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4-Day Handgun Combat Master Prep (Part 1)

Front Sight Course Review

Richard C. (Taken March 2012)

Editor's Note: This is a review for the 4 Day Handgun Master Prep. Course class offered at Front Sight.
  • 4 Day Handgun Master Prep

  • Student: Richard C.
  • Occupation: Software Business CEO
  • Weapon: Glock 21 (.45 ACP)
  • Ammo Used: 1,100 rounds
  • Number Course Taken: First time taken
  • Student Rating: 10/10
  • Course: Front Sight Course
Read the Part 2 of this Review
Introduction to Course

I've just completed the Handgun Combat Master Prep course at Front Sight. This will be a fairly detailed review of this course, as most people have not taken this course and don't know much about it.

What is the Handgun Combat Master Prep course?

This is a 4-day course that is designed to prepare students to take the Handgun Combat Master Prep Skills Test, which students will participate in on days three and four of the class. Days one and two of the class are preparatory training and drills designed to improve your speed and refine your technique.

For someone who is not familiar with Front Sight's Basic 4-Day Handgun course: the easiest way to describe Combat Master Prep would be to call it an Olympics-class test for handgun students, using a stock semi-automatic pistol.

For people who have taken the 4 Day Defensive Handgun skills test: the Combat Master test is the same as the 4 Day Defensive Handgun skills test, except:
• Cut all your times approximately in half.
• Add multiple targets under pressure
• Add a lot of high speed head shots
• Add ambidextrous shooting
• Add close contact
• Etc.

What is the Handgun Combat Master Skills Test?

This skills test is the highest level of testing offered by Front Sight for the handgun discipline. However, what most students don't realize is that there are four different skills tests that Front Sight administers. Most students only see the entry-level 4-Day Defensive Handgun Skills Test. This test is offered at the end of the 4-day course and at the end of the 2-Day Skill Builder course. The next level up is called the Intermediate Skills Test, which is administered to the 4-Day Master Prep students typically at the end of day one. After the Intermediate Test comes the Advanced Skills Test, which is offered on day two of the 4-Day Master Prep course. For both the Intermediate and Advanced Skills Tests, you can earn either a Graduate (80%+) or a Distinguished Graduate (90%+). Scoring as a Distinguished Graduate on the Advanced Skills Test qualifies you to come back and take the 2-Day Handgun Combat Master Prep course. If you do not DG the Advanced Test, then you will need to return and retake the 4-Day Master Prep course.

The Handgun Combat Master Test at Front Sight was modeled after the original Combat Master Test that Chuck Taylor had developed 1982.  There some minor variations to the tests….but both are exceptional difficult…and generally approximate…or so I have been told. Front Sight points out that doing well in the Combat Master exam does not mean that the shooter is ready for combat. It is simply an indicator that the student has reached a very high level of proficiency with a particular weapons system. Perhaps, it should have been called simply "Master Prep", as it doesn't have much to do with combat. However, I am the kind of guy that looks at the end result. In an emergency situation, the Combat Master will have the skills necessary to save his life or the life of his loved ones. I've always thought that I would never want to be in a gunfight with a student who had graduated from the basic 4-Day Skills Test, much less someone who has gone through the Combat Master class. (I would never want to be in a gunfight at all; but you get the point.)

As a side bit off topic: The Front Sight 4 Weapon Combat Master Test is a single test, that is available in a class offered once a year by Front Sight. To take the 4 Weapons Combat Master Prep class…and take the 4 Weapon test….you have to have already passed the Handgun Combat Master Test…AKA you have to already be a "Handgun Combat Master."
What is the structure of the class?

In the big picture of things, days one and two are going to be skills drills and taking the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Skills Tests. Days three and four are only comprised of taking the Combat Master test. In my class, because we had two relays, we took the test once in the morning and once in the afternoon on days three and four. Therefore, we got four tries at taking and passing the Combat Master Skills Test.

What skills are students tested on in the Master Prep class?

The Master Prep class starts off with the basic drills from the 4-Day Defensive Handgun Course, shooting controlled pairs at 5, 7, 15, 25, and 50 meters. Initially, the Master Prep Test starts off looking like a Basic Skills Test, except the times are cut approximately in half. Additional skills are added under time pressure, such as shooting close contact, palm strike/step back, shooting multiple targets at high speed, and the ambidextrous test. "The ambi drill", as it is known, requires effectively engaging three targets with a single shot each, completing an emergency reload, transitioning the weapon to the support hand only, and shooting three additional targets. This drill simulates that in a gunfight, your firing side arm has been disabled and you must continue the gunfight with only your support hand. During the Master Skills Test, the command "Set up ambi in the holster" is frequently used. To complete this command, you must leave a round in the chamber of your weapon, eject the magazine and ensure that there are only two rounds in the magazine, and reinsert the magazine into the weapon, while leaving the weapon holstered. No playing with your weapon if you're not on the line. This provides you with three rounds for three different targets and will cause your weapon to lock, requiring an emergency reload.

In order to pass the Combat Master test and earn the title Combat Master, you have to DG a 400-point test, meaning you can't be down more than 40 points when the test is complete.

In addition to the shooting components of the test, there is also the Emergency/ Malfunction clearance portion. This section is largely the same as the section in the Basic Skills Test; expect the times for completion are much shorter.

How good was the instructional team for this course?

In order for a Combat Master Test to be certified and for a student to "officially" pass the test, the instructor must have passed the course himself/herself. For this reason, the Handgun Master Prep course can only be taught by a handful of individuals. My instructor was Bill Kapeles, and I am aware of at least two other instructors at Front Sight who can teach this course, Brad Ackman and Justin Campbell. Kapeles was an absolutely fantastic instructor. He was able to help me speed up my presentation, and provided his own personal tips and ideas for how to improve my score during the test. Kapeles is a very cool instructor and exceptionally even-handed. Even when faced with challenges and stupid questions from students, such as myself, he was very patient and understanding; it was an absolute pleasure to be in his class. Instructor Reynolds was also there; and he was fantastic, as well.

What is the focus of this class?

The focus of the Handgun Combat Master Prep course is to speed up your presentation and increase your accuracy, so that you are actually able to pass the Handgun Combat Master Prep Skills Test. The class itself is not about combat or combat tactics. It doesn't deal with looking at adversarial issues, tactics against bad guys, cover, concealment, etc. It is purely about speeding up your presentation and increasing your accuracy of shot placement.

Did you enjoy this course?

This course was fantastic. I would rate it a 10 out of 10. I highly recommend this for students who have been through the 4-Day Handgun and 2-Day Skill Builder classes numerous times and have, obviously, taken Advanced Tactics. This course builds on these previous courses. You really need to be comfortable with all of the basic skills, including everything in Advanced Tactics, prior to attending this course.

This course really tightened up my shooting and presentations. From the beginning of the course, my overall speed and presentation is probably twice as fast as what it was. However, I am nowhere near fast enough to actually pass the Combat Master Test.

How hard is it to pass the Combat Master Skills Test?

There are only 56 Handgun Combat Masters worldwide, either coming from Front Sight or Chuck Taylor's school. If you were to average this number, Front Sight graduates one Combat Master annually. No one that took the test while I was there DG'd the test, which means that no one got 90% or better.

When people talk about the scores on this test, the general discussion is in regards to how many shots they shot down on the test. For example, out of four hundred points, someone might say, "I shot down eighty points." New students to this course will typically shoot down two hundred points or more, meaning the average score would be 50%. Scoring 50% on this Skills Test is still no small feat and requires extremely fast and accurate gun handling. Approximately half of the students in the class with me were first time students to the class. A couple of students shot down eighty points, which, while fantastic, is still well below the maximum of forty to DG the course.

It should be noted that the average number of times that a Combat Master student takes the test before passing it is approximately 80 different times. Assuming that a shooter takes the Handgun Master Prep test four times for each time they attend a class, a student takes the course approximately twenty times before passing. Obviously, with this amount of dedication, the student would be Dry Practicing at home to a high degree.

What weapon should I bring with me to this course?

Front Sight is adamant about the weapons used in this class. You can take any handgun you want to the class; however, in order for a Combat Master test to be counted, your weapon has to be mainly stock with very limited modifications, if any. Most students were shooting either XD or Glock pistols. I shot a Glock 21 (.45 ACP), while most students were shooting Glock in .40 caliber. I used about 1,100 rounds of ammunition.

It is interesting to note that the Combat Master Test does take into account the caliber of weapon you are using. Misses and peripheral hits from a 9mm are graded more harshly than the same from a 40 or 45. The 40 or 45 caliber pistols are considered a major caliber pistol, while the 9mm is considered a minor caliber. The goal of this adjustment in testing is to make sure that shooters with low-recoil 9mm pistols don't have as much of an advantage over shooters with a high-recoil pistol.

The rotating speed of the turning targets must be calibrated before an Official Handgun Combat Master test may be given. Wow!

My final note about the Combat Master Prep course is that if you are the kind of person who gets psyched out by people putting you through any kind of testing or pressure situation, then the Combat Master Prep course is not for you. At a minimum, you will be exposed to six different tests during this four-day course. However, for me, I didn't look at the tests as if it were something that I was expected to pass. Largely, I believe that everyone was expected to fail; and everyone did – not for lack of trying, either! I looked at the test as an opportunity to go through a very diverse set of shooting skills from high-speed designated headshots to the ambidextrous multi-target drill. I found all of the drills interesting and somewhat entertaining, regardless of the time pressure.

As a side note, because of the training level of the students in the Master Prep course, you will not find any slackers or shooters with poor gun handling skills. You will never have to worry about being muzzled or having to deal with any other rookie mistakes. Frankly, all of the students in this class are very serious handgun students. While there were plenty of joking and smiles throughout the course, when we were on the firing line, everyone was serious and safety conscious.

In closing, I definitely endorse this class and look forward to taking it again in the future.

What other classes are you planning to take in the future?

More Handgun Combat Master Prep Courses
4-Day Integrated Handgun

Read the Part 2 of this Review