Full disclosure: I despise the modern marketing languages surrounding firearms. In fact, the whole “Modern Sporting Rifle” thing borderline pisses me off. I think it’s a blatant product of misdirected public relations and marketing.

My biggest issues come down to two things:

  • First, the term “Modern Sporting Rifle” is clearly an effort to convince people that rifles like the AR-15 fall within the bounds of the Gun Control Act of 1968’s “Sporting Purposes” clause. That in of itself isn’t a problem, but I’d rather we attack the sporting purposes clause directly as unconstitutional versus playing the game of categorizing good guns and bad guns.
  • Second, such language continues to dance around calling rifles what they are: weapons (This is my subject today). By avoiding the term, we play into the idea that owning weapons is a negative thing.

Here’s the deal, I’ve never been one to shy away from referring to my rifles as weapons.

I know for a fact that my doing so makes a lot of old NRA-types uncomfortable, but that’s their issue and not mine. The simple truth is that we do ourselves a disservice when we try and separate firearms from other commonly owned weapons used for sporting and defensive purposes.

By avoiding the subject, we further push ourselves into a corner that gets progressively harder to get out of.

A Bit of Background

I don’t think many people bat an eye when they see someone practicing archery, fencing, or traditional forms of martial arts. When I was in college, I was an early member of the Medieval European sword fighting group known as the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) Alliance. We met up every week and studied fighting techniques from old German and Italian fight manuals, then we sparred.

From the outside, I’m sure it looked like a bunch of goobers LARPing with swords made of wood or blunted steel. But our intent was not to “look the part,” it was to actually learn how fighting was done. There were blows and techniques completely illegal to use in the reenactor world, and we practiced them repeatedly.

An Airman shoulder throws a Marine during Marine Corps Martial Arts training

During that same period, I also practiced boxing and aikido, and brought those lessons with me to the weekly HEMA sessions.

Later, during the ammo shortage of 2012, I picked up archery as a way to scratch the marksmanship itch. I used to set up in my front yard with a target, my backstop, and a recurve bow.

Again, nobody batted an eye. I was just a guy into martial arts. So why is it any different with rifles?

Political motivations aside, I don’t really see a distinction between someone practicing shooting skills and someone working their way up the belts in Jiu-Jitsu.

The Gun Control Debate

I’ve been involved in this debate for a long time. For a lot of reasons, I stay away from it now. I realized there isn’t a point to increasing my stress levels over people more interested in virtue signaling than a real conversation.

Every so often in these debates, someone says that I’m just upset about having my hobby limited or taken away. They tell me that I need to get over it and that I should want to give up my hobby if it meant saving lives.

Why should anyone,” they will ask, “be involved in a hobby that is all about killing?

I admit to laughing at these kinds of arguments as they come primarily from a place of ignorance. But I cannot fully write them off. It’s easy for us to parry such a statement with pointed language about competition or collecting, and that our guns have never killed anyone.

But such a counter has never quite felt complete, if not hollow.

The question has always lingered in the back of my mind: why do I enjoy what I do so much?

Why is it that I fight so vehemently to keep my rights as they are? If this was purely about marksmanship and competition, then logic would dictate that I could do just as well with a bolt action or a simple .22 LR.

Sooner or later, we must dig into our motivations.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we shy away from that truth. We deflect by talking about competition, history, collection, and maybe hunting, but we rarely confront it head-on. When presented with the notion that firearms are primarily designed as weapons, we recoil and redirect- perhaps to the detriment of our own credibility.

Our firearms are, first and foremost, weapons. I embrace that, even if it’s not how I use them day to day.

Marksmanship as a Martial Art

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a Martial Arts as, “Any of several arts of combat and self-defense that are widely practiced as sport”

I say that definition applies to the shooting sports just as much as hand to hand combat.

Like any martial art, becoming proficient in the use of firearms is to become proficient in the controlled application of violence. Whether or not we actually intend to use it is immaterial.

I believe, culturally, we avoid the subject because we want to believe our mothers when they told us, “Violence never solves anything.”

Deep down we know that this is simply not true. Violence, as horrid and unsavory as it may be, can be a solution. For example, all forms of law are ultimately backed up with the implicit threat of violence by the state. Sooner or later, someone committing illegal acts will be confronted by an armed agent of the state ready to do violence on behalf of “the people.”

I’m not going to dig into the relative merits of an armed populace and the monopoly of “legitimate violence” by the state, that’s a very different philosophical discussion. I’m just pointing that violence can and does serve a purpose.

When someone goes out to learn something like boxing, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, or any other fighting skill, we say it’s empowering. That’s doubly true if it’s a woman learning these skills. I argue that we should treat it no differently for the shooting sports.

In fact we should use it as a model.

Martial Arts Discipline

“Bushido is all very well in its way, but it is no match for a 30-06.”

– Jeff Cooper

When we think of traditional martial arts, we almost invariably think about the codified colored belt systems. Not all martial arts share this similarity, of course, but it serves as a nice illustration. These fight systems have ways of designating who are novices, intermediates, masters, and higher.

Nobody who has studied this stuff long enough thinks that the flashy displays seen during belt tests and matches have any relevance to a real self-defense situation. In fact, it would be downright problematic. What these events do show, however, is progressive mastery of the fundamentals.

Marksmanship is no different.

We progress within specific shooting disciplines and classifications. You will not achieve the highest classifications in the shooting world without exceptional mastery of fundamentals.

To reach that point takes discipline to practice, focus, and will to continually show up. My range days are not about turning money into noise. They are about intentional practice of the fundamentals: position, sight picture, trigger control, breathing. I want to chew that X ring out every magazine.

Some people will tell me that it’s just for show and has nothing to do with the real world, just like belt tests for traditional martial arts. They aren’t wrong.

That’s where additional training comes in, though. You can learn to think and act correctly in a self-defense situation, and the fundamentals you learn through practice and competition will transfer. John Buol at The Firearms User Network has a great series of articles on this very subject.

I have little interest in fighting, but I still show up to hit the heavy bag at my gym. It builds endurance, strength, and technique. I’m not terribly interested in a gun fight either, but practicing marksmanship builds focus, body awareness, and discipline.

Building a Better Gun Culture

Few outsiders bat an eye at someone announcing  they are into martial arts. Most reactions are along the lines of, “Oh, that’s cool!” or “can you teach me something?”

Part of our problem is the pop culture depiction of the average gun owner. I can’t do much about that, honestly. The trouble with stereotypes is that there’s someone always willing to live up to it.

But what I can do is state my values and vision and invite you to come along with me.

If we have any hope of salvaging our own narrative, it can’t be pinned only on some national organization that we on-again off-again support. It needs to come from us and our daily interactions. Shooting and marksmanship is part of who we are.

I’m just a regular dude who likes to practice military skills. They build discipline, encourage fitness, and promote self-sufficiency. But I’m also into nerdy board games, spending time with my family, and enjoying a good craft beer every once and a while.

I believe in a nation of “normal” folks who also have some measure of martial skill. It doesn’t need to involve running around on the weekends wearing load bearing gear, but it does mean that we all maintain a basic level of fitness, discipline, and skill.

Wrapping Up

I realize this post is a little more rant-like than my usual. But it’s an important topic to me.

Nobody else is going to take us seriously if we don’t hold ourselves and each other accountable to the martial art of marksmanship. Whatever your motivations for picking up a rifle and starting down this path, I commend you. Stand and be a good example for others to see and hear from.

Of course, I could just be crazy here. I don’t know. What do you think?

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Kickstart
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Kickstart
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Another very well written article. I believe you posted something like this on your last website. I too struggle with some of the issues above. How do you talk to someone and tell them I practice the art of “shoot, move, communicate” without sounding like some anti-government milita nut job. I want to practice shooting and marksmanship like it was a sport on TV the only bad thing is, its only on TV when some one ruins it for the rest of us.

Tony
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Tony

I’ve been calling shooting a martial art for decades now. Usually people disagree with me, since the typical view of martial arts people have is one of empty hands, white pajamas, and someone shouting commands in Japanese. But that is an awfully limited view of martial arts. Having a bit wider understanding of the different martial arts out there, I don’t see a difference between practicing medieval sword fighting techniques or Japanese archery, and modern gun fighting techniques. Well, except that modern gun fighting has a national defense aspect that is lacking from sword fighting.

John Buol
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Your take on this is spot on. Tip-toeing around the fact that firearms are weapons does no good as it implies there is something wrong with skillful weaponcraft.

I take the stance that most games and sports involving a ball/disk/puck/dart/etc. are a form of marksmanship as they involve launching an object into a designated scoring area for points. An ability to do that with greater precision, from a further distance, and/or faster than others is always an advantage.

As you mention, a number of these games have direct martial roots. Even Track and Field was created as a military exercise. Consider the Hoplitodromos.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoplitodromos

Cutright
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Cutright

The softest rant ever. Probably for the best. And that’s why you get a gold star on your writing report card.

Some excellent points. I would like to add to your point, a vital component in my opinion. It has to do with normalcy bias as far as I can tell and it is the tendency for people to become more sensitive to violence the further they are removed from it…and shooting guns is a violent experience. A controlled explosion going off in your hand, it’s vectors and velocity being controled by hands, hands you have to trust with this point and click interface that makes, potentionally, taking a life so easy.

It was revealed to me recently, and in no way was I personally involved, that at the end of the day, it is men with guns from the government that will enforce the laws. That and the fact that laws only define the crime, they don’t prevent it, couple to produce an effective preventative measure against wrong doing. It’s a strong deterrent.

And I suppose that’s why I shoot and study. Work on fun ancillary skills that produce a force multiplier effect in both a potential confict, but also in everyday life. It produces some value; self-worth even. You become a hard target, reletively speaking. History certainly spells this out, rather blantantly.

A brief experience: I had just gotten my conceal & carry license and completed about 24 hours of formal training. We were going to a questionable part of St. Louis, out with friends for dinner. My wife, awesome and reasonable gal, gave me quite a bit of grief about carrying. It meant I was on security detail. No drinking, more SA (situational awareness) required. It’s less fun until you adapt to the scenario.

The night was wrapping up and there were two men that passed us, window shopping the cars parked. They turned around and passed us again. After 100 feet, they turned again and passed us for a 3rd time. This is unusual behavior for anyone but small children. I oriented myself towards them so they knew that I was aware of their presence. She noticed this, but our friends did not. She immediatly put her hands around me to pat my weapon.

This was the first time I had ever carried and it was exactly the insurance, immediately employable with severe consequences, that my wife wanted available but did not want the hassle of initially. It was the most gratifying gun related experience I had at that point…..how she felt would change, but when the chips are down a firearm equilizes the equation regardless of the emotional response elicted.

Moral of the story? Keep everyone alive long enough to reveal a truth they are not willing to realize without going through the aether of a legitimate threat. If they dont neuter you first…

Nick
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Nick

Thanks for this great article, which sheds the light of an actual problem nowadays, in particular how the general public perceive the shooting sports. I’m from Switzerland, and in this country, 30 years ago, the number one sport was…. you guessed it, rifle shooting (mostly prone, at 300 meters). We used (and still do) military service rifles, ranging from the WW2-era K31 to the latest full auto SIG550 (PE90). Back in the day, it was so popular that nobody was afraid (or scared) at these practices, and it was widely considered by all as a sport, even before its military purpose (to keep the militia soldier fit for combat). Almost all small towns had their outdoor range, sometimes opened 8 months of the year. We’re now seeing them closing one by one…

What the hell append in 30 years! Even in this country, claiming that you frequently go to the range may rise a few eyebrows. I think that the pop culture (movies with bad depictions of firearm handling, TV shows, political stances) has something to do with it. According to the information I’ve some IPSC practitioners here, are even hiding now to avoid “bad” advertising, and backfire. In some industries, publicly claiming you’re a shooter can have a heavy cost, including losing your job in the process.

I think it’s a lack of education, civilism and social boundaries that explain why people have such a bad views about our sports, which are in no way more aggressive or violent than let’s say Krav Maga.

Jerry
Member
Jerry

Very good article. High time we restore the American Rifleman traditions and practice, one day at a time. For many generations it was assumed, no need to be apologetic to anyone for carrying on such traditions. It is the right of responsible citizenship in a free society. We are also accountable to our Founders who sacrificed much in the cause of freedom, carry on!

Sunshine Shooter
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Lol, I like how your first picture in this post is of an airman tossing a marine. I can respect a little propaganda here & there 🙂

I whole-heartedly agree that the true American martial art is gunfighting. I’d say pistolry is a specifically American art, but that’s a conversation for another day.

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