Jeff Cooper 2.0: Gabe Suarez and the New Modern Technique of the Pistol

A commenter on my Facebook page partial to Jeff Cooper and the Modern Technique was critical of what he called the Post-Modern Technique of the Pistol – contemporary teaching that departs from the essentials taught in Version 1.0.

My experience is not as substantial as many others’, but it seems to me based on my observations so far that what we see in the mainstream of the gun training industry is not a leaving behind of the Modern Technique (post-modernism) but an updating of the Modern Technique (neo-modernism).

This makes sense because so much of the expanding tree of gun trainers traces its roots back to Col. Jeff Cooper. Many are either students of Cooper (direct or indirect), or students of Cooper’s students (direct or indirect). At least on the national level.

Gabriel (Gabe) Suarez is a case in point. As Cooper is revered by most and Suarez reviled by many, finding the connection between them was fascinating.

Suarez trained at Gunsite under Cooper, and Cooper thought enough of Suarez that he wrote the Foreword to his book, The Tactical Pistol (1996).

More recently, when I observed one of Suarez’s gun training courses, the influence of Cooper and the Modern Technique on Suarez was evident. As my next few posts will show, Suarez today is essentially teaching the New Modern Technique of the Pistol, or Modern Technique Version 2.0.

Yavapai Recreation League range in Prescott National Forest. Photo by David Yamane

In early November, I traveled to Prescott, Arizona to observe a Suarez International Pistol Gunfighting School.

I had been to the Suarez International offices earlier in the year, stopping by before my week at Gunsite. I did not meet Suarez then and only exchanged a few brief emails with him to arrange my observation. When I arrived at the Yavapai Recreation League range in the Prescott National Forest Friday morning about 15 minutes before class, I found Suarez organizing his materials under a large canopy. His sunglasses hung from the collar of his t-shirt and so as I approached I could clearly see his eyes were not the demonic red I had half-expected from reading about him. I introduced myself and Suarez welcomed me generously and with a smile that I would see often over the three days of the class.

Gabe Suarez preparing to teach Pistol Gunfighting School. Photo by David Yamane

Jeff Cooper codified the Modern Technique of the Pistol based on what he learned from the South West Pistol League’s leather slap competitions in California. Gabe Suarez created his version of the New Modern Technique by combining the Modern Technique with what he learned from actual gunfights as a police officer in California.

Like the Gunsite Academy 250 Defensive Pistol Course, the overall framework of Suarez’s Pistol Gunfighting School is provided by the Combat Triad. Although Suarez did not use this language during the course I observed, he follows Cooper closely in The Tactical Pistol when he writes, “The operator must have a firm understanding of marksmanship, gunhandling, and mind-set. These three equally important components make up what is called the ‘combat triad’” (p. ix-x).

Suarez calls them “equally important,” but in both the book and in his Pistol Gunfighting Class, the combat mindset is first among equals.

Shirt for sale at headquarters of Suarez Group, Prescott, Arizona, June 2017. Photo by David Yamane

What has been lost in terms of the combat mindset at Gunsite Academy has made its way down the Chino Valley from Paulden to Prescott and landed at Suarez International.

In his Foreword to The Tactical Pistol, Jeff Cooper observes that the “proper mindset . . . enables one to triumph in a deadly encounter.” He also maintains, “Only a man who has been there – ‘seen the elephant’ – really knows if he can employ the principles of marksmanship when he is faced with a deadly enemy who is trying to kill him.” Cooper then praises Gabe Suarez as “particularly well-qualified to write the book that you are about to read, because he is not only a fine shot, as he has demonstrated to me several times at Old Gunsite, but he has also shown that he can employ his high order of skill when the chips are down. Gabe has seen success in combat several times in our ongoing war against crime.” Therefore, he concludes, “I can think of no one better able to tell you how it is done” (p. v).

In the book, Suarez returns the compliment by dedicating the entire first substantive chapter to “Getting Your Mind Right” in which he discusses Cooper’s color codes of awareness. Suarez writes, “Unquestionably the most valuable lesson that I learned from Col. Jeff Cooper was the color code and the development of the subsequent combat mind-set” (p. 7).

Emphasizing the primacy of mindset and his indebtedness to Cooper, Suarez introduces his book with a quote from John Steinbeck’s posthumously published novel, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976). The quote was made popular in gun culture by Cooper; so popular, in fact, that I just saw the passage in full attributed to Clint Smith on another gun website:

“This is the law. The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplementary” (p. 193).

The passage is actually spoken by Steinbeck’s character Lyne, a 60-year old woman who goes on a quest with one of the noble knights, Ewain, and teaches him how to fight along the way.

Again taking off from Steinbeck via Cooper, Suarez later wrote a book called The Final Weapon, which he inscribed to me with his motto, “Shoot ’em to the ground.”

From the start of the Pistol Gunfighting School, Suarez emphasizes the importance of a combat mindset. Just a few minutes into the course, he holds up a gun and asks his 20 students, “What is this for?” At least half the class responds immediately, “Killing.” “All right,” Suarez responds with a smile. “We just saved 15 minutes of lecture.”

Later in the same session, he declares with gravity, “We live in a time of war. 2017 America.” How we respond to that reality makes all the difference, and is all about mindset. “American gun people are way too afraid. THEY need to be afraid of US.”

Suarez then poses another question to his students: “Who wants to kill the bad guy?” All raise their hands and some vocalize their assent. “Good,” Suarez says, smiling again. “We can just discuss marksmanship.”

As I show in my next post, Suarez does in fact discuss marksmanship, as well as gunhandling as part of his overall Pistol Gunfighting School. But always in the context of the combat mindset that he establishes from the start and reinforces throughout.

11 comments

  1. David,
    Thank you for writing this series. I only today found you, and now, after having read your posts, I am glad that I did. Of course I have heard a lot of the haters talk about Gabe Suarez, mostly nonsense. But he hit the nail squarely on the head here, with the main focus on mindset. Any competent teacher should be able to teach a somewhat motivated student with normal motor skills how to shoot a handgun proficiently. What is harder is to teach them the mindset of being prepared to fight and win, often by killing another, when the need arises.

    I live in Michigan, and we have a CCW system where you take an 8 hour class, with half classroom and half range time. The class time follows closely the NRA training materials, but leaves room for input from the instructors. In our class, the instructors brought in not only the local assistant D.A., but also a retired LEO. They spoke about the legalities of self defense, with the LEO being retired due to having fallen out of a tree stand deer hunting and breaking his back, and now being disabled. He was in constant pain, and on heavy duty pain killers and so did not carry a gun, because of fear of being involved in a shooting, even if he were justified, and having the family of the other person sue him, and him losing due to the fact that he had drugs in his system.

    They also encouraged us to continuously run through things in our mind to be ready in advance of what we would do in this situation or that. I can honestly say, that the 100$ that I spent for my training by this gun dealer was the best money I have ever spent for a class before or since. I know that going to some of the various training locations around the country can be fun, storming shoot houses, and rescuing hostages in mock battles, etc. But I will probably never be a Navy Seal, or a Force Recon Operator, etc. I do, however, learn simply by reading accounts like you write here. So I want to once again thank you for reviewing some of these things, and for making them useful to people like me, who in all honesty, will probably never be able to make it to some of the more expensive schools in the country. It makes it easier to choose when looking closer to home for a class taught by some of the instructors here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What ever you think of him Gabe is totally right. Most of the battle is in the shooters mind and a great deal of military basic it setting that mind set in a controlled fashion. That sheep dog who responded to the church shooting all ready had the mind set. I have long thought and prayed about it. I never want to take a life but if it’s needed to defend myself or someone else…I will.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

    Like

  3. Gabe is good people and 100% spot on with his teachings. The detractors are afraid of change but have embraced a lot of his teachings over time even while still bashign him. Getting off the X, AIWB, Red Dots on pistols. Etc.

    Like

    • I feel like I heard alot more people talking about the need to take more proactive approaches to terrorist/active shooter situations (including possibly needing to take long shots that would benefit from a red dot optic on a pistol) after the Sutherland Springs shooting, but that may just be my perception.

      Like

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