Competitive Sports and the Conflict Arts

The “Tactical World” has always tried to have one foot firmly in “real world applications” and the other foot firmly planted in “non-lethal skills and fitness competitions” in order to have both a “deadly application” (aka the “bloody training”) and “safe training environment” (aka the “bloodless war). For those who don’t get the reference, it was said that the Roman Legion’s training and operations were “bloodless battles in training, and bloody training in battles.”

Trainer Craig Douglas (who is an excellent teacher) isn’t the type to discourage “competitive grapplers” (who train in Judo, BJJ, or wrestling) from attending his classes, and provides context as to why techniques that are specifically optimized for “competitive grappling” where there are things like mats, rules, and referees are sub-optimal for situations where there are no mats, rules, or referees and the other guy is likely to pull out a gun or knife. And this is important to understand, not just how to “win” in competition, but how to “train” for application.

In the shooting world you have lots of non-lethal training/competition opportunities for long rifle and pistol. F Class, 3 gun and 2 gun, service rifle/high power, IPSA/USPSA matches, NRA Vintage Sniper, and various tactical matches that can go for an afternoon or up to several days (like the Mammoth Sniper Competition). All of these are great, and I absolutely encourage anyone who has the opportunity to shoot every match they can (even if it’s just air rifle or air pistol or small bore, fundamentals are fundamentals!).

But, there comes a time when you have to look at your gear and goals, and decide how much time you want to spend on “winning” in competition. Even a moderate match schedule eats up a lot of time. Being part of a BJJ dojo is generally at least a few nights a week. And there is costs in gas, match fees, tuition fees, etc that take away from other opportunities and efforts.

And gear wise…while it is always possible to successfully use a competition firearm for self defense (or deliberate homicide) those firearms built to compete are less than ideal for the “combat analogue” of the sport being trained. For example, the precision rifle systems favoring the 6 CM, tight tolerances, and super high end optics are optimized for long shots at steel targets in tactical competition…. But all that magnification comes at the price of slower target acquisition, less reliability in crap conditions, and inability to use common ammunition with those around you.

In Jiu Jitsu, it’s often advantageous to win a match by “going to the mat” and turning a standing fight into a grappling match. In a bar, where the floor is covered by blood, piss, and broken glass….maybe not so much. That 32 power scope on a bolt action rifle is advantageous in a long range precision match, but probably less useful than a fixed 4x or 3-9 variable for rapid maneuver in a dense urban environment while you have to keep up and provide precision fire support for an Infantry platoon.

Once again, this isn’t meant to discourage anyone from competing and training to compete. These thoughts are my own reflection on the limitations of competition, especially when the sport adjusts to “game the rules.” Judo took a huge hit as a combat analogue due to fully embracing the “sport” aspect, to the point where judoka in Japan are viewed as “meatheads” since the competition legal techniques favor superb body strength to win. Conversely some of the super light AR-15 builds for 3 gun wouldn’t hold up to a 600 round “support by fire” mission where the shooter would run up against the heat threshold of the weapon system (even a milspec M4 struggles in this role).

Now….the real benefit of training to compete is that a lot of skills do translate over. Learning to shoot fast and accurate before the targets shoot back is the right way to go. The first time you shove your head into someone else’s neck/shoulder junction to break down their posture shouldn’t be in a bar fight. But you have to be mindful and ask yourself, “am I perfecting this gear or technique for sport or for application?” Because what you don’t want to end up is wasting time on something to win in a sport, that is deleterious for application, like running a competition Glock with the lightest recoil spring possible to handle a powder puff handload that minimizes recoil. You should be training to handle the recoil of your service/defense load, not changing your load to win at the sport.

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