The following was posted by David Williams, moderator of the Threat Focused forums, and is one of the best, most reasoned treatises I’ve read on the subject.
Yes, the shooting world is dominated by competition shooters. I specifically exclude the word “sighted” because I believe that sighted vs. threat-focused and competition vs. real world are two different discussions, and to throw them together over simplifies the topic.
Competition shooting is what it is… it is a natural extension of our desire to compete at damn near everything that the human body can do – to pit our skill against the next guy and to see how we measure up. As a general rule people cannot take the afternoon off, go down to the range, and shoot at each other until one is either wounded or dead in an effort to measure skill. Likewise, you just don’t see two guys stepping into the alley behind the bar to have a little disagreement at 20 paces. We have an inherent desire to know who the better man is, who is more skilled, who is faster, more efficient, more accurate, and just all around more impressive. Who gets the girl? Who gets the bragging rights?
Another factor is that, to a certain degree, I believe that life and death are the ultimate yard sticks by which our skills are measured; and combat certainly provides that system of pass or fail, live or die. However, there is usually a shortage of on-demand life-or-death situations that we can involve ourselves in to get that experience. Instead, many turn to organized competition. For those of us lucky enough to see the elephant, spit in its eye, and bring home a story or two…well…we usually find that everything else tastes a little bland. Consequently we tend to look upon “sport” shooting as something less than a true measure of skill. One of my favorite phrases on the topic was one I heard many years ago (I can’t even give credit because I don’t remember where I heard it or if it was original) is:
“The difference between combat and sports is that in combat…you bury the guy that comes in second.”
There’s just something about coming out the other side alive that makes us look upon practitioners of sport with a little disdain. As an aside, however, most of us know that on many occasions it was pure damn luck that brought us home. Regardless, it doesn’t change the way we look at it.
So we’ve got our pure sport shooters and we’ve got our combat vets who have gone toe to toe with an armed enemy and come out on top (LE included)…the two reigning authorities on the art.
But who do newcomers turn to for advice and guidance? Well.. by its very nature a sporting community is going to have piles and piles of theories as well as performance data to support those theories. They’ve also got people dedicated to fine-tuning their art until it’s as exact a science as it can be. That data is readily available, the knowledge there for those willing to learn. The techniques are specific and the results are measurable.
Let’s look at what the other side of the coin –
Unless one belongs to that select group of human beings known as Special Operations Forces, the opportunities for armed engagement over the past 50 years have been quite limited. From Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, I hear quite a bit of “I never even saw my sights”. But to be completely fair, Korea and Vietnam were different wars. One of the only things I learned about weapons employment from Vietnam was how important fire discipline is. It was enough of an issue that it resulted in a design feature in the next generation rifle; the M16A2. Full auto was replaced with a short three-round burst. Why? Because we learned that people weren’t aiming but were instead choosing quantity over quality when it came to sending rounds downrange. Within the context of our current conflict, Hue City was really the only battle with lessons that could be carried forward. Even then, nothing could prepare us for what we found in Fallujah in 2004.
My point here is that simply having survived combat doesn’t necessarily make us experts on what will and will not help us survive combat. Sometimes it just means that we were in the right place at the right time, and sometimes it really does mean that we have executed a series of well-timed decisions that ensured that we came out on top. Sometimes it means that we were masters of our training, and sometimes it means that we should have sat 6 inches to the left.
It’s hard to keep score in that world, and people want to know that the person they’re listening to has the highest score around.
I will say this: that competition shooters have much to offer the trained killers. Had I spent half the time and effort practicing what they had to teach that the successful competition shooters do, I would have been a hundred times more deadly. It’s unrealistic to bring our world of life-and-death consequences into their world of precision sport…but it’s definitely worth our time to bring some of their precision into our world of life-and-death.
To sum it all up, it’s not the competition shooters that I have a problem with. It’s the competition shooters who believe that the stress of competing somehow overshadows the stress of being killed, and that somehow they are qualified to preach to me about how stress affects the body and mind. It’s the competition shooters who believe that everything they teach is applicable to real-world situations and that getting a high score in the last tournament somehow equates survivability under life-threatening stress.