Competition and the Novice

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The value of competition is that it encourages training, that is, the organization and measurement of incremental skill development. You don’t have to compete for this to occur, but this rarely does outside of competition.

Most people that don’t participate in formal competition claiming to only be interested in personal development almost never develop beyond a novice level. Police, military, CCW, hunters, and tactical school students rarely develop beyond a novice-level introduction. There are rare exceptions of course. Those exceptions end up training in a similar manner as competitors because that is how every skilled human ultimately develops higher level skill.


Harsh Reality: Police Are Not Highly Trained Firearms Experts


This article applies equally to military, probably more so.

Training Approach

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Training is on-going, programmed work designed to increase skill and/or capability. A critical component of training is measurement. Activity that fails to periodically measure skill and/or capability is not training.

Practice is skill or context-specific rehearsal. There is a component of practice in all training.

Instruction is receiving formally-organized information via a class or other means. This is very useful to anyone new to an idea or skill but ceases to be training when it fails to measurably improve skills.

Dictionaries do us a bit of disservice by sometimes listing these as synonyms but there is overlap. Receiving information via a formal class or similar means (instruction) might be the best training option, especially for a novice or someone new to a skill. For more skillful people, one-on-one skill consulting (coaching) is likely better. They don’t need new information about a skill (instruction), they need a knowledgeable person with a sharp eye for skill to observe what they already know and can do, and then offer an intelligent, organized path towards improvement. Rote repetitive rehearsal (practice) may be what’s needed to drive skill improvement. Much of this is best done by yourself and with a local peer group in regular, on-going sessions.

Instruction classes will likely involve some hands-on repetition (practice) of skills/techniques presented. A good instructor will also be able to work in a bit of one-on-one coaching during a class. There may also be an effort to establish an initial baseline of skills with the means to measure that. Besides presenting solid information, along with demonstrations and hands-on learning, the best thing a good class can offer a student is a clear path on what to do after the class is over. If the instructor didn’t hand you a program on what to do after the class along with a goal to work toward and the means to get there, the class and instructor is suspect.

Handgun presentation from a ready position, such as a holster, is a gun handling fundamental. This fundamental skill applies to any context where getting a firearm from ready to up and on target in a time-efficient manner is useful. Using this fundamental to win Steel Challenge events is a specific context and preparing properly for that specific context requires practice. Using this fundamental in a military environment is a different context but the skill remains the same.

Champion practical pistol competitor Doug Koenig discusses this here. Even when setting up to practice for a specific event, he continues to work base fundamental skills.

Hint: If a long-time national-level champion feels the need to continue working simple, fundamental skills as a primary component of his regimen, it is even more important for those of us with lesser skill to do so as well.

Five Dirty Little Secrets about Instruction

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  1. Almost everybody gets good enough with a little.
  2. Almost everybody can get better regardless of where they are. Way, way, waaay too much attention is given to equipment.
  3. Improvement is an asymptotic curve: if you’re a meatball shooter, two days with Hack and 30 other students will make you a LOT better. If you’re a competitive shooter or a guy who’s in peak training for one of the tougher Agency quals, you will get something out of it, but because you’re nearer the imaginary point of zen perfection, the improvement will naturally be subtle.
  4. A two-day cattle call class is not optimum from a training viewpoint, but it’s what’s possible.
  5. Training without reinforcement and practice is perishable.

Read the full article:

I’ll also add…

Most “training” are really classes offering instruction and are only training for those at a novice-level (“meatball shooters”)

No amount of class attendance or instruction (even if it’s called training) will improve skill and capability unless it is followed with organized, on-going practice and training on your own.

This is the true value of competition shooting. It provides the motivation and means to measure the organized, on-going practice and training. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect for you, regardless of how many lies cowards attempting to hide their lack of skill say otherwise. It exists, is readily available, and is always better than the random plinking you call “practice” (or nothing) you’re doing now.

Surveillance Camera Footage

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From Tamara Reynolds

Surveillance camera footage gets trotted out an awful lot and used as support for “How people naturally react in gunfights.”

We’re then expected to model our training on the actions of convenience store clerks who haul their boss’s pistol (which they’ve never before fired) out from under the counter to repel boarders, because that’s how we’ll “naturally react”. Or maybe using dash camera footage of an officer who hasn’t done a single dry trigger press since his academy days that wasn’t necessary to field strip his G22.

Whole schools of “teaching gunfighting” have sprung up based on watching grainy black and white footage of The Simpsons‘ Apu backpedaling wildly while shooting a pistol one-handed and covering his eyes with his other flipper because obviously that’s what we’ll “naturally” do. Why is that what we’ll “naturally” do? Well, because we saw this guy do it. Was he ever trained, or did he ever practice, to do anything else? *Shrug* Who knows? It’s what he “naturally” did.

There was a car chase in Lafayette not too many years back that ended with a stabbing and two officers “naturally” doing two different things with their pistols.

BTW, we’re still looking for ANY documentation of a competition shooter getting “killed in the streets” because of some bad habit he picked up in competition. To date, all that has surfaced is reaching, third hand (and further) anecdotes, tall tales, flat out lies, and campfire stories.

“Skill Specific” Exercise Considered Harmful

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It has become trendy among the unenlightened to invent novel ways to add resistance to certain skill-specific movements. To the uninformed, this seems like a good idea. The exercise now mimics the skill (sort of) so now we’re simultaneously exercising and improving skill. Good idea, except for the fact it doesn’t work and may be detrimental.

Just as bad, the people promoting this are often doing so out of financial motivation by offering a class or product tie-in. They can’t prove their approach is “better” but it offers the illusion of being scientific and the ad looks good. Operators are standing by! Order now!

Here is why this approach is wrong.

Using artificial resistance as some pseudo skill-specific movement is a bad idea. You’re practicing to overcome resistance that won’t normally be there and this will likely will have a negative influence on skill development. A skill-specific movement needs to be specific to the skill if it is to be trained properly. Swinging an abnormally heavy bat or club interferes with the movement pattern used with the normally weighted one and changes things. Adding tension/resistance straps requires overcoming forces in amounts and directions that aren’t normally there, embedding a motor pattern different from what you need.

Kind of odd that instructors warning against the imagined “dangers” of creating bad habits via competition are suggesting practice/training with a method that has been tested and proven to create actual bad habits.

Here’s a video demonstration of why:

Here’s a segment from Fads and Fallacies lecture from Dr. Mike Israetel in his Advanced Strength and Conditioning Theory course.

An article explaining the same problem:

Another article on this:

And another:

And another:

The better approach (arguably the only effective approach) is to conduct strength and conditioning as general preparation. Squats, presses, pulls, sprints, simple calisthenics, and the like yield general adaptations that aren’t specific to any particular skill or sport. Train and practice specific fundamental skills without making it “functional fitness.” Do the minimum that still allows measurable progress over time. This requires measuring (and having the means to measure) so that it can be determined if/when capabilities and skills are actually improving, by how much, and how quickly.

Those now-improved base capabilities and fundamental skills will yield improved performance in any environment once any particulars needed for that environment are addressed. This context-specific preparation comes on quickly once base capabilities and fundamental skills are well developed.

Jerking around with pseudo skill-specific exercise is great way to avoid developing base capabilities and fundamental skills.

Instruction vs. Training and Practice



Interesting article by Dave Spaulding. Like some in the industry, Spaulding defines “training” to mean taking a class, and “practice” as activity done on your own to build and reinforce skill. Yes, we’re quibbling over semantics and various dictionaries do us a disservice by sometimes interchanging meanings. This leads to stupid assessments that “competition isn’t training” despite this being a literal dictionary definition of the word.

The important point here is that taking more and more instruction (what Spaulding calls training) is useless, possibly detrimental, if the student never reinforces what they were taught by building skill on their own. Most of that skill building is best done by the student on their own and/or with a local peer group. That is why regular attendance at local shooting events is so useful. It is better to receive an overview of pertinent ideas and then build skill rather than rush off to a bunch of classes and forever remain a low-skilled novice.

Training is not Practice!
by Dave Spaulding


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