Many defensive training schools offer close quarters gun fighting courses centered around the use of the AR-15/M-16 style rifles. With the proliferation of the "Automat Kalashnikova" rifle and its variants around the world, the AK system is becoming popular in the United States. Furthermore, as the US military engages terrorist forces around the world, US soldiers are beginning to use this weapon system. However, most Americans do not know how to employ the AK system effectively. Suarez International's Kalashnikov Rifle Fighting class addresses this need.
Day 1: Knowing the AK
The first day focused upon learning the AK system. We were asked by Sonny to keep our AK with us at all times. In the Spetsnaz GRU, recruits were required to carry their rifles at all times for 20 days. After twenty days, the rifle became an extension of each soldier. They knew how to move with it and perform every daily task with it on their body. Such familiarity with a weapon cannot be underestimated and an instinctual knowledge of the status of the rifle is gained. Though I spent only two days with the AK-47, I certainly know how to use the side of an AK as a dinner table.
Since I do not currently own an AK style rifle, I was issued one. I received a WASR and it was not a pretty weapon. The safety was tight and the action a bit rough. The sights were the typical iron sights found on any AK fresh from the factory. The rear notch was tiny and the front sight difficult to pick up. Proficiency in the use of a BASIC AK rifle was a major point in class. Such AK rifles are the most common rifle in the world because between 80 and 120 million have been produced. Odds are you will encounter one.
After introductions, the students were directed by the teaching staff to unload one magazine and proceed downrange. We lined up. Gabe and Sonny began to show us how the weapon worked. The rifle's controls are simple and consist of three parts: the safety, bolt, and magazine release. He demonstrated several techniques for manipulation of each part. These fundamental skills were repeated throughout our two day session. Each exercise included handling these controls, but with an ever increasing level of difficulty. As the drill progressed, we were asked to control the rifle will performing some other action. As you will see, multitasking is easy to say, but hard to do. This ability is what differentiates the soldier from the specialist.
In staring down the sights of my loaned rifle, I could feel my arms starting to get tired. We repeatedly lowered the rifle to the "sul" position (flat against the body with muzzle pointed down) and raised it to the ready position. In doing so, we were asked to deactivate the safety, work the charging handle, and place our finger on the trigger. It may sound easy, but we were asked to complete these tasks before the rifle sights were on the target. Some of those rifles had very sharp and stiff safeties.
Once these fundamentals were clear and practiced by the class, Sonny began to talk about movement. Movement is a necessary component in any gun fight. In the case of rifle fighting, it is essential. Furthermore, three dimensional movement increases the odds of emerging from the fight unscathed. With our unloaded weapons, we began to move around the range. Walking seems easy, but do it without tight muscles. We rolled, sat, knelt, and side stepped to cover. Weapons were carried in different positions -- at the ready, in the sul position, or slung. Safeties were engaged and disengaged and we were challenged to maintain control of our bodies at all times.
In such advanced training, it is impossible to avoid being swept by a gun muzzle. It is also not possible to place each student in a bulletproof box. As a result, AK muzzles were pointed at various body parts frequently. Such violations of the cardinal gun safety rules are usually never tolerated. Each student cleared his or her weapon and verified it with another classmate for every drill. Trust was rapidly established between the participants and chamber checks were performed immediately and without complaint. This was advanced training conducted under the watchful eyes of experienced instructors (including many of the students). It did take some time to get used to, but at some point I became acutely aware of the location of my rifle's muzzle. Looking back on this drill (and subsequent ones), I feel that my awareness for safety has increased as a result of this class.
As we learned to move with our AK rifles, it became apparent to me that moving fluidly and in control requires strength, stamina, determination, focus, and practice. My body, though in good physical shape, was simply not used to this sort of activity. Frequent breaks were encouraged and taken in the shade away from the intense Arizona sun. I learned to kneel and stand such that my movement options would not be limited due to incorrect technique. Watching Sonny settle into the kneeling position was like watching the smoothest of ballet dancers. I felt like a clumsy oaf.
After lunch, we went downrange to conduct live fire drills. The range was hot; pistols and rifles were loaded at all times (except for certain drills). Our AK rifles were slung with the safety engaged. In this situation, trigger discipline is essential and all students strictly adhered to it. Gabe began to show us how to hold the gun for firing, a modified version of the low ready position, and moving while shooting. We engaged targets at three, five, and ten yards. Different firing strings were employed, though reloading at any time was encouraged. Throughout the live fire drills, students were encouraged to start from different positions to get a feel for manipulating an AK.
By late afternoon, the sun was very intense and we retired to one of the tents. All the rifles were placed on a table for inspection. One student had a Krinkov -- a very short barreled AK style weapon (I believe it had a ten inch barrel). There were a variety of modified AKs, including several Arsenal USA and Global Trades rifles. Paul answered many technical questions about the guns and ammunition. Gabe also gave a short lecture on "AK concealed carry". In all, it was very informative and I have a good understanding about what I am looking for in an AK rifle.
The second day of class started with live fire drills. We were split into two groups. One group spent half the day with Paul doing firing drills and the other with Sonny learning to use the AK in hand to hand combat. We learned how to do short range precise shots -- shooting out the eye on a target at 10 feet is difficult when the front sight is an inch and a half above the barrel. After that, the focus of the instruction was speed shooting. A full thirty rounds went down range at the target just to see how the AK reacts. Then, Paul took his AK apart and showed us how the trigger mechanism functions. Using this information, I learned how to increase the speed at which I shoot using the trigger reset. More drills followed and the difficulty increased as we were asked to perform multiple actions simultaneously.
The afternoon brought is into one of the most interesting parts of the class: hand to hand combat with the AK. Movement is also essential in hand to hand combat; moving laterally while fighting increases the difficulty to be hit by an enemy. This was clear even at the slow speeds at which we practiced.
Blocking, strikes, evasion, rifle grabs, and take downs were all covered. As Sonny covered the material, he began to reveal how he is able to move so fast. "Treat it almost like a joke because then your opponent won't see it coming" he said. He advised me to relax my body and avoid broadcasting intent by leaning forward or tightening the shoulders. Eventually, I was actually able to strike the chest of an opponent with my fist before he could react! Amazing!
The last few drills involved introducing stress into our live fire drills. We had to perform with rounds going downrange from slightly behind us. I distinctly remember the blast of several rounds coming several feet from behind my left shoulder as I fumbled a reload. The best way to make this go away was to finish the reload and engage the target. I did so with motivated alacrity. The terrorist with the claymore and deadman switch was totally perforated by 30 caliber bullets.
The final drills were complicated. They involved dry firing on the move, a transition to the pistol, dry fire at the target while moving in a different direction, and a scan in the kneeling position. All elements from previous drills were included, and it was clear to me that I need to practice in order to become proficient. The focus; however, was showing us HOW to incorporate everything we had learned up to this point.
In summary, Suarez International's Kalashnikov Rifle Fighting was a class about pushing at the traditional boundaries of training in gunfighting. Many traditional training procedures were challenged. Sacrosanct rules were broken in a manner suited to the training environment since degrees of safety were understood and accepted by all. Drills became complicated and required the operator to do several tasks simultaneously. Movement with grace at all times was emphasized. We were subtly trained in "how to train ourselves". The skills imparted here apply to all forms of gunfighting. I left this class with a sense of increased skill and confidence in my ability to perform at a higher standard. I feel as though I have a better sense of what my body is doing. Though this class is not for everyone, I highly recommend Kalashnikov Rifle Fighting to any experienced student of the fighting arts.