Last weekend, I did something I like to do once or twice a year to measure my progress: shoot an IDPA classifier. Standardized courses of fire can be a great way to exercise a variety of skill sets and confirm how you're doing against an objective standard. During the regular shooting season, I often pick a few people to compare my performance against, but that method relies on seeing the same people regularly and assuming a certain amount of consistency in their shooting. It can also be difficult to use those people as a yardstick if they are improving at a different rate than you are or if you are trying to compare results across different types of matches (whether that means match directors with varying stage design styles or different gun sports entirely). However, classifiers and qualifiers are a way that you can actually shoot against yourself, since the course of fire will be exactly the same every time.
I'm pleased to report that my speed and accuracy have continued to improve every time I've shot this particular classifier. I'm not nearly so pleased to report that while my raw times and penalty points for Stages 1 and 2 have dropped significantly from my last attempt this past spring, my Stage 3 returned to one of the worst overall scores I've posted in nearly two years. It was a lot faster, but that means little in a game where every miss adds 2.5 seconds to your final time. In the spirit of my last post, I'm concentrating on the high point of shooting my best Stages 1 and 2 ever, but I'm also reflecting on one of the biggest problems I'm facing right now: consistency.
Part of the challenge in getting consistent results is how difficult it is to keep all of your skills growing at the same rate. This is perhaps most obvious in how easy it is for many of us to learn how to shoot well at close targets, while hitting a wall when engaging at further distances. There are many elements to being a "good shooter", whatever your discipline, and it's hard work to remember all of them and execute on all of them. Think back to the first time you fired a gun or the last time you brought out a new shooter: stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press....all that, in addition to just knowing how to run the gun. Then think about all of the things you might add to that, depending on the particular gun game you are playing: breathing and breath control, recoil management, follow-through, follow-ups, target transitions, multiple shooting positions [pdf], trigger prep, optic use including holdovers/holdunders, stage management... It's a lot! Individually, many of these skills aren't hard to master, but doing them all together is something else entirely, especially as you are trying to improve on each one in turn. It takes practice to learn how to run when you are still mastering walking and chewing gum at the same time.
So back to classifiers. Because they are generally intended to test a wide range of skills, they require the shooter to be able to perform at a consistent level across multiple areas. Getting good at one thing and doing it one time isn't enough. We have to bring up our abilities across the board and maintain those levels of performance consistently in order to really show meaningful improvement.