Utah's Personal Protection Laboratory




Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting the Most Out of a Suarez International Class

Suarez International classes are one of the best investments you can make when it comes to self defense. We’ve got a really great curriculum and our instructors are top notch (if I do say so myself). As with many things in life, however, how much you get out of it depends on how much you put into it. A bit of preparation beforehand and some regular follow-up afterwards can dramatically increase the amount you learn and how much your skills increase. Based on my experience in quite a few SI classes, both before and after I became an instructor, here are some things that I think you can do to help you get as much out of the class as possible.

Before Class

The starting point for getting the most out of an SI class is to choose an appropriate class to begin with. If you don’t have the fundamental skills to do well in more advanced classes, you’re not going to get as much out of them. Suarez International classifies its classes into three levels: basic, intermediate, and advanced. Knowing whether you’re ready for an advanced class is pretty simple: if you’ve taken an intermediate level SI pistol class and can perform the material, you’re good to go for advanced pistol classes. The same goes for rifle classes.

Deciding between a basic or intermediate class requires a bit more judgment. The intermediate level classes don’t have a hard and fast prerequisite, but they do carry a disclaimer that says “THIS COURSE IS NOT FOR THE NOVICE SHOOTER”. We’re not really talking about accuracy here, we're talking about gunhandling. Our intermediate level classes are very dynamic, and you need good muzzle and trigger finger discipline to safely participate. To really get the most out of these classes your basic gunhandling skills, particularly the drawstroke, need to be ingrained to the point where they are almost automatic. These courses all involve dynamic movement, in order to learn this effectively, you can’t be thinking your way through each step of the draw. For long gun classes, the equivalent would be mounting the rifle or shotgun. If you have any questions about whether a particularly class is appropriate for your level of skill and experience, either call SI and ask, or post a question on Warriortalk. There are plenty of experienced folks in both places who can help you find the best class for you.

We throw a lot of information at you in SI classes, to the point where it can be a bit daunting at times. It helps a lot if you've had some exposure to it beforehand. Infidel Media Group publishes books and DVDs by Gabe and other SI trainers. They’re no substitute for coming to a class in person, but watching them it advance can make it easier to process all the new material you’ll see in a class. Most SI classes have a DVD equivalent. In many cases the class and the DVD have the same name, but there are some exceptions (for instance the DVD equivalent of the Defensive Pistol Skills class is called Combative Pistol Marksmanship). Again, if you have any questions ask on Warriortalk or call SI. The situation with books is a little different. Not all SI classes have a direct book equivalent, sometimes material from one class is distributed over several different volumes of Gabe’s writings. I find all of Gabe’s books that I’ve read worthwhile, but it’s a bit more difficult to say, “if you are taking this class you need to read that book”. One exception is Roger Phillips’ Point Shooting Progressions book. I can absolutely say that if you are taking an SI Point Shooting Class you will get a lot out of reading Roger’s book ahead of time.

While I recommend watching the DVD, I would advise against trying to practice material from the DVD beforehand. One of the big advantages of coming to a class, rather than just buying a DVD is that in class you have an instructor to watch your performance on the drills, critique what you’re doing, and generally make sure you’re learning this the right way. Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. If you practice a technique you’ve only seen on a DVD, you run the risk of doing it incorrectly and having to unlearn it in class. Instead, practice what you’ve learned in previous classes to make sure you’ve really got that material down before coming to a more advanced class. As I mentioned earlier, to get the most out of intermediate and advanced classes your drawstroke (or long gun mount) needs to be really solid. Practice these until they’re utterly ingrained.

Finally, bring the right equiptment to class. Every class comes with a list of required equipment and other stuff you need to bring. Make sure you bring everything on these lists. The listed number of magazines is a minimum. More magazines are always better. Load your magazines before class (classes often include dry drills, so it’s good to leave leave one or two empty for that purpose. Similarly, stated ammunition counts are minimums, bring more if you’ve got it. If you have a second gun, or spare parts and the knowledge to install them, bring them.

Test your gear before coming to class. Don’t bring a gun you’ve never shot, or a holster you’ve never drawn from. Some folks say that an SI class is a great way to test your equipment. It’s certainly true, anything you bring to an SI course will get run hard, but this does not absolve you of the responsibility to test your gear beforehand. I have seen students come to class with equipment problems that fifteen minutes on the range, or even fifteen minutes of dry practice, would have uncovered. Some of them had to struggle against their gear through an entire class.

If you’re coming to a rifle class, zero your rifle ahead of time. For intermediate and advanced rifle classes, generally the shooting exercise in the course is shooting from prone to verify everyone’s zero. We can do some corrections, but there isn't time to zero everyone’s rifle from scratch. If you come with an unzeroed rifle, you’re going to be shooting a poorly zeroed rifle for the class. In basic level rifle classes we understand that not everybody knows how to zero their rifle, that’s one of the things we teach in the class, after all. If you do know how to zero your rifle, however, it’s still a good idea to do it ahead of time. That way you can spend more of the class working on your marksmanship, rather than your gun.

SI classes are usually held on outdoor ranges and training will continue even in inclement weather. Make sure you have appropriate clothing, rain gear, headgear, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Temperature can vary throughout the day, so wearing layers can make it easier to adjust as the day goes on. Bring more layers than you think you'll need. Many ranges where we teach don’t have seating available, so a camp chair is a good addition to your gear.

During Class

As mentioned earlier, we throw a lot of information at you in SI classes, enough that most folks won’t remember it all. Taking some notes will help you retain more of the information we cover in class. This is where having watched the DVD or read the book really comes in handy in cutting down on the amount of note taking. If you remember something from the DVD or book, you may not need to take notes on it because you already have a reference for that information. I find it helpful to take really terse notes that will be just enough to help me remember things until that evening, when I can flesh them out a bit more.

After Class

After class start out by going back and watching the DVD or reading the book again. After you’ve seen these techniques in action and done them under a watchful eye of an instructor you can pick up on some subtleties you may have missed the first time out. It’s also easier to place some things in the proper context once you’ve got some actual experience with them. Go over your notes to review any material from the class that wasn’t in the book or DVD.

At SI, we teach more in one of our two-day classes than some other schools teach in four or five. This is one of the things that make SI classes such a bargain. One of the ways we accomplish this is not to do as many repetitions of each drill. We still think you need these repetitions, but we assume you’re an adult and you don’t need an instructor standing over your shoulder for every one of them. There’s an old saying, “Amateurs practice until they can get it right, professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.” In class, we’ll give you enough practice to get it right. It’s your responsibility to go home and practice what you learned in class until you can’t get it wrong.

In the intermediate and advanced classes, SI teaches lots of things like dynamic movement and shooting from unusual positions that will make many more traditionally minded folks, including many range operators, freak out. This can make it difficult to practice skills from SI classes in a live-fire environment. If you’ve got access range where you can shoot during dynamic movement, definitely take advantage of it. If you don’t, however, you can still practice almost everything we teach using dry fire or an airsoft gun.

Finally, we hope that you sign up for another class. One of the great things about SI is the variety and depth of the courses we offer. There’s always more to learn.

Thanks to my fellow SI instructors for feedback on this piece and additional ideas for getting the most out of a class.

CQB class with Gabe Suarez

Earlier this month I took the Suarez International Close Quarters Battle (CQB) class from Gabe Suarez in Prescott. This class is a rather unusual: a course on how to defend yourself with a firearm that involves absolutely no shooting. Not even airsoft guns for force-on-force. As Gabe put it, this class is more like chess than UFC. Unlike most of the more advanced SI classes there is no rolling around on the ground with a rifle or wrestling with another guy while you try to get your pistol into play, this class has a much more intellectual bent. There is certainly a physical component, but it involves how to move into a position where you can shoot, rather than how to hit or shoot someone. The goal of this class is to give students the skills they need to maneuver into a position where any gunfight will be as one-sided as possible.

The class had ten students in it, including three SI Instructors: Richard Coplin, Jon Payne, and myself. One of the students was a LEO, while another was in the Executive Protection business, but the rest of us were common citizens. One student could only attend the first day, so we dropped to nine on Sunday (which worked quite well with three man teams).

Friday Evening

Unlike most SI classes, this one began on Friday evening rather than Saturday morning. The topic involves quite a bit of theory and explanation that Gabe wanted to go through before we got to taking corners and going through doors. If he hadn’t, the next two days would have been filled with interruptions for questions about the lecture material.

We began by talking about defining your mission. A citizen defending his home has a very different mission than a police officer searching a structure. The citizen who lives alone or who has gathered all his family members in one room has a very different mission than one who hears screams from the children’s room. The mission will affect the tempo of movement, willingness to use deadly force, and the amount of target identification required before shooting.

While there are many possible variations, Gabe grouped them into four missions: setting up an ambush, search and clear, locate and kill, and traverse and escape. If you’re home alone and hear intruders, it’s much better to bunker up and call 911. While it’s politically incorrect to say so, in this circumstance you’re effectively setting up an ambush set up an ambush and letting the intruders come to you instead of playing hunt the burglar.

Although staying put and calling for help is sometimes the wisest course, you may not always have enough information to do so. When you are woken by a crash from downstairs, you may not know whether it was a burglar knocking over a lamp or a picture falling from the wall. There are circumstances where a sound is suspicious enough you don’t want to roll over and go back to sleep, but doesn’t provide enough information for you to call 911. These are circumstances where a civilian may want to search and clear a structure. For a police officer, circumstances requiring searching a structure are far more common. Burglar alarms, open door calls, and 911 calls from citizens reporting an intruder in their house may all require searching a structure.

Searching and clearing is a slow and deliberate process, but sometimes circumstances call for more speed. If you’re fairly certain there are intruders in the home and you need to retrieve your children from their rooms, you may not have time to clear the house in a slow and deliberate manner. If you start hearing screams from your daughter’s room, deliberation is probably going out the window. Nevertheless, rushing heedlessly through the house could get you killed before you get a chance to help your daughter. It is possible to trade safety for speed without entirely giving up the former. This is locate and kill. The police equivalent is hostage rescue or warrant service. Time is of the essence, requiring the sacrifice of some of the safety afforded by a slow and deliberate search.

Traverse and escape occurs at a similar tempo to locate and kill, but the goal is to elude the opponent, rather than find him. If you and your family are in a public place in the middle of an active shooter or terrorist incident, the immediate objective is to get those whose lives you are entrusted to protect out of there as quickly and safely as possible. Bodyguards have similar obligations to their protectees. Of course, police officers, and perhaps citizens without protective obligations (as their conscience dictates) in the same situation may find themselves in a locate and kill mission rather than traverse and escape.

After the discussion of missions, Gabe moved on to six tactical principles. #1, keep your mission in mind. #2, look ahead and have a backup plan. Don’t just get fixated on the immediate problem you’re trying to solve, think ahead to the next problem and have an alternative ready for when things go wrong. #3, understand distance. More is generally better, but more is not always available, especially in a CQB environment. #4, know the tradeoff between benefit and liability of different courses of action. #5, risk is the currency of tactics. As Gabe put it, “Hunting an armed human being inside a structure is not safe.” Almost anything you try to accomplish is going to have some element of risk. Understand what risks you are taking and what you are accomplishing by taking them. #6, every movement should put your eye and gun muzzle on a potential threat.

We moved on to a discussion of architecture. Gabe asked us to name architectural elements that could be obstacles during CQB, and we came up with more than a dozen. Most of this bewildering variety, however, can be viewed as combinations of corners. The corner is the fundamental building block of CQB. If you have the skills to take a corner, applying those to T-intersections, doorways, windows, stairs, balconies, even furniture is not much of a leap.

Step 1 when approaching a corner is to recognize that you have a corner, preferably as far in advance of it as you can. Step 2 is to identify it as right or left handed. Right and left hand corner terminology can be a bit confusing. In CQB it doesn’t refer to which way the corner turns, but which hand it’s easier to use to negotiate it. Thus, when a hallway bends 90 degrees to the left, it’s a right handed corner, because you can lead with your right hand when rounding it. Step 3 is to identify the apex, the point of the corner that’s going to be your pivot point.

Once you’ve identified all the characteristics of a corner, it’s time to start slicing the pie: moving carefully in a circle that pivots on the apex and examining the area beyond the corner one small slice at a time. The goal is to locate a possible opponent before he is aware of you. Once you’ve located him, you have a decision to make: take the corner or pull back. This is where keeping your mission in mind is important. If you are investigating the crash from downstairs in the middle of the night and you see a stranger going through your silverware drawer, that pretty much answers any question about what the noise was. You may decide this would be a good time to withdraw t a protected position and dial 911. On the other hand, if your kids are in a room somewhere beyond the burglar, withdrawal may be out of the question.

If you are going to take the corner, Gabe recommends moving out decisively and shooting the opponent on the move, rather than rolling out and risk having him see you. The overall effect is much like getting off the X in a reactive gunfight.

With the cornerstone laid, we moved on to talking about more complex situations, starting with a T-intersection at the end of a hallway. A T-intersection is basically two corners you have to work at the same time. Since we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, you need to work one side up to the point of decision, then turn around and work the other side. If you aren’t able to identify a specific threat without exposing yourself, you have to make a decision about which side you think is more dangerous (or if they’re equally dangerous, just go with your strong side). Move decisively out into the intersection and glance for a target in the direction you’re going. If there is one, engage. If not, immediately look behind you (with your gun following your eyes as quickly as possible) for a threat in that direction. Having to divide your attention like this is obviously a lot more dangerous than working a single corner.

A doorway is a lot like a T-intersection. Unlike the intersection, you may not be confined to a narrow hallway. On the other hand, if the door is closed, you may have to negotiate opening it as well, which can be a challenge. If a door is closed, consider your mission and think about whether you can bypass it. Perhaps you can put something in front of the door that will alert you if an opponent opens it behind you. When approaching a closed door, look for the knob and hinges to get an idea of which way it swings. If you can see the hinges, it opens towards you, otherwise it opens away from you. Be on the lookout for a self-closing mechanism. These make it much more difficult to deal with a door (to the point where if you have to deal with one, consider other entry possibilities). If possible, approach the door from the knob side. Turn the knob quietly and swing it open, then back away to give yourself a little distance. Once the door is open, treat it much like a T-intersection.

When entering the room, you need to triage possible threats. Check the hard corners (the corners on either side of the door) first. If the door opens inward, check behind it next. Then check behind furniture, then under furniture and inside closets. The logic behind this order is that not only are the hard corners the most dangerous spots, they’re also where someone determined to do you harm is most likely to hide (the interior of a wardrobe is a lousy place to ambush someone). Someone hiding under the bed is probably more concerned with escaping detection than doing you harm.

Finally, we spent some time talking about stairs. These can be tricky to clear, combining horizontal and vertical corners. The military prefers to clear down stairs rather than up, largely because they have grenades, which work better going down. For those of us without access to handheld explosives, clearing up is generally easier, because you can lead with your weapon, rather than your feet. However, you often won’t have much choice in the matter: if you start out in an upstairs bedroom, you’ll end up clearing down whether you want too or not.

We wrapped up the evening with a discussion of gear. This isn’t really an equipment focused class, but we talked about lights (both weapon mounted and handheld), night vision goggles, weapons, armor, a trauma kit, and a cellphone. This last item is one of the most important, because it allows you to decline the role of burglar hunter and call in the professionals.

This concluded the Friday night braindump. Tomorrow we would start putting this into practice.

Saturday

We spent most of Saturday in the upper level of SI Headquarters in Prescott. This is a large open area with reception desk, lined with offices on one side and a conference room and two bathrooms on the other. There were lots of corners and opportunities to practice clearing rooms.

We began by working on some simple corner exercises. Gabe pointed out that it’s important to scan both at eye level and down to the floor as you take each slice of the pie. This is partially because the opponent may be crouching down for concealment, but more because the feet are often the first thing to become visible. As usual, Gabe emphasized moving naturally, with your toes pointing the direction you’re moving as you slice the pie, rather than side stepping with your toes pointed at the apex. Keeping your toes pointed in the direction you’re going allows a smoother gait and a more natural stance, as well as making it easier for you to bolt forward or pull backwards as the situation requires.

If the student clearing the corner did a good job leading with their eye and gun they almost always saw some sign of their opponent before the opponent saw them. Usually a bit of foot, pants, or shirt gave the opponent away. The problem lies in determining if this was enough to justify shooting. Again, this depends on your mission. A homeowner who knows everyone who lives in the house is safely behind him may be able to make that determination simply based on the presence of someone who should not be there. A police officer, or a citizen doing traverse and escape from a public place is probably going to require more information. It’s possible to continue slicing the pie to get a better look at the opponent, but at some point he’s going to see you and then it’s a much more even fight. We don’t really want to give him a sporting chance. One option is to get lower. Most adults tend to only notice things at eye level. If you crouch down or drop into Spetsnaz prone you can roll out further with less chance of being noticed, but this is still risky. Gabes preferred solution is to adapt getting off the X to clearing corners. If you come around the corner at a good clip, you have a little bit of time before the opponent can cycle through his observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop and adjust to hit you. During that half second or so, you can see if he has a gun, how he’s acting, and generally whether he presents a threat. If he does, you can still get a few shots off before he manages to get his gun around and shoot you.

Gabe had a couple of long guns available, both short barreled rifles: an Uzi, and a Suchka AK. I did a bit of work with the Suchka to see how it worked taking corners. Gabe suggested arresting the sling (grabbing the middle of the sling with your support hand and clasping it to the forend) to prevent it from possible swinging wide and revealing your location to the fellow around the corner. His other suggestion was to cant the gun outward about 30-45 degrees. This not only helps you expose less of your shoulder and head, it also keeps the elbow tucked in tight, rather than sticking out. Rolling the gun out can also be helpful with a pistol, though the advantages aren’t quite so pronounced.

One thing of absolute importance whether you’re using a long gun or a pistol is to be able to use it ambidextrously. Switching to the left side for a left-hand corner allows you to expose so much less of yourself it is an enormous advantage. Gabe demonstrated a couple of techniques for using a pistol on opposite side corners and while they’re better than nothing, they don’t even come close to the advantages of ambidexterity.

After we were fairly comfortable doing corners, we moved on to doors. If the door is closed, you need to deal with that first. We discovered that there’s a bit of an art to shoving a door so it swings open and stays there. Too soft, and it will stop half open. Too hard and it will bounce off the wall, making noise and swinging back in your way. As we talked about the previous night, doors are essentially two corners. You need to pie them both, looking deep into the room, then decide how you’re going to enter. The fundamental decision is which of the hard corners (those on either side of the door) you’re going to head for first. Sometimes the geometry of the layout will make this decision for you, sometimes you will perceive more danger on one side of the room or the other. When you go through the door, it’s important to do it at an angle where the opening is wide enough to get through easily. When you’re through, you’ve got a fraction of a second to scan the hard corner in front of you for threats and either address them, or conclude it’s empty. If there are no threats, you need to immediately look behind you and check the other corner.

This is where the advantages of a team really come into focus. One guy can do a great job taking a single corner. As soon as you get to something like a door, however, one solo guy is really trying to do the work of two or three. While the team tactics were reserved for Saturday, Gabe gave us a quick preview to show how much easier this sort of thing is with two guys.

Gabe also showed us how to deal with self closing doors using one of the building’s exterior doors. The short answer is it can be done, but it really sucks. You’ve got to stay in physical contact with the door, which keeps you up near the fatal funnel and makes you a much better target.

We took a break for lunch. Mark Swain came in and opened up the One Source Tactical warehouse for business. I bought a couple of the new US PALM AK battlegrips to equip my AKs before the AK class next month.

After lunch, Gabe showed some pictures of a house he looked at in Scottsdale. It had some of the most difficult sets of features imaginable. Combinations of doors, stairways, and windows presented some very complicated clearing problems. Even with just half a day and an evening of this under our belts we were able to do a pretty good job identifying (if not solving) the danger areas.

Gabe brought up a couple of discussion points based on what he’d seen during the morning. One was that if you need to make a big change in orientation (like addressing the hard corner behind you after you go through a door) it’s better to bring your gun back close to the body and drive it out in the new direction than to swing it at arms length. It’s both quicker and less prone to overswinging past the target. The other thing he mentioned is the need to move smoothly and quietly, or as he put it, “Move more like a cat and less like a dog.”

We moved on to talking about low light tactics. There was quite a bit of discussion on how to use lights properly. When doing this kind of thing, Gabe advocates having both a handheld light and a weapon light. The weapon light makes it a lot easier to switch hands and operate the gun and the light at the same time. The handheld light allows you to use a floating light to illuminate from a different angle (over the top of an obstacle while you look around the side, for instance) or to set a light down illuminating an area while you move away and do something else (this is a pretty good way to cover your back while you address another danger area, since an opponent probably won’t want to move into a brightly illuminated area).

Rather than using a constant beam, Gabe advocates quick, irregular flashes from the light. This makes it harder for the opponent to pin down your location and is much less of a bullet magnet than a constantly illuminated light. Another technique he talked about is bouncing the light off a wall or ceiling to illuminate a room. This is particularly good with more than one guy, where one can illuminate from a relatively safe position while the other is essentially invisible as long as he stays out of the beam itself so he can move around and get a good angle. Another trick Gabe showed us was using the flashlight briefly when moving through the door from a brightly illuminated area to a dark one to keep yourself from being silhouetted.

After working in low light for a bit, we moved on to complex problems. Boy was this one a doozie. Each student was asked to clear the upper floor of SI HQ by themselves. This is a large open area surrounded by offices, bathrooms, and a conference room with almost a dozen doors opening on to it. Gabe was usually nice and declared some of these safe, but it was still a tremendously challenging area to try and clear single-handed. Each student got a different starting point, so there was some variety in the problem. After each student cleared the area, Gabe and the peanut gallery had a chance to critique his performance. As we went along, Gabe started spicing things up by asking other students to hide in some of the rooms to provide a challenge for the student searching. There were some mistakes that were common to several students. Most commonly, students were rather noisy, especially when they got near critical points. Clearing, particularly single handed, really depends on stealth. Noisy footsteps can mean the difference between sneaking up on a bad guy and walking into an ambush. Many students became fixated on a particular problem and didn’t pay any attention to uncleared areas behind them. Sometimes clearing by yourself means turning your back on potential threats, but you still need to glance back there occasionally. Some extended their gun through doors before committing to the space, giving away their position. Others lingered in doorways or exposed themselves too long.

Sunday

Gabe brought in a suppressor for his Suchka to give us a feel for how adding one changed the weight and balance of the weapon. He also showed off his red dot equipped Glock in a CQB configuration with a Streamlight light/laser combo and a happy stick. This lead to a bit of discussion of lasers and how they compare to a red dot. Gabe likes lasers for some very specialized applications, but generally finds a red dot far more useful.

After playing with the cool gear, we moved into a lecture on team tactics. While a team of highly trained operators is obviously the best case, that level of support probably isn’t very likely for most of us. More realistically, we may have access to someone with some weapons training, but without the sort of tactical skills like the ones taught in this class. This doesn’t make them useless in a CQB environment, however. A big part of the danger in clearing a structure alone is having to turn your back on other danger areas while you try to clear a particular room or corner. Even relatively inexperienced shooters can help mitigate this provided they can do four things: hold, point, press the trigger, and follow orders. You can plant them in a particular spot, pointed in at a danger area, tell them to shoot anyone who comes out that door, and rely on them to keep doing that, until you tell them otherwise. This last part is the difficult bit, since they need to keep covering their assigned danger area even if you get into a gunfight while taking the corner behind them. If they turn around and pay attention to what you’re doing, you could both end up dead from a second opponent coming from the danger area to investigate the sounds of gunfire.

Compared to team tactics in rural environments, team members in CQB operate in far closer proximity. Out in the boonies, elements of a team may spread out 40 yards apart or more. Inside, you want to be in visual, if not physical, contact at all times. This kind of close coordination is necessary to keep everyone on the same page and keep it functioning as a team rather than a gaggle of individuals.

We talked about various formations. While the arrangement of team members can vary, they’re all built on the same basic fundamentals. Each team member has a given sector that it’s their job to cover as you move. Different formations can emphasize forward coverage, or coverage to the sides or rear.

Gabe also talked about something I’ve never heard mentioned positively in an SI class before: walking backwards. In most cases, Gabe is not a fan of backpedaling. It’s slower than pointing your toes in the direction you want to go and it makes it too easy to loose your balance and go over backward. Everything has a place, however. If you’re the tailgunner on a formation and your job is to cover the rear, or if your formation needs to withdraw, backpedaling is going to be an effective solution.

There are several methods for taking a corner with two people. One os to use the second team member to cover another danger area while the first takes the corner solo. If you don’t have another danger area to contend with, one team member can crouch or drop down to Spetsnaz prone and roll out below the line of sight while the other moves dynamically, putting two guns on the target from separated positions. The third method is to have both team members move dynamically around the corner in formation. This is the most difficult, as it requires very closely synchronized movement from the two shooters.

While two team members don’t really offer huge advantages over one when taking a simple corner, the advantages of a team really become evident when taking doors. The ability to address both hard corners almost simultaneously is huge. Gabe’s favored method for doing this is the criss-cross. You start with the #1 guy and the #2 guy on either side of the door. The #1 guy crouches down and goes through the door towards the opposite hard corner (if he’s on the right side of the door, he goes toward the hard corner on the left). The #2 guy moves just and instant later. He goes high, using his support hand to push down on the #1 guys back ensuring he remains out of the line of fire if necessary. This results in both shooters entering the room almost simultaneously. Executed well, it’s really incredibly slick. Even if the opponent initially sees the #1 guy’s back, before he gets a chance to fire the #2 guy is going to be in there t take him out.

Sometimes circumstances may not allow the criss-cross. For instance, if both shooters are on the same side of the door and you don’t have the ability or time to set up one in either side, The #1 shooter can enter at a crossing angle as if it were a criss cross while the #2 shooter buttonhooks around to address the other hard corner. This doesn’t get a gun on that second corner as fast as the criss cross, but it’s still pretty good. An alternative is for both shooters to enter on the same diagonal line as a criss cross, but one directs his attention to the rear to address the other corner (much like getting off the X on a 7 o’clock line).

Gabe also talked about an alternative to the buttonhook. Rather than swinging around the corner in a tight arc, you basically come into the door at an angle, then plant your foot on the floor up against the door jam on the opposite side and push off it to change direction. This is faster than a buttonhook and it results in your entering the room at an angle, rather than running right down the wall. Running the walls is a widely used tactic in the SWAT world, but it’s not one that Gabe really approves of. If there’s someone in the hard corner, coming in parallel to the wall is just like taking the 12 o’clock line and charging right towards the opponent when getting off the X: there’s no relative movement at all, making it easy for the opponent to hit you.

The other major situation that might prevent a criss-cross entry when taking a door is a room with only one hard corner. If the door is near the corner, rather than the middle of a wall, there’s no place for one of the guys doing a cross cross to go. In this case, the second guy can buttonhook in behind the first.

Another possibility that Gabe mentioned, but didn’t really approve of was a ‘guns only’ entry. In this case, team members remain outside the room and just lean in, weapon in hand, to get a view of the hard corners. Gabe doesn’t really like this because if there’s someone there, you’re pretty much locked into a stationary position trading gunfire with the guy. This sort of thing is favored by some, including the Israelis, for very quick clearing in an active-killer type situation. In that kind of situation, where it’s obvious from the sound of gunfire where the killing is going on, Gabe favors simply bypassing rooms on the way, treating each as a danger area as you go by.

This lead to some discussion of CQB equivalents of the Australian Peel (for rearward movement under fire) and bounding overwatch (for forward movement under fire).

We also had a nice discussion about how to use these techniques with family members. This segued into a more general discussion of preparing your wife and kids for how to act in a high risk situation. This sort of family readiness is a really important area that often gets ignored, even by folks who dedicate a lot of time and effort to increasing their own level of readiness.

Gabe wrapped up the lecture and discussion and we split up into two-man elements. We started out working some corners, trying the different methods described earlier. After we had a chance to work with corners we moved on to doors. To me, the criss-cross entry method really proved its mettle. It sounds a little complicated at first, but even relative beginners like the folks in the class were able to get it to work reliably. It is incredibly effective on getting guns to bear at both corners as fast as possible.

With some experience working in two man teams on single corners or doors, we moved on to three man groups and more complex problems. Each team had to clear about half of the second floor of SI HQ, either the conference room and bathrooms, or four offices. Compared to what we did yesterday, clearing similar areas solo, doing it with three was far easier. Not only could you conduct two man entries, the third guy could cover danger areas not yet searched so the other two could concentrate on one problem at a time.

With that, we broke for lunch. During the break, the topic of conversation turned to knife fighting. Gabe talked a bit about his ideas on knife use, and showed off some of the techniques he was working on (somehow Jon always seemed to end up as the demonstration dummy). They’re really some interesting ideas, oriented heavily towards the use of the knife as a defensive weapon in a non-permissive environment where you can’t carry a gun. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m really interested in seeing how this goes.

After lunch we resumed work in three man teams. This time, one team had to clear the entire second floor while the rest of the class watched. This is a fairly big problem, with lots of different danger areas to keep track of. Generally, one team member covered the unsearched areas while the other two worked on the problem at hand. We ran each team through it once, then switched team leaders and did it again. The second time through, when I was team leader, Gabe made us do it without speaking. This added an element of difficulty. It also slowed things down and made us take our time a little more, which was his objective. I think I did a pretty good job. I took a slightly different path than other folks did, one that allowed us to use all three of us to clear the trickiest pair of offices in the corner, rather than just two.

After each three man team had a chance to clear the upper floor twice, we moved downstairs. The lower level of SI HQ is more of a warehouse type space. This is where One Source Tactical does it’s business. There was a loading dock area and a couple of computer workstations in the front, and a back room with couple of rows of shelving filled with tactical gear. A small bathroom provided a place to hide. The more devious hiding spot was ‘the cave’. This is basically a full height crawlspace underneath part of the upper level with bare dirt and rock for the floor and cinderblock walls. It’s also pitch black, providing a good chance to use our low-light skills. Many of the students had been down here, but we hadn’t done any tactical work downstairs yet, so this was a new challenge. As Jon Payne put it, “This is going to suck, but it’s going to be a good kind of suck.”

We started with three man teams, while three other students hid in various spots. Our job was to spot them before they spotted us. My team was the second through and we suffered some communication problems. One team member saw the door to the cave and told the team leader “door”. The leader said “okay”, intending it to mean, “yes, I see the door”. The team member interpreted it as, “ok, take the door” and yanked it open and entered, leaving the team leader playing catch up and me standing there all by my lonesome covering unsearched areas. The student hiding in the cave would have been able to get both of them without being seen. The other difficulty we encountered was when the two team members searched the bathroom using their flashlights. As I pointed out later, there was plenty of ambient light in the room to search without using a light to telegraph your position. A light is vital in some places, like the cave, but they should be a last resort, not a first resort.

After every team of three had a chance to run it, we moved up to teams of five. While not quite as dramatic as going from one guy to three, a team of five offered a lot of advantages. Each team member has a smaller responsibility, allowing him to devote more attention to it. This allowed us to move faster and still search more thoroughly. We divided up our five man team into two, 2-man elements and a team leader (though the two man elements kind of got mixed up later on). Richard Coplin had a unique solution to the cave: he opened the door and reached around to the light switch and turned it on, turning it into a very different sort of problem.

After running everybody through in a five man team Gabe brought out his night-vision monocular and gave us a chance to go into the cave and try it out. He had a blue gun with Trijicon night sights and had us clap the monocular over our left eye while we held the pistol in our right hand and superimposed the three dots of the night sights (seen through the right eye) on the target (seen through the left eye and night vision monocular). It was pretty neat. Just as we were finishing up the batteries gave out (one of the potential disadvantages of this kind of technology). I was surprised to learn that it ran off AAAs. I was expecting some sort of more exotic battery.

We adjourned upstairs for the final debriefing. This was only the second time he taught the class and it’s still evolving, so he was really interested in our feedback. We talked quite a bit about the class, and what other, complementary classes we’d like to see. After some good discussion he handed out the certificates and we left.

Final Thoughts

This was really a great class. It was rather different from other firearms classes I’ve taken, much more about movement and the mind than it is about direct confrontation. As Gabe said on Friday night, it’s more like chess than UFC.

Despite this course’s name, and it’s placement in the High Risk Operator series of classes (which are otherwise oriented more towards light infantry tactics) this class was definitely oriented more towards citizens who want to defend their homes and loved ones than SWAT team members or military servicemen. Gabe is a former SWAT guy, but he clearly recognizes that you can’t just scale down SWAT tactics to one guy and have them work for the individual operator. When you can throw a flashbang and six guys in armor with automatic weapons at a problem, you can use tactics that just aren’t going to work for one guy sneaking around with a pistol.

Even the team tactics work we did on Sunday recognized that your team probably won’t be six highly trained guys who work together on a daily basis. It’s likely to include folks who can shoot, but don’t necessarily have tactical training like this class.

While I emphasized the civilian aspects of this, it seems to me that this class would also be really useful for an ordinary patrol officer. Indeed, it seems like the class drew on Gabe’s experience on patrol as much as it did on his SWAT experience. He talked quite a bit about working solo, with a partner, or with pick-up teams where not all members have the same training or level of experience.

This class really gave me a greater appreciation for the pistol as a CQB weapon. I can just imagine trying to do some of these things using a full length rifle in some of the tighter spaces of my house. Short barreled shoulder weapons like the Suchka and Uzi Gabe had available during class help, but even they can’t match the flexibility provided by a pistol. There’s definitely a balancing act between the added firepower of a long gun and the added length. I don’t think I’ll be giving up on my AK as a home defense weapon, but it may stay in the bedroom (or slung across my back) if I need to move around the house. I’ll also be looking pretty hard at acquiring a short barreled rifle or pistol caliber carbine to try to fill the intermediate role between a full length rifle and a pistol.

One of the thing that makes a pistol so flexible is the ability to move it in and out from a retention position to full extension as the available space dictates. Even though this was a non-shooting class, I was still struck by how useful the things I learned from Roger Phillips in Point Shooting Progressions and Advanced Point Shooting Progressions. Being able to effectively use all points on the retention continuum is a great asset in confined spaces. The non-horizontal shooting exercises we did in APSP blend nicely with “the muzzle follows the eye” principle of addressing danger areas. I was really glad to have taken his classes before taking this one and I think the skills mesh very nicely.

Although this class had some coverage of low light techniques, it was of necessity fairly brief, as just one element in a much broader program. However, it does leave me very much looking forward to Randy Harris’ low light force on force class in October. I’ve done a bit of low light work before this, but it’s an area that merits going into in a lot more depth.

One of the things Gabe emphasized is the need to learn this stuff slow before kicking up the speed. You really need to master doing things at the search and clear speed before you can move up to the locate and kill or traverse and escape speed. Moving faster will still be more risky, but if you know how to do it slow, you can still be reasonably safe at higher speeds. Gabe says this problem even affects some SWAT teams. They’re so eager to get to the high-speed hostage rescue stuff they don’t really master the fundamentals. I’ve certainly got a lot of practice ahead of me in both the physical aspects of taking corners and doors and the mental aspects of planning and thinking my way through the tactical problems presented by different environments before I’m really good at this.

Overall, this was an excellent class and I learn an enormous amount. I would encourage people not to let the name of the class or the subject matter intimidate them. If you intend to defend your home or carry a pistol into public places that might attract an active shooter or terrorist, this class provides fundamental knowledge that you really need. The ability to win a head to head fight is certainly vital, but if I can, I would much rather maneuver and use the environment to my advantage to make any fight as lopsided as possible. The knowledge from this class is a big step enabling me to do that.

Kalashnikov Classes with Gabe Suarez

Earlier this summer I had a chance to take five days of AK classes with Gabe Suarez in Prescott. The five days were divided up into three classes: Kalashnikov Rifle Marksmanship, Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting, and Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force. This was a really great set of classes and they increased my comfort level with the AK tremendously.

In addition to Gabe, we also had the services of SI Instructors Dale Hunter (for the entire class), Doug Little, Uli Gebhard, and Richard Coplin (for several days each).

I shot these classes using my Arsenal SLR-107F in 7.62x39mm. Everyone in the classes were using an AK pattern rifle, with a mix of Arsenals, nice Fuller builds, and various other rifles. 7.62 rifles were the most common, with a minority in 5.45mm. My rifle was set up with a forward mounted Aimpoint Micro on an Ultimak rail. There were lots of other folks in the class with optics, with Ultimak mounted Aimpoints being the most common. One fellow had a Russian optic, while another brought out a rifle with a scout scope on it later in the day. While there were a lot of optics, many rifles had only iron sights. I fed my rifle out of a sneaky bag, as did many in the class. The majority of shooters were using more tactical gear of some sort or another, including plate carriers, tactical vests, chest rigs, and other similar equipment. This class included some work with pistol transitions. I recently bought a Glock 17 and I figured this would be a good opportunity to put some more rounds through it, so I carried it instead of my usual Glock 21. Glocks of various types were by far the most common pistol, with a substantial number of XDs and a few other models.

Kalashnikov Rifle Marksmanship

This was a basic course, intended both as an introduction for some, and a refresher for more experienced folks before the Advanced and Force on Force classes.

We started off with the safety lecture. In addition to the standard gun safety stuff, Gabe also discussed how to avoid some of the unique hazards of training in Arizona: the heat, the altitude, venomous insects, and snakes. This was followed by a discussion of the AK system. Gabe discussed the basic features of the rifle and did some compare and contrast with other systems, particularly the AR. In addition to the weapon itself, he also talked a bit about support gear, like slings, sneaky bags, and chest rigs.

Before going hot, we did some dry practice, working the AK safety, magazine, bolt, and trigger. This was followed by some dry fire in the different shooting positions. We paired up and had one partner work the charging handle while the other worked the trigger. Since I’ve become an instructor, I started looking at some of these things a bit differently. In this case, I noticed that while the announced purpose of the drill was to get us a chance to work the different shooting positions, everyone also got a bunch of practice on the trigger reset. We did the drill in prone, sitting, kneeling, squatting, and standing.

Finally, we went hot and did our first shooting, firing a three round group from prone at about 25 yards. As with all of the shooting in today’s class, this was slow fire, marksmanship oriented shooting. One of the goals for this particular exercise was to get a decent zero on everybody’s rifle. I was dead on with both my optic and irons, but many in the class needed some adjustment. This was also an opportunity for Gabe to show off the new sight adjustment tool that OST is selling. We all fired a second three round burst to allow anyone who made an adjustment to confirm the results.

We broke for lunch, with everyone eating at the range as there were no restaurants within any sort of reasonable drive.

After lunch, we picked up with the position shooting, shooting three round groups from sitting, kneeling, squatting, and standing. During this sequence, one of the students had some real trouble. Gabe did a great job working with her, isolating the problem, and helping her overcome it. As a new instructor, watching that alone was worth the price of admission for this class.

We also had one gun malfunction during these drills, and Gabe seized the opportunity to talk about malfunction clearance (given the AK’s legendary reliability, you need to seize these teaching moments when they come up). He went throughout eh SI non-diagnostic malfunction drill for the AK (reload, if that doesn’t work, unload, run the bolt, then reload).

Dale gave a lecture on how to field strip and reassemble the AK. He offered us a chance to take our guns apart (I declined, figuring I’ve stripped my AKs enough already).

We finished up the day by doing some longer ranged shooting on steel. We shot at about 35, 75 and 100 yards, shooting from prone, some intermediate position (sitting, squatting, kneeling) and standing at each range. At the closer ranges this was pretty easy in all positions. As the distance increased, the benefit of the more supported positions became apparent to everyone. However, some subtle features of the range made some of the disadvantages of prone apparent. The range was not perfectly flat, it sloped downhill, with a slight bulge in the middle. The bulge was barely apparent when standing, or even kneeling. When prone, however, it made it impossible to hit the two steel targets placed directly on the ground and made it more difficult to hit the ones placed a bit higher on the berm. These sorts of micro-terrain features can create obstacles to shooting from prone.

This was a very worthwhile class. It was quite basic, focusing on the fundamentals of marksmanship and shooting positions. It was a good introduction to the AK platform for some folks who were new to it and attending the more advanced classes the next four days. For those with previous experience, it was a good refresher. This was my first time seeing Gabe run a basic class, my previous experience with him has been in intermediate level classes. I think seeing how he handled this class is going to be quite useful to me as an instructor. This class was an excellent introduction to to five days of AK training.

Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting - Day 1

The class began with some dry drills. Gabe had us all get in a big circle around him and practice reloading. We began by working it stationary, both right and left handed. Then we started walking in a circle and reloading on the move, then did the same at a light jog. We combined reloading with a get off the X drill. We walked in a circle until Gabe signaled a threat by lighting off a round into the berm. At that moment, we had to get off the X and move to cover or drop prone while performing a reload.

Next, Gabe demonstrated 360 degree position shooting. Almost everyone is familiar with the standard rifle shooting positions: kneeling, squatting, sittingand prone. While these positions are more stable and offer a somewhat lower profile, they limit your mobility. It’s important to be able to address threats to your sides or rear from these positions. It’s also important to be able to do so without standing up to face your adversary. There’s probably a reason you dropped down to a lower position, and it likely involved incoming fire. Raising your profile could be hazardous to your health. From the kneeling position, this involved turning to your right and left, with the occasional shoulder transfer or Spetsnaz prone thrown in. From squatting, you either go to kneeling, or spin around into a seated position. Sitting, you either twist left or right, or come up to kneeling. From prone, you have to roll over onto your back and address targets to your sides or rear from there.

After static dry practice, we put these skills to practice by going back into the circle drill. When Gabe shot into the berm, we immediately dropped to a lower position, then kept our rifles trained on him as he walked around. Then Doug or Dale would put one into the berm and we had to reorient on the new threat.

We had a brief discussion on why you would want to get off the X and the dynamics of the OODA loop, then broke for lunch.

Gabe announced that we would be going live after lunch, so during the break I went to load up my Glock. I inserted the mag and went to rack the slide only to find it quite immobile. After I dumped the mag and applied a bit more force, I managed to get it loose, but it was very gritty. I disassembled the gun and poured out about a teaspoon of dirt and sand from the frame and slide. Because we were working dry, I had been rolling around in the dirt without a magazine in the gun. This provided an entry point for all kinds of crap. What I should have done was empty out a mag and used it to plug the magwell, rather than leaving it open.

After lunch we loaded up our rifles and went hot. We started out working the ‘Caveman EOTech’. This is the rifle equivalent of metal on meat point shooting. You look over the rear sights and put the front sight assembly on the target. As long as the target is bigger than the front sight tower, you’re probably going to hit. This isn’t a precision shot, but it will put bullets pretty much where you want them at CQB distances. For those of us with red dot scopes, Gabe asked us to turn the dots off and just shoot through the tube (at least with my setup, you can actually do both: put the front sight tower in the center of the Aimpoint tube.

With the caveman EOTech down, we moved on to position shooting. We started working with contact ready, with the rifle in the shoulder and just lowered an inch or so until we can see the target’s hands over the gun. This gives us a good view and lets us pop the rifle up to a shooting position very quickly. For closer quarters, close contact ready places the butt stock in the armpit, rather than on the shoulder, but serves the same purpose. We fired several bursts starting in each position using the caveman EOTech.

Next were the movement readies. Sul is perhaps better known as a pistol ready position, but it was originally developed for long guns. It’s quite good for moving through confined spaces or crowds of noncombatants. For moving quickly, Gabe showed port arms and the high noon ready (a much more dignified sounding term than the ‘rifle Sabrina’). This is also useful for rapid movement. The vertical orientation makes it less likely that you will cover anyone and leaves one hand free for other purposes (to catch yourself if you trip and fall flat on your face, for instance).

After a few bursts from those positions, we moved on to the last ready position. Patrol ready, sometimes known as Rhodesian ready (though Gabe confided that when he taught in South Africa he met several Rhodesians and they had no idea what heck he was talking about when he mentioned the Rhodesian ready). This is an important one just because if you spend any substantial amount of time with a rifle in your hands, either on the march or just standing around, you’re eventually going to end up in a relaxed ready position about like this. We let loose a few bursts starting in patrol ready to finish up the ready position section.

The next subject was shoulder transfers. One of the big emphases of the SI rifle program is being able to run the gun ambidextrously. Effective use of movement and cover really requires the ability to shoot from both shoulders. A vital part of this skill set is the ability to move the gun from one shoulder to the other. Gabe teaches the ability to shoot from the partial transfer: moving the buttstock to the other shoulder but keeping your primary hand on the pistol grip and your support hand on the forearm or magazine. From there, you can switch hand positions and shoot from a mirror image of your standard shooting position. For right handers, one thing to remember when shooting an AK is the charging handle. Taking the reciprocating charging handle on the thumb hurts (I can say this from painful previous experience). On stamped receiver AKs, there is a pair of rivets right there that make a good index point. Milled receiver guns have a depression cut into the receiver there that can serve the same purpose. We shot a transfer drill that involves firing one shot from the primary shoulder, transferring the support side shoulder and firing a shot, swapping hand positions and firing a shot, transferring back to the primary shoulder and firing again, then switching the hands and repeating from the beginning. This isn’t something you’d do in a fight, of course, but it really isolates the shoulder transfer skills and lets you work them intensively (it also looks really bitchin’ on the DVD trailer).

To apply these shoulder transfer skills, we worked the pacing drill. You basically walk three steps to the left, then three steps to the right, transferring the gun to shoot from the shoulder in the direction you’re going. This gets you used to doing the transfers on the move.

To finish up the day, Gabe provided an application for these skills. He went through the theory of how, why, and in what direction to get off the X. Then we went back out to the range and practiced getting off the X to the 1 o’clock and 11 o’clock directions, shooting on the move and doing shoulder transfers as appropriate.

At this point, class was finished for the day, but the fun was not. One of the students in the class (gunplumber) brought out his pair of PKM machineguns and offered the rest of us a chance to shoot them if we paid for the ammo. I happily ponied up and ran a 100 round belt through the gun. Mounted on the tripod, I found it very easy to control. It was quite accurate, and easy to get short, controlled bursts. I was even able to get down to single shots if I was quick in manipulating the trigger. I’ve shot full auto before, but never a belt fed gun. It was a real blast. I want to thank gunplumber for giving us the opportunity.

Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting - Day 2

Gabe opened up the second day with some discussion of various AK accessories and modifications. He showed his ‘pimp daddy AK’, equipped with a front sight gas block, flash suppressor/muzzle brake, and full Ultimak handguard system. We talked about various optic and stock options, and what modifications were useful in what context. He also teased us about all the cool stuff that was coming from U.S. Palm that he couldn’t tell us about because he had signed a NDA.

As an introduction to the day’s first drills, he recapped the get off the X discussion and talked about the various lines. He demonstrated how to get off the X to the rear obliques, the 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock directions. These angles make it difficult to keep the gun in a conventional shoulder mount or achieve a traditional cheekweld as you torque yourself around to shoot to the rear. It may be necessary to angle the gun either inboard or outboard, or even float the butt off the shoulder entirely.

We ran the 1 and 11 o’clock lines again, repeating yesterday’s last drill, then moved on to the 3 and 9 o’clock directions. As promised, the 5 and 7 o’clock lines came with some more issues. I tried canting the gun both inboard and outboard. I’m running a Surefire G2 in a VLTOR mount on my Ultimak gas tube, which puts the light above and to the left of my handguard. I found that when I canted the gun outboard on my right shoulder, I could use the caveman EOTech technique with the flashlight instead of the front sight tower. On the left shoulder, it seemed easier to cant the gun outboard and just point shoot along the barrel.

We moved on to after action drills. Just because you shot, or even hit, an assailant doesn’t mean the fight is over. Your hits on the target may not have had the desired effect, or he may have friends around. The after action procedure is a structured way to deal with such possibilities. The sequence goes like this:

Did I hit him? Did it work? (drop the rifle to contact ready and take a good look at the guy you just shot to make sure he isn’t a threat any longer)

Does he have any friends? (scan to the right and left looking for additional threats)

Does he have any friends behind me? (do a Sul scan to the rear to make sure there isn’t anyone sneaking up on you)

How is my gun? (reload if appropriate)

How am I? (look down and check yourself for injuries).

In between each of these steps, you return your attention to the target to make sure that his status hasn’t changed. We went through the drill dry a couple of times, then did it live, getting off the X to the 3 and 9 o’clock and running through the full after action checklist.

The next subject was transitions to pistol. Gabe talked about when and why you would want to transition to pistol instead of reloading or clearing a malfunction. He went through various alternatives, including keeping the rifle in hand and running a sling that attaches you to the rifle. He made the case for his favored transition, which involves shoving your support side arm though the sling, raising the rifle over your head, and dropping it so it hangs diagonally across your back. When you get good at this, it becomes more of a ‘toss the rifle over your head’ movement rather than specific steps. As your hands leave the rifle, they drop into a normal draw stroke and produce the pistol.

We worked transitions dry first, starting slowly and increasing the speed. After several repetitions, we went live. Gabe had us insert a single round in the rifle magazine and chamber it. He asked us to pull the trigger three times. The first time would fire the round, the second would get a click as the hammer fell on an empty chamber, and the third would be a dead trigger. Under the stress of a fight, this is probably what you will end up doing, rather than immediately recognizing the click. Upon feeling the dead trigger, we performed the transition and put a burst into the target.

At this point we broke for lunch. After lunch, we did the transition drill on the move. We loaded 3-7 rounds in our rifles and started out down on one end of the line of targets. As we ran down the line we put a round or two into each one until we got a click, then transitioned to our pistols on the move. While everyone had done pretty well on the static transition drills, doing it on the move messed a lot of people up. One AK ended up in the dirt, and a lot ended up hanging either around the neck or on one arm, rather than diagonally across the back, which inhibited both movement and the use of the pistol. Some pistols clearly weren’t in a good position to draw on the move, mainly on guys who were carrying in more tactical rigs like thigh holsters or vests, rather than CCW type belt rigs.

We ran the drill twice moving from left to right (putting the targets on our left side), meaning right handers could shoot the rifle on their strong side and the pistol two handed. Then we did it once moving from across the range from right to left (putting the targets on our right side), forcing most students to shoot their rifle on the support side and their pistol one handed. The weak side transition is a bit more complicated than the strong side one and even more students had trouble with it. I bobbled it a little bit, but at least I managed to get the rifle hanging crosswise on my back. You could tell that some students probably hadn’t taken any of the SI Close Range Gunfighting classes, because when they transitioned with the targets to their right (for right handed shooters) they still tried to shoot two handed. This generally resulted in them ending up sidestepping or walking backwards, rather than keeping their toes pointed in the direction they were going. Guys with SI pistol experience just shot one-handed.

Gabe gave a brief explanation of the basics of fire and movement, where two guys work as a team and one lays down suppressive fire while the other moves up. He illustrated this using some empty shell casings on the ground. Given that this was an AK class, the good guys were a pair of 7.62x39mm casings while the bad guy was a .223.

Before we tried any of the team tactics stuff, Gabe had us do a muzzle aversion drill. We lined up and pointed our rifles towards the targets, then had to either drop them to Sul or pop them up to high noon ready when one of the instructors or a fellow student walked in front of us. Confident that we could keep from muzzling anyone, we lined up into parallel lines, perpendicular to the targets. The front person of each line fired a burst at the target in front of them, the raised their rifle to high noon ready and peeled off to the left or right to file to the back of the line. Everyone had a chance to go through the line and shoot a couple of times, and everyone kept their muzzles pointed safely towards the sky, even when reloading.

These exercises led up to the two-man team drill. We paired up and each pair started down at one end of the line of targets. One shooter would put rounds into the target, while the other moved behind him and took aim at the next target in line. We leapfrogged down the firing line this way until we reached the end.

The shooting part of this really isn’t very challenging. The challenge is to communicate with your partner to make sure at least one of you is putting fire on the targets at all times. You call out “Moving!” to indicate you’re ready to move up. The partner calls out “Covering!” to indicate that he has responsibility to maintain fire while the other moves. The first shooter moves up to the next position (perhaps reloading on the way). When he reaches the firing point, he resumes shooting and calls out “Set!” The process then repeats with the roles reversed. If it’s your responsibility to provide fire and you run out of ammo, you yell out “Checking!” indicating that you’re unable to provide continuing fire and that your partner needs to take up the slack (without explicitly saying that you’re out of ammo).

This seemingly simple procedure proved surprisingly difficult for many of us to execute in practice. Shooters often forgot to yell commands when it was their turn, ran out of ammo, fumbled reloads, etc. My partner and I managed to run out of ammo at the same time, but probably had a smoother run than some other folks. Doing this sort of thing well clearly takes a lot of practice.

Our last exercise was the Columbian Special Forces drill. There were five steel plates set up down at the bottom of the 100 yard range. You started out at the 100 yard line and dropped prone, firing on one of the plates until you got four hits. From there you moved to each of four barrels representing pieces of cover from about the 75 to 25 yard lines, dropping prone and firing until you hit four times form each of these positions. The magazine in your rifle was loaded with just 24 rounds, meaning that if you missed more than four times, you would have to do a reload. Dale set up the cover so that you could only see some of the plates from each position. Dealing with these micro-terrain obstacles and figuring out which plates to shoot from each position was really half the battle. I helped him position the barrels, and made my own subtle contribution by positioning the barrels on the right hand side of the range so it would be more difficult to shoot around the right side of the cover so that students would be encouraged to shoot from both shoulders. It seemed fitting, given SI’s embrace of ambidextrous use of the rifle.

Only two students managed to get through the course without any misses. Some had a lot more. I went towards the end of the class. Many of the previous students ended up leaving pieces of gear, especially magazines, on the range as they went down to or got up from prone. I wanted to avoid this, so I snapped the flap of my sneaky bag shut. This made it less likely that I would leave gear strewn all over the range, but it meant a reload would be a long and painful process. I gambled on my ability to shoot accurately. I was doing quite well at first, making eight straight hits at the first two firing positions. At the third position, however, I missed three times in a row. This is usually the way these things go. You miss once, and you get flustered, causing you to miss again, making you even more frustrated and degrading your performance even more. After the third miss, I told myself to calm down, took a deep breath, reestablished my sight picture and made the hit. After that I went through the rest of the course without another miss, leaving one round left in the gun. Made it through with no reload!

Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting - Final Thoughts

This was a great class. Gabe did an excellent job teaching, ably assisted by Dale, Doug, and Uli. We had a very squared away group of students. In particular, I want to call out the performance of gunplumber’s fourteen year old daughter, who did a great job in the class. Everyone had solid, safe gunhandling skills and was able to deal with the physical demands of the class. Gabe says that the rifle is a physical weapon. It’s much bigger and heavier than a pistol and if you want to use it to it’s maximum potential you have to master getting into and out of shooting positions. This is Arizona, and it was dry, on the warm side (though not as hot as it could have been) and at an altitude of about 5000 feet. These can combine to really kick your butt physically but everyone handled it well. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn how to use the AK to it’s maximum potential or who wants an excellent education in the combat use of the rifle.

This class really left me looking forward to the AK Force on Force class!

Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force - Day 1

This class is run with a mixture of dry rifles and pistols, and airsoft guns. Airsoft AKs are expensive and (as we found out) fragile, so Gabe didn’t expect everyone to bring one. Usually, in a Force on Force class the rule is no live weapons on the range. In this case, because we were working with empty rifles, the rule was no live ammo or any weapons other than empty firearms. We divested ourselves of all knives, blunt weapons, and ammunition and had a partner search us to ensure that nothing dangerous would be introduced into the FoF environment.

We started out doing some stretching. FoF classes are very physical and we don’t want anyone getting hurt. After everyone was loosened up, Gabe had us form two lines, about with about two arm widths between each student. The front student in each line would turn around and slalom through the line, treating each student in line as a corner he has to maneuver around. When he gets to the end of the line, he takes his place there and the next student moves back through the line. Since this is SI class, you are expected to switch shoulders with every corner, always keeping the gun on the outside of the corner you’re working. In the beginning, a lot of people were very tense and hesitant in their movements, but after a couple of runs, they smoothed out quite a bit.

Once we were comfortable running the slalom with rifles, Gabe started out calling for a transition to pistol. Some interior spaces are tight enough that you may be better off negotiating them with a pistol than a rifle. Unlike the reactive transitions we were working on in the Advanced AK class, where you ran out of ammo and needed to get the pistol out as quickly as possible, this was a proactive transition. The number one difference is that for a proactive transition, rather than an inoperative (empty or jammed) rifle, you would have a live round in the chamber, making it necessary to engage the safety before transitioning. Also, rather than the priority being to get the pistol out as quickly as possible, the priority is to have a weapon up and ready to fire at all times. Rather than throwing the gun on your back and drawing your pistol, draw the pistol then sling the rifle. Conversely, when going from pistol back to rifle, get the rifle out, then holster the pistol. Slinging and unslinging the rifle one-handed isn’t something I’ve really practiced, and it showed. This is definitely going to get added to my dry practice regimen.

When we had pistol transitions under control, we added knives to the mix. Gabe illustrated how to use a knife in one hand and a pistol in the other to increase retention when working in close quarters. You hold the gun in a standard retention position and the knife in a reverse grip in your support hand at about neck level. If anyone comes around the corner you’re working and try to grab for your gun, he gets the knife first, then you shoot him off your knife with the pistol. We ran the slalom drill switching between rifle, pistol and both pistol and knife a couple of times.

At this point, there was a discussion of hitting people with guns, including a rather vivid discussion of an occasion when Gabe dealt with a hostage holding bad guy using the muzzle of his pistol. We also talked a bit about contact shots as well.

Back to the slalom drill, we introduced vertical displacements. Most folks tend to see things about eye level, not paying much attention to what’s above or below. Gabe hasn’t quite worked out that combat levitation thing, but getting below eye level is pretty easy. We did the drill again, crouching down or going to Spetsnaz prone as we worked the corners. This finished up the slalom drill.

Gabe discussed the basics of the Pekiti takeoff: unweighting your feet, orienting the feet and hips, loading up the drive leg, and ducking the shoulder. This process helps you get off the X much quicker than simply stepping stepping off. In addition, dropping as you unweight the feet and ducking the shoulder provides vertical displacement, which gets you out of the opponent’s sights faster. Especially against a rifle, you literally drop out of the sight picture in an instant. Though he didn’t refer to it as such, the takeoff that Gabe taught was what those of us who have been around a while know as the enhanced Pekiti, rather than the classic Pekiti that we’ve been doing for the past couple of years. I talked with Gabe after class and he said that he feels the enhanced Pekiti is superior enough that he’s moved to teaching it as the default.

We worked the Pekiti takeoff against the rifle, first with empty hands, then drawing the pistol as we stepped off. We were training for the absolute worst case scenario, being held at gunpoint with the finger on the tripper. The student doing the takeoff initiated the drill while his partner holding him at gunpoint tried to shoot as soon as he saw movement. Generally, the fellow doing the takeoff could get out of the way before the guy with the rifle could drop the hammer. After running the takeoff for a while we broke for lunch.

After lunch, Dale showed how to disarm someone holding a rifle. You grab the gun at the forend and stock and twist the rifle around, either pushing (if you’re on his primary side) or pulling (if you’re on his support side). The comb of the stock gets driven into his neck and he’s either going to let go of the rifle, end up on the ground, or get choked out by the pressure of the stock against the arteries in his neck. There are some tricks to getting the leverage right, but the technique is simple, effective, and usable by a smaller person against a larger one.

He also went through a method for using the AK as an impact weapon. The normal firing grip on a rifle isn’t very natural for using it as an impact weapon. You certainly wouldn’t try to work with a Kali stick that way, for example. From the normal firing grip, you rotate your hands so that the primary hand is grasping the stock from below, just behind the receiver and your support hand is grasping the forend from below. The rifle is held at about shoulder height, muzzle forward.

To employ the rifle as an impact weapon, you follow a simple sequence Dale calls ‘paddling’. Jab the opponent with the muzzle, swing the rifle down and bash him with the stock, jab him with the butt, then swing the rifle up and slash him with the front sight tower. Repeat as necessary. To integrate the footwork with it, you shuffle forward on the jabs and take a step forward on the swings. The overall motion ends up being a lot like paddling a canoe.

Gabe pointed out that when attached to the rifle, a ComBloc bayonet has the sharp edge on the upper edge of the blade. This sort of attack illustrates why. When you do the second swing with a bayonet attached, rather than hitting them with the sight tower, you’re performing a slashing attack with the bayonet. When Gabe started talking about the bayonet, he asked if anyone in the class had one with them. One student, named Ivan, went to get one from his car. On the way back, rather than walking around the long way, he came over the berm. Only at an SI AK class do you really have Ivan coming over the berm with a bayonet!

We talked a bit about what to do if someone tries to disarm you, using either this or some other technique. The standard solution is to let go of the rifle and shoot them with your pistol. You should be able to draw and shoot them long before they get the rifle turned around to shoot you. The flip side of this is that if you disarm someone of their rifle it’s important to immediately turn it into an impact weapon, rather than trying to shoot them with it right away.

One of the things we discovered working the disarms is that if they manage to get the stock out of the shoulder, it becomes much more difficult to get the rifle away from them. Instead, Gabe recommend immediately giving up on the disarm, stepping behind them, and going for the choke. One student pointed out that from the support side you could actually us the rifle to choke them out, turning their efforts to hang on to the rifle against them.

Gabe brought out the airsoft rifles and we resumed work on the Pekiti takeoff and getting off the X. Since we only had three airsoft guns, we split up into three groups. One student in each group tried to get off the X and get his dry rifle on target while another pointed in with the airsoft gun launched a round at the spot where he was standing as soon as he saw movement. I found myself getting hit quite a bit on this drill, much more than I had in previous pistol focused FoF classes. I couldn’t figure this out until Dale pointed out that I was telegraphing the takeoff by dipping my shoulder before I started my drop. I’m used to the regular Pekiti, so when I was trying to do the enhanced Pekiti, I was thinking about the shoulder drop to the point that I started it before the rest of the move. After he pointed this out I had somewhat more success, but I definitely need to practice the enhanced Pekiti, preferably on video or in front of a mirror so I can see if I’m telegraphing.

As we were doing this, it started raining pretty hard. After running the drill a few times, Gabe had us start tracking the student getting off the X and trying to hit him with follow up shots, rather than just launching one round at the X. This emphasized the need for continued movement, and gave students an idea of how long the takeoff gave them to get rounds on target before the opponent’s muzzle will catch up with them.

Around the time the rain let up, we began our last drill of the day. This time both students involved were armed both students with airsoft rifles. Rather than holding the other at gunpoint, the bad guy student initiated the drill by coming up from low ready while the good guy tried to get off the X and shoot the bad guy before he got shot himself. Several students fell, one of them on the stock of one of the airsoft rifles, snapping it. Dale managed to get it back up using copious quantities of duct tape, but the airsoft AKs definitely aren’t as durable as the real thing. We ran through the once each, then wrapped up for the day.

That evening, we were all invited for dinner together at SI headquarters. This was an excellent chance to talk with other students, SI instructors, and staff (including Gabe’s junior staff). It was also a chance to go through the One Source Tactical warehouse and buy stuff directly. They probably more than covered the cost of the food with the profit from the stuff that students bought. I saw lots of AK accessories go out the door.

Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force - Day 2

In a surprising move for a rifle class, we began the second day with some kettlebell exercises. As Gabe said many times during the class, the rifle is a physical weapon. Compared to a pistol where you usually stand there and shoot (or move and shoot if you’re in an SI class), with a rifle you’re getting down into lower, more stable positions and getting back up, moving around hefting a heavy, somewhat awkward object, and even hitting people with it. All this requires a certain level of physical fitness if you want to get the most out of the weapon. Gabe really likes the kettlebell as an exercise tool, and many kettlebell exercises work muscles that are useful in combat rifle shooting. He and Dale demonstrated kettlebell swings, D.A.R.C. swings, the sumo lift, the high pull, snatches and the Turkish getup. Everyone had an opportunity to try each exercise. I’ve got a kettle bell, and I’ve done some training with it. I was really glad of the opportunity to do some of these exercises with some experienced guidance. Some kettlebell exercises, like the snatch, really rely on good form and if you do them incorrectly, you can seriously mess yourself up. Gabe also talked about integrating the kettlebell into rifle training, doing a set of snatches, then working with the rifle in dry fire. Or you can take the kettlebell out to the range and see how your live fire skills hold up after some vigorous exercise.

Getting back to firearms, we looked at options for being held at rifle point. When we worked rifle disarms yesterday, it was in the context of moving in from 5-10 feet away. Today, we started out at contact distance, with the rifle armed individual jabbing you in the back with his muzzle. Generally, you want to turn away from the muzzle and get yourself out of the line of fire as quickly as possible, then turn into the opponent and go for the disarm (if the muzzle is in the middle of the back, just pick a direction). If the fellow with the rifle is pushing or pulling you with his hand in addition to jabbing you in the back with the rifle, go with the direction of the push or pull. The hardest situation is when the muzzle is up against the back of your head. Gabe suggests flinching down and to the side to get out of the way of the barrel, then completing your turn and going after the gun.

While this wasn’t a pistol class, we also worked some pistol disarms, in part to illustrate how some of the same concepts work across categories. Pistols can be harder to disarm than a rifle, because they offer far less to grab on to. On the other hand, handguns expose much more of their operating mechanism, and by grabbing them in the right places you can either prevent them from firing (by preventing the cylinder of a revolver from rotating, preventing the hammer from going back on a double action gun or going forward on a single action gun) or make sure they only fire once (prevent the slide from cycling on a semi-auto). Gabe demonstrated a couple of simple disarms and had us work them a few times.

Our next subject was the AK versus contact weapons. We did most of this versus sticks, but it could apply to an opponent armed with a machete, tomahawk, knife, club, or even using his rifle as an impact weapon. The method we studied was to catch the incoming weapon in the crook between the magazine and the forend. For those who have seen the Die Less Often DVDs, this is like a premade dogcatcher, with the advantage that since it’s not made of your arms, you can catch blades in it as well. If you work it right, you can actually use the crook to strip the other guy’s weapon. This worked particularly well against the tomahawk, but if you twisted the rifle the right way, it also worked against the stick.

After a short lunch break, we did some AK versus knife work. This time, rather than starting at contact distances like we did with the stick, we gave the AK guy some standoff distance. We started out a 7 yards, representing the standard “21 foot rule”. With the rifle in patrol ready and getting off the X promptly, this was ridiculously easy, so we moved it in to 5, 4, and then 3 yards. As the distance closed, it became harder, and you needed to get a good takeoff to avoid the guy with the knife. In particular, the ability to move to the 5 and 7 o’clock lines while still getting the rifle on target becomes quite important. Guys who could do that well had a big advantage.

Gabe broke out the airsoft and we practiced versus the knife. Again, if you got off the X promptly and used the rear oblique lines the guy with the AK could get a few hits on the one with the knife before the blade got within range.

We switched back to airsoft AK versus airsoft AK and did a bit more GOTX practice. After duplicating what we’d done yesterday a couple of times each, Gabe talked about taking corners with a rifle. I’d learned the classic way of dealing with corners: pie the corner until you see your opponent, then roll out and shoot him. Gabe pointed out that if you can get a good, solid center of mass shot on the target, he can probably see you. Alternatively, if you work the corner well, you can get a look at his elbow or knee before he can see you and shoot him peripherally. This may be a good strategy if the corner you’re working is cover rather than concealment. If the corner is just concealment, the target’s reaction to being shot in the foot may be to empty his magazine into the wall where you’re hiding, which would really ruin your day.

Instead, Gabe suggested applying the same basic principles of getting off the X to working a corner. Pie the corner until you see some sign of the opponent, but he can’t see you. That’s the line of decision. Rather than peering gingerly across it, move explosively across that line and shoot the target on the move. When we ran this with airsoft the guy who was set up watching the corner almost always shot behind the guy who came around it.

As we were talking about corners, Gabe talked a bit about the basic principles of room clearing and how to handle it with one or two people. This was a bit of the preview of the CQB class coming up in August, and it has me looking forward to it even more.

We wrapped up the class with some discussion of the things we’d learned, not just in this class, but the previous five days. We talked about the need to shoot ambidextrously, getting off the X, point shooting the rifle, and the need to be physically fit to take full advantage of the rifle.

Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force - Final Thoughts

This was a really great class. It flowed well from the Advanced AK class we did the previous two days, but it pushed things much further. I was really glad to get some zero to five foot stuff with the rifle. The rifle disarms and using it as an impact weapons are things that many people don’t pay enough attention to. I’ve been exposed to the get off the X stuff and the Pekiti takeoff before, but it’s always good to get it again. In particular, it was good to learn I was telegraphing the shoulder dip on the Enhanced Pekiti. The stuff on how to work a corner was really great, and has me chomping at the bit for the CQB class in August.

Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force is an excellent class. It’s really the capstone of the Suarez International AK curriculum.