AAR: Suarez International “Force-on-Force Gunfighting (CRG-4)”, Palmyra, PA, 7/19-7/20, 2014

This was the fifth course I took in 2014, my third overall in which John was also a student. The class was, as stated in the title, CRG-4: Force on Force Gunfighting with Suarez International. The class was held at the Palmyra Sportsman’s Association in Palmyra, PA (just east of Hershey). I am not affiliated with either the P.S.A. or Suarez International, though this is the fifth class I have taken with S.I. The course was $350, and the instructor was Jack Rumbaugh.


Let me sum up this course for you in one word: OUCH!!!!

Wounds. The cost of doing business. Would've been much worse in real life.
Wounds. The cost of doing business. Would’ve been much worse in real life.

My chest looked like I had the measles, my legs ached from lots of quick start-stop moves, and I had a random bruise on my arm, cause unknown. And I got off easy compared with several of my 9 fellow classmates. Allow me to explain:

This “gunfighting” course doesn’t utilize ANY firearms. Instead, it’s a class that puts man against man (there were only men in this class, though obviously women can take it) in a variety of scenarios designed to either illustrate certain points about how to fight with a gun, or else mimic actual events as they might occur. It is, in essence, a gunfight sparring class. Students use gas airsoft pistols and training knives, wear some minimal protective gear (mask, gloves, hooded sweatshirt or the like), and then are lead down a path of, hopefully, enlightenment.

Unlike the other classes I have taken at P.S.A. with S.I., this one took place indoors at the main building. We did our training over the course of the two days on two different indoor ranges that had been mostly cleared of obstructions. The ranges were generally set up for about 10 lanes at 25 yards each, so once we got everything out of the way there was plenty of room for the 10 of us to move. However, I must say that, once we started moving quickly, the amount of space there got small quite fast.

Getting attacked!
Getting attacked!

DAY ONE began on Saturday at 9 AM with a basic intro by Jack Rumbaugh, the instructor (this was my 2nd class with Jack, see my AAR on CRG-2 here) . Oddly, there was no self-introduction of the students, though I did recognize at least 2 other students from prior classes, plus John. Over the course of the 2 days, I would learn that one of the students is currently a Federal Air Marshall and former police officer, another student is currently a wrestling coach, and of course John is a paramedic. Anyway, Jack began the course by going over some airsoft basics. A number of students had just purchased their airsoft guns specifically for the class and didn’t know some of the nuances of working with them, potential problems, etc. We then had a safety brief which did not need to be as involved as one in a live-fire class might be. Next, Jack reviewed the goals for the class, which were to basically dispel some Suarez-defined “myths” about gunfighting, give us some tools to use in different circumstances, etc. That stuff out of the way, he gave us at least 5 minutes to stretch, etc., as no one wanted to rupture an Achilles tendon or something along those lines.

Important lesson of day 1 came next. Jack took 2 volunteers and had them stand facing each other, guns holstered, “cowboy” style. On his signal, both were to draw and shoot the other guy (they were maybe 15 feet apart?). The rest of us watched. Jack said, “Go!”, and both guys drew and fired. What did we see? Well, was one guy faster than the other? Yes, maybe just a bit. Did they both get hit? Yes, they did. What did we learn? That extra tenth of a second you MIGHT have over someone else on the draw probably doesn’t matter, not enough to throw off the other guy’s shot (maybe, maybe not?). So, trading shots is not good. What’s the best way to win a gunfight? NOT GETTING SHOT. How do we not get shot? We move.  So says S.I. doctrine.

Setting up a drill where good guy gets to move and shoot back.
Setting up a drill where good guy gets to move and shoot back.

Jack then demonstrated to us 4 different “take off” moves that have their roots in a variety of places (fencing, martial arts, etc.). Once he demonstrated, we took a good 10 minutes practicing each one dry (no shooting or anything, just standing there and exploding into action). When we collectively felt comfortable about the moves and maybe had Jack tweak some nuance here or there, we started some drills.

The drills were well set up in a sensible progression. So we started out static at 21 feet from our partner. “Bad guy” in each pair would have gun out and aimed at “good guy”. “Bad guy” would then be instructed to shoot “good guy” when “good guy” moved. What I found was that, using any of the take-offs, the “bad guy” couldn’t hit me. Now, “bad guy”, at this point, was not allowed to track us with his gun. He had to shoot straight. This was a drill, not a training scenario. It was done to illustrate the point.

Anyway, once we’d established that a little, quick movement can go a long way to keeping you safe-ish, off the X, and resetting the bad guy’s OODA Loop, we changed it up. Next, we had to walk toward the bad guy, who again was already aimed at us, and we had to “take off” and avoid getting hit. And again, unless you telegraphed your move, it was easy to stay hit-free.

Moving AND shooting.
Moving AND shooting.

We continued to work these drills, shortening the distance, etc. Eventually, the “bad guy” was allowed to track the good guy, and as time went on over the day, both guys were allowed to move, draw, fire, etc.  Of course, what I personally found was that, once the bad guy could track you with his sights, the bad guy tended to land the first shots.  I am pretty sure this invalidated the point of the exercises!

The day ended with a long, mostly lecture/discussion session, on dealing with people on the street. Panhandlers, people asking for the time of day, people behind you at an ATM, etc. We practiced what I guess you’d call some verbal judo, and then adjourned for the day just after 4 PM.

My takeaways from day one were:

  1. Movement might keep you from getting hit.
  2. My point shooting is pretty good. I actually hit a lot of tight groups on guys’ chests from all sorts of positions.
  3. You know those 7 fundamentals of marksmanship? Grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breathing, and reset? Guess which/how many of those I used well. (answer: MAYBE reset. I exclusively shot one-handed, so no nice 2 hand grip. I never looked at my sights, never assumed a good stance, my breathing was whatever was necessary for all the running around, and my trigger control was only as good as it had to be.)

DAY TWO started again at 9 AM and began with an introduction to the classic Tueller drill. Back to the 21 foot mark, bad guy with training knife, good guy anchored to the X, gun concealed in holster. Bad guy charges, and how fast can the good guy draw and fire? I would say most of us probably got a single round into the bad guy just before the knife hit. We then each moved in a step and did it again. Now I could barely clear my holster. Then we each moved in another step, and now I usually couldn’t even draw the gun! And, keep in mind, I KNEW the bad guy would attack, I just didn’t know exactly when! This scared me. Scared me more than the gun thing. I don’t know, there is just something more sinister/scary about the knife than a gun.

Getting chased!
Getting chased!
Chased around pillar.
Chased around pillar.

This lesson in our heads, the importance of explosive, dynamic movement was even more apparent. We paused and Jack instructed us for a little while on some very basic parry moves to use against standard knife attacks. The idea was that, if you couldn’t move fast enough to avoid bad guy with the knife, maybe you could go hands on, do a little move, push him away and create distance=time and get your gun out. Once instructed, we went back to training partners running the Tueller drill, only this time both guys could move, parry, etc. I must say that, depending on who I was paired with, I still struggled a bit. This is clearly a hole in my game that needs mending. My own feeling is that to be instructed for just a few minutes on knife defense did not really help in my abilities to defend against the knife, only that I need actual training in this area.

We broke for lunch, and after lunch we moved into some multiple adversary problems. We did some 2 on 1 and 3 on 1. Sometimes the bad guys had knives, sometimes guns, sometimes a mixture, and sometimes nothing (a few “innocents” got blown away!). At times it was too easy to “game” these scenarios, and some of my fellow students would draw on the potential bad guy who was 30 feet away and had only said “hey man” and not shown any signs of having a weapon! I tried to get the most out of it by pretending, in my mind, that I was heading for my car in the local mall parking garage and had to deal with these 2 annoying guys.

Notice how I run toward the bigger guy's side. Figured he'd be slow!
Notice how I run toward the bigger guy’s side. Figured he’d be slow!
Having gained space, I've drawn and am already shooting.
Having gained space, I’ve drawn and am already shooting.
Have successfully evaded and shot both
Have successfully evaded and shot both “attackers”.

What did I learn? 2 on 1 sucks if you are the good guy, and 3 on 1 is obviously much worse.

We finished day 2 with some contrived (by Jack) scenarios where he would set up a situation by taking the good guy aside and instructing him, and then the bad guys and telling them what to do, and then play it out. My best moment came as a good guy, sitting on my “couch” (a pair of folding chairs) reading a magazine in my home, when BOOM, my front door was kicked in and I got home-invaded by a pair of knife wielding thugs. I bought time/space by flinging the magazine at one guy’s face and getting off the couch towards his side, drawing my gun, and then putting about 5 shots into each guy. We ran a few scenarios outside as well (getting into a car and approached by a pair, sitting on a bench and approached, using an ATM, etc.). We wrapped up around 4:10 PM, cleaned up pellets on the indoor range, got our certificates, and headed out.

One of the outdoors scenarios, approached from 2 directions in a parking lot.
One of the outdoors scenarios, approached from 2 directions in a parking lot.

I really wanted to like this class. Once it was listed on the schedule I HAD to sign up for it since I had always heard so much about it online.  However, overall, I was not entirely satisfied with the course.

Here were my issues:

At times I felt like our breaks were a bit too long as Jack would relate some story of his younger days. Though the breaks were welcome chances to hydrate and rest, as the physical exertion, coupled with the humidity and the sweatshirts and masks, made for a tough weekend, I didn’t really want to hear these stories that had nothing to do with anything we were learning. More than once, I caught John’s eye and we both rolled our eyes!

The second issue that I had with the course was accountability. While it was great to see how the movement fit in with everything else and the tight groups I often got using point shooting, there was no one counting our hits vs. misses. In other words, yes, I might have put 3 rounds in the chest of my adversary while moving, but did the two misses that were part of that 5 shot cluster “hit little kids down the street”? I don’t know; no one knows, because there wasn’t accountability for EVERY shot.

The third issue I had was outlined earlier in this AAR.  At times, I felt like drills Jack had us perform almost proved the opposite of what they were intended to do.  Thus, I felt like a good portion of what was taught was actually invalidated during the class!

My fourth issue was that a lot of this “movement” presupposed a lot of space exists in which to perform it.  As noted earlier in this AAR and as hopefully can be seen in the photos, we had quite a bit of space to work with.  However, I happen to live in a world dominated by tighter boundaries:  fences, parked cars, buildings, busy traffic lanes, etc., none of which are helpful when it comes to all of this running around.  Likewise, most criminals ply their trade from up-close and personal distances, and do not have a habit of yelling across a Wal-Mart parking lot for my wallet.

My final issue was the students. A few were “professional” in their outlook. Some had some prior knife or hand-to-hand training and offered help to me and other students when Jack was busy with someone else. But at least one guy was so gung-ho I was worried he would injure one or all of us, and several of the students just gamed the scenarios too much. Once or twice it was funny and broke up the seriousness well, but after that Jack really needed to rein everyone in and get people focused.  There were too many scenarios when an “unknown person” would approach the “good guy” student, intentions not clear, and from 15 feet the “good guy” would just shoot the potential bad guy.  Good luck defending that in court!

Some good things:

Besides some of the lessons learned that I outlined earlier in the AAR and in my final thoughts below, I felt like Jack did a great job keeping us hydrated and safe. Hydration was an issue due to the heat and humidity inside the building. One or two drills while wearing a heavy hooded sweatshirt, gloves, and mask, and the sweat was flowing fast and furious. Safety was an issue in a few ways. One was that, when running around, a few people ran into things on the range (ahem! John!), and Jack did his best to mitigate these issues (target hangars on one of the ranges could have hurt some of the taller students, so Jack declared some areas “out of bounds”). Also, when we ran the more involved scenarios on Day Two, Jack made sure that those of us not involved in the scenario kept eye-protection on in case errant pellets found their way to us in “observation” or “re-hydration” mode.

Gear: I used a V-Force airsoft mask from Amazon that might have been $30. My airsoft gun is a KJW Glock 19 clone. I had a few misfires with it, but it performed well for me overall (students used a pretty good variety of airsoft guns, and I think every one of us had at least minor issues at times). It runs on Green Gas, fits in my Glock holsters, can accept the same taclight I have on one of my Glocks, etc. They aren’t cheap and run around $200, if you can find one. Mags are about $30. I wore Mechanix Gloves (I probably took 10 pellets to my hands over the two days), a hoodie from Target, Bladetech holster and mag carrier, and 5.11 belt. I wore a tee shirt under the hoodie, and the worst hits I took were actually when I had just cleared my holster but still had my support hand holding up the bottom of the hoodie, so pellets hit me on the tee shirt rather than the thicker hoodie, and almost drew blood. A few guys were bloody for the same reason. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on airsoft as a training tool.

Some Final Thoughts:

  1. I discovered on a number of occasions that my draw was not clean, that I drew some tee shirt or bottom of hoodie together with the gun. I have heard in many classes that you only get one shot at getting a good grip on your gun, and that’s when it is in the holster. What you get is what you get. I made it work and got shots on target, and it was pointed out that, in the real world, had I been using an Springfield or 1911 rather than a Glock, I could not have shot the gun due to the need to engage the grip safety.
  2. Movement can be good. While I have enjoyed all of the handgun classes I have taken, THIS was movement. Doing the duck walk toward a target while shooting, as taught in some classes, does teach you things.  This class at least attempted to SHOW you things.
  3. Airsoft pellets out of a gas gun HURT. My chest had about 11 solid hits on it, including those 2 bad ones mentioned above. I took one shot on my butt, one solid hit on my back, and one solid hit in a VERY sensitive spot on day 1 that had my stuffing my shorts with a sock on day 2 for some protection. THAT one really hurt, and required a 2 minute “walk off” on my part.
  4. I need hand-to-hand and knife training. Tom Sotis was highly recommended for knife stuff by Jack and by some fellow students.
  5. Distance is good. Distance = time, and you need time to draw and fire.

As noted at the top, this was the 5th Suarez class I have taken, and, going into it, I assumed this would be my favorite.  However, the class had too many flaws, and it should come as no surprise that I have not taken a class with Suarez International since this class.

John’s Comments…

I think Robert described this class really well in the above review. I do, however, want to make one specific observation.

In the hierarchy of Suarez International pistol classes, there is an additional offering beyond CRG-4. Namely, CRG-5, which purports to deal with contact distance threats in the 0-5 foot range, otherwise known as the “hole.” While the class has no prerequisites, I think it should be sequenced prior to CRG-4. I say this because it seemed that many of the scenarios enacted in CRG-4 devolved into a confrontation in the 0-5 foot range. Being exposed to the requisite skills needed in such confrontations prior to encountering them in force-on-force training strikes me as a good idea.

With that said, this class definitely exposed that “hole” in my defenses. It is a definite chink in my armor that I intend to address in future training. But instead of taking CRG-5 from SI, I will instead probably take ECQC with Craig Douglas or perhaps Extreme Close Range Gunfighting with Greg Ellifritz. Hopefully both… I’ll report back when I do!

5 thoughts on “AAR: Suarez International “Force-on-Force Gunfighting (CRG-4)”, Palmyra, PA, 7/19-7/20, 2014

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