On Friday, September 8th with Hurricane Irma bearing down on the Sunshine State I boarded a Southwest Airlines jet headed for Tulsa, Oklahoma by way of Houston, Texas and rented a vehicle to get to Coffeyville, Kansas for the course obviously not knowing what I would find when I got back home. Thank goodness for hurricane shutters and good friends because I fared well; however, many of my friends in the Fort Myers and Naples area were not so lucky.
When I arrived in Coffeyville I called the host, and let him know I was in town and to check dinner plans. He let me know that he was on his way to get Dave and to standby.
Let me tell you, Deputy Jones is an excellent host, he accepted my ammunition shipment and made everything easy for the students, some who came from as far away as Colorado, Texas, and both Leavenworth and Wichita, Kansas. With such a large course, he was an invaluable asset to Dave on Sunday afternoon running us through the scenarios from inside the vehicles.
He also gave me some great tips about touring the local area to learn about one of the greatest shootouts in American history. That is the shootout between some armed citizens, one law enforcement officer and the Dalton gang who rode into town on horseback to rob two banks at the same time in Coffeyville back on October 5th, 1892.
I cannot say enough good things about Deputy Jones, well-done sir!
The photo below is of the outside of the Dalton Defenders Museum in downtown Coffeyville, this building is literally steps from where the entire gunfight took place. I walked the areas where the twelve (12) minute gunfight happened. That’s right, I said twelve (12) minutes. I also toured the cemetery where two or three of the defenders and three of the Dalton gang members are buried. If you find yourself in Coffeyville, Kansas you should take in some of this history.
The Defenders; Charles T. Connelly, Charles Brown, George B. Cubine, and Lucius M. Baldwin. These plaques are placed exactly where these brave men fell on October 5th, 1892, may they rest in peace.
The photo below is the grave site of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, and Bill Power in Elmwood Cemetery. For many years the only marker that these criminals had was the original hitching post that they tied their horses up to near the old jail in what is now known as Death Alley. By the way, as historians put it, that was their first mistake.
It wasn’t until Emmett Dalton’s sentence was commuted by the Governor some fifteen years later that the headstone that you see now was placed. Emmett Dalton survived the gunfight with twenty-three (23) pieces of lead in him from the Defenders, he never fired a shot, but he was obviously an accessory to the robbery and murders of four brave men. After his release, Emmett went on to be a real estate investor and actor in California.
Former Deputy United States Marshal, Frank Dalton who was killed in the line of duty many years before is buried in the same cemetery, you can see the base of his headstone at the top of the photo. He is buried only 100 or so paces from his more famous brothers who were laid out in the jail for all the townspeople to see.
OK, let’s get to Handgun Combatives…
“The Out of Towners” that came in for the course met Dave and our host for dinner on Friday night at a Mexican restaurant across the street from our hotels. Dave had us laughing and also captivated with his knowledge of the application and adaptation of skills in using the handgun to be an active participant in our own rescue. Make no mistake, Dave’s methodology follows the adult learning theorem and his program of instruction is time-tested by his thirty-five plus years’ experience as a sworn Law Enforcement Officer in Montgomery County, (Dayton) Ohio.
Yeah, Dave has been doing this stuff a while and when he speaks, it might be a wise idea to use those ears you have and listen intently.
Fair Warning, Dave does not sugar coat much of anything and that might mean he uses some colorful language in explaining the realities of gunfights, and how does he know this? Well, because he has actually been in a few gunfights and has interviewed 100’s of people who have prevailed in gunfights as well. I’d say that Dave Spaulding is about as solid a subject matter expert as you will find in the firearms training industry.
One thing he is not is a “YouTube/Live Leak Ninja” who breaks down gunfights on video sometimes from only one angle without ever interviewing any of the active participants. I’ll defer to the subject matter experts like Dave, before the YouTube/Live Leak Ninjas.
Showtime, TD1 started on Saturday morning bright and early inside a courtroom in the municipal building located in downtown Coffeyville. This building also houses the Police Department and other city offices. Dave started with a brief background on himself and the course curriculum along with an overview of his complete program of instruction including his foundational courses.
His opening statement was telling us that his job is to train students to read the situation and be adaptive to the problem, then solve that problem.
From the Handgun Combatives website:
“Our Objective: To prepare you for the most dangerous moments of your life!”
Dave also explained that this course was developed out of necessity for the sworn law enforcement officer working in and around vehicles as part of covert narcotics operations and that he has evolved the course curriculum to meet the ever-changing training needs of not only the sworn law enforcement officer but the responsibly armed citizen as well.
Let me back up a little, Dave also mentioned that this was a tactics-based course and yet still a foundational level course for those who had never trained in and around vehicles. When I tell you that this course could have easily been a week long I am not kidding.
Dave also emphasized that this is not a marksmanship development course, and those who are attending this course should already have some marksmanship fundamentals that are solidly anchored.
I took a total of six pages of notes, front and back during the little more than hour-long presentation and I can tell you that Dave is well prepared and very well spoken; however, as I said before, he does not sugar coat much of anything.
Dave then explained how tactics, techniques, and procedures developed for the sworn law enforcement officer translates to the responsibly armed citizen. He also presented statistics that showed the types of attacks commonly occurring today. These statistics include assaults, carjackings, and overall violence in and around vehicles. Before I took this course, I did not know that the first documented carjacking happened in Detroit back in the 1980’s, go figure, Detroit of all cities. I was under the incorrect impression that the first carjacking happened to a couple German tourists while they were leaving Miami International Airport in a rental car, now I know better.
The statistics that he presented and the subsequent conversation has done nothing but reinforced my commitment to regular training. By the way, I still have Ken Hackathorn on my schedule next month in Los Angeles, two closed LEO only courses that I have been invited to attend and one, possibly two Pat McNamara courses along with the Rangemaster Instructor Reunion Conference in Shawnee, Oklahoma, somewhere in there I also have one more course that I am trying to fit in as well.
Everything with Dave Spaulding is contextual and how it applies to life-threatening situations, but he is also very careful to say that everything in this arena is situational dependent, and thus nothing has a “one-size fits all” type solution. Dave explained and demonstrated and then we practiced skill-sets that are proven to work in these type of high-stress situations that may have life and death implications. By the way, this is teaching to the adult learning theorems of hear, see and do.
Dave is also very careful not to use words like “defensive” which he defines as “losing slowly.” The book he wrote and his company name, “Handgun Combatives” was born from the word “Combative” which Webster’s Dictionary defines as, “having or showing a willingness to fight.”
Unless you have a propensity to bury your head in the sand like an ostrich you know that violence exists in your everyday life and around every corner. Dave showed us a few videos of real incidents, one involving a sworn law enforcement officer and student of his that were outright attacks. Some criminals go willingly and some end up with a toe tag and in cold storage at the morgue waiting to be claimed.
What was reinforced to me through these videos was the fact that the society we live in today is full of threats of violence that most people are completely unaware of, mostly due to a lack of training in situational awareness. We must remember that these threats exist in and around our vehicles especially considering that we spend so much time inside them, be it commuting to and from work, taking vacations, business trips, or just running errands around the cities and towns we live in, we are more vulnerable to an attack in and around our vehicles than we think.
In case you didn’t know, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) charts every act of violence in around the world; however, you and I will never see the data that they collect on these incidents because it is all “classified.” That to me is sad because they probably have the most extensive database of crimes committed on people and property in the world and that would be quite useful to all of us.
They, the CIA also developed a philosophy of “Avoid-Evade-Counter” for their operatives stationed around the world. Using that philosophy should one encounter a threat, the first option would be to avoid the threat. OK, that sounds simple enough; however sometimes we cannot avoid a dangerous situation so we must find a way to evade it, e.g., if someone is road-raging you, all you need to do to evade them is to make a series of four right-hand turns at your earliest opportunity. You will put yourself back on the road that you were traveling albeit quite a distance behind the person that was road-raging you. If you are on the highway, slow down and get off at the next exit. Simple enough to do, now make sure you go out a practice that the next time you are being road-raged by another driver.
Finally, you must be prepared to counter any attack on your life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, you can’t always get away from your attacker and thus if you are presented with a threat of violence by someone known or unknown to you that is when you need to decide to counter the threat with quick and decisive actions that get you into a position of advantage. Remember, the criminal does not give you fair warning that he or she is about to attack you and cause a significant emotional experience in your life.
Here is where I remember the teachings of “Old Brother” Massad Ayoob, and Ayoob’s Law number #1: “Be able to predict where the attack will come, and have a proven counter-attack already in place and poised for launch.” – Massad Ayoob
Dave’s teachings reinforced a philosophy that I strongly believe in which is when you counter violence, you must take an aggressive approach and seek to win the fight immediately and not just survive. He also described mindset as the most essential of essentials, I agree 100%, every fight is fought in the mind.
Mindset is, “a previous decision based on reason and intellect, to take action.” – Dave Spaulding
We MUST prevail, and we MUST have the will to win at all costs, this is crucial because the alternative could be our loved ones planning our funeral.
Webster’s Dictionary defines these words as …
Prevail (Verb): To gain ascendancy through strength or superiority; triumph.
Survive (Verb): To remain alive or in existence; live on.
Question: What would you rather do, prevail or just survive?
Dave paid homage to “The Duke” showing him in his last role in the movie, “The Shootist.” (I always liked that movie) The quote from John Wayne’s character that Dave wanted us to embrace with both arms was this;
“It isn’t always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger, I won’t. – Actor John Wayne in his last role as John Bernard Books in “The Shootist.”
We then dove into some of the more technical aspects of the course, namely unconventional shooting positions and problems associated with shooting into and out of a vehicle, not to mention and the fact that vehicles are not as safe as you might think from gunfire.
Remember, a vehicle is designed to protect you in case of an impact from another vehicle or a hardened object, not gunfire. Dave gave us an overview of the federal guidelines for vehicle safety to include a list of vehicles that have side windows that are rated as well as most windshields. I found this to be interesting information and something I needed to know.
We talked about engine blocks and how they may stop the incoming fire from a handgun, but you’ve got to get real low to be considered behind the engine block on most passenger cars and trucks. Obviously getting away from the vehicle and to better cover offers you an advantage.
When we transitioned to the range we started with the three-shot fade back drill from a ready position of our choice shooting a vertically placed 3×5 card starting at 3 yards and going back to 25 yards.
(FYI: The range in Coffeyville is so close to downtown that if people sat outside the McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant eating their meals they would be able to hear gunfire coming from the range. Only in Kansas…)
After each firing order was finished with the drill Dave evaluated the target with the student and then did some individual coaching, giving some tips for them to work on, see the photo below.
After a short break, we got immersed into Dave’s “Arc of Ready” methodology with him explaining and demonstrating a variety of ready positions that use an arc, hence the name. Dave can explain the methodology a lot better than I can, so take a few minutes when you are finished reading this and click on the embedded video in the link above. You can also see some of this in the photos I have posted below.
Once again, this course is all about working in and around vehicles, thus the high-ready position (Far right photo above) has a substantial upside to it. We did discuss Position SUL and Traditional Guard or Low-Ready; however, those two ready positions are not ideal for vehicle tactics.
The benefits and risks associated with the “Tacticool” Temple Index were covered as well, and oddly enough nobody tried it except one guy from Wichita on TD2. This was immediately caught by Dave’s keen eye and he asked the student to explain why he would try something that he had not done before during the previous twelve (12) hours of course instruction.
Tacticool Temple Index has some context in use with Executive Protection as well as working inside a tight-knit team of operators who trust your muzzle and more importantly your trigger finger discipline; however, there are significant drawbacks to it like how it limits your field of view, and that’s kind of important don’t you think?
After a short break, we then practiced moving through ready positions with Dave coaching both firing orders through the dry-fire techniques and the live-fire exercises encouraging everyone to keep focused on the task at hand. We all heard these words routinely over the two-day course:
“OK Team, stay focused. Let’s make this one a good one!”
An example of Dave’s coaching: In the photo below he is coaching me on a proper “high-ready” position as initially I had my handgun too far away from my body and it was also little too high. Oh yeah, I was also improperly indexing my eyes just over my front sight; however, Dave never once said, “you’re doing it all wrong” he just said, let me help you and then briefly explained why his way is the proper position. (Photo courtesy of the course host)
We then got in some live-fire work from the “high-ready” position and we were made to paste up our bad memories of any hits that were outside of the scoring lines on the Handgun Combatives Chest Cavity Target.
The “walk of shame” is never fun for anyone with misses, I was pressing the trigger well last weekend thanks to a little coaching from my friend Mike Green from Green Ops a few weeks ago.
Next, we worked on presentations from the holster. Dave believes that the presentation should be efficient and cause you to be no wider than the width of your body. There should be no wasted movement, why? Because added movement wastes time. This is a philosophy I agree with and also teach myself.
Here’s a thought without Dave having the benefit of being in his backyard on his deck or with a Crown Royal in his hand;
“It’s a really good idea to know what you are capable of before getting into a gunfight.” – Dave Spaulding
Personal Note: I was the only student to run the entire course of fire from a concealment holster. Granted there were fourteen sworn LEO’s in the course and they ran from their normal duty rigs, but none of the other five responsibly armed citizen students ran from concealment. I ran both my GLOCK 34 and GLOCK 19C from AIWB in a V-Development Group, Seraph holster. My ammunition choice was CCI/Speer Blazer Brass 124gr FMJ that I purchased from www.targetsportsusa.com
After lunch, we worked some more on presenting our handguns while standing with our hands at 10:00 & 2:00 like we had them placed on an imaginary steering wheel and then negotiating our handguns around that imaginary steering wheel and indexing them on the target.
We also did this while in a seated position in a folding chair facing the target and then we rotated the chairs 90° right and left to simulate shooting outside the passenger side and driver’s side window. There were a lot of dry-fire repetitions done in this block of instruction and that was to be expected because of the positions that we were in require extra safety precautions.
In the photo below you will see Dave holding a 1x2x8 target stake at or near steering wheel height to make sure students were clearing it properly while presenting their handgun to the target.
After another short break, we then worked on some vehicle debussing techniques setting up the range with the chairs and barrels simulating the average length of a passenger vehicle. We did a lot of dry-fire work on this and then transitioned to live-fire for the rest of the day. See the photo below.
Dave recognized when some of us were getting tired on TD1 as some students started launching shots at the target instead of placing them. When you are tired during training is the time when you must dig deep down inside and “gut check” yourself, making sure that you get those good repetitions in and placing your shots on target exactly where you need the hits. There are no second chances in a gunfight, and you should think that way while in training.
My TD1 round count was exactly 350 rounds.
On Saturday evening “the out of towners” had dinner with Dave and our host at Lanning’s Downtown Grille in Coffeyville. The meal was very good, our server was excellent, and the conversation was even better. Yes, there were a few Crown Royals sent the big guy’s way. Afterwards, it was off to Walmart to get lunch and a few extra bottles of water for TD2.
OK on to TD2. It all started at the range on Sunday morning at 8:30 am sharp with an overview of what we accomplished on TD1. Afterwards, we got right to the three-shot fade back drill, this time from the holster. Once again, Dave offered some individual coaching after each firing order finished and then we moved back into the chairs and worked some more on building the foundation of fundamentals that we would need later in the day when we got inside the vehicles.
He kept us working throughout the morning on the vehicle debussing drills that we had started on TD1 and we worked until Dave felt we were ready to move on to unconventional shooting positions.
Once we were at the level of competence Dave was looking for with the vehicle debussing drills, we took a break for lunch.
Afterward, Dave had us work through the unconventional shooting positions dry-fire over and over. They were all relatively easy to assume and move in and out of, I have done them before; however, my large frame body has a little trouble getting into the fetal position. My joints do not bend like they used to, this is where us old guys show the young “Flexible like Gumby” guys what they have to look forward to when they get in their 50’s. I believe that it might just be time to make a commitment to move from four Crossfit WOD’s per week to five or six.
Personal Note: Dave made mention many times about making sure that we get in our own vehicles with an unloaded gun or a training gun and work through these drills. He also mentioned that we need to be aware that when we rent a vehicle that we should not only spend the time to get the mirrors, seats and other creature comforts set to our liking, but we need to work the seat belts etc… Just so you know that when I travel my first consideration is to rent from a company who has Ford products, namely the Ford Escape in their rental fleet as that is my personal vehicle. As you may guess, I rented “my vehicle” in Tulsa and again on Monday in Atlanta to get home after Hurricane Irma.
Now, before we got in the vehicles Dave demonstrated shooting through windshield glass from inside the vehicle and how the bullet will react in those situations. I posted some videos on my Facebook page at Trigger Control Dot Org of me doing this and will do so on my Instagram account as well in the next couple days.
Dave also showed how a bullet will skip across the hood of a vehicle if shot at less than a 45° angle and how it will also skip under a vehicle when fired at a hard surface.
See this video below of Dave shooting through the windshield glass of a Ford Crown Victoria.
Additionally, during the course, I was given the opportunity to shoot through the rear passenger side window glass of a pickup truck that was covered with window tint. When I took my first shot I wasn’t expecting glass shards to penetrate my pant leg and lodge in my thigh; however, that is a small price to pay in the name of training.
Below is a photo of the window and my hits on the target, a little high from my point of aim, but that is to be expected shooting through auto glass.
I have a video of this to post on Trigger Control Dot Org just as soon as I edit out the expletive that I used when the glass shards penetrated my pant leg. By the way, you can clearly see the window tint peeled back from the muzzle blast of my GLOCK 19C, and also how my visibility was nearly lost when the window shattered.
We finished up the course with Dave’s signature 2x2x20 drill. (I’m taking creative liberty with the name to explain the drill to those who do not already know about it.) This drill is two rounds from the holster in two seconds from twenty feet on a vertically placed 3×5 card. Watch the embedded video linked above for an explanation from Dave as to the genesis of this drill.
For what it’s worth, nobody won the custom engraved Ares Belt Buckle and Belt this time, but there were a few close calls. Myself, well I screwed up the presentation by never getting a good grip on the gun, better luck next time for me. Oh, and there will be a next time, I already have my eye on the next two Handgun Combatives courses that I will attend in 2018.
Candidly, this is the sixth or seventh course that I have taken dealing with fighting in and around vehicles and I have learned something new each time because I keep my eyes and ears open and my notebook and pen at the ready.
It always amazes me to see all the folks who don’t take any notes at Gun School. I am the one with the notebook and pen out when not shooting and to be quite candid, I am still transcribing the notes I took last weekend right now even as I type this course review. Oh yeah, and my mind is still thinking of some contextual applications of the skills taught in this course. Ever the learner…
Because I had never trained with Dave before, I was able to learn some subtle nuances in teaching /coaching methodology that I see as invaluable to me as a full-time trainer and whenever possible during the course I would fill my magazines from the loose cartridges that I kept in my pockets, thus I was able to listen intently as Dave coached the second firing order through the drills that I had just completed.
Running up to get a bottle of water was the only break I took most of the time, call it a thirst for knowledge that keeps me training. As I said above, ever the learner. Sure, I took breaks to get out of the sun, (It was a little toasty in Kansas, Toto) but not each and every time in between drills because I felt that this was too good a course to miss anything.
In summary: The program of instruction was easy to follow and Dave gave all twenty of us a lot of repetitions both using dry-fire techniques and then on through the live-fire exercises. Mr. Spaulding is a very skilled coach and he uses his skills to get students through the fundamentals to build a solid foundation of these essential skills for the student to take home and then master to a level of automaticity that will anchor the skill. This will only happen if the student has a commitment and more importantly, the self-discipline to diligently practice them. Sadly, most do not keep their skills sharp, and it is a reoccurring theme when I talk to my students and ask what they have done in between the courses they take with me and others.
So, I ask you, what good is training if you do not go out and apply it by practicing what you learned after you get home from Gun School? As I say on a regular basis to both my students and instructor candidates, education without implementation is worthless.
My two-day total round count was just under the six hundred (600) rounds advertised, the dry-fire made up for any shortcoming. I assure you that all twenty of us got the repetitions we came for at this course.
To find out more about Dave’s program of instruction and his schedule of courses visit the Handgun Combatives website or follow Handgun Combatives on Facebook by clicking here.
Until next time …
As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!
Join in the discussion with my over 5,700+ fans on Facebook at
Follow my blog here on WordPress at
Follow me on Instagram at