Competition vs. street training — again, and why my opinion has wiggled around

Over the years I’ve written a few articles on the difference between training for match competitions and training for the street.  One article from 2006 was on here, a later article for American Handgunner I can’t seem to find a link to. I have found that my opinion has changed over the last few years in that I find more value in competitive-orientated shooting that I used to.  In no particular order, here’s the things – pro and con –  that have influenced my current state of mind on the matter:

  • There is a lot more to street self defense than shooting, but shooting is a critical and central component of it.
  • Competitive shooters are the best pure shooters, so if you want to learn to shoot, competitive training is how you’ll get good at it.
  • Competitive shooting can train some bad habits into you.  For example, you can shoot too fast (that is, faster than you can assess the situation), cover is treated as an inconvenience rather than a life-saving opportunity, you shoot without vocalization, penalties for misses are not life-destroying, among others.
  • You can mitigate the disadvantages of competitive training by doing it only as a sideline compared to street training or by shooting competitions with street gear and using street tactics.  You can also modify competitive training drills to be more realistic while retaining their shooting improvement quality.
  • Now that so many men have retired out of our top-tier special forces (Delta, whatever 6 is called this week, and so on) and are teaching serious members of the public and LE, we have more insight into their training methods, which, and this is important, have been validated in copious close-quarter combat engagements since 2003.  One thing that strikes me is just how much a good deal of their training seems to resemble competitive training, which is no real surprise in that every SF unit has a top competitive shooter that they regularly get instruction from.
  • Competitive shooters, in order to get an edge, slick up their guns with a too-light trigger.  Yes, Rule Three is the ultimate safety, but on the street you have to expect to get startled, bumped, trip and fall, as well as get into physical struggles.  During these events your finger can involuntarily come onto the trigger, and a trigger weight less than 5 pounds — and ideally more — is just too light.
  • Tom Givens’ record of all of his 60+ (armed) students winning their gunfights is impressive, and Tom trains in traditional, competition-compatible, technique.
  • Things like acquiring a sight picture and resetting the trigger — both foundational competitive techniques — do seem to have value under stress.  The trigger reset seems to become subconscious programmed, and whether or not you can actually acquire a sight picture under stress (I believe it depends on the amount of stress you are under compared to what you have become accustomed to), you are certainly building kinesthetic memory which seems to hold up sufficiently well.

So here’s where I am these days:  The first Venn diagram below depicts how I used to view the overlap between competitive training and street training.  The second shows how I view it today.

Untitled 1


Finally: I’ll hit this point often and hard: if you carry a gun for self-defense, you have to know the law. Invest the money you’d spend on shaving a tenth of a second off your splits with Andrew Branca’s book or seminars — it’ll pay far greater dividends. Visit this link to learn more, and use the discount code “streetstandards” for a 10% discount.


4 thoughts on “Competition vs. street training — again, and why my opinion has wiggled around

  1. Hey Ralph — My two cents worth on a drive-by post this a.m. — I think the issue/non-issue of competitive shooting/training in the context of real-world defensive use (that reminds me of this great book you wrote which your readers should buy…) is that the vast majority of “defensive” shooters outside of elite military units and forward thinking trainers like Tom Givens, Claude Werner, etc. don’t understand how to “learn to learn” — the difference between an instructor telling you what you need to do and believe (pedagogy) vs. experimenting and testing and borrowing from various disciplines and gauging the effectiveness against your education/experience/questions/testing (andogogy).

    To parse out bullshit from gold requires understanding how to learn to learn the “appropriate” use of any skill taught, and that’s easily within the capability of any reasonably intelligent adult learner — if they’ve learned that “metaskill” — Pat McNamara in his TAPS and SENTINEL books touches on those principles as taught and practiced by Tier 1 trainers…and you and I as very long time martial artists recognize the principles of Jeet Kune Do — Absorb what is useful, discard what is not. That requires making our own decisions and not swallowing wholesale any instructor — no matter how well intentioned/skilled/experienced (or not) — that instructor might be if it isn’t validated in our own experience (past) or tested to the experience (force on force culls the bullshit pretty quick).

    Just my two cents worth from a One Eyed Fat Man, LOL…

    cheers, m


  2. Great article!

    Some additional points:

    Competitive shooting need not encourage bad habits. Things like shooting too fast and cover use can be addressed with course of fire design based on the goals.

    A significant portion of all effective training, for competition or otherwise, is developing fundamental skills. Contrary to popular myth, competitive shooters do conduct training or practice by shooting full competitive courses repeatedly. Instead, they drill fundamental skills, the same base skills that apply to all firearm use.

    Concerns with equipment, such as slicked up guns with a too-light triggers, can be addressed in equipment divisions forbidding such modifications. Military matches require as-issue gear and ammo, for example.


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