It is no secret that for the past couple of years I have been an adherent of many of the principles outlined in Rob Pincus’s Combat Focus Shooting curriculum. I’ve watched the DVD’s, I’m a Personal Defense Network subscriber, and I have gone through Pincus’ Combat Focus Shooting: Evolution 2010 book twice now. I want to be careful to avoid guru worship here, but I have found much of what Mr. Pincus has taught to be useful and applicable in my own journey towards excellence.
Recently, as part of a renewed focus on increasing my level of personal training, I decided it was high time I actually put my money where my mouth was and took a Combat Focus Shooting class. I looked around and to my dismay I found that the nearest Combat Focus Shooting class was located five hours north. Let me just say right now that if someone ever offers a CFS class in the DFW metroplex I expect there would be good money to be mad. After talking with Tyler Grant, we may in fact see about trying to get one hosted down in this area – more to come on this in the future.
The class was the Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting, the one-day version of the CFS material. There is a two-day version as well, although my understanding is that the primary focus of the second day of class is to reinforce the skills developed in the first day. A single-day class was all that was immediately available, but I plan on getting back out for the full class at some point after the first of the year. As it was, with just two students in this particular class we were able to work through the material pretty quickly and I feel like I got much more than usual out of a one-day class.
Our instructor was Tyler Grant of Dynamic Training Strategies. Mr. Grant is a veteran of the Armed Forces and has a broad and versatile set of skills which well compliment a love of, and natural aptitude for, teaching. I can’t say enough good things about Tyler, so I’ll just share the one story with you that should tell you everything you need to know about the kind of guy that he is.
When I showed up the morning of the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I was one of only two students who had signed up for the class. Knowing this, Tyler was nonetheless excited to teach us. He did not rush through material, nor did he skimp on the quality of the personal attention he gave each one of us throughout the day – despite the fact that he likely wasn’t turning a profit. For me, this speaks volumes about his commitment and about the kind of man that he is. Just based on this alone, this will not be the last class I will be taking through Dynamic Training Strategies.
Originally I had planned on posting the usual After-Action-Report, walking the reader through the events of the day, the drills, and the lessons learned. On further consideration, I have decided against that. There are already plenty of great CFS AAR’s out there for your perusal, and if you are curious about the actual material itself it’s all in Combat Focus Shooting: Evolution 2010 (now available on Kindle!).
Instead I’d like to spend some time on one of the things that impressed me most about the class: namely, how unlike it was to any other firearm class I have ever taken. So without further ado, here are eight reasons you should take a Combat Focus Shooting Class if you haven’t already – and why you should take it with Tyler Grant if you’re in the area.
1) Honest evaluation of your skills
I’ll be the first to admit that, while I knew I had room for improvement, I thought I was pretty hot stuff before going to my first (but hopefully, not last) Combat Focus Shooting class. After all, I’ve been shooting handguns for several years now and have participated in local defensive pistol competitions, as well as received training from a number of instructors with backgrounds ranging from local SWAT teams to the DHS.
So what really surprised me is how little most of it actually translated when put into the kind of situations introduced by the class and specifically by the “Figure Eight” drill. This drill is different, not only from IDPA (or other gun games) but from anything else you will ever do in another pistol class, because you never know what your target will be or where it will be or if there will even be a target to engage. Adding that particular level of cognitive stress quickly reveal any weak links in your fundamentals, your gunhandling skills, and your movement.
This kind of training is valuable because it informs your practice – “training” here being used to define skills being taught in a classroom setting, under an instructor, and “practice” being the personal implementation of those skills in an individual context. During the course of the day I identified several areas in which I need to invest more of my practice time, directly impacting the way I will structure future Shooter’s Workouts.
2) Your equipment will not be sacred
I’ll be honest and say I have frequently made excuses in the past for why I chose a less-efficient platform for personal defense over one that is arguably better or more modern. Whether it’s grasping perceived advantages, reciting anecdotal stories, citing the slim likelihood of “ever needing more”, or because our favorite guru or special ops group carries it, “gun people” can come up with a wide variety of ultimately hollow excuses for carrying a weapon with an inefficient, unreliable, or antiquated design.
As an instructor, I think there is often a tendency to coddle your students, to validate their choice of platform even when you may know better. After all, at the end of the day your students are also your customers, and isn’t the customer always right? In my experience, this tends to lead to shortcuts: students are less disciplined than they should be about the use of external safeties and decocking levers, and allowances are made to ensure that the “customer” still goes away happy. Not in a Combat Focus Shooting class.
There are no shortcuts in Combat Focus Shooting. It is to the credit of Pincus and his instructors that they encourage students to maintain the integrity of their training by forcing them to manipulate their platforms correctly. Don’t get me wrong – it isn’t that they won’t work with you, and if necessary help you make the best of a bad situation. But they are also not afraid to tell you that your weapon choice is inefficient and less-than-optimal.
For most of us, who have a lot of time, love, and money invested in specific platforms, it can be a bitter pill to swallow. But if we are interested in pursuing excellence in all things (and isn’t that the motto of Excelsior, after all?) it’s a reality check we need.
3) It will teach you to think with a gun in your hand
As the day’s shooting progressed, Tyler began introducing a level of cognitive stress into each drill. This essentially forced us – in addition to everything else we needed to remember and maintain, such as the flinch, lateral movement, and the balance of speed and precision – to think about what we were doing before we pulled the trigger. I’ll be honest – I didn’t do nearly as well at this as I had expected.
When I am operating under (in this case, self-imposed) pressure and have to focus on identifying and engaging the correct target(s), I found my fundamentals – specifically, lateral movement – began to break down. This is one of the most valuable parts of CFS – and it’s one that I can’t adequately make you understand via the written word.
4) No “green” techniques will be taught
I’ve written before about what in the martial arts world are known as “green techniques” – in essence, these are “filler” techniques with little practical use that are intended to add to the perceived value of the class that the student is taking.
I suspect the idea is as old as teaching itself. Your student is paying a certain amount of money for a class of a certain length, and he needs to go away with his ego boosted and the feeling that he has acquired secret, esoteric knowledge if he is going to come back and pay you more money (see the perfect thrust). These kinds of techniques are rampant in the martial arts world, even in the so-called “realistic” schools of thought.
If my experience with Mr. Grant is any indication you will get none of this at a Combat Focus Shooting class. Everything that was taught had a purpose, with each drill or technique building upon the last. For the first half of the class we built a solid foundation of the skills needed for effective defensive shooting: grip, stance, balance of speed and precision, lateral movement.
Each time we learned a skill it was in the context of every other skill we had already learned – except for when we took out time to train a skill in isolation as part of the “skill development cycle.” Each time a skill was taught or a concept was introduced, it was fully explained – as was its relationship with all of the other concepts already introduced.
5) There will be no “toolbox” answers
When I say “explained,” I don’t mean that we were told how a specific technique would help us squeeze another MOA out of our next shot grouping, or which high-speed tactical operator developed the technique based on his time with this very secret-squirrel group that went and kicked down some doors in a third-world country. Now, kicking down doors in third-world countries in the name of freedom is a good thing to do, and I have the utmost respect of the men and women who choose to do so voluntarily for their country.
That said, in my experience the military and even law enforcement communities have not always proven the most reliable source of the kind of training we need as armed citizens. I’ll get back to that in a moment. My point is that very often the justification that is given for why we should embrace a specific technique is that the SEALs do it, or the Rangers did it, or the instructor did it when he was in Delta back in the day.
But there’s another way to answer this question that is rife within the martial arts and training community as a whole. Earlier this year I attended an all-day knife-fighting seminar at a local Krav Maga studio. During the class, one of the students – a lifelong Kali practitioner – repeatedly pulled the instructor aside and asked why we were doing things a certain way. Why were we practicing the same attack at every conceivable angle, for instance, when clearly this attack is only useful from this angle and in this specific kind of way?
They were valid questions and they were asked in a respectful, teachable manner. The answer was disheartening: “It’s just a tool in your toolbox. I’m going to show you how many ways you can do it, then it’s up to you to pick the best one.”
In our Combat Focus Shooting class, Grant brought up Hick’s Law. Hick’s Law was created by British psychologist William Edmund Hick as a way of calculating how long it would take a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices they had. Without getting into too much detail here, Hick’s Law essentially states that the time it takes a person to make a decision increases significantly for each option they have available to them.
Put another way, the more “tools in your toolbox” for any given action, the longer it will take your brain to choose a tool. This means that learning 6 different ways to reload your pistol or clear a malfunction at some point begins experiencing diminishing returns.
In Combat Focus Shooting, there are no “tool in your toolbox” answers. Concepts are explained, and backed up by science and reason and empirical fact – not anecdotal stories about how Seal Team Six used to do it in the back of the day. If you don’t understand something, the instructors will take the time and stop to answer your question. Nobody is going to force you to do something for which you don’t understand the “how” or the “why.”
6) The curriculum transcends the instructors
Tyler did not start the class by giving us a list of his experience and credentials. If you’ve ever taken a class from an experienced instructor you will understand how rare this kind of humility is. He was focused on the quality of the material, not in making much of his own gunhandling skills, and that significantly raised the overall quality of the class. My limited experience with other CFS instructors tells me that Tyler is probably the rule rather than the exception in this regard.
7) Reactive training is more useful (for the armed citizen) than proactive training
Once again, I have the utmost respect for the uniformed professionals who protect our streets, our borders, and chase bad guys down some of the darkest holes in the world. I have trained alongside some, I have shot with others competitively, and I count many of them among my close friends. But the training that they receive is for a fundamentally different set of circumstances than are generally relevant for the armed citizen.
It’s simple when you think about it. The armed citizen generally has no body armor, no backup, no intel, no suppressive fire, and no flight home when the mission is finished. For us, defensive shootings will take place under conditions where we by definition did not see a fight coming (otherwise we would have stayed home or avoided it). Thus, the skills we are specifically interested in developing must teach us how to use gear which can reasonably be carried by the businessman or the stay-at-home mom, in the context of a parking lot or a back alley or a violent home invasion.
Combat Focus Shooting does this more effectively than any other course of training I have undergone. It goes far beyond the concept of simply shooting a pistol. If I had to rename the Combat Focus Shooting curriculum, I might label it the “Defensive Focus Method,” or something of the like, because it really does go beyond just shooting and it is less about “combat” than it is about defending yourself against an ambush you didn’t know was coming.
On the other hand, I’ve been to plenty of classes taught from a military/law enforcement perspective by a military/law enforcement instructor. We run through a set of drills supposedly ideal for clearing a house or going in pro-actively to find a bad guy. The reason? Because this is what the Navy, or the local SWAT, or the <insert your favorite high-speed group here> does. While this kind of training can be fun and ego-stroking, one has to question just how much it translates to the man on the street.
8) Your proficiency will improve
“Proficiency is an individual and subjective trait.” This is one of the key tenants of the Combat Focus Shooting program. No matter who you are, your prior experience or training, or gunhandling capabilities, you will walk away from a Combat Focus Shooting class more proficient than you were when you started. And if you are anywhere in the Texarkana region, Tyler Grant and Dynamic Training Strategies can help you in your quest for excellence.