Beyond Expert: Competition creates greater skill

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People outside the competition world often fail to understand the sort of skill levels possible. Routine qualification is the most vestigial level of basic understanding. Police and military qualification is the equivalent of a simple arithmetic quiz considered easy by elementary school children. It’s a perfectly acceptable level for a student actually in elementary school and basic/recruit/Academy training because we’re working with a brand-new novice. It is no longer acceptable years later because the student should have progressed.

Even students taking courses at quality shooting schools sometimes fail to gain this. Taking a class is receiving instruction, it is not training. Real skill development takes more on-going effort.

I discuss this at length in my book Beyond Expert: Tripling Military Shooting Skills using U.S. Army qualification standards as compared to NATO combat competition courses. In it I show that anyone interested in competition shooting needs to at least triple military qualification “expert” (or even “perfect”) standards as a starting point. For handgun events, this can be increased by a factor of five or more. Shooters consistently winning need to be better still. For more details, read Beyond Expert: Story Behind The Book

In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s Rob Leatham at Gunsite (off camera to the left) shooting against and beating threeother shooters in a video posted on Gunsite’s Instagram page:

Wisdom from Nate Perry

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From Nate Perry

I love the practical sport shooting side of things because there is nothing to debate about. You either win or you are trying to. You can’t weasel out of anything, because your name has a “XX%” next to it.

In the world of defensive training, the goal post moves a lot. “Cops can’t shoot”, “gamer shit will get you killed”, ” Most military people are dangerous with a gun”, “you work in a gun shop?LOLGTFO” “Dry practice and timers just aren’t contextual”, etc.

If you ever need a good hobby/pastime/art where you can never lose, just claim to be a defensive firearms instructor. If anyone questions you, just play mental musical chairs with their legitimate questions about your credibility or skills until they just go away.

You’ll always have customers and the best part is your ego-cushioning curriculum is a great place for the participation trophy generation. In the extremely rare event you have a student who has to get their gun out and is the least terrible of the two parties involved, you can swoop in and take credit for it.

More “games’ll getcha killed”


I am very pragmatic when it comes to realistic training. My training partner is a Combat Pistol Gamer and we are on opposite poles when we discuss training for an armed encounter and Matches. I participated in Matches–and still do sometimes–but always used my duty gear and my duty pistol. I would come in 4th or 5th in the Locals but people thought it was strange.

Anyway you cut it, competition is not training…one can come close by using AirSoft and paintball…rubber knives and Force on Force exercises but paper targets usually do not move and never shoot back. I would equate this with heavy bag training vs training with a sparring partner. “Tactics” used in matches are not remotely realistic and would get one killed in a real encounter. The most important element is extreme stress which can not be duplicated at a Match event. I began my research on this topic when I was in a deadly force encounter on 2 occasions where, after the fact, my entire upper torso and arms froze up in a contraction about 10 minutes later during the de-briefing. (No one was shot but 1mm close) Some people have experienced this DURING the encounter.

When I joined the military, Dad confessed something to me: He said, “It’s no dishonor to “mess yourself” in combat!” He was a WW II combat veteran had several very close encounters with the enemy and with what he described as a Komodo Dragon that nudged him while he was asleep in tall grass in SE Asia. I learned that the body is lightening its load before Flight or Fight. You may publish this letter.
– Ted Sames

>> Anyway you cut it, competition is not training

Preparation for competition is. It is literally a dictionary definition of the word. Scores and results provide useful objectivity as to the effectiveness and progress on one’s training.

>> I would equate this with heavy bag training vs training with a sparring partner.

Good boxers and martial artists are wise to incorporate both. Just because a given training or practice approach doesn’t incorporate everything that might possibly be useful doesn’t invalidate what it is useful for.

>> “Tactics” used in matches are not remotely realistic and would get one killed in a real encounter.

Prove it. You claim this is injurious so the onus is on you to provide proof of documented injuries.

If you can’t cite specific, by-name examples this is empty conjecture.

Topping that off, I can cite numerous successful fighters stating their competition experience was directly beneficial.

Just for starters, every member of the US Army Reserve Marksmanship Program that has deployed and saw combat has stated their experience with the Teams was beneficial to their personal training and the training of their subordinates. Not one member has made any claim this competition experience was detrimental in any way.

Besides, “tactics” are merely an expedient towards a goal. The context matters.

The most important element is extreme stress which can not be duplicated at a Match event.

Or duplicated in any environment where the trainee doesn’t truly believe he will be killed. If nobody is actually being killed (or realistically perceiving they might be) then it is a simulation. Of course, there are those with both competition and combat experience that have said they felt competition stress was greater…

>> I participated in Matches – and still do sometimes – but always used my duty gear and my duty pistol. I would come in 4th or 5th in the Locals…

Fascinating. You mean this experience has not yet gotten you killed? Or forced you to instill “training scars” upon yourself and students?

>> When one believes that matches are realistic they really fooling themselves.

Good training is that which builds better usable skills and capabilities. The only people fooling themselves are those failing to measure if skills and capabilities are actually improving or maintaining. Group shooting and zeroing and other range exercises aren’t “realistic” and they don’t simulate lethal encounters. Shall we abandon this as useless as well? How about fitness. Chin ups, deadlifts, and fitness tests aren’t simulating lethal encounters either.

Evolution Of Firearms Training

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Start at 20:15

“Why are we going to go all the way out there? We’ve got guys right here that are just as good.”

This may point to how the myth that competitive shooting causes bad habits started to be invented. I’ve pointed out how this myth continues to propagate as people continue to make up reasons/excuses but how did it start? Among contemporary instructors, I believe Jeff Cooper and Gunsite may be among some of the first to blame.

The question was raised about why a person would travel across the country and pay for a class when as-good or better learning could be had locally. Yes, the school has a cadre and curriculum, but the knowledge there is developed in the same manner as anyone learning a subject and practicing skills. When your local shooting club has regular participants as skilled and knowledgable as the cadre in that school, people that have the same variety of training background, real-world experience, and demonstratable skill, there isn’t a compelling reason to spend money and time going. Failing to have a good answer to this response led to some people to manufacturing a reason.

Jeff Cooper first developed his school and curriculum by hosting organized competitive events and testing what consistently worked best. Local groups affiliated with a national body involved in something similar will likely have equally-good and motivated participants.

This video was the first instruction tape (on VHS!) I ever owned. As Cooper mentions, it was filmed just after Jimmy Von Sorgenfrei won the 1979 IPSC World Championship. Notice how his points are based on who wins major competition, as the Weaver stance was the preferred approach by winning SWPL and then IPSC shooters (USPSA and IDPA didn’t exist yet) up to that point.

Within a few years after this, the preferred approach by winning competitors started to change. Interestingly enough, the switch from Weaver to modern isosceles in practical competition in the early 1980s took about as long as the switch from point shooting to Weaver did in the late 1950s and for the same reasons.

In the 1950s, everyone “knew” point shooting was “better” until Jack Weaver consistently won events using a different approach. It took some years but shooters adopted to this new approach as it consistently proved better by actual test.

In the late 1970s, everyone “knew” Weaver was “better” until Rob Leatham and Brian Enos consistently won events using a different approach. It took some years but shooters adopted the new approach as it consistently proved better by actual test. This is the same way Jack Weaver started.

Cooper did another series of instructional videos some years later, right about the same time he declared IPSC/USPSA as guilty of using “rooney guns.” Never mind that 1950s era practical/combat shooters were using competition-specific rooney guns and gear. Of course, those damn gamers were also using an “incorrect” isosceles stance. “Everyone knows” that the Weaver stance is not a “range technique” it is a “street technique” for when you don’t know what type of situation you’re getting into…

Never mind that Jack Weaver says his entire motivation for creating the approach that bears his name was to win the Leatherslap and other competitions organized by Jeff Cooper at Big Bear and the Southwest Combat Pistol League. And success in competition was considered a great point for proven effectiveness, up until competitors started using something different. To continue charging students money to learn The Way, even if a different way might be better, there needs to be a reason why your The Way is best.

Kark Rehn has more info here:

Lest anyone think I’m hating on Cooper and Gunsite/API, my thoughts on this are best summed up in my review of The Modern Technique of the Pistol. It did, and still will, work just fine for anyone willing to put in a little bit of on-going work to learn it. If the bullets go where they’re supposed to when they’re supposed to, the technique used is good. Developing actual, measurable skill with your chosen technique is the most important part. Jeff Cooper adds to this here.

The best approach to evolving your own training is to commit to on-going work, even if it’s just one or two minutes-long sessions each week, and get involved with a group of skilled practitioners hosting regular, on-going events. Attend those events as often as you can, practicing what you learn and training your skills between events.

Start at 19:40
This sort of community exists at every place hosting organized shooting events. Go find those events. Your attendance will improve your ability, put you in contact with the most skilled locals, and support the future of such events and places being held in the future.

Competition is critical. Take a class if you like but you’ll be better served in the long run by going to matches where you’ve got guys right there that are just as good. Even if you do take a class, you’ll still need to go practice somewhere once in awhile.

More here:

Realistic Training


“Gunsite has outstanding realistic training.”

– Ernie Van Der Leest, Gunsite graduate

The Garland Texas Stage at the Gunsite Alumni Shoot

Gunsite Shotgun Advanced Tactical Problems Class Shoot Off
"Ya gotta remember that safety..." I guess that's needed advice for a student at an Advanced Tactical Problems class. But competition (like a shoot off) is no good because it's not as stressful as the real world...

556 Carbine Shoot Off Drill

223 Carbine Class

Vehicle Defense Class drill

250 Shoot Off

Another tactical Gunsite exercise

Another 250 Shoot Off, with the two class winners

In case you missed the caption, the guy that unintentionally hurled the magazine downrange was among the top students in this class.

A range at Gunsite... or is this set up for a USPSA competition?

Gosh, all of this looks an awful like any number of competitive shooting matches I’ve been to. Like, nearly identical. Well, at least when watching the folks that typically round out the bottom half of the final results…

In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s Rob Leatham at Gunsite (off camera to the left) shooting against and beating three other shooters:

Question: If I set up these Gunsite courses of fire as demonstrated here at my range and run them as a match, at what point does this become unrealistic and start inducing training scars or bad habits?

Tactics and Training Scars

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Tactics are an expedient toward a goal in a specific environment and may need to change if/when the goal or environment changes. For far too many, “tactical” means “doing it my way” and “training scar” means “doing it different than me.”

People claiming to shoot “tactically” at competitive events by going slow are NOT tactical as their tactics are bad in the context of the event they’re participating even if their approach may be appropriate elsewhere. It will not create a “training scar” to shoot fast if that is what the situation calls for, however, it is bad business to justify poor results due to inappropriate actions by claiming to be more tactical.

Pre-planning, speed, and violence of action can be important tenets for tactics.

Here’s an example from Gunsite. The infamous Scrambler:

I guess it’s OK to pre-plan a stage and then run through for time and score, but only if the tactical class you pay to be in sets it up for you…

Claiming to be “tactical” needs to include recognizing what an appropriate tactic is in context. The context matters and changes what appropriate tactics might be.

CCW Lessons From Competition


My background as a competition shooter has never once been a crutch through any of the realistic training I’ve attended. Instead, what I realized was that, even though I was mostly a race gun shooter, the skills developed in shooting against some of the best in the world translated seamlessly into working with a stock duty pistol, and even gave me an edge when it came to real-world applications.

When I practice my shooting, I don’t run through specialized match stages; instead I focus on specific skillsets that have a direct, positive impact on real-world applications.

Simon “J.J.” Racaza

Racaza’s experience echoes what every competitive shooter with military and police experience has found. People seeking to improve themselves far beyond the minimum standards will excel far beyond the minimum standards most are content to meet. Despite all the fanciful catchphrases and machismo, doing this requires actually participating in something where skills are tested beyond minimums. Cowering behind excuses to avoid such tests accomplishes nothing.

Especially when the excuses are mostly fabrications:

And there are zero examples of any actual problems in the first place:

Read more:

Popular Contradictions in Defensive Shooting


“Empty Chamber Carry delays your defensive response with a firearm and is not appropriate for those serious about armed self-defense.”

But you stage a concealed carry firearm when there’s an imminent threat — not an actual threat but when you are fairly sure something is wrong and you want better access to your firearm. By staging the firearm, you do not have to move your concealment garment, put your hand on your firearm, and present it.

– Rob Pincus

Fair enough. Choosing a method known to be slower for use in a time-critical task is foolish, especially when the slower approach is used under the facade of safety concerns that don’t (or shouldn’t) exist. And staging in advance when you can also helps perform a time-critical task quicker.

So… you should carry chamber loaded and stage your concealed carry firearm when possible in order to gain an advantage because it will lead to a faster response/access/draw. But staging to gain an advantage in a competition is “bad.” And worrying about gaining an advantage because it will lead to a faster response/access/draw on the clock is also “bad.”

Empty chamber carry causes a needless delay. Know what else causes a delay? General lack of skill caused by never training under time pressure. The exact sort of thing tested and rewarded in practical competitive formats. Telling people to “balance speed and accuracy” (a ripoff of IPSC’s motto Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas) but criticizing the means to actually assess it is counter productive. Other folks have jumped on this issue recently but I used this quote specifically because he’s publicly made claims that participation in competition causes “damage to defensive shooter’s habits” though there is zero proof or examples to verify this.

Pincus is doubly contradictory here for having openly criticized practical competitive shooting and for use of timed exercises, even when they’re warranted. Yes, we can fall into a trap of measuring meaningless increments but many folks fail to establish even minimal base line skills. Ask a group of military or police personnel to shoot a drill in a time frame that a USPSA B-class shooter would find challenging but reasonable, and you’ll understand why many range personnel insist on wearing body armor. In addition to use of a timer for measuring fundamental skill, the time it takes to process information and make decisions can also be measured.

Complaining against a method for being too slow in one place and then complaining against the only means to measure the reduction of slowness is foolish. Because we wouldn’t want to do something that slows us down due to the time-critical nature of the task… but then fail to measure or test elapsed time when performing the task.

This is similar to an issue cited by other low-skill shooters within the hunting community.

Cops same as Novice Shooters

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[T]he research shows that officers on average are only marginally better than lesser-trained shooters in terms of getting rounds on target

Despite being a low percentage occurrence, a high stakes event such as a fight warrants developing sufficient skill and is the reason police and military expend resources attempting to build this. Success rates are sometimes lacking. Hit rates and percentages are bandied about. Some suggest curriculum changes, increases or decreases to standard square range exercises, changes of doctrinal shooting positions, and the increased or decreased emphasis of sighted fire.

Here is the terrible truth almost everyone fails to address. Any change in doctrine, curriculum, or funding is doomed to failed improvements until a progressive skill standard is enforced. It doesn’t matter if the number of required qualifications are quadrupled if participants are continually held to the same, elementary, basic, easy, low standards merely sufficient to graduate academy/recruit/basic training. And training isn’t “advanced” unless it includes an actual, measured skill assessment students are held to, one that increases in difficulty over time. The number of training hours or successful qualification results are meaningless until faced with scored tests that are more challenging over time.

Studies of this nature continue to find police and military personnel are only slightly more skilled than those never having fired a gun before. This is because most police and military personnel are in fact only slightly more skilled than those never having fired a gun before.

Based on the personnel chosen for “expert”, “intermediate”, and “naive” groups in this study, every one of them are actually at a novice level. There’s no difference in results because there is no real difference in skill between them.

The skill difference between a completely untrained shooter, marginally-qualified personnel, and personnel capable of “expert” or near “perfect” qualification scores is marginal. They’re all still novices, though some of them are slightly worse than the others. It’s like the difference in mathematics knowledge between a second-grade child scoring a 70 or 90 on an elementary arithmetic quiz. It’s the reason there is no connection found between combat and qualification range results.


Study: Newbies Better Able to Kill Assailants With Head Shot Than Cops


Competition Shooter, Real World Encounter

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This is yet another example of how competition shooting causes bad habits during real world encounters. Oh, wait…

Man Who Shot Crossroads Mall Terrorist Is USPSA Competitor, 3-Gun Shooter

USPSA Shooter,  3-Gunner, and NRA-certified firearms instructor Jason Falconer has been identified as the man who shot and killed a 22-year-old Somali immigrant who went on a stabbing rampage inside a St. Cloud, (MN) Mall on Saturday.

The apparent terrorist—who apparently asked victims if they were Muslims before stabbing them—was engaged by Falconer inside the mall.

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