We've been shooting USPSA for almost a couple of years now, after shooting IDPA for several years before that. Catfish and I have been discussing some aspects of matches for both sports, and from these discussions and my own personal observations, I've reached an inexorable conclusion: IDPA rules are silly.
Not all of them, mind you. The safety stuff goes without saying. I like the self-defense aspects of the sport, where you learn about tactical priority, use of cover, things of that nature. I like that the COF limits the round count, believe it or not - more people can shoot with real-life gear. There are many good things about the sport. So let me amend my original assertion: IDPA rules can be silly. Seriously, a sport that has a FTDR (Failure To Do Right) rule in addition to procedural penalties should raise more than a few eyebrows.
Where it all breaks down for me is when subjectivity is introduced to the rules, and by extension, to the courses of fire and the sport in general. Let's take the proper use of cover as a beginning example. The rules stipulate that 100% of your feet (I assume both of them), and 50% of your upper body must remain behind cover at all times. This sounds all fine and good, but it's typically a subjective call. Where does the upper body begin? Where is the Safety Officer positioned in relation to the shooter, in relation to cover, in relation to the target? I've seen the "cover" call made in some ridiculous situations, based solely on the whim of the SO on the stage. It's not so much that it's a silly rule, it's that it's subject to too many variables. Therefore, the evaluation of proper use of cover is subjective. How would you make it objective? Use a shooting box. Oops - they do that in USPSA, don't they? We can't have that, then.
Another example might be the infamous holster rule: no light should be visible between the holster and the shooter's belt/body. Unless you're a woman, of course. Then the whole thing is moot (AKA the "boobie rule"). I've had my holster both pass and fail inspections of this rule. The same holster, different matches, different observers - again, subjective. Don't get me started on what an "appropriate" cover garment might be - there are subjective rules for that, too. I believe USPSA does a fair job of defining legal and illegal equipment.
How about the ability (I'd even assert "requirement") of an IDPA COF designer to specify shooting positions, target engagement specifications, etc.? "Stand here, engage these 3 targets with 2 rounds each, move here, engage these targets in tactical sequence with 2 to the body, one to the head," etc. These sorts of things do nothing but generate endless questions (based on the confusion that this creates) from shooters about what they can and cannot do. In USPSA, most COF descriptions are something to the effect of "start at position A, and engage all targets as they become visible." 2 rounds on paper, knock the steel down. Easy. It puts the burden on the course designer, not the shooter, and removes ambiguity.
There are the downright silly rules, too. Tactical reloads, or reloads with retention. You must retain your magazine, unless you're at slide-lock, even if the magazine is empty. What a terrible habit to develop. Drop the empty mag, ram a full one in there, and get on with the gunfight. If you think you're gonna need those 2 bullets in the mag you just wasted 2 seconds stowing away, well, your gunfight priorities might be in the wrong place. No movement of more than 10 yards between any 2 points, because...wait, what? Isn't movement a fundamental tenet of defensive shooting?
I guess most of this discourse gets down to the old argument about whether IDPA is a game, or if it's some sort of training. Let's put it this way: you keep score. Any time you keep score, someone will want to find a way to win. That's all fine and good, but there are many in the sport that say this position flies in the face of the "spirit" of IDPA.
I've tried to chronograph this "spirit," but have yet to get a tangible reading. However, there are PLENTY of shooters who are willing to give us the benefit of their opinion on matters of "spirit" or "intent." I've seen all sorts of opinions up and down the spectrum, and most of them devolve into dogma based on intepretation of a rule. That's the important part: interpretation.
Yes, the sport has created fundamentalists of its own. How scary is that?
It's this sort of nonsense that gets generated whenever subjectivity is allowed to creep into a sport. Either you can measure it consistently, or you can't. Either it is, or it isn't. Either you do, or you don't. Everything should be a binary decision: yes or no, wrong or right, hit or miss. And those decisions should be repeatable, measurable, and finite for all involved, both competitor and adjudicator. Ambiguity leads to dissenting opinions, and opinions lead to arguments - every time. Heck, it doesn't even matter if the rule is stupid, as long as the rule is the same for everyone, and is measurable, repeatable, and finite.
Okay. I feel better now. Please use the comments to add to this discourse if you feel so inclined. Facts are welcomed, but silliness will be made fun of.