Back in September, I had the priviledge to host Dave Spaulding for his Handgun Combatives course. Sorry for the delay but here’s a little writeup on the experience!

Handgun Combatives course review

All instructors who are serious about their craft should be students first and instructors second. This goes for any field. If you are not learning continuously, then you are missing out on valuable information and are not going to be very effective in your role as an instructor.

On September 15 and 16, I was fortunate to be able to host AND attend the Handgun Combatives Combative Pistol course, taught by Dave Spaulding and Brian (Bucky) Buchanan. This was an event that was coordinated through my training company, Rochester Personal Defense, LLC and LionsPride Training Group.

All in all it was fairly easy and straightforward to set up and coordinate as long as you know what to do as a host. Having hosted quite a few training events, I have gained a good deal of experience in the logistics needed to pull it off and make it go well. We were fortunate enough to have access to a well built private training range and everyone liked the idea. From start to finish, the location was perfect.

Dave and Bucky arrived Friday afternoon, got the tour of the location and range, and settled right in. After a short respite and some christening of the weekend with a sip of Crown Royal and pizza, we settled in and tossed a few discussions and shared some stories.

Day one started about 8am, and once all 21 people arrived, Dave and Bucky got right into it. Dave did not have a lot of fluff in his lecture and that was refreshing. What he DOES talk about is his background and how and WHY he came to develop the Handgun Combatives shooting courses. That was one of the best parts: Dave will tell you the WHY behind the skill or information. That is an example of someone to listen to because they most likely understand what they are teaching and are not just regurgitating the information or skills. At one point Dave explains how he talked to criminals and how he spent a lot of time listening to those with experience in combat and warfare.

The morning session was full of information and background data for the course, taking the time to define specific words such as: ‘combative’, ‘essential’, ‘fundamental’, and more. He added discussion on mindset, the importance of realistic training, and the use of your handgun for your survival.
The rest of the morning was, from what I found, the informational foundation of the rest of the weekend.

On the range, Dave and Bucky were phenomenal. They both had a calm yet effective way about them. I am sure it helped that most of the course attendees were fairly experienced shooters and instructors, but they still maintained a good, solid feel for the safety and pace of the course.


I won’t list the skill drills or progression but I will say that we started out with an interesting evaluation drill. I saw this fade back drill in one of Dave’s posts prior to the course, and yes, I’ll admit I included it in one of my range sessions, but I did not spend a lot of time trying to ‘master’ that drill. I actually wanted to experience it fresh in the course just like a few of the other drills I saw before the course.

This evaluation drill was good in diagnosing where our weak points are. For me, that is my ‘long game’ or 25yds out. I am not a sharpshooter at 25yds, but I am pretty good. BUT, I want to be better. I know I can be better, so I continue to train on my own to get better. Until this course, I had rarely, if ever, shot at a 3×5 target from 25yds as a diagnostic drill. Mostly, it would be a 6 or 8” round target, but never one of this size. I guarantee you I will be adding this into my practice rotation.

After the humbling drill, we got into the meat of the topics. Dave and Bucky worked us through all of the essential fundamentals of shooting. Along the way, they introduced
the idea that one way may not be the best way, so try another way and as long as it is efficient and gets the work done, it is probably the best way. (he did say that his way usually ends up being the better one)

They also got us thinking about the ‘combat corridor’ which is the area directly between you and the threat that you’ll
be managing. The overriding premise is that you need to
get your gun between you and the problem or it is useless and you will not win the fight.

We worked on three different ready positions, and as Dave predicted, most of us liked the ‘high ready’ compared to the mid level or the low ready position. Why? Personally, I found that it keeps my front sight in view, is the fastest track to the target, and allows me to get more accurate shots. Now, before you go off on a rant about muzzle direction, bear in mind that your trigger finger discipline MUST be near perfect and off the trigger when using this method. Also, another personal note: I would teach this only to those that have been training and can cleanly and effortlessly control their trigger finger. Remember: everything may be dependent on a different situation. In one setting, the low ready might be appropriate while in another, the mid level or high ready would be better. It all depends on the setting. (context of use)

Day one was a solid day and we all left the range to grab dinner feeling great. Adjourning to the local micro brewery called the Irish Mafia Brewing Company, we took over a section of the restaurant and enjoyed a well made and well deserved dinner. Afterwards, it was time to head back, toast the completion of Day 1 with a finger or two of Crown Royal, and light a fire to relax near.

Day two. we started back on the range bright and early. We ran another fundamental drill just like day one. My results? About the same. The one thing that Dave and Bucky preached was consistency. I figured that I need to consistently work on my long game so I will be replicating this drill every so often when I get my range practice in. It’s my front sight focus, concentration, and trigger press that just need to continue to improve. We quickly ran through a review of the fundamental drills from Day 1 and then got into the new topics.

Dave and Bucky gave us some new drills to work on some more fundamentals such as reloading and stoppage clearing. One skill that Dave teaches on clearing (well, loading as well) is to roll the top of the gun ‘inboard’ to utilize your support hand easier. Although I have had a couple instances where I know I used this technique (inboard manipulation), I never really decided to use it as a dedicated technique. In the beginning of my shooting career, I was taught to use the slidelock, then, I was taught to use the ‘power stroke’ or overhand grip. Recently, I have been transitioning between all three for some reason. Maybe it was another one of those “if it works, use it when you need to use it” methods. I would just use whatever worked at that time. (Did that actually make any sense?)

After some dedicated time, I find that the inboard method seems to be much faster than the powerstroke. As for comparing it to the slidelock release method, I will have to see but I suspect the inboard one will be equally as fast but more effective. There have been a few times that I have used the slidelock and gotten the timing off. That’s not only frustrating, but potentially catastrophic when you close the slide ahead of a cartridge in the wrong moment.

One thing that was slightly new to me was a “Fouled Hands” exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I have done training where I’ve immersed my hands in ice water, mud, or anything to compromise my hand use, but I have never done it this way. After we were online, Bucky dosed out hands with baby oil and we had to run it all over our hands. Then, we had to perform all the same drills from before. Drawing, reloading, clearing stoppages, etc. – All while our hands were greased up! I compared this to my frozen/muddy hands experience and found that this was much more effective in showing how important your grip is, both for shooting and for the overall operation of your gun. A word of advice: don’t do this unless under the guidance of a professional. Have someone else with you just to watch or help. Your hands WILL be slippery!

Then, after we cleaned everything up, we ran the Handgun Combatives standards. No, I will not tell you what they were. Don’t ask. If you want to know, sign up for one of the courses and experience them for yourself. What I WILL tell you is that they are not very easy. If you are a good shooter, and you pay attention, use the skills taught in the course, and use them well, you can do OK on the standards. There’s nothing new or different. These standards are a good measure of your skills at the time you’re shooting them. Personally, there were a couple that I knew I could do better on, but I accepted my performance and will work on the skills to get better.

At the end of the shooting portion, we did Dave’s 2×2 drill. He explained the history and adoption of the drill to tell us WHY he uses it. Go research it and you can find out (or hit one of his classes!). This was another one of the drills I knew about ahead of time but I did not practice it. There’s no real reason I did not do it other than I just did not do it. My results? No go on the drill for me. Just missed the card a little low on the first hit and the second was a bit to the left. That’s OK. The one shooter that did nail it was one of my students and we all were shocked yet proud of him for winning the buckle. The
look on his face was priceless.


All in all, the weekend was a good one. I learned quite a few things from Dave and Bucky about shooting technique and mindset, found that a lot of my skillset was pretty solid but still could use some refinement, and had fun. Dave was very engaging as an instructor, kept us all on task, and even…wait for it….cracked a joke or two along the way. He and Bucky made the whole weekend enjoyable.

If you are looking for a solid 2 day course to take that will push the newer shooter and the experienced one, this would be one to attend. Dave’s program is the culmination of a great deal of personal research and experience, married with real life information and skills that will, in the end, enable you to win a life threatening encounter.

Aside from the solid foundational defensive skills, Dave is a wealth of information, a great motivator, an effective coach, and an engaging presenter. I know I speak for most of the attendees in the course when I say that if I could  schedule him next year for the same class, or another one, most of this course would sign up tomorrow.

As Dave says, “You must be an active participant in your own rescue.” He also has a few other Spalding-isms but he’ll only share them with you ‘if it pleases him.’

In the end, I am looking forward to attending one or more of his other courses next year. I am also looking to possibly go even further. I WILL say this: Dave should be on your ‘must attend’ course lists. No question about it. Do it.


Stay safe and train hard. Why? Because the criminals of the world are!


At Rochester Personal Defense, LLC we believe in training you, the average person, who wants to be safe. Self defense is just that - defensive, not offensive in nature.


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