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Safety Solutions Academy Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting AAR

While at SHOT Show back in January, we had the opportunity to meet a lot of different folks, including numerous instructors.  Over and over we kept running into the guys from Combat Focus Shooting (CFS) everywhere we went.  There was literally a herd of them.  If you aren’t familiar with CFS, it is the core program of I.C.E. Training and the brainchild of Rob Pincus.  He has CFS certified instructors literally across the country.  I was recently able to attend the Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting class that was held at Southington Law Enforcement Facility in Garrettsville, OH.


The instructor for this class was Paul Carlson.  Paul is a NRA instructor, a certified Combat Focus Shooting instructor, as well as an I.C.E. Training Defensive Firearms Coach.  He has been an instructor since 2001, and his previous experience of 13 years as a math and science teacher are evident in his training curriculum.  His teaching style with his students is very interactive and very personal.  I have gotten to know Paul over the last 6 months since SHOT quite well, but his interaction with the other students was as if he knew them on that same personal level.   Aside from this course, he also teaches Intro to Defensive Handguns, CHL classes, a more in-depth 2-Day Combat Focus Shooting class, and also Combat Focus Carbine class.  Paul also does a podcast available on iTunes and has numerous SSA videos on YouTube.

Course Overview

The Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting as taught by Safety Solutions Academy is an 8-hour course.  The CFS program is an intuitive shooting program that focuses on getting the student to maintain maximum efficiency in a dynamic critical incident.  It covers the basics of intuitive defensive shooting, primarily focusing on improving combat accuracy through a balance of speed and precision.   That is something that I was pleasantly surprised to hear.  Not about shooting tight groups, but effectively putting rounds on target to stop a threat… center mass.


The day started out with a safety briefing, followed with a detailed but easy to understand explanation by Paul on the background of Combat Focus Shooting.  He thoroughly explained the methodology and something he focused on throughout the day…. the ‘why’.  As it so happens, I am a person that seems to always ask the ‘why’ when something is explained to me.  It helps me process “I do this because of THIS”.  This is hugely beneficial especially in something like firearms training, when repetition is key.  If I understand why it is that I am doing what I am doing, it helps me focus on the minute details that can affect your shot.  In a dynamic critical incident, things can go bad in a split second and your reaction needs to be instinctual.

As mentioned above, CFS focuses on combat accuracy.  For the first few sets of drills, we focused on not using the sights, however, focusing on form and proper procedure from recognition of the threat, to the draw, to the presentation, to the shot(s).  Every drill included multiple shots, 2, 3, or 4 at a time.  This also made it hard to keep a mental count of rounds and emphasized the importance of effective reloading.  As luck would have it, words ringing in my ears were that of my good buddy Matt DeVito (shockingly, another CFS instructor) of Down Range Firearms Training… “DON’T LOOK AT YOUR RELOADS!”  After a few drills, this wasn’t an issue as it became a natural motion and I didn’t give it much thought.  As the drills continued, more and more focus was added to improve accuracy, while maintaining a comfortable speed to be combat effective.  All the while, Paul was there with the ‘why’.  He was shooting pics frequently and using the camera to identify a student’s weakness and/or errors, and not just correcting them with proper technique, but again, reinforcing the ‘why’.

One of the things that Combat Focus Training stresses is lateral movement.  This was something new to me, as most of my shooting is done in a stall.  This was compounded by frequently having to do reloads (yes, without looking) as you moved laterally and continued moving to resume fire.  This took a little getting used to, but after a while through repetition, became a natural movement even when engaging multiple targets.

The other drill most folks (myself included) don’t practice as much as needed is malfunction clearing.  As luck would have it, I am still in the process of breaking in a new Glock and I had a few malfunctions, which we eventually attributed to the mags.  Once they were taken apart and cleaned out in a reloading break, they worked fine.  However, it was very good practice when I am expecting a BANG and get a click and that instantly forced the mind into non-diagnostic linear malfunction clearing mode.  That sounds like a mouthful, but when you again understood the ‘why’, the process was a natural progression of what’s wrong and how to quickly fix it.  That is something you definitely want to be instinctive in a high-stress situation.

At the end of the day, the final drills were an accumulation of all that we had learned being used at once.  After 8 hours and 500 rounds of trigger pulling, it definitely came together and not only became more natural, but intuitive.

Lessons Learned

Besides the obvious fact that I need to shoot and train more, the biggest thing that I took away from Paul’s class is the mindset of balance and precision.  My of my prior experience was shooting at a stationary target in a stall trying to stack bullets on top of each other.  Obviously this does not correlate well to real world shooting and the introduction of lateral movement as well as that mindset of doing without thinking is something I will be more focused on and will continue to practice.

If you have never taken a class or are a seasoned shooter, Paul at Safety Solutions Academy definitely offers a great foundation to build or hone your skillset.  I look forward to training with him again soon. Check out Safety Solutions Academy on the web, or you can connect with Safety Solutions Academy on Facebook.

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9 Responses to Safety Solutions Academy Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting AAR

  1. Ernest June 6, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    I still don’t get why you don’t look at your re-load. To keep you eyes on your target? Focus should shift off target (if not looking at re-load) or off weapon (if looking at re-load) to front sight anyways immediately after the re-load anyways, right? What difference does it make so long as you get used to automatically focusing on the front sight as soon as your arms are extended toward the target?

  2. Jake June 6, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Nice AAR Paul, sounds like a good class. It’s not one of those classes where they bitch at you if your thumbs are in the wrong spot is it?

    • Paul Carlson June 6, 2013 at 11:56 am #

      Ewww, where exactly are you planning on putting your thumbs Jake???

      • Jake June 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

        I guess that’s a no – thumbs forward or thumbs up is usually the point of contention among trainers.

        • Paul Carlson June 6, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

          yeah, thumbs up off the controls or forward both make me smile on the inside.

  3. Paul Carlson June 6, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Ernest – Thanks for the question. Lets leave the front sight out of the equation for now.

    The question of look or don’t look at the reload really comes down to 2 issues:
    1. Do you need to look to get the job done?
    2. Will looking help get the job done?

    Do you need to look at the gun to reload the gun? In short the answer is no. There is this cool phenomenon that happens with the human body called proprioception. Your brain is constantly sending information to your muscles about what to do and in return information is sent back to your brain about the location of your body parts. It happens without trying. Touch your index fingers behind your back. I would guess you didn’t miss… People readily accept proprioception and its benefits when they draw their gun. It is attached to the same part of your body every time and you can grip it without looking. The same applies to drawing a magazine from a pouch. We don’t need to look and so we don’t.

    Reloading a handgun is no different. You hold the grip in the center of your hand with all of your fingers wrapped around it. Your brain knows exactly where that magazine well is and your off hand and magazine will have no issue finding it either.

    I do not see a need to look at the gun.

    So will looking help? This is where things get complicated and we must step off of the range and into a life and death gunfight to look at this properly. When we fear for our lives, the way that the blood flows in the body changes to help us win. One of the internal blood flow changes that happens is that we have an INCREASE in blood flowing to the limbic system which is the part of the brain that processes visual information (among many other tasks.) Because in the human body more blood = more capacity for work, the limbic system really picks up its pace. It receives, processes and sends information out to the body at a much accelerated rate. This is a good thing. Gathering, processing and reacting to visual information quickly is how we win in violence.

    Here is the catch. Although blood flow increases to the limbic system, there is no increase in blood flow to the part of the brain that analyzes visual information. that means our “thinking brain” is moving along at its regular old pace while the limbic system is racing and working overtime. This creates the potential to send mixed signals to our body while we are performing a complex motor skill under stress. Our limbic system is making it happen and happen quick but our thinking brain is behind a step. These mixed signals can result in a missed, bobbled or slow reload.

    Since we don’t need to look and looking can cause issues we choose to train to reload without looking at the gun.

    Yes, I know that when we are standing on the range with the timer we can probably reload faster by looking at the gun, but remember we are examining this not to win on the square range where our body is ticking away with all parts in sync, instead we want to perform at our best when we are dealing with the worst case scenario of a life threatening incident.

    • Ernest June 6, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

      Wow Thanks Paul. We have an action range at my local range (moving, drawing from concealment etc. is allowed) and I will try this out with a timer competition by myself and/or with a friend to increase stress.

      I always learned that looking decreases the likelihood of a re-load error because the process is being visually confirmed, while not looking will increase the likelihood of a re-load error because it might feel ok but there is no visual confirmation. Naturally then I have minimal practice with a non-look-reload so it will take awhile to “unlearn” my looking habit and get a valid comparison of functionality but I am always trying to look for ways to improve and learn something new. I appreciate the informative response

      Also, are there other good ways besides competition to create limbic system stress comparable to a violent encounter? I get so used to the timer after awhile that I want to beat my previous times, but I don’t really feel any “stress” about it in my mind or body.

  4. Paul Carlson June 6, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    The no look reload will probably be slower on the range, but don’t let that stop you as it will work better when you really need it!

    First – “Also, are there other good ways besides competition to create limbic system stress comparable to a violent encounter? I get so used to the timer after awhile that I want to beat my previous times, but I don’t really feel any “stress” about it in my mind or body.”

    Competition creates stress, but it isn’t even the same. The best we can do is understand how the body works and take that into account when we train and make sure we select techniques that work well with what the body does naturally.

    NExt “I always learned that looking decreases the likelihood of a re-load error because the process is being visually confirmed, while not looking will increase the likelihood of a re-load error because it might feel ok but there is no visual confirmation.”

    This is exactly how it works on the square range and is the reason so many people do it that way, but the square range lacks one important element real imminent threat of death. That little missing element is why there are so many misunderstanding about training.

    finally – ” it will take awhile to “unlearn” my looking habit and get a valid comparison of functionality but I am always trying to look for ways to improve and learn something new.”

    Yes, most people have this habit and we do need to work to overcome it. In real life you will look where you NEED to look to solve the problems you need to solve. Our goal is to have the reload proceed without that need.

    Keep at it Ernest and let me know how I can help out.

  5. Latonya Cantu June 10, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    From there on, Rob goes into some detail about HOW to develop your combat focus in shooting and WHY it matters in particular to you. The reality is that the training program/information outlined in this book may be general information, but it’s individually specific in its application. Why does that matter? A great many trainers today will happily custom-tailor a training program just for you, and you’ll pay one heck of a price for it. Other trainers will take a given training program and expect every student to mold themselves into the techniques being taught. The problem is that we are all different and what works perfectly for you may not work as well for me. I have my own personal best level of efficiency in shooting, and that level should be maximized–but never expected to match Rob’s or anyone else’s. That’s a very important point to be made.