Why Competitive Shooters and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Practitioners have a Combat Advantage, and Why You should “Game it”!

This was written by “H.B.”, a 10 year infantry and special operations veteran with multiple deployments to OIF and OEF and published by Defense Review.


Real violence is not sporting; it is confusing, often grotesque, and characterized by intense physical effects upon combatants. In a real fight, the winner is often the individual or individuals who employ simple, effective maneuvers in a precise and deadly manner. But the application of these techniques in a fight can be quite difficult. Countless repetitions have to be performed for a gross motor skill, such as a punch, to be performed upon a resistant opponent. For a complex motor skill, such as marksmanship, thousands of repetitions are performed before an individual can utilize that technique against any sort of resistance. Therein lies the beauty of competition; competitive training does not dwell on tactics or mindset, but instead on the constant repetition of key skills. It is in this context that I believe that sporting events can function as a decisive training tool for martial-minded individuals.

In this article, I will discuss my opinions on competitive training and the sports I participate in, specifically MMA (mixed martial arts) and multi-gun shooting competitions. I understand and fully acknowledge that sports are not a panacea. Sports do not attempt to solve tactical problems or mindset issues that are potentially fatal in the real world. However, when a fight reaches the stages where preemption and tactical decision-making have failed, the quick, violent, application of effective techniques is called for. The greatest boon that competitive sports can bestow upon the combat community is the application of simple, proven, techniques in a resistant or unscripted environment.

Because marksmanship is a necessary skill-set for any warrior, and a difficult task to master, constant repetition and practice is required. Multi-gun competitions are unique in that they force a shooter to solve problems in an environment that is created by another person. This quick thinking (and shooting) lends itself to many tactical applications, as combat itself is usually characterized by individuals being forced to make a number of decisions under stress, in a compressed amount of time. Especially at CQB distances, the speed in which you engage a threat can be the difference between life and death, therefore a shooting sport that emphasizes speed and accuracy will help to improve a combatant’s survivability. It is my opinion that the skills gained in multigun have a close transfer to combative shooting techniques, and that most people who have some cognitive abilities will be able to utilize the benefits of what they have gained in competition, and apply it against an enemy in combat.

Hand-to-hand combat is a necessary skill for any warrior. Armies since the beginning of time have made it mandatory for soldiers to learn to fight empty handed. Mixed martial arts have revolutionized martial arts training, in that it allows a fighter to utilize full contact techniques that can easily incapacitate an opponent, with little risk of injury in training. Furthermore, it creates an environment where hand-to-hand combat training can be conducted in a productive manner, this safe environment can also be used to pressure-test ideas, and give fighters a realistic understanding of their capabilities. This is incredibly necessary for the modern combatant, because in a civilian context, many fights start at an extremely close range, and it is important for a fighter to be able to engage or disengage at this distance, depending on the tactical situation.

While it’s a common cliché in the tactical community that a fighter does not want to grapple with multiple opponents, that statement is also dependant on your opponents not being able to take you to the ground. Without some grappling training, it will be much easier for any semi-skilled thug to tackle you. But with even some very minimal time spent in a gym, your takedown defense will improve and some limited sparring with an untrained opponent will convince even the strongest non-believer in the value of mixed martial arts training.

Competitive martial sports have a solid place in the training regimen of a dedicated warrior. I understand that a warrior also must pursue a heavy strength and conditioning program, scenario training, force-on-force exercises, marksmanship drills, and many other tactical enterprises. He or she should also make time for marksmanship and combat sports, as they will further enhance their abilities. With that in mind, I recommend a few ideas that will help further a competitor and warrior in their sporting pursuits.

The first is to make sure you use techniques that work in a resistant or non-scripted environment, and pressure-test them. If you think a pistol retention technique will work better than the techniques you have learned previously, have a friend try to take a rubber gun away from you. You will find out very quickly whether you have control of your (dummy) weapon, or your friend is now pointing it at you.

The second is to use your actual kit, or something close to it. This one is self-explanatory. It’s of little use to shoot a custom STI pistol in competition if you are issued and carry a Glock.

The third piece of advice is to not worry about being a champion at the beginning; just enjoy what you are doing, and let the scores fall where they may. Competition will lay waste to many a large ego, so it’s best not to bring one.

The fourth is not to get discouraged and overwhelmed by the situation, remember that a 70% effective fight game that is based on competition is better than a 10% fight game that is based on Rambo movies.

The fifth and final piece of advice is just to enjoy. Enjoyment is the key to the continued pursuit of a task, so find something you like and keep after it.

There is some talk of a timer [as used in shooting competition] being a stimulus that induces stress. I believe tactically oriented shooters should treat the buzzer as an indicator of a lethal threat. This could be a punch, gunshot, or an IED blast; it’s simply a “go” signal.

A 3-gun stage indicates a worst-case scenario, where a shooter has no cover and has to engage multiple threats, this happens in CQB fights.

MMA clinch. The best way to not have to fight on the ground in a weapons based environment is to be able to stop takedowns, and the best way to learn how to stop takedowns is to have a skilled opponent attempt to take you down. The worst situation an unarmed combatant can be in is one with limited mobility, where an attacker has the initiative.