While both sides have valid points it is my opinion that most people should still seek fundamentally grounded training beyond a basic CWP course. An instructor worth the time and money will stick to an essentials based curriculum no matter what the class material may cover. A person should at least be introduced to the core elements and have a grasp of them before shooting on the move, shooting from cover, and dealing with the various weapon manipulations. As a tactically educated shooter, I believe that learning to do these things correctly will not only enhance your defensive skill set, but also get you primed for competitive gun play.
From what I have seen, the average competitor’s gun handling skills are leaps and bounds ahead of the average CWP holder. They spend more time with their gun, and use it under intensely scrutinized safety and competitive pressure. However, the inner ninja in me can’t help but wonder when I see continuously fumbled reloads, bad trigger control, and an inconsistent draw how much better they could be with just a dash of “tactical” training or training with a competitive shooter that can also teach. Unfortunately it is these same competitors that often tout the “I don’t need training”, or “competing is training” line. I beg to differ on this point, as the consistency of basic mistakes and the reinforcement of bad habits are glaringly obvious to me.
Conversely, we also meet the “Training Groupie”. He knows his guns and gear, has all of the best equipment, and has trained with every big name instructor (only one time each though, he has to collect those certificates of completion). Sadly, he seems to never improve because the only time he shoots is in class with the latest big name. This is the guy that holds fast to the “competition will get you killed!” mantra. His opinion, while having never registered for a match, much less felt the jitters while being on deck before a stage, seems a little trite.
Perhaps Cowboy shooting may not be the greatest technique for defensive firearm use, but there are plenty of disciplines that encourage a tactical mindset when the buzzer goes off. In truth, I think these folks are just nervous. I think we can all agree that training makes us a better shooter, but public competition can be a very vulnerable feeling. I think this is akin to those that feel safer behind a $1000 gun instead of a $500 gun. There is a self deception at play, and folks can easily talk themselves into believing their skills with their gun are excellent, but they never really test themselves in fear of failure. I’m sure we all know a black belt martial artist that has never actually been hit in the face. This is no different. Our Ego gets in the way, and it is all too easy to believe in ones competence, then to actually test it out.
At this end of the spectrum, it is important to realize that if a person chooses not to compete, it is still important to practice the techniques that have been learned while in a class. This can be done by keeping a training journal and logging scores, times, and progress tracking. Not many people do this and just go by “feel”. That isn't exactly quantitative data.
No recreational shooting fully mimics a life and death experience, but shooting under the basic stressors of a competition can enhance and reinforce properly learned fundamentals (if they are there). Shooters often don’t have the resources available to practice shooting from different positions, multiple targets, low percentage targets, or timed drills. Practical competition encompasses all of these elements. Conversely, competition can also give a shooter a false sense of security, reinforce bad habits, and be construed to be something it is not (combat simulation). Thankfully, there is a growing demographic of people out there that see a need and use for both types of shooting. Training can help you build your foundational skills, while competition gives you exciting ways to rehearse those skills. On a side note, something that I see plagues both competitions and defensive classes are that participants will often compete/train with a firearm that they would never use for their CCW. While not necessarily a bad thing, it is something to bear in mind that the gun you would most likely defend yourself with is the gun you have the least trigger time with. Just food for thought…
It’s an unfortunate state of affairs when we have two die hard “cliques” in the gun world arguing over something that is quite trivial compared to the constant threat to our 2nd amendment rights. Both disciplines use “high capacity” magazines and evil black guns quite regularly. Either style requires a dedication to improving beyond Saturday afternoon plinking. Either camp can quite easily carry their skills into the other arena; yet many in both groups will ignorantly bash each other. It really is a silly grudge match, as competition shooting and defensive training have their uses and there is a huge overlap that can be used to blend the two together.
So, if you have enjoyed a training class in the defensive use of a firearm, then maybe you should look into trying out IDPA, USPSA, or one of the other shooting games available to us. If you love your Saturday morning matches, but just can’t seem to get better scores, then you should seek out competent instruction to break down all the components to drawing, shooting, and reloading. Either way, just reach out and ask, because at the end of the day, achieving a higher standard of shooting should be every shooters ultimate goal.