I HAD THE RECENT pleasure to attend Dave Spaulding’s highly-regarded, “Combative Pistol,” at the great Dover TN, “Hilltop Firearms Training Center.”  I’ve known of, and read Dave’s writing since I was a young police cadet, back in the 1990’s.  Prior to the internet, Harris Media and magazines like, “Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement,” and, “Combat Handguns,” were where folks went to get information on what was good in the personal defense, law enforcement and training industries.  Dave has been a literary figure of the industry for decades, and is a full-time firearms trainer, now that he has retired from law enforcement.

If I break out my old (paper) copy of the dictionary and look up the word, “epistemology,” the definition reads:



  1. the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

Bear with me!  It’s a $5 word for sure, but don’t let it run you off.  “COMBATIVE PISTOL,” is Dave’s flagship course.  Although I wouldn’t consider it, “basic,” or, “beginner,” at all.  There were no fluff drills, nor drills strictly designed as, “feel good,” exercises.  Every round was sent downrange with intention and accuracy behind it.  At this point in my life, I’ve taken thousands of hours of training classes, and probably tens of thousands of hours of classroom instruction in the pursuit of my degrees in law enforcement, biology, philosophy, and medical education.  I’m really at the point in my life where my, “polymath maintenance,” is dependent on being able to find, consume and assimilate boli of high-yield information.  Don’t give me the fluff or the long, James Fenimore Cooper-esque version!  Just boil down the facts into easily consumed packets of information I can digest, and then put to use, “On Monday Morning.”  This is one reason why I like Tom Givens’ classes so much, and now why I enjoyed Dave Spaulding’s class in the same way.

So, in my usual, “free association power hour,” fashion, I will present to you the raw notes and my exposition thereof of that material, along with other points of importance you may find interesting.

THE GOAL:  “To prevail, (kill) combatants with a handgun, while under the duress of combat, given real world conditions with prevailing speed and accuracy.”

-Kelly McCann

In Dave’s view, the goal towards mastery of, “The Combative Pistol,” should allow the user to be ready and willing (to engage with an adversary), use tactics, techniques and procedures that function as an individual but can be adapted to a team environment, and be used in close-range confrontations (10-12 yards) against a person/persons with unknown intent (process or resource predators).  Working a B8 target at distance is a good measure of skill, but is it applicable to what we do?  “If you can’t hit it, don’t shoot at it!”  The majority of our shooting should be 10-12 yards and in (two car lengths distance).

PISTOL ATTRIBUTES (what a pistol/user should be capable of)

  • deliberate, individual shots
  • limited ammo supply (but remember that all errant rounds will hit something)
  • user should be able to recognize and engage threats within 25 yards (can you even SEE 25 yards?  I CANNOT always) and the pistol should be able to accurately deliver rounds at that distance
  • speed and accuracy is important
  • fast follow up shots are essential 
  • pistol skills should be reactive/responsive
  • you can’t ignore the importance of speed (and you must take an expedient response into account)
  • reasonably short barrel
  • easy to use but tough (rugged)
  • high visibility but rugged sights
  • reliable under a wide variety of conditions
  • good trigger and ergonomics
  • reasonable capacity for task (10 rounds or greater is ideal)
  • reload quickly (not like revolvers with their 6-20 second reload)
  • not excessively bulky and lightweight
  • reasonably powerful (although in general, handguns suck for power…but why carry a .380 when similarly sized 9mm [which IS ballistically superior] pistols exist?)


You need awareness and willingness to prevail (in a violent confrontation)




EFFICIENCY IS THE least amount of time and effort that can be expended to achieve a goal

DRAWSTROKE is when the gun arrives where you need to use it

RECOIL CONTROL is the gun returning where it started from before the shot was fired

PROPER GRIP “Don’t be a grip dick by accepting a shit grip.”

TRIGGER CONTROL is the independent depressing of the trigger straight to the rear, without the interruption of the target/bore alignment.  This is the most critical aspect of shooting

The next section deals with what Dave calls the, “Three S’s,” and this section I found particularly relevant.  As both a perpetual student and trainer myself, I often find myself asking, “why” am I being taught a specific thing?  What will it do/not do for me?  If I can’t explain the, “why,” behind it, then WHY THE HELL would I consider it for regular use, or teach it to another?  This doesn’t apply to just defensive pistolcraft…it applies to life in general.  Dave has put together a simple codification behind the reduction of, “why,” for our use that looks like this:

  1. SIMPLE?

SIMPLE-if you can’t do it easily, you won’t do it under stress.  These techniques will be easier to teach, easier to understand and easier to refine on the range

SENSE-does it make sense to you?  Does the WHY of it make sense to you?  Don’t buy the, “This is how I do it so just do it that way.”

STREET-does it work time and again, in real-world encounters?

If you apply the, “3 S'” and something doesn’t fit, don’t use it!


In the course, I used a Spencer Keepers, “Keeper,” AIWB holster, as well as my EDC, the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm.  This is a late-model of the Keeper, and it works very well, while still being extremely comfortable to wear in the heat, AND allow the gun to be readily accessible.  I do carry my pistol on my hip on certain occasions though, so I found Dave’s section on the anatomical and physiological breakdown of the drawstroke interesting and useful.


  • the holster is there to make the gun available to you
  • STRONG SIDE carry is the physiologically  preferred position for carrying a firearm since your strong side is closest to your shooting hand
  • 3 O’clock and AIWB carry…the arc of movement isn’t any different because the elbow leads the arc
  • ATTACK the juncture of the trigger guard and the grip, so you can wrap your hand around the grip and draw
  • ATTACKING THE GRIP when carrying appendix makes the draw easier (since the front strap of the gun is often close, or in contact with the waistline/belt)
  • the, “shortest distance draw,” works great for competition but not so well for combat, thus we adopt the, “upside down L,” drawstroke
  • the gun should arrive where you are looking at the terminus of the drawstroke


We used a number of ready positions in this class, and none of them were, “Sul”!  Dave was quick to point out that Sul isn’t a ready position to shoot from as much as it is a movement position to allow people to move about in a shoot house with a catwalk, without muzzling observers overhead or their own teammates (many instructors overlook this and give you the, “just do it my way, kid” line).  Dave demonstrated and had us try out a number of ready positions along what he calls the, “arc of ready.”  This series of movements allow the individual user to pick a position relative to the circumstances that they find themselves in.  Some positions are faster on target (because the front sight stays visible in the peripheral vision) or offer better weapon retention capability, since the gun is closer to the body (or #2 position, as it is commonly known).  The interesting tie-in between Dave’s presentation on strong-side carry and draw stroke, is that the, “arc of ready,” also coincides and dovetails nicely with this.  While the arc of movement for the drawstroke guides the presentation of the gun from the holster to the target, the arc of ready guides the pistol from a position OTHER THAN THE HOLSTER, to the target, along a path that is common and still, GUIDED BY THE ELBOW.  It may sound weird to the reader, but in practical application, it really makes good sense.  As Tom Givens says, “There are three places your gun can be…IN YOUR HOLSTER, AT THE READY, OR ON THE TARGET!”  When you consider the applicability of the, “Arc of Ready,” to that heuristic, the possibility of movements extraneous to that path of movement, become irrelevant.  This idea works, because it makes our study SIMPLER (remember the, “3 S’s!”). Additionally, due to physical limitations the, “Arc of Ready,” doesn’t exclude any particular kind of student, since if one of the positions in the arc is outside of their range of motion, chances are, another position earlier or later in that arc, will work for that individual.



Another section I got a particularly great amount of reflection, scrutiny and guidance from Dave on, was my reload.  I can pull off a predictable, fast reload.  But, unbeknownst to me, I was making it very difficult on myself.  After watching my reload a few times, Dave stopped me and said, “You’re doing too much work trying to thread that needle there.  Isolate your movements and line the magazine up with the side of the magwell, and you’ll have fewer issues.”  HOLY SMOKES!  Nobody had ever said that to me, and it immediately made me think, “What the hell have I been doing?”  In classes, if you’re faster than the group and execute a skill with precision, care and safety, you’re not likely to draw the eye of the instructor, and thus, a less-than-ideal execution goes from rehearsal to hard-wired, relatively quickly.

  • why reloads fall apart?  
    • the gun is moving
    • the magazine is moving
    • both are moving
  • use the side of the magazine well or the interior of the backstrap of the magwell to guide the magazine into the proper seating direction
THIS is how we hold most everything, right?  Holding onto objects, especially with any degree of strength and/or precision, THIS grip, as pictured, makes far better sense than holding onto something with our ring and pinky fingers, does it not?  Keeping this in mind, look at the way you grasp and actuate the slide on your firearm when loading, unloading, or manipulating for malfunction clearance.
Using Dave’s preferred method of manipulation of the slide has numerous advantages.  You have far more power and grasp in the, “pinch,” grip between your first and second fingers and thumb, than you do in your other fingers.  Also, it is intuitive since you hold everything else in the world like this (as pictured above).  By turning the gun upside down or inboard, whatever is stuck in the ejection port, whether a double feed or a stovepipe, gravity will help it fall out and free up the slide to function normally.


  • proponents will say that the, “POWER STROKE,” gives the slide an additional 1/4″ of travel
  • you grab the pistol slide with the weakest part of the hand, which defies motor learning and performance
  • NOBODY grabs anything else in the world like that!
  • keep the gun in the basketball sized workspace known as the, “sphere of coordination,” which some folks call the, “workspace”

STOVEPIPE MALFUNCTIONS (aka, “Type 2 Malfunctions”)

  • in real-life, they’re hot and sharp, which is difficult to simulate on the range
  • to clear them:
    • turn the gun upside down
    • run the slide
    • stovepiped round will fall free of the gun



As the essay title states, this class really conveys to the student Dave Spaulding’s EPISTEMOLOGY.  Meaning, everything in it provides for the justification of Dave’s ideas, as gleaned from his experiences as a student of combat pistolcraft, an educator, and as a peace officer.  Underpinning his philosophy is a sound basis in WHY.  Because without the WHY, you only have partial command of anything.  The market is flooded today with trainers who expect their students to accept their methodology as gospel without any logical grounding other than, “Because this is what I say!”  Unfortunately, if that person came from an institutional training system, that might very well be because they were taught that TTP (tactic, technique or procedure) by a person who didn’t know the WHY either, and they simply passed on information, because that is the information they had received.  And with that methodology, un-owned, baseless knowledge continues to live on in perpetuity.  That’s no way to live or learn, folks!

It kills me to write this, everytime, but guys like Dave aren’t going to be around forever.  When they go, we will have their teaching and their writings to go off of.  And more good people will die learning and re-learning mistakes and errors that men like Dave Spaulding, Tom Givens, John Farnam, Massad Ayoob and their peers have delineated through their careers, that they’ve learned the hard way.  Don’t wait to train with these folks.  Months turn into years, and before you know it, you will have missed the opportunity.

Thanks for reading!

-Dr. House



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