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  • Writer's pictureBrad Parker

Is Competition Good For Self-Defense Handgun Skills?

Competition shooting is an excellent way to improve shooting skills, and it is a great way to test and develop new gear. However, gear that is developed to only win matches does not serve defensive shooters well. Defensive and duty gear not only needs to be of a mechanically safe design, it needs to operate reliably over a wide spectrum of operational conditions. Do not game your gear down to unreliability. If you are a defensive marksman, focus on training with your duty gear full time all the time.

Shooter with a Glock 19 in an IDPA competition.
Is Competition Good for Self-Defense?

Shooter competing in an International Defensive Pistol Association event

Competition is an excellent motivator for training and a good stressor to assess your shooting and weapon manipulation skills. Let's face it, your numbers don't lie. Shooting for time and accuracy under duress can be a humbling experience as well as a good measurement you now have as a benchmark for your continuing improvement.

But, Lauck's experience is something we've encountered time and time again. You basically have two types of people who compete:

  1. The overwhelming majority of the field who are game players;

  2. A small portion of the field who are primarily defensive shooters.

The Competitive Game Players

The game players are there to have fun, feed their ego, and signal status with the newest and most expensive gear (priced STI 2011s lately?). As the article exposes, most of these competitors are looking to wring the most out of their performances by enhancing or tuning their equipment -- even to the point of decreasing reliability. However, these men and women can absolutely rip in terms of speed and accuracy. It can be amazing to see top competitors' dazzling performances. And, they can make it look easy. And major props goes to the competitive shooting community for advancing and introducing new equipment (Why Shooters Are Turning to Mini Red Dot Sights for Pistols) and methods (modern isosceles stance) to the tactical community. The "gaming" aspect can get pretty apparent when some competitors will make strategic decisions to flaunt the rules to lower their times. Many organizations attempt to keep some sense of tactical propriety by penalizing competitors who don't intelligently use cover. Sometimes shooters can game the system by taking the time penalty for not using cover, but making up the time by being able to move faster to the next targets. Remember, to this group it's a game. I used to be upset about it, but now just shrug -- that's their prerogative for what they want out of competition.

The Defensive Shooters

The defensive shooters show up with their carry gun and most likely their CCW carry rig. Although there are many defensive shooters who will carry in a more accessible belt rig just for competition, I've seen CCW defensive shooters drawing from concealment on every stage putting themselves at a huge competitive disadvantage -- but staying true to their desire to train for combat. There are defensive shooters who bring bare-bones striker-fired handguns, shoot full-power cartridges, and use iron sights. Heck, here at TSG, one of the founders shot an entire competition using only his support side. Obviously, he didn't bring home any gold, but the story has become legend for those who witnessed the feat and those who could only shake their head at his apparent disfunction not knowing what he was attempting to achieve.

The same dichotomy exists in the martial arts world. Many people start martial arts practice for self-defense, physical fitness, and mental discipline. A large number who stick with the training transition to competition. First of all, it's fun, second of all, many instructors move their schools toward the competitive side vs. the self-defense side. Self-defense is hard work. Classes and workouts are gritty. They can be painful. There is no recognition or glory. Competition is more fun, it's social, it comes with tangible rewards and travel to tournaments. Students are challenged in a positive way. There is more student retention and interest in the competition side. All of this even though many competition techniques and strategies might not be the best for self-defense use.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tournament for kids

Using your fighting skills against a non-cooperative opponent is one of the best ways to pressure test the level of your proficiency. Similarly, testing your shooting skills against the skills of others, under the pressure of time and a course of fire that requires movement, target choice, and reloads, is one of the best ways to pressure test your abilities.

Bottom Line: Competitions are Good for Defensive Shooters

Lest you think that competition is not for you as a new defensive shooter -- reconsider. My take is that competitions are beneficial to you as a defensive shooter. Even using the martial arts examples above -- outside of real fights -- some of my best "lessons" have come from competitions.

All competitions have divisions or groups for stock equipment. This is usually the largest division and is a great place to start. The benefits of competing with your basic equipment are enough that you should be encouraged to compete at least once a year.

Be warned, however, the pull to the dark side of gaming is strong. You shoot your first match with your Glock 19 and, invariably, start wondering if you will fare better with a new Glock 34.

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