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Sharpening the Edge: There’s Value in Competition

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The theme of the month within the Everyday Marksman community is, “Sharpening the Edge.” I gave a short explanation of what I meant by that within the community itself, but I wanted to expand on some of my thoughts with a dedicated podcast episode. The simple truth is that this applies to you whether you’re a member of our little posse or not.

Before I get going, I’ll throw a quick hat tip to the work of Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness for assembling a lot of these resources together. I’ve followed their work for years, and it’s been a true inspiration.

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Episode Summary

Life is full of competition. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, all of life is a giant competition for resources and reproduction. Entire species either prosper or go extinct on the macro level due to their collective abilities to compete in an ever-changing environment.

Nations, businesses, and people operate in a similar way. And so should you.


When I was in the military, my entire career felt like one long continuous competition with my peers. We, quite literally, competing over diminishing spots and opportunities to progress. The point spread between “winners” and “losers” was very narrow.

You could say that I have a love/hate relationship with competition. While I fully realize that a lot of the skills that I talk about here at The Everyday Marksman are individually-focused, I also realize that there’s a lot to be said about working within a group.

So what does working well with groups have to do with competition? Well, in a way…everything.

In any given moment, a man’s growth is optimized if he leans just beyond his edge, his capacity, his fear. He should not be too lazy, happily stagnating in the zone of security and comfort. Nor should he push far beyond his edge, stressing himself unnecessarily, unable to metabolize his experience. He should lean just slightly beyond the edge of fear and discomfort. Constantly. In everything he does.

At its heart, participation in a competition is a form of teamwork. Think about it, good sportsmanship means agreeing to follow a set of rules and then having the honor to obey those rules together.

I can hear the internet commandos already, though. “If you ain’t cheating in a gunfight then you ain’t trying to win.”

Fair point…you got me there.

But we aren’t in a gunfight every day. And the scientific truth is that competition makes us better. Going back more than 100 years, study after study shows that performing a task in front of an audience improves personal performance. Performing a task in the same location as someone else doing the same thing even more so.

I notice this myself when I go to the gym. If it’s empty and I’m the only one around, I’ll do OK. But as soon as I know someone else in also in the weight room lifting, and maybe even doing the same exercises I am, then I work just a little bit harder.

Of course, there’s a balancing act to having a healthy amount of competition. Winning at all costs comes at the price of honor. But not trying at all results in stunted growth. So we have to compete, and we should do it in just about every aspect of our lives. 

A contest doesn’t necessarily mean conflict.

So here’s the ask for you and every other member of the community this month: find at least one other person, or even a group of people, and set up a friendly contest. Work to grow and become better, and you may even surprise yourself.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Matt – just caught this podcast after reading Diceman624’s article on his competition experience. I think you’ve touched on this before regarding ‘goals’ or along those lines. I started thinking about Alex’s post and several of your post competition articles. ‘Commitment’ is what comes to mind – just the preparation to compete is momentum and progress towards improvement. One’s outcome in the contest (which usually ends up being learning experiences and assessments for most of us – ‘there can be only one’) pales compared to the journey of improvements made by undertaking goal focused training. I know I need a goal to motivate me most of the time and I’ve realized that lately ‘the bar’ has been laying on the floor. Jumping in the fire (committing to a contest or challenging class but giving myself a fighting chance to prepare) might just be the answer! There is something hauntingly primitive about it – like leaving the comfort and protection of the cave to find something to kill and eat without getting killed and eaten yourself!

I’ve recently subscribed to ‘Art of Manliness’ myself. Lots of good topics and generally well presented. As I have done on your site I can spend way too much time there – lots of archived articles. I’m thinking about getting a timer to limit my screen time – I’ve got training to do…..

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