Sacred Cow Gored…The “Competition Grip” Is Not Always the Answer

02/11/18- In the six years since this article was written, I have posted the permalink to it on various firearms forums. 

Most people are able to read it, appreciate the satire and comprehend the salient point- that the individual characteristics of various shooters physiques, physical conditions and the handguns they use can combine to produce shooter-induced malfunctions with the thumbs-forward grip. I have seen  it happen at law enforcement qualifications. 

Handgunners come in all shapes, sizes and degrees of physical fitness or impairment. When you consider the myriad of firearms they might be using at any given time, the notion that any one technique is ‘best’ for all of them is  just ridiculous. 

Any instructor worth his salt should get that. If yours does not, kick him to the curb and find someone who does. 


The ‘thumbs-forward’ competition grip is, as the name implies, quite effective in competition. This is especially so if:

  • The gun used is a full-sized auto
  • The grip is used with only one gun
  • The ‘object’ is to unload a magazine as fast as possible
  • With enough accuracy to score on competition-style targets

The competition grip works well in IPSC- and it looks good in the videos produced by various competition shooters. Law enforcement and defensive shooters should probably think twice before adopting it.

The problems of the real world and the square range are dissimilar. On the square range, there are no drunks trying to wrestle the gun away, or kick it out of your hands; you’re not going to have to hold the gun in one hand and fight with the other. You won’t have to change from a two-handed grip to one-handed, in a split second, to move a scared student aside while you address a threat at 90 degrees on your weak side. In competition, you won’t be shooting flame-throwers through that magnum j-frame, that fits so nicely in your front pocket.

We all know the importance of getting the first hits but the reality of handgun effectiveness is that that they ALL suck- and peripheral hits do not stop fights. Gunfights are often a flurry of shots followed by one side or the other realizing that ‘Hitting THAT SOB in the nose’ is what it’s going to take to survive. If your initial, IPSC-Master barrage didn’t settle accounts, you are now low on ammo. Yes, we shoot until the ‘threat goes away’- but Mr. Threat may have friends you haven’t met yet. Remember the teacher telling you to “Bring enough for everybody”? That applies to gunfights, too. 98% of the time, dumping magazines in a fight is just plain stupid- the kind of stupid that gets you charged, sued or killed.

If you are still in the fight after the initial flurry- you need precision, and only two things on God’s green earth will get it. They are:

  • Seeing your front sight on what you want to hit, and
  • Pressing the trigger.

You can only accomplish that when conditions allow it and speed-shooting isn’t going to make it happen.

As long as your grip is firm, consistent and usable in the worst-case scenario, it’s good enough. It should be a grip you can acquire without conscious thought, regardless of the gun you’re carrying today, or how many hands you can get on that gun. It needs to be simple, without a lot of digital acrobatics. If you have to think about where this or that thumb goes, for this or that gun, you are draining brain juice you might desperately need for problem solving.

Right here is where the ‘competition grip’ falls apart. Using a thumbs-forward grip with a snubnose .357 will soon educate you about where your weak-hand thumb should NOT be. There are pictures circulating the web at present that show the results of having that thumb too far forward when you’re shooting something bigger- like a .460 S&W.

There is another factor at work here, that nobody talks about. Not all combinations of hands & handguns will work with the Competition Grip. The more you introduce stress/unknowns into the training, the more apparent this becomes. Safeties and slide locks get bumped by errant thumbs, and your now gun won’t go ‘boom’ until you fix something besides the problem you were trying to solve with it. I have seen this repeatedly with the Springfield XD, at LE qualifications. I have seen it more than once with HK Compacts and the smallest Glocks.

When this starts happening, I ‘re-teach’ folks to turn the shooting hand thumb down or alongside the grip; and if transitioning to two-hand shooting, to place the offhand thumb on top of it. This resolves all issues about hitting the slide lock inadvertently. It works with any gun, regardless of caliber or configuration. It also facilitates conversion of the shooting grip into a retention grip, without moving anything. Your shooting-hand thumb is a valuable asset in holding on to that gun.

Sometimes people ask me “Well if your way is better, how come (insert big name IPSC shooter) don’t shoot like that! Whadda-ya say to that, Sarge? Huh?”

I say “S’cuse me, but didn’t you just lock your gun open in mid-string? By the way, IPSC is a game-and this ain’t a game to us. Does anybody here want Mr. IPSC Hose-monster running down the hallway of your daughter’s school, emptying mags at a dead run?”

Dead silence…

I’m trying to teach these guys the simplest, most instinctive methods to stay alive. I still turn out some pretty good shots, a few of whom have used what I’ve taught them to get home when things got ugly.

I’m going to call this a ‘Retention Grip’ simply because it uses the natural anatomy of the hand to help you retain possession of the gun; and that advantage is not compromised in the split second when you transition from two-hands to one, or vice-versa. No, you’re not gonna win any IPSC matches using this grip, and the ammo makers won’t offer you a sponsorship because you burned an obscene amount of their product in 17.323 seconds. But let’s give it a look anyhow.

Hold the EMPTY, and I mean ALL THE WAY EMPTY gun in your strong hand- like you mean to hold onto it, even if I tried to slap it away. Your thumb knuckle will invariably wind up alongside the handle- AWAY from any controls mounted on the weapon itself:


Now extend your shooting hand slightly, and bring your support hand up. Cup your shooting hand in your support hand. Now- whatcha gonna do with that weak hand thumb? Leave it dangling out there in your field of vision? Want some crack head to get ahold of it and bite it off? I didn’t think so. Fold it over on top of your shooting hand thumb.


If you have to remove your support hand from the gun for any reason, you still have a solid grip on the gun without shifting it around. Wonder of wonders, it also happens to be the same grip you use for strong-hand shooting. Think that might be a good thing? You betcha. You can shoot it, holster it, or hang onto it; whatever the situation dictates, and with as many or few hands as you have available.

Your thumbs are both out of the way of the slide stop. Yeehaw. Now we can finish a stage of fire without you holding your little hand up like a first grader who needs to go potty- ’cause your slide locked open before your ‘buwwets’ was all gone.

We may now resume shooting. Thank you very much.


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