Right on Target: Rob Pincus ’94

“Learn like you’ll live forever. Live like you’ll die tomorrow.”

Rob Pincus ’94 has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a rook at Norwich University. Now a highly sought-after personal defense and tactical training consultant, Pincus is well known for leading one of the toughest firearms instructor certification programs in the nation. His flagship program, Combat Focus Shooting (CFS), which is based on the human body’s natural reactions when under stress, has been adopted or integrated by military units, law enforcement agencies, and private instructors across the U.S. and in Europe.

Rob Pincus '94, Photo courtesy of Steve Aryan

Rob Pincus ’94. Photo courtesy of Steve Aryan.

In 1994, armed with a political science degree from Norwich, Pincus commissioned with the U.S. Army Reserve. After his military service, he worked as a full-time law enforcement officer before transitioning into private training and consulting in 2001. From 2003 through 2007, he directed the Valhalla Training Center in Montrose, Colo. There, he developed the programs that led the Rand Corporation to identify Valhalla as a leader in private sector reality-based training, resulting in contracts with U.S. Army Special Forces and Naval Special Warfare.

In spring 2005, Pincus invited a group of Norwich students to his training facility for firearms instruction. In 2007, under his leadership, Valhalla received the Range of the Year award from the National Association of Shooting Ranges. During its five-year existence, the Center established itself as a leading destination for cutting-edge training, and was one of only a handful of private-sector training venues called upon regularly to provide training to support America’s War on Terror.

When the Valhalla Center closed in 2008, Pincus struck out on his own. That same year, he founded I.C.E. Training Company, serving clients that included military special operations units and law enforcement agencies. But when he decided to switch his focus to personal and home defense, his career really took off. Over the past 15 years, Pincus has been a training consultant and staff writer for S.W.A.T. Magazine and the host of the Outdoor Channel shows The Best Defense and The Best Defense: Survival. He also wrote and produced three seasons of S.W.A.T. Magazine TV and has appeared as a guest on numerous radio and television shows.

Pincus is a team-building and leadership-development consultant for multinational corporations, the author and developer of the Personal Defense Network DVD series, and managing editor for PersonalDefenseNetwork.com. A firm believer in physical fitness as a key component of personal defense, he developed the FitShot Program and is the co-owner of Crossfit Endeavor in Hilliard, Ohio.

Parts of the following interview first appeared on PersonalDefenseNetwork.com.


Why did you decide to become an instructor?

I realized that I enjoy creating opportunities for others to learn and to develop their skills. I very much enjoy the exchange of knowledge, from both sides of the experience.

There are many shooting programs to choose from. How does CFS differ from the mainstream?

I feel that many shooting programs are overly focused on mechanics. They set new students up to believe that if their feet aren’t in exactly the right place or they aren’t locked in on a hard-sight picture, they may never be able to hit anything with a bullet. This sets them up for failure under pressure and leads to a lot of discrepancies between what we see on many training ranges and what we see in videos of actual defensive shootings. Our first set of instructions to students is simply “extend-touch-press.” Then, we expand detail as necessary: For example, we teach sighted fire about an hour into the course as a more advanced way of controlling the gun. After several years and thousands of students, we now know definitively that it is more efficient to build defensive shooting skills over time, as opposed to the old mechanical approach.

Rob Pincus ’94 spoke on the topic of armed home defense at the April 2014 National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.

Rob Pincus ’94 spoke on the topic of armed home defense at the April 2014 National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of Lars Dalseide.

What can students expect to take away from your courses?

An increased understanding of the physics, anatomy, physiology, neurology, and empirical evidence from real defensive shootings, as well as increased skill with their defensive weapons under realistic, defensive shooting circumstances. I think the understanding of concepts and training methods is actually the more important takeaway. This is another way that our courses differ—they aren’t just about getting a better score in a choreographed drill or test. Of course, shooting skill will increase, but the knowledge will be theirs forever.

Do you have a “typical” student?

Not really, because we teach such a wide range of students. We have worked with people who had literally never touched guns before, and we’ve worked with the highest level of military operator. The common denominators, of course, are their human features and choice of tool: Human hands are all about the same; human brains control human bodies in about the same way; the brain reacts to being startled in about the same way; the semiautomatic pistols all work with the same physics. So we find that our approach works really well for any student, regardless of background.

How would you describe your training philosophy?

There are two key ingredients to the way I approach training. The first is the concept of sapere aude: dare to know. You’ve got to ask the questions before you can get answers. Students need to be willing to challenge the material being presented and, especially, the things that they’ve heard and believed prior to attending any new course. The second philosophy that I try to live by is my personal spin on a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: Learn like you’ll live forever. Live like you’ll die tomorrow. I try to keep the courses intense. The students can rest when I leave town.

Looking ahead, what do you see in the future for yourself as a trainer and business owner?

More and more I am focused on instructor and program development. I.C.E. Training is well established and the CFS program has been around for more than a decade. The program and company continue to develop, but I am really interested in helping the next generation of instructors get a head start on where they will take the defensive shooting community. We have several instructor-development programs, and I spend at least 60 days a year working with trainers to help them teach more efficiently. I am also collaborating with other educators to establish the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors.

What else does learning personal defense skills teach you, besides handling firearms? What are the life lessons?

In the big picture, I believe that I.C.E.’s core principles—Integrity, Consistency and Efficiency—have universal application. Our students apply these concepts to their businesses and even interpersonal relationships after learning them in our courses or books. And, learning personal defense skills can be empowering in other aspects of life. Trying to prepare yourself to respond well to a life-threatening situation can put other daily troubles into perspective. If you are seriously preparing to defend your family from a spree killer, then not being able to find a parking spot while holiday shopping isn’t such a big deal. I also see a big difference in the attitude of people who choose to take classes like the ones I teach. Overwhelmingly, they have accepted that the world is not perfect, and they have decided to be prepared for some negative experiences. They aren’t paranoid by any stretch, but they also don’t walk around blind to the realities of the world we live in. I can’t prevent violence … but I know how to help prepare people to stop it. It’s important to know what you can and can’t do in the event of an act of violence, and the lessons learned spill over into all aspects of our lives.

What aspects of your Norwich education helped you pave a path to success in this highly specialized field?

Before I chose Norwich, I was seeking an appointment to one of the federal service academies. But while speaking with Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia) about why I wanted to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, he cleared up some misunderstandings I had about the potential for pure leadership development that I could use outside of the military. He highly recommended that I consider Norwich because it has a cadet-led Corps. Following his advice, I withdrew my request and instead applied to Norwich. In those four years, I learned how to lead and think critically. I also learned the importance of choosing a course of action and following it. As an entrepreneur, I am still guided by the lessons of individual responsibility that I learned as a member of the Norwich University Corps of Cadets.

What is one Norwich experience that helped shape you, and in what way?

There is no doubt that my experience in the Corps of Cadets—from the first day I set foot on campus as a pretty clueless rook, through leadership positions and my eventual commissioning as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve—did more to mold me into the man I am today than any other experience before or since. Being a member of the Corps brought me an amazing amount of opportunity at a very young age. With regard to specific programs, perhaps ironically, the short-lived Peace Corps Preparatory Program (PCPP), which started (and ended) while I was a cadet, has been incredibly influential in the way I deal with others. In that program, I learned the importance of interpersonal communications and networking. The time I spent in the PCPP sparked a lifelong appreciation for understanding other perspectives, being willing to devote the time, effort, and energy to explain my own, and to help people understand why change, evolution, and cooperation are so necessary.

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