Arguments for Competition Based on the Lives of Gun Fighters
by Ron Larimer, When the Balloon Goes Up!

It is common for firearms trainers downplay the value competition by saying that participants develop training scars that will “get you killed!”

In Massad Ayoob’s book Combat Shooting he chronicles 3 famous gun slingers, Wyatt Earp, Charlie Askins and Jim Cirillo. He breaks down their lives and famous encounters to show what made these men successful.

All three of them had four things in common…

  1. Confidence in their skills developed through practice of the fundamentals
  2. Confidence in their gear and tailored it to suit their needs
  3. Understanding of the tactics required to dominate the fight
  4. Competition

The next chapter in that book is called “Competition as Training” as 2 of the 3 famous gun fighters discussed were state or national champs, and the 3rd didn’t live in a state…

Confidence in Skill

It is hard to argue that the ability to draw, aim and shoot, quickly and accurately isn’t important in a “time is life situation.” The author once remarked “Competition is not a gun fight, but a gun fight is most definitely a competition.” Nay sayers still argue that there is no timer in a gunfight.

That’s true!

In fact a trainer once told me “you have the rest of your life to clear a malfunction in gunfight… and how long that is depends on how fast you get it done.” Training with a timer give you a quantifiable metric to track your improvement and competing with others lets you know how you compare to other people.

Responsible citizens don’t get to pick who they fight, when they fight, or where they fight… they only get to choose what they fight with… hence our companies slogan “You don’t get to choose When the Balloon Goes Up, only how prepared you are.” The faster and more accurate you are the more likely you have the skills you will need to prevail and the more people you are better than, the better chance you will have the edge in the fight.

Competition sets a standard of accuracy you must meet and then lets you see how you stack up against other people. At the same time shows you where you need to practice to improve. Competitors learn how fast they can go and still make the shot and how to run their gun effectively.

That level of skill buys them time!

Time they can use to de-escalate. Time they can use to formulate a plan. Or time they can use to make a well-aimed shot.

That level of skill also frees their mind from having to think about running the gun or shooting so they can think about the strategies and tactics they want to employ and be more aware of their surroundings.

Confidence in Gear

Gear doesn’t win a gun fight, but to have the right mindset you need to be confident your gear will work. Competition pushes the shooter to use their equipment aggressively and prove that it will continue to function with hard use and gives the shooter the chance to test their gear positioning for what works best for them. The competitor can then tailor it to suit their needs.

While there might be some tangible benefit to the actual modification of guns or gear, the real benefit likely comes from the time spent thinking about how it is going to be used and the familiarity with the equipment.

That time allows the shooter to internalize the knowledge that it might occur, so there is no disbelief when it happens, and they can immediately get to work. It also increases the chance that they have thought through many different scenarios and have a mental notecards ready, again so they can immediately get to work.

Action is faster than reaction and the more things you can do to buy you time the better chance you have to prevail.
Understanding Tactics

The biggest knock on USPSA and IDPA that the tactics used aren’t those that are used in a defensive scenario.

Nope… and?

The ability run a gun and the knowledge of tactics are mutually exclusive. While they should be drilled together, there is no reason they should be learned together.

Everyone agrees a defensive use of a handgun is a chaos system and there is no way to prepare for every instance. Today’s action pistol competitions gives you the opportunity to see many different target presentations and think with a gun; even if the rules of your game aren’t consistent with your plan it provides you with an opportunity to consider how you would attack the situation. If you only train on your own you are restricted to the drills and scenarios that you can create.

Each of the gun fighters in Massad’s book were law enforcement officers and tried to control the circumstances of their fight by selecting the time and place and even shaping the battlefield as much as possible and the biggest difference was they were all the actor in the fight (as opposed to the reactor).

We can’t do that.

But… We can learn from their interest in the fight, so that we are mentally prepared for a variety of situations alone or with our families and friends. We can preplan shooting lanes in our homes, offices, and vehicles. And we can identify triggers that will cause our escalation in force so there is no inner debate When the Balloon Goes Up and it is time to fight.

Can you be prepared for a fight without competing?


The advantages of competition are less about the competition and more about the gun focused life style that competitive shooters often share.

Competition can give you a reason to practice the fundamentals, it can give you confidence in your gear and your ability to use it, knowledge of what you are capable of at speed and under stress, the chance to see multiple target positions and the opportunity to talk with and learn from other shooters… Oh and it is fun.

Tactics are separate but the guy that competes is more likely to think about them and better prepared to implement them.