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Building a Better Gun Culture: Marksmanship as a Martial Art

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

When it come to modern American gun culture, one of the most cringe-worthy things I see bandied about is the depiction of the average gun owner as a fat white paranoid redneck waving a confederate flag while standing on a mountain of ammo and guns in the back of his pickup truck. This depiction seems to be in the back of the mind of nearly every anti-gunner or neutral party when I start talking to them. In a lot of cases, these individuals have harbored some interest in the past for trying out firearms, but are deterred by being associated with “those people.”

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We need to do better.

We know that stereotype is far from accurate, but we also realize that it exists for a reason. Everywhere I have lived, there was nary a day at the range where I didn’t see some jackass with their broke-ass gun violating safety rules and loudly talking about something or other that would probably offend fellow patrons of the range (sometimes egregiously so). I’m not perfect, and I have violated some of the pretty core safety rules in the past, but I stayed respectful about it and apologized.

On the other end of the spectrum is the new “Tacticool” crowd. I could go on about this, but I think it’s pretty well summed up by Mat Best’s Youtube video on the subject.

While this group is infinitely more “fun” than the former stereotypical group of bigoted old fat guys, neither really represents what my vision of an American Marksman would look like.

I propose that we start approaching marksmanship the same way we approach traditional martial arts, with all the discipline that it implies.

When we say the phrase “martial arts,” the first thing that comes into our heads is probably the traditional Eastern forms that we see in Bruce Lee movies. But the actual history is far from that. The term originates in Europe of the 1550’s. The German fechtmeister (fight masters) like Johannes Liechtenauer and Hans Talhoffer been passing their knowledge of armed fighting through schools and books. I’ve read and practiced several of their works (it was an…experimental…time in college), and they were pretty awesome.

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

Martial arts involving various forms weapons weapons have long been part of the heritage. But why have their their ballistic descendants been excluded from this tradition, except for when it involves bayonets? I think it is because we, the shooting community, have failed to control our own narrative. Shooting used to be an extremely common pastime in American culture, and I think nobody really considered that there should be a narrative that goes a long with it. But, somewhere along the way, the antis seized the initiative and now it’s up to us to retrieve it.

I’m not saying that shooting guns can’t be fun. We know it is, and I’m just a big a fan of blasting some ammo as the next guy. But there is a difference between Mat Best’s depiction of the fatty screaming “These colors don’t run….” and someone who has spent many years of practice and discipline to hone their craft. The public takes the latter more seriously, and the former is a punch line.

There are many shooters who have spent years, maybe even their entire lives, perfecting the martial skills of marksmanship. Let’s celebrate those individuals openly. Let’s stop being afraid to talk about our marksmanship practice at work, or with friends, out of a fear of association with “that guy.” If you appear serious about what you do (in a friendly way, of course; don’t be a creeper), then share it and cultivate that interest in others.

Participating in competition, and talking about it, seems like a good first step. But maybe there is something more we could do as a culture.

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