Friday, August 27, 2010

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.


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.


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.

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Utah's Personal Protection Laboratory