ASAA   Europe

1

IS PRACTICAL PISTOL COMPETITION STILL PRACTICAL?

Modern Pistolcraft has grown forcefully and dramatically since its birth in Southern California three decades ago. And, not surprisingly, there are a number of issues that have significantly influenced its success. Declining economies and social chaos, resulting in rising crime and terrorism, have spawned renewed interest in personal protection. Thus, particularly in the civilian sector, with little or no access to hard data concerning these issues, there is great interest in the concept of using competition to enhance personal weaponcraft skills.

And, in the beginning, this goal was pretty much achieved: most competitively developed techniques did further the state-of-the-art. We now know more about carrying, presenting, shooting, reloading and modifying the handgun than ever before. Many courses of fire and practice drills are beneficial as well and increasing numbers of practical shooting clubs are springing up all over the country.

However, toward the end of the 1970s, an alarming trend began to emerge. As used in its original context, the term "practical," was defined as a socio-politically acceptable synonym for "combat." The original purpose of the International Practical Shooting Confederation, for example, was to promote advancement of the handgun as a self-defense weapon. After all, the mission of the handgun is, in fact, defensive, right? We came this far by keeping this in mind, thus preventing a loss of purpose and resultant deviation from the intended theme of development.

Unfortunately, many participants in what came to be called "practical" shooting either forgot this critical fact or were never cognizant of it in the first place. Predictably, therefore, the organization's goal was altered towards competition being an end unto itself, rather than a means to a higher goal -- i.e. as a research tool by which better ways were found to utilize the handgun in a self-defense environment.

One example of this deviation is the "track meet," where physical movement assumes disproportionate competitive value. Stimulation of the metabolism via physical exertion is a legitimate simulation of the effects of stress. Used correctly, it provides an accurate picture of how various techniques can be expected to perform in real-world situations. However, when emphasis upon physical prowess begins to rival weapon skills in importance, things go astray. To see the fallacy in this, we need only to recall that the handgun is a defensive arm -- i.e. we carry it so we don't have to run!

The method commonly used to determine competitor performance is the "Comstock Count," which divides the shooter's point score by his elapsed time, for a points-per-second evaluation of his performance. In and of itself, the Comstock Method is not invalid. The problem is that it was intended for short-duration time frames, not complex "assault courses" in which the shooter moves considerable distances from location to location, solving multiple shooting problems along the way. When utilized improperly, "Comstocking" allows the speed at which the contestant moves from place to place to overshadow his shooting skills, making it a less than optimum way to judge what is supposedly a shooting match.

Another problem is that those who do not carry a handgun on a daily basis often lack an understanding of it as a weapon. This results in the creation of competitive courses that are not valid simulations of the situations in which a handgun is typically used. True, diversity prevents stagnation, but when diversity for its own sake becomes the issue, rather than being used as one element of consideration in trying to reach a higher goal, it becomes obfuscatory and therefore detrimental.

There is an even more serious, if subtle, danger here, too. The use of unrealistic courses of fire can -- and often does -- promote the development of tactics and techniques that, while competitively efficient, are from a tactical standpoint suicidal. As well, such courses favor the Condition One (cocked & locked) auto-pistol that many law enforcement and military personnel, because they must use issued DA autos or revolvers, cannot carry.

If competition is to be a means by which handgun state-of-the-art is to be advanced, we must maintain interest and competitive spirit, while at the same time remembering our original goal. Still, requiring competitors to do things that are virtually guaranteed to get them killed in a real fight is abominable and should not be allowed to continue.

This is admittedly easier said than done, and has, in fact, fallen by the wayside, causing a rift between those who regard the handgun as a weapon (the "Warriors") and those who view it as a recreational tool (the "Gamesmen") seriously enough to rip IPSC apart.

However, while admittedly one of the "Warriors" myself, I am not so quick as some of my associates to condemn the "Gamesmen." They have contributed a number of useful techniques even if their motives and tactics weren't survival-oriented. Most of the original Combat Masters weren't interested in the handgun as a defensive tool and only a few of them carried a gun for a living. Yet, their contributions -- the Weaver Stance, the Speed Load, et al -- have been incalculably valuable and, in fact, positively influenced the evolution of practical pistolcraft.

In short, we need "Gamesmen" to prevent stagnation, but at the same time, in order to benefit from their efforts, we must view their attitudes, motivations and accomplishments with a critical eye. Conversely, we need "Warriors," too, because while their philosophy isn't especially innovative, it is truly practical and keeps us on the track to finding better ways to stay alive in a pistol fight.

Other issues of conflict between the "Warriors" and "Gamesmen" include the use of:

1. Irrelevant targets. The use of silhouette targets typical to IPSC competitionconnotes an anti-personnel situation. Therefore, scoring methods should be based upon an accurate representation of the human anatomy.If the development of anti-personnel methodology is not the goal, then humanoid targets should not be utilized.

2. Unrealistically specialized guns, holsters and other ancillary equipment and squib-loaded ammunition.These further obfuscate the original goal of practical competition and makes evaluation of the techniques developed with such equipment more difficult. The use of "street legal" service guns, full-powered ammunition and realistic holsters and spare ammunition carrying devices should be mandatory if a real-world view is to be maintained.

So, is Practical Pistol Competition still practical? No, obviously not. As is typical with most types of competition, as viewed from its original perspective, it has become a highly specialized and irrelevant game -- an end unto itself rather than a means to a higher goal -- of little or no tactical value.

However, with a little tolerance on both sides and a few basic rules to prevent loss of purpose, we can produce a champion without compromising our integrity. The concept of learning is the basis upon which man has elevated himself above the level of both his cohabitants on this planet and his own ancestors. In order to continue this process, we cannot afford to lose sight of our goals along the way. If we can unite the "Gamesman" and "Warrior" factions within the practical shooting fraternity into a cohesive body truly dedicated to advancement, we all -- "Gamesmen" and "Warriors" alike -- win.

Besides, wouldn't it be more satisfying to be the Champion at something relevant and real?

 

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