A “Tactical Shooter” goes to Competition…

So I did a thing…

First of all, I don’t refer to myself as a “tactical shooter.” It’s just a funny headline folks… Anyway, a few weeks ago, I shot a competition for the first time. Now, it wasn’t just any competition. It was the Florida State Steel Challenge Championship 2018, and it was the first time I had ever competed.

I have never shot in a competition, nor have I ever had any desire to. I know it’s beneficial in a lot of ways, and can be fun, it’s just not my thing. I spend a great deal of time focusing on the fight and I’ve been quite happy in my narrow lane of civilian extreme criminal violence. But a few weeks ago, a student and dear friend talked me into going to the steel competition and giving it a try. So I did. I showed up with my mostly stock Glock 19 Gen4 with RMR optic, a kydex holster I snagged from a local friend in South Florida, and I competed in the Carry Optics division for the State Championships.

It was pretty ballsy to show up with a true carry gun and compete against tricked out race guns (especially in the Carry Optics division) with longer barrels, trigger jobs, etc. etc. To add to this disparity, I had not only never competed before, I didn’t practice at all either! Hell, I haven’t even shot much this year period, except in classes I was either teaching or attending. With moving from Ohio to Florida, launching my book and traveling around teaching, I just have not put many rounds downrange this year.  But I had a logical plan. I wanted to show up with what I carry everyday, with no extra practice or warming up or pre-gaming it, and see how I performed not only against my own standards but against competitive shooters as well. Cold. Run what you brung. No excuses.

How do you think I did?

With a stock gun, shorter barrel, unfamiliar holster, no comp experience, no practice…I placed 5th in the Carry Optics division and shot my way into the B class. Keep in mind, this was state championships. I am pretty damn happy with that! Seriously, I beat some shooters who were classed above me, sponsored by well known companies, and had invested way more in time and equipment than I will ever put into competing. How can I not be thrilled to go in there and place that well? I am confident with my carry gun, and I proved to myself that that confidence is not false or misplaced when it comes to my straight up draw and shoot skills. And I did it cold, how testing should be.  

I have a few thoughts about this. First, you’ll notice I said “testing”. For me, steel challenge breaks down to two things: fast draws and fast, accurate shooting. These are bare essential fundamentals for gunfighting, and if you can’t do them well, you shouldn’t be training for anything else yet. So, I wanted to go into this cold with no practice or preparation. In fact, the day before the match I spent the entire day and evening working on my truck. I didn’t do anything different than my daily life leading up to the morning when I headed to the match. I also unfortunately forgot my RCS OWB holster and had to have a South Florida friend throw a kydex one together for me, giving me a straight vertical draw when all of my holsters are canted, so I got the ol’ “unforeseen circumstance” thrown in there, too.

I simply wanted to see how I would shoot, with the added excitement of walking into a championship match as a complete newb. I wanted to see how I stack up against shooters who don’t think about much other than just the shooting component, and I did well. I even beat several of them.

Since I come from violence first, and then to the fight training world (resisting the use of “tactical training world” here), I have just never had an interest in competition. But I can say this, I didn’t feel “pressure”. I was a little amped up for the first few stages, but I never felt pressure or stress during the entire day. I was a little bored honestly. I’ve always taught in mindset work that stress is a perceptual problem, If a timer and/or worrying about how fast you can shoot “stresses” you out to the point of diminishing skill, then maybe it’s a good time to exercise mindset and self control . Rather than getting better at “shooting under pressure” maybe we can shoot well without allowing artificial pressure affect our minds. That’s how I approach procedural training like shoothouse, anyway. If i let artificial bullshit mindfuck me, how can i expect to perform clearly when the threat is real?  That’s my take on the whole “competition is pressure” thing. Unless you’re competing for that big money and your livelihood is on the line, I think my way is a viable way to look at it.

So, I tried that during the day, and it worked. I was able to perceive the situation in a way that felt like it was important to perform, but I was able to keep my heart rate down and push the performance. No one was going to try to kill me; easy day. In my mind, that is a more beneficial use of competition for a tactical or combat shooter, rather than getting amped up and shooting “hot” all the time. Any opportunity to control stress at the source instead of dealing with it’s outcomes is an opportunity every fighter should take. An easy way to do it is to be a professional. What do pros do? They do the work they trained to do. They show up, and they do the work. It doesn’t matter where, or with who, or if it’s raining, if it’s someone’s back yard or it’s a state championship. They show up and do the work they know how to do. That is the very thing that pros do. It’s a pretty simple attitude and it works. There are things I can’t or won’t overcome with that method, but I don’t train to swim with sharks or jump out of airplanes either. But, if it is within my lane, I will show up and do that work.

BUT, BUT, IT’S NOT USPSA!!

I teach the Skills-Techniques-Procedures-Tactics-Validation process. Steel Challenge is purely a skills level test (skills validation). This is true. It’s a straight up test of how fast you can get your gun out of the holster and hit various sized targets at various distances (up to 35yds). When I told a USPSA Master Class friend about my Steel Challenge adventure, he said, “Yeah, but Steel Challenge is to USPSA what laser tag is to CQB”. While I get the reference, gonna have to disagree with you there my friend. Drawing and shooting quickly and accurately are required fundamental skills in USPSA, and in CQB, and in gunfighting, period. Laser tag offers nothing to CQB. I’m sure he didn’t mean that half of the statement literally, but just because it’s a fundamental skill level doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. And hell no, I’m not letting anyone take away from the fact that I walked into a state match for my first time ever, with street gear, and placed very well. That shit was awesome.

I’m well aware that moving and shooting is more difficult, but not everyone can walk in cold and place is a state match with their carry gun either. Now that my fundamentals tested out well, I may venture out and shoot a USPSA match sometime soon, though I still have very little interest in it as opposed to spending my time training CQB.  There are things about USPSA that are absolutely counter to what CQB should be. In a structural fighting situation you might move dynamically, but you will not dash into the middle of a threshold, stop in an isosceles stance and engage numerous targets head on as fast as possible. That would not be advisable against real bad guys. So, if I were to do USPSA, I think thousands of reps of CQB work would be hard to overcome when working openings and thresholds and multiple targets, so that may screw me up there. However, I do know the difference and would work to get the speed dynamic flow down and not worry about it because I’d be shooting USPSA, not CQB training or fighting. But either way, maybe I’ll go try it for fun.

But, competition will get you killed…

I call bullshit on people who claim to not do well in comp because they are “tactical”. From what I can see, competition is some of the components used in combat in isolated formats.

Do you, in fighting, sometimes have to:

  • Draw from a holster?
  • Shoot with speed and accuracy?
  • Engage multiple targets at varying distance?
  • Reload with time pressure?
  • Move and shoot?

Because that is ALL competition is, which should be easier because (aside from minor strategizing) you are removing procedural problem solving and life and death consequences from the task list.

Now, equipment differences are real, but only offer a reasonable explanation for a point spread, not a total excuse for poor performance. If you have a million reps in use of cover and working threshold angles, yeah you may not be awesome at USPSA right away. But they are two different things and should be treated as such. Steel challenge pretty much transfers right over in that it’s fundamental level skills.

So overall, I am super happy about my performance walking in off the street. I stand by my statements about competition not being any type of real pressure that tests how you will do in a fight under “pressure” (if I had a hundred bucks for every time I’ve heard that). I think I conquered that “pressure” thing by walking into the State championships of the third largest State in the union for my first match ever. But, I do think it’s a great test for isolated skills that you may use in a fight, so it’s a great way to push those skills up. At the end of the day I did not catch the bug and, even though I believe I could actually win with some practice and equipment upgrades, it’s just not my thing at this time.

I encourage you to get out and try new things with your skills. Don’t cop out and say you can’t because you’re a “tactical shooter” or whatever. Competition is isolated skills work. It won’t train anyone to be a fighter, but fighters can test isolated skills and self-control quite extensively in matches.  

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