Counter Ambush Distance Learning Course

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Counter Ambush Distance Learning Course

Post Number:#1  Postby TWW » Sun Sep 22, 2013 12:56 pm

Review of Counter Ambush Distance Learning Course by Rob Pincus

Note: This is a long post meant for the training reference section not general discussion (but comments might increase its value to people in search of training). There is a summary section below (200 words) so you can decide if the rest (2400 words) may be worth your time. It might not be unless you are looking for ideas about training.

“The hardest thing to learn is something you do not want to believe” is a quote found in Handgun Training for Personal Protection by Richard A. Mann


After listening to the course CDs, watching the DVDs twice, reading the book multiple times, taking the final test online, passing (not by much) and getting a certificate of completion in the mail I can claim to be Counter Ambush Certified. I plan to show the certificate to all the bad guys I meet.

Actually, the course was valuable in spite of the hype USCCA puts out. What Pincus is trying to do is take ideas from psychology, physiology and physics and apply them to self defense with a firearm just as what you could do for a sport. While I can quibble with the lack of visual aids when Pincus was talking and how what he is doing is still a work in progress since his thinking is still evolving I think he is on the right track. If taking the course does not convince you that going to a range and making tight groups in paper targets does not prepare one for a dynamic critical incident (Pincus's term for a gunfight) perhaps nothing will. A cheaper approach may be to just buy the book Counter Ambush by Rob Pincus (included with the distance learning course) rather than take the complete course but that means you don't get the workbook to help you get started creating your own training 'self-defense self-improvement' program. The only flaw I see with the theory and course is it does not give enough emphasis on becoming an expert in recognizing threats. It is called counter ambush but much of what it covers is about dealing with surprises so perhaps the concepts Pincus uses are not quite there yet.

Introduction Perhaps the biggest training problem for many people who have concealed carry permits or licenses may well be acknowledging the fact what they were trained to do by watching TV or movies or punching holes in tight groups in paper targets does not match what is required in the real world. If people decide they need more training then the problem is how to get it. One of the problems with concealed carry training is distance. You need to go some place to get live training and places like Gunsite are far away. There are trainers closer to home but distance or time may still be a factor. That is where distance learning comes in.

Rob Pincus and the US Concealed Carry Association have attempted to create a product to fill this need. The value of the course complete with a final test and certificate of completion given its cost versus benefits is a matter of opinion. It depends on your situation but the course can be a foundation to begin doing additional training on your own rather than just wish you could.

If you have ever dealt with USCAA you know they give you lots of hype and marketing even though some of their products are valuable. Sign up for their free newsletter if you get like getting lots of sales pitches (at least that was my experience).

After hoping spending over $200 on this course would be worth it I ordered the complete course from USCCA. When it came in the mail I opened the box and found DVDs, CDs, a book, a skimpy workbook. The DVD was shot at a course Rob Pincus put on and the CDs are of the course meant to listen to when you cannot watch a DVD like when you drive. The book follows the course. It appears to have been written based on a transcription of the course in many places but that is only a guess. Finally, there is the skimpy workbook. I expected a fat workbook like one I used to study for taking the test (GMAT) required to get into a business school years ago but this one was smaller than 8” by 11” and only 1/4” thick. I began to wonder about buying the course. There also was a note in the box saying to call a telephone number. When I called I got a message telling me to listen to an additional CD in the box. When I did that I heard Rob Pincus and the president of USCCA, Tim Schmidt, verbally patting each other on the back. It was more of that post purchase dissonance stuff.

But then I took the course and found my first impressions were wrong.


Pincus is trying to come up with a theory then base training on the way the theory explains reality. He starts with defining a Dynamic Critical Incident. A DCI used to be called a gunfight. It has three aspects. First it has to be threatening enough that using a weapon is acceptable.

Second the event is a total surprise. If you knew something was brewing since your attention to your environment plus your understanding of what you saw told you there was going to be a threatening event coming it is not a DCI (at least to start with). If you know what is coming you can respond with what Pincus calls a choreographed response. (To choreograph means to plan out or oversee the movement, development, or details of; orchestrate: example: aides choreographed the candidate's tour – source The FreeDictionary on the Internet)

Finally, the a DCI has to be chaotic meaning you do not know what is coming next. It seems even if you know the event was coming once it starts you do not know what is coming next. Again if you knew what was coming you can respond with a choreographed response but you don't know what is coming next. What this means is you need to process information and choose a response rather than just play out a script.

It seems like few self-defense incidents don't become DCIs as soon as you start unless you are an expert but then I would guess most experts would still say dangerous incidents are chaotic.

“A commander may be forgiven for being defeated, but never for being surprised “ Jeff Cooper in Principles of Personal Defense

Chart of Doom

Pincus uses a graph he calls the Chart of Doom in his course to illustrate inverse relationship between danger and control where the more danger in a situation goes along with less control on your part. His examples compare low danger situations with progressively less control starting with shooting on your own backyard range where you are in control and moves to public ranges, competitive shooting and shoot houses where you have less control. As danger increases on his chart you move into situation with more progressively more danger and less control with examples of a teenager with a knife, man with a gun, multiple bad guys and then a complete ambush.

Neuroscience and Physiology

Pincus keeps talking about neuroscience and it sort of makes me think he likes using big words. This term lumps psychology and brain sciences under one term. You have probably heard about how stress changes your body and he goes into lots of details. But what you probably have not heard too often is the idea of a response with firearm should match what your body does best under stress.

Pincus says the claim you will fight the way you train is not totally correct. He says if you train in ways that does not take into account the way your body reacts when startled the training will not come into play. Counter ambush training hopes to come up with as many advantages and shorcuts as possible. The hope is you do not have to improvise (figure out what to do next). For example, you are startled. Now is my gun in my pocket, inside my waist band or in a shoulder holster? Does this gun have a safety and is it on?

He also applies the ideas he got from the sciences to firearm selection. He likes guns with a minimum of levers to operate. No safeties or decockers in his world.

So what are the natural reactions your body has to being startled? First, according to Pincus you lower your center of gravity by bending your knees. This happens without you consciously trying to do anything. It just happens (the limbic system in your brain does it). This gets you ready to move. This why you need to learn to shoot with knee bent to match what your body already is doing in Pincus' world.

Next, you orient you body to face the threat so when training you need to be facing the threat you intend to shoot and focus only on that.

Third, if the threat is within about two arm lengths away you will raise your arms putting your hands between you and the threat. This happens automatically. If you live in Wisconsin and heard the news about the supreme court justice who put his hands on Justice Ann Walsh Bradley as she supposedly rushed angrily at him you probably heard an example of this. Justice David Prosser was probably not aware of what he was doing. He reacted to a close threat by putting his hands up.

So when you train to draw a firearm you need to keep this in mind when you train according to Pincus. Putting you hands in front of you then drawing is what he recommends when you practice since it will happen anyway when you are startled by a nearby threat. The same applies to other natural physical reactions.

Expert Problem Solving

Pincus talks about experts making decisions. According to an academic paper on the subject (terms you may not be familiar with are defined in parenthesis) “researchers have learned that extensive knowledge, built through experience, is the primary differentiator between an expert and a novice. But do experts perceive situations and problems differently than do novices? This paper will argue that experts’ vast stores of knowledge provide them with a two-fold advantage over novices. First, chunks (a collection of related bits of information) act as pre-compiled (like a computer program set up to run on its own) perceptual elements that can rapidly be recalled and assembled into a rich, detailed mental representation of a situation. Second, the ability to quickly build such a perception allows experts to attend to more subtle aspects of a situation that are typically overlooked by novices. These advantages lead experts to perceive situations related to their domain (area) of expertise differently from novices and make improved decisions as a result. For more information on this topic see the entire article at ... 20rev2.pdf

The key is experience. Potential doctors go to classes but their clinical hands on training is what makes them experts in the real world. With something like a dynamic critical incident how can one get realistic experience – probably not by watching TV. But you can become an expert in handling situations like slide lock which Pincus comes back to often in his course. There are two parts to being an expert here. One is recognizing what is happening in your surrounding and second becoming an expert in the actions you take. Just hearing an instructor in class talk about something is like the medical students hearing about how to slice through muscles in the abdomen. Gutting a deer would be better in building expertise.
“You are no more armed because you are wearing a pistol than you are a musician because you own a guitar”. Jeff Cooper in Principles of Personal Defense

Managing Training Resources

If getting better trained is a goal then you have to start someplace. Pincus does a good job of helping one do that. It is obvious what you have for resources but my guess is most of us don't sit down and spell them out and take action.

Here is Pincus' list:
--Time you can spend or are willing to
--Money you can part with
--Venue – Where can you learn? A trip to Gunsite, the privately run training facility based in Yavapai County, Arizona, is pricey. Practicing dry fire is nearly free. Buying a Laser Lyte laser target and cartridge is perhaps $200. Trips to a range may or may not be costly.
--Information and Coaching – There are alternatives to having a personal coach like DVDs, CDs, online forums, books or articles. These do not give you coaching but are better than nothing. If you have a video camera you can record your actions and watch them.
--Motivation – Pincus recommends keeping a logbook of your training but motivation is something you have to come up with on your own. (Like I mentioned earlier if you think you already know enough you won't be motivated even if your skill level is a delusion)

Plausibility Principle

The idea here is you spend your time using your limited resources not on what is possible but rather on what is plausible given your situation. This makes sense but sounds a little ironic since the course is about situations where it is a surprise and you cannot predict what will happen next. Remember the most likely event when people carry is they will never experience a gunfight so right there you should not train at all, right?? Well, Pincus does not say you should not train.

He mentions two things you are most likely to see in gunfights. First, close to 90% are withing five yards and the defender fires multiple times in a short period of time.

One shortcoming (to me) in Pincus' approach is not emphasizing you need to be an expert in understanding what is happening around you as well as being an expert on responding. This is more than situation awareness. You might call it situation expertise. Something he does not mention much or if all is plausible threats. He mostly just talks about responses when he talks about plausibility.

Processing Information During Your Drills

Pincus thinks if you need to process information from the world around you during a drill then it falls into counter ambush training. He has a speed and precision drill where you shoot as fast as you can while still being what he calls
combat accurate (he says “a shot is combat accurate if it significantly affects the target’s ability to present a lethal threat” from Combat Focus Shooting: Evolution (Kindle Locations 261-262). I.C.E. Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.)

When you shoot at a set target without doing anything else you are rehearsing in your mind about what you are doing. When you add making other decisions to the mix things slow down. You have to figure out what to do next. Pincus says during a real world event it is more like an ambush since you need to figure out what to do rather than carry out a choreographed response. (“To plan out or oversee the movement, development, or details of; orchestrate: example: aides choreographed the candidate's tour” – source The FreeDictionary on the Internet)

The Workbook

The skimpy workbook has a series of question to answer and is actually valuable to help one get organized to get going with ones own training program (to be honest I still am not quite completely organized but working on it.) To do this I think you need to list all of the specific situations you want to develop expertise in and also a list of skills needed and decide what is most important then get creative.

This is a possible list of skills taken from the book Counter Ambush (page 52):
---maintaining a consistent grip
---establishing a solid shooting position
---unsighted shooting
---presentation from the holster
---one handed shooting
---firing four shots in less than one second into an eight inch circle at 10 yards
---reloading while at slide lock
---shooting while seated
---shooting while in contact
---one handed reloads
---weak handed shooting
---shooting around cover
---malfunction clearing
---drawing from holster with weak hand
---topping the gun off after a defensive shooting
---hitting a once inch circle at 10 yards
---dissembling and cleaning
---(notice in Pincus' list there is no mention of the skills needed to know when to shoot or when not to)

How to buy the course

There are several ways to approach the course. The book itself, Counter Ambush, is now available at for about $20 plus shipping. You can buy just the DVDs from USCCA for about $200 and you can get the entire course with the online certification test from USCCA for about $225. The USCCA store is found at:
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Counter Ambush Distance Learning Course



Re: Counter Ambush Distance Learning Course

Post Number:#2  Postby Rob Pincus » Tue Dec 03, 2013 7:39 am

That was a great summary of the program and the contents of the Distance Learning program! I appreciate you signing up for the course and sharing your thoughts with others.

Couple of things:

1.The course is no longer being marketed through USCCA, it is now being offered at my online store (at a bit of a discount...).

2. The reason that I don't get into pre-contact cues, attack behavior and risk indicators that people can use to avoid attacks in the first place in this material is a little complicated. As I state in the material, it's not that 'awareness' concepts aren't important, it is just that that fail. When they fail, we see people revert to improvisation quite often, though they would've told you that they had "trained" to deal with the exact things that they are facing (martial artists in a street fight, police officers in a shooting during a vehicle stop). I see the problem as the emphasis on predictability in training. The idea that you are going to see the fight coming is so imbedded in many people's training program that they rely on awareness to put them into their respond mode. So, the whole idea of the Counter Ambush approach is to forget all the awareness/avoidance/de-escalation pieces and focus on how you will respond when attacked, that is the 'worst case scenario'. The complicated part is that I am certainly not saying that you shouldn't try to be aware, avoid conflict and de-escalate (including escaping) when you can.... but, those skill sets are separate from your defensive shooting, not integral to it. this program focuses on what happens when you get Ambushed, it is "counter ambush" not "ambush avoidance".

Thanks again for taking the course and posting your review!

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Re: Counter Ambush Distance Learning Course

Post Number:#3  Postby Reality_Czech » Wed Dec 04, 2013 6:33 am

I agree that threat awareness is separate from from responding to a dynamic attack. Both subjects deserve in depth study and training, but one leads you into being able to avoid many potential threats while the other tries to prepare you the reality of an attack. I can tell you that things happen very, very quickly and you will not shoot like you do on a range. I can also say that training that gets you as close to 'fight or flight' mode as possible is the only way to have a mental framework as to what you would be going through.
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