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10 Questions With Combat Focus Shooting’s Rob Pincus

10 Questions With Combat Focus Shooting’s Rob Pincus

The hot topic in the martial arts is reality-based self-defense. Its counterpart in the firearms world is Combat Focus Shooting. The two disciplines share plenty—for instance, they start by reminding you that an attack in the real world stands a good chance of catching you by surprise and leaving you unable to use the precision skills you typically acquire in a traditional class. For that reason, it’s wise to invest some time in learning how to protect yourself in situations in which you don’t have sufficient warning to unleash that picture-perfect side kick or assume that Weaver stance, get proper sight alignment and squeeze off a perfectly aimed shot.

If this no-nonsense approach to self-defense strikes a chord with you, Rob Pincus should be your next stop on the road to being a complete martial artist. The founder of CFS, he served in law enforcement and as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He’s fine-tuned his system over the past decade, during which he’s taught thousands of civilians and police and acted as the sole extreme close-quarters counter-ambush trainer for the U.S. Army 10th Special Forces Group. (If he looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen him co-hosting The Best Defense and S.W.A.T. Magazine TV on the Outdoor Channel.)

Black Belt: Where did the name Combat Focus Shooting come from?

Rob Pincus: It came from the fact that there are things you need to focus on for combative shooting: the threat and the circumstances of the fight. You shouldn’t be focusing on target shooting or what you need to do to run the gun—all that needs to be subconscious because there are so many other important things.


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“Combat” is somewhat of a charged word. We’re talking counter-ambush defensive shooting. It’s not kicking in doors and looking for people to shoot. I like to compare it to the elbow strike: Any martial artist can stand next to a heavy bag and transfer energy into it—and probably look good and make the bag move a lot. But if you throw that bag at the person and it knocks him back into a wall, he’ll throw a more intuitive or reflexive elbow strike. It probably won’t look as good or transfer as much energy, but it will still do something.

In the firearms world, some guys are really good at target shooting. They take their time and breathe right, and when the buzzer goes off, they execute a refined, complex motor skill. It’s like doing a kata. In contrast, we throw the bag at you. The stimulus comes in and you process it—you punch out the gun parallel to your line of sight, then touch the trigger and press it. There’s still some mechanics, but we try to make them as fundamental as possible, not as choreographed as they could be.

Black Belt: How should a martial artist who “sees the light” go about selecting a gun?

Rob Pincus: Martial artists already have an awareness of their body and understand that a weapon becomes an extension of it. They know that with any weapon, ergonomics are involved—what fits your hand and so forth. It’s the same with firearms, which is why it’s important to try different brands. The three we recommend are the Glock, the Smith & Wesson M&P and the Springfield Armory XD. They’re reliable and have modern designs, and one of them will fit anybody’s hand.

Black Belt: Does a person need to become comfortable with his new firearm before taking a course such as CFS?

Rob Pincus: No. You might become comfortable during the course. People tend to get comfortable during a CFS course more quickly than on a range where there isn’t much pressure and where the advice they get is more relevant to target shooting. Some of what you’re told on the target range involves body positions that aren’t natural and won’t occur at the beginning of a fight in which you’re ambushed and in defensive mode.
What CFS stresses isn’t just the effectiveness you need for target shooting; it’s efficiency. It’s not just about putting the bullet where you want it to go; it’s about doing that comfortably and smoothly under conditions in which you might actually need to.

Black Belt: Can a complete novice benefit from a CFS course?

Rob Pincus: It’s sometimes easier for students who’ve never touched a gun to come out and let their body work naturally because they don’t over-think things. On one level, they have to do what they’re told, and on the other level, hopefully what we’re telling them to do will work well with what their body does intuitively. We try for a natural evolution of technique.

Black Belt: Reality-based self-defense instructors will tell you it’s not important which exact point on your opponent’s body you hit when he’s attacking you; what matters is that you hit him at all. Is it the same in CFS?

Rob Pincus: Yes. The dim-mak guys might not agree, but you don’t have to hit an exact point. There is no exact point because every human body is different. Just pointing your gun at an attacker might make him flinch and change the angle. If you take two shots, they may be close together on paper, but if you add in the three-dimensional nature of the human body and the fact that he’s moving, those shots won’t ever follow each other. You won’t know exactly what they’re going to hit and what effect they’ll have until afterward.

Black Belt: Once a person completes a CFS course, what’s next?

Rob Pincus: Anytime you learn a new skill, you have to practice it—especially when it’s significantly different from what you’ve done before. It takes time and repetitions to get comfortable.

When you’re concentrating on a balance of speed and precision, which is what our system teaches, to practice you have to have some kind of external stimulus. Having a partner call out commands and dictate different levels of precision and different situations will make your training better.

Black Belt: In the martial arts, many people train in their base style and then attend a couple of seminars every year to get outside points of view. Is that a good strategy with shooting?

Rob Pincus: In firearms training, it’s absolutely necessary that you not get fixated on one form or style. In martial arts, if you’re practicing your style as an art, it’s OK to stay focused and refine your techniques, whether they’re based on, for example, low kicking or high kicking. But if you’re learning how to fight, you probably want to mix them so you get both skill sets.

With firearms, you go to one person who specializes in one category of defensive use or who has knowledge that revolves around a certain kind of situation to get one piece of the puzzle. Then you go to somebody else for another piece.

There are some clichés that are dangerous, though—one is, all training is good training. That can be true if you have the fundamentals and some of the advanced stuff down. Then, seeing what other schools teach can be good. But sometimes new students can get into trouble by going to one instructor and hearing A but not really practicing it, then going to another one and hearing B but not really practicing it. They never really develop the ability to see if something works for them.

Black Belt: Is there any benefit to a civilian martial artist taking a military shooting course?

Rob Pincus: I always advise people to find others in their demographic who’ve trained with the instructors they’re considering. If you’re a SWAT cop, ask other SWAT cops. If you’re a dentist who wants to be able to protect yourself and your family, talk to people who aren’t armed professionals to see what they think of instructors they’ve trained with. What a SWAT cop or special-operations guy needs to know may have nothing to do with what you need to know.

There are reasons that certain courses are only for military or law enforcement. There aren’t any magic secrets; the difference is the context of the encounters the instructor talks about. If you’re a civilian and you see a dangerous-looking guy, your job is to get away. If you’re a police officer, you have to go to the guy, and that creates a whole different set of circumstances. The cop needs some techniques that just won’t apply to you as a civilian.

Black Belt: What should martial artists expect to get from a CFS course?

Rob Pincus: The goal is for you to leave with an understanding of some principles and fundamentals that you can develop. You’re not going to attend your first shooting course and leave without needing further practice. You will, however, leave with an understanding of how to practice.

Black Belt: Do martial artists who get into firearms derive any benefits from their empty-hand training?

Rob Pincus: First, they have the right mindset, and that’s huge. Any person who shows up at a self-defense class is in a different category, one made up of people who are aware that danger exists and are interested in being prepared to deal with it. Second, martial artists really know their body. Anyone who trains and trusts their body will take to new skills more easily.

(For more on Rob Pincus and Combat Focus Shooting, check out the latest issue of Black Belt magazine, on newsstands now.)

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  1. Brian says

    For anyone interested in self defence, learning weapons is a major part of that ability. Knife, pistol, rifle and shotgun should be something we are all familiar with. How many other Black Belts have concealed carry permits? Why don’t you?

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