© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

"I can't afford to get good training." True?

Serendipity, that's what it's called. A recent poll on Facebook asked about the biggest hurdle people face in getting defensive shooting training. I expected the number one reason to be ammunition supplies, but that barely rated for most people. Time? That was a bigger one, but it paled in comparison to the number one obstacle: money.

Not surprising, given the cost of training these days. Ammo is expensive, equipment is expensive, travel and lodging is expensive, and that's before factoring in the cost of the class itself. I don't blame people for having to make tough financial choices in their lives, but there are ways to get the things you need.

This is where that serendipity thing comes into play. Shortly after that poll started there was a post over at the
Limatunes Range Diary titled "Can You Afford More Training?" In it, the author makes the case for both the need to train and the methods by which it can be made affordable. With one caveat, she's got some really good ideas. If money stands between you and some good training, you should read her article.

The caveat? She suggests that you "Ask if it's possible for you to take only one or two days of a multiple day class." I'd counter that, if an instructor tells you "yes”, you should proceed with caution. If the class is such that a person can excise up to 50% of the time and still get solid (and safe) value from the training, that's a clue the class might be padded - filled with stuff that takes up time but isn't really important.

In a well structured class every element is vital to the learning experience; they should mesh together into a seamless whole, each portion building on and supporting the others. If you can take out large portions of the curriculum and still have the course stand on its own, I'd consider that to be a sign that the class is less a cohesive whole than a collection of unrelated skills.

This is in contrast to a class which is designed from the ground to be a shorter version of another course. For instance, I teach both a one-day and a two-day version of Combat Focus Shooting. The material taught in the one day class is a subset of the full curriculum, but that subset is carefully chosen and structured so that the end product is still complete, safe, and immediately useful. If someone were to take just the first day of the full class it wouldn't be the same as the one day version - the student would miss some important information that occurs on the missed Day Two but is presented in the single day class (albeit with far less detail and fewer repetitions than in the two day iteration.)

At the risk of contradicting Lima, I'd suggest that you instead ask if the instructor has a shorter version of the class in question; many do, and that class is almost always going to be a smarter choice than simply skipping out on one or more days of a longer course.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Determining how and what we train.

A question from a student in the class I taught last weekend brought up an interesting dichotomy in the defensive shooting world: what we prepare for often doesn't match what we actually face. Many people prepare for social violence, but actually face asocial violence. The difference between the two affects how and what we train.

Social violence is that which occurs between people engaged in a ritualized struggle for status or prestige; it can also be applied to groups vying for territory. Social violence occurs between two people who see each other as people, as antagonists, and there is often an aspect of mutuality to the encounter. The term 'fight' is most appropriate when referring to social violence, and the victim usually has some forewarning of the attack in the form of the posturing which precedes it. He (or she) may not recognize those cues, but they exist. Social violence is very often illustrative of escalation.

This is in stark contrast to asocial, or criminal, violence in which the victim is seen as a resource by the perpetrator. The resource is to be exploited with as little danger to the exploiter as possible, and that usually means both surprise and overwhelming force (or threat of force.) The term 'attack' is more appropriate when referring to criminal violence, and it usually shocks the victim by being both surprising and rapid.

A rather large, and in my mind unwarranted, amount of time in defensive shooting classes is spent training to deal with social violence gone bad. Why unwarranted? If the defensive shooting data that Tom Givens has collected is any indication, the overwhelming majority of lethal force incidents are in response to criminal violence and not social violence. His victims were usually doing normal, everyday things when they were surprised by a violent attacker. They weren't engaging in the one-upsmanship dances that typify social violence; they were attacked and needed to respond immediately. Their encounters lasted mere seconds.

(It could be argued that Tom's data set, gathered from his students who were engaged in shooting incidents, is heavily biased toward those who have either learned to avoid social violence or are socioeconomically predisposed to conduct which does not place them in the kinds of situations where social violence is common. After all, people with hot tempers and/or a psychological need to dominate others are usually not the responsible types who tend to sign up for shooting classes.)

In defensive shooting training, focusing on social violence as a precursor to the use of lethal force leads to training which doesn't reflect the reality of how attacks happen. The escalating nature of social violence lends itself to formulaic responses: verbal challenges, maneuvering for position, getting into the perfect (and preferred and usually non-intuitive) stance, getting a solid focus on the front sight, and shooting rapidly by "catching the link" to reset the trigger perfectly between shots and reduce split times.

The problem is that the techniques for the social violence scenario don't match the circumstances under which criminal violence occurs. If you don't know the attack is coming beforehand (because you've not spent the last minute or two sparring with someone who is trying to save face) you won't get the opportunity to use your well-practiced verbal de-escalation techniques; there won't be time to look around and get in just the right location to take advantage of cover; the sudden attack will activate your body alarm reaction and you'll automatically square yourself to the threat, which negates any sort of special stance; the loss of accommodation in the eyes and the resulting lock of focus at infinity makes it unlikely that you'll be able to focus on your front sight; and the reduction in blood flow to your hands, resulting in lowered tactile sensation, dexterity and strength means you're probably not going to be able to feel the little 'click' which tells you the trigger has reset.

So, the known and documented physiological reactions (which can't be trained away) to the kind of attack which most commonly results in the use of lethal force doesn't match the stuff that's learned in preparation for the least common kinds of incidents. In my mind, that's not a good use of scarce training resources! It's better to train in techniques which acknowledge the nature of the attack and our hardwired responses to them; they are more likely to result in an efficient response.

As it happens, the things that you learn to respond to criminal violence will work just as well if you need to shoot as a result of social violence, but the reverse is not true. This is because a learned response will always work when the body's alarm reaction hasn't been activated, otherwise you wouldn't have been able to learn it in the first place. They may not work under the body's natural alarm reactions, however, unless they match the way in which the body responds - because those natural reactions can't be trained away.

Does this mean that understanding social violence and how to deal with it is useless? No, not at all. In fact, Wim Demeere's blog recently had
an article on how to deal with social violence that I think is worth your time to read. (It's aimed at men and their particular kind of interactions.) Everyone should know how to handle these kinds of incidents to prevent them from escalating to the point that lethal force is both warranted and needed.

It's when we add in the tool (a gun) and body functions that aren't normally encountered (because we've been surprised by a criminal attack) that we need to thoughtfully modify how and what we train.

-=[ Grant ]=-

I spent my weekend teaching, and what I learned from doing so.

I'm tired. I always am after teaching a class, but it's a good tired. Knowing that my students emerged from two days of training with relevant, evidence-based defensive shooting skills is a wonderful feeling.

The class in question was a Combat Focus Shooting course held at Firearms Academy of Seattle. Though the current ammo shortages reduced the size of the class - two people dropped out only because they couldn't scrape up even 1/4 of the ammo they needed - we had a good group of very enthusiastic students.

One of the interesting things that came out of this class was a confirmation of the need to consider the student when we teach sighted fire, and by that I mean how we use our sights when we need to use them. In this class I had two students who, like me, wear bifocals. For quite some time I've said that using a traditional front sight focus is neither practical nor even possible for someone who needs supplementary close-up vision correction. In fact I even wrote an article for the Personal Defense Network on this very topic, titled
"I Can't See My SIghts!"

Both of the students had problems using their sights when they needed to simply because they couldn't focus closely enough to get the front sight sharp. I coached them on the points in the article: focus on the target, allow the sights to blur, and then align and superimpose the sights on the target. Look THROUGH the sights, not AT them. Suddenly they were hitting even small targets at plausible distances, which neither had been able to do before then. We even had time to try a few shots at small targets from barely plausible distances, and both of them were easily able to land their rounds on target.

In our debrief one of them mentioned that his deteriorating eyesight had actually caused him to consider selling all of his handguns and using a shotgun for home defense. He decided to take this class because he'd heard of my target-focus emphasis and wanted to get some experience and coaching in this approach. By the end of the course his shooting, his balance of speed and precision, was very close to that of the younger and sharper-eyed students. He told me that he was astonished at how quickly his shooting turned around and was delighted that he not only wouldn't need to sell his pistols, but that he now felt much more comfortable carrying one for self defense.

The other bifocal wearer had been to other schools - very well known schools, in fact - that had taught an inflexible front sight focus technique for all defensive shooting. Using a target focus was new to him, but he rapidly grew to appreciate the fact that it allowed him to deliver whatever level of precision he needed, as fast as he could, at whatever plausible distance he found himself - which he'd not been able to do for some time. His debrief comments could easily be summarized by an old quote from Robin Williams: "Reality - what a concept!"

I've found that these reactions are pretty typical for people who have formerly trained with instructors who don't understand how the human visual systems work nor understand the need to modify techniques if the student's particular issues require it. (I've never had student tell me that he was considering selling his handguns because of this, however.) It was a pleasure to be able to give these two people the information they needed and help them learn the defensive shooting techniques that might someday keep them alive.

Now THAT'S a good weekend!

(If you’re interested in learning the same things the students in this class did,
check my schedule for upcoming classes!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Spring Training season is starting!

It's springtime, or at least it will be on Wednesday when the Vernal Equinox occurs. Like baseball, that means it's the start of the training season for defensive shooters!

I'd like to believe that everyone is training all year 'round, but living in the northern latitudes as I do I realize that's not going to happen. Winter weather in much of the country is anything from somewhat unpleasant to downright life threatening, and I understand why people wait until springtime to get their training accomplished. (In fact, I've got an article on training in weather extremes coming up on the Personal Defense Network. I'll let you know when it goes live.)

Now if you think this is a set-up for a plug, you're right! Please go to the
Training tab in the menu, and have a look at my scheduled courses for Spring and early Summer. If you've ever thought about taking one of my classes, now's the time to sign up! (Of course - I do take charge cards!)

I'd also appreciate your sharing this information with your friends and family who are interested in training. If you don't see a class on the schedule that meshes with your calendar, or if you'd like to see me teach a little closer to your stomping grounds, drop me a note and let's talk about putting a class together for you!

-=[ Grant ]=-

An independent review of a Combat Focus Shooting class.

Fellow Combat Focus Shooting instructors
Matt DeVito and Jeff Varner recently taught a CFS class in Nevada. One of their students was the guy who writes the Zombie Tactics blog, and he made an unsolicited after action video report of his experiences in that class.

Sounds like a great course, doesn't it? Maybe, even, one that you'd like to attend? Well, I still have a couple of spots open in the
Combat Focus Shooting course I'm teaching on Sept. 9th in Canby, Oregon (just outside of Portland.) Drop me a line for more information!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Do you really need to train?

My latest article is up at the Personal Defense Network:
"The Training Industry's Dirty Little Secret". Check it out!

-=[ Grant ]=-


Monday Meanderings: Happy Holidays, looking forward, and the gun goes mainstream.

Welcome back!

I trust everyone had a good weekend, and I hope your Christmas was a joyous and meaningful time with family and friends.


From news stories it was apparent that firearms were a major item this year. Various explanations have been suggested for this, from concern about new purchase restrictions to fear of economically-inspired criminal violence, but I prefer to think of it as a sign that the pendulum has inevitably swung: guns are once again becoming socially acceptable.

Those who remember the 1950s and 1960s will recall that shooting was a big thing amongst the Hollywood crowd, and thus with the general public as well. Actor Robert Stack, for instance, was a champion shotgunner, and many recognizable names participated in 'quick draw' competitions as a hobby. This stands in stark contrast to recent decades when Hollywood has been the source of virulent (and hypocritical) anti-gunners.

I’m not yet convinced that the era of guns-as-common-recreational-objects will be resurrected, but they at least seem to have shed the worst of their manufactured reputation as evil objects to be avoided. The gun seems instead to be assuming the role of the speciality tool: something you own or use to do a specific task. The days of the anthropomorphized, self-propelled mayhem machine appear to be waning, and none too soon. Many people - yours truly included - have been equating the gun with the fire extinguisher or first aid kit, and I'm hopeful that those analogies are helping to fuel this resurgence in gun ownership.


This last week before New Year's Day is a good time for reflection and contemplation. From the standpoint of you and your family's safety and security, I hope you'll give some thought to getting good training in the coming year.

What is "good" training? Training which is congruent with the kinds of situations in which you anticipate using your gun. If you carry a handgun for personal protection, a course that teaches the best response to a surprise criminal attack would be advisable; if you keep a gun for home defense, a class on how to handle the scenarios you're likely to face in your own house might be in order.

There are any number of quality classes and instructors available today, more so than probably any time in history. (
Permit me to toot my own horn in this regard!) Resolve to make 2012 the year that you increase your knowledge and skill level with the guns you own.

(If you're an instructor yourself, there will be opportunities for you to advance your teaching skills and professional standing. Take advantage of them.)


And now, a little tease: the first Friday of the new year will feature a really neat Ed Harris article which I just received. All I'm going to say is wait until you see what he got for Christmas!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: 2012, training, and a couple mysteries.

2012 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Lots of stuff I can't yet discuss, but suffice it to say that there are intriguing things afoot on several fronts. Stay tuned.


One thing I can talk about: I've had requests for a lever action rifle class, which I plan to work into my offerings this year. I've watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles and blogs about handling the lever action, and I'm surprised at how poorly conceived most of them are. The lever action is different from other types of rifles and needs to be handled on its own merits. Trying to make it into an AR-15 is just as silly as doing the opposite, and this new class will teach techniques and procedures tailored specifically to the lever action. I'll have a section for this class added to the training page sometime in January.


Speaking of training, I'm still open to booking classes for 2012! Check out my
training page for the courses I'm offering, and read the page about hosting a class. Remember that no class happens until someone steps up to the plate to hold one -- maybe that someone is you?!


If you like the writing of Ed Harris, and if you like the .45ACP, you won't want to miss this Friday's blog! (Trust me, it's not what you're thinking. No, I'm not giving you any more clues -- you'll just have to wait until Friday!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Someone is talking about me. Oh, wait, it's me!

Over at the Personal Defense Network,
they've put up a profile of yours truly. Based on an interview I did recently, it covers my views on teaching and the state of the training business. Hope you enjoy it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wrong Woman now has a blog!

Kelly Muir at
Wrong Woman has put up a blog to discuss the unique aspects of this new self defense program. Called Power Play, I can already tell that it isn't going to be your average self defense blog: her third post talks about serial manipulators and the language they use.

It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. This is something men don't normally deal with, and thus I'd never really thought about such nuances of interpersonal conflict. I've read studies that put the number of sexual assaults where the victim knew her attacker at something on the order of 80%. Now I've got a little better idea of how that happens.

It's this kind of insight that's going to put the holistic approach of Wrong Woman on the map. Mark my words.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Comprehensive self defense is becoming a reality.

This is such an exciting time in the field of self defense study! More and more reality-based courses are being offered, and we're finally starting to see true integration of all the pieces of the defensive puzzle: armed and unarmed, lethal and less lethal.

One the newest and most innovative approaches comes to us from Columbus, Ohio. Kelly Muir, an accomplished martial arts instructor, has put together the first truly integrated and comprehensive self defense course for women. Called
Wrong Woman, it teaches intuitive skills across the entire range of response.

The course starts with a Fundamentals class, where the students learn the basics of intuitive skill development. From there they can choose to take classes tailored to their particular interests: unarmed response, use of chemical/electrical tools, and firearms. Many of the classes are offered in both basic and advanced form and there's even a class devoted to risk assessment and decision making.

It's a great new building block approach to personal defense, where everything that's taught has the same basis and progression. As the student's life evolves she can simply 'plug in' the course that best applies to her current or anticipated situations.

My wife, herself a longtime student of defensive shooting, is anxious to take Kelly's course and is just waiting for her to come to the west coast! Those who are fortunate enough to live anywhere near Ohio should get to Columbus and
enroll in Wrong Woman. Be sure to check out the Wrong Woman Facebook page, too.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Rhino Revolver. ProArms Podcast. Yours Truly. What could go wrong?

I recently recorded an interview for the ProArms Podcast, and
it's been released. The first half is the ProArms gang discussing the Rhino, and the second half is my discussion with Gail Pepin about the gun. If you've been waiting to find out what I really thought about the Rhino, have a listen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday catch-up.

Whew! What a week I had! I’m actually glad it's Monday, as I might finally be able to catch my breath!

I spent a few days last week helping to teach a Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course in Washington (as in 'state', as in WA.) We had a great group, all of whom were there to learn how to teach progressive, reality-based shooting in both the public and private sectors. Rob Pincus was the lead instructor, and I had the pleasure of interacting with three other Combat Focus instructors who were also there to help out. Teaching something is the best way to learn the subject, thus teaching how to teach makes one a better teacher. (Seems almost circular, doesn't it?)


One of the take-aways from this session was a new way of looking at the concept of precision in combat. You'll be hearing more about this as I flesh out my thoughts.


Speaking of Combat Focus Shooting, I've received a number of emails showing interest in booking classes for next year. Some of them have been from sunny or very scenic locations out of state, which is much appreciated, but I'm also looking to do more courses here in Oregon. If you'd like to see either Combat Focus Shooting or my Revolver Doctrine class come to your town, let me know - perhaps you could be the one to host it!

Here's something to consider: host a Revolver Doctrine class on a Saturday, followed immediately by a Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting class on Sunday. The former teaches you how to run your revolver properly, while the latter shows you how to use it efficiently to protect yourself. It's a great one-two combination!

If you're interested, email me for the details. (Remember that while I love teaching in Oregon, I will travel in the Western states to hold classes.)


Last week was particularly full because I was working feverishly to finish my Chiappa Rhino review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Deadline was Sunday, and I managed to slip in under the wire. The review turned out to be very long - over 3600 words - and I'm concerned that it will need to be heavily edited to fit into the magazine's allotted space. (Lots of pics, too.) My editor at CCM, Kathy Jackson, has her work cut out for her!

I'll be posting the next installment of the blog's series covering the technical features of the Rhino on Wednesday. Coincidentally, I'll be recording an interview about the Rhino with the ProArms Podcast folks that day. I'll certainly let you know when that gets released.


One of last week's frustrations was my outgoing mail server. It stopped accepting my login name and password, thus no mail went out for about four days. Qwest's technical support (the pride of Bangalore) was of no use: "I'm sorry that you're not happy with your service, Mr. Cunningham. First I'd like you to turn off your computer and turn it back on again." I swear that if you called them instead of dialing 911, they'd respond to your request for an ambulance by telling you to turn your computer off!

I tried valiantly to get them to escalate my call to someone who wasn't translating a script from Hindi to falsely accented Southern American English. I failed. The problem finally resolved itself sometime Saturday. For that I am grateful, even if a bit puzzled.


On a personal note, I'm very happy that tomorrow evening all of the campaign advertisements will cease. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving!)

-=[ Grant ]=-