I got a really good comment on my last post, where I was musing about changing competition guns at the last minute. From Obiwan:
Michael:Well, yeah...a lot depends on what you want to do with your shooting ability. My friend Rob Larimer at WHEN THE BALLOON GOES UP blog recently did a great article on this very subject:
You change guns like one would change underwear... I appreciate the availability of high end guns, but your muscle memory and shooting ability has to suffer.
Since shooting is a perishable skill it is like a bucket with a hole in it.
All of the time you spend dry-firing, visualizing skills, and practicing on the range is the effort you put into building that skill (I am assuming that it is 100% effective training). At the same time there is a whole in the bucket and some of that skill is leaking out because of time and as we get better it leaks out faster because of the extra pressure.
Furthermore as we age our reflexes may slow, our vision deteriorates and the more out of shape we are that hole gets bigger.
As long as your effort exceeds the leakage, you get better, if it doesn’t you get worse.
If you want “to be as good as I can possibly be” then you have to focus on shooting to the exclusion of all else. Not practical.
(Cool graphic courtesy WTBGU)
Years and years ago, when I was a serious USPSA competitor, I had a regular training schedule that included daily dry-fire, 2 live-fire training days a week, physical training (including lifting weights and aerobic and sprint training) and a match AT LEAST very other weekend and usually every weekend.
Add to that the time spent reloading, time spent setting up and running matches, time spent taking classes and seminars, time spent futzing with gear, etc....lots of time, and for someone who was self-employed (even with a percentage of my time sent working on gun articles and for USPSA), that time translated directly into money not earned. All that time (and no small amount of money) bought me a "slot" as a competitive club shooter. Not a competitive national shooter, but I was headed there.
A key point here is that I had to be very, very — no, exclusively — focused on USPSA Limited...weak point training, very specific dry-fire, blah-blah...you guys know the drill. I took a break from USPSA for personal reasons (life changes) and became a pretty good age-group triathlete, which led me to extreme sports, which oddly enough led me back to practical shooting. I came back into USPSA as a "C" Open shooter...my bucket had leaked a bit. Eventually became involved in the launch of IDPA (I am member A000009) and spent a number of years shooting that sport.
My huge overwhelming flaw as a competitor is that I have the attention span of a gnat. The irony is that my short attentional span, coupled in with a great memory and an ability to focus in very quickly, made me a really good journalist, which in turn allowed me to be self-employed for my career. It also turned out to perfectly suit me to television production, where Adult Attention Deficit Disorder is practically a prerequisite for employment.
As Ron noted, I no longer have the time to do what needs to be done to compete at the upper levels, not and continue to do what I do in Television World. And, honestly, time is running against me...although I flatly refuse to believe it!
I've also found my interest has changed a lot over the years. I love cowboy action shooting and Wild Bunch, and I'm good at it (plus I've got the hats). I'm fascinated with 3-Gun and, so far, I'm terrible at it, but I'm looking forward to riding the that early stage of the learning curve up up up. I'm a lot more interested in rifles than I used to be, and I see long-distance precision shooting as the Great Uncharted Country. Oh wait, and sporting clays...I can see why people obsess over sporting clays.
So yes, I give up ground on the "muscle memory" question, although I think it's more properly termed a neural programming issue. I figure as long as I'm willing to "play the fool" I'll be able to muddle through all the various competitions (and, I'm hoping, African plains game with a Ruger .300 Win Mag in September). As the great Robert Heinlein once noted, "Specialization is for insects."