Learning From Losing

Winners are happy to win, but losers shouldn’t miss the opportunity to learn.

Take it from a senior citizen: run-and-gun shooting is a young man’s game. I still enter action pistol matches when I can. It keeps your skills sharp for self-defense, and it’s something of a “pressure laboratory” to see how well you can manage the gun when the clock is ticking and something rides on the outcome. I’ve won some, and lost more, and learned a few things along the way.

One thing I realized was that I didn’t learn much from winning, though the positive reinforcement of doing something right was useful, and of course, winning gives you “warm fuzzies.” It was in losing that I learned lessons, though. The wise old martial artists were right: “better to sweat in the dojo than to bleed in the street.” For those who carry a gun, something like an IDPA match makes sense. Case in point: the South Mountain Shootout of 2012 in Phoenix, Ariz.

I tell my students the time spent waiting to shoot is not to be wasted: it should be observation time, to be spent correlating how others do it and how they ultimately perform. Lessons that were reinforced for me, just from watching: Inspect your gun frequently. A young cop on my squad was doing great with his department issue HK P2000… until its trigger return spring broke, effectively killing both the gun and his score. But what he learned on the range helped keep him from getting killed fighting for his life with a gun only a few rounds away from failure when he began the match.

I watched as a couple of shooters on our squad came to grief on a stage that had two targets 30 yards away. Both held way high… and missed way high. As we were taping their targets, both told me that they didn’t know where their guns hit that far out. Be sighted in, and know your trajectory. You shouldn’t have to “hold high” at 30 paces.

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As running target (arrow) charges Mas, range officer calls him “out of cover.”

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In “captured” start position, Mas has left his S&W 686 on
the ground as instructed, but not his speedloaders. Another penalty.

Your Mistakes

The great strategist Otto von Bismarck is said to have advised that it is wisdom to learn from the mistakes of others. It’s certainly less painful. That said, though, it’s our own mistakes that burn themselves into our experience as our longest-lasting lessons. That was reinforced for me at the 2012 South Mountain shoot, too.

Follow the instructions. On one stage, we were supposed to put our loaded gun and our spare ammo on the ground in front of us. I neglected to put the ammo down, and after the first six shots had to grab a Safariland Comp III speedloader from my belt to replenish my Bob Lloyd-tuned S&W 686. Three-second procedural penalty right there. Ouch.

I tell my students that when it’s for real, Take cover and a third. That is, pull yourself deeper into your cover than you think you need, because at speed, you may not have shielded yourself enough. On Stage 8, I put my outside foot carefully by the doorframe through which I had to shoot the “charging attacker,” but the range officer thought there was enough of me sticking out to ding me for a “cover call” procedural penalty. Better to be nursing a wounded ego after the match, than a gunshot wound at the local hospital. “Sweat in the dojo vs. bleed in the street,” after all.

Don’t shoot faster than you can hit! After just cleaning a very difficult stage with lots of hostage targets, I point-shot instead of aimed on a close target array while going for maximum speed, and nicked the edge of a no-shoot target just enough to get the heavy penalty. The “no-shoot” target and I both kinda said “Ouch.” That’s a lot milder than what the “hostage’s” lawyer would have said in court.

My big lesson from this very well run match was, prepare seriously! I went into this event as defending champion in the Stock Service Revolver division for two years running. In 2010, I had been shooting revolver a lot. In 2011, I had won two matches with that 4-inch Bob Lloyd S&W M686 days before I won South Mountain SSR with it again. This time, after many months of 1911s and Glocks and such, I had less than 100 rounds of revolver time before defending the title.

I lost to a guy you can learn from, Jason Stieber. In 2011, I had beaten him by about 12 seconds, but in 2012 he beat me by at least twice that much. We were on the same squad, and he told me that he had been intensively shooting revolver in USPSA, ICORE, and IDPA competition. It showed: man and machine became one as Jason and his 4-inch S&W Model 19 flowed smoothly and accurately through the always-challenging South Mountain stages. He earned the Stock Service Revolver Champion title, and I was happy to be able to congratulate him personally.

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Match Official Erick VanHaaster, left, presents Stock Service
Revolver Champion award to Jason Stieber, who did it right.

Bottom Line

Dojo/range vs. street. Sweat vs. blood. Learning from losing. Any time you have a sub-par performance at the range, don’t agonize over it, analyze it with a view toward those mistakes not happening again in the future. Make some notes for you to review later.

As, you may be sure, I will review these thousand or so words before I return to the excellent South Mountain Shootout event in 2013
By Massad Ayoob

P.O. Box 6898, Los Osos, CA 93412

2232 CR 719, Berryville, AR 72616
Fax: (870) 545-3894

Phoenix Rod and Gun Club
915 W. Olney Dr., Phoenix, AZ 85041
(602) 276-0510

872 N. Hill Blvd., Burlington, WA 98233
(360) 855-2245

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One thought on “Learning From Losing

  1. TW Lewis

    Some of my greatest achievements have begun as a loss. I always said the most dangerous man is the one getting up from being knocked down. In competition, business and general life. In everything learn something.


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