Is there any “Winning” in Shooting Competitions

20140212-112931.jpgI’ve been considering the idea of shooting competitions lately and have found a catch 22 that has my brain spinning. In the past, these events have been sold to me as great opportunities to practice self-defense techniques while putting the body under certain pressures it might experience in a real high-stress situation. At the same time, I recently had an instructor say to me, “Don’t worry about keeping your eye on the target (when reloading). This is competition, not war.” So I guess I’m a bit confused. Are we athletes, preppers, or maybe neither?

In a real life situation IDPA rules won’t apply. “Tac Irons” will be compared with “Open” divisions. One person will walk away a winner, period. As we train for speed and accuracy, yes, we will gain a tactical advantage in the use of our weapon, but we are also training to conform to the rules of IPSC, 3Gun Nation ect. Might we be training ourselves into bad habits for life? Further, we compete against numbers on a score sheet. These numbers don’t always translate into the real world. Heck, they don’t even translate from one organization to another. USPSA and IPSC may compare similar abilities, but with differing rules, divisions and methods of testing. We can’t compare their outcomes.

So you won the match did you? Well ok, but your time was not as good as that of the younger person in the same division. Or your time was better, but you got to use a scope and a speed loader. How is a shooter ever supposed to “win” one of these things? And if one does “win” does this skill translate to the street?


  1. Gabby, this is a huge can of worms that will likely go nowhere good, but…

    Use the structure of competition to drive yourself to improve. Just keep things in perspective. Of the skills you learn in competition remember which ones matter most for defensive use. Basic gun handling is more important to you as a defensive shooter than stage breakdown for instance.

    A win in a match is a win in a match. It doesn’t mean anything on the streetz. However, all other factors being equal (which never are) I think a person who competes regularly has an advantage over most who don’t compete (I can think of notable exceptions).

  2. You get out of it what you want. If you want to focus on sharpening your skills under stress, you’ll get that but less shiny trophies. If you want to focus on sport and competition, you can do that too. They just aren’t fully interchangeable.

  3. In an intro to philosophy class I had to take as a freshman, there was a story of a man who ran everyday and then stopped when he grew of running for no one and began to just walk. One day another showed up and they began to compete against one another by running until they grew tired of that. And finally one day a lady showed up to watch them run. At which point they began to do so with a vengenance.

    I see shooting competetion as a great way to make myself train hard for the day when it matters. Plus it is fun as hell.

  4. It’s all in the mind, don’t let accolades determine if you are a winner and don’t intertwine competitive events and life threatening, there are different types of adrenalin rushes and stress and the human mind will address them differently. Survival instinct is not the same as Winning; yes, you do want to come out on top in both, but one is driven more by fear, the other by desire to prove something.

  5. All models are flawed in some way. If you try to use competition to model fighting for your life, expect flaws in the model.
    However, while all models are flawed, many models are also useful. All training for fighting involves this same tradeoff between realism and safety, and between realism and enjoyment. When Kano introduced Judo, it was just one of at least dozens of styles of Japanese budo we would call jujitsu, and most of those schools taught a lot of the individual things Kano taught and vice versa. The main difference was that they prided themselves on their numerous very deadly techniques. Kano’s judo focused on a much smaller set of techniques chosen because they could be used in competitive practice against others at full speed. When Judo was tested against the other schools at the Tokyo police trials, judoka dominated. They had trained by applying the skills they could apply at full speed under pressure against opponents determined to stop them and impose their wills.

    Judo has changed a lot over the years, but if you’ve ever tried to fight with an experienced judoka, you know that their skills matter. They’re not prepared for absolutely everything that could happen, and no, you can’t do arithmetic and figure out that if judoka A places higher than judoka B in this week’s tournament, she would also be more likely to survive a fight. But you’d be silly to bet against her if she’s being compared to someone who doesn’t practice a combat sport competitively.

    Lastly, keep in mind that while some shooting sports are associated with self-defense or martial skills, that’s not their *only* purpose. There are plenty of people in those sports who couldn’t care less about defending themselves with firearms, expect to go the rest of their lives without getting into a fight, and are only there to have fun with their friends and compete with cool machines that make explosions and satisfying clicky-clack noises. And without them, who would keep the sport running so the Tactical Warriors could continue to build the skills to survive the coming Canadian invasion?

  6. Modern Service Weapons just addressed this and, as both a USPSA competitor and self-defense instructor, I took this particular idea to heart (paraphrasing):

    A Nascar driver will get into a purpose-built car pushing several hundred horsepower through a drivetrain sen up to primarily run on the edge of control at nearly 200 mph, turning only one direction on the track and surrounded by 42 other people all trying to be the baddest mofo in the valley.

    The next day, those racers will hop into a car or a truck and drive to the grocery store for a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread, never one exceeding the speed limit or failing to obey all safe traffic laws and all the while driving with awareness and a defensive mindset. The race car driver will never once have to “shut it off” or consciously remind him or herself of the difference between track and street, and so it is (or should be) with those of us who both carry and compete with handguns.

  7. Does an olympic sprinter ever wonder how well his skills could be used in the event of a mugging? Probably not.

    The winner has the highest hit factor. We play and compete in a multi-faceted sport. While the winner might not have had a better time than one of the youngsters, he has managed to combine the required skills with enough prowess to still get the highest HF. You are a winner because you have developed the multiple skills required to win.

    Would you ask if there is really any winning in a Bianchi cup match? Probably not, simply because it’s all about accuracy.

    Here in Australia there is no translation at all to the “street” because of our laws. At any rate, I think they are completely different things. While some of the fundamentals might transfer across, if you want to be skilled at self defense you have to practice exactly that. If you want to be skilled at competition, you gotta practice that. There are fundamentals in all elements of our lives that carry over to other skills/tasks, but that doesn’t make us “efficient” at those other skills or tasks.

    We are all, without a doubt, athletes; even if we are all at different levels. We all laugh, and sometimes curse at our performances. We have good days and bad, and we all strive to achieve the best that we can. We learn, we train, we seek the advice of our more highly skilled sportsmen/sportswomen to increase our skills. Name an athlete that doesn’t do that.

  8. Certainly training and experience in “fighting” is something that any gun owner would be well suited to attend/participate in. But even going to a couple of classes, and hitting the range on a regular basis is not the end all, be all solution. If you go to gun games with a mindset and tactics to “win the game”, those probably won’t translate all that great to a lethal force encounter. If you go to gun games with the mindset and tactics you are likely (or intend) to rely on in a lethal force encounter, you are not likely to “win the (gun) game” in question.

    But are you any worse off for having shown up, in (hopefully) the gear and clothing configuration you would normally find yourself in, and shooting a course of fire previously unknown to you, against the clock, and getting feedback on your performance?

    Sure, “Gamer” techniques and/or tactics, i.e., those used solely for the purpose of winning trophies, have the potential to put you behind the curve in a fight. But not nearly as far behind the curve as people who own guns and don’t shoot them on a regular enough basis to have even attained even an elementary proficiency, or push outside of their comfort zones once they reached a level of proficiency.

    Not everyone gets to spend countless hours on the range, and in realistic, scenario based, or force on force training, then validate their chosen TTP’s in the “real world” on a regular basis. If it challenges you, and you become better, even if only incrementally, can it really be that bad?

    Range time, socialization with other shooters, skill development, shooter improvement?

    Looks pretty chock full of win/win to me.

  9. The real world benefits of competing aren’t found participating at the match, they are found preparing for the match. Participating in competitive events merely serves as a yard stick as to how effective these preparations were, with the bonus of meeting and visiting with nice people in a fun environment.

    This translates perfectly and exactly to whatever else you might set as a goal. The rulebook and match program are the OPORD and the match is the mission. The results spell out how well your preparations went. Plus, despite myths to the contrary, the fundamental skills trained are the same. Your gun can’t tell the difference between Pepper Poppers or terrorists. More ranting on that here:

    Soldiers, cops and most gun owners rarely train. Usually, they receive instruction, an introduction to concepts. Perhaps they practice these concepts occasionally, such as during annual qualification. They may expend ammo and range time but skills rarely increase measurably.

    No public sector or CCW skill assessment requires demonstration of improvement once minimums are met. The skill level that passes raw recruits at the academy or in basic will continue to pass twenty year vets. Competition is one of the few venues where actual training – that is, purposely programmed skill development – is measured and encouraged.

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