Knowing the Limits of Your Training

When you take a training class, or go out and practice shooting skills on a USPSA or IDPA stage, do you know the limits of those experiences? Do you know where the “real world, applicable to a deadly force situation” skills you’re drilling end?

I’ve commented before on the issue of “IDPA as training” vs. “IDPA as a game”. But I wanted to riff on this in another direction, because of a post Kathy at Cornered Cat made a couple of days ago. She titled the post “Wait for backup“, and talked about two situations where armed citizens entered their homes looking for bad guys. One ended well, thank god, but the other much less so. Kathy pointed out that:

If you are concerned enough to pull your gun out of its holster, you should be concerned enough to pull your phone out of your pocket and call for backup. Except in cases of extreme and immediate need, law enforcement officers won’t try to clear a house by themselves, without backup. Why should you?

I wanted to underline her point because one of the perennial debates in our community seems to be about whether competition shooting sports like IDPA “will get you killed”. I think this is one area where, if you don’t know your limits, they just might.

See, here’s the thing. IDPA scenarios, although nominally based upon self-defense, are nonetheless designed to be a game. “Run down range and engage the six wild dingos while retrieving your baby, then give each dingo a head shot while retreating.” Or how about the endless variations of “go through the house and shoot all the bad guys who’ve taken your family hostage.”

I’m not trying to disparage IDPA here – I really enjoy my local matches, and they’re a heck of a lot of fun to shoot. The mistake, I think, that some people make is in thinking that the proper response on the IDPA match is the same one to use in real life. Just because you can clear a room on an IDPA bay doesn’t mean you can, or should, attempt the feat in real life if, god forbid, you ever face the situation.

Cops train extensively to conduct these sorts of “shoot the bad guys and rescue the hostages” missions. They also have body armor. And backup. And, despite all that training and equipment, a certain number of cops are still killed in the line of duty every year. Same thing with the military – our troops don’t try to clear a building full of hostiles without rifles, body armor, backup and (often) overwatch support. They train like crazy, including live fire drills with Simunitions and the like. And too many still are killed in action or seriously wounded.

So, as much fun as IDPA is, it seems to me suicidally foolish to think that competing equips you, a private citizen without backup, specialized weapons, body armor or extensive live-fire training, to go into a structure where you might find an unknown number of bad guys armed with unknown weapons. If I came home and found my front door open, I’d retreat to a safe location, call 9-1-1, and wait for backup. It’s not as exciting, and it might not be glorious and heroic, but I have a much better chance of staying alive that way.

“What if they’re holding your family hostage?” some people might ask. Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I wouldn’t feel good about getting my family, or myself, killed in a botched rescue attempt. Armed self-defense isn’t about the “glory of combat” for me. If I can avoid a violent encounter, or de-escalate it, or escape, so much the better. Combat is my option of absolute last resort, and even then, my goal is simply to stay alive long enough for the professionals to arrive.

So, although I train and practice – and I do shoot IDPA for fun – I know my limits. I know that one middle-aged woman with an M&P cannot match the tactics, training or sheer force of numbers of a law enforcement agency. And I know, with crystal clarity, that my goal is always simply to stay alive. Giving up a position of safety to enter an unknown tactical situation isn’t glorious or exciting, and it’s an act directly antithetical to my goal of survival.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you disagree with me. Sound off in the comments.

And yes, that is the back of my head in the photo accompanying this post. Just in case you were wondering.


  1. Wise words. Even if you do everything right, you can still get killed.

    • “Even if you do everything right, you can still get killed.” Exactly – and knowing that, it seems to me to be a good idea to stack the deck in your favor and call for reinforcements rather than confront an unknown threat solo if you don’t have to.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. “Man’s GOT to know his limitations.” – Inspector Harry Callahan
    I expect this applies to women, as well!


  3. AMEN!

  4. Just some suggestions…

    1. Make sure, the best you can, that your family is both armed and trained themselves to minimize any chance they will be taken hostage. The recent story of the 12 year old who defended herself is a prime example.

    2. If you do call the police, understand that they are not going to take any time or effort to determine who is who, at least in the beginning, so it is vitally important that you are NOT armed when they see you!!! If they come and you are standing there with a gun, they WILL take you down and cuff you, at the very least.

    As always, the best defense is to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the problem in the first place. After that, there may be no really good options. But trying to “clear” a house on your own will never be one of them.


  1. […] had a great post about the subject of house clearing over at the Cornered Cat blog today. Although I’ve written here before about the limits of our training as armed citizens, and about why we shouldn’t go looking for […]

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