Suarez International Extreme Close Range Gunfighting
Last weekend I took an Extreme Close Range Gunfighting class taught by Randy Harris. This class followed right on the heels of the Snub Nose Seminar/Pistol Tune Up held on Friday.
I brought my usual Glock 21, carried in a Comp-Tac C-T.A.C. IWB holster at 3:30. For the airsoft portions of the class, I had a Glock 17 airsoft gun, which fits pretty well in the G21 holster. I also brought along my USP Compact airsoft as a loaner.
There were a total of seven people in the class, including me. Most of them were shooting Glocks, while two students carried SIGs (one of the SIG shooters also had a Makarov). An AIWB holster with a closed front concealment garment was the most common carry method. One fellow carried on a load bearing vest Saturday morning, but he switched over to a belt rig for the afternoon.
The class was held on the back 40 of a farm just outside Florala, Alabama. We used some large, cylindrical hay bales as a backstop and shot to the accompaniment of mooing cows and a braying donkey in the next field.
The sky was overcast again Saturday, and it sprinkled off an on throughout the day. Thankfully, it never really poured and we were able to keep shooting the entire day.
We started out with five rounds of slow fire to give Randy some idea of our marksmanship capabilities. Everyone in the class was able to produce a fairly tight group in these circumstances. Shooting the Glock, with a big sight radius and relatively light trigger was a positive luxury compared with all the snubby work we did on Friday.
After divesting ourselves of guns, knives, OC, impact weapons and other dangerous implements, we switched over to airsoft gear. First up was a regular feature of SI force-on-force classes: the suicide drill, also knows as the Matt Dillon drill. Pairs of students quick drew at seven yards and blazed away at each other with airsoft guns. Hits were generally almost simultaneous. At seven yards, there were some misses, but when we moved the distance in to five yards, the hit percentage rose by quite a bit.
Mutually Assured Destruction might work with nuclear weapons, but it isn't really effective on the streets. The solution is to move. To get off the X and not be there when the assailant's bullet comes calling. Randy had us try out getting off the X on our own a few times before introducing the Pekiti takeoff. The Pekiti takeoff was actually one of my motivations for taking this course. I took Close Range Gunfighting and Interactive Gunfighting from Gabe Suarez two years ago, just a month or so before he made the Pekiti takeoff a standard part of the curriculum. The descriptions of it online were enough to pique my interest, but not really enough to teach me the technique. It is definitely in the category of "easy to demonstrate but difficult to describe". The PTO really helps you accelerate off the X (even for a big guy like me), particularly when combined with a bit of a ducking motion in the direction of travel. We worked the Pekiti takeoff by itself for a while, then threw in the drawstroke, moving off the X and getting the gun on target as quickly as possible.
We swapped from airsoft back to live weapons and did a bit of retention shooting. Randy prefers shooing downward from close retention, towards the pelvis rather than horizontally into the chest. If you're shooting from retention, you're probably fending off the opponent with your support hand, and aiming downward makes it less likely that you'll put a bullet into it. After trying out the close retention stuff, we took a step back and shot some from the #3 (merge) position of the drawstroke. In this position, the gun is well below the line of sight, so it definitely still requires the use point shooting skills. However, with a bit of practice it's possible to direct the gun fairly well, at least at the kind of range where you'd be shooting from retention. In addition to drilling the close retention and partial extension positions, we shot a few drills that combined them, starting with a close retention shot, then stepping back to shoot at partial and full extension.
We move on to some GOTX work with live guns, practicing explosive movement to the 2 and 10, 3 and 9, and 5 and 7 o'clock directions. Using live guns you can't really go at full speed the way you can with airsoft, particularly when lined up with several other guys, but I think doing it live is pretty important for both acquiring confidence and learning how to manage recoil on the move.
After lunch we spent some time on the pacing drill, moving off the X to one side, then turning around and walking back the other way, passing the gun from one hand to the other. This provides some practice on shooting while moving, as well as transferring the gun from one hand to the other. One of the things that becomes evident in force on force drills is how often hands and arms get hit. Being able to transition to the other hand, and being able to shoot well with both hands, is an important skill.
Our last live fire drill of the day involved giving the target some dental work. With three rounds in the gun, you got off the X to the forward diagonals (2 and 10). When the gun ran dry, it became an an impact weapon (a straight punch with the muzzle into the target's mouth). This was our first significant introduction to one of the big themes for this class: using firearms, contact weapons (including the firearm as a contact weapon) and empty hand together in a fight.
With that, we put our guns, knives, etc. back on the table and switched back to airsoft. Randy gave a quick introduction to defending against knife attacks, focusing on low line stabs. A shot to the gut like this is is probably the most common sort of knife attack on the streets. The lesson was basically a one-hour introduction to Tom Sotis' class that Randy hosted last summer, using the alternate X to block and clear the attacker's knife. During the course of the lesson, he brought out a pretty impressive collection of small, fixed blade knives, with a blunt trainer for every one. I always carry a folder or two, but my experience in this class has impressed on me how difficult it would be to access them in the middle of a hand to hand fight. This has me thinking about getting a fixed blade for carry, particularly for circumstances where I can't carry a pistol.
After we were done playing with knives, we finished up the day with a quick demonstration of the Inquartana in the confined space between two cars. This is another technique that I'd heard about on WT, but hadn't really been able to grasp until I was able to see it and try it for myself. We only had a couple of chances each at this. As we were on the verge of loosing daylight, we wrapped things up for the evening.
In an effort to get the class done a little early today, we started at 8am instead of 9. We gained one student, who hadn't been able to make it to the first day, but lost another who's sunburn from Friday was beginning to blister. The weather was much sunnier today, and quite a bit hotter. I sucked down four bottles of gatorade and a couple of sodas and still probably wasn't drinking enough.
We started out with some retention work, basically what to do when an assailant manages to grab your gun. Randy demonstrated both stripping their hands of the gun using your elbow, and shaking them loose using a circular motion. I got some fairly good results using a technique I learned from Farnam, shoving the gun towards the assailant then jerking it back. This worked quite well, but it requires you to start out in something less than full extension (another good reason not to extend your gun out all the way).
During the disarm drills, one of the pairs of students ended up on the ground, so Randy segued into a ground fighting lesson. He had the same pair of students try to take each other down and the guy with the gun ended up on top, so we used that as our starting point. The disarming student started on his back with the armed student's gun arm tied up in his armpit. The first time I was the armed student, after trying to pry my arm loose I ended up just letting go of the gun and reached down and retrieved it with my left hand. Randy pointed out that, especially with my size advantage, a good choice might be to just get my legs underneath me and stand up, leaving the disarmer to try to support himself by hanging on to my gun arm, which worked pretty well. We moved on to accessing another weapon (a training knife in this case) and using that to cut your way to the gun. This seemed to work well with accessible fixed blades, but with a folder it would leave you trying to hold on to your gun one-handed for quite a while.
After we finished rolling around on the ground, we ran some 3 on 1 multiple assailant drills. Based on my experience in Gabe's force on force class, I knew 3 on 1 really sucked, at least if you were the 1, and these drills bore out that experience. Randy introduced the element of using one of the assailants as uncooperative cover. Getting to that point was difficult, but if the defender managed to pull it off, it made a really big difference. Turning a 3 on 1 fight with no cover into a 2 on 1 fight with cover turns a really bad situation into a much better one.
Around this time, Randy realized that when we got off into ground fighting, we hadn't covered the disarming part of the retention and disarming segment, so we doubled back and worked those. I've learned a couple different methods of disarming from different instructors and the ones Randy demonstrated where definitely on the simple and brutal end of the spectrum, rather than some of the elegant, but more complicated maneuvers. Wrist goes one way, gun goes the other, and suddenly it's yours. One thing that differed a bit from previous disarm lessons was the context. Most disarm instruction assumes that you're being held at gunpoint by a mugger or robber. Randy pointed out that the disarm is a natural follow-up after you fail at a retention problem. The first thing to do when you loose a gun to someone is to take it back. He also emphasized following up the disarm with some sort of continued fighting action, rather than just standing there with the gun, or handing it back to restart the drill. He underlined this point by telling the story of a LA cop who, upon successfully disarming a suspect, handed the thug his gun back! That was what he was used to doing after performing a disarm in training. He promptly disarmed the suspect again, so no harm, no foul in this case, but definitely not something I want to emulate.
Disarming flowed naturally into defending sul, which was our next lesson. I learned defending sul from Gabe in CRG two years ago, but Randy introduced some new elements to it. One is the "Dracula Sul" position, which has to be the best name ever for a gunfighting technique. This is basically a one handed sul, with the support hand in a horizontal blocking position to keep an assailant off your gun (for the name, think Bella Lugosi holding a long black cape across his face). We practiced defending sul from assaults from both sides and the rear. Randy also emphasized continuing the fight beyond firing a couple of shots into the assailant from dracula sul, since one or two rounds, perhaps poorly placed since you're shooting from close retention, probably won't be a fight stopper. You need to get them turned around and start shooting them in the back or the back of the head.
Randy gave us an anti-carjacking lecture. In part, this was intended to get us ready for the vehicle shooting later this afternoon. However, it went quite a bit beyond just how to shoot from a car into things like general anti-carjacking techniques and strategies to avoid being ambushed in a parking lot.
At this point we were finished with airsoft and blue gun drills for the class, so we geared back up with live weapons and brought out some camp chairs and practiced shooting while seated. When you're shooting on the line, while seated, there's no way to draw without covering yourself or someone else (unless you're the guy way down at the end of the line). In the spirit of being responsible for one's own mistakes, Randy instructed us not to cover other students when drawing. As far as not shooting ourselves, well, these drills really underlined the importance of good trigger discipline. We shot targets to our left, then turned around and shot to the right. Aside from potential excitement during the drawstroke, these angles are relatively easy. Shooting to the rear while seated, on the other hand, is a bit more of a challenge. In most circumstances, it would probably be better to get out of the chair and shoot from kneeling or standing, but if you're in a car, or trapped in a booth at a restaurant, that might not be an option. We practiced both torquing ourselves around to shoot, and getting to a kneeling position from the chair and firing.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that always comes up during force on force drills is how common it is to get hit in the hands or arms (I have two bloody welts on my forearm from getting shot during the 3 on 1 drills that attest to this). Thus, it may be necessary to shoot one handed, perhaps with the off hand. Obviously the best way to do this would be to pass the gun from the injured arm to the working one as we did on Saturday, but the obvious reaction to getting shot in the hand or arm would probably be to drop what you are holding, so Randy had us practice grabbing our guns from the deck with your support hand and firing. He also demonstrated a one handed reload and had us practice that during our after action drills.
At this point we moved the camp chairs out of the way and did a few final reps of getting off the X, first against paper targets, then against Ted, a falling steel target with plates representing the vitals in the chest and head underneath a person-shaped plastic shell.
We adjourned to our cars for some dry fire practice drawing and aiming at threats in various directions. Aiming directly out the drivers side and passenger side windows is fairly easy, as is aiming at targets diagonally ahead of the car on the driver's side. Targets closer to straight ahead are more difficult, as are targets to the rear passenger side. Targets on the driver's side to the rear are much more difficult really requiring you to twist around in the seat and shoot from an uncomfortable position. It seemed like this was a bit easier for the guys with roomier trucks, as opposed to my sedan. One way to get around this is to pop the door open and lean out and shoot, but if the door is locked this may take too long.
While Randy recommended leaving your seatbelt unbuckled until you're actually moving, to provide easier access, if you're carjacked at a stoplight, your belt may be buckled anyway. I found that the belt itself wasn't really an obstacle to getting to my gun, but when the belt was holding the cover garment in place that made things difficult. Ripping the cover garment out from under the belt with the support hand seemed to be the best way to provide access.
After dry firing, we loaded up our pistols and lined up the cars for live fire from inside our vehicles. It was just like a drive through, we pulled up, shot Ted on Randy's command, and drove to the back of the line. Each person got at least two runs at each position (passenger side, driver's side, forward, and rear). Randy described a short scenario for each string of fire (my favorite was the chainsaw wielding guy in a gimp suit). He also included one scenario where shooting wasn't an appropriate response, to emphasize that in your car the accelerator pedal is often a better tool for resolving a dangerous situation than a firearm. I managed not to shoot my car, but I think I'll probably spend a while picking brass out of odd places inside of my car.
This was really a great class. In particular, Randy did an excellent job integrating gun focused fighting skills with knife and empty hand skills. I've had a fair bit of pistol training and a little bit of experience with more combative stuff, but this is the first training experience I've had that really integrates them. This wasn't just a pistol course and a combative course mashed together, the integrated, fight focused nature really pervaded the entire course.
I've felt that hand to hand and knife skills have been a hole in my skillset ever since I took CRG and force on force from Gabe two years ago. After taking this class and Tom Sotis' class earlier this summer I feel like I'm starting to get a handle on the non-firearm stuff. I definitely want to continue with Sotis' classes as well as taking the 0-5 foot class from Gabe Suarez when he comes to South Carolina a year from now.
As I said in my AAR for the snubby seminar on Friday, these were the first SI classes I've taken from an instructor other than Gabe. Gabe is obviously the headliner when it comes to Suarez International instructors, but Randy did a great job teaching this class. I would not hesitate to take another class from him in the future.
I would definitely recommend both the Extreme Close Range Gunfighting course and anything taught by Randy Harris!