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Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force

August 27, 2010

In June I attended a Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force class taught by Gabe Suarez. He was assisted by a bevy of SI staff instructors, including Dale Hunter, Uli Gebhard, and Doug Little. Doug left after the first day, but we were joined by Richard Coplin. His wife, Coriana was teaching a Ladies Pistol Gunfighting class over on the next range. This class was the capstone of five days of AK classes, following Kalashnikov Rifle Marksmanship and Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting. All the students in the class were at the Advanced AK class the previous two days, so everyone was well versed in how to run the AK.

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 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.

Day 1

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.

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.

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.

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