IDPA: Self-Defense Shooting Experience

Ben Shooting IDPA Classifier, August 17, 2014
Ben Shooting IDPA Classifier, August 17, 2014

The International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) is an organization founded in 1996 that focuses on practical shooting equipment and ammunition to solve simulated “real world” self-defense scenarios with practical handguns and holsters that are suitable for self-defense use. Some clubs expand that use and include long guns in scenarios.The main goal is to test the safe gun handling and shooting skills and abilities of each individual in practical self-defense scenarios. So each participant is really competing against him or her self. Most local IDPA clubs have monthly competition matches and hold required classifiers by gun division every few months. IDPA activities are great opportunities to improve your shooting accuracy and your personal techniques and skills, meet other shooters and pick up some tips from them, and challenge yourself in realistic live-fire practice situations. For those of you not familiar with IDPA, I want to give you a brief overview of it and share my experiences in a Classifier that I participated in this month.

The IDPA Organization & Purpose

The International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) is the governing body of a shooting sport that simulates self-defense scenarios and real-life encounters. It was founded in 1996 as a response to the desires of shooters worldwide. The organization now boasts over 22,000 members in 50 foreign countries and there are many affiliated local chapters and organizations. As an IDPA member, you are always welcome at any IDPA club to participate in matches. In the Florida panhandle, we have the NW FL Defensive Pistol Shooters and we use our Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) or duty handgun and equipment in practical IDPA events to solve challenging defensive shooting problems and improve our skills through the structure of competition. I use to believe that only law enforcement or military personnel could belong and that you had to be a great shot. But, you do not have to be a law enforcement officer or military member to join and participate. Members represent all job and career types, civilians, law enforcement, and military folks, and various walks of life, as well as all skill levels in the shooting sport. Our club includes lawyers, college professors, retired military and police members, active duty military, county officials, electricians, plumbers, farmers, clergy, and teachers, etc. IDPA matches and membership are open to all individuals who can legally own a handgun, regardless of occupation, race, gender or religion.

Ben Shooting Around Cover at IDPA Classifier
Ben Shooting Around Cover at IDPA Classifier

IDPA Matches

IDPA has self-defense and standard exercises. The self-defense scenarios are simulations of actual or possible “real-world” confrontations and typically require shots from 3 to 20 yards, require the shooter to move and shoot, draw and shoot from awkward positions, and to advance and retreat. The standard exercises do not attempt to simulate potential threat situations, but rather are designed to test specific shooting and gun handling skills. Accuracy, speed, and time of response are tested. Since IDPA is based on defensive shooting, match designers try to simulate scenarios where you are forced to use your gun to defend your life or others. Matches might involve being caught in a convenience store robbery, a home invasion, carjacking, ATM/bank robbery, etc. So, you might be engaging targets from inside a car, jumping up from your recliner or bed, or shooting while seated for dinner at a restaurant. Possibilities change with every match and are fun, but have a helpful and serious intent.

Firearms Divisions & Requirements

Checking Division Equipment and Requirements
Checking Division Equipment and Requirements

There are several divisions for the various firearms you use, so you must decide what gun you will use each time you participate in a match or classifier. Of course, there is a detailed rulebook with specifications, descriptions, and requirements. Even the type of reloads permitted is specified. You can use several firearms but must meet the requirements of the particular division each time. I participate in the ESP (Enhanced Service Pistol) and SSP (Stock Service Pistol) Divisions. Each division specifies requirements like the type of gun and holster that can be used, the caliber, permitted gun features and modifications, type of sights, grips, triggers, barrels, aftermarket parts, etc

Classifier and Classifications

To earn or retain your division rating, you must annually complete a Classifier test of your skills, involving accuracy, skill level, points, and time. The Classifier is a standard series of 3 stages each with several strings or courses of fire where you shoot 90 rounds at targets at varying distances under different conditions and time constraints. You may shoot some strings with your weak hand, some with two hands, and some with only one hand. There may be required headshots; you may have to shoot moving forward or while retreating; you may be required to shoot and reload behind cover and then quickly move to other covers; or you may shoot from 7, 10, 15, or 20 yards or a combination of distances. You will learn and perform under time constraints the Mozambique Triple-Tap Drill and the El Presidente Movement & Multiple Targets Drill. These are a challenge, but fun and everyone learns something without undue pressure or intimidation. You meet some really nice folks and share your tips and tribulations together. Here is the entry Stage One of an IDPA Classifier.

5-IDPA ClASSIFIER- Stage 1- 7 Strings

To earn an IDPA Rating as an Expert or Sharpshooter, for examples, you must earn points based on your accuracy, speed, and time for your target hits. Below is the current 2014 Classification Scores by Division required to earn the various ratings. The personal challenge is to compete against yourself and try to raise your rating, through participating in several matches, learning new techniques and practicing the fundamentals. There is always something to learn about shooting and IDPA requirements.

7-IDPA Classifications by Divisions- Required TIMES-2014

I hope this general overview of IDPA has spurred your interest in this self-defense sport and hope you look into it for the fun and challenge. It may also help save your life or the life of your loved ones.

Continued Success!

IDPA Contact Information:

The International Defensive Pistol Association
2232 CR 719
Berryville AR. 72616

Phone: (870) 545-3886
Fax: (870) 545-3894

Photos by author.

This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney in your state or jurisdiction for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, stand your ground law, and concealed carry. This is not legal advice and not legal opinions. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever. 

© 2014 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at

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"Col Ben" is retired with 30 years service in the U.S. Air Force, with joint services Special Ops duty and training, and is Air Force qualified as "Expert" in small arms. He is a Vietnam-era Veteran. Ben is an experienced NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, and FL Concealed Carry License Instructor. Ben recently wrote the book "Concealed Carry and Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection" (second printing) with 57 comprehensive Chapters about concealed carry and handgun principles, techniques, and tips for both experienced and new shooters. His reference book is endorsed by several organizations and is available on his website at Contact him at
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Thanks for all the good info!! We will try this!!


IDPA is a great shooting sport, and I am glad to see them migrate toward creating options for three gun competition. Several years ago I wrote them an email suggesting the creation of two sister organizations, ID”S”A and ID”R”A and develop a realistic format for defensive shotgun and defensive rifle competitions. The idea being that one could compete in one, or perhaps all three types of competition based on what equipment the shooter owned.

For instance, if a shooter owned a shotgun, but no suitable handguns, they could compete in I”D”SA and experience a realistic defensive shooting match, albeit with a shotgun instead of a handgun. Same idea if their only firearm was an AR-15 with ID”R”A.

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