A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending a Combat Focus Shooting course held in southern California. The course was part of the larger Behind Enemy Lines shooting event hosted by Black Center Tactical and Black Rifle Syndicate. For those of you that aren’t already familiar with Combat Focus Shooting (CFS), the concept is based upon using your body’s natural reactions to deal with a Dynamic Critical Incident. While there are plenty of examples of critical incidents I could give you, the gist of it is basically an “Oh, shit!” situation when you suddenly find yourself under attack and need to take immediate defensive action.
This CFS course was led by two highly skilled trainers, Matt DeVito and Jeff Varner. Both are highly trained instructors and well-regarded within the firearms training community. If you’ve ever spent more than 10 minutes on Instagram looking at photos under #igmilitia, you’ve probably already run across them as these gentlemen are definitely active on social media. DeVito is based out of Massachusetts and is the Chief Training Officer for Down Range Firearms Training. Varner recently is in New Hampshire and is currently teaching with Team Snake Hound. Both have impressive resumes and are seasoned instructors.
The day started off with the class learning about the basic principles of Combat Focus Shooting. We were also given an overview of the range exercises we would be working on throughout the day and a reminder about proper range safety and etiquette. The class size was roughly 15 students and the group consisted of both novice and experienced shooters ranging in age from the early teens to mid 50’s. One of the things DeVito and Varner pointed out early on was that this was NOT going to be a marksmanship class. There would be no special awards for the tightest groupings or dead on precision because CFS is about neutralizing targets, not winning trophies. While at first this seemed slightly counterintuitive, the instructors then elaborated and went into greater detail.
The first thing they teach in you in Combat Focus Shooting is Combat Accuracy. When a Dynamic Critical Incident occurs, you goal is not to get the perfect shot. Your goal is to eliminate or neutralize the threat in the shortest amount of time possible. This isn’t to say that you have carte blanche to just start shooting up the place and sending lead everywhere. What it means is that three or four rounds high center mass within a six-inch grouping in under two seconds is better than two perfect shoots that take four to five seconds. As we started shooting and working through the Combat Accuracy exercises, something clicked inside me. When I stopped worrying about hitting the proverbial bullseye and focused solely on the mechanics and form, my accuracy actually improved. By eliminating the need to get that “perfect” shot, I relaxed my body and in doing so improved my performance.
The next component we worked on was Lateral Motion. While going through the Combat Accuracy exercises, DeVito and Varner introduced the concept of Lateral Motion. Plain and simple, Lateral Motion is moving your body left or right in the ready position to re-engage targets or conduct a reload. If someone is firing at you, the last thing you want to do is standstill. If your body is in motion, you instantly become a harder target to hit and greatly increase your odds of survival.
One of the core principles of CFS is the high center ready position. By having your firearm high upon your chest, you can easily extended out and fire once you’ve clearly identified the threat. When Lateral Motion occurs, you return to the high center ready, and then re-engage your target while adjusting your position. The does a couple of things for you. First, you’re on the move so you’re a harder target to hit. Second, you have better control of the firearm. If you’re arms are extended out and you’re swinging the gun from left to right, odds are that you’re probably going to scare the hell out of anyone else around you as you paint them with the weapon. This could make you a potential threat to them and we can all imagine how that situation would end. However, the third factor might be the most important one. When actively engaging a target, you have much better odds at accurately hitting it when coming out of the high center ready position than swinging the firearm wide and trying to refocus.
Once the Lateral Motion drills were complete, we focused in on the Balance of Speed and Precision, the Critical Incident Reload, and Volume of Fire. The CFS course is designed to repeatedly build upon the core concepts and fundamentals. By doing the same motions and mechanics over and over, you become more comfortable with them and your skill level increases. The Balance of Speed and Precision examines the relationship of stopping targets versus hitting them perfectly. DeVito and Varner had us push our limits by seeing how many rounds we could fire accurately into designated areas on the target. Once again, I noticed that by not having to be “perfect” I was able to fire much faster while still performing consistently. In CFS, reloads are done in the high center ready while performing Lateral Motion and not looking at the firearm. Your eyes should always be focused on the target and actively assessing the situation. If you stand still and look at your gun, you’re going to get shot.
The last part of the day was incredible as this was where the rubber really meets the road. We had spent hours and hours working through the mechanics of CFS and learning the fundamentals. It was now time to learn about Multiple Target Engagement, using your body’s natural reactions to your advantage, and Shooting in Motion. DeVito and Varner gave us some example scenarios and walked us through how to best engage multiple targets. The practice exercises focused on being able to quickly identify the threats, neutralize the first one, and then move onto the next ones while working on Lateral Motion and Critical Incident Reloads.
The final exercise was probably the single best firearms training drill I have ever been through. After spending the entire day working through the CFS fundamentals and practicing them repeatedly, it was now time to real test our skills as shooters. The instructors set up a row of approximately 10 to 15 targets at the end of the range. Each target was painted with a random number or letter with some targets having both. The targets were not only in no particular order, but they were also staggered slightly front to back to create a definite sense of randomness and chaos.
Students were then instructed to walk in a figure 8 pattern parallel to the targets. At random time intervals, DeVito or Varner would call out a letter or number and the student was supposed to react accordingly. If there was a threat, or multiple threats, the students would engage them and neutralize them. This single exercise combined and put into use each and every one of the techniques that we had worked on prior. Not only were you tested on your ability to quickly engage the target, but you were also tested to see if you even needed to engage the target at all. By randomly calling out letters and numbers that weren’t on the targets, students were reminded of the critical component of assessing the situation before leaping into action. If we look at using a firearm as a last resort, then we need to make sure we understand the situation and feel that we have no other option prior to drawing it from your holster. I really liked this exercise of the simple fact that we got to practice everything we had learned and we were reminded that a dynamic situation is simply that, dynamic and ever changing.
All in all, I felt as though I walked away with quite a bit from the Combat Focus Shooting course. Not only was I more confident in my abilities as a shooter, but I felt as though I had a better understanding of how to use my body’s natural reactions to my own advantage. By working with your natural motions rather than against them, you can quickly react and defend yourself if the need ever arises.
I was thoroughly impressed with the safety vigilance that both instructors practiced throughout the day with the group. Live fire training always has an inherent risk factor associated with it given the nature of what you’re doing. That, combined with students in motion and actively shooting at the same time and your risk level dramatically increases. However, there was never a single point during the day when I didn’t feel safe on the range or that DeVito and Varner didn’t have total control of the situation. This speaks volumes to me as a student about the skill level and professionalism of the instructors.
Whether you’re more of a novice shooter like myself or a seasoned marksman, there is always something to be gained from continued training and education. The Combat Focus Shooting course is a great curriculum and I really enjoyed how it relates to real world scenarios. The skills taught are those that would be greatly needed should something dramatic were ever to occur. DeVito and Varner were both excellent instructors. I encourage you to look up their training schedules to see if they’ll be teaching a course in your area sometime in the near future. On a final note, I would like to say thank you to John Bonnett of Black Center Tactical and the team at Black Rifle Syndicate for hosting the Behind Enemy Lines shoot and CFS course. Not only is continued training a great way to improve upon your skills as a shooter, it’s an incredible opportunity to spend time and network with other enthusiasts in your local community.