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Does competitive shooting teach gun owners inappropriate self-defense gunfighting skills and instill dangerous habits? Entering the fray: Jeff Gurwitch [above]. The Army Special Forces vet is a kick-ass competitor at USPA matches. You can’t really expect a man who’s devoted some 11 years of his life to competitive shooting to say “Nope. Don’t do it” to self-defense shooters. And yet . . . reading between the lines of his article Military Marksmanship Training Versus Competitive Shooting Training: The Matchup at yields a conclusion that’s not a million miles way from that one. To wit . . .

Now, I know there are some shooters out there, both military and civilian, who believe competing in any shooting sport, USPSA 3-Gun, even IDPA, is not only unnecessary, but can even hurt your shooting skills. I believe this view is totally wrong. As long as you keep your training in the proper context and know that shooting in matches is not the same as the “real thing”, the benefits of competition cannot be overlooked.

Aye there’s the rub. Call it muscle memory or subconscious stimulus – response patterns, but the old adage “train as you mean to fight” doesn’t allow for instantaneous contextualization. In other words, what will you do when the going gets tough?

Gurwitch has mad fighting and competitive skills, and a little switch inside his noggin’ that allows him to toggle between the two. Me? You? The average shooter? MIA. In a high stress situation, we will revert to our most deeply ingrained training. We’re likely to use the techniques we’ve practiced the most and/or the skills we’ve previously deployed instintively under stress.

While a run-and-gun stage in USPSA teaches nothing in the way of tactics and how to stay alive in a gun fight, it does support two things that are required in any shooting situation: shooting fast and shooting accurately.

Nothing? Seriously. Nothing? That’s a scary statement; I’ve never heard it before from anyone who competes in these run ‘n gun type deals. If that’s true—and I have no reason to doubt this gun guru (or the rabbi who says these competitions teach you techniques that would get you killed on the street—shouldn’t self-defense shooters prone to automatic reactions under stress (i.e. all of them) avoid competiton like the plague? Apparently not.

Where better to learn how to shoot 4 to 5 shots per second strings accurately at targets than in competition? In addition to having to shoot at maximum speed with good hits, basic gun handling skills are reinforced during most courses of fire, including weapon presentations, reloading, clearing malfunctions/jams if they happen, and, most importantly, moving safely with a firearm that is ready to fire.

I think that’s more of a condemnation of most self-defense training and ranges than a recommendation for competitive shooting. And when Gurwitch says “safely” here, he means shooting without shooting yourself or a bystander. Elsewhere in the article, Gurwitch makes it clear that competition doesn’t teach the most important element of military (and by extension self-defense) gunfighting safety (in terms of not getting shot): shooting accurately whilst on the move.

I will add that I, myself, have never heard of someone in combat being required to do a 1-second reload with a pistol (something you need to be able to do in a match if you want to win). That said, acquiring that skill from competition definitely can’t hurt.

How great is that?

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  1. I’m not denying any of this, but there was an interesting self-defense incident in Harlem, NYC of all places. Some stupid punks held up a meat supply store thinking there’d be tons of cash. Not only wasn’t there any cash for the taking, the owner had a long-hidden shotgun that he brought to bear and used to adroitly dispatch all four of the armed robbers, three of whom are no longer breathing. It was quite a performance, given that he had seldom, if ever, had fired the weapon before.

  2. The Rabbi’s right again. I recently viewed a USPSA match and there is no tactical skill involved. They move up and the target and take it out as fast as possible. In a real shootout this tactic will get you killed.

  3. Every time this topic comes up, I can’t help but think about high-school and college football. As an offensive and defensive lineman, we’d do drills where we’d practically dive into the “sled” (the thing with 5 man-sized pads on front), land, spin to the left, dive at the next pad, spin to the left, dive etc etc. We also had a drill where 2 linemen were laying on their backs, top of helmet to top of helmet. One got the ball, and the other person had to tackle them. One whistle blow one, the ball carrier got up. On whistle blow #2, the defensive guy got up and tried to tackle him. Did we ever do this in real life? Well, 4 years of high school football and 1 more in college, and I can say that without a doubt, I have never dove at a player, only to spin around and dive at another one. Training, whether football or firearms, needs to be multifaceted. As the Rabbi has pointed out before, competitive shooting should NOT be a substitute for defensive training. I would argue those who say USPSA/IDPA does not involve any “tactics”. Sure it does, you need to think and make decisions on the move. You also need to know how to handle a pistol, both stationary and on the move, know how to draw and reload, transition to targets, etc. Admittedly, all of which are only a small fraction of “gun-fighting” (I’ll use that term loosely). Is Gurwitch some out-of-this-world phenom who picks up a pistol in one hand, a pistol-gripped shotgun in the other, and can take out a whole squadron of enemy fighters, only to then grab a limited-class pistol and finish off a whole rack of steel plates? Perhaps, but it isn’t because he is “special”. I doubt Gurwitch moved that quickly on the Army’s range or an IDPA range. He developed his skills and the ability to “switch” into different modes from practice and staying mentally focused.

    • Correctiong: I doubt Gurwitch moved that quicky the first time on the Army’s range or the first time at an IDPA range….. where the hell is this edit feature we were supposed to get?

        • Are you sure that was actually a mistake Patrick or were you just trying to get famous on google? Search corretiong and look what the first result is.

  4. So competitive shooting ain’t self-defense training? Alert the media! Competitive shooting is part of the fun (yes fun) of guns. What’s wrong with that?

  5. Maybe the techniques employed in various competitions ‘will get you killed on the street’, but then what do you get when you have no technique at all?
    I would say that shooting competition is less than optimal, but it beats the hell out of standing behind a bench with your crank in your hand. Most of us do not have government-sponsored shoot houses and force on force simulations that we can attend on a weekly basis. In competition, under a little bit of stress, you can find new and creative ways to fuck things up, and learn from that.

    • Nobody can say how they will react in a gunfight until they’ve been in a gunfight. Even then, all that person really knows is how he reacted to the last gunfight, not how he will react to the next. People learn more from ten minutes of combat than ten hours of training. That doesn’t mean that training is bad. Far from it. Training is good; hell, training is great. Doing battle without training is just stupid. I’m all in favor of training, especially by people like the Rabbi. But until the bullets are heading toward instead of away, training can be realistic but it’s never real. Not unless somebody gets shot.

  6. I think the issue is that you will end up playing how you practice. Dave Grossman hits on this in his book “On Combat” (it’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to use deadly force to defend themselves.) He tells a story about when the Model 10 was the king of police revolvers. Officers were trained to shoot a cylinder, extract the spent brass into their hands and place into their pocket. Lo and behold dead cops were found with pockets or hands full of brass and empty guns.

    If you don’t train to move, to do combat reloads, to seek cover and to realistically react; you’re probably aren’t going to react appropriately when the time comes. From what I’ve seen, the majority of USPSA shooters are probably in trouble in the real world unless they carry those fancy red dot sighted, wide funneled .38 supers in their IWB holsters when they go to the grocery store.

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