Gamer, Timmy, Neither or Both?

I will likely offend legions of people with this post, but so be it, it’s an editorial and my current opinion. 

When I started shooting competition I had the intent to make IDPA Master in SSP and ESP.  That was in the fall of 2014; now it is 18 months later and I find myself no longer concerned about it.  Oh, it is still a goal of mine, but in working towards that goal I have learned a few things.  Things that have changed how I train, my gear and my overall point of view.  What follows are some things I wished people would have explained to me when I first started shooting competition along with some observations I have had.

I’ll start with International Defensive Pistol Association, or IDPA.  I will openly admit I have only shot a few IDPA club matches, but it left me cold.  Perhaps my exposure was an oddity, but nevertheless, it influenced me.  Here is what I have learned.

  1. The IDPA Classifier is a decent means to track skill growth and improvement, especially with a CCW weapon concealed under street clothes.
  2. The IDPA Classifier has virtually nothing to do with IDPA Match skills.
  3. Within the ranks of IDPA you will find good people; unfortunately you will also find Tactical Timmie’s of the highest order.  These are the people who consider it to be training for the streets – more on this later.
  4. IDPA is now, and always has been a game; although, a lot of the membership would seem to believe it is not, even though the rule book states it on the first page.
  5. USPSA shooters take themselves less seriously.

In my time shooting competition I have found myself identifying with the gamers more than the tactical guys. I do care about self-defense and defending both myself and my family.  I carry my CCW as often as permissible.  I also carry a flashlight and small locking folder because, unlike the CCW, I find myself using those items on a daily basis.  I do not live in fear of a ninja attack or zombie apocalypse but the simple fact is the firearm is the best tool to defend ones self, if circumstances both require and allow it. Thus I carry a firearm, but I digress.

Let me address those items I listed above in more detail.

The IDPA Classifier test multiple skills against a set time. You are only judged against the clock. There is very little movement and the Classifier never changes. This is good for tracking growth and skill development.  Oddly enough, you are not required to use a cover garment and most people seem to despise shooting the classifier.

In an IDPA match you will have no-shoots, hard targets, movement, swingers, ports to shoot through and a you often have to wear a concealment garment, which is normally the vest. The vest, I hate the damn vest! People have told me, to my face no less, that IDPA is proper training for CCW.  Perhaps so, if you wear a vest around town.  If there was ever a piece of shooting equipment specific to a game it is the IDPA vest.

I wonder if the founders of IDPA had a conversation similar to this, “Let’s all wear this vest and game concealed carry, then we’ll claim it is real and that we are different from those dirty IPSICK gamers.”

Let’s review:

  • Shoot USPSA while wearing Salomon shoes and khaki shorts? Sure!
  • Wear those same shoes and shorts on an informal date?  Sure!
  • Wear them while hiking? Absolutely!

When, oh when, do you wear the IDPA vest out in public?  Who’s the gamer????

Some people have actually told me that IDPA is training! Too my face! Yes, seriously! I responded by asking who the instructor was; which went over well. I was also informed that I was just a gamer and did not appreciate the concealed carry weapons skills that IDPA trained.

These same people who claim IDPA to be training are often seen competing with a specially designed IDPA vest concealing a Glock 34, S&W Pro, or some other gamer gun.  A gun that has a light weight trigger, held in a IDPA legal OWB “race” holster.   I will openly admit that would be perfect practice if that is how they actually carried, but it is not training.  For training you need an instructor.

In fact, the individual mentioned above, that commented on the training aspect, well he put his Ruger LCP back in his front pocket in the parking lot following the match.  I am sure he felt bravado and security in the training he had just received. Anyone else see holes in this thought process???

What about those dirty USPSA gamers? 

you play to win the game (300x225)

USPSA competitors are shooting in a game.  They know it, IDPA shooters knows it; hell, people that don’t know anything about guns can look at a photo of a USPSA competitor in mid-stride and recognize he is competing – IN A GAME!

USPSA shooters don’t take themselves seriously. Look at what some of them wear. Go to an IDPA match and you’ll see 5.11 pants, Blackhawk!, a great many shirts with logos or sayings from the Spartans, Trojans, Romans, etc. Go to a USPSA match and you’ll see cargo shorts, golf shorts, ugly shoes and comical tee shirts. Of course in both competitions you’ll find the person wearing a jersey because sponsors.

I am a gamer. It took me less than 3 IDPA matches to determine I am not a Tactical Timmy, which is odd because I do enjoy my AR and self-defense classes. But there is a time to be serious, a time to be realistic and a time to play the game.  You can be a student of self-defense without being an over the top Timmy.  Equally you can be a competitor and still take self-defense seriously.

From my view-point we have two action pistol shooting competitions that are diametrically opposed on how they view themselves. This is not to say there are not gamers in IDPA, because there are. But the real gamers generally migrate to USPSA.  As Caleb once said in a Ben Stoeger podcast, running and shooting a pistol is fun and USPSA does running and shooting better.

Since I have just expended 1000 words berating IDPA I must hate everything about IDPA, correct?  Actually no!  For actual gamerness (new word) and competition, yes, my focus is on USPSA.  As for IDPA, I plan on actually rejoining and shooting some matches using my real CCW, from my real carry holster, in my actual street clothes.  Being a person of logic I am going into those matches with the understanding that while IDPA is not training, it is a good means of practice with my carry gear. 

Practicing with the gear you actually plan on defending yourself with – that sounds an awful lot like the original intent of IDPA to me.

So what are your thoughts?  Do you think I am completely off base here?  Did I offend you?  Do you disagree?  Do I care?


  1. IDPA would be a great place to practice with actual carry gear if they allowed AIWB. I have to shoot USPSA limited with a G19 under a T-shirt to use my carry gear in a match.

    1. That my first response but you beat me to it.
      When I first started USPSA in the mid 90s I wore Hawaiian shirts over my sig P220 thinking that was how I would carry if I ever got a CC permit (Kalifornica duh).
      Now it’s a Shield IWB for the occasional IDPA match forward of the hipbone with the Hawaiian shirt (bought a used vest but it lives in the closet).
      I prefer ipsick because I can solve the problem how I want depending whether I’m feeling tactic oil or gamer that day.

  2. I made the same decision years ago. I currently shoot IDPA with a shield in a Stealth Gear Onyx wearing a sports coat. (my daily dress code is sports coat or suit) I shoot IPSC with a Glock 35. I sometimes win IPSC matches,but I haven’t won an IDPA match in over a year and I know I won’t, unless I have an awesome day and several people get procedurals.Both are fun, both have their place, and both have their failings.

  3. My IDPA experience was similar, but I did use my regular carry gun and holster under the clothes actually worn. The only difference really was strapping magazines on all over so I’d have the firepower to move, shoot, rescue hostages, take out the gang of evil thugs and make the world safe for democracy. Calling 911 never seemed to be the right answer. “Defensive” shooting was played very offensively.

    It was fun, all that walking, running, mag swapping and shooting. It drove me to practice during the week, made me intimately familiar with the innards of the pistol and my loading bench, and I met some great folks, tactical and practical. But two years of it was enough.

  4. Can we get the author’s name near the top of the post? I read most of this post thinking it was Caleb’s writing and then had to scan to the bottom to see it was C.J.’s when he reference Caleb’s comment on a podcast – very confusing especially when there are multiple people posting articles to this site.

  5. Gotta disagree with the comments re: “the vest”. I believed it too. Until a few months ago, I was sitting at a carwash, and some guy in front of me steps out of his truck, puts on “the vest”, then straps on his gun in an OWB holster, and walks around like he’s “carrying concealed”. Every little motion he made, I got to see his chrome plated blaster. He piece was only “concealed” if he stood perfectly motionless.

    So no, there ARE people out there wearing “the vest” as part of their every day carry routine…


  6. I prefer IDPA to USPSA. The main reason is joint issues so running hurts and USPSA has more. That said I was considering switching to USPSA because of the archaic rules of IDPA. The IDPA rules can sometimes squish the fun out of action shooting. However, with the addition of the CCP division, I’m staying with IDPA and using my CCW. This is not a great trade off but time only allows me to shoot one sport.

    Your vest analysis is dead on! (I got a good chuckle from that.) To add to your points, IDPA shooters will cheer when a stage doesn’t require the vest. “No concealment required” is repeated ad nauseam by everyone at the stage like they’re giving away free barbecue.

    We’re all adults. If the high is over a certain temperature, then drop the “concealment required” stipulation. IPDA is year round. I’ve shot it many a time in snow. We’ll get our concealment then.

  7. IDPA is a game that emphasizes tactical methods of self defense. It is not effective training. Training it the purposeful repetition of skills to improve their performance. Could you improve your handgun proficiency by solely attending IDPA (or USPSA) matches? Sure, but progress will be slow and plateau quickly.

    1. The problem I have with that theory is that I find many of IDPA’s rules to be arcane, arbitrary, and capricious.

      The rules for use of cover are well intentioned, but stupid. From the standpoint of the game, it can make scoring and penalties inconsistent: It leaves cover calls and penalties entirely up to the SO, which can result in unequal standards being employed by different Safety Officers, and it can lead to different levels of scrutiny being applied to specific shooters. This leads to less fun for shooters, and more thinking/worrying about things that really shouldn’t matter. From the tactical Timmy standpoint, the over-reliance on “cover” at the expense of movement is stupid. It’s a well-established fact that stationary targets are far easier to hit than moving targets, so why make yourself an easy stationary or slow-moving target?

      The rules for “concealment” are likewise stupid: They’re based on the laws and political landscape that existed in most of the country 10-20 years ago where concealment was a real issue. Open carry is actually a socially-acceptable way to carry in many places these days. Why should I be forced to wear non-weather-appropriate garments to “conceal” my firearm in weather where I wouldn’t be worried about concealment outside of the match?

      On recent rule changes, like reloads and scoring penalties for points down, it makes it less fun to shoot. On the flat-footed reloads (which are thankfully gone, but were an issue when I last shot IDPA), it’s also bad tactically, because there is not necessarily anything wrong with reloading on the move: Why sit there and make yourself a stationary target when you can’t shoot back? Why run around with an empty gun because you’re not “in cover” when you could just reload the damned thing so that you could spend less time holding a glorified brick?

      I’ve shot a few IDPA matches, and neither was a particularly pleasant experience. To a large extent this was due to idiotic rules like these.

  8. Interesting article. I have been shooting IDPA for about a year and enjoy it, including being around other shooters and meeting new people. Your article demonstrates the myth that just joining some group or taking part in some activity will result in learning new skills or improving our current skills. IDPA, like most things, it what we make of it. If you just show up and go with the flow, you limit what you get out of it. I decided before I started that my goal was not to win or even get better based on IDPA’s measurements. My plan is to use IDPA to get used to shooting under stress, in different scenarios, on demand and in somewhat realistic (compared to standard range practice) conditions. I always shoot my carry gun, I draw it from the holster I normally wear and I have on the clothes that I typically wear. I try to learn, based on how I shoot, what my weaknesses and strengths are and adjust my practice and training accordingly. Neither IDPA, ranges nor training classes are designed to help me, specifically, hone my skills or make me ready to use my weapon for self-defense. It is the responsibility of each of us to realistically assess our skills, goals and abilities and engage training, practice and competition options in a way that meets our needs.

    1. I got into IDPA for the shear aspect of competition. That may have jaded me from the start.

  9. One local range hosts a “defensive pistol match” monthly. You may shoot your 34 or a 2011 w/optic, but a majority of people shoot a compact pistol from real concealment (IWB under flannel shirt for instance). Lots of leather in use. One guy shoots his PPK very well. No vests! You hit that on the nail head…..

  10. I am very interested in getting started in competition shooting, however due to some physical limitations I am not able to run very quickly. Or perhaps I should say that I can’t run very quickly and maintain good safety. For that reason I was thinking that IDPA with a bit less running and would be a better option. I just want to shoot for accuracy and move at my best pace. I keep seeing negative comments about IDPA that make me think that I should keep my slow self at home or on the boring static range. Any thoughts?

    1. If I understand your situation well, your current plans and goals are not to be the fastest guy on the stage and win matches. That said, I can’t see any problem to be solved.

      “I just want to shoot for accuracy and move at my best pace.”

      Just do that.
      Attend the match and move/run as quickly as possible FOR YOU to maintain good safety. Try IDPA and USPSA/IPSC and choose what fits better to you. Maybe you will love both.

      Your stage times will be 5/10/20/40 seconds longer than competitor’s ones?
      Who cares? It’s your run, your practice, your testing of skills, your fun.

      1. Even when I was young and healthy, I played the game with as much ‘real world’ gear as I could. My competition was only with myself.

    2. I would still recommend IDPA over a static range. Just be warned the rule set is more restrictive than USPSA.

      In IDPA they basically tell you where to go and in which order you engage the targets. IDPA is seeing who is the quickest at a set route.

      In USPSA you are shown the start position and where the fault lines are. The rest is up to you. USPSA makes you think “on your feet” with a gun in your hand. It is the greater challenge.

      Don’t worry about the mobility part. A slow competitor that gets all A’s will do well. A shocking number of people run around like a house afire (which looks cool on YouTube) but they are scoring poor hits or misses. I know it is fact as I’ve done it; at the start of Ben Stoeger’s class no less. He shook his head, looked me in the eye and said, “terrible”.

    3. I shoot revolver class. Usually finish last. Outside with like minded people, and I have a great time. Find an IDPA club and you may be surprised…

    4. I would say that you don’t have to run in USPSA and, if you’re a beginner, you actually should not run. There are some safety behaviors that need to become instinctive before you run. These include removing your trigger finger from the trigger guard if you take more than a step and a half or so and also while you are reloading. Once these and other safety habits are executed at the subconscious level, then you’d be ready for faster movement. That may take a while.

      Also, USPSA recognizes seniors and super seniors, although it is unclear if you’d be in those categories.

      Many standardized courses of fire, called classifiers, do not require much movement at all. So, you can advance your classification without being a highly agile athlete. Can You Count is an example. It is: draw, fire, reload, fire. I actually enjoy well-designed short courses better than many of the longer courses that I see (32 rounds).

  11. As someone just getting into competition shooting, I appreciate these type of posts and insights. Please keep them coming !

  12. The Gaymer/Timmie/Whatever dichotomy is only as big a deal as we make it. I’m living proof that you can game, train, and, God forbid, shoot for fun once in a while, and it all works together just fine.

    Focus on expanding your capability. Let the low foreheads worry about what to call it.

  13. I am a USPSA shooter who strongly considered IDPA. I like competing and it would have been something different. And, maybe the whole “tactical” thing would have been cool. But the rules drove me away. I concluded that they are both games, but USPSA is a better game. USPSA is certainly more flexible.

    Here’s an example from my limited understanding of IDPA. A procedural error is 3 seconds. Failure to engage in “tactical priority” order is a procedural error. In other words, the fellow shooting with tactical priority can be 3 seconds slower than the guy who does not. Putting on my “tactical” hat, I would have thought that the guy who was 3 seconds slower would be a chalk outline. Here I would quote Cooper who is obsolete in some ways, but likely not in this case. “The first principle of tactics is speed.”

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