Competence vs. Excellence – Round 2

I threw out a lot of words trying to quantify the concepts of competence and excellence in last week’s post, but this week thanks to the joys of the internet I stumbled across a very visual representation of what I was trying to capture. At some point in the relatively recent past the UFC took a few of their fighters to Quantico so they could get a taste of the Marine Corps Martial Arts program. Most fighters at the UFC level are skilled in Greco-Roman wrestling, Mui Thai, and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and have invested a great deal of time and effort training in techniques and working against training partners to ingrain skill under stress. They also have experience fighting in professional bouts, which is a pretty stressful endeavor.

The average person might think they’d handle the USMC’s Martial Arts program easily…but as the video shows, it’s not quite that simple.

As I mentioned last week, for someone to be useful in the field they have to be competent in a number of different areas. Even if we confine the conversation to just close quarters combat, there are a number of different competencies that the individual is likely to need. A professional MMA fighter is very skilled in some areas that would be useful in close quarters combat, but training to be an MMA champion does not factor in multiple opponents or the involvement of weapons. As good as some MMA/BJJ programs are, and as useful as the skills they teach may be in an actual fight, they don’t often really deal with multiple, armed, opponents or the use of whatever weapons you may be carrying to successfully defend yourself.

This is one reason why the Shivworks Extreme Close Quarters Concepts course is regarded so highly by just about anyone worth listening to, and why so many who have been through the ECQC program come back to the course over and over again. It’s heavily influenced by MMA skills, but those skills are put into a realistic self defense context that involves weapons and multiple opponents. The Marine Corps Martial Arts program does the same, dealing with the combat environment rather than the competition environment.

The context you train in, and the end state you are training for, matters. Even though every one of the UFC fighters in that video is probably more skilled than most you will meet in any gym or dojo in the country, when handed a weapon they’ve never used before and told to deal with multiple skilled attackers they were kind of at a loss on what to do.

A very skilled fighter positions himself poorly and is about to get taken out of the fight before he's landed a single blow.
A very skilled fighter positions himself poorly and is about to get taken out of the fight before he’s landed a single blow.

Lacking any other plan or preparation for this sort of confrontation, a legit black-belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu who has knocked out some big names in the MMA world picked one guy and went after him. In doing so he stepped directly in the middle of two armed threats, turning his back completely to one and was basically taken out before he even makes an offensive move. I can sympathize because in a moment of stupidity during ECQC I put myself in between two hostiles and ended up taken down, having my gun taken away, and then getting shot in the groin for the umpteenth time that weekend. If you’re going to take on multiple attackers at close range, it turns out your footwork and positioning matters. A lot. That’s a lesson you generally don’t learn until you find yourself on the wrong end of a beating…preferably in training.

On an individual level without the involvement of weapons, I have absolutely no doubt that Mr. Gonzaga would have probably defeated most/all the Marine instructors…but outside that context, in the environment where the Marine instructor cadre lives and works every day using the wide range of competencies they’ve forged over many hours of training, Mr. Gonzaga’s excellence in striking and grappling couldn’t really come into play. If you watch the video closely you’ll notice that some of the instructors are sporting cauliflower ear, showing that they’re probably enthusiasts who spend their personal time working on the stuff that Mr. Gonzaga is an expert at.I don’t encourage picking fights with anybody, but it would be an especially bad idea against big Marines with cauliflower ear and a red tab on their belt.


When I look around at the gun world, I notice that we are tempted to imagine the problem we’re going to face favors us…that it will fall in line with the things we’re good at. This is especially true if we invest considerable time and effort developing a narrow set of skills to the level of excellence. Having a fast draw time or reload time or being able to shoot one hole groups at 40 yards with a pistol are not bad things in and of themselves, and all those skills would certainly come in real handy if it came down to needing to pull the trigger to save your life or the life of a loved one. But if you get taken out because you made a gross error in tactics at the beginning…


The other half of the competence vs. excellence conversation is defining those things at which we need to be competent versus those things at which we want to be excellent. In military or law enforcement units there’s no guess work because you’re told what you will be competent at. For the individual who has never been or is no longer attached to such a unit there’s a good bit of figuring to do all based on your lifestyle and circumstances. Doing a bit of familiarization in a number of different areas would be a good first move. Take a first aid class. Go shoot your first competition or try a set of standards to do a hard assessment of your pistol skills. Take ECQC or go to the local gym and see where your unarmed skills are at. You don’t have to become an expert at everything, but maybe adding a few competencies to your toolbox could come in handy.


  1. So…. individual MMA competitors get dropped in an unfamiliar program/environment where they are out numbered 2:1 against armed red-tab black-belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructors on their home turf and the MMA competitors didn’t win on their very first try…

    MMA competition is what helped push the Marines and Army to create their current combatives programs in the first place and why things like MCMAP even exist. Just like shooting competition formed our understanding of how to best use firearms effectively.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: