“Love says, I am everything. Wisdom says, I am nothing. Between the two my life flows.” -Nisargadatta Maharaj
I grew up in Park Layne, Ohio. Which is a good place to be from.
In 1978, at the age of twenty-two, I loaded up my ’66 Chevy Pickup with my wife and two-year old daughter, and everything else that would fit. We headed to Arizona and landed in Florence in the middle of July. It was 118 degrees, and thought I’d made the worst decision of my life.
We moved in with a friend who had also fled the state of Ohio, and I got a job at the Arizona State Prison. After putting in my time as a cell block and tower guard, I transferred into the armory to be around the guns.
A week later I was at my first Police Practical Combat (PPC) match.
I was hooked. Soon I had a bull-barreled Smith & Wesson .38 special with a Bomar Rib and was training for the State Championships. But I got sick of the job and quit before I could shoot the match. (You have to be a police officer to shoot PPC.)
International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) looked fun and challenging. My wife surprised me with a Colt 45 ACP for Christmas, and soon after I was at my first practical pistol match.
The match was held in a big hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere called The Pit. There, I met Rob Leatham. With matching enthusiasm, we immediately formed a bond that would last a lifetime.
Rob Leatham (left) and me, after our first IPSC National Championship. Rob won the match and I was 2nd.
Our time together consisted of endless technique discussions and dry-fire training, practice, practice, and more practice, and loading lots of ammo on single stage presses. We battled each other on our way to the top of the Arizona scene. For the next ten years, either Rob or I won every Arizona State Championship.
Looking back, one of my strengths was that I was not afraid to ask anybody about anything. If I thought I could learn something, whether from a beginner or a master, I would not hesitate to “stick in the I.V.,” as we said. I still do this today.
I could load 200 rounds / hour on that single-stage press.
I drove to California in March of 1981 to compete in the Cota de Caza tournament. My budget was tight. A sleeping bag on the ground at the range was my hotel room. I finished in the top ten, and took home a Ruger Redhawk. I had hit the big time.
At the match, I learned about the first Steel Challenge competition from practical pistol legend, Mike Dalton. I returned to California in April and finished fifth at my first national level match.
For the first couple years, my entire game plan was to hit each target on the first shot. At my second Steel Challenge, John Shaw said, “Boy, your draw sucks, but you shoot pretty fast once you get that thing out of the holster.”
I went home and worked on my draw. Ten years later, I won the side match at the Steel Challenge—Blast for Cash—with a .98 second time for the stage Double Trouble (total time required to draw and shoot two 12” steel plates at seven yards).
Although my favorite competition was IPSC, the matches, with their surprise format and emphasis on speed, proved more difficult to master. My best finishes came when I could practice specific courses of fire before the competition. My temperament favored what we called “Carnival Matches,” like the Bianchi Cup, The Masters, or the Sportsman’s Team Challenge. They were Carnival Matches because their circus-like atmosphere was not hard core, like IPSC.
For the next ten years, I trained like a man possessed. My practice regimen included shooting an incredible number of rounds and thousands of hours of dry-fire training. If I was not working on my gun or loading ammo, I was dry-firing. Cross-training included running, weight training, martial arts, yoga, meditation, and constant reading of anything I thought might help.
I won the Bianchi Cup in 1983 and ’84, the Masters in 1989, and was a 5-time member of the Sportsman’s Team Challenge national championship team. I qualified for the United States IPSC Gold Team every year since 1983 until I retired, and twice finished second at the Steel Challenge, Soldier of Fortune, and the US IPSC Nationals.
Me and my daughter, Joni, at a local Arizona match in the early ’80’s.
By the late ’80’s I was losing interest in the Carnival Matches. After five or six years of grinding out their specific stages, they became boring. Again, I realized this was my temperament at work—I enjoy solving problems, but, once solved, I want a new challenge.
After ten years of sponsorship from Dillon Precision, Springfield Armory, and Smith and Wesson, I retired from the Carnival Match and sponsorship scene in 1991. Not only was I sick of Carnival Matches, I had no love for IPSC’s new “space-gun” trend.
In 1991, coinciding with the newly created USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) Limited Class, European American Armory was looking for a shooter to campaign their Limited Class pistol. They signed me up. I was happy to be shooting a stock gun again.
Over the next ten years, shooting for EAA and then for Strayer-Voigt, I won quite a few USPSA Area Limited Championships and two Steel Challenge Limited Class National Championships. I retired from professional competition in 2000.
By early 1990, I had ten years worth of notes from every practice session and match. With encouragement from fellow shooters, Practical Shooting Beyond Fundamentals, was published in 1990. Perhaps due to its emphasis on mental discipline, it is still selling well.
Me (left), Mike Henry (center), and Robbie, after we crushed the Arizona State Championship.
Each Monday, I’ll post a new topic in one of two categories. One will be on shooting, and the other will be on living, or: “how I learned to live from what I learned by competing.”
Thanks for coming in.