time. He had finally done so successfully and was quite proud. When I said, “Cool…what’s it mean?” he was dumb founded. “What do you mean what’s it mean?” “Just that”, I said, “how does this accomplishment better prepare you for conflict? That is what you are training for, right?” He had no answer. If you can’t articulate how or why a certain drill enhances your ability to prevail in conflict then you might want to ask yourself what are you doing?

Still don’t think that experience is important or that is offers an advantage? It doesn’t just apply to good guys and gals; it applies to your potential adversary as well. Below is a segment of an article written by my good friend Greg Ellifritz. Greg is a full time police officer as well as a serious trainer through both his own company (Active Response Training) as well as the Tactical Defense Institute in Southern Ohio. The article was a look at an FBI study published several years ago entitled Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers. 

“There is another factor that is even more important than training…its EXPERIENCE!  All training is merely an artificial attempt to simulate a gunfight experience.  Clearly experience matters; we try hard doing everything short of seeking out real gunfights  to gain as much experience as possible in our practice sessions.  In the “Violent Encounters” study, how do you think the criminals’ experience levels compared to the cops? More than 40% of the criminals identified in the study had at least one gunfight experience before attacking the officer.  25% of the attackers had been involved in more than five gunfights! That experience changes one’s perceptions of fighting with a gun.  One of the interviewed criminals summed it up perfectly when he stated:

“I made up my mind that nobody was going to shoot me again.”

Take a look at this guy.  He was 29 years old when he was killed by a homeowner during a home invasion.  He had previously been shot in 10 other incidents and survived!  Do you think that he might have picked up a few insights about gunfighting during some of those shootings?

I train cops for a living.  It’s my job to talk to cops about what works and what doesn’t.  I don’t currently know a single cop who has been involved in 10 on-the-job gunfights. The officers in the Violent Encounters study had far less actual experience.  Less than 25% of the officers had been involved in a shooting incident before their attacks.  The largest number of shootings in which any of the officers had been involved was three.  On average, each officer had been involved in four incidents in which they were legally justified in shooting a criminal, but they chose not to shoot.

Both groups had different attitudes as a result of their differing levels of training and experience.  The officers went out of their way to avoid gunfights.  The study noted “It appeared clear that none of the officers were willing to use deadly force against an opponent if other options were available.” Contrast that with the attitude of their attackers.  The report noted “Offenders typically displayed no moral or ethical restraints in using firearms…In fact the street combat veterans survived by developing a shoot- first mentality!” This study showed that the police officers were outmatched by their criminal opponents in every domain studied…training, experience, and mindset.  If trained police officers are outmatched, where does that put the average citizen?  It is actually quite astounding that citizens do as well as they do when they confront violent criminals!”

It is quite possible your attacker will not only be more committed to the task, but has more training and experience than you. Also keep in mind, as Greg has said, criminals have no reservation about killing; have probably already decided to do so! I once interviewed a “gunfighter felon” who had taken an interest in the training cops and armed citizens receive. He told me he once watched an instructor on “gun TV” talk about moving back and forth while reloading which he thought was amusing. A moving target is harder to hit so I asked him why he thought it was funny. “Because if you move like that a guy like me will just shoot more bullets your way…I’ll hit something!” Spray and pray, you say? Maybe…but one thing I or instructors who have faced adversity can tell you, there is a big difference between someone who launches a bunch of bullets in hopes of hitting something versus someone who launches a bunch of bullets and doesn’t care what they hit. Keep in mind your most recent Force on Force training session, during which you established your doctrine, was staffed by law abiding role players who had the same type of training as you, not a desperate criminal that will do whatever it takes to complete their crime and get away.

In the end I doubt if I have changed anyone’s mind about whether or not conflict experience makes for a “better” instructor, but maybe I have given potential students who are shopping for such instruction something to think about. It seems critical thought is lacking in this day and age, but more so in the arena of combative skills where many people are trying to corral your hard earned dollar. If there was ever a time to think hard about how to proceed, it’s when you are deciding how to go about securing your well- being or the well-being of those you love considering your potential opponent and their state of mind. Does having real world experience make for a “better” instructor?  Your choice, but what I can definitely say is it sure doesn’t hurt and to those who continue to maintain experience just isn’t important…well, that just bull shit…