Becoming a Gunfighter: How Howard Darby is saving America

For many years I have worked nearly exclusively with bullwhips to be one of those few handfuls in the world who can be considered an expert. It has always been my thing and I will always enjoy it. However, much of that has been out of necessity. Even further back I was part of a martial art school that was a rather vicious enterprise. The owner was corrupt and he instructed his students to be bad people. He was essentially like the bad school owner in the film Karate Kid. He stole money, ran around with young women, and taught his students to be killers so he could win more trophies in tournaments—and thus, sell more classes for his enterprise. I never liked the guy, and he never liked me. One thing I learned from that experience was how to use nunchucks and other melee weapons. To this very day, there may be people out there as fast as me with nunchucks, but I haven’t met them. If I really get loosened up, I can swing them around the way Bruce Lee did in Fists of Fury.

Martial arts to me was always an oriental practice, and I was always distinctly American. I never wanted to be a samurai, a ninja, or a black belt martial artist. But I did want to be a gunfighter. But the problem was ammunition was expensive and I had no way to really practice it. But I was able to practice with a bullwhip and carry a lot of my melee martial arts training directly over into that western art to a point where I felt I could use it in any combat situation with great precision to the point of invincibility. For the last three decades that’s what I’ve done and it worked out well. I have lived in neighborhoods where practicing with firearms was just out of the question, but practicing with bullwhips was doable. So my love of western arts evolved along those lines.

But times change and always in the back of my mind was the desire to be a real gunslinger. I have done pretty much everything I ever wanted to do with bullwhips. There are several of us around the world who are very good with bullwhips and on a good day we can all beat each other at the various competitions, but you get to a certain point where you either level off, or you take another step. For me, that evolution will be toward a gunfighter.

I share obviously with Howard Darby a specific love of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. They are American martial art films that are significant, and they hold up to time quite effectively. It has not been lost to me that modern society has been distinctly anti-gun which is an insult to American culture, because guns are very much an important part of the United States. Criticizing guns is like insulting an oriental of the merits of martial arts. Don’t tell a Japanese person that their Samurai culture is stupid, because they will be insulted. So why is it that in the United States when someone of authority wants to criticize an action, they make derogatory references to the “Wild West.” The reason is that they want to change the United States into something else—so they attack the art forms that define it.

I’m at a point in my life where guns aren’t so expensive, and I can certainly afford the timing equipment, the holsters, and I have time to practice. Up until a few years ago I worked 16 to 18 hour days so I didn’t have time to pick up on a new skill. But now I do, and I can’t think of a better one for me than that of a gunfighter. I have spent considerable time defending traditional America. I have friends in high places and if I wanted to, I could immediately be a part of any political insider movement and work at a high-profile position. But I don’t want to. I’d rather be a gunfighter.

Each year as I’ve said I use the Annie Oakley event in Darke County, Ohio as a kind of reference point for re-centering my moral compass. At our annual dinner it has been increasingly apparent that the world is hungry for western arts, but people feel guilty for wanting it. In our group we haven’t done much with guns, really due to the stigma behind them—but since our Western Arts Showcase has moved from the fairgrounds to the York Woods area, the regulations have loosened up quite a lot leading me to consider livening things up a bit with actual gun fire. But it takes a lot of practice, and money to get even remotely close to where Howard Darby is. But like a lot of good people in the western arts professions, Darby is promoting his sport so that people like me will enter the field and push things forward. Just like in the whip world, there really aren’t that many people who still perform as gunfighters. It’s been a dying art form. Most who do are older people and that needs to change.

Meanwhile everyone wants to be a black belt in martial arts because there are fewer stigmas in the effort. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are common loves for young people whereas all the old cowboy heroes of days long gone are considered fringe worthy, and that is just appalling. I see Fast Draw as a sport that most adequately promotes the Second Amendment and that makes people like Howard Darby important ambassadors to Constitutional preservation—and I’d like to expand that considerably in the years to come. I think it’s about time that America stop apologizing for being so good, and that all things categorized as Western Arts lose the stigma given by progressive society as outdated, Indian hating, unintelligent, traditionalists. American westerns built our nation into something unique and are much more influential and powerful than martial arts—and I think it would be best if Fast Draw was as common in the future as fishing is today.

With the tools available today, there should be more people like Howard Darby. With Cabela’s superstores two or three hundred miles apart all over the nation, there are plenty of resources for modern shooters to enjoy. It’s not like it used to be, there are plenty of ways to get access to equipment and supplies. That’s another aspect to this desire to become a gunfighter that is so appealing to me now as opposed to several years ago. Back when I was doing some gunsmithing work and had a FFL, Brownells was about the only place you could get really good supplies for such a sport. But these days, Bass Pro and Cabela’s has most of what you need right off the shelf. And it’s a great excuse to shop at those places more often—which represents the best that America has to offer.

It is time to stop apologizing for the gun culture that we have in America. I have no desire to be more like Europe and I certainly don’t want to be more like the mystics of the orient. The American Gunfighter is an art that is rooted in capitalism and honor. It is unique to a free society. And its time that we defend it properly instead of relegating it to western events like the Annie Oakley Days in Greenville, Ohio once a year. I think its time to open things up a bit and let people know that practicing with guns isn’t a shameful experience. Its part of our heritage and that is something we should all cherish. Because it’s ours and nobody else’s.

Rich Hoffman


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5 thoughts on “Becoming a Gunfighter: How Howard Darby is saving America

  1. Thanks for the support, Rich. I’m glad my efforts have been helpful. I may be able to attend the Annie Oakley WFDA shoot April 30 & May 1st, so if you’ll be attend I look forward to shooting with you.


    1. You know, if I know you’re there, I may just do that to shoot with you. I’m practicing right now with Cowboy Fast Draw and I love those guys. I have been focusing on those rules. But what the heck. Its fun, and a real sport rooted in American tradition.


      1. Good to hear! I’ve always wanted to shoot in Ohio, and this looks like my chance. In case you didn’t know, there’s a $25 introductory WFDA membership you can use if you haven’t been a member before. There will also be a Thumbing division, which CFDA shooters usually do really we at, but many also shoot in the Open contest and do well, especially on the closer targets. I’m currently planning on thumbing many of the events myself, although may fan a few just to keep my hand in it. I hope to see you there.


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