How Not To Train: Competitive Shooting
Back in the September/October 2001 issue of American Handgunner, Ken Hackathorn (one of the most respected people in tactical training) said that, in relation to people serious about surviving, "...don't shoot IPSC... I can't tell people to take part because I see so many courses of fire that make you do things that are suicidal or stupid." When asked about that statement recently, Ken said, "I think it only fair to explain that shooting IPSC to become a better shooter/marksman is one thing, but my message to cops is that IPSC - to learn survival skills - is a bad idea. If you follow the shooting requirements to do well in IPSC and to be really competitive, you will condition in reflexive skills that will be suicidal on the street. (Now, it is) correct that IDPA can easily follow the same road to waste that IPSC did... when we started IDPA we tried to structure the rules and equipment to limit the demise. I have stepped down from my position on the IDPA Board of Directors. I hope they continue and keep it practical for the future.
Sadly, we Americans seem to be obsessed to take any form of competition and turn it into a specialized game that with time barely reflects the ideals that the organizers tried to create. Like Walt Rauch, I try to warn folks the competition is not training... and training should not be competition. Good practical competition that requires the contestant to follow solid basic tactical rules is good. Things like using cover to engage threats and for reloading are good. Shooting with duty or plain clothes concealment gear is good. Making contestants do target identification is good. Shooting is reduced or low light is good. So, in many ways IDPA is good. But, it is still a game and must be understood that it is only a shooting game. IPSC has evolved to a very exciting and competitive shooting sport. It has also become almost totally worthless as a means of testing your survival skills, and if you practice it on a routine basis, you are conditioning reflexive shooting techniques that could well be fatal to you if you try them on the street."
Unfortunately, to our eyes, IDPA is starting to follow that same route. IDPA courses of fire, among other sins, often require very poor use of cover, require tactical reloads (about which there is nothing tactical at all), mandate movement into an unsafe area, and require that you shoot fast! All of these things could be seriously bad on the street.
This is not the fault of the people involved in IDPA or IPSC. Those are universally fine people who just want to sustain an interesting, growing, exciting, fun shooting sport. The problem is this: any shooting event can be judged objectively only by two criteria: accuracy and speed. Tactical correctness cannot be scored as it is always a subjective judgment. And shooting fast is quite often not the tactically right thing to do - often it's to hunker down behind cover and observe, wait or communicate. You can't judge that objectively, either.
As an example, my association (Police Officers Safety Association) has put on a charity pistol match for the Jimmy Fund, in memory of the infant daughter of a friend and fellow police trainer, who died of cancer at eleven months of age. When I had come up with some tactically correct preliminary ideas for the match's stages, with about 5-7 rounds per stage fired, the association's Executive Director, a competitive shooter, said "That's way too few rounds. I wouldn't even come to a match where I fired so few rounds. It's a shooting match, and the idea is to shoot and have fun." So what was his idea of the "right" number of rounds per stage, on average? An astonishing twenty! That's no where near a practical number, given the dynamics of most police-involved gunfights. (But we went with about 20 rounds per stage nonetheless, because our objective is, after all, to raise money and have people come back the following year.)