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Gunfighting is a Mixed Martial Art

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Gunfighting is a martial art

What do gunfighting and mixed martial arts (MMA) have in common?

Not only are they both forms of protection, but they’re also martial arts.

I know what you’re thinking…

But I haven’t gone off the deep end. When most people think of “martial arts” they think of little kids practicing Karate, or if they follow sports, they may think of Brazilian jujitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, and mixed martial arts competitions.

Traditional martial arts have always included weapons as a part of their training, and some martial arts are specific to one weapon.

In fact, you probably already know that traditional martial arts have always incorporated weapons. Have you ever heard of Kendo (a traditional Japanese martial art that uses swords)? One might go as far as stating that gunfighting and tactical shooting is an American martial art.

In this article, I’d like to reinforce the notion that gunfighting is a martial art by drawing training parallels between tactical shooting and mixed martial arts, based on my experience.

15 Similarities Between Gunfighting and Mixed Martial Arts

1. Both take time to learn; there are no shortcuts.

Teaching a BJJ class on the mats.

Mastering any kind of complex skill takes time. Whether you are into tactical shooting, mixed martial arts, or both, you’ll realize that learning is never easy. You need to pay your dues and put the time in at the range or on the mats.

If you don’t accept this fact, you might get frustrated with your performance and think tactical shooting or mixed martial arts aren’t right for you, but you need to stick with it and realize it takes time to learn. There are no short cuts.

During my mixed martial arts career, I met numerous students who would take classes for a few weeks and never come back. When I asked why they didn’t think MMA was for them because they couldn’t properly execute techniques.

What they failed to realize and/or accept is that MMA takes time to master different techniques. Gunfighting is exactly the same.

2. Both require correct, consistent practice.

Practicing at the range

You’ve heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.” The truth is, “practice makes permanent.” If you continue to train but do so incorrectly, consistent practice will make your bad habits permanent.

Only “perfect practice makes perfect.”

It’s important to practice regularly, but you need to ensure that what you are doing is correct. You do not want to build bad habits.

Having proper training and having an instructor observe you while you train is probably the best way to ensure you are flawlessly executing your techniques.

New shooters or mixed martial artists typically have challenges here. I see this often.

With their desire to get better quickly, they will usually start their journey practicing often. But for some reason, after taking only a few classes, many tend to practice on their own without an instructor to observe them and/or before knowing that they are executing their movements the right way.

3. Everyone wants to go fast, but they shouldn’t.

As I mentioned above, the vast majority of gunfighting and mixed martial arts students want to go fast:

  • They want to execute techniques as fast as possible.
  • They want to learn as many techniques as possible.
  • They want to go straight into learning advanced techniques that look ‘cool.’

It’s normal to want to go fast, but there are three major problems.

  1. When you go fast, you’ll build bad habits if you haven’t already perfected a technique. When people move fast, whether they are shooting or on the mats grappling, they tend to get sloppy. If you haven’t already perfected your movements, you will reinforce your bad habits, and perhaps build new ones, by going fast. Think slow and smooth. Speed will come later.
  • It can be discouraging for students when they practice a technique and cannot seem to get it right because they are moving too fast. In doing so, they usually forget the details of a technique and begin to look sloppy and develop bad habits. Sometimes the solution is simply slowing down.
  • Going fast isn’t safe (especially for beginners). Again, there are no short cuts. To be safe while you practice, you need to really know the techniques and movements you’re training. Only after you’ve perfected a technique should you think about adding speed. For example, most shooting accidents happen when a person is drawing from their holster or when reholstering their weapon. A shooter who hasn’t perfected the basic draw may not be disciplined enough to keep their finger away from the trigger. By moving fast, they may get sloppy and may forget this important detail. Similarly, a mixed martial artist who doesn’t know how to punch properly can seriously injure his or her hand when punching. It takes time to develop the muscle memory to punch with your wrist straight and to hit with the proper knuckles. For someone learning how to punch, going fast will make them sloppy, and they will miss key technique details.

4. How you train will dictate how you perform during the ‘real thing.’

MMA training

When I used to train and compete a lot in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA, I took things very seriously. I trained regularly (multiple times a day), continually worked on my basics, and did several hundred repetitions each training session.

My movements seemed like they were on auto pilot, i.e. I built good muscle memory.

Many of my peers would train half as much as I did and wouldn’t work the basics much, as and they would do fewer repetitions. They thought that the way they trained was enough, and when the time came to perform in a fight or competition, they could easily execute all of their techniques.

Well, things didn’t go that way.

My peers who didn’t train often and didn’t train smart would always get beat. They didn’t have enough ring, cage, and mat time and didn’t focus on polishing the most important skills, i.e. the basics.

Combat shooting is the same.

How much you train and how you train directly affects how you will perform during a real gunfight. For example, if you can clear pistol malfunctions in practice but only do a few reps, you won’t be as smooth and as fast during a real conflict. There is a good chance you might even ‘fumble’ when trying to clear a malfunction because you didn’t train enough and didn’t train properly.

You need to train often and you need to train smart–improve your weaknesses, polish off your strengths, and be consistent.

5. Must have a methodical and systematic approach to training.

Organized firearms training workshop

In most martial arts styles, there is a belt system in place for a reason. Each belt represents a minimum set of requirements, skill, and/or experience. To be promoted to the next belt color, a student must prove they have mastered everything at their current belt level.

The belt system provides a methodical and systematic approach to learning.

Mixed martial arts schools differ from traditional martial arts styles because they do not usually use a belt system. However, good mixed martial arts programs will have classes set up in an organized manner to help students learn new skills and hone old ones.

Here, the point is to learn mixed martial arts, and shooting, in organized phases, for the lack of a better word. Start with the basics. Work lots of repetitions. Then move onto drills, and ultimately, sparring.

What a student learns in one phase (or belt) will prepare him or her for the next phase.

Solid tactical shooting instruction is the same. There is a logical progression. Start with the basics, such as mastering the seven fundamentals of marksmanship, then move on to more intermediate and advanced techniques and tactics.

When it comes to sparring, don’t think about doing so unless you have a solid grasp of the basics–this applies to mixed martial arts and gunfighting. Approach sparring methodically, by starting with isolated drills first.

Do not start sparring right away because you may get injured or frustrated because of your lack of experience. Instead, start with controlled sparring and work your way up to full-on sparring sessions as you build confidence and your skills.

An example of controlled sparring for mixed martial arts might be having a partner who is on his back with you on top perpedicularly, chest-to-chest. The objective of this drill is to keep your partner on his back without using your arms.

For combat shooting, an example of controlled sparring might be a fixed force-on-force scenario where a participant or participants clear one specific room practicing one specific tactic.

As you might tell, these controlled sparring sessions help students isolate what they should work on so they do not get overwhelmed and frustrated, and so they can execute techniques and tactics properly.

Once you’ve mastered the basics and have a lot of experience with controlled sparring, then one can progress to full sparring sessions (in combat shooting, this would be force-on-force training).

However, if you are new to open sparring, make sure you start off really slow and spar with people with the same skill level or those who can slow down to match your experience level.

It helps to have a good trainer and a good group of people to train with (see #6) who know your skill level and can make the sparring session realistic and difficult for you, while making sure you are safe the entire time and avoiding bad habits that usually come when speed and stress are added.

6. Surround yourself with like-minded people.

Newbreed Training Center

You’ve probably heard the saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I truly believe this, though whether the number five is based on accurate data, I’m unsure, and frankly, it doesn’t matter here. The point is that the people you hang out with the most will have a big influence on you.

If you want to be great at mixed martial arts, make sure to surround yourself with the best mixed martial artists you can. If you want to be a great gunfighter, do the same–make your inner circle one full of highly skilled and experienced gunfighters.

By doing this, you’ll improve much faster than you would alone.

If you surround yourself with people who are as passionate and serious about learning combat shooting as you are, they will give you the fuel to feed the fire, i.e. they will help you and encourage you to keep going. You will also do the same for them. It’s a win-win situation.

Although you’ll want to surround yourself with like-minded people, it’s important that you, and everyone else in your ‘inner-circle’, are open to different techniques, tactics, perspectives, etc. Accept that there is always more than one way to do something. In doing so, you and your inner circle will become more complete mixed martial artists and/or shooters.

7. Seems like everyone who trains recreationally or even just watches thinks they are an expert

Everyone thinks they are an expert.

One of my big pet peeves. . .

It is mind-boggling that people who seldom train mixed martial arts or go to the range only once in a while to shoot, think they know everything. What’s even worse are people who think they are experts from simply following mixed martial arts or combat/sport shooting, i.e. they don’t even train or shoot!

I don’t know why this happens, but it does!

I laugh inside when I watch a UFC fight and I’m next to people who aren’t mixed martial artists or fighters of any kind. They continually express how one fighter should do this or that, making it seem like they are an expert. The same thing happens in shooting.

Here, the main point is that there is always something to learn and improve and that everyone will have their own opinions.

You’re going to run into people who think they know everything. Ignore them. Don’t let them get on your nerves. Keep doing what you’re doing, i.e. practice regularly and train smart, and use what works for you while keeping an open mind to other approaches, techniques, tactics, gear, etc.

8. It’s more than just speed, strength, power or technique.

Mental toughness. It's all in your mind.

A person who has superior size, speed, power and technique has a lot of advantages. However, winning a mixed martial arts match or a gunfight require more than just physical and technical prowess.

You need to use your head. You can beat someone who on paper is better by being smarter, having better situational awareness, and by having the right mindset.

Even before a match or fight starts, you’ll be 1, 2, 3 steps ahead if you use your head right.

Great mixed martial artists analyze their opponents closely with their team members before a match. They look for their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and they come up with a game plan for fight night. They are using their minds to create a game plan that will provide an edge over size, speed, power, and technique.

Similarly, soldiers who are sent on missions will take the time to plan before going into battle. For example, they will plan the best way to enter and exit a building and come up with contingency plans. They are using their brains to gain an edge.

Here, the right mindset is critical as well.

During my mixed martial arts career, I was always asked how I was able to beat this guy or that guy–people who were bigger, strong, faster, and more experienced. I would always say, “I don’t know.” But the truth is that I was better prepared than they were, mentally and even emotionally.

When faced with extreme adversity many people do not have the mental toughness to endure. With the proper mindset, so much can be achieved.

I recall shooting with retired Navy SEAL Coch one day and he has a no fail, no quit attitude. He will push himself past his or his opponents’ limits to get what needs to be done, done.

His mindset and mental toughness will help overcome physical prowess. The same goes for you.

9. Practitioners need to be dedicated and disciplined.

Discipline and dedication

This parallel is simple. Both mixed martial arts and gunfighting are complex activities that require a lot of training. As mentioned above, there are no short cuts.

I’ve taught martial arts practically all my life, and almost every week a new student would walk in my academy’s doors to start their MMA journey. They would state how serious they were and how they would train regularly because they wanted to get really good, really fast.

Well, the vast majority wouldn’t last more than a month. . .

Mixed martial arts is tough. It takes dedication and discipline–two important qualities that, in my experience, many new students lack.

To get really good at gunfighting, one needs to be in it for the long haul, also. There is so much to learn and one needs to practice often to get better.

If you’re not willing to put the time in despite how difficult or boring training might be at times, you won’t excel in either activity.

10. Don’t over do it.

Over training

I really like people who want to get better fast by practicing a lot. They know that the best way to get better quickly is to put as much time in on the mats or at the ‘range’ as possible.

Nonetheless, things can backfire if one can’t balance the urge to train and giving your mind and body time to rest, recuperate, and digest everything.

If you over train, three things can happen:

  1. You can get injured and hurt. Your mind and body need time to rest. If you don’t take the time to rest, you’ll get sloppy, which can lead to improper technique and tactics that result in injury. Imagine getting sloppy when shooting–you can seriously hurt or kill yourself or someone else.
  2. You can get discouraged. As mentioned, you need to rest. If you overtrain, in addition to possible injuries, you will likely get discouraged when you begin to start making mistakes. You might not think you’re good enough or something isn’t right for you when all you need to do is take a break and regroup.
  3. You might take two steps back, and one step forward. We’ve all heard the saying, “One step back, two steps forward.” The opposite can hold true here. If you overtrain, you might negatively affect your overall progression in mixed martial arts or shooting.

I recall training for a fight over a decade ago. One of my students was also training for a competition, and he wanted to follow the same training program.

My student was very disciplined and dedicated–this is why he wanted to do what I was doing. However, he just wasn’t ready for my training schedule and the intensity.

I trained three times a day. In the morning, I would train 2-3 hours. I’d do a lot of pad work and sparring. In the afternoon, I would train cardio and strength for about 30-45 minutes. In the evening, I would repeat the morning’s training regimen. I trained five times a week, i.e. weekdays, and rested over the weekend.

My student tried his hardest. However, I could see it in his eyes and in his performance. He was overtraining. He was burnt out. He even got injured a couple of weeks before his competition.

He wasn’t ready for my training program, and did too much, too fast.

If you notice that your performance is dipping during a training session, you could be overdoing it. To prevent overtraining, I recommend one of two things.

  • End all training for the day. If you’ve already been training hard for more than an hour or two and you aren’t performing well, you might have reached your limit for the day. Any training beyond that may lead to injuries, frustration, and/or building bad habits. It’s a good idea to call it a day and rest.
  • Change your training focus. If you’ve been training how to draw from concealment for an hour, and all of a sudden your drawing incorrectly, consider changing your training focus. You may not be mentally or physically burned out yet, and might actually be able to train more. However, here, you’d want to change up what you’re training. Perhaps instead of draws, you might now work footwork or various shooting drills that do not include the draw.

11. No one style or art is the best.

Everyone who gets into martial arts will inevitably ask the question, “What martial art is the best?” The right answer is that there is no best. There are too many variables to consider such as the size of the practitioner, how much time someone has available to practice, and even where a person lives–just to name a few.

No one style or art is the best, which is why MMA has boomed. The idea is to take what works for you from multiple styles and combine everything into your own style. And what works for you, may not work for another.

With shooting, things are the same. No one gun or platform is the best. There are too many things to consider such as a person’s shooting ability, the size of their hand, grip strength, etc.

Instead of trying to figure out what’s the best art or gun, focus on the fundamentals that can be applied to all guns and to all martial arts styles.

12. Focus on principles, not individual tactics or techniques.

Focus on principles, no individual tactics or techniques

Learning tactics and techniques are important. Understanding when to execute a specific technique based on a specific scenario, for example, can be very helpful.

However, in a real fight, tactics and techniques are hardly ever executed exactly the way they are taught because real fights throw a bunch of curve balls your way. Furthermore, you might practice many self-defense scenarios to prepare yourself (which is great), but you need to understand that in a real conflict, the exact scenarios hardly ever pan out the same way. Again, there are many variables.

As a result, it’s vital that you understand the underlying principles to various tactics or techniques. For example, if one firearms instructor teaches me to place my non-drawing hand on my chest when I draw while another instructor teaches me to touch my chin instead rather than my chest, I don’t lose sleep over which technique is better because there is never one, best way to do something (see #11).

In time, I will determine which technique works best for me. What is more important is understanding the principle behind various techniques. In the example I used, the main point is to ensure my non-drawing/support hand is out of harm’s way, i.e. don’t shoot my own hand.

In MMA, practitioners will debate on the best way to secure an armbar or to throw a punch or kick. As mentioned, It’s important to know techniques, but remember what works for one person may not work for another. Understand what needs to be accomplished with specific techniques–what’s the objective or goal. You will then naturally use the techniques that help you accomplish what you need to do based on your own experience level, physical makeup, etc.

13. You’ll always run into problems; obstacles pop-up and things hardly ever go as planned.

Pistol malfunction

As I alluded to in the previous section, things hardly ever go as planned in both MMA and tactical shooting. When beginners run into a problem, they tend to freeze. Instead, start developing the mindset and the good habit of working through problems. Find the solution on the fly.

For example, when I used to grapple a lot, I would always go into a sparring session with a few techniques that I really wanted to focus on with my partners. Sometimes I would get to practice them, other times, my partner wouldn’t give me the opportunity based on the specific position I wanted to execute a technique. In these instances, by understanding the principle behind a technique (see #12), I would quickly adjust and maneuver myself in a different position where I could execute the technique.

With combat shooting, the last thing you want to do is stop and freeze if your gun malfunctions. The ‘fight’ doesn’t stop because your gun malfunctioned. You need to work through the problem and get your gun in working order as fast as possible. Don’t stop until you do or you might end up as a victim.

Always work through obstacles, and if you are unsure how to overcome one, then it likely means you need to take a step back so you can learn how.

14. Be humble and stay hungry.

Stay humble

In my shooting and MMA journey, the most experienced and respected are humble and are always hungry to learn more. They are open-minded and do not believe that their way is the only way. There will always be more to learn and there is always room for improvement.

There is no need to show off or advertise that you train in MMA or that you shoot. It’s okay to show your support for what you’re passionate about, but it isn’t necessary to show off. I guess people go through stages, but the best, in my experience, are always humble.

15. A Bullet and a Tap Always Tell the Truth

A bullet always tells the truth

In the movie Man on Fire, Denzel Washington plays a former assassin who delivers a memorable line, “a bullet always tells the truth.” Both tactical shooting and MMA have a clear and unmistakable way to determine if you are good or if you need a lot more training.

In the tactical world, once you transition from general marksmanship to force-on-force training (equivalent to MMA sparring but with simunitions, airsoft or paintball), if you get hit, you know you have work to do. In mixed martial arts, if you give up by tapping (or if you’re knocked down or out), it means you were beat, and you have work to do.

Both have a distinct feedback mechanism that let you know where you stand against the competition. If you train in MMA or tactical shooting, and you aren’t ‘sparring’, you will never know how you will perform during a real fight.

In Conclusion

Based on my years of experience in mixed martial arts, the deeper I get into gunfighting, the more I see how similar they are. It’s because gunfighting is a martial art.

There are many parallels between the two. I’ve listed only fifteen.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below!

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About the author


Myles is the Founder of Tactical Hyve, a competitive shooter, and a life-long student of all things dealing with the tactical and self-defense worlds.

6 thoughts on “Gunfighting is a Mixed Martial Art”

  1. Picked up a lot of principles that apply to more than just the two. Thanks a lot for sharing your insight. Was your student btw at QC Newbreed.


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