COMBAT FOCUS SHOOTING
by Rob Pincus
a book review by Stuart Wayne
In response to a discussion on the Firearms Forum critical of some of his writing, Rob Pincus not only joined in that discussion but made his book, Combat Focus Shooting, Intuitive Shooting Fundamentals, available to interested participants for discussion purposes. This review is designed to present the essentials of his book to anyone interested and to open the door to additional discussion in the Firearms Forum Message Area. I suggest searching that message area for “Rob Pincus” to see both past and current discussion about Mr. Pincus and his work.
Combat Focus Shooting, Rob Pincus’s first book, presents his concept of firearm combat training. It is just that, not Basic Concealed Carry or Competition Shooting Essentials or Secrets of SEAL Team 6½! Pincus concentrates on how to make a shooter more effective and efficient in a dynamic combat situation, particularly with a handgun at close range.
The book builds chapter by chapter from his basic philosophy of instruction to broad combat fundamentals to more specific techniques, all based upon his concepts of efficiency, simplicity and natural reaction. The early chapters lay the groundwork by defining the Warrior Expert as that person who, through his training, immediately recognizes the answer to a combat problem where the inexpert has to spend time processing information to gain that answer. He goes on to present appropriate safety and training goals for attaining such expertise and to show why all training should be looked upon as a learning opportunity.
The middle chapters define and explain the core elements of his method; efficiency, consistency, working with what the body does naturally and combat accuracy. With those concepts understood, Pincus narrows down to combat specifics; the balance of speed and precision, stance and movement, the high-compressed ready position, presentation from the ready position, grip and trigger control and presentation from the holster.
Finally he presents chapters on various combat shooting drills, choosing a handgun and appendices.
This isn’t a revolutionary book--it builds upon the work of many other instructors and researchers from Rex Applegate on--but it is evolutionary and unified in that it takes the specifics taught by others and blends them into a cohesive basis for instruction. Pincus opens the book by saying that he didn’t develop the Combat Focus Shooting concept, but recognized it.
Part of what he recognized was that it is more efficient to work with your natural body reactions than to develop artificial techniques that counter them. Efficiency in this sense means shooting effectively faster. A prime example of the body’s natural reaction is the startle reflex in which the body automatically does a number of things; it crouches, the hands go up defensively, one orients toward the threat and certain other physiological changes occur such as the vision tunneling on the perceived threat, decreased fine motor control and distorted sense of time.
Pincus reasons that, since these intuitive reactions occur faster than any cognitive response can, we should make use of them. We should train in such a way as to work with these responses rather than fight them as well as the threat! As he says “We need to train like we will fight. Our training needs to incorporate our likely context and the reactions that we know our bodies will have or we will not be able to fight like we trained.” So he advocates training to shoot from an aggressive crouch position, using a draw stroke that presents straight out from the chest rather than swinging up from the hip, and allowing the eyes to maintain focus on the target whenever practical--meaning at close distances, primarily--rather than the front sight.
This isn’t to say that Pincus believes wholeheartedly in “instinctive shooting”. His approach is simple, practical and based upon the individual capabilities of the shooter, whom he recognizes as not a professional athlete. At such distance and circumstance where a particular shooter can no longer attain combat accuracy by focusing on the threat, he must of necessity resort to focus on the front sight. The balance is one between speed and precision. Where the shots all touch each other on the target, it is likely that the shooter is shooting too slowly, but too much spread between hits indicates speed is favored excessively over precision - slowing down and/or achieving front sight focus may be indicated. What that distance and/or circumstance may be varies from shooter to shooter. It is a training goal for each individual to find for himself where a comfortable transition lies.
But what is combat accuracy? Here it gets a bit confusing. Pincus blends a philosophical concept--that combat accuracy is attained whenever the assailant is stopped, even if the shot misses and he is just scared enough to drop his gun – with the practical and more typical concept of repeated high center chest hits. His discussion is broad enough to make it clear that both aspects are significant to success, but I wonder if the concepts wouldn’t be better treated as separate ideas with separate names.
For instance, combat accuracy could be seen as the ability to make high center chest hits but “practical accuracy” as that which would also stop an attack in other ways, be they from fear or from disabling injury other than center-mass hits. Pick your own terms, but I think the distinction needs to be improved. Incidentally, I much prefer Pincus’ use of high center chest to the more common center-mass. To this incorrigible nitpicker, it is much more accurate!
Simplicity is another key ingredient of Pincus’ philosophy. He advocates fewer, not more, “tools in the toolbox”. Weapon carry position, simplicity of gun operation, draw stroke, reloading process, stance elements and grip should be as consistently maintained and practiced as possible. Elimination of unnecessary decision elements improves response time. This is the time-honored KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) although, to his credit, Pincus doesn’t use that hackneyed acronym. There is probably room for argument over which elements are essential and which are secondary or even unnecessary tools – indeed, that argument is one of the discussions we have had on the forum's message board in discussing his work.
Pincus sees it as increasing efficiency if movement stops when shooting. Rather than shooting on the move, he believes that you can shoot more effectively while standing still for the shot and then moving again. This is a very debatable issue, I realize. IDPA competition, for example, which considers itself to be based upon good defensive tactics, frequently has competitors shoot while moving. It is more difficult to attain good accuracy that way, of course, and it slows down the movement drastically but they seem to believe that it is more efficient overall. Pincus admits to not seeing any definitive research on this but his own observation tells him that you don’t gain much when shooting on the move and the momentary pause to shoot may enhance the ability of normal people to end the conflict quickly. It’s an interesting question.
The shooting drills presented in the late chapters are excellent ways to improve on the shooter’s skills and effectiveness as well as to evaluate progress. They typically are shooter/coach drills where the coach gives the commands and does the timing and the shooter responds, having to interpret the commands and make the appropriate shots. None of them are complex, but the drills do keep the exercises dynamic and challenge all aspects of draw, presentation and trigger manipulation; they are far removed from typical square-range sighted slow-fire shooting. Although Pincus suggests specific commercial targets and gives sources for them, substitution would be no problem (except for his use of a metal pepper popper in one exercise). The purpose of each drill and what to look for in shooting it are well explained. The biggest problems I see with these drills are ranges where movement and rapid fire (and reactive metal targets in the one case) aren’t allowed. Most club, rather than commercial, ranges should be no problem in this respect. I confess that I haven’t wrung out any of these exercises, but I will when I get the chance!
This is a little book, only 119 pages including appendices, but there is no way that I can summarize everything it contains in an article. It is, in essence, a summary in itself.
Side commentary on Rob Pincus & Combat Focus Shooting
by Jerry Webb
Clint Smith (owner and director of Thunder Ranch) recently wrote an article in which he said that three hundred or more new shooting schools would be opened in America within a few years time. Obviously the vast majority of those new schools will fail, because there are not enough customers to support that many schools for long.
For many reasons it has become vogue to attend the latest High Speed Low Drag training given by Operators who have Been There Done That. The Iraq war, security contractors, and scores of wannabes who are nothing more than poseurs are fueling the demand for shooting schools.
One of the instructors filling this demand is Rob Pincus, formally the training director at the upscale Valhalla facility. I cannot criticize Rob for filling a real demand in the marketplace. Pincus has left Valhalla, and is traveling the country to put on seminars and shooting schools, and has other instructors under his direction in order to lower the instructor to student ratio. The question is: does Pincus offer a quality training experience?
I will offer right up front that I have NOT attended any of Rob's training. (Ed. note: since this was first published, Jerry has observed Rob Pincus's classes in person, as Jerry's home range has hosted Pincus' training. I don't believe personal observation has changed Jerry's mind, based on discusssions he and I have had. --Mark) What I know of him and his training methods I have learned from his Internet forum messages; audio recordings of his lectures; his website; his published articles in magazines; and training segments of the TV show "Personal Defense TV" in which Rob was featured. From those mediums I have gleaned a fairly informed opinion on Pincus and his "Combat Focus" method of firearms training.
I have received and/or given professional firearms training for over 25 years. I have personally instructed and/or certified over 1000 shooters, either individually or as part of a team. The vast majority were recruit police officers, most of whom had never fired a handgun prior to the academy. The rest of my students were armed citizens or veteran cops. But even as the instructor, I have always remained a student, trying to keep an open mind or find a better way.
So when looking at Rob Pincus and his Combat Focus theory and training program, I do my best to temper my jaundiced eye, and not knee jerk with "Oh, here is another guy jumping on the shooting school bandwagon!"
So what exactly is Rob selling?
If you talk to Pincus, you will find a professional, well-spoken gentleman instead of the usual "Operator" spouting old gun saws and regaling you with war stories. As a matter of fact, that may well be the downfall of Pincus! The problem is that what Pincus teaches is nothing new, it isn't High Speed Low Drag, and you will not be a ninja when you leave his training. You see, what Rob pushes are common sense fundamentals, mental preparation and practical marksmanship--and there is nothing wrong with that! After all, "advanced shooting techniques" are nothing more than the perfect expert application of fundamentals.
I just wonder how much gas this shooting school boom has. Is it a passing fad? By putting the "Combat Focus" spin on defensive shooting, Rob displays marketing prowess while still teaching sound shooting fundamentals. Is that enough? Unfortunately for Rob, that is up to the student. I have found that it is as much the responsibility of the student to make the learning process productive as it is the instructor. If the student doesn't have the humility to master the basics.... well, we are all wasting our time in training.
Pincus is a good public speaker. He is knowledgeable about shooting. He seems to have good business acumen. But most important is: can he teach? There are plenty of great shooters and SEAL Team members, but most cannot effectively teach folks they have never met how to be a good shooter. I am going to give Rob the benefit of assuming he is a good teacher, simply because of his success thus far. Being an excellent instructor and having integrity is the only way Pincus will remain successful in this new world, where every Tommy Tactical is opening a shooting school. According to Clint Smith, there are over 300 others competing for the same customers.
Although no retail price is shown on the Pincus book itself, Amazon sells it for $17.95. For more information on Rob Pincus, his book and his courses, I suggest you go to his web site, http://www.icetraining.us/. Note that when the book was published in 2006, Rob Pincus was Director of Operations at Valhalla Training Center, but that is no longer the case; he now runs ICE Training, thus the changed contact information.
Copyright 2008 by the authors and The Firearms Forum--all rights reserved.