by Chris Upchurch, Suarez International Staff Instructor
I recently had a chance to help out with Gabe’s Ultimate Pistol Gunfighting class in Prescott. I was planning on a road trip out west this summer to see my parents and enjoy the outdoors a bit. What better way to enjoy the outdoors than on a range with a bunch of other like minded folks?
I brought what is now my usual setup: two Glock 17’s, one on each hip, with an extra mag in front of the one on the left and a Grab-N-Stab in front of the one on the right. The primary Glock has a TSD milled slide and an RMR while the backup runs irons. For force on force work I replace the real Glocks with a set of KWA airsoft and the knife with a Nok trainer.
Most of the students in the class brought Glocks. There were also a pair of XDs, one M&P and a 1911. Five students had RMRs on their pistols. Airsoft was mostly Umarex, with a few more traditional green gas guns in the mix.
Gabe began the class with a lecture on surviving training in the hot, dry, high altitude environment of Prescott. He’s had folks drop out of class due to dehydration and heatstroke and really pounded home the message. If you’re planning on training in Prescott or any of our other warm weather training venues during the summer, read Roger Phillips’ excellent article on training in hot weather and Dr. John Meade’s thread on dehydration. With the environmental dangers out of the way, Gabe moved on to the safety lecture, going through the standard safety rules.
Next Gabe went through the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship. Despite teaching high-speed low-drag classes almost exclusively, Gabe does a great job with the fundamentals of marksmanship. This is something that’s really impressed me ever since the first time I heard his fundamentals lecture at the instructor class a couple of years ago. Why cover the fundamentals in an advanced, nay, ultimate class? While we’ll be doing plenty of running and gunning, we’ll also be doing some long range precision marksmanship (including shots that a lot of folks might not think were possible with the pistol). In order to make these shots, your fundamentals have to be practically perfect. After a bit of dry practice Gabe reviewed the drawstroke.
We ran through the drawstroke a couple of times to verify everyone had it down properly, then kicked off live fire. First up was single, carefully aimed precision shots from the holster, followed by some multiple shot drills. After a couple of evolutions it was clear that we had some very good shots in the class, and we also had some folks who need some work.
Gabe talked about reloads, demonstrated several and discussed S.I.’s philosophy. This segued into a discussion of malfunctions and malfunction clearance. Our reloads and malfunction clearance techniques are closely linked since in the middle of a fight you probably won’t be able to immediately tell the difference between a malfunction and running out of ammo.
After lunch we did some target focused shooting. This is what Roger Phillips calls Type 2 focus. You’re lined up with the sights, but rather than focusing your eye on the front sight, you focus on the target, leaving the sights blurry in the foreground. This began a pattern that would continue for the rest of the live fire portion of the class: alternating between precision sighted fire and point shooting. This isn’t something we get the opportunity to do too much of in our other classes. They tend to emphasize one or the other, either point shooting (CRG, PSP) or sighted fire (ACPM, Active Shooter Terrorist Interdiction). The four day format of this class offers more flexibility and the time to examine both methods in depth.
Moving on to a somewhat coarser method of point shooting, Gabe talked about using the front sight post only, ignoring the rear notch. This is analogous to shooting a shotgun with a bead sight, only in this case your arm substitutes for the the shotgun barrel and stock. For the folks with RMRs on their pistols, Gabe introduced the ‘RMR Guillotine’: you use the top of the RMR housing to ‘cut off’ the target at the neck.
Now it was time to start running and gunning. Gabe went through the conceptual basis for getting off the X. He explained the OODA loop and talked about how we can exploit our opponent’s OODA processing time to reduce our chances of getting hit in a gunfight. He went through the different directional options and explained why we like the forward oblique angles if they are available.
To get people used to moving and shooting, we started with the pacing drill. You take three steps to the right, firing a burst as you go, then on command you take three steps to the left, firing a burst. We worked dry first to make sure everyone was in sync and doing it correctly, then went live.
At this point Gabe threw in a bit of precision shooting, following the pattern of alternating between run and gun and precision fire mentioned earlier. After shooting some precision groups from 12 yards, we switched back to getting off the X. For today we concentrated on the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock directions, working it extensively dry before going live.
To finish off the day with something a little different, Gabe demonstrated a technique for dealing with a beginning shooter who’s having difficulty with sighted fire. Rather than trying to diagnose him solely on the basis of his shooting, where he may have one problem stacked up on another, you wipe the slate clean and start from the bottom up. First you have the shooter point in, verify his sight picture, then the instructor uses his finger to press the trigger gently to the rear. This guarantees a surprise break, since the shooter’s trigger finger isn’t even involved. A miss here indicates a problem with sight alignment/sight picture, or possibly their grip. Then, gradually you involve the shooter’s trigger finger until eventually they are doing everything themselves. This is a really great technique for a new shooter who’s having some problems. I first saw Gabe demonstrate it during the instructor school a few years ago and I’ve used it effectively for several students since then.
Gabe started out the day today with something rather interesting: a description of appendix carry by Jeff Cooper from the 1979 edition of Cooper on Handguns. I’ve read this before (Gabe has posted it here on WT as well as in a blog article, but Gabe had an actual copy of Cooper on Handguns. He used this to kick off a discussion of the advantages of appendix carry.
While Gabe set up some steel targets on the 100 yard range, he had me run the class through some precision shooting drills at 3, 5, 7, and 10 yards. Some students showed quite a bit of improvement from yesterday, but there were a few who still needed work.
We moved over to the longer range, starting out at 25 yards and moved in steps back to 100. Among the students, those who shot well on paper at 3–10 yards generally had the easiest time dinging the steel.
As we were doing this, Gabe brought out his AWC Abraxis suppressor and some subsonic ammo. I had a chance to shoot it, as did the students. This is a wet suppressor, and when it was freshly filled with water it was enormously quiet. As it dried out it got louder, but still reduced the sound to levels that were tolerable without hearing protection. The really incredible thing is how small and light it is. At one point Gabe had to practically pat himself down to figure out which pocket he stashed it in.
While we were engaging in some longer ranged shooting Gabe also demonstrated shooting from some more supported positions, including kneeling, Askins and Creedmore. These allow you a more height than prone, but provide a steadier hold.
When we were back at 100, I took a few shots at the steel and found that my bullets were impacting to the right. Thinking it might be an issue with the cheap training ammo I was using, I brought out some of my carry ammo and observed the same problem. The last time I shot this pistol at distance it was dead on, so I don’t know what happened to it. I really need to take Gabe’s advice and put a witness mark on there to verify the position of the adjustment screws. I made an adjustment and got it back on target, then tested it on paper over lunch.
Also over lunch I had a chance to shoot a student’s brand new TSD VEPR. This is a very nice rifle. It was so new he hadn’t had a chance to put an optic or even a rear sight on it, but it was relatively light and handled light for a semi-auto .308. A GPR/semi-auto GSR is on my list, and this is definitely a contender.
After lunch Gabe talked about the importance of stretching. The GOTX stuff we do is pretty dynamic, and increasing your flexibility is going to pay dividends in allowing you to move explosively off the X without risking injuring yourself. Gabe went through the basics of the takeoff and had everyone work it solo, with no gun involved.
Once everybody had the basics down it was time to start putting this stuff into practice. Yesterday we’d looked at the 3 and 9 o’clock lines, today we worked on the diagonals: 1 and 11 o’clock to the front, and 5 and 7 o’clock to the rear. 1 and 11 are fairly straightforward, you get off the X at the appropriate angle and shoot. Going to the rear is a bit more complicated, particularly the 5 o’clock line (for a right handed shooter). S.I. has several ways of doing this and we gave the students a chance to go through each of them dry before allowing them to pick whichever they liked best to do live.
Thus far, we’d been assuming that you’re facing the threat when the fight starts, but in the real world they be be beside, or even behind you. Gabe explained how our GOTX skillset is adapted to deal with threats from these directions. As he was doing this, a student asked a question about what point you were justified in shooting, which segued into a discussion of managing potential threats on the street. Gabe talked about how to evaluate someone who approaches you and using attitude and body language to dissuade folks that you don’t have any reason to be dealing with. This wasn’t planned to be on the menu for today (Gabe was going to talk about it tomorrow), but it turned into a great discussion, with some excellent contributions from some of the students.
Eventually, we got back to addressing threats to the side or rear. It was getting towards the end of the day, so we did it dry only for the moment. With that we closed out another great day of training.
We reconvened again on Saturday morning. Today we would have some company on the range: S.I. Staff Instructor Corinna Coplin was running a Ladies Gunfighting class on the range next door. It had been a long while since I’d seen Corinna and her husband Richard, and it was great to see them again.
We picked up right where we left off, with addressing 360 degree threats. Gabe reviewed the techniques and we went ahead and ran it live. The students had a chance to shoot it with threats to their right and left, as well as threats behind them, turing to the right and left sides. In each case we worked it getting off the X in the direction you were facing, and in the opposite direction. Simply booking it in the direction you’re already facing is the obvious solution, but being able to go in the opposite direction is important in some circumstances. The obvious direction may be blocked by a car door or some other obstacle.
Some student questions led into a discussion of when and under what circumstances you should intervene in a problem that does not involve you directly. Gabe’s position (which I agree with) is that something that’s not a direct threat to you and yours is not your problem, unless it is so extreme that it shocks the conscience. We had a nice discussion about this with lots of back and forth among the students.
At this point Gabe called an early lunch. After lunch, we discarded our live guns, along with any knives or other weapons and switched over to airsoft gear. Gabe gave the airsoft safety briefing. While airsoft seem a lot safer than live weapons, we need to ensure no live weapons make their way into the training environment and that everyone wears eye protection at all times. He also talked about the importance of being a good training partner and playing your role in the scenario (particularly when playing the bad guy).
We started out, as we usually do in Force on Force, with the ‘suicide drill’. Two students face off and bring the gun up and fire on command. This drill allows students to learn from direct experience that stand and deliver shooting that relies on trying to outdraw an opponent doesn’t work, no matter how fast you are.
The S.I. solution to these sorts of problems is to get off the X. We’d done this live the past couple of days, but for getting the light bulb to go on there’s no substitute for experience. We started out in the most difficult situation imaginable: a drawn gun pointed in directly at your head, finger on the trigger. Most other schools don’t have a solution for this, instead they’d say that you’re dead and you should have been paying attention and not gotten yourself into this situation in the first place. However, with aggressive use of the takeoff everyone in the class managed to get out of the way before the gun fired, even some of the more seasoned warriors.
After working against the drawn gun with and without return fire, we started working against opponents drawing from the holster. Compared with the drawn gun, this is pretty easy, so we allowed the bad guy in the scenario to track the good guy and try to shoot him again. The measure of success is how many shots the good guy gets into his opponent before he gets hit himself. Most folks in the class were able to get at least 3–4 hits onboard before taking one in return. These little plastic pellets airsoft guns fire don’t have much in the way of terminal ballistics, but in real life those 3–4 rounds would probably impede the bad guy’s ability to get his rounds out the door and onto the good guy.
GOTX techniques tend to work real well in the 3–7 yard range. For the 0–5 foot range we’ve got some hands on techniques for dealing with adversaries (more on that later today and tomorrow). In between is an intermediate distance we call no-man’s land. Too close for GOTX but to far to go hands on directly. For this distance we have the ‘double pekiti’. Essentially you do a takeoff to the 1 or 11 o’clock, but on your first step you do another takoff back towards the opponent and go hands on. Think of a wide receiver going one direction than juking back the other way, only in this case we’re trying to pile into the opponent rather than slip past him. Once you’re within arms reach then you can go hands on with him.
If you’re within that 0–5 foot range of arms’ reach and the opponent hasn’t drawn his weapon yet, you can jam his gun and keep him from getting it into play. This is not a permanent solution, of course. It requires immediate followup with guns, knives, fists, or whatever you can muster to take the opponent out of the fight.
After everybody was done wrestling around, we called it a day. Later that evening most of us gathered for dinner at S.I. HQ. In addition to some great fellowship with other students and the S.I. staff, folks also had the opportunity to pick through the OST warehouse for anything they might want to buy. He showed off some TSD stuff, including the new Uzi RMR topcover and the TSD Bowie. More on the Uzi tomorrow. The TSD Bowie is just fantastic. This was not one of the things on my list, but after handling it I think I’m going to have to get one. The big thing was the way it balances, from the moment I picked it up it was just perfect. The knife felt like an extension of my arm. The blade and scales were the high quality I would expect based on the Grab-N-Stab. This is really going to be a good one.
Today we were joined by S.I. General Manager Tom Cornelius who provided some additional help with instruction. We picked up about where we left off last night, with some hands on stuff. We by talking about the body’s natural flinch response, and how you can cultivate that to deal with incoming attacks. This is not the stylized, smooth martial arts block or parry, this is more along the lines of flinging your arms up in the direction of an incoming blur to fend it off. It won’t win you any style points, but it’s a lot easier to pull off when you’re surprised.
Yesterday we worked hands on with the gun in the holster. Today we covered what to do if he already has the gun out. There are many methods for disarming people, the ones Gabe teaches are simple, brutal, and allow you to apply common concepts to different situations (gun high or low, held to your front, side, or back). Most of them involve getting a hold of the gun and the wrist and moving them in opposite directions. Others involve trapping the gun under the armpit and attacking the opponent from there until he drops it. In either case, the key is not just to take or trap the gun, but to follow it up with an immediate and brutal assault, whether it be with your fist, knife, hitting him with his own gun, or shooting him (with his gun or your own gun, depending on what’s handy).
After spending a couple hours practicing all the different variations of our disarm concepts, we moved on to some other subjects. Gabe talked about choking people out and demonstrated the basics of the technique. The students had a chance to practice this, carefully, without actually choking anybody out. For situations where a higher level of violence is justified, he showed us a technique for killing someone by snapping their neck (it looks absolutely nothing like the BS techniques you see in movies or on TV).
Some folks claim that all fights end up on the ground. That’s not really true, and in fact in the real world, where we have to deal with multiple adversaries, we really want to stay off the ground if we can. We don’t always get what we want, so we need some ground fighting skills, if only to keep adversaries off of us long enough so we can get back up. Gabe talked about the importance of keeping your feet towards the opponent and fending him off until you can get your gun out. Once you’ve got the gun out and shot (if necessary) we want to get back up, while still being able to address the threat. S.I. teaches a modified version of the Turkish get-up, only instead of holding a kettlebell above your head, you’re pointing a pistol at the opponent. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the ground because the Arizona lawn (i.e. gravel) that the range is made of wasn’t really suitable for extensive ground fighting.
At this point we broke for lunch. Today Gabe brought out his SBR Uzi with the new TSD RMR top cover on it and let us shoot it. This setup is slick, to the point that having something like this in a gunfight is positively unfair! Combine the RMR with the four points of contact that a long gun provides you and the low recoil of the Uzi and 5 yard double taps to the head are just stupidly easy. The optic is mounted nice and low, where it cowitnesses with the iron sights and doesn’t interfere at all with the ability to point shoot the gun (in case you want to go for body shots instead). We even had some guys using this to ding a 3ft steel gong at about 200 yards. The Uzi’s a great gun to begin with, but adding the RMR takes it to another level.
After lunch we had one last bit of FoF to take care of. Gabe wanted everyone to work the double pekiti against a live airsoft gun to get a feel for how for out they could take this. (yesterday we’d done it without any pellets in the gun). This wrapped up the airsoft portion of the program and we switched back to live guns for the rest of the class.
Many of the things we’d done in class involve drawing your gun while tied up with someone hand to hand. Depending on which hand is available, you may have to access with the support hand, rather than the primary. One technique for dealing with this is to grab the pistol upside down and work the trigger with your pinky. We call this the ‘Australian Homie’. You aren’t going to win any speed or marksmanship competitions with this grip, but if you can get a shot or two into the guy that may be what you need to break free and gain the time and distance to get your gun into a proper grip and unload on him. In order to get a feel for this, we had the students shoot it a couple of times live. Getting a good grip where you pinky can reach the trigger and your hand isn’t in the way of the slide takes a bit of work, but it can be done.
When you grab a gun during a disarm, there’s a good chance it’s going to go off sometime during the process. Students, particularly those who’ve left their thumb in the path of the slide due to an improper grip, may be leery or afraid of this prospect. So we have them get a good firm grip on their slide and fire off a shot. All that happens is the slide moves back about a quarter of an inch. As long as you’re clear of the muzzle, your hand will be fine. Experiencing this helps give confidence during a disarm.
One possible outcome in a clinch, particularly on the ground, is that you’ll end up with a contact shot. The problem with a semi-auto is that if it’s forced into the opponent hard enough the slide may come out of battery preventing the gun from firing. One solution is to pull the gun back so the muzzle is no longer in contact with the opponent, but that may not be possible (if the gun is trapped between your body and his, for example. In that case we can push forward the back of the slide and force it back into battery. This will smart a bit, but it can mean the difference between life and death in a fight. We had students shoot this both with the heel of their hand against the back of the slide and with the slide up against their bicep.
There are certain situations where S.I.’s usual GOTX solutions aren’t going to work. If you’re in a narrow hallway or between two parked cars, you can’t really bust off the X at an angle. For these situations we’ve adapted a technique from European fencing, by way of the Bowie knife. With a blade, the In Quartata technique is used to evade an incoming stab while delivering your own in return, we’re basically doing the same thing with lead in stead of steel. You step to the side while turning sideways and delivering your own shots in return. This is still getting off the X, just by a smaller amount.
When you draw very aggressively from a closed front cover garment you can sometimes catch the muzzle on the garment. Bullets will still go through, of course, so if you’re close enough to point shoot you can still shoot the bad guy. To give students some experience with this we’ve got the Murphy’s t-shirt drill. In this case, the originator of the drill, Richard Coplin, happened to be on the next range over helping Corinna teach the Ladies’ Gunfighting class, so Gabe asked him to come over and explain the drill and run it for us.
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Finally, we had the students do the Turkish get-up live fire. This was a good way to finish up the course. After a group picture we got the range cleaned up, handed out the certificates, and reluctantly went our separate ways.
This was a great class. Gabe did his usual excellent job teaching it. With a four day class like this it would be easy to run it like a pair of two-day classes. While this draws on several classes, Gabe really did a good job blending them together and creating a course that really takes advantage of the four day format.
Tom and Richard provided some welcome help and I hope that my own contributions were useful. As usual when I help out with these sorts of classes (whether it be with Gabe, Randy, or John Meade) I ended up learning a tremendous amount myself.
We had a really great group of students. There were some really experienced guys (particularly on the hand to hand/martial arts side) who contributed a lot. During the discussions there was a lot of great back and forth. Everyone did a good job handling the heat, elevation, and dry conditions and we didn’t have anyone fall out for environmental reasons.
All in all an excellent experience. The Ultimate Pistol Gunfighting class does a great job taking students through S.I.’s advanced pistol curriculum. I’d highly recommend it. Gabe’s not teaching as much as he used to so if you get the chance to take one of his classes, jump on it.