The discipline that we now call “The Modern Technique of the Pistol” had its beginnings in California in the 1950s. Jeff Cooper was living up in Big Bear and got an idea of holding some sort of a shooting event to attract the tourists to the popular ski area during the summer months. Accordingly, he recruited some pistol-shooting friends the likes of Jack Weaver, Ray Chapman, Thell Reed, John Plahn, and Elden Carl. The shooting methods were close range, fast, and freestyle. In the beginning it was primarily a fast-draw contest fired with live ammunition.
It soon became apparent that Weaver was cleaning everyone’s clock with his shooting style. Firing from the hip, as soon as your gun cleared leather, was supposed to be a good deal faster than using two hands and bringing the gun to eye level. But Weaver was coming to eye level, actually seeing his front sight, and beating all comers. Cooper, among others, took careful note and soon had accumulated some techniques that would become the foundation of the modern technique of the pistol; they included the use of a big-bore autoloading pistol, the Weaver Stance, the flash sight picture, and the surprise break.
Cooper always tried to make it clear that he hadn’t “invented” anything. As a keen observer, and a lifetime student of the handgun, he brought together techniques and methods. As a skilled teacher he developed a method of passing these skills on to others in a manner that was easy to understand and learn. To date, the modern technique of the pistol is the most effective method of dealing with violent threats in the real world.
By the mid-1970s Cooper and the growing number of his students and friends began to discuss finding a way to test and evaluate these life-saving techniques in a competition format. Cooper had observed that people would train harder and longer to win a trophy than to be able to defend themselves. Regardless, open competition was a way of allowing equipment, ideas, and techniques to be tested and evaluated. It was from this platform that the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) was founded, with Jeff Cooper as its first president.
I was living in North Texas back in those days and was working as a policeman at the Denton Police Department. There were a number of avid pistol shooters in the area, and we soon had a pretty good idea of who this Cooper fellow was and were extremely interested in his methods of handgun deployment. In short order we formed an IPSC club and began to hold regular shoots.
In those early days the idea was to design courses of fire that were as realistic as we could possibly make them. Our goal was to use our IPSC matches as a means to practice techniques and evaluate equipment that would save our lives in actual gunfights. And Cooper was right: The spirit of competition and the chance to win a trophy was what spurred most shooters to try harder, to work harder, and to strive to improve.
Unfortunately, this spirit of competition began to overshadow the initial purpose and the real value of the IPSC organization. Gamesmen, as they came to be called, began to show up with guns and holsters that would not be practical for actual carry. They also began to use lightly loaded ammunition to gain an advantage in fast strings of fire. And their match scenarios began to feature a good deal of running, jumping, and rolling around while expending large quantities of ammunition. In short, IPSC became an armed track meet that exhibited little resemblance to the use of the defensive handgun in real-life encounters.
Those of us who used our IPSC matches to practice life-saving skills pretty well got our noses out of joint. We believed the gamesmen were ruining our sport and seriously diluting the principles that Colonel Cooper and others had worked so hard to develop.
In retrospect, having had a few years to cool off, I have to admit that the majority of IPSC members clearly had their way. That it wasn’t my way is just a simple fact of life that I have to learn to deal with. The majority wanted an action-oriented shooting sport that favored athletes who were also good shots. There is nothing wrong with that, and IPSC competition continues to be a popular shooting sport to this day. The firearms industry actively supports it with prizes and sponsorships, and the fans enjoy watching the matches and rooting for their favorite shooters.
However, in the meantime, those of us who want to practice our life-saving skills have been fortunate that another door opened for us. This has been in the form of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA). Defensive pistol shooting as a sport is quite simply the use of practical equipment, including full-charge service ammunition, to solve simulated real-world self-defense scenarios. Shooters competing in IDPA events are required to use practical handguns and holsters that are suitable for self-defense use. Competition-only equipment is not permitted in IDPA matches since the main goal is to test the skill and ability of the individual, not their equipment or gamesmanship.
Keeping in mind the practicality of its mission statement, the IDPA has required that any single competitive shooting scenario may not involve expending more than 18 rounds of ammunition. In any given match, 75 percent of the targets must be within
15 yards, while any movement must be limited to 10 yards or less. IDPA matches also reinforce the use of protective cover, especially when reloading. In short, IDPA competition involves practical methods of dealing with violent criminal attacks in the real world.
I’ve noticed that one quirk of human nature is that when we are left to our own devices, we tend to practice the things that we are already good at. For some reason, most of us would rather stand up close to the target and cut one ragged hole with our bullets instead of spending time at the 25- and 50-yard lines where our shooting could really use some improvement. Competition forces us to practice the full scale of shooting techniques required to stay up with the big boys.
So I guess that it’s time for me to admit that there is a valid place for IPSC in the shooting world. I called it an armed track meet, and I probably shouldn’t have. I poked fun at the cute, matching pastel-colored pajama outfits with industry patches sewn all about, and I probably shouldn’t have. The majority voted, the majority rules, and life goes on.
But I am so glad to see IDPA come along. One can now attend a number of defensive shooting schools and learn some serious life-saving techniques. And you can sign up with the nearest IDPA club and practice the training skills that they learned at school. Colonel Cooper is no lon
ger with us, but his greatest gift to shooters, the modern technique of the pistol, is alive and well.
Thanks to IPSC and IDPA shooters have a real choice. Equipment, shooting techniques, and life-saving skills can all be tested, adapted, and improved. And we all have a good excuse to spend a day at the range with our friends, burning powder and putting lead downrange. You just can’t beat a deal like that.