Knowledge and skill aren’t necessarily connected

Yesterday, some idiot on YouTube offered this as the reason why everyone should believe him that the thumbs forward grip on a revolver is bad:

I worked in a gunshop for 15 years and I’ve seen it all

You can imagine how impressed I was, and I immediately rescinded everything that I’ve learned from shooting tens of thousands of rounds out of revolvers over the last four years. Actually I didn’t, and instead I made this meme:

i work at a gun range

I posted it on Facebook, and what I originally intended as a snarky shot at the sort of bloviating silverback experts you tend to find in gunstores turned into an actual, semi-thoughtful discussion about how frequently experience/knowledge aren’t really connected, or even required, for someone to be skillful. A long time ago, a friend of mine who happens to be a world class USPSA GM mentioned that until recently, he didn’t know the technical difference between centerfire and rimfire. Sure, he knew that rimfire = .22 and it was smaller, recoiled less, and was less reliable than a 9mm; but he couldn’t have told you the difference between centerfire ignition and rimfire ignition. While the vast majority of internet gun users would scoff at that, take a moment and ask yourself this: would him knowing that piece of technical knowledge help him win more matches? The answer if we’re honest is “no, no it won’t” so why would he waste memory space on what is essentially useless technical trivia?

In the same conversation on FB, Tam made the excellent point that you could be a hardcore 11B Slayer of our Nation’s Foes and still not really have any idea what’s going on inside your issued Thunderstick beyond “line up sights, make bad man go away” followed by “clean until shiny.” Actually, there’s a whole separate post in that alone about how basically everything the military teaches about weapons maintenance is wrong and outdated, but I don’t want to enrage the entire internet today. Back to the point (to the point no fakin, cookin MCs like a pound of a bacon) of knowledge being disconnected from skill. It is quite possible for someone to spend 15, 25, 30 years owning guns, and knowing everything about how they work down to the tiniest technical detail, and still be a shitty shooter who doesn’t really know how to run them.

The reverse is also true, that it’s possible to be able to run a gun hard and fast without really knowing what’s going on inside your gun other than “pull trigger make explosion bullet go zoom.” To my mind, being a shooter first and a writer second, I find this mindset preferable. Because these people are focused on the actual art of shooting, not endlessly preening over their gear and how meticulously clean their rifles that never get shot are. I prefer the company of shooters to gun owners, because I can talk to shooters on equal terms about skill development and training, even if they’re better than me or vice versa. There’s common ground.

I don’t really have any common ground with gun owners, other than “I like guns.”

So what’s the point, you’re asking? I guess the point is that before you dive into a conversation, you should try to be aware of what you don’t know. If you’ve worked a gun range for 15 years and owned a lot of guns, don’t go telling a guy who shoots thousands of rounds a year out of revolvers in competition how to hold his f***ing gun. If you’re an experienced competition shooter with no military or LE experience, don’t go telling a career LAPD officer how to handle a traffic stop that goes sideways. I’m not going to go all LAV on your and say “stay in your lane”; instead I want to suggest that we stop using internet encounters to prove how awesome we are and score imaginary Internet Arguing Points, but instead try to learn from people whose experiences and knowledge may be outside our own.

Unless you’re talking to me of course, in which case I’m right, you’re dumb, and shut up. 😉


  1. “To the point no fakin, cookin MCs like a pound of a bacon”

    How long have you been waiting to put that in a blog post?

    1. I went through all of your comments, and it turns out you’ve never actually contributed anything of value to a discussion. 😉

  2. I would argue that there might be guys or gals with thirty years of shooting that may know something. Prolly not good to paint with such a broad brush. You just seem like a churl whining about the adults who don’t “recognize ” your “mad skillz ” yo.

    1. I can always tell when my posts hit home with someone and expose their own personal areas where they lack self-confidence.

      1. Never read a blog where a blogger trashes his readership and profits, good luck.

  3. It comes as no surprise that you, being primarily a competitive shooter, prefer the company of other competitive shooters, your peers. Just because “gun owners” don’t shoot tens of thousands of rounds per year out of their weapons, doesn’t mean that most gun owners endlessly preen over their gear cleaning and re-cleaning our guns that we don’t shoot. Most “gun owners” shoot much as we can, which isn’t enough, and there are many reasons why that is the case. We shoot enough to maintain our skills do we can hit the threat when the bell is rung. I’m a FED LEO, and just had active shooter training, put on by Army NG SF/GB’s, last week that would make most competition shooters (think IPSC/USPSA) “mess they drawers.” I say that not to diminish competition shooters, just to make an observation based on experience. I do love your quick wit and sarchastic sense of humor (its main reason I read the blog), but sometimes you paint with a really broad brush. Regardless, keep up the good work.

    1. Allow me a tangent for a moment: one of the problems of writing for the internet is balancing good content with the relatively short amount of time I have to capture a reader’s attention. I absolutely could have spent a few more paragraphs and sentences clearly differentiating people who have been doing something wrong for 20 years but think that they’re experts from people who have 20 years of valuable, productive experience. However, by choosing to not do that, I’ve generated probably 5-10 more comments on the post which wouldn’t have otherwise shown up, and actually created some discussion here.

      So it’s all a matter of balance; frequently using a broad brush is the most effective way to attract people to a topic, where finer details can be hashed out in the comments.

      1. Oh the mad butthurtz you have stirred up! But God forbid you actually mention that the Weaver stance is not as effective as the Isosceles, that 9mm may be a better choice for most than a .45 and that training and dedication is better than a numerically superior age and bad information.

        Carry on good sir. If there were a prize the internet gave out, I’d give it to you.

  4. Excellent. I was just writing an email to a friend about this very thing. My thought was similar — experience isn’t always hard won. In fact, it’s essentially acquired involuntarily; we can’t stop the passage of time. That’s why “20 year…” claims always raise the hairs on my neck.

    As Ambulance Driver noted above, are those two decades of experience comprised of 20 years of progress, or 20 years of repeated failure borne of an inability to learn? (At our local action pistol shoots, a couple of “lifelong shooters” re-set their grip after every shot, which is neither fast nor accurate).

    When empty experience collides with the Dunning-Kruger effect (basically, you don’t know what you don’t know, so the more clueless you are, the more likely you are to confirm it publicly), truly spectacular things can happen.

    Witness much of the gun advice (or writing advice, or health advice, or…) given on the Interwebs.

    I look for people offering up information in the form of “I tried this, it worked/didn’t work for me.” Anything involving “a friend” is immediately suspect. And generally accepted rules (“.45 will knock them down every time while 9mm just punches through harmlessly”) probably should be viewed with suspicion.

  5. There is also the factor of quality of experience. Doing something incorrectly for years and years does not lead to better outcomes. I had to correct veteran NCOs last weekend because they were arguing over the correct way to zero a weapon. I asked them what method was detailed in the weapon’s Technical Manual. They had never read the manual. I had a new soldier grab one and read it. Turns out, despite years and years of experience, BOTH of them were wrong.

  6. Reminds me of two things – my father-in-law’s quip after a guy talked about his driving experience – “yeah, you’ve had 40 years of a driving experience, and all of it BAD!”
    And of course the Sherlock Holmes character who did not know that the moon revolved around the Earth and tried to forget it when he heard it.
    “You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” – The Science of Deduction

  7. I encounter this sort of thing nearly daily, being a veteran college student. A favorite quote;

    “No one needs a gun for self defense”-said PolySci college professor. He’s wrong, as I did….twice.

  8. After three years of leaving my girlfriend at her front door invariably mentioning: “you know .. you ARE invited” she finally accepted my invitation and actually came to an IPSC match.

    There she met some truly nice people, and decided that she liked them. (They liked her, too; hey, she was cute and she picked up their brass for them!)

    After a year of brassing for stragngers, she finally said: “Screw this, get me a gun .. and let those bastards pick up MY brass for a change!”

    Seque to a year later, when she had her own gun and was competing regularly at USPSA matches,we finally came to the point where I said it was time for her to learn to clean her own damn gun.

    Pissed her off a bit, it did. So I cited “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Essentially, if you perform basic maintenance, you begin to understand how and why the machinery works.

    And when it doesn’t work, you “have a clue” about what immediate actions you can perform to get it back working again.

    This learning process took a while, and a few scornful looks from a Pampered Princess. (I’ll never forget the day when she didn’t click the slide stop fully into the STI Race gun she was using, and the slide fell into the gravel of the shooting bay in the middle of a stage. It took 7 people 10 minutes to find the damn slide stop! The slide was obvious.)

    But one day we were looking at a pistol in a gunshop. She wanted to see what it looked like inside (it was used, therefore suspect) and the clerk was astounded when she field-stripped the 1911 in four or five economical motions. Barrel bushing, spring, slide stop, slide… all gone just like that. (We didn’t buy the gun.)

    She felt pretty damn good about herself that day.

    She had mechanical problems during matches (including the 2003 & 2004 Nationals at Bend) but she knew what was wrong, and if she couldn’t fix it she knew people who COULD fix it. And she knew what to tell them to look for.


    Competition shooters need to know the gun inside and out. Maybe she couldn’t detail strip it and still get the 3-finger spring in right (neither can I), but she had a lot of confidence that she KNEW her gun, and in competition Reliability is as important as Accuracy and Speed. Sometimes .. more important.

    I know you’re making a point about ‘skill’ in competition vs ‘knowledge’ about the mechanics. And I do agree with you to a point.

    But over the years, confidence is a HUGE part of ‘skill’. When our comfort zone includes a dismissive attitude about understanding the mechanics of the tool we use, and we pass that on to people who may not understand that the skill is MORE IMPORTANT than comprehension about the mechanics of the process .. the danger is that new competitors might misinterpret. They might think that it’s just silly to learn how to clean your gun, or even know how to respond to a jam.

    I know that wasn’t the point you were trying trying to make. But some folks might not have understood that you weren’t saying it’s UNIMPORTANT to know; just that it’s better to focus on FRONT SIGHT/PRESS than worry about the crunch&ticker thingies.

    Until the slide lock hits the gravel.

  9. As someone married to a soon-to-be PhD candidate (4 bachelors and a masters degree between the two of us) it always amazes me how a lot of knowledge still comes down to “see the parts you need to see”! For two examples: I need a much better sight picture at 30 yards for a head shot than 1 yard on a wide open hosefest target. Or when I’m fixing my car I need a bit more knowledge than ‘turn key, put in gear… Zoooooom!’.

    My point is sometime knowledge is really helpful, other times it’s not useful it is trivia designed to hide a small penis! And sometimes it’s just interesting and that’s ok too. Hey I like history, programming and cooking just because well damnit I DO, that’s what makes it cool. But I don’t need to be as good with Java as she is with SPSS because I’m not doing it for a living! So “see what you need to see” and chill people we all can figure out who’s got ‘big ego and a light switch’ thing going on!

  10. Agree on all counts. I used to be a “gun owner” for 8 years. Then I started training, and shooting competitions. Now I can’t really stand the owners. I don’t care if my 1911 grips match my eyes, or if I chipped the Armor-Tuff on my slide. I refer to the previous 8 years as “back when I didn’t know anything”.

  11. A Top Gear analogy- James May has more automotive tech knowledge than both Hammond and Clarkson, yet is still known as “Captain Slow”.

  12. I like your overall point, I think. I also apologize if this is too long…
    So I take from your writing approach as described, a shooter with a controllable persistent repeatable method of obtaining high target-value-impact is the point; whether gained by propelling tens of thousands of rounds against stationary objects or several hundreds of rounds against semi-stationary and mobile objects being only marginally different.
    I think I read a point about the preener, also a considerable associate of the toter-wannabe’s, who uses marginal and inconsistent methods no matter how pretty they may pose or pristine their weapon may be can’t maintain target-value-impact consistency, which I completely agree with if that’s what you meant; if not, I misread something.
    I agree in principle overall, but maintain there are exceptions to most situations where natural ability may and can bear quality craft with less application experience only by uncanny instinctive execution. These are rare but skew the % when applying rule based analysis.
    In my experience having the knowledge of optimum function, operation and conditions of use, agreeing on the clean or not point, in addition to highly efficient repeatable method of implementing that knowledge with practical skills of executing seems to me a more complete set of skill than the “point fire end of stick at thingy and make go bang” where both hit the object.
    Basically I believe and experience that a person doesn’t need to shoot daily or even weekly if, you or I, have 1) full understanding of a weapons optimal operating functionality {clean or not, pieces missing that don’t affect operation, etc.}, 2) knowledge and experience of its continued safe functional performance while operating it, 3)execution skill leveraging a natural stable repeatable method that is also comfortable {everyone has minor physiological differences} and 4) a method one that maintains a highest target-value-impact ratio.
    Meaning i feel confident there are shooters who are as good and possibly better than some competition shooters but don’t spoil thousands of rounds on dirt or sawdust.

    1. The problem with your line of thinking is that “competition shooters” is a pretty wide field in terms of skill. However, I would disagree in general, because practice is what makes people good at shooting. For example, you’re not going to find some random dude off the farm who can outshoot Brian Zins; there isn’t going to be some guy hiding out who can just come off the bench and be better than JJ Racaza. That’s not how human skill works.

      1. Off the farm? Highly unlikely they’ll be world class (without competition/ classes to sharpen their skills) that’s true especially with a handgun!

        However with a longgun of their choosing a lot of those kids can shoot really well! They learned to make shots under pressure on a target with a brain long ago (pedatation of their herds and/or food do make a pretty good motivator).

        Also some of these kids shoot a lot, trust me there’s a 5 gallon bucket of brass in my basement I’ve picked up out in farm country. So the idea of a magical ‘natural way with the gun’ kind of goes by the way side.

      2. If you ever need someone to write that article of cleaning military weapons I was a Marine machine gunner an can share some horror stories

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