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Preview – Matt Graham

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Photography by Ellen Pucciarelli, Natalie Cake and James Disspain

Fighting the Fight You’re Given
When It Comes to CCW, Matt Graham of Graham Combat Advocates a Holistic Approach of Mind, Body, Weapon, and Environment

(used with object)
1. To hide; withdraw or remove from observation; cover or keep from sight.
2. To keep secret; to prevent or avoid disclosing or divulging.

“What do I carry and why? I appreciate the question, but why would I ever let you know what weapons I have concealed on my body, let alone their location, capacity, and capabilities?” Matt Graham says. “Seems a little counterintuitive. Go ahead and talk about what you have. For me I’ll just say that I always have weapons. Always.”

Graham is the man behind Graham Combat. He is a man whose intensity and gravitas is frequently punctuated by unheralded flashes of wry, often ribald, humor. It’s an unaffected and unusual but very effective dichotomy to find in an instructor. He’s a former law enforcement officer and federal air marshal turned Department of Defense contractor who describes his previous rank as “low enough to pull missions, but high enough to pull good ones.”

Though Graham teaches a number of typical so-called tactical skills, what sets him apart from many other teachers is what’s best described as his holistic approach. Graham proselytizes lifestyle over style, because while style is limiting, lifestyle is not. His philosophy is predicated upon the idea that you’ll have to fight the fight you’re given, not necessarily the one you’ve trained for — that you can’t count on someone coming to rescue you. This requires a significant change of thought process for those who train for fixed events or choose their everyday-carry gear for specific tasks.


When asked for this story what concealed carry weapon (CCW) pistol he uses and how he carries it, we weren’t surprised when his answer was vague (to put it mildly). While he might provide some sage advice on the range to his students or in a more intimate setting, for our purposes here he said only this: “I own a variety of weapons. My carry choice varies on circumstances, environment, and profile. I favor weapons that provide a low profile, are easy to grip, and smooth to function. My sight choices tend to be relatively clean and simple — fighting sights for fighting guns. My ammunition choices mirror the platform choice. Different environments may call for different loads, expansion rounds, frangible rounds, ball — they all have a place at the table depending on the meal. I’m afraid of the dark so my platforms tend to have lights on them. Modular is good; integrated is better.

“So my answer? I carry weapons that set me up for success, that fit my needs, and that will function true, regardless of my environment. What they are and where I keep them? That’s my business.”

Though he’s reluctant to divulge his personal carry options, Graham is very much a proponent of concealed carry and the individual’s responsibility for his or her own defense and that of his family. He graciously took some time away from the range to expound further on the topic and explain how his background as an air marshal and defense contractor informs his lifestyle and way of teaching.


CONCEALMENT: What is your take on concealed carry in general?

Matt Graham: Lots of people have experience in concealed carry. Everybody with a concealed pistol license, and some without, do it regularly. There are some basic principles, though, which are often lost in the noise of people talking and writing about it. The first is, I don’t “concealed carry” — I “deep concealed carry,” and the difference is night and day.

Concealment, when carrying a firearm, is typically done with a single layer — be it a T-shirt, a panama-type shirt, or a jacket. I define concealed carry as the use of a single layer of something between your firearm and the world. It’s the most common method in use and it works, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it. The reason that people carry concealed firearms is so other people don’t know they have them. A single layer of material — regardless of the type of garment — is a thin veil. I learned a few things as an air marshal, and deep concealment is one of them. Nobody should know you have a gun until you want to show it to them.

I carry deep. I can take off my jacket — even my shirt — and still be concealed. I’ve swum in the pool at a theme park in just board shorts with my kids and still had my fully loaded pistol, including a weapon mounted light, hidden away in a deep concealment rig.

I try not to get caught up in the “paralysis by analysis” that can happen when people start to “what if” their method of carry options. The biggest one I often hear is “I’ve got to get to the gun fast.” If I read my environment and feel like things may develop into the need for a gun, then I don’t have a need to draw my gun quickly — my gun should already be in my hand. It sometimes looks like people wear a simple cover garment and hide behind the “need to draw fast” argument because they’ve avoided the awareness and mindset conditioning that would’ve allowed them to see the event developing in the first place. A flimsy shirt to help you draw fast shouldn’t be a substitute for not paying attention to your circumstances.


You posit that many people train for static circumstances rather than dynamic events. How does that impact how you teach?

M.G.: I approach teaching holistically. Events are dynamic. They’re like the event horizon of a black hole where everything is coming together and interacting and being changed. I don’t believe that you can “train by analysis,” by separating tasks or skills. Being successful in conflict requires a wholeness of mind, body, weapon, and environment. So why not train that way? I create training courses that I would like to go to, that weren’t available 20 years ago.

I teach concepts because concepts drive reason and relationship. When you see reason and relationship, then you’ve learned how to solve the problems. You don’t need my answer for your fight. It’s your fight. You need to learn what works for you. I provide the environment for you to make that discovery.

You say you teach students, not train them. Some people would say that’s semantics. What do you mean by that?

M.G.: My wife is an English teacher, so by default that makes me anti-semantic. Training might show you how — teaching will show you why. I believe there is a huge difference between the two, and the distinction that I make is that a teacher has a vested interest in your learning. A teacher engages you, finds your needs, and teaches to you, the student, at the place where you are.

There exists a group of men and women within this industry who are, at their core, teachers. You can see it in their presentation and in the way they approach their craft. They’re interested in developing you as an individual, not just seeing you as a paycheck. They’re typically a little older; they have been performing their craft for years. They have experience. You can see the experience on them, in the way they move, in how they interact with others. They have presence. Those are the teachers. Those are the men and women whom I seek out and learn from. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, and there are a few in this group whom I am honored to have as mentors — men who keep me honest, keep me on my path, and keep reminding me that true learning takes place inside of me and the true teaching comes from my students.

 For the rest of this article, click here to purchase: CONCEALMENT

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