Rob Pincus is well known in the gun world. You see his photograph in different magazines from the NRA to Guns & Ammo.
He even appears in advertisements for products now and then. He has created a Combat Focused Training course, and the Fundamentals of Concealed Carry was the first of his training courses that I have attended. This review is specific to Central Alabama Firearms Training LLC (www.caftllc.com) and the one-day course it offers in Birmingham, Alabama. I have to tell you, this was a fabulous course.
In order to be certified as an instructor by Pincus you not only have to know how to shoot, and be able to teach it, you have to make it through the training which washes out a good half of the people who take it. That David McCullough (the owner of CAFT) was able to pass and be certified tells you something very important about his qualifications: he satisfied Rob Pincus.
Safety is Job One
Training that isn’t safe is not training that you take seriously. I have walked out of training where people pointed loaded guns at other people. I am never going to take a chance on someone making the kind of mistake that might cost me my life. I am happy to say that safety was a big issue at CAFT. It starts before you sign up.
You are encouraged to bring your defensive firearm and an outside the waistband holster. I brought both IWB and OWB but wound up using my N82Tactical IWB because I could reholster easier with it than an OWB. Also, I place a much higher value on being able to conceal my firearm than others I guess. One of the things we were instructed not to bring was a shoulder holster.
If you are unfamiliar with firearms training, or having been on a firing line with other people, you don’t understand the common-sense safety built into this requirement. If you, in your daily life, want to wear one, I am sure David would have no problem with you doing so. But look at this image because you have to understand the inherent danger in a shoulder holster:
Now note where the pistol is pointing when you wear a holster: directly at the person behind you. In most cases, that means your instructors. And as you draw, you sweep across anyone on the firing line to your left or right. In this instance a negligent discharge would be potentially fatal. So these were outlawed at the beginning. A commitment to safety that is evident in preparation is noteworthy in my view. I will discuss other safety-related issues as they arise in this review.
Another thing I liked about this training was that it assumed you had an understanding of the legal basis for self-defense, how the state law applied to you, and whether you needed legal advice. As an attorney I am often amazed at the exceptionally bad advice given by instructors (like: “hang up on 911”). None of that here. You were encouraged to read for yourself and get legal advice. This is excellent advice, not just because I am a lawyer, but also because it underscores that anyone can give you legal “instruction” but only a lawyer can tell you how the law applies to a given situation. However, I would also be remiss if I did not mention that they offered sound and practical advice about how to deal with the police after such a self-defense shooting. This was not legal advice, but practical advice.
Mr. McCullough taught the didactic portion of the class by himself. He used Powerpoint slides and a few videos to make points. The instruction was in the same trailer used by the local SWAT team and had photos all over the place of police officers with guns. You were reminded at every level that what you do when you carry a firearms involves the approbation of law enforcement, and is closely monitored by them. CAFT provided snacks and coffee, and on the range provided bottled water. Restroom facilities were available.
The class was designed for ten, but we had eleven people in our class. Two of the attendees had taken the class before and were repeating it. That to me was an expression of the value that they perceived from the class. Inside a classroom a 1:11 ratio of instructor to student is not a problem. On a live fire range, however, it has the potential to be a disaster. So I was very relieved to see six additional instructors at the range and available for the live fire portion of the training.
Before I get to that, let me say that many of the topics covered in the classroom portion were similar to topics I have covered here. The range at which most gunfights occur, the degree of hits, etc. There was a discussion about choice of ammo. There was a great deal of practical information. But it all boiled down to preparing us for the range. Not only was there additional safety information provided in class, we were not allowed to bring any ammunition into the classroom.
When we went to the range, the safety briefing was first. They used electronic hearing protection so that we could hear the instructors easily. They insisted on eye protection. We could not even load magazines until we were on the range and even then we could not load our pistols until instructed. The range safety briefing was a kinder and gentler version of the same briefing I had in Army boot camp. It boiled down to the four rules of gun safety, and of course, emphasis on what I call the really big rule: Keep Your Booger Hook off the Bang Button.
One of the many things the Army does right is instruction “by the numbers.” This breaks down a complicated series of steps into movements you can perform following numbers. That is what CAFT did with the draw stroke and with firing at the targets. Breaking these down for each individual movement was very important because several of the attendees had never fired a gun before. Instructors were patient, and offered excellent pointers. More importantly, they were providing a means through which we could develop muscle memory. The brain is structured in such a way that response time to any emergency can be improved through practice, training, and experience in advance. Such preparation involves converting complex cognitive operations (which take 8‐ 10 seconds) into simple cognitive operations (which take 1‐ 2 seconds). This conversion of a series of complex operations (the draw stroke, high compressed ready, extend, touch, press, etc) into one simple operation overcomes the limitation on the brain’s storage capacity within working memory. It provides the brain with a prewired solution to a problem.
One of the things that defensive firearms instructors often include is “checking your six” in a defensive shooting because the threat in front of you may not be the only one. So we were asked to check our six every time. It was integrated into muscle memory. But checking your six is a useless act if you are not really looking! So instructors behind us held up fingers and we had to tell them what they were holding up. Pressure was ratcheted up with instructions to shoot numbers, multiple threats, and then numbers that added up to numbers. Lots of us made errors, but those errors were always patiently corrected.
The instructor who worked with me demonstrated to me how important a good grip was by showing me the difference in my groupings when I had a good grip (1 to 2 inches) versus when I had a less-effective grip (all over the place). We were encouraged not to look at our gun when reloading, to move between rounds of fire, and to move when reloading. At nearly every step of the way, the pressure was increased, and as students we responded. I learned more in one day than I did my entire time in the Army, and I qualified on every rifle and pistol available to issue in the Army.
The Simulation of Your Life
Yet, while I got a lot out of the range time, and learned a great deal, what I got the most out of was the Simunitions drill. Simunitions are a kind of paintball round fired by a modified Glock 19. As it so happens, my Everyday Carry is a Glock 19 (although I used a S&W M&P Model 2.0 for the class). It fit my holster perfectly. Each of us could only watch the scenarios after we had participated in our own.
When my time came I was placed in a Darth Vader type helmet, given the magic Glock, and sent for a walk. I won’t describe the scenario because they may want to use it again, but suffice it to say that it started out as a “defense of others” scenario and quickly became a self-defense situation. The speed with which the situation degenerated was amazing, and it produced the exact reaction it was supposed to produce.
What do we know about self-defense situations? We know that we get an adrenaline dump, that we develop tunnel vision, and that our fine motor skills go quickly to hell, leaving us only with muscle memory and learned responses. I knew this was a simulation. I am in reasonably good shape. Yet when I was attacked and I had to draw that weapon and fire, I found my heart rate had jumped from 60 to 130. After the shooting they have you simulate a call to 911. I had to take a breath every few words. I was literally gasping for breath in spite of the fact that the only exercise I had was drawing and firing. And at the moment that I fired I could not see anyone but my attacker. I had tunnel vision. Even though I knew this was a simulation, it was certainly the closest thing in the world to a real-world shooting incident. This one exercise made the ridiculously small price of $150 very much worth it. What I took away from that encounter was confidence. I not only could engage in a self-defense shooting, I could prevail if I did.
Bottom Line: Great Training
I have wracked my brain trying to think of something, anything I could say that was a significant omission from the course. A review should be about both the good and the bad. But here the only thing I can honestly say I would have liked to see that I didn’t see was training on pre-assault indicators. In a 9 hour intensive action course, that’s a pretty minimal omission.
The instructors that worked with me were terrific. They improved my shooting. I have the basis now to know what I need to add to the range bag to improve my personal training at the range. And perhaps most importantly, I know that if I practice what I learned I will be a better defensive shooter.
There are lots of NRA courses that teach some basic skills. Very few teach the kind of life-saving things that the Fundamentals of Concealed Carry Course teach. For more information on this excellent program, go to their website. It is worth your time to drive, fly, bike or walk to Birmingham for this training. I know I am glad that I did.
I will update this review with photos shortly.
Updated 1-25-18 to correct spelling of Mr. McCullough’s name.