Monday, September 20, 2010

Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting with Gabe Suarez

Last weekend I took Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting from Gabe Suarez in Florence, SC. This is the second time I’ve taken this class in the past three months. I’d signed up to take it out in Prescott as part of the Red June block of classes before the class in Florence was announced. Despite this, I decided to sign up for the class in Florence, primarily because I knew a bunch of my friends would be signed up as well. Gabe was nice enough to let me take advantage of the 25% discount for returning students despite the fact that I hadn’t actually taken the class the first time at the time I signed up.

This class included an even larger proportion of Suarez International Staff Instructors than the 0-5 foot class, including Randy Harris, Alex Nieuwland, Scott Vandiver, Michael Swisher, and myself. The class was around 20 people, so a good quarter of the students were SI instructors.

I shot the class with my SGL-31. I used this rather than my usual Arsenal SLR-107F because I the SGL-31 didn’t have an optic on it at the moment and I wanted to shoot the class using iron sights. The majority of the class were using AKs of one description or another, varying from Fuller built guns down to WASRs or Maadis. Despite being an AK class, there was a substantial minority using ARs of various types, along with one XCR (in 7.62x39mm) and one Mini-14.

Because I just took this course so recently, this review isn’t going to have my usual level of blow by blow detail. If you’re interested in the content of the Advanced AK class, see the writeup I did back in June. What I’m going to do instead is concentrate on differences from the Prescott class and whatever points that I found particularly interesting.


This class was held on September 11th-12th, 2010. Gabe opened the class with a prayer for those lost 9 years ago. He explained that he makes a special effort to teach a tactical class on September 11th. Next year he’s going to be teaching a counter-terrorism course with Sonny Puzikas. The date really puts these skills, and the reason most of us are learning them, in perspective.

We started with some discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of the AK. This was sort of interesting given how many people taking the class were using other sorts of rifles. Gabe made his usual case for the AK, which I think is quite good (after all, it convinced me to switch to the AK). Gabe explained why retaining empty mags is a good idea. Then we did some dry magazine changes, first stationary, then on the move.

Moving on to shoulder transfers, we did some work stationary, then did the slalom drill. In Prescott, the slalom drill was part of the AK Force on Force class. There we slalomed down a line of students, but because this range had a set of tall wooden posts every other lane at the 25 yard line, we slalomed through them instead. Basically, you treat each post as a left or right hand corner, switching shoulders as appropriate. This is really an excellent drill for getting people used to transferring from shoulder to shoulder, particularly for taking corners and shooting around cover. Our last drills of the morning were dry practicing 360 degree position shooting.

After lunch, Gabe ran through the ready positions, and we practice mounting the rifle and taking a dry shot from each position. After everyone was comfortable with the different positions, we went live. We moved on to snap shooting from the ready, then did some live shoulder transfers. With these fundamentals in place, we went through the basic get off the X drills in the six major directions. The range wasn’t really the best for practicing getting off the X. It was a gravel surface, with concrete sidewalks in front of each target running straight up and down range. Thus lateral movement involved stepping from sidewalk to gravel to sidewalk, with the attendant possibilities for tripping or loosing footing. This wrapped up the first day.


We started out the second day doing transitions from rifle to pistol. Gabe demonstrated our method and talked about why we prefer a simple two-point sling. We did some dry transitions, then did it live, but stationary, and finally did it on the move. Next we moved on to after action drills. Gabe explained the process, then we put it into practice, first dry, then live. We practiced addressing targets to the sides or rear while getting off the X both dry and live. Wrapping up the morning, Gabe talked a bit about hitting people with rifles. In Prescott this was part of the force on force class, but here he incorporated it into Advanced AK.

After lunch, we moved on to the team tactics unit. Gabe gave a basic explanation of fire and movement and how two people or units can keep fire on a target as they maneuver. We did some dry practice with muzzle aversion and trigger finger discipline to ensure everyone could do this sort of thing safely. Next Gabe lined up the students in two parallel lines and had each student fire a burst at the target, then file back to the rear of the line, reloading on the way, all the while keeping their muzzle safely straight up in the air. I stepped out on this one and helped Gabe keep an eye on the students as they did the drill.

Moving on to the usual 2-man bounding drill, the students moved down the line of targets in two man teams keeping a constant fire going all the way down. Randy and I sat this one out to help keep an eye on the students as they did the drill. The students in this class did pretty well. Only one pair managed to get both guns empty a the same time so that I had to shoulder my rifle to provide some supporting fire.

While the perpendicular sidewalks down every lane made things more difficult for the bounding drill, Gabe found a way to use them (and the fact that he had some rifle qualified instructors) to give students a chance to do some drills they wouldn’t normally see unless they took the High Risk Operator Team Tactics class. We started out doing the same 2-man bounding drill moving towards and away from the targets. The sidewalks ensured that students would stay in their own lane and not get in front of the other and we had three instructors to keep an eye on two students. Everyone did the drill dry, together, then we did it live one 20man team at a time. Moving forward and back revealed an interesting tradeoff that wasn’t evident with the lateral bounding drill. The further the students moved on each bound, the quicker they covered the distance, but the harder it was to communicate.

Finally, Gabe capped off the class doing an Australian Peel. This is a reaction to contact drill for a small unit that wants to retreat from contact with a larger (or better dug in) opponent. The unit starts out in a line, with alternating students covering the right and left sides. When the lead man yells “Contact front” (or just opens fire) the line splits, with alternating students moving right or left as appropriate. This leaves the team in two parallel lines, with the team leader in the center at the front. The team leader than the first man in each line fire at the enemy. When the team leader is ready to move, he turns around and heads up the middle to the back of one of the lines. The front of the right hand line fires until he’s ready to move, then turns and heads up the middle to the back of his line. The front man of the left hand line does the same. This keeps at least two guns on the enemy at all times and by alternating movement from the head of each line the entire unit moves further from the enemy. When the team leader comes to the head of the line and feels they’ve broken contact sufficiently to withdraw, he orders the unit to head for the rally point.

This is normally a pretty advanced drill, but the sidewalks made it possible to keep everyone lined up and Gabe had Randy and I to help watch the lines and ensure everyone was doing what they were supposed to. He split the class up into two squads and ran the drill a couple of times each. They did pretty well, for having only half a day of team training. I would really love to see this in action from a squad of really well trained troops with fully automatic weapons.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this class. I have to admit being a little dubious about how much I would get out of it taking it again so soon, but I wound up very satisfied. As a student, shooting it with iron sights provided a different experience from doing the class with a red dot. I was pretty gratified by my ability to execute these drills. The previous class, and the practice since, really paid off. As an instructor, I got a lot out of watching Gabe adapt the class to the students and the facility. It covered the same fundamental skills as the class in Prescott, but it definitely wasn’t exactly the same class.

This was a great class with a great bunch of guys and a great instructor. I would highly recommend it.

Chris Upchurch
Suarez International Staff Instructor

0-5 Feet Gunfighting with Gabe Suarez

Last weekend I had a chance to take 0-5 feet gunfighting from Gabe in Florence, SC. This class focuses on very close range confrontations, within arm’s reach. We spent the first day and a half doing force on force, then finished up with half a day of live fire.

This was a fairly large class with around 24 people. It included quite a few people I've shot with before on various occasions, including several SI instructors: Alex Nieuwland, Scott Vandiver, and myself. SI instructor Randy Harris joined us for the second day.

For the force-on-force portion of the class, I used a pair of airsoft Glock 17s. I decided to experiment with carrying a gun on each hip (for similar reasons to the dual AIWB rigs some folks are working with lately). However, my strong side drawstroke is so ingrained I ended up going for that gun 95% of the time. The only times I really used the support side Glock was in some of the hands on drills where someone could foul your draw and I wanted to test going in the unexpected direction. I shot the live fire portion of the class using my usual Glock 21. I also carried a Glock 30 on the support side, but it saw little use.

Day One

We began the class signing waivers and promising on video not to sue anyone. There was a fairly standard safety briefing covering the four rules. This was followed by a force-on-force safety briefing. The most important point is ensuring that no live weapons of any kind make their way into the FoF training environment. FoF is a cooperative effort, most drills require the participation of one, or more, students playing the role of the bad guy. These students need to fulfill their roles in the drill rather than departing from the script in an attempt to 'get' the other student. Since these are cooperative drills, it is important to provide the right level of resistance or force. You want to provide your partner with real opposition, so he can see what doing it against a live opponent will be like, but you don't want to break your training partner. This class had quite a few more seasoned warriors and Gabe wanted to make sure everyone went home in one piece. Finally, stop really means stop. Anytime Gabe or someone else yells stop, you need to stop immediately, not get in one more hit, then stop.

Gabe led a nice discussion of the difference between a proactive gunfight, one where you are ready and the one initiating the action, and a reactive gunfight, where the gunfight is unexpected and your adversary is the one initiating the action. Gabe had a particularly nice turn of phrase to describe this. He said "A reactive gunfight is one for days when you're the subject of a country song." Your dog died, your girl left you, and your car was stolen so you have other things on your mind than staying in condition yellow all the time. Proactive and reactive gunfights unfold very differently and they require different tactics and techniques. This class was going to be dedicated to the techniques required to win a reactive gunfight at very close ranges: the eponymous 0-5 feet.

We started off with a drill where one student pushed or shoved the other, either on the chest or on a shoulder. Rather than resisting, the second student was to relax, let him move you, then come back to the same position. This was sort of a Systema-ish way to get everybody loosened up. After a bit of pushing and shoving, Gabe had the shoved student start trying to get to the shover's flank, rather than stepping back into the same position. The idea of seeking the flank (or preventing the opponent from seeking yours) was a running theme throughout the class.

There is an old gunfighting adage that, "Distance is your friend." The reality is that this isn't always true. Distance is good for a proactive gunfight, but often in a reactive gunfight, closing with the enemy can be the best choice.

We started out with the Matt Dillion drill, also known as the suicide drill. Two students face off at about four yards and each try to shoot the other before getting shot in return. The shots were generally almost simultaneous. Given handgun rounds poor terminal effects, getting the first shot in by a few tenths of a second probably isn't going to prevent you from getting shot.

The solution to this dilemma is getting off the X. If you aren't where the bad guy expects you to be, this will require him to reorient himself before being able to shoot you. That second or so is enough for you to draw and shoot him a couple times before he has a chance to shoot you. Gabe explained about the options for the different angles you can get off the X towards, and how moving to the forward diagonals makes it most difficult for the bad guy to track you with his gun. The idea of getting to the opponent's flanks like this is one that would come up again and again in the class.

To put this into action Suarez International has developed techniques for moving off the X quickly. Gabe described and demonstrated the Pekiti takeoff, which we've borrowed from Filipino martial arts. This involves dropping to a lower base, and using that drop to reposition the feet and orienting the hips the direction you want to go. Combined with dropping the shoulder and ducking the head in your direction of travel, this can produce some truly amazing results.

We started out working against a gun pointed directly at the head. With a properly executed Pekiti takeoff, you can be out of the opponent's sights before he has a chance to pull the trigger, courtesy of the shoulder drop and head duck. For the first round of takeoffs, we concentrated on moving, just getting out of the way without attempting to draw the gun. One thing I noticed several students doing was trying to keep their eyes on their opponent. If you do this right, you're not going to be able to keep staring the opponent in the eye. You can see his lower body in your peripheral vision and that's enough to keep yourself aware of his location until you come back up with the gun.

Once everyone had enough repetitions of the takeoff without drawing the gun, Gabe added the drawstroke to the mix. Students had to get off the X and draw. Giving them something else to think about at the same time ended up screwing up a lot of people's takeoffs. If they concentrated too much on the draw, they failed to get out of the way of the incoming round. After everyone was up to speed with the draw, Gabe had the students getting off the X start shooting as well.

At this point, Gabe explained the principles of metal on meat point shooting. This is the simples type of point shooting we teach and at the ranges we were shooting, it was more than sufficient to get reasonably accurate hits.

Instead of just a single shot each, we ramped up to three shots. The bad guy fired one at the student's original position, then tracked him with the next two, while the student got off the X and fired three shots. I didn't bring a long sleeved shirt for the FoF, so I took some pretty good shots to the arm during these drills.

After lunch Gabe gave the attitude and alertness discussion. Basically, he talked about how to avoid getting into the sorts of situations he was training us to fight our way out of. While it's certainly possible to fight and win at these close ranges, most of us don't want to go there intentionally. If possible, you would like to fail the "interview" process the bad guy uses to select his victims, either by your attitude and appearance or your actions, including verbal disengagement. An important part of this is recognizing what's coming, preferably as early as possible. If you can't avoid the fight, you can also use this process to start the fight in the best position.

We began the real up close and personal stuff with a simple drill where one student grabbed the other by the collar and the other had to break his grip and get to the flank. This helped acclimate students who hadn't done any hands on stuff before and reinforced the idea of trying to find the flanks.

Moving on to ground fighting, we entered a realm where I don't really have much experience. This was one of the reasons I really want to take this class, and go to Tom Sotis' seminar that includes the anti-groundfighting module in Chattanooga in November. We began by just trying to fend off the opponent with your feet. If he's armed with a contact weapon and you keep him out of reach like that, there's not a lot he can do to you until he gets by your legs. The trick is keeping your legs pointed at him as he moves.

It's possible that a good swift kick to the right spot may take him out of the fight, but this isn't allways that easy. Instead we just want to push him off hard enough that we have the time to draw our gun and shoot him. For this class, we simulated this, since kicking full force to get that sort of effect would probably result in some messed up knees and ankles.

If he gets past your legs, you may end up fending him off with leg pressure, rather than kicks. He may just get past one of your feet, leaving one of your feet on his hip or leg and the other around one side of his body. If he gets by both feet, you'll be fending him off with your knees, with your feet on either side of his body. Finally, if he gets by your knees, you'll have him in full guard, with your legs wrapped around his waist. In all of these cases, he's in a position where he can really get to you, whether he's barehanded or armed with a contact weapon. On the other hand, if you've got your legs on either side of him, you don't have to worry about him reaching your flank. The priority is getting the pistol out without him fouling your draw (which can be a problem in full guard) and shooting him as quickly as possible. One difficulty in this situation is that it can be difficult to bring your elbow far enough back to draw when you're flat on the ground, particularly with strong side hip carry. The solution is to raise your hips by levering yourself against the opponent. This should provide enough room to draw, as well as making it more difficult for him to foul your draw.

While we want to be able to fight on the ground if we have to, it's not someplace we want to stay. Gabe showed us a technique for getting up while keeping the gun on target based on a kettlebell exercise called the Turkish Get-up. This gets you up using both legs and one arm, leaving the other arm free to keep shooting the bad guy. I'd done a bit of this in Roger Phillips's Advanced Point Shooting Progressions class, as well as quite a few Turkish get-ups, but it was definitely pretty new to some of the other students.

We worked a drill where one student started off on the ground versus two knife armed attackers. Needless to say, this is a pretty sucky position if you're the guy on the ground. Generally trying to get up took too long, the best bet was to fend off one attacker with the legs while shooting the other.

To cap off the day, we worked the same sort of drill starting off standing, rather than lying down. This was basically a variant of the classic Tueller drill, except that you faced two opponents and started off at 12 feet, rather than 21. If you concentrated on getting off the X away from the knife wielding assailants, then drawing and firing once you were up to speed, this drill is actually pretty easy. We did the same at 9 feet, which is still quite doable, and at 6 feet, which gets rather iffy. At 6 feet, the odds of getting stabbed go way up. These sorts of distances really require some empty hand skills as a solution to the initial attack. This would be our first order of business tomorrow.

During the day, some questions about CQB had come up, so after the 0-5 foot instructional material was done for the day, Gabe gave a quick overview of some of the SI CQB techniques. Since I took this class just last month, I was able to help out a bit with this.

Day Two

At the end of the first day, we looked at how to defeat a knife attack at less than half the standard Tueller drill distance by getting off the X away from the attacker. This morning we looked at how to deal with knife attacks where the assailant is too close to get off the X without getting stabbed. The solution in this realm is to use empty hand combatives to fend off the initial attack and create enough time and distance to bring the gun into play.

I had some experience with this from AMOK! but it was clearly new to other folks. We primarily concentrated on blocking with one hand and hitting with the other as you got off the X to his flank. In real life the hit would be delivered to the face, but we didn't want to break our training partners, so instead we delivered it to the shoulder or chest. The idea is to push him off (or push yourself off) to gain enough time and distance to deploy the gun.

One way this sort of response may fail is if that striking hand gets tangled up or the assailant manages to grab it. In that case, the first thing to do is to get to his flank to minimize his ability to get at you and bring the gun into play from there. This may involve drawing with the support hand. Gabe showed us what Randy calls the "Australian Homie" shooting position: with the gun upside down working the trigger with the little finger. Since I had both an airsoft gun and a training knife on the support side, I worked with those a bit.

Moving on to opponents with firearms, we worked on fouling the opponent's draw and jamming the gun in his holster. This works particularly well if you can get to his flanks. Gabe showed one way of accomplishing this fairly easily. When you're jamming the gun into the holster you're already exerting a pushing force on his strong side hip. If you pull forward on the support side shoulder, you can spin him around. Once you're behind his support side arm, there's not much he can do. You've got an opportunity to draw your own weapon and shoot him in the back.

While tying up his gun in the holster is obviously desirable, we may have to confront the drawn gun at very close range. In these circumstances, the best option is the disarm. I've been taught disarms by a couple of different instructors, including Gabe. They can all work, but Gabe's are particularly simple and forceful. Most of them operate on the same principles. First, get the gun pointed somewhere other than at you, through a combination of knocking the gun away and moving your body out of the line of fire. Grab the wrist with one hand and the gun with the other, wrist goes one way, gun goes the other and you've got the gun and the BG will probably end up with a broken finger (or may even shoot himself). Gabe taught slightly different variants for guns pointed at the head or upper chest, and guns pointed at the lower chest or abdomen, but the only real difference was whether you grab the gun fingers up or fingers down.

Regardless, Gabe emphasized following up the gun grab with immediate additional attacks: palm strikes, elbows, knees, hitting the guy with the gun you just took away, and driving the guy with your body weight. The idea is to tenderize him enough that you can break contact and turn this into a gunfight, either using your own weapon or the one you just took away from him.

Disarming an opponent from the front is easiest, because you have access with both hands, but we also worked disarms from the side and back as well. From the side, you either wanted to move the gun forward and the body back, or vice versa, depending on where the gun was pointing (ahead or behind the ear if it was pointed at your head or ahead or behind the arm if it was lower down). If the gun went forward, you could grab the wrist and finish with a conventional disarm. If it went backward, it was generally easier to lock his gun arm up either in your armpit or the crook of your elbow, then continue the assault with your other hand.

From the rear, it's just a matter of turning to one side or the other and ‘rolling off the gun’ so to speak. If the opponent's gun is biased to one side, turning away from it is generally the best choice. If he's got a hand on your shoulder pushing or pulling you, go with that movement and use it for your turn rather than resisting. If he's right in the middle of your back and not pushing or puling, pick a direction and go with it.

Wrapping up disarms, we broke for lunch and got ready for the live fire portion of the course. Mindful of the potential safety issues with going from a day and a half of force on force to working with real guns, Gabe had Randy recap the standard safety rules.

We started off with some basic get off the X drills to the 1 and 11 o’clock directions.

Next, we moved on to a series of drills involving support hand draws. Gabe demonstrated a method for drawing the pistol upside-down from an appendix rig with the support hand and rolling it on the chest to get it right-side up. Something similar can work with strong side hip carry, but I prefer going around the back, grabbing the grip of the gun and drawing, then regripping the gun once you have it out. I also threw in a couple of draws from my support side Glock 30, which was definitely much easier.

Next, we worked with the Australian Homie from the ready position. Again, this involves holding the gun upside down and working the trigger with your pinky. This can make for a very fast support side draw from an appendix holster and a passable one from a strong side hip holster. The trick is shooting from this position. Working the trigger is actually relatively easy. The difficult part is acquiring a grip that avoids having the slide recoil into your hand or arm, potentially tearing them up a bit and probably malfunctioning the gun. We did a few shots starting with the gun in hand, which went relatively well for me. Doing the same from the holster, on the other hand, was a bit more dicey. We drew, fired a few shots, then transferred the gun to the strong side hand and fired a few more. I got a couple of shots off every time, but endured some slide action on my arm and eventually failed to cycle the gun. This was relatively easy to fix once I transferred hands, but still a less than optimal situation. It’s quite difficult to acquire the right grip grabbing the gun out of the holster, even when on the range. This is good to know how to do, but I think I’ll stick with reaching behind the back as my primary method of support side access. Carrying a second gun on the support side is looking better and better.

Next up was shooting from the ground. We started out with our feet facing the target. After drawing and firing between our knees, we had to get up while continuing to fire on the target. I’ve this with feet towards the target in the Advanced Point Shooting Progressions class, but we moved on to other directions. Due to the danger to other people on the line involved in drawing with your feet pointed directly to the right or left, we had them pointed towards the 2 and 10 o’clock positions instead. The key thing here was to make sure you didn’t shoot yourself when coming across your legs in the 2 o’clock position (for right handed shooters). Our last drill of this series had us on our backs with our heads towards the target, drawing and firing directly with the gun upside-down. I’ve done this before, but only with the gun already laying on the ground and pointed downrange. Doing this from the draw obviously means that the guns are going to be pointed uprange as you draw. To ensure nobody got shot, Gabe had everyone not shooting get off to the left side of the range and emphasized the need to bring the gun directly up and over, not straying to the right or left. As always, shooting upside-down was a lot of fun.

Moving on, we did a series of drills on how to defend the Sul position against an attacker at close range. Gabe gave a short lecture about what Sul is and why we use it for the benefit of those without previous experience in an S.I. class. For threats to the front and sides, defending Sul involves rotating the body and shooting from something like a retention position, possibly throwing in a strike with the support side hand if necessary to get it out of the way. For threats from the rear, you can either twist, or, if the opponent has you in a bear hug, just reach down with your gun and fire a few rounds into his leg.

One potential difficulty with engaging someone with a semi-auto at these sorts of very close ranges is the possibility of pushing the gun out of battery before you fire, giving you a dead trigger. The best way to handle this would be just to pull back a bit, or just avoid pushing the gun into the opponent that hard in the first place. In a hand to hand struggle over a gun this may not be possible. Gabe demonstrated some different techniques for holding the slide in battery: grabbing the slide as if you were reloading, pushing on the back of the slide with your support hand, or using your body to hold the slide in battery (we used our upper arm, but in a real fight your chest may be more likely). In all cases, pushing the slide forward will prevent it from cycling, so you will have to clear the malfunction before shooting again. Nevertheless, these techniques could make it possible to get off an all-important shot that could win the fight. Using these techniques isn’t what I call pleasant, but they work and don’t do you any permanent damage.

Our last shooting of the class was the t-shirt drill. When drawing from underneath a cover garment, one ever-present danger is the garment fouling your draw. Particularly with a closed front cover garment, this can result in your gun being tangled up under the shirt when you need it most. In this drill we all put on old/cheap t-shirts that we didn’t mind putting some holes into and deliberately covered our guns with the shirts. The first shot fired from underneath the t-shirt will make a hole, which we enlarged by shoving the gun through it while firing follow up shots. Once we got the gun completely through, we transferred it to the other hand and continued to shoot while we pulled our primary hand back through the hole and resumed a two handed grip.

This concluded the shooting portion of the class. Gabe handed out the certificates and we broke for the day. The majority of the class would be back the following day for Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting.

Final Thoughts

This is really an excellent class. It’s the kind of thing I think a lot more people need to learn. Realistically speaking, the 0-5 foot realm is where citizens are most likely to get into a fight. I’ve never heard of a mugger or armed robber plying his trade from seven yards away. They’re going to be up close and personal and anyone who carries for self-defense needs to know how to handle threats at these distances.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many places to go to learn this sort of thing. Most gun schools either ignore these distances entirely, or rely exclusively on gun focused retention shooting solutions. You can learn how to defend against these sorts of attacks at some fight-focused martial arts schools, but these often teach pure hand to hand solutions. If I’ve got a gun, or even a knife, I’m going to want to get that into play as soon as I can rather than engage in a fistfight with this guy. Very few places really integrate hand to hand and handguns the way this class does. The skills taught in 0-5 feet are vital for prevailing in a real world confrontation. I really believe everyone who carries a handgun for self-defense should take this class.

Chris Upchurch
Suarez International Staff Instructor


Utah's Personal Protection Laboratory