Competition vs. Street Training

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Competition vs. street training — again, and why my opinion has wiggled around

by Ralph Mroz

Over the years I’ve written a few articles on the difference between training for match competitions and training for the street. I have found that my opinion has changed over the last few years in that I find more value in competitive-orientated shooting that I used to. In no particular order, here’s the things – pro and con – that have influenced my current state of mind on the matter:

  • There is a lot more to street self defense than shooting, but shooting is a critical and central component of it.

  • Competitive shooters are the best pure shooters, so if you want to learn to shoot, competitive training is how you’ll get good at it.

  • Competitive shooting can train some bad habits into you. For example, you can shoot too fast (that is, faster than you can assess the situation), cover is treated as an inconvenience rather than a life-saving opportunity, you shoot without vocalization, penalties for misses are not life-destroying, among others. [Editor’s note: All of these can – and are – mitigated by course design if that is the goal.]

  • You can mitigate the disadvantages of competitive training by doing it only as a sideline compared to street training or by shooting competitions with street gear and using street tactics. You can also modify competitive training drills to be more realistic while retaining their shooting improvement quality.  [Editor’s note: A significant portion of all effective training, for competition or otherwise, is developing fundamental skills. Concerning firearm use, there is no difference in fundamental skills with street training or competition.]

  • Now that so many men have retired out of our top-tier special forces (Delta, whatever 6 is called this week, and so on) and are teaching serious members of the public and LE, we have more insight into their training methods, which, and this is important, have been validated in copious close-quarter combat engagements since 2003. One thing that strikes me is just how much a good deal of their training seems to resemble competitive training, which is no real surprise in that every SF unit has a top competitive shooter that they regularly get instruction from.

  • Competitive shooters, in order to get an edge, slick up their guns with a too-light trigger. Yes, Rule Three is the ultimate safety, but on the street you have to expect to get startled, bumped, trip and fall, as well as get into physical struggles. During these events your finger can involuntarily come onto the trigger, and a trigger weight less than 5 pounds — and ideally more — is just too light.  [Editor’s note: All military and many civilian venues (notably Production/Stock/Standard divisions) mandate equipment and modifications suitable for issue and/or field/street use.]

  • Tom Givens’ record of all of his 60+ (armed) students winning their gunfights is impressive, and Tom trains in traditional, competition-compatible, technique.

  • Things like acquiring a sight picture and resetting the trigger — both foundational competitive techniques — do seem to have value under stress. The trigger reset seems to become subconscious programmed, and whether or not you can actually acquire a sight picture under stress (I believe it depends on the amount of stress you are under compared to what you have become accustomed to), you are certainly building kinesthetic memory which seems to hold up sufficiently well.

Some additional points:

Competitive shooting need not encourage bad habits. Things like shooting too fast and cover use can be addressed with course of fire design based on the goals.

A significant portion of all effective training, for competition or otherwise, is developing fundamental skills. Contrary to popular myth, competitive shooters do conduct training or practice by shooting full competitive courses repeatedly. Instead, they drill fundamental skills, the same base skills that apply to all firearm use.

Concerns with equipment, such as slicked up guns with a too-light triggers, can be addressed in equipment divisions forbidding such modifications. Military matches require as-issue gear and ammo, for example.

Ken Hackathorn’s Selective Memory


I’m not sure if Ken Hackathorn is choosing selective memory or just waxing nostalgic. In his interview with Recoil magazine he lambasts organized competitive shooting. There are no concrete examples, just the usual suspects of empty, unsubstantiated claims. Details here:

Myth of Competition Training Scars again


Ken Hackathorn spent a bit of his interview with Recoil magazine looking down on competition shooting for giving bad habits. Yes, the same Ken Hackathorn that is a founding member of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) and International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), and helped usher in 3 Gun competitions.

Here are the relevant quotes lifted from Recoil magazine.

KH: [Jeff] Cooper started IPSC and I was one of the founding members. When IPSC started, in the mid ’70s, it was combat shooting. We were drawing from holsters, shooting multiple targets, reloading under stress, using varying courses and it was “radical.”

Recoil: What difference do you see between shooters who train for competition and those who train for self-defense?
KH: Certain things are just different in the real world versus the competition or “game boy” world. A lot of guys talk about their splits and times. When I hear somebody talking about splits, I pus the delete button on them because they’re a game boy, they’re not a realist. That’s something that is very important in the world, but they’ve lost any semblance of reality in what they’re doing. You end up programming yourself with reflexive responses, and those responses can get you killed in the real world. They think that if it was a “real scenario” they wouldn’t do those responses, but in reality, they would.

There was a period post-Sept. 11 where all the special-ops teams in the military started bringing in champion shooters to teach them techniques. Once they went off to war and got a chance to apply the techniques, they found that most of it was bullshit and borderline suicidal in a real-world application. On the flipside, we’ve also learned that you can have a ton of military experience or a great record, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a great teacher.

Recoil: What do you see as a central obstacle for competition shooters looking to take more self-defense styled classes?
KH: The emphasis on speed and certain muscle memory drills can be really harmful in a real-world application. Under stress, the conscious analytical mind doesn’t work; only the subconscious mind can function from what it’s been fed. When bullets are flying, you’ve got the IQ of a lizard. FIghting with a firearm means having to work with what you’ve programmed into your mind – and that can only happen from practice. Everything we do is critical in that respect. A target in real life might not be “one and done.” He may keep coming at you, but you stop firing because you already hit them once – like you would a posed target on a speed competition. It’s not how fast you hit somebody. It’s where you hit them that can neutralize the situation. That’s where my Wizard Drill comes into play. You’ve got to learn to focus on an aggressor rather than a clock.

Let’s see if we’re following.

    • Competition is bad because “guys talk about their splits and times” making them non-realists but speed is something that is very important in the real world. It’s important in the real world but competitors who pay attention to it have “lost any semblance of reality in what they’re doing.”
    • “When bullets are flying, you’ve got the IQ of a lizard. Fighting with a firearm means having to work with what you’ve programmed into your mind – and that can only happen from practice” but developing this sort of programmed, reflexive skill for winning competition can get you killed in the real world.
    • Champion shooters teach “bullshit and borderline suicidal” things to special operations personnel, which is why special operations personnel such as Kyle Lamb, Frank Proctor, Pat MacNamara, Brian McKibben, Jeff Gurwitch, Kyle X (, Jon Canipe and every special operations troop I’ve ever shot with either competes or finds some value in it. It’s why Fort Bragg has open competitions at Range 14 and 37, and why JSOC and other special operations commands host competitive shooting. It’s also why people like Ken Hackathorn and Larry Vickers bothered to co-found competition shooting organizations. For further examples of more Special Operations saying the exact opposite of Hackathorn’s false claim:
    • Competition is bad because a “target in real life might not be ‘one and done.’ He may keep coming at you…” and you shouldn’t “stop firing because you already hit them once – like you would a posed target on a speed competition.” This is why you should use Ken Hackathorn’s Wizard Drill “to learn to focus on an aggressor rather than a clock.”The Wizard Drill consists of a single posed IDPA/USPSA competition target shot in a one-and-done fashion, usually with a single shot, while shooting on the clock. The timing is consistent with recommended practice guidelines for practical shooting competition.

      I offer the following ‘Wizard Drill’. It is very simple, requires only five rounds of ammo, and can be shot on any range that allows work from the holster.

      IDPA or IPSC (USPSA) targets are ideal. Place a 4″ circle centered in the head of the target. The handgun you use should be the one you carry, in the manner you routinely pack it. Ammo should be the self defense or duty ammo you carry as well.
      The time for each string of fire is 2.5 seconds.
      – Start at 3 yards. On signal, draw and fire one head shot strong hand only at the head.
      – Repeat at 5 yards, but you may use both hands.
      – Repeat at 7 yards, again both hands are permitted.
      – At 10 yards draw and fire two (2) body shots in the allowed 2.5 seconds.

      When you are done, you should have three head shots and two body hits. A miss is a fail. You can drop 2 points and past the test, any more is a fail. Set your timer at 2.5 seconds. I allow 2.7 as that is about the length of the buzzer on most timers. If you are using a pocket carry mode, you may start with your hand on the gun in the pocket. Otherwise, hands normal at sides, no touching of the gun until the buzzer. Hits in the 4″ head circle or cutting the line are considered down zero, outside the circle but inside the head perforation is down one point.
      Competent and practiced shooters may consider this drill simple, but let’s be honest these folks make up less than one tenth of one precent of the people that carry firearms for self defense.

“Competent and practiced shooters” is a nice way of saying “competition shooters.”

As with others that propagate this myth, we’re still waiting on concrete examples of this “problem” causing actual problems. There’s this nebulous notion that competition is bad because some people keep making the claim but still no named examples.

Coonan Limited Edition .357 Magnum

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Only Available until June 30, 2015

Coonan Inc., manufacturer of the unique custom 1911 chambered in .357 Magnum, introduced a new Limited Edition Compact model based on the company’s “Classic” full size model.

The Limited Edition Compact is built with a stainless steel 4-inch barrel, 6+1 single-stack magazine, fixed night sights, black milled aluminum grips, and a black anodized trigger. Because this is a limited edition, it will carry an LTD serial number. This exclusive pistol is only available until June 30, 2015. For more information, visit

Coonan .357 Magnum Compact Limited Edition Specs

 Caliber: .357 Magnum
 Barrel Length: 4”
 Magazine Capacity: 6 rounds +1
 Stainless Steel Finish
 Black Milled Aluminum Grips
 Fixed Night Sights
 Black Anodized Trigger
 LTD Serial Number (LTDxxxx)
 2 Magazines
 MSRP: $1799.00

Sensible advice from Kevin Creighton

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Sensible advice from Kevin Creighton. Learning good things from different places is much better than limiting yourself to “one true way.”

Is Firearms Training Your Single Point of Failure?

by Kevin Creighton

New Russian Army Pistol


Kalashnikov Concern of the Kalashnikov Group revealed their new PL-14 (Pistol designed by Lebedev) at the International military-technical Forum this month in Kubinka (Moscow region). Interestingly, the concept was developed jointly by Russian special forces and IPSC competitive shooters and the company has made a point in making that clear.

On another version of the pistol for highly skilled users (special forces and competitive shooters), trigger will be lighter.

“The versatility of our new pistol allows to use it not only as a military weapon for the military forces and police, but also as a pistol for different shooting competitions – said Kalashnikov CEO Alexey Krivoruchko. – We intend to produce different variants of the pistol, for example, with certain characteristics of the trigger mechanism for special forces units, as well as a civilian version with trigger that would be suitable for practical shooting competitions as well”.

Six Shooting Tips from Bryan Litz

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A series of Bryan Litz tips on ballistics and competition.

If you only know Bryan Litz from his Applied Ballistics Books and DVDs, you may not realize that this guy is a great marksman (along with being an actual rocket scientist). This guy can shoot. At the recent Berger Southwest Nationals (SWN), Bryan took top honors among all sling shooters — and he managed to do that while performing many other important match duties. The pay-off for Bryan was getting his name on a really cool “ghost dancer” perpetual trophy. Litz joked: “With what the wind gods can do at shooting matches, it makes sense to have a trophy that puts you in touch with the spirit world.”

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