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.

What My Back Injury Can Teach Us About Training

Photocredit colinedwards99

Several weeks ago I managed to hurt my back doing something as silly as attempting to assemble a new TV stand. This back injury managed to put a huge damper on all of my training efforts besides dry-fire.

Any sort of movement was difficult in karate with an injured back and strength training was nearly impossible. As a result I spent two weeks working on dry-fire and trying hard not to re-injure myself.

Last week I got back to strength training for the first time after that two week forced ‘break’.

The results of that first workout were not exactly what I had hoped for. Over the course of the workout I managed to perform approximately 25% fewer repetitions than I did prior to the break.

That’s a loss of at least 25% of my strength after only a two week period.

I can’t say that this made me happy, but I do believe that we have many opportunities to learn in training, and even injuries provide those opportunities. What did I learn from injuring myself?

Successful training requires a consistent unrelenting effort

Just like climbing a very steep hill, you have an opportunity to move forward (and upwards) or to slide back down.

Any type of training requires constant effort. It often is less about the duration of the practice session so much as it is about the amount of time between practice sessions. Train more often for less time, and you’ll find two things:

  1. You will get more out of each training session

  2. Your skills will always be fresher because the last time you trained will be more recent

The quality of your skills and the efficiency of your reaction to an event will always be dependent on the length of the time since your last training session.

An extreme example

Just for the sake of argument, let’s take an extreme example. Let’s say you commit to training one hour every week for a year. That might be three 20 minute sessions, or just one block each week.

In a parallel universe, an alternate you commits to a single tortuous training session of 52 hours of constant training over the course of a week, and be done for the entire year.

Which case gets you the most for your training efforts?

In the universe where you train for one week all at once, you will likely make significant gains over the course of that week. There is something to be said for making a short concentrated effort, and total immersion. If you couldn’t learn and make huge gains in a short period, weekend classes wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular as they are.

When a year has passed, do you think those skills will still be fresh? Probably not. I would expect to drop far below the peak of your performance that you reached during that one week of training.

On the other hand, training for an hour a week might net you smaller gains with each session. The trade-off, however, is that at any given point during the year, the longest time since your last training session is only a matter of days.

Instead of one huge spike in performance followed by a long slide down, you get many small spikes with a reduced loss.

Training is an investment

Training is a lot like an investment, and every training session is like collecting interest. Do you remember high-school math where you learned about the benefits of compound interest? The more frequently you compound your interest, the better your rate works for you and the bigger your overall gain.

Rather than make the same or similar gains every session, your goal is to make gains on top of your previous gains. Reduce the time between sessions and you can spend more time gaining every session instead of rebuilding what you gained last time.

Ultimately training requires consistent unyielding effort. Training hard but infrequently serves you little. Instead, break up your training into many smaller sessions and reap the benefits.

What is your training schedule like? Do you train daily, weekly, or monthly? Join the conversation and post a comment below.

Best of the Web 5/18/12

Another week, and some more great posts.  Here are my favorites from the past 7 days.

Mental Performance Blocks (gunnuts.net) – Caleb discusses a topic very near and dear to my heart.  I think most of the time that I perform poorly it has more to do with overconfidence or psyching myself out than a lack of skills.

Don’t Shoot .357 (thetruthaboutguns.com) – Have I mentioned that I don’t think revolvers are a very good defensive weapon?  Sure they can be good in the right hands, but here is yet another reason why you should just ignore the revolver when selecting a defensive weapon.  Many extol the virtues and the power of .357, but it comes down to being a difficult round to shoot.  If you are going to bring a revolver to the fight, at least use .38 special.

Training with a DA trigger (gunnuts.net) – A second good posts from Caleb this week… this one is about the double action trigger.  There are a lot of beliefs out there that a double action/single action pistol makes training more difficult than with a gun that has a consistent trigger pull like a striker fired gun for example.  Caleb tries to debunk this myth.  While he makes some good points, I think most DA/SA guns have a DA trigger pull that borderlines on ridiculous, making DA/SA a liability when you need to hit quickly the first time.

 

 

Some Thoughts on Improving the Draw-stroke

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

One of the most practiced skills for any individual who carries a firearm for self-defense is the draw-stroke. After all, if you can’t get the gun into the fight it is useless. Focusing on the draw-stroke in training also makes sense from a complexity standpoint. Drawing a firearm is one of the two most complex actions you can take with it (the other being reloading).

Drawing a handgun generally requires at least 6 distinct steps:

  1. Clear the cover garment
  2. Grip the firearm (#1)
  3. Draw from the holster (#2)
  4. Transition to a two hand firing grip (#3)
  5. Present the firearm (#4)
  6. Squeeze the trigger

All 6 actions can be easily performed when done independently. But when strung together, small errors in each action can build and become problematic.

Breaking it down

When working on the draw, keep the modular nature of the draw-stroke in mind. The first step to making your draw fast and smooth is to perfect each piece separately. This is the same concept that is commonly applied to teaching a new shooter how to draw.

When I learned, we started by working on just clearing the cover garment and getting the one handed grip on the firearm. We practiced for probably a dozen reps before moving on to drawing from the holster to the #2 position.

After another dozen or so reps of practicing the first two pieces; we started continuing on to the #3 position (both hands on the firearm). Starting to see a pattern here? If you have received any formal instruction on using your handgun, it probably followed a very similar progression.

The reason we add slowly and build on the previous steps is to ingrain muscle memory. When you draw your pistol for real, you can’t think about 6 discrete actions – it would take too long. Instead you think about one thing: drawing the handgun.

When training any complex skill, this is the best way to get started, but it is also a great place to return to any time you need to ‘tune up’ a skill.

Breaking it down some more

When you go back to the draw-stroke with the intention of improving it, there are a few more ways to dissect the problem.

If you continue the building method every time you practice, you will get a lot more practice working on the first parts compared to the last. The simplest thing you can do is to work through the entire draw-stroke from beginning to end, but much slower. Concentrate on each of the actions as you take it. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. The goal hasn’t changed here, you are still striving to make the component pieces of the draw-stroke natural enough to no longer require conscious thought.

A similar concept is to work each action independently. I can perform 10 or 20 reps clearing the cover garment and getting to the #1 position. I can then perform 10 or 20 reps moving from #1 to #2, etc. This gives me a chance to focus on perfecting the motions for each component of the draw-stroke.

Finally, keep in mind that the entire draw-stroke can be performed in reverse. If you are practicing the draw-stroke in its entirety, reset by going through the motions backwards. If you are practicing pieces, then perform each piece in reverse to reset. Take advantage of every chance to practice.

Putting it back together

Ultimately you can’t just work on perfecting each piece, at some point the pieces need to come together to form a whole. You crawl before you walk, and walk before your run. When you start lacing the pieces back together, don’t go for any records. Build gradually to a comfortable speed.

Speeding it up

When working on improving the speed of your draw-stroke, the ultimate goal is to be able to draw and make accurate shots at speed. How much speed depends on how accurately you can make your shots. Anyone can go blazingly fast and miss, but to go fast and hit is a different story.

There are two opposing yet complementary techniques to use to achieve this speed. The first is essentially what you have just read about, breaking things down, and working on perfecting each piece. Speed is the absence of extraneous movement after all.

The other is to ramp the speed up until you no longer can make 100% good hits, and then back off a little. Todd Green explains this concept in his post Permission to Miss, which is a great read.

Always remember that speed is a combination of economy of motion and effort. One without the other is incomplete. You can move slowly with flawless form, or you can drive the gun like your hair is on fire. Neither get you to the goal without balance.

What techniques do you use to practice and improve your draw-stroke?

Train Like It’s Your Last Day To Train

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

Every day of training tends to be a little different. Sometimes we work on precise skills, other times we work on strength or other physically demanding training. Some of these days are easy, and others are not quite so easy.

One common thread ties all of these training sessions together. You should be training like it is your last day to train. There is only now.

Training should never be lackadaisical. Every time you train, it is potentially your last opportunity to practice before the unthinkable happens. Make every session count.

Since every session might be your last, you have two responsibilities to yourself when you train:

Firstly, don’t waste a single opportunity for improvement. Don’t just go through the motions, instead put 100% of your concentration and focus into every repetition you practice. If you can only set aside a limited amount of time to train, then make every second count. Wasting time is fine when you are doing something of limited importance – training to defend yourself does not fall in that category.

Secondly, don’t let fatigue or discomfort slow you down or stop you. Whenever you hit that wall of fatigue or maybe even pain, take this an opportunity to build mental toughness. No one ever got anywhere by taking it easy in life. Work through the discomfort and fatigue and keep pushing on.

When it really matters, you won’t have the opportunity to stop for a breather or to go half as hard. Not only should every training session be like the last you’ll ever have, but every single repetition should be like the last. There is only now.

When it gets tough, dig deep and keep going. You have only two options when the chips are down: succeed or fail. Don’t take the second option.

Varied Instruction: Reducing the Toolbox

Photo by DrJimiGlide

When studying to defend yourself, there is a trade-off to be made between depth and breadth of skills. How much do you specialize in your skills, and how many different skills do you need to be sufficiently prepared? The answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes. You need enough depth to be proficient under pressure with the tools you choose to carry, yet you must also have skills to enable you to defend yourself in a variety of situations.

The real question is how much depth or breadth do you need instruction-wise?

There are a lot of great instructors out there with a lot of knowledge. Is training with a single instructor sufficient, or is there value to be had by training with a variety of instructors?

Unfortunately there is a lot more gray area here between seeking out and training with a single instructor, and training with them all.

When you start training, you have an obligation to yourself to seek out a solid variety of instructors. The goal in the beginning is to find an instructor who knows what he or she is talking about, but can also convey it in a manner that you can absorb.

There is also the matter of finding the material that is best adapted to you and your philosophies. I want to learn skills and techniques suited to my body type, and not all systems will suffice for that.

Once that first real instructor is found, do you continue to seek out other instructors and build that variety of learning experiences?

I think that ultimately depends on your goal. The problem with training with only one instructor is that no one has all the answers. The best gun guy isn’t likely to be the best knife guy, and he probably isn’t the best grappler either.

Training is your own journey and process where you collect what you have learned and take the best of each discipline or teacher and build your own system, much in the spirit of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.

The reason to train with a variety of instructors is not because you can build up the size of your skills ‘toolbox’ by constantly adding more techniques. Actually it is quite the contrary. Take the things that work from each instructor, or better yet double your focus on the things that are overlapped by the instructors.

Like the old adage goes: “In the mind of the beginner there are many possibilities, in the mind of the master there are few”.

Multiple instructors ensure you get the best from each, and allow you to throw away the worst from each as well.

How varied is the instruction you seek out?

Do You Spend More Time on Specialized or Generalized Skills?

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Every defensive skill can be placed into one of two categories, specialized skills and generalized skills. General skills are skills that apply in many situations or are foundational in that they are used as a basis for the specialized skills. The more situations a skill might apply to, the more general that it is.

Specialized skills on the other hand have fewer situations where they can be used. The less likely it is to be used, or more specific the skill is, the more specialized that it is.

When we train we are constantly determining what skills are worth an investment, and how to divide our time between them.

The more likely a skill is to be used, the more time you want to invest

Generally speaking, the skills you are most likely to need should be trained the most. For example a normal two-handed draw stroke or emergency reload have a higher probability of being useful than say a weak hand only emergency reload. Even more likely to be used are verbal skills for defusing situations and dealing with unknown contacts. The more constraints you put on when a skill is used, the less time you should spend on that skill.

You cannot ignore the specialized skills

Just because you are less likely to need certain specialized skills doesn’t mean you can completely ignore them. You don’t want to be figuring out how to do that one-handed reload when you can’t afford a mistake. Instead make sure these skills make it into your training regime occasionally so they get some practice time.

Find balance in your training

Adding these skills into your training routine should be done somewhat scientifically. It is up to you to find your own balance between generalized and specialized skills.

Most general skills will help you with the specialized ones. For example, if I am going to use a firearm for self-defense, one of the most general things that comes to mind is trigger control. I learn how to squeeze the trigger to have the most accurate shot I can. Good trigger control will come into play regardless of whether I shoot one handed or two, strong side or weak. Manipulating the trigger occurs regardless of target distance as well – both long shots and firing from retention requires use of the trigger.

This means that I can easily justify spending a significant amount of time working on my trigger skills, but it also means that there are many more specialized skills that will also give me time working on the trigger.

Be smart about how you train, and take advantage of those opportunities to be more efficient. Spend more time on general skills, but don’t forget the specialized ones.

How much time do you spend on general skills vs specialized skills?

Are Long Range Skills Valuable For Self-Defense?

Photo by AMagill

Most people will readily agree that if you are using a rifle for anything other than defending yourself in relatively close quarters, then it is probably not self-defense. Taking a shot at 300 yards is not easily construed as self-defense except for the most extreme of circumstances.

The simple conclusion to take from this is that working on skills for shooting farther than what self-defense ‘dictates’ is probably unproductive for our goals of preparing for self-defense scenarios. This is mostly true, but I believe that there is still plenty to be taken from long distance shooting that can be applied to running a gun in a fight.

Long distance shots might be unlikely but not impossible

Most gunfights occur in relatively short distances. Everything from bad breath scuffles at point blank range to 10 yards or farther. It is logical to assume that training for longer range shots would be counter productive.

But just because we are not as likely to take shots with our carry guns at 25 or 50 yards doesn’t mean that those cases can never happen. Keeping distance between yourself and an attacker is a great strategy. If someone is shooting at you from those distances do you really want to get closer?

Pistols have drop too

Most of us will never get into a gunfight with a rifle at full-distance rifle ranges. Unless you are serving overseas, you are unlikely to be defending yourself from an attacker taking shots at long distance. So what is the value to knowing how to shoot at these extended distances?

One key to mastering your rifle is learning about trajectory and bullet drop. Bullets don’t fly flat, and as a result you need to compensate for the path of the bullet when shooting. You might not find yourself needing to apply these concepts with a rifle, but what about your pistol?

Most of us shoot our pistols at distances where any sort of drop is negligible, but when you push out to farther ranges you will experience bullet drop. If you want to be capable of using that pistol at all practical (and maybe some unpractical) distances, you need to understand the trajectory of your rounds. There is no better way to explore and understand this concept than long distance rifle shooting. When you understand trajectory with a rifle, you can apply the same concepts to learn what your pistol does at distance.

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals

Finally, practicing at distance is a great way to practice your fundamentals and push yourself beyond your current limitations. Long distance shots require great sight alignment and excellent trigger control. If you can make a torso shot at 50 yards with a handgun, then making the same shot at 5 yards can only be easier.

Even if you don’t think long distance shots are likely to occur in a self-defense situation, there is plenty of value to be had practicing these shots. Whether it’s to be prepared for the unlikely event you need to take a long shot, or just to reinforce the fundamentals, practicing at extreme distances is a great way to push your limits and improve your skills.

Do you practice long distance shooting?

Traditional Martial Arts: A Strong Foundation

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had a few opportunities to test some of my skills. First came a chance to practice the IDPA classifier with some of the IDPA guys at the range after a range cleanup day. While I’m certainly not a master class shooter quite yet, I did score pretty close to Expert. This was my first time attempting the classifier (or any IDPA stages for that matter) so I was pleased with myself. The following week during my own practice session I shot the fastest F.A.S.T. That I’ve shot yet: 6.5 seconds.

These aren’t huge accomplishments (at least in my eyes), and I have a long way to go to be where I really want to be with my skills. But looking at where I stand now with the amount of training I have, it brought me to realize something. I haven’t taken a full length pistol class yet. I’ve done modules at the first NEShooters Summit a few years ago, and I’ve done a decent amount of course work with instructors like Southnarc, but not a lot of work on the fundamentals or doing a fast draw, reload etc.

The reason I think this is significant is that I do have almost two decades of time spent training in a traditional martial art: Kyokushin Karate. While some may say my rapid improvement and performance is because I’m somehow a gifted athlete with great hand eye coordination, they would be wrong. Ask my wife how graceful I am, and she’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a complete klutz, at least when I’m not focused on a task.

Karate has taught me to be fast as well as able to refine and improve my body mechanics. Economy of movement has become second nature for me. Anyone who has many years of training will have noticed that picking up more advanced concepts and techniques tends to get easier. There is a reason that first degree blackbelt, Shodan, is considered the beginning. Until you have reached such a point in your training, you are just working on the basics to make further training possible.

This ability to pick up other body mechanics makes long time martial artists very quick studies when it comes to picking up another martial art-shooting included.

Anyone who would knock the traditional martial arts for self-defense is at a minimum neglecting to see the peripheral benefits of the training. A long investment in Karate or a similar system (being taught by a good instructor) is the formal education equivalent to getting your high school diploma. Without understanding the basics of arithmetic, writing, and science there is no way you can be reasonably successful in some college degree fields.

Instead of just looking at the face value of these martial arts for the defensive applications, consider them an investment in your martial education. There is more to self-defense than the latest and greatest technique or gadget.

Have you noticed the role traditional martial arts has played in your training?

Every Range Trip Is A Training Session

Photo by AMagill

The usual course of fire I follow tends to consist of some sort of drill to assess my ability, most often the FAST, followed by a series of drills to work on my biggest deficiencies and the things I can’t work on in dry fire.

I get the most enjoyment at the range from trying to improve my skills instead of just transporting high quantities of lead as fast as I can. Many people take a different view.

The other day I was at the range going through my normal range routine. In the next bay over, there were some members of my club shooting a variety of firearms at a rate that leads me to believe they were there just to have fun.

I’m not against going to the range to have fun. I will on occasion head to the range and bring guns that are really not in any way, shape, or form practical for any defensive purpose. After all, the right to bear arms is not limited to hunting or even self-defense. But I like to spend my time at the range wisely.

Make every shot count

Now just because I might be shooting something for fun, it doesn’t mean I’m not training. Even if you aren’t shooting your designated defense pistol, you should make an effort to have every shot give you the maximal training value. Don’t squander opportunities to improve.

Trigger Squeeze

Every time you squeeze a trigger, it should be just that – a squeeze. Don’t slap or jerk a trigger just because this isn’t your usual gun. An unusual gun is a perfect chance to practice being surprised by the trigger breaking. A trigger really isn’t all that different between a 1911, a 12 gauge, or a Mosin-Nagant. They may have different pull-weights, and have a different ‘break’, but a trigger is a trigger.

Sight Picture

Looking down the sights, even if they aren’t your carry piece’s sights, gives you another repetition of getting a good sight picture and maintaining it through the trigger pull.

Manipulations

Every opportunity to manipulate a firearm gives you a chance to work on those manipulation skills. If you are shooting something of the same action type as your normal defensive firearm, then this is a no-brainer. A 1911 and a Glock really operate quite similarly once you look past the the safeties.

Some things in shooting are universal. Proper grip, sight picture, breathing, and trigger squeeze are required in just about every shooting discipline. Every time you go to the range, whether it’s a well-planned training session, or if it’s just an afternoon of fun at the range with some friends, you should always try to maximize the training benefit you get from it. Use every opportunity to work on the fundamentals. If you work the fundamentals, you avoid building bad habits, and you will be improving your training skills.

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