Thursday, October 18, 2012

The CFS Shot Timer Debate

Earlier this year I took a Combat Focus Shooting course from a local instructor because I wanted to see what the course was like and it was conveniently close. It seems like the Combat Focus Shooting curriculum catches a lot of flak for various, and I will not say that it is all undeserved, but in my opinion CFS is not drastically different than what I have seen other instructors teach, they just use fancier (and more descriptive) words to describe it all. This is something I will say about CFS, and any firearms course for that matter. The material being taught is not as important as the instructor's ability to impart information to the student. Another way to say it, the instructor needs to be able to teach and the instructor is what makes the course worthwhile...or not. One of the things about CFS is that it is franchised, or whatever you want to call it. In the past 6 months I have become acutely aware of a plethora of CFS instructors who are not Rob Pincus, the guy who came up with it all. This is all fine and dandy except a CFS Instructor certification does not an instructor make. So for anyone out there wanting to take a CFS course, pick a good instructor because they are not all created equal. You can read my review of Tom DuPreist CFS course here.

Now onto the debate. I happen to be good friends with another CFS instructor who is kind of local and we go back and forth all the time about CFS stuff. Recently, while discussing another instructor and another type of firearms course the issue of shot timer use came up. For those that don't know, CFS instructors generally don't use shot timers. The reason, as I understand it, has something to to do with the anticipation of the need to shoot. Actually I agree with their point, but I don't think shot timers should be excluded to the extent CFS instructors seem to exclude them in my experience.

The issue I have with excluding shot timers completely or nearly completely is that a metric to measure pure shooting ability has to exist. Without such a metric, we will not be able to know if our training/practice has been effective or efficient, we would not be able to tell if who we are today is better than who we were yesterday. I think most would agree that the point of practicing and training is to get better, to get better we need to be able to objectively measure performance. Without measurable metrics we would also not be able to set performance goals, which are a key component of skill improvement.

There are two measurable metrics that are easily applied to shooting, accuracy and time. They can both be applied independently, or in conjunction. Ideally, they will both be measured in conjunction. How long does it take me to shoot this many rounds and get this many hits on this size target at this distance. I can record that data, sit on it for a few weeks and repeat. If my practice has been effective, I should see an improvement reflected by a shorter time. I can also start to measure the efficiency of my training by varying my resource input in practice until I see no additional gain. For example, I spend 5 hours and 1,000 rounds of ammunition to improve 5% on whatever shooting tests I have decided to utilize. The next cycle I reduce my resource input by 50%, but still show a 5% improvement on the shooting tests. The next cycle I reduce my resource input by another 50% and only show a 2% improvement on the shooting tests. Using this data I can dial in my resource input so that I am not using up resources but seeing no additional skill improvement. I can use this same technique to see if the drills I am using are producing the intended result. There is such a thing as wasted practice, and the more of that we can mitigate the better.

On the flip side, it is very easy to over-emphasize the time component to the point that we compromise on certain aspects of technique. Perhaps this is what spawned some of the CFS methodology, I don't know, I didn't design it. That is something that needs to remain in the back of your head though. Be your own judge on what compromises you might be willing to make for the sake of speed. I will not go so far as to say which techniques I think are acceptable, and which are not because generally speaking there are multiple ways to mix the kool-aid and everyone has their favorite flavor.

For clarification, what we are measuring is not the ability to cognitively process a problem and then solve it, what we are measuring is the physical action that takes place after cognitive processing. Some practice and training time does need to be allotted to the specific area of cognitive processing. So there is not a 1:1 relationship to defensive or unplanned/unanticipated shooting, but that is fine because all we are trying to do is measure shooting skill in a repeatable, consistent manor and shooting skill has a direct impact on what we can accomplish in a defensive shooting.

My friend and I disagree on some of these points, at least we did a few days ago. That is fine, we are adults capable of disagreeing and still being friends. Unfortunately some of my contemporaries (read: fellow shooters) don't seem to be capable of that. So please do not read this post as a dig at CFS, or my friend who is a CFS instructor. If someone came to me and said they wanted to take a pistol class, my friend would be one of the first recommendations I would make. I don't have to agree with everything he teaches to think he is a good instructor who teaches some good stuff worth knowing.


  1. Excellent Essay.... I greatly appreciate that you are really thinking about the issues and clearly expressing your opinions as well as fairly representing CFS.

    I would just say that this part is key:

    "what we are measuring is not the ability to cognitively process a problem and then solve it, what we are measuring is the physical action that takes place after cognitive processing."

    My research and experience indicates that the time it takes to process information is very significant AND the effect that processing has on the time it actually takes to perform the skill in context is also significant. That means that the isolated numbers may or may not be relevant to performance in a fight. Given the choice, people will always defer to hard numbers... but, If the numbers don't really matter, I think that they can be very distracting... particularly when gear, technique and/or tactics are compromised to achieve better numbers in isolation.

    Again, thanks for considering the CFS Point of View!


  2. Rob Pincus read my blog post, cool:)

    Since you are the mind behind CFS, what would you recommend to your students as a method to track skill improvement, or degredation, so that they can know if practice is being fruitfull or just a waste of resources?

  3. Good write up. Like anything else in life, moderation and balance is key. Just like the IPSC weiner who works on his splits all day long dosent begin to test threat recognition,or drawing from his carry holster, CFS followers claiming any objective test of skill with a firearm "IS ONLY FO DAH SQUARE RANGE" and can;t be used in a basis of his "counter ambush" training is equally misguided. Notice Rob makes some points about compromise, but dosent explain the correct way to balance these things, because he's not concerned in doing this. You cant reliably time your self picking the correct tactic to a unknown situation. You can however, measure how long it takes you to draw(technique) from behind cover(tactic) and engage something.Can you always do this?No,but saying you can never is just as bad. A tactic certainly can be spoiled by chasing the rabbit, but the actual shooting part, no.