Combat Focus Shooting: An Experience in Effective Handgun Training

Handgun training
(Photos in this article are courtesy of Grant Cunningham)

“We did not know what (or if) we would need to shoot, when, or from what position or distance. Sounds a bit like how a defensive shooting situation might happen, right?”

In the ongoing series of what seems to be turning into “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” today’s blog post is a report of my weekend attending the Combat Focus Shooting program of I.C.E Training. The weekend was hosted by Gila and Marty Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, and the class was taught by certified Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Grant Cunningham.

The Class: Combat Focus Shooting

According to the official website, “Combat Focus Shooting is an intuitive shooting program designed to help the student become a more efficient shooter in the context of a Dynamic Critical Incident. This is not a marksmanship course, nor is it designeHandgun trainingd to accentuate skills that only work well on a square range in front of paper targets.”

This handgun training program teaches you to think while under pressure and with a lot going on. This is quite intentional. The experience is designed to, as much as possible, prepare you for a “dynamic critical incident,” which is by definition surprising, chaotic and threatening. The basic premise is a maintaining a proper balance of speed and precision given the conditions under which you are shooting.

Revolvers and handgun trainingI won’t go into detail about the drills here; this is not the place and I am not the person to convey that information. Rob Pincus has already done that in his book Combat Focus Shooting, and Grant Cunningham relates the essential concepts in his soon-to-be-released title Defensive Revolver Fundamentals.

To summarize, we learned to react to a simulated “sudden threat,” identify the threat, and execute the balance of speed and precision necessary to place accurate shots into the identified target.

We started with extend-touch-press from the high ready. Then, we quickly went to the holster – drawing, orienting the gun toward the target, coming to high-ready, extending toward the target and firing shot groups into “high center mass” of the target.

Combat Focus Shooting at Firearms Academy of SeattleAs the training progressed, variables were quickly and continuously layered into the drills: smaller target, now from farther away. Once we were used to shooting while standing still, we added movement prior to the shooting command: gun holstered, walking away from and toward the target, not knowing when the signal would come to fire. Which one will I need to shoot, and when? Reload? We’re not stopping for that, make it happen, it’s part of the drill. The instructor yelled, “Three!” Spin, locate and identify the target (damn, it’s the small circle! where are my classmates standing right now?), only then draw and fire. Balance speed and precision, while always exercising the basic rules of safe gun handling.

The legendary "Figure 8 Drill"
The legendary “Figure 8 Drill”

The training culminated with us performing a casual task (walking a figure eight) waiting for the signal. At this point, when the signal (which had become ever more complicated) was called, we did not know what (or if) we would need to shoot, when, or from what position or distance. Sounds a bit like how a defensive shooting situation might happen, right? We practiced thinking before drawing and firing, quickly and precisely as dictated by each circumstance. And no, you probably can’t do some of these drills at your local range.

Before class, and during much of the first day, I was anxious that I would feel overwhelmed and freeze. The instructors were constantly asking for more: “Now do all of that, and add this.” At the same time, they never let any of us off the hook for a lapse in judgment or performance. Every shot that landed outside the identified target was addressed so we knew what had caused the lack of precision – shot too fast, didn’t start with proper grip, etc.

Click here for a FREE Download: Essentials in Firearms Training

To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. However, the instructors were adept at regulating the pressure so that no one in the class had any extreme “vapor lock” incidents. They pushed each of us right up to the edge of our ability, then pushed just a little more, past our perceived limits, while always stopping short of complete meltdown. This allowed us to vividly experience the extent of our abilities, but not remain complacently within them.

Note shell in the air, gun back on target.
Note shell in the air, gun back on target.

By the second day, I was surprised at how competent I felt managing all of the different aspects of the training, as they added one element after another to the drills. It was really intense, but also really fun.

Being relatively new to handguns, after shooting 800 rounds over two days of training I certainly came away with better shooting skills. More importantly, though, I developed confidence in my command of the equipment, a clear understanding of my habits/tendencies and how they affect shot placement, the ability to recognize what’s happening when my shot placement isn’t where it should be, and skills to continue improving on my own. I know exactly what I need to practice, as we identified two consistently recurring issues that resulted in missed shots.

In the MAG20 class, with regard to armed self defense, Massad Ayoob referred to the KISS principle, saying, “This is not simple, and you are not stupid.” At the time, I agreed with the first part of that statement, for sure. Having experienced success shooting under pressure in the Combat Focus Shooting class, I now feel confident in the second part of the statement as well.

The Instructor: Grant Cunningham

In the spirit of full disclosure, it is relevant to state that I have worked with Grant Cunningham on several Gun Digest books over the past few years. His professionalism, depth of knowledge and collaborative disposition make it a pleasure to work with him. That said, I will be as objective as possible in my review of his teaching.

Certified Combat Focus Shooting Instructor/Gun Digest author Grant Cunningham and Corrina Peterson, Editor, Gun Digest
Certified Combat Focus Shooting Instructor/Gun Digest author Grant Cunningham and Corrina Peterson, Editor, Gun Digest

Grant’s insatiable curiosity leads him to look deeply into any subject that catches his attention. In the case of Combat Focus Shooting, that characteristic works to the benefit of any student that attends one of his classes. His grasp of the CFS techniques, as well as his technical/mechanical understanding of guns, ammunition and marksmanship, are in themselves impressive. However, his understanding goes beyond firearms fundamentals, into anatomy and physiology, how the brain works (when learning new skills, as well as when under sudden attack), how to teach and more. His understanding of the “how and why,” along with his ability to convey the practical application of that knowledge to self defense training, makes him a gifted educator.

All of that, combined with the nature of Grant’s personality, results in an unpretentious and accessible delivery of handgun training. His approach offers a unique/refreshing alternative for the less “tactical-minded” segment of the potential self defense training market. The qualities that make it a pleasure to work with Grant make it a pleasure to learn from him as well.

Also deserving acknowledgment are CFS Instructors Vincent Perrizo and Joe Lentz. They generously donated time from their weekend to help Grant run the class. It was nice to have several sets of eyes to make the many minor corrections that help develop good form. They were alert to the details and made corrections consistently, safely and efficiently, without interrupting the flow of the class. Kudos to them, and to the CFS program for inspiring such skill and commitment in its instructors.

Special thanks to Jake Edson and JJ Reich at ATK for providing the ammunition that made this weekend of great training even better!

Recommendations for more information

Watch the blog for the announcement of availability for Defensive Revolver Fundamentals, due out in August. Other titles by Grant Cunningham include:

In the meantime, stop by the Gun Digest Store for your copy of Combat Focus Shooting. The program is also available on DVD, where Rob Pincus and several certified Combat Focus Shooting Instructors from around the world present the fundamentals and the drills that continue to make Combat Focus Shooting the most progressive defensive firearms program on the planet.

Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order.

Thanks for reading the Inside Gun Digest Books blog!


  1. I have taken several courses. One, CA, was ridiculous. The topic was conceale carry but he had us runniing sideways and diving to the ground – with ready to fire handguns. I actually think the instructor was berserk.
    Another was a concealed carry course in Texas. The people were nice but the quality of students varied so much that some of us were bored. For example, I shot a 249 (250) and my wife shot a 246. The next highest score was 179. He passed everyone rather that “hurt their feelings”.
    In another CCH course in Texas a husband and wife kept holding their fingers on the triggers. I called them on it and said, “one more time…”. The head instructor chewed me out for being too “hard on them”. “After all”, he said, “They do own the town bank.”
    Range masters can and all too often are little despots. In CA they are usually retired Navy yardbirds with no management training. In Texas they all seem to be retired forest fire fighters with no management experience.
    My wife and I have our own range where we practice weekly.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.