IDPA is a game

We’ve been expending pixels all over the internet about the IDPA definition of cover; and while that’s actually not the topic of the post it does lead me to the topic.  One of the most common rebuttals that you’ll encounter when you’re trying to get a concise definition of IDPA’s rules is “well you wouldn’t do ‘X’ in a gunfight” where “X” is whatever thing the guy that just wants consistent rules is looking for.  Those guys will then usually quote this section of the rulebook:

The International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) is the governing body of a shooting sport that simulates self-defense scenarios and real life encounters.

Whenever that’s quoted, the emphasis is always placed on the “simulates self-defense scenarios” or “real-life encounters”.  Here’s the problem – right before that, IDPA itself says that it’s a “shooting sport”.  Not self-defense training.  Not practice for a gunfight.  Because if it were practice for a gunfight, 99% of the stages would consist of pulling a .380 out of a pocket, dumping all your rounds in a single assailant and then running like hell.  That’s not to say that IDPA and competition shooting don’t help develop skills that you need in a gunfight, but they certainly are not simulating real life self defense scenarios.

Here’s a great example of that – the holster and gun I’m using in the linked video are legal for IDPA competition. It’s an N-frame in .45 ACP, the venerable 625. I have in fact carried this gun for self defense. Twice. It’s absurdly heavy. I would never use the holster that I use for competition for concealed carry, because the holster is the size of a stack of IHOP pancakes. It’s a great holster, but it’s not really “practical” for a “real life self-defense situation”.

Now, the point of this is not to bash IDPA or the shooting sports. I believe that anyone who carries a gun for personal defense seriously should compete in some type of shooting sport because of the skills that it helps you develop. That being said, IDPA is not teaching you tactics that you would use in a gunfight. It’s a game, and because it’s a game it needs to have a consistent rule-set that’s enforced the same whether you’re shooting a match in Indiana, Washington, or Tennessee.


  1. I would be interested in hearing how many on the IDPA rules committee have actually shot the scenarios.

    It’s like the engineer who develops a new product that works flawlessly in the lab, but out in the field it’s a POS. Maybe some education is in order.

  2. A phrase you need to learn: cognitive dissonance. IDPA exists
    because people serious about self-defense training got in their
    1954 Huff and drove away from IPSC, because it had become “just a
    game” with “limited relevance to real world self-defense”. All the
    nit-picky IDPA rules about target engagement order, reloads, cover
    and other “tactics” were put into the rulebook to force competitors
    to use “good tactics” (somebody’s opinion as to what you could or
    should do in a gunfight). So now you are in a position of trying to
    defend those rules by claiming that it’s “only a game”. Norman,

    1. I’m not so much defending the rules as I’m trying to make sure they’re consistently enforced. IDPA’s roots are what they are, but what the game is now has precious little to do with actual “self defense scenarios”. That’s okay, because I never played it thinking I was learning to be a killing machine, I play because it’s fun and it helps my gunhandling skills improve.

      IDPA acknowledged that it’s a game, but at the same time rebels against a consistently enforced rule structure. As an athlete I find that troublesome.

  3. As long as you’re not too interested in winning the competition, could you compete with your carry rig?

    For example, is there any reason why (rules based) you could not start each stage with your SR9C in an IWB holster with your shirt tucked over it?

    1. nope. Many of the guys at my local club do exactly that. You probably won’t “win” that way, but if what you’re trying to do is to test your carry gear or just practice thinking your way through a given problem, who cares if you win? There’s no money or prize table in club level IDPA matches, so winning has never meant much to me. I still want to finish well, but not at the price of sacrificing what I’ve been trained to do.

  4. IDPA was founded specifically because USPSA had become so “unrealistic.” Now fifteen years later, IDPA suffers from the same ailments that come from success and sponsorship of a major shooting sport.

    The cover rule is an excellent example of the dissonance. On the one hand, IDPA wants a cover rule to be “more realistic.” On the other, it has a cover rule that isn’t marginally realistic. So it becomes nothing so much as a step in the ballet that you have to perform.

  5. “99% of the stages would consist of pulling a .380 out of a pocket, dumping all your rounds in a single assailant and then running like hell.”

    Sounds like a sport that could gain a following.
    I fully support the inclusion of 380Dump at the next summer Olympics.

  6. And the other 1% could be trying to perforate the two moving targets in a 7-11 while backing toward the door. Note: rule 78 says shooting up the beer cooler will cause you to lose your house.

  7. I had the privilege of training on a PRISm simulator, this is the one that actually shoots back with hard rubber balls. You find out fast what cover is and what it’s not.

  8. So is it reasonable to say that there *should* be a consistent definition of cover, but that your proposed solution should not be used as it violates good tactics?

    Of course idpa is a game. That doesn’t mean that, when contemplating alternative rules, it cannot base the choice on what most closely follows real tactical advice.

    1. Actually yeah, I’d be fine with that. I want consistency, I don’t so much care how it’s defined as long as it’s the same in every single IDPA match on the planet.

  9. I agree, make a consistent rule and lets go. In my club alone there are at least 3 different beliefs of what is cover so you better pay attention to who the SO is before you shot the COF.

  10. “Real World”, as envisioned by Gunsite afficianados, or Front Sight fanatics or Thunder Rancheros?

    No slight to any of those schools, or their teachers. Moreover, there are many, many other schools out there, and they’ll pretty much all put their own spin on a given scenario.

    Inasmuch that we all come from rather divergent points of origin in our shooting lifetimes, and gather equally random training of wildly random quality (and many shooters have NO “training” as such), then it’s no wonder that stabilizing IDPA rules is such a quagmire.

    I agree though, I’d like to see it better than it is. And I’ve not really the wildest notion a usefulsuggestion towards that end. But, maybe in helping to identify this particular hurdle, I’ll have piqued someone else’s thinking more towards a solution?

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  11. Caleb I agree 100%. IDPA is a game with rules that need to be consistent everywhere and clear to everyone.

  12. Of course it’s a game – the participants don’t lose control of their bladders and bowels and they don’t scream like little girls while it’s happening (or at least have to make a conscious effort not to do those things).

    Anyone who has been in a real firefight knows what I’m talking about.

    1. Then the 50% cover rule needs to go away. The only way to determine whether 50% of someone’s body is behind cover is to take a photo from the perspective of the target being engaged, at the instant the shot was fired, and then do some kind of image analysis. Expecting that someone standing -behind- the shooter can accurately estimate % of body exposed to each target, even to within +/- 10% of total body surface area, is completely unrealistic.

      Anyone that’s done any FoF training has probably figured out that % of body exposed is not the complete issue – amount of time you are exposed is another that’s completely ignored by the IDPA rule book. Attempts to implement a “no more than 3 seconds exposure from any position from cover” rule at early Polite Society matches didn’t go well, despite being well intentioned.

      A simpler rule stating that the shooter’s feet must stay within a box placed behind cover is much easier to apply consistently to each competitor. The problem in that situation is that differences in body shape and hand-ed-ness (right / left) can make it impossible for some shooters to see targets at extreme angles, but that can be managed. That type of rule has been used in IPSC for decades with no major problems.

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