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Survival Guide: Dave Spaulding Rules of Conflict

Making the right decisions and taking the correct actions can save your life. After a career in law enforcement and a lifetime devoted to the study of armed conflict and training others in the art of pistolcraft, Dave Spaulding has developed some rules to live by.

Survival Guide: Dave Spaulding Rules of Conflict

Dave Spaulding was a professional firearms instructor with 36 years experience in Law Enforcement and Federal Security. The recipient of the 2010 Law Enforcement Trainer of the Year Award from the International Law Enforcement Training and Educators Association (ILEETA), he operated his own training company that focused exclusively on "the combative application of the handgun." (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Following proven operational rules and guidelines is a sound practice and, over the years, I have developed some of my own. I should note, while title has a “tactical” ring to it, these rules can be applied to many situations in life — not just fighting. I can’t claim to be the originator for many of these, simply the author and steward of this distilled list which draws from many sources but has been refined through my experience. I have used these rules regularly with great success, as have my family and students.

1. You Must Be an Active Participant in Your Own Rescue

People who think the cavalry is going to come over the hill and save them at the last minute have spent too much time in front of the TV. Any street cop will tell you the times when they have interrupted a crime in progress were memorable because it seldom happens. Police response times are measured in minutes — these days, hours in some areas — while crimes in progress are measured in seconds. So, unless the officer is on top of the event when it occurs, stopping a crime in progress is highly unlikely.

Dave Spaulding, always be ready.
Crunch time — are you ready? Too late to plan now. (Author Photo)

I recently watched a video of two drug cartel members who surrendered to their captors with the promise they wouldn’t be hurt. After a three-minute confession of their crimes, their captors rewarded their cooperation by cutting one in half with a chain saw and decapitating the other. The point: Don’t trust what you’re told by those you don’t know to ensure cooperation — it’s probably a lie.

In life, if you’re unemployed, don’t rely on anyone else to find you a job. If you aren’t happy with your current situation, change it. If you’re in a bad relationship, break up and move on. No one can affect your life more than you — don’t rely on others to do it for you. Be an active participant in all that affects you.

2. Never Give Up a Known for an Unknown

Have you ever been on a road trip and driven a route successfully, but on the return trip decided to take a different route because it looked shorter on the map? How did that work out? The map — or the GPS — isn’t the actual territory, so there’s no way to know the road conditions. If you know a particular route works, why follow the unknown to save a few minutes?  While operating my former training business and driving to training sites, I can’t tell you how many times the GPS on my phone led me astray. If you know the way, don’t change it.

Use of cover in home defense.
Part of any preparation plan is to have rules of conflict, know how to engage and to use that which is available to you. (Author Photo)

When teaching combative pistolcraft, I regularly see students eject a magazine before they have secured their spare in order to act faster. But what happens if during combat, the spare magazine is lost and the combatant doesn’t know this? In competition, the shooter will lose the match. In a fight, the shooter may lose their life. Big difference.

The normal response when I bring this to the student’s attention is, “The magazine will likely be empty so what difference does it make?” First, why has it become common practice to just assume you’ll shoot to slide lock in a fight? I know it happens often because it’s almost impossible to count rounds in conflict, but why make it habit during training? I like to teach my students to load when they want to, not when they have to, and slide lock is a bad time to reload. Gunfighting is a thinking man’s game, so reloading when it’s advantageous to you and not your opponent is a good example of using your brain. Additionally, what if you access some ammo — maybe a few rounds in your pocket — with no magazine? They might as well be rocks. The unknown can be a dark and dangerous place, go with reluctance.

3. If You Don’t Know, Don’t Go

I realize there may be times in combat when you’ll have to go for it if you have no other options. That said, it’s a sound practice to know what lies ahead before taking action.

For example, movement just for the sake of movement isn’t good. Moving makes it more difficult to hit accurately, so make sure you have a reason. Shooting on the move requires a shooter to move slowly if they wish to hit anything. When moving from one position to another, you should know if the new position offers better cover or if it offers cover at all! If there is no advantage, why go? Those being shot at don’t decide what is and isn’t cover—that’s determined by what enemies are using to shoot at you. What’s cover from a .38 may not be from a 7.62, so know before you go.

1911 with weapon light and laser.
A gun is just a gun unless there is a prepared individual holding it. Having Rules of Conflict will offer guidance that was decided on ahead of time, but remains adaptive to the task. (Author Photo)

Never enter a place you don’t know how to escape from. If a business or residence comes under fire, it’s good to remove yourself from the threat. It’s also a good thing to know if the structure catches on fire, which is far more likely than gunplay. Whenever I walk into an establishment I’m unfamiliar with, I take a few seconds to look for exits, windows, doors, possible cover or other avenues of escape. If you know what you are doing, it doesn’t take that much time or effort. I also sweep over the other people there to see if anyone doesn’t look right, like maybe someone I once arrested. Those folks never seem to never forget incidents like that.

4. When in Doubt, There Is No Doubt

Although street experience helps hone the danger sense, I believe everyone has a “sixth sense” that tells them when something isn’t right. If you get an “I-should-leave” feeling, I would suggest you leave.  Too many people tell themselves they’re imagining a threat, it’s called “normalcy bias” and it’s deadly! If you get the urge, what’s the harm in leaving? Never doubt yourself! Of all the people in the world to trust, you should be first on your list.

Armed defense in confines of a vehicle.
Keep in mind a real fight is not like the range and you may have to adapt any tactics, techniques, procedures and rules to the situation you face. (Author Photo)

Years ago, I was teaching a female-only self-defense class when one of the students cornered me at a break. She told me a story of working late in a high-rise office building and waiting on an elevator. She waited awhile and when the doors opened, a man was on the elevator. She said, “He looked like a biker with long greasy hair and a beard. He was smelly and unkempt. Everything in my being told me not to get on the elevator, but I just thought I was being paranoid. I got on and, right after it started to move, he attacked. I had no idea what to do so I just went to another place in my brain. The only thing that stopped the attack was that the elevator stopped on another floor for another rider and he fled.”


This young lady certainly wasn’t an active participant in her own rescue and was saved by mere dumb luck. She was in the class because, as she said, “This was never going to happen again!” Good for her! I bet she won’t doubt her instinct again.

5. Simple Is Good

I admit to being confused by some of the current firearms training doctrines. Some of it is flashy and cool looking, but does it prepare you for armed conflict? I know it makes students feel like a special operator for the weekend, but do they shoot better? It seems to come down to looking good, feeling good or shooting good, but not all three.

Survival prep is more than owning a gun. Martial arts are a great skill.
Proper preparation means doing the things you don’t like such as open-hand skills. The author never considered himself a martial artist or open-hand authority, but he has had his face smashed in by the best. (Author Photo)

Recently I was discussing malfunction clearances with a famous instructor, and I made the statement that I teach two methods: one to clear double feeds, and another for everything else. This instructor said I was “dumbing down” my training and not providing the service my students required. I couldn’t help but wonder if this instructor had ever seen conflict. His methods sure looked great in a video, and he had a lot of them. But how does a student learn, master and anchor so many complicated techniques?

Simple is easier for me to teach and easier for the student to learn. It’s easier to develop skills during short training periods, and it’s easier to maintain with diminishing ammo supplies and limited practice time. Remember, not every student is an enthusiast! Simple is easy and easy is the way to fight. If a given technique is hard or confusing to perform on the range, do you think it will be easier when bullets are inbound? It’s not “dumbing down” training, it’s “raising performance” of any combatant during a pandemonium-filled event.

6. Want and Need Aren’t Synonymous

A student contacted me and asked for a recommendation on a new gas piston AR-15. When I asked him what the new gun could do that his old one couldn’t, he paused. “Well, gas pistons are supposed to be superior. They better withstand the dust and dirt common in Afghanistan.”

“Are you going to Afghanistan?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Well then, why do you care?”

He decided to save money and keep his current gun.

Everyday Carry isn't just about gear, its a lifestyle.
Everyday Carry (EDC) is a lifestyle commitment, not just what gear you carry. Think about the life you live, the possible threats you face and set rules to live by. (Author Photo)

If a particular piece of gear doesn’t enhance your performance or enable your skillsets, then the emotion you’re feeling for a new piece of kit is probably want, not need. Don’t misunderstand — want is fine and there are things I want, but at this stage of my life, there are few things I really need. I can’t help but chuckle at folks who must have the new gun on the cover of every gun magazine — same for cars, tools, appliances, etc. — even though it won’t enhance their skills. In every class I taught, there was a student who would become be frustrated with their performance and would change guns and gear mid-class. Sometimes they improved, but it’s usually because they now feel better because they have taken action to improve their situation. Try practicing instead, it works great!

Well, there you have them.  Use or discard these rules as you see fit, but whatever you do, it wise to have a few rules to live by.

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