Sunday, April 03, 2011

Matches and Training: Not the same thing

I had this abstract idea for a whole series of posts that were under the title of "Free Advice is Worth the Price", but the organization that would require doesn't work very well with my Stream of Unconsciousness style (I have a style?) of writing. Suffice it to say that there will be posts of that ilk coming, but I may or may not tag 'em as such. If I do that, then I'll have to go back through the old posts and tag those that belong under that heading, and then you know where that will lead:

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!
Mayor: All right, all right! I get the point!

Clearly, we can't let that happen, so I'll just throw 'em up (that's a nice visual, huh?) as I think of 'em. I have much to rant about. This could become a long, long list of posts. Muahahahahahahaaaaaa!!!

As the weather gets better, more shooters get to shooting matches, and forum members begin talking about shooting matches. Talking doesn't always lead to actually competing, but there is talking. And there's almost always talk of shooting a match because it's "good training". Match shooting is a lot of things: good experience with shooting under time pressure, a way to shoot a different course of fire than you usually do, and most of all, it's fun and a way to hang out with shooters. There are more reasons than that to compete, too. However, the one thing that competing isn't, is training; good bad or indifferent. They're totally separate things.

Training is the time spent learning skills: the manipulations required to operate the gun, drawing from the holster, reloading, and marksmanship, among other techniques. Technique is the difference between the trained and untrained shooter. It's evidenced by speed and movement with less wasted motion. It's easy to spot a well trained shooter, because everything they do is smooth and sure. The untrained shooter has much more movement, both in their actions and in their shooting. The gun moves around in their hands much more, their reloads are not smooth. Do not take this as a knock on untrained shooters; everybody was untrained once. Some still are. That's simply the way of it. The way out of it is to get training and then spent time on the range regularly practicing those learned skills and learning new ones. Training is what allows a poor shooter to be a decent shooter, and good shooter to be a great shooter, and a great shooter a grand master-class shooter.

As an aside, the topic of phenomenal shooters has come up in the shop from time to time, because we've gotten to meet some as they pass through the area, or are stationed across the street from us. I've come to the conclusion that some people are gifted towards being amazingly talented shooters. The rest of us have varying degrees of talent and coordination that allows us to get to that same level. The difference is that, while it may have taken Jerry Miculek a few hundred thousand rounds to get as good as he is, it'll take me a few hundred million to get to where he is. Given the funds and the time, though, anybody can do it.

Shooting matches is where a shooter goes to test their skills, not learn them. This is why the organizational bodies (IDPA, USPSA, Zoot Suit Shooters Association, etc.) group shooters into classifications of weapon and skill level, so you have a chance to win your class when you're in a match with Rob Leatham or Sgt. Horner. You won't beat them, but you may beat the rest of the shooters with your skill level. If you want to get to their level, you gotta train to get there. Which leads us to the "training value" of matches.

Do not confuse the training value of shooting matches with training. What a match will do, especially the Classifiers (the standard course of fire that the organizational bodies use to score your abilities to classify who you shoot against with your skill level) is to show you where you have weaknesses. When I started shooting matches, I confirmed something I knew about already: transitioning targets was a weakness of mine. Luckily, Ernest Langdon happened to have a meeting on Fort Campbell one day and had some time to kill. While Matt E. and I spent a couple hours talking about robots, shooting, and competing, Matt was smart enough to say "We're not gonna let you leave here until you teach us something." Ernest gave us a short class on getting your eyes to the target before the gun. What I was doing previously, and what many, many shooters do, is to swing the gun along with your eyes to the next target. What happens when a shooter does that is that the gun swings past the target. As soon as I was able to make some use of Ernest's training, I stopped having that problem. That was confirmed with shooting matches: my transitions were much, much better, and I was much faster than I had been (I'm not fast now, just faster than I was. I've got a long way to go to get fast) between targets as well as increasing speed on individual targets. That was an area where shooting matches showed a weakness that I was able to begin to address and improve.

If you don't want to meet new shooters, try different courses of fire with people watching and comparing yourself against other shooters, then there are still things you can do. 10-8 Performance has the 10-8 Standards, and there are others like the Hackathorn Standards and Mid South's Operator Standards. These are set courses of fire, with specified time limits and scoring, that will expose weaknesses in your game. They can be found by Google-ing for them, and you'll find others, too. They're generally not "hard" in and of themselves for each skill, but you either have those skills, or you don't. If you have no skill at all with your support hand, you'll score lower. If you have trouble with long distances (who doesn't?) or transitioning targets, you'll have problems getting good scores. But, all you need is a pen and pencil to keep track of that stuff, and work on it. Generally, these COF's don't use that much ammo, either.

One area that shooting matches can hurt training, is getting wrapped up in "winning the match". If that's the most important thing to you and the purpose of your training is defensive in nature, you may do some things in the shooting games that you wouldn't do on the street. An example: you've been trained to scan and assess, but you don't do that during a match because "it's just a match". In IDPA, they're big on reloads with retention, which is an administrative action. It's always on the clock, in my experience, but that's not something you should do under a time limit. IIRC, the IDPA rule book says it shouldn't be timed, but it always has been in the matches that have used it as part of the specified COF. I'm not gonna lay blame, but suffice it to say that if you're concerned with time you may not execute that reload as you've been trained to.

Can that be countered? Yes; shoot the match only within the techniques you've been trained to use. You probably won't win, but you will test your skills. If you're good, you'll win anyway. Shoot that match with your carry gear in your carry clothing, and see how it stacks up. You may lose to a guy running a G34 with trigger work, but you know you did it with your regular carry gear and did the best you could, while noting your weaknesses.

I've shot matches using match gear and match guns, meaning stuff I only compete with. I determined that the match I shoot this month will be with my carry G19 and my carry Safariland 529 holster. I may actually finish lower than I usually do, but so what? I'll be using it as a test of my technique, not just to win the match.