Why standards are important

The good ol’ IDPA Classifier Match has been getting some screen time this past week in a couple of places, and the usual emails and comments have come up about why the classifier exists, why it doesn’t reflect what IDPA has become, etc etc.  I’ve actually gone back and forth on classifier on whether or not I liked it, but in the last couple of years I’ve really come around to seeing the value of the classifier match for not just IDPA shooters, but anyone interested in building their defensive gunhandling skills.

First, let’s look at what the IDPA classifier isn’t.  It is not a reflection of what IDPA is at the club or national match level.  Despite the intentions of the IDPA Founding Fathers, IDPA has effectively become IPSC-Light with lower round count stages and a slightly different rule set.  This has been driven by the people that actually shoot IDPA at the competitive national level as there’s been a gradual shift towards a more “action” oriented sport.  This isn’t a bad thing in my opinion, but the classifier doesn’t really reflect the sport IDPA has become.

I’m totally okay with that though, because what the classifier does represent is an objective standard.  It’s 90 rounds, with the same three stages that it’s had for years and years, which means that the classifier can be used as a tool to gauge your progress as a marksman and competitor against a measurable, quantifiable standard.  I’ll use my progress as an example:  the first time I shot the classifier, I was shooting a ParaUSA P16-40 Limited.  That particular .40 S&W 1911 style pistol is classified in Enhanced Service Pistol division.  Shooting the classifier for the first time three years ago, I shoot the entire match with a total time of 126.44, which put me in the Sharpshooter division.  Earlier this year, I shot the exact same match, the same 90 round course of fire using a Smith & Wesson 625 revolver in .45 ACP.  My total time?  97.61 seconds, fast enough for Enhanced Service Revolver Master class.

That’s the first value of the classifier match – periodically re-shooting the classifier is a good way to bench mark your skills and see if you’re improving.  Going from an easily shootable 1911 and running the course 30 seconds faster with a DA revolver indicates that I’ve managed to figure something out that I’m doing right.

The second value of the IDPA classifier is that it’s good practice without being too expensive.  Say you’ve only got 100 rounds to practice with since times are tight.  In the course of 90 of those rounds, you will have reloaded on the clock 4 times, practiced shooting on the move both forward and retreating, Mozambique drills, El Presidente, shooting from cover, shooting from a kneeling position, and moving to a different shooting position.  I’m not saying that all you should practice is the IDPA classifier, but when mixed in with other drills and shooting practices, it is a good way to practice the fundamentals of action and defensive shooting without burning up a ton of ammo.

The third thing the classifier helps me do is identify problem areas with my shooting.  For example, I just shot the classifier on Sunday with Tam as mentioned, and while I turned in a smokin’ fast raw time, my points down were waaaaay too high and I missed master-class in Stock Service Revolver.  From reviewing my scores, I can see that my problems occurred primarily on the 3rd stage.  My accuracy wasn’t where it needed to be at 20 yards, so I need to work on my long distance shooting.  Practice long, tight shots will help my classifier scores and my overal skill.

Standards in shooting are just like good record keeping in physical fitness.  If I do 50 pushups on Monday, and then Monday a month later I do 75 pushups, I know I’ve had 50% increase in the strength necessary to do pushups.  It’s the same with standards – you can measure your progress against objective standards and identify problem areas with your shooting.


  1. While I have a lot of questions I’d love to ask about how you train, your comment section doesn’t seem like the best place for that. I do have one question that really relates to this pretty well I think. How did you go about finding a place where you can even do that kind of training?

    All of my shooting is limited to indoor ranges, with an outdoor rifle range. None of those allow me to draw from a holster. Nor am I able to do any shooting and moving. My current training has been limited to practicing holster draws at home, and then at the range the closest I can get is starting with the gun pointed down range, but aimed below the target.

    Are you fortunate enough to not be in the same position, or have you figured out how to overcome some of these issues better than I have?

  2. I’m a member at one of the local clubs, Atlanta Conservation Club here in Indiana. That gives me access to practice facilities (during good weather) that allow for multiple targets, shooting on the move, etc.

    It’s hard sometimes to not have access to those kinds of facilities, and this is where dry training can be so valuable. With dry fire you can practice everything except controlling recoil.

  3. Laughingdog,

    I was just thinking about the same thing myself.

    I realized last weekend that I hadn’t had a chance to work from leather with live ammo since the Awerbuck couse last summer.

  4. I find that the Classifier is a good gauge of improvement as well. Going from afraid of guns from a few years back to ESP Sharpshooter today; I find that the Classifier is a good representation of shooting skill.

    Don’t worry…..everybody dogs it on stage 3! 😛

  5. Funny thing how sport get ‘hijacked” by the few people at the top…it’s not even the tail wagging the dog…more like the a single ear wagging the dog…I’ve always been fascinated with how USPSA “evolved” toward stages centered on all the things the top shooters did well…I did a money match a few years back where I and Dave Arnold designed stages around the top shooters’ weaknesses instead of showcasing their strengths. Next time, I’ll just chop off my foot with a dull machete…it’d be more fun…

    Michael B, moderately caustic

Comments are closed.