Insert cartoonish picture here of a 1911 and a Glock engaging in fisticuffs. My graphics skills are weak so you’ll just have to envision it. 🙂
So to answer the question, no, IDPA is not realistic. But shooting an IDPA match is a great way to practice certain skills that you may need to save your life someday. I don’t know about you, but the ability to draw and put accurate hits on target in under 1 second might be pretty useful in a self-defense situation.
The way I see it? I liken participation in action shooting sports to martial arts sparring.
If you want to get good at something, you’ve got to do that something.
Standing still in a lane at the gun range punching holes in paper at a slow and steady pace, well, that will get you good at that. I liken that to doing martial arts forms. Sure it teaches you a lot of mechanics and trains your body for the act, but there’s nothing dynamic about it.
Action shooting games like IPSC and IDPA would be akin to sparring. Yes there are rules. Yes there’s a lot that’s arbitrary. Yes there’s a lot that isn’t like “the street”. Yes you can get a false sense of security. Yes you can develop habits that wouldn’t be good for “the street”. Nevertheless, the boxer still gets in the ring and boxes. The Gracies still roll around on the mat. The MMA guy’s still get in the ring or the cage. I dare say these guys have a better chance of being able to handle themselves “on the street” than your average guy. They’re still developing the necessary skills within the limits of what they can safely do.
In martial arts there tend to be two lines of thought. One is to learn all sorts of wicked deadly techniques. These techniques involve bone and joint breaking, dirty fighting like eye gouging, and the like. While there’s really no question these techniques can be ugly if successfully applied, that’s the catch: can you successfully apply them? How do you know if you can or not if you can’t fully practice those techniques? Sure, you can practice these techniques in a more controlled fashion, but you can never go all out. The other approach is to limit yourself to a subset of techniques that may not be “t3h d3adly” but can be practiced full-on. This is the approach Kanō Jigorō took when he developed Judo, and the Gracie’s took in developing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They took techniques that can be practiced in a full-on, all-out sparring situation. Yes there still has to be some sort of rules, there are obviously limitations, but here they can actually have resisting opponents and a lot of dynamic practice. Both approaches have their place, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
So if we apply that to firearms training, being able to shoot action competitions gives you some ability to “go all out”. You have to run, you have to gun, you may have to consider things like cover and concealment. You will be put into awkward situations. You will be given problems you must dynamically solve. We can’t go full out, we have to have some sort of control and restrictions, but it’s about as close as you can get to being able to go full-on. The only further step you could take would be Force-on-Force training with things such as Airsoft, paintballs, or Simunitions.
Of course, competition isn’t the only way to get this sort of activity. More advanced level training courses that provide similar sorts of shooting setups, timers, pressure, and decision making. Or it could just be a group of folks that get together to work on these sorts of skills. So it doesn’t have to be strict competition, just as long as the material is there.
In the end there’s no way to truly replicate a gunfight other than being in one, but I suspect most people don’t want to train that way. All we can do is get as close as safely and realistically possible. It’s going to involve rules, it’s going to involve restrictions, but it’s also going to involve the fundamental skills and activities. Boxing may not be a bar brawl, but a skilled boxer that gets in the ring and spars every day has better chances of winning if caught in a bar brawl. Action shooting may not be a gunfight, but it is akin to sparring: a controlled way to develop the fundamental skills associated with the activity. I mean, if I did get caught in a bar brawl, I’d be happy to have George St. Pierre on my side. If I got caught in a gunfight, I’d sure be happy to have Rob Leatham on my side.