Believe it or not, when you start to get involved with firearms training on a serious level, you quickly find out there are two big camps of people in the firearms world.
1.) Tactical shooters (That mostly take tactical shooting classes and self-practice)
2.) Competition shooters (such as those that shoot gun sports like IDPA, USPSA, 3-Gun, etc)
(Often referred to as “Tactical Timmies” and “Gun Gamers” by whomever is doing the name calling and wants to make fun of the other)
And while some people cross over these two “sides”, most of them don’t.
What’s The Big Deal?
I started doing firearms training seriously because I wanted to improve my gun skills to be able to protect myself and my family.
So what’s the argument here?
There are many people from the tactical side that say competition shooting will get you killed in a real life situation because you’ll develop bad “competition habits” or because the competition shooting is not realistic enough to what you’ll find “on the streets”.
The truth is that this argument is an old and tired one that I had heard before, for years, before I ever started to do more firearms training.
You see, I’m a martial artist and the “competition” vs “real life” debate has been going on in the unarmed combat world for a number (hundreds?) of years.
Here’s my take on it …
What’s WRONG with Competition Shooting?
First, what is competition shooting? Wikipedia explains:
“Practical shooting, also known as dynamic shooting or action shooting, is a set of shooting sports where the competitors are trying to unite the three principles of precision, power and speed, by using a firearm of a certain minimum power (caliber) to score as many points as possible during the shortest amount of time (or sometimes within a set maximum time).
“While scoring systems vary between organizations, each measures the time of which the course is completed, with penalties for inaccurate shooting. The courses are called “stages”, and are shot individually by the shooters. Usually the shooter must move and shoot from several positions, fire under or over obstacles and in other unfamiliar positions. There are no standard exercises or set arrangement of the targets, and the courses are often designed so that the shooter must be inventive, and therefore the solutions of exercises sometimes varies between shooters.”
So while the details vary, most practical shooting competitions are about people shooting as fast and accurate as possible on a given stage and comparing those times and accuracy.
The argument from the tactical side is that competing in practical shooting competitions will create bad “game only” habits that will get you killed in a real altercation.
What are they talking about?
Things like …
** Not actually using cover and/or concealment or pie-ing corners correctly …
** Running and generally moving fast through stages (running and gunning)
** Not having to seek out targets (because you usually know how the course of fire is designed before hand).
** Using “competition only” gear to include no concealment garments, race guns, race holsters/mag pouches, etc
** Using gamer only techniques such as index shooting, slide lock reloads, etc
So the main arguments are that the gear and guns used in most practical shooting sports are not anywhere close to what you would use in “real life” in your home, or concealed carrying, or even if you’re a military or police officer.
For instance, most people don’t walk around looking like this picture of the amazing competitive shooting family, The Miculeks:
It’s clear they’re wearing gear that allows them to play their game of practical shooting more competitively. The dropset, minimalist, outside-the-waistband holsters attached to outside the belt loop, giant gun belts, sponsor-laden sweat wicking polos, speed load shotgun shell carriers, race guns, etc etc.
By the way, it’s funny how (a lot of) the same people that claim competition shooting is not practical because you have “gamer gear” are the same guys that take tactical classes wearing a plate carrier, multicam BDU’s, an AR-15 slung over their shoulder and a chest rig … yet they’re generally civilians who work in an office at a computer desk. You could say that their “tactical” guns and gear are not anywhere close to what they actually wear on a daily basis either.
In short, there are some “modifications” that people do to make winning competitions easier both in gear, guns, and technique/tactics which may be great for shooting at paper targets in the fastest, most accurate manner possible … but … not so great for training to survive a real life defensive gun use situation.
What’s RIGHT with Competition Shooting?
Simpy put, nobody shoots as fast AND accurately as competition practical shooting champions. Period.
Because all the practical shooting sports are based on a combination of speed and accuracy, champions in these sports are extremely fast and accurate. Heck, forget champions, even the average “not so great” competitor is highly skilled.
What’s more: because of this competitive nature, very quickly “what works” to shoot more fast and accurate is figured out.
For example, sometime in the early 1980s, Rob Leatham and Brian Enos pretty much took the competition shooting world by storm when they transitioned from the Weaver stance that was “gospel” at the time, and adopted the Isosceles stance.
Nowadays, the modern isosceles is fundamentally the “go to” stance of all serious pistol shooters because it’s been proven time and time again to be more shooter friendly, more natural, more effective, and just plain faster and more accurate.
So while nothing you may see in a 3-Gun, IDPA or USPSA match may look like a “real gunfight” — if you want to learn how to shoot faster and more accurately, you could do a lot worse.
Plus, there’s a lot to be said for the nature of any type of competitive activity. Which brings me to …
Combat Sports vs “Reality Based Self Defense” & Traditional Martial Arts
I said before that this debate, to me, is an old one because I’ve encountered it before in my martial arts training.
The basic argument is such “Sport martial arts/Combat Sports will either A) get you killed in a real self defense situation or B) are not as effective as more “deadly” reality-based self defense or traditional martial arts”
What are combat sports? Again Wiki gives a good definition “A combat sport, or fighting sport, is a competitive contact sport with one-on-one combat. Determining the winner depends on the particular contest’s rules. In many fighting sports, a contestant wins by scoring more points than the opponent or by disabling the opponent. Boxing, Kickboxing, amateur wrestling, Judo, Brazilian Jujitsu, mixed martial arts, and Muay Thai are examples of combat sports.”
In a nutshell, combat sports arose because people training in martial arts systems wanted to “test” their techniques and personal skill against a live, resisting opponent of equal skill and relatively equal physical attributes (size/weight/age).
What’s more: combat sports have “rules” and “protective gear” that allow these martial artists to essentially practice fighting to the death without actually killing/crippling/seriously maiming each other.
It used to be traditional martial artists who claimed that their techniques were too deadly for full contact fighting. That notion was basically proven false. For example, most karate punches do not end in the fabled “one strike kill” because Mas Oyama invented full contact karate tournaments in the 1960’s and hundreds of black belts punched the crap out of each other and nobody died.
Nowadays, “reality based martial arts” claim that their techniques are too deadly for full contact fighting and or that the rules won’t allow their more deadly techniques. To an extent, they’re correct, because you can’t go around gouging out people’s eyeballs and expect anyone to ever compete in more than one competitive sporting event.
Instead, what we have with combat sports are a format–using rules and regulations–for martial arts (arts designed for combat) so that people can test their martial arts skills against live, resisting opponents.
Benefits of Sparring And “Pressure Testing”…
Without going into it too much … There are many, many benefits to sparring and the “pressure testing” that combat sports bring to training unarmed martial arts for self defense.
Since the explosion of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) scene mainly driven by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), it’s now clear to everyone what techniques and tactics generally prevail in unarmed combat.
Much like the weaver shooting technique being replaced by the modern isosceles shooting technique because of the superiority of the latter being proven through competition, a clear set of martial arts skills have generally proven to be superior in the format of mixed martial arts competition.
Yes, there are still rules like weight classes, gloves, and no techniques that seriously injure your opponent (eye gouges, biting, etc) but in general it’s done a lot for showing what the realities of most unarmed fights look like between two determined and trained individuals.
And more importantly, there are ENORMOUS benefits to a person on the individual level who competes in combat sports.
For one, it’s not a normal thing in our modern society to be in a physical altercation. Most people have never punched someone or been punched. Or had to wrestle someone for dominance. If they have it’s been a long, long time (grade school?)
There are enormous mental benefits to having the experience of being in lots of “fights” (even if they’re just sport fights) that can be beneficial in a real self-defense situation.
This is why there are numerous “caught on tape” street fights on youtube where you see MMA guys, or boxers, or martial artists beating up a gang of street toughs because they’ve had the experience of being hit, hitting other people, and generally dealing with the weird emotional/chemical/mental/stress cocktail mix that is interpersonal violence and responding appropriately.
Circling Back To Gun Training…
The same benefits can be seen with competition shooting and translating that to shooting for self defense.
Two of the major benefits to competition I see are:
Testing and stress inoculation.
For example, let’s talk about testing. There are a lot of military or law enforcement people that think they are “good shooters” because they can pass a pistol qualification course. That is until they attend even a local practical shooting competition and see that they’re barely fast and accurate enough to be at the bottom of the match results.
That’s not to pick on anyone. I had the same experience myself. I got my butt handed to me the first time I shot a local IDPA match. And that’s the way it will be for you too, if you ever step outside your comfort zone.
Just like the first time you step on the mat to spar using your new “martial arts skills” you will quickly find out you’re not quite as good as you thought you were and that it’s all a lot harder than it looks. And that maybe that technique, punch, or kick you thought was totally going to work … actually doesn’t work so well in real life. You see where I’m going with this?
So that’s the first benefit, testing your skills.
Second is the stress inoculation. While I imagine getting in a gunfight is pretty stressful, competition shooting may be the most stressful shooting you can readily expose yourself to.
For one, most people HATE to perform in front of their peers (public speaking is consistently ranked as a top 5 fear of people). Overcoming this fear and performing under this pressure is immensely valuable training.
Then there is simply thinking on your feet and coming up with solutions while actually shooting and moving.
It’s a fact that when someone starts shooting at you, you usually start moving your feet to get away from those bullets. It’s also a fact that there are not many places where you can actually move, shoot and practice using cover because they’re usually banned from most indoor/outdoor shooting ranges.
You can do all those things at almost any practical shooting competition. Which means that practical shooting competitions are one of the only places that a person interested in defensive gun use training can actually practice life-saving skills like shooting and moving.
The Origins of Practical Shooting Competition…
It’s important to remember that, like martial arts sporting competitions, practical shooting competitions were developed to test and hone real self-defense skills.
From Wiki again …
“IPSC was formed in 1976 at a meeting in Columbia, Missouri, led by the late Jeff Cooper. It was here that the sport of Practical Shooting was formally established after years of independent efforts around the country to build upon the handgun skills and training for self-defense …
“… Practical Shooting challenged the then accepted standards of technique, training practices and equipment. Its early pioneers developed scenario-based competitions to accurately measure the effectiveness of their own shooting techniques and equipment …
“The International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), founded in 1996, is … a shooting sport based on defensive pistol techniques, using equipment including full-charge service ammunition to solve simulated “real world” self-defense scenarios. Shooters competing in defensive pistol events are required to use practical handguns and holsters that are deemed suitable for self-defense use.
“… It was decided by the founders of IDPA (Bill Wilson, John Sayle, Ken Hackathorn, Dick Thomas, Walt Rauch and Larry Vickers), that USPSA competitions had become too far removed from the reality of defensive shooting situations, using extensively modified guns, handmade ammunition, and speed-draw holsters that were impractical for self-defense.”
Jeff Cooper, Ken Hackathorn, Larry Vickers — these are all well known and respected defensive gun instructors — not typically thought of as competition shooters.
The point being that competition shooting, like competition martial arts, was (primarily) developed to give people an avenue to practice realistic self-defense techniques in a safe manner. Period.
In Conclusion …
In my mind, both in “unarmed martial arts” and “gun martial arts”, competition has aton of benefits.
There is no reason why you can’t use competition to become a faster, more accurate shooter. You’ll also get plenty of practice doing things you normally are not allowed to do at an indoor/outdoor shooting range such as shooting while moving, reloads, drawing from concealement holsters, and using cover.
And yes, there can be downsides — but they’re so outshined by the upsides — you just have to be aware of what they are and keep it in mind.
Just like a boxer should be aware that he’s not wearing 16 oz padded gloves in a street fight, and adjust accordingly, you should be able to use your brain and make the same decisions and acknowledgements in your own compeitive shooting and defensive gun use training.
On the other hand, you might just get bitten by the “competition bug” and decide to really throw yourself into the gun game sports. If so, what’s the harm in that?
If you develop the high level skills that are needed to excel at shooting sports … let’s just say that I highly doubt that if Robert Vogel or Jerry Miculek are ever in a gun fight … they won’t lose because they are lacking defensive gun skills.
For the record, Chris Kyle was certainly not lacking in tactical training or practice at shooting real people in real combat. Yet, he got murdered by surprise by a mentally unstable person on a gun range. Life and unexpected events happen sometimes and no amount of competition OR tactical training can prepare you for every possibility.
What about you? Have you ever done any competition shooting? Do you know anyone who has?
Do you think it has helped better prepare you for defending yourself or your family? I’m interested to hear your thoughts either way …