Things I Learned At My Last IDPA Match

Shooting in cars is fun.

Shooting in cars is fun.

I have mentioned before and will likely mention again that I think competition definitely has value from a training perspective. Competition itself is not training, but competition can and often will help to pressure test your skills and point out what needs improvement.

Last week I shot my first ‘real’ IDPA match of the season (not including the classifier a few weeks ago), and I found that it helped me identify some serious weak spots in my own training. Looking back I really should have had a better idea that I needed to work on these skills, but context often helps to highlight what we don’t want to see.

The match also helped point out things that were really working for me. Hopefully I can pass on some of the lessons I learned from this match to help you with your training.

Cars Are A Special Problem

The match I shot was at Pioneer Sportsmen in Dunbarton, NH. These guys definitely know how to put on a great match. This is the second match I have shot there, and both times they have had a car as part of a stage. As you may know, I’m a proponent of training in and around vehicles. This match helped to show why training around cars is so important.

The car stage was straightforward – you started in the driver seat, hands at 10 and 2, and the pistol started loaded on the passenger seat. On the start you picked up the pistol and engaged 6 targets through the passenger side window with a round in each before making sure each target got a total of 3 rounds.

Watching the other competitors highlighted how uncomfortable many people are with shooting from a car. Some people shot one handed for lack of better positioning, and others had trouble getting the targets far to the right because of their position relative to the door column.

When you think about it, this stage was actually really simple. No seatbelts or holsters were involved, you didn’t have a passenger, and you didn’t need to debus the vehicle. All things that would make the stage even more complicated.

Lesson learned? Get some training relative to vehicles. I would recommend SouthNarc’s VCAST.

Low Light Training is a Necessity

The next lesson learned was a bit more personal. Besides having a car, the other great feature of this match was an indoor low light stage. This was actually my first time shooting in low light. While I didn’t totally bomb the stage, I did find that my low light skills were severely lacking.

I was slightly unprepared to light the targets with my pistol. I used a jaw index for my flashlight as that is how I have been practicing, and what is most natural for me. The problem with this is that holding the flashlight on my left while taking right hand corners, means that the light cast a shadow and didn’t properly illuminate my targets. Not only did the walls reflect a good amount of light back, but without good light it took me a lot longer to properly engage my targets.

To add insult to injury, my manipulations of the pistol with flashlight in hand were less than stellar. I should have turned the light off when reloading to hide my position, but I didn’t. Either way incorporating a flashlight occasionally into my dry-fire is in order, as is turning out the lights.

Using Appropriate Speed For Each Target

I did a fairly good job at not rushing the long shots, but on the other hand I probably could have engaged close targets faster than I did. Each target requires a different amount of time to engage based on its distance and position. Smoothly transitioning from close targets to far targets and vice-versa can be challenging.

I recently started spending more time shooting farther targets after my performance at my last classifier, but this match has made it clear that adding transitions between targets at a mix of ranges should also become part of my normal training routine.

Improving Confidence

The last thing I learned was that I need to work on improving my confidence at speed. I shot a relatively low number of points down, which is great, but it also means that I can probably speed up. If I can shoot a 0.3 second split on the 8” circle when shooting the F.A.S.T., then I should also be able to manage those splits on an IDPA target at a match.

This is a case of mindset and routine. I spend plenty of time drawing to low % targets like the 3×5 box on the F.A.S.T. but spend far less time drawing to and shooting 8” circles or targets at various distances (see above). The big lesson learned here is that spending time with different targets and working on pushing my limits is critical to boost my confidence so I can shoot faster.

These are the lessons I learned recently at my match. Have you competed recently? What did you learn?

Can Competition Really Get You Killed?

Photo Credit: Bob n Renee

Photo Credit: Bob n Renee

Last week there were a few posts out of Gun Nuts Media on the subject of competition. Both Caleb and Tim weighed in, giving their opinions on the matter. More specifically they discussed an idea that some trainers promote amongst their students: competition can or will get you killed on the street.

Both were very much in agreement with each other… competition will not in fact get you killed.

A counterpoint… sorta

While I am very much inclined to agree with these guys for a number of reasons, I do think the topic wasn’t 100% fleshed out.

You can argue that competition could, at least in a small way, get you killed in a street fight. The trainers who support this theory will often cite the fact that competition has specific rules that tend to favor some sort of gaming. Players always adapt to the rules of a game, and it is unlikely for those rules to perfectly mimic the real world.

Face it… if you focus on competition, some of the habits from that game will follow you into the real world. Not all of those habits will be good ones when viewed through the lens of a real life-or-death struggle. You might have a tendency to forget about follow through with a threat, you might shoot a certain number rounds instead of shooting to stop, or you might have any number of other competition-centric habits.

Tim also took BJJ as an example in his post, saying:

Have you ever noticed how no one ever says that competing in a BJJ tournament will get you killed on the street? That’s because it would be pitifully easy for an accomplished BJJ competitor to take the guy who said that and turn him into a pretzel in a matter of seconds. See, the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu competitor has had to learn grappling skills and has had to apply them at speed and at full force against someone else who is trying just as hard to do the exact same thing. He’s likely had his game plan trashed by circumstances and has had to figure out what to do when in a disadvantaged position. He’s sharpening his skills and his ability to manage stress using the crucible of competition…but replace BJJ with a handgun and everything changes? Nonsense.”

Well, let me be the first to say that competing in a BJJ tournament could get you killed on the street. BJJ, and especially competitive BJJ focuses on its own set of rules. These rules take the threat of weapons out of the picture… and not understanding how to prohibit the in-fight access of your adversary’s weapon could, at least in theory, end in your death.

I have spent enough time in classes like Southnarc’s ECQC to know that while BJJ skills often do create a huge advantage, someone like me with almost zero mat time can and will occasionally come out the victor over very experienced BJJ students and competitors. Competition could at least indirectly diminish your ability to survive a fight.

The whole truth

All of that said, I am still in the procompetition crowd. For all of the downsides, the huge upside is an excellent opportunity to test your skills under real pressure. Skills, especially shooting skills, have the unfortunate tendency to fall apart under pressure, and a lack of pressure testing means you will never know those weaknesses.

Furthermore, competition is a good way to inoculate yourself to that stress. If you can act and react calmly and coolly under the stress of a match or tournament, you have a much improved chance of doing the same under the stress of a life-or-death encounter.

Those trainers that say competition could get you killed are at least a little right. Many forms of competition tend to instill habits that won’t always be the best habits to have when things turn ugly.

The alternative, however, also has a chance of getting you killed.

It is easy to argue that anyone who puts forth the effort to become competitive in any sport that is at least partially congruent with real life fighting skills will have a lot more to bring to the table in a real fight. There have been a few stories about some stupid people trying to mug pro-MMA fighters only to get flattened… and I would definitely want to avoid a gun fight with the likes of David Sevigny, Robert Vogel, or Jerry Miculek.

Do you compete?

What about you? Do you compete or do you think competition might get you killed?

Warning: Failure Does Happen

Photo Credit: Charles & Clint

One principle I have based my training on is that our failure is defined by our training as much as our success is. Mistakes are to be expected because no matter how much we train, perfection is unattainable. The best we can hope for is to make fewer mistakes. When these mistakes do happen, it is our training that defines how we will react to these failures. If you never practice, your default reaction will be a surprise. But when you train hard and consistently, you can expect to look no worse than your worst day in training if you need to defend yourself. The more you practice, the better your ‘worst’ becomes.

Before I went on vacation I shot my second IDPA match. I did pretty well in this match, but I made some major mistakes. While some of the mistakes themselves are pretty disheartening, I also learned something about my training. After dropping a magazine on two separate stages during a reload, I managed to recover quite well.

My favorite mistake was on a stage that involved a vehicle. You started in the car, picked up the loaded pistol on the passenger seat and engaged a target out the passenger side window until slide lock (4 rounds), debussed out the driver side and were to engage targets across the hood from next to the driver side door.

During this reload is when I dropped the mag. I didn’t just drop the mag though… I filled it with sand and stuck it into my pistol. The pistol failed to go into battery and I now had a fight on my hands. Tap rack and bang didn’t solve it, so I ended up removing the magazine and clearing the pistol out completely.

It sucked. A lot.

I’m not proud of dropping that magazine. I am proud of how I dealt with the issue. I didn’t lose my cool, and I just worked through the problem. Amazingly I didn’t come in last place on the stage and got plenty of compliments on how I dealt with it. I now have a good idea of what my ‘worst’ performance might look like, and it doesn’t bother me too much.

In training: always work through it

There are two lessons to be learned here. One is to not drop your magazine in the dirt. The other more important lesson is to always work through it. If you dry fire and manage to foul a reload or a draw, don’t stop until you are done.

Even if it’s not quick and clean, the important thing is completing the task you started.

Your natural response should be to deal with the problem, not run away from it. While we strive for perfect practice, we must also realize that in real life you don’t get do overs. If you make a mistake, make it right.

In pressure testing: don’t lose your cool and always work through it

When you get to a match or you are working on some evolution intended to pressure test your skills, work through your mistakes. This should be pretty obvious (and second nature if you practice this way) but it needs to be said.

When bad stuff happens to you or you make a mistake, stay calm and fix the problem. Redo’s don’t happen in real life so why should they happen in your training?

In real life: work through it

It should be even harder to screw this up in real life with a full adrenaline dump. Just like in training and testing: when you make a mistake work through it. Don’t stop to scold yourself or waste time swearing under your breath or hating yourself.

Fix the problem! Fix it now!

The costs of not working though a problem in practice are low at face value, but when it causes you to not react the way you want on the street, the cost is high. Again, real life has no redo’s and your attacker won’t reset if you ask him to when you make a mistake.

My point is redundant just like your training should be. Hopefully you make fewer mistakes as you train more, but when you do make them, make them good mistakes. Fix the problem and get it done. Don’t immediately stop and restart in an attempt to avoid making the mistake in the first place. That’s for after you fix it.

Unless you make the mistake more than you do it right, you need to work through it so you will have the confidence you can work through similar mistakes in a life or death situation. You need your default reaction to be a good one when it really counts.

Have you ever made a mistake in competition or training? How did you deal with it? Post a comment below and share!

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.

5 Benefits of Competition

Photo by dagnyg

In most areas of self-defense you can usually find some sort of competition. If you study BJJ or Karate there are tournaments for both. If you are a shooter, you can find everything from long distance rifle matches to games like IDPA and USPSA that test your ability to draw, move, and shoot under pressure.

Some people will say that games like IDPA are good training for defensive shooting. I disagree. IDPA or any of these other competitions are games that are bound by a set of rules. These rules either confine how you act and give you bad habits for the street, or they are just plain unrealistic due to the unpredictable nature of real-life.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to engage in competition.

Pressure

Competition is best for the pressure it puts on us. Competition is ultimately a test of skill, whether by ranking the competitors by their skills or by placing you head to head against another competitor. Pressure is key to making sure your training doesn’t fall apart in real life when the pressure means life or death.

Competitions add pressure in a number of ways. Some activities like IDPA put you against situations you cannot fully prepare for in advance. Being thrown into an unknown situation mimics real life and is a great way to test how you might react. Most competitions add some sort of audience. Whether it is the rest of the group you are squadded with for an IDPA stage or it is the crowd at a tournament, performing while people are watching and critiquing you can certainly add pressure. These situations are perfect for testing your ability to focus on the task at hand and ignore irrelevant distractions.

Most of these competitions also add some sort of time pressure. In the shooting sports you usually have a limited amount of time to complete a stage, or you are attempting to secure the lowest possible time. You can surely add time pressure yourself at home with a stop watch or a shot timer, but in competition you get all of these things at once.

Finding your weaknesses

Competition can be great for finding your shortcomings. IDPA for example has different stages. On one stage you might have to shoot entirely with your weak hand only. This might demonstrate your ability, or lack thereof, in that department. In a fighting competition, you might find that you lose a fight due to some area in which you were under-prepared. If your partner at the dojo favors certain tactics, you might not realize you are completely unprepared to handle a different set of tactics when confronted with them in competition. The competition helps you find these weaknesses so you can fix them.

Measuring Stick

Simply going against competitors is also a huge benefit. You may not see it this way, but competing with someone who is honestly trying to beat you can be great for your training. First and foremost this is your measuring stick. If I fight in a tournament, I generally get an idea for how well I stack up against my opponents. The same goes for shooting competition. I can compare myself to those who performed better and worse and determine how I am improving.

Watch what they do

You should see other competitors as an asset. You can always find a way to learn from someone else, whether they are at the top of their game or the bottom. Watch what the other competitors do, and you might notice things that help you improve your abilities, or things to watch out for (like bad habits). In my rifle marksmanship instruction I always learn more from watching my students shoot than I do when I myself am behind the sights. The same applies in competition.

Getting advice

Some competitions are friendly enough that you can expect to get good advice from those competitors that are better than you. Ask a Master Class shooter to critique your shooting, and you’ll be surprised that many will take you up on the offer. Take in all the advice you can, and treat these competitors as a resource.

Whatever the competition, there are benefits you can take away. Competition does not replace the need for dedicated application-specific training, nor does it perfectly test the skills and tactics you need on the street. Competition does give you many benefits and when used properly can help you develop and test your fighting skill set.

Did I miss any benefits? Do you compete? How do you benefit from competition? Post a comment below!

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