Warning: IDPA Is Not Training

Photo credit: dagnyg

A little over a week ago, I competed in my first IDPA match at my local club. I have been more than a little excited to give the sport a try and see both how much fun it would be (spoiler: tons!) and how I stack up against the guys that compete at this sort of thing all the time.

I learned a lot about IDPA while at the match, but I also learned a lot about myself and training in general. I’ll be looking forward to shooting another match soon. If any of you happen to be in New Hampshire and want to meet up at a match, contact me, I’d love to shoot with you.

Here is what I learned…

IDPA doesn’t build skills

Quite a few people seem to be confused and state that IDPA is good defensive training. These people couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, IDPA is a game. All games have rules. Real life doesn’t.

More importantly, IDPA isn’t training because it doesn’t build skills. Efficient skills development requires repetition in isolation.

When you practice your draw-stroke, you train through consistent repetition. Every repetition works to ingrain the proper motions in your subconscious.

In IDPA you shoot a stage once.

One repetition does not give you a chance to make refinements to your technique. One repetition does not allow you to ingrain good habits.

What IDPA does do for you is to provide a good opportunity to pressure test what you bring to the table. I now know my weaknesses and which areas need the most additional practice. You can expect to discover the same things about your own training.

Any game with rules will deviate from real life

Since IDPA is a game, and has rules, it deviates from many of the realities that we train for. For example IDPA limits your magazine capacity to 10 rounds.

IDPA also restricts placement of your gear. Restrictions are placed on where your holster and mag carrier may be worn. If you have chosen to carry Appendix In Waist Band (AIWB), then clearly you can’t compete in the same way you normally carry.

This is a problem if you are using IDPA as a tool to test your skills. If you enjoy the sport, you are forced to either carry as you compete, or train two different skill sets, one for carry, and one for competition.

Marksmanship is key

The match reinforced for me how critical good marksmanship is.

The second stage of the match was essentially a skills test. Three strings were shot, and they all came down to marksmanship.

The first string consisted of 6 shots, with weak hand only, at two targets that were behind hardcover from the neck down (head shots only). The second string was 6 shots strong hand only from the draw at two targets placed a little farther out that had hard cover from center chest and below. The final string was shot freestyle at two targets even further back, no cover.

Watching the other participants, you could easily tell who really practices and who doesn’t. I shot with a group of shooters that were also new to the sport, and almost everyone had trouble making hits on the targets.

Do you think that this stage improved anyone’s shooting skills? I don’t think anyone who missed on that stage could magically make hits afterward. But they did gain an appreciation for one of the weakest links in their skill-set: marksmanship.

IDPA doesn’t really build skills on its own, but it does test them.

Everyone is a gamer

Another thing I noticed at this match was that I seemed to be the only person with an IWB holster using a t-shirt as a cover garment. Everyone else was shooting using some sort of vest or jacket combined with a belt-style holster.

There are two possible explanations for this: either everyone normally carries with a gaudy looking photographer’s vest, or everyone was gaming the match.

I’m going to assume the latter because I don’t see too many of those vests outside of a match.

Gaming in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can’t fault people for trying to be competitive. Why compete if you don’t plan on trying to win?

However, it is important to keep in mind that this type of competition can have its disadvantages. If you are gaming it, odds are you are sacrificing some of your training benefit. Remember the statement “Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train”? If IDPA were really training, you would compete like you carry, or carry like you compete.

A fun way to pressure test

In short, my take on IDPA is that it isn’t training, but it is a great way to pressure test your gun handling and shooting skills.

Shooting on a square range without movement and without pressure can only get you so far. Fighting is dynamic, so it makes perfect sense to test your training with a dynamic activity.

IDPA fits that bill.

If you want to test your skills and have a good time doing it, seek out an IDPA match. You won’t be disappointed.

Do you shoot IDPA? Share what you may have learned from the shooting sport by posting a comment below.

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  1. I would say my view is very much like yours… I typically wear my carry gun in a IWB on the right side either kp or appendix carry with my shirt over it… it slows me down comapred tot eh other IPDA folks, but I’m not competing to win IDPA, just to improve and get better with what I do…

    Dann in Ohio

  2. One take away is if you shoot IDPA long enough, the gun handling itself becomes second nature. Clearing jams, reloads, etc. all become automatic. That in itself has some value, learning to focus on what you are trying to accomplish (playing the game) and not worried about how to operate the gun.

    • This is true, but can’t I get the same familiarity in less time on my own? I think the biggest value IDPA provides is the pressure you get from competition.

  3. At a match everyone’s carry gun is a full sized something or other, but off the range a lot of them carry a pocket pistols and no spare magazine.

    • Good point, I know I’m at least a little guilty of this myself. I carry either a Glock 17 or 26 depending on what I am wearing. I shot the match with the 17 (full size) but I probably should compete at least part of the time with the 26 (subcompact) as well.

      What really gets me is the individuals that carry some tiny subcompact pocket pistol and then compete with an extended slide competitioncentric gun.

  4. I have shot several times at IDPA matches, and have also come to the same conclusion. Out of a five hour match, my total shooting time was maybe 2or 3 minutes. Not much training there. No input from the seasoned shooters to help me with my inexperience. I have lost interest in this (training). I carry IWB at appendix carry, and of course that is illegal in IDPA.

  5. I have to chuckle a bit every time a trainer (who wants to sell you his course) derisively proclaims that “IDPA isn’t training”. Of course it isn’t training. Heck, realistically speaking, the only actual “gunfight training” is repeatedly engaging in gun fighting. Everything else is simply the learning of skills that we hope are directly transferable to the real thing.

    So while an IDPA match might not be training, like for a race car driver who handily outruns pursuers, TRAINING for IDPA matches develops skill sets that are applicable to a gun fight.

    The IDPA match itself is merely a periodic test of acquired skills.

    Jim Cirillo, of the NYPD Stakeout Unit, a survivor of 17 gunfights, was an avid PPC competitor. He felt it offered a direct benefit regarding survival in a lethal force engagement, and favored pistol competitors on his stakeout team.

    And PPC isn’t nearly as realistic a game as IDPA.

    But I’d certainly agree that people who join IDPA and shoot only twice a month in the “test mode” of a match are nearly wasting their time if their intent is learning to put accurate lead on a human threat in the shortest amount of time possible, under stress.

    That takes lots of careful and thoughtful practice.
    Just like anything else.


    SSP/SSR Expert

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