Kalashnikov Classes with Gabe Suarez

This is a discussion on Kalashnikov Classes with Gabe Suarez within the Defensive Carry & Tactical Training forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Earlier this summer I had a chance to take five days of AK classes with Gabe Suarez in Prescott. The five days were divided up ...

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    Kalashnikov Classes with Gabe Suarez

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

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

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

    Kalashnikov Rifle Marksmanship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting - Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting - Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How is my gun? (reload if appropriate)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting - Final Thoughts

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

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

    Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force - Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force - Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force - Final Thoughts

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

    Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force is an excellent class. It’s really the capstone of the Suarez International AK curriculum.
    Chris Upchurch - Suarez International Staff Instructor
    Upcoming SI Classes in South Carolina:
    Close Range Gunfighting - March 17-18
    Zero to Five Feet Gunfighting - April 14-15

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