THE SUAREZ SYSTEM – HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Thursday, June 08, 2017
I was asked how the Suarez material differs from the Modern Technique invented/codified by Jeff Cooper. Here it is…a long read, but it sets down the historical context.
I attended Gunsite in 1990. Cooper was there as were a few of the current “stalwarts” for the modern technique, a couple of SEALs and an entire group of LAPD SWAT with 1911s. I was running my issued weapon, as crappy as it was, a Smith & Wesson 5906 that had been tuned up by Steve Deladio in Long Beach, CA. While I was open minded, I did have some ideas about what was what since I had been working around criminals, gang members and killers for five years.
I had not been in a gunfight yet, but I was around alot of guys who had. In the end, I got top score and won the shootoff, against all of those guys. Cooper and I became friends, and I attended Gunsite every year until 1995. So one could say I became well versed in the Modern Technique. In Cooper’s words in the Intro to Tactical Pistol he described me as, although I would never use them to describe myself, “a master pistolero”. I say that only to illustrate my understanding of the modern technique.
The Modern Technique was born in the competitive field, not the battlefield. I didn’t read this…Cooper told me. The exercise was a man versus man shootoff, involving a draw from the holster, at some ten yards. In that sense, the competition was in fact open. And for that problem, some trends began to emerge. Below eye level shooting, or any moving while drawing – while quite popular with men like Askins, and Bryce, and other accomplished killers for close up shooting – didn’t work so well in that interval.
And since the goal was to hit before the other man hit, there was no need to move or use cover. What won was standing at ease, bringing the pistol up to eye level with both hands, and using the sights. When one man won, others emulated his method and also won.That is the over riding problem with sporting events derived from martial pursuits.
And Cooper, ever the academic, studied and identified the trends, duplicating it in his works.
Now, I respect Cooper’s memory and was proud to call him my friend. And I will say that he was not as close minded as his followers are. I shared the gunfight where I discovered “getting off the X” with him and he said that under those circumstances, it was a brilliant move. I still have that letter somewhere, and I know he mentioned it in his newsletter.
Between my intro to the Modern Technique and the height of my teaching career, I had the good fortune to be in a few gunfights…as the primary shooter. I also investigated a great number of shootings between bad guys and a few with good guy versus bad guys. I began to see trends that the modern technique did not address. As well the gunfight I told Cooper about where the concept of moving off the target line while drawing and shooting was crystallized for me, revealed many shortcomings in the MT methods.
In those days there was no internet or Google. Knowledge was passed on either via scholarly articles in police journals (forget getting anything of value in the gun rags of the day) – or via word of mouth.
In that gunfight, my third I think it was, although alert, I was in a reactive state. I moved to avoid being shot and shot back without a perfect sight picture and killed my adversary. I noted all of this and sought answers. Eventually I came across the works of John Boyd and the OODA cycle which explained in detail why my tactic of movement had allowed me to prevail in a situation where we otherwise would have shot each other. The study continued and by the close of my police career I had used that same method several times with success.
There was no force on force back then. There was Simunitions which was extremely expensive and being a UK company, they despised the idea of lowly civilians using their equipment. Some guys basically stole the gear (I actually mean borrowed for a lengthy period) from their agencies to train, but that was rare…and still is.
As well the anal-retentive range practices precluded anything other than a stationary stand and deliver training system. Eventually however, we brought in Airsoft and worked the training, simulating gunfights over and over and over. We determined that the initiative (who had started things) would determine the successful tactics of each party. We determined that moving kept you safe, while standing, or ceasing movement lead to you getting shot. We also determined those weaver stances, isosceles stances, or any hold on the weapon that was “stance dependent” was untenable in a close range reactive gunfight.
In 2004 or 2005 we had a Force On Force class…the first one, in Las Vegas. I set guys up facing each other at five yards. Armed with airsoft pistol analogs to their real weapons, and suitably protected with face masks, I told them to “GO”. This simulated a true gunfight to a far greater degree than any range exercise these men had ever seen before.
We had extremely accomplished Modern Technique guys totally change their perspectives on gunfighting after that class. We had “Combat Masters” from Taylor’s and Front Sight get their asses handed to them by first time attendees, school teachers, doctors, and students who understood what we were teaching.
And we have been developing it more and more and more ever since. I will tell you and anyone on earth that the gunfighting system taught at the Suarez School is by far the best system to keep you alive in a gunfight, and to help you kill your enemy at the same time. That was the beginning of “our system”.
Now to differences –
Specifically the Modern Technique relies heavily of being alert. In the modern world that is not always possible, and we know that while we try to be thus, the distractions of modern life will impede our incessant “Yellow”. We differ in that we understand the natural inclination, as well as the fact that if one is alert, he will often avoid/evade most problems.
Gunfighting is for when you were taken by surprise and so, a strong reactive understanding is essential. So MT is proactive, which happened maybe half the time. We do not ignore it, but we do not fixate on it either. Our system begins at reactive since that is where most lone operators will be when they realize they need to kill the other man.
Secondly we have the Weaver stance. Perhaps men are stronger today than they were in those days, but we have found in proactive shooting there is no need for the dynamics of the weaver stance with a moderately developed upper body and hand strength. All one has to do is look at what the world’s champion shooters use and you will not find weaver stances there. Often times what is needed is simply getting the weapon out quickly and punching it forward, working the trigger as you do so. Watch a force on force event and you will not see any weaver or isosceles stances. You will see a great deal of one handed shooting.
Next is the matter of Flash Sight Picture. This is but one step in a long continuum of visual references with regard to the handgun. On one extreme you have the pistol just clearing the holster, and the operator relying on pure body index and proximity to the threat. Midway we have meat and metal…the meat of the bad guy surrounding the metal image of the slide. And eventually, arms at full extension, eyes fully on the front sight or red dot, and pure marksmanship at hand. So we do not ignore the “flash sight picture” but it is not a complete use of the sights, or the body indexes either.
The next MT component is Compressed Surprise Break. Again, like the issue of the sights, working the trigger is far more involved with respect to the dynamics of the fight than merely a compressed surprise break. There are times when mashing the trigger just as fast and as hard as you can is called for. Other times we work it like a sniper rifle. All of this, and the way we work the sights is based on distance interval, and the degree of initiative you have in the fight.
Finally, the Semi-automatic pistol in a large caliber. Cooper and his men were very fond of the 1911 in 45 ACP. I don’t carry one of those. I carry a Glock 9mm. I have seen men shot with modern 9mm anti-personnel ammo and have never seen the failures we hear about in the old articles. We have several ER doctors who report that there is virtually no difference between 9mm and the other calibers. So I feel well armed, as do those who know, with a modern 9mm pistol. As well we do not subscribe to the “controlled pairs” or “hammers”. We shoot them to the ground. We rely on bursts. A burst is three to five rounds. Our school solution is a burst to the chest and a burst to the face. And of course, in proactive events, we shot for the face and head exclusively.
That is it in a nutshell. As well, our working of the pistol is vastly different. We are goal driven and focus on the state of the operator in the gunfight. Having been in some, my staff and I realize that analytical academic based weapon manipulations will fail. We also know the physical state one will likely be in. Not one of terror-filled defecation, but certainly one of excitement and adrenaline driven actions.
For example, the malfunctions we have seen discussed here. Rather than the analytical method taught at traditional schools, we understand that if your pistol malfunctions you have just been interrupted in killing the man who was trying to kill you. At such times, and often in low light, you neither have the luxury of examining the weapon, nor often the light to do so.
So we follow a flow-chart process bereft of any decision on the operator’s part other than “did it fix it and can I keep shooting”. So given a stoppage of any sort, the first reaction is an immediate and thoughtless tap rack. If that fixed it, keep killing. That maneuver will fix a failure to fire, as well as a failure to eject (known to traditional students as a stovepipe). It will not fix a feed way stoppage (not really a double feed), or an empty gun. If the initial maneuver fails to remedy the problem, the operator manually rips the on board magazine out and discards it. That will in fact instantly remedy the feed way stoppage in most modern handguns. (We have alternatives for those who must use Beretta M9 or 1911). The operator then loads a fresh magazine on board and manually cycles the slide, fixing either of the last outcomes…feed way stoppage or empty gun. We have students solving malfunctions dynamically and on the move in less than an hour.
Well, there you have it. There may be other things I haven’t thought of. We also favor appendix carry and training from concealment exclusively. We prize hand to hand combat ability and train with knives as well. We like red dot sights on our handguns, and put a premium on physical strength and conditioning.
But we firmly acknowledge our roots.