Competition, Practice, Training, and Testing

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

–Aesop’s Fables, The Fox and the Grapes,

Periodically, I see comments in the tactical/concealed carry community downplaying the value of competition for someone interested in personal protection. The commentary usually revolves around “the stress isn’t the same as a two way range” or “competition isn’t realistic; the targets don’t move, you don’t move” or some other blah, blah, blah. Oftentimes, the person making the statement is from the ‘tactical training’ side of the house.

In my role as the Georgia/Alabama Area coordinator for IDPA, I was recently reviewing some tweaked stages for the upcoming 2014 GADPA Georgia State Match Championship.  As I was doing so, I was struck by the complexity and marksmanship challenges presented in the match. Some of the aspects of the Championship include:

  • Moving targets
  • Shooting on the move
  • Shooting Strong Hand Only with holding something with the Support Hand
  • Shooting from inside and around vehicles
  • Head shots at distance
  • Steel targets with a concealed hit zone that have to be knocked down to count
  • Engaging targets while moving through a structure

Those tasks have to be accomplished with a limited supply of ammunition, requiring a minimum hit rate of about 60%, just to finish. To be competitive at all, the hit rate on a torso sized target (-0/-1) better be 100% or you’re out of luck. Rapid reloading is an integral part of each stage, requiring a high degree of weapons manipulation skills.

In short, it’s a very demanding test of one’s ability to effectively manipulate a handgun. Hitting the target with a high degree of regularity, while being confronted by awkward shooting positions and scenarios is an integral part of it.

I think of Preparation for Personal Protection as having three components; Training, Practice, and Testing. Training is something you get from someone else. The other person or group structures your experience, almost always outside your comfort zone. Practice is something you do on your own, hopefully with some kind of structure, based on training or re-creation of actual incidents. Then there’s the nasty little question: “Where is my skill level at?” Testing is the only way that question can be answered. In his book POLICE PISTOLCRAFT, Mike Conti mentions Police Officers who are so intimidated by firearms qualification that they become physically ill, simply from the thought of having to do it. That’s a good example of how daunting the testing process can be. Those of us active in the competition world often look at police qualification courses in a bemused way because they are so simple compared to the tests we are used to.

Bill Rogers once said to me “You and I are from the last generation that is comfortable being tested.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is quite obvious to me that there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance and ego defense that goes on when discussions about competition v. ‘training’ start. The next time you hear someone disparaging competition, keep The Fox and The Grapes fable in mind. And for those who make negative statements about competition, I invite you to come out and test yourself and see what it’s like. Firearms competition has evolved a great deal since the original Columbia Conference. One of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard is “I never saw a timer in a gunfight.” It was there every time; it’s called your lifeclock and it’s running all the time, at least until someone stops it.



13 responses

  1. Reblogged this on Growing Up Guns and commented:
    The Tactical Professor discussing the very real benefits of competition for average gun owners. There IS a shot timer in a gunfight, the other guy’s gun.

  2. Reblogged this on The Obsession Engine and commented:
    Are you interested in self defense and firearms? Read this blog.

  3. WOW!

  4. Excellent thoughts, well presented. We have to be ‘on the step’ every day; because life is a test. R Margulies

  5. Innocent Bystander

    If nothing else, at least for me, competition, along with daily dry-fire practice, keeps the gun from feeling like a foreign object in my hands. I’ve been down that road before and I never seemed to make any progress. By handling the gun daily and shooting it in competition, I’ve improved a good bit. (I still have a long way to go, though.)

    I’ve come to the point where I actually like the testing that competition provides; it points out the myriad areas which I need to, and do, work on. One thing that those who disdain competition might benefit from is leaving their ego at home so that they can actually learn.

    On a side note, which speedloaders are you using in the video for your Model 10 snubby? You’re about twice as fast on your reloads as I am with my Model 64 snubby and Safariland Comp II speedloaders.

    1. Those are Safariland Comp IIIs.

  6. It is very easy to believe you are “good” when you’re not shooting alongside other shooters. Competition provides a reality check.

    1. Innocent Bystander

      An EXCELLENT point! I would never have realized how truly awful a shooter I was without competition.

  7. It seems to me that those from the tactical side of the house down playing the benefits of competing need to realize that not everyone has the ability or desire to have society taxed for our training.

  8. Having shot IDPA I can say it does have a “game” feel to it. My problem with IDPA is that the rules can build bad habits that you may revert to under real life stress. For example, IDPA penalizes you for reloading when on the move, which is an essential skill in real life. While I like IDPA and I encourage people to get out there are compete, just be wary of following the “rules” to the letter. Better to lose a few points and train correctly.

    1. I have found so few incidents where reloading was a key survival component (3 out of 3000) that I am utterly blase about the IDPA reloading rules, despite all the furor they have generated. As I tell my Advanced Classes “The number one cause of reloading in a gunfight is missing. Get your training priorities straight.”

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