Maintaining Pistol Skills:
Learning from Dave Spaulding
by Gila Hayes
Serious students of self defense must ask now and again, are my skills up to par? We attend training programs, yet weeks or months later, the skills gained seem to have slipped away. How to maintain and enhance shooting skill is of particular interest to Dave Spaulding, retired law enforcement officer, firearms instructor and popular author.
In January, I watched Spaulding engage an audience of some 200 in a two-hour evening program, in which he addressed these and other concerns. Impressed, I asked him for an interview to further explore his conclusions and he graciously agreed.
Spaulding made law enforcement his career, putting in 28 years working duties ranging from SWAT, undercover, homicide, communications, jail and patrol. He retired as lieutenant several years ago. In his book Handgun Combatives, he relates that he matriculated through police academy in the days when shooting qualifications were done at 7 to 60 yards, but also at the time when officers were expected to close on and physically control suspects. Training largely ignored the “close quarter combat situations…between three feet and 21 feet,” he writes.
Working in the close quarters range worried him then as it does now and on this concern he has focused much of his own study and development. Spaulding made it a point to ask World War II, Korean and Vietnam war veterans about their experiences, as well as sounding out police and armed citizens who had defended self, family, home and country. While working in corrections, he added to his knowledge base by talking to inmates, too.
Keeping Skills Sharp
Spaulding cites a well-accepted premise among sports trainers that physical skills are lost at a rate of as much as 20% a mere two to three days after training is over. To avoid that loss, professional shooters undertake what most would consider an extreme amount of practice.
Considering budget and time constraints, what possible hope is there for armed citizens who study defensive pistolcraft but are not law enforcement professionals or professional competitors, I asked him.
First, Spaulding corrects, the term “defensive” pistolcraft implies being behind the curve, back on your heels, not ready to act. “Defense means losing slowly,” he exclaims. Spaulding prefers the term “combative,” citing, as he does so often, the dictionary definition and putting special emphasis on the portion that speaks to willingness and readiness to act. That is the word picture this noted trainer and author attaches to self-defense skills with the handgun. “You don’t have to shoot like a grand master, you just have to be willing to stand there and fight,” he explains, adding, “That part is tough to train.” Top-dollar gear and training is of little use without willingness to take the necessary life-saving steps, he stresses.
Decisive action as dictated by circumstances, be that beating a rapid retreat or standing and fighting, requires confidence: confidence in our preparation, our skills and our abilities. Spaulding points to the reputation of historic western lawman Bat Masterson, whom Wyatt Earp wrote was, “absolutely destitute of fear.”