Reactive Shooting and Movement in Gabe Suarez’s New Modern Technique

In previous posts, I have suggested that Gabe Suarez’s Pistol Gunfighting School draws on and updates Col. Jeff Cooper’s Modern Technique of the Pistol. Suarez’s New Modern Technique (my term, not his) is indebted to Cooper’s Combat Triad (mindset, gunhandling, marksmanship) and the combat mindset part of the triad (mental conditioning for combat) in particular.

Here I want to press ahead with my analysis of Suarez’s Pistol Gunfighting School by highlighting Suarez’s biggest departure from the old Modern Technique: the distinction between reactive and proactive shooting. This distinction has implications for both the why and how of shooting.

Gabe Suarez shooting demonstration. Photo by David Yamane

In terms of “why,” the distinction between reactive and proactive shooting parallel the previously discussed difference between 1997 Tactical Clue and 2017 Tactical Clue. Reactive shooting addresses the problem of the “thug in the parking lot with a screwdriver,” while proactive shooting addresses “Mustafa with a rifle in the mall” (Suarez’s terms, not mine).

Some aspects of how Suarez teaches reactive shooting – as I discussed earlier in terms of gunhandling and marksmanship – are not radical departures from the Modern Technique. Like every instructor I have observed or studied, Suarez spends most of the first day of class stressing getting the gun out of the holster and on target and shooting quickly and accurately.

Everyone from Tom Givens and Massad Ayoob to my local NRA Personal Protection Outside the Home instructor teach this. John Correia of Active Self-Protection has been making a name for himself of late by highlighting this conclusion from his analysis of thousands of gunfight videos.

Like Rob Pincus, Suarez emphasizes point shooting at close range, and does not use a shot timer or scored tests.

In the morning of the second day of class, Suarez has students begin by practicing drawing and firing 10 times dry, then shooting 10 rounds as accurately as possible. Looking at the targets, he observes, “Some look good and some need some work.” To which he adds, sounding an awful lot like Correia, “Your first shot has to be perfect. Otherwise you turn a shooting into a gunfight.”

(Here Suarez also notes that he cannot teach marksmanship one-on-one in a group. But, he maintains, “Marksmanship is easy to teach, so go home and find a teacher.” This reflects an earlier distinction he made between learning — which is what the students are doing in a 3-day class – and training or practice – which is what students need to do when they get home.)

Dry practicing reactive movement at Suarez Pistol Gunfighting School. Photo by David Yamane

After reviewing the basics of reactive shooting, Suarez introduces reactive movement. As he frequently does, Suarez stresses that everyone needs to be a student of the martial art of the gun, including recognizing the giants on whose shoulders contemporary teachers and students stand. In this case, he mentions that Jelly Bryce described reactive movement – what we today call “getting off the X” – back in the 1920s.

As for Suarez, his study of this issue began in 1991. He tells the long story of his shooting outside a 7-11 and lessons he drew from it about movement. “Today,” he says, “the movement patterns we will teach are very refined. Back then, it was like Forrest Gump getting off the X.”

Gabe Suarez explains the geometry of getting off the X. Photo by David Yamane

For Suarez the goal of moving “off the X” is to make yourself hard to shoot. You do this by moving in the direction that forces the shooter to redirect their aim the most. Is it backward on the X? No. Is it laterally? No. It is actually moving diagonally forward. Moving diagonally forward also has the benefit of making your counter-attack easier because you are closer to your target.

Geometry of getting off the X from author’s field notes.

The rest of the range time Saturday and the beginning of Sunday morning on the range has students working on moving off the X and shooting. When he realizes students are having trouble coordinating moving and shooting, he improvises a drill in which he has students simply walk down the line and fire at the targets as they pass them.

This loosens the students up some, so that when they return to the regular movement drills – moving left and right, forward and backward, and on the diagonals – they are able to perform much better.

Gabe Suarez teaching students to shoot while moving. Photo by David Yamane

Around mid-day on Sunday, Suarez turns to the kind of proactive shooting he sees addressing the contemporary problem of active shooters – Tactical Clue 2017.

Suarez believes that most gun trainers incorrectly teach proactive shooting techniques for reactive tactical situations. “90% of training in the industry is proactive,” he tells the class. Pointing to one of the targets torn up by the morning’s moving and shooting drills he adds,

“Someone would look at this target and say it is poor marksmanship. But that ignores the context. It represents the volume of violence against an attack and attempt to shift the balance from them to us. It neglects that the person is moving and trying to get rounds on target as fast as possible. Even trying to walk the shots up the target. This is reactive point shooting.”

Whereas in the reactive situation, the shooter should “be a butcher,” in the proactive situation, the shooter should “be a surgeon.”

Reactive shooting out of necessity targets the torso, trying to turn it into a proactive shooting situation in which the shooter can then “become a headhunter.” Once the tide has turned, Suarez tells his students with characteristic bravado, “You want your signature to be a couple or three shots to the face. Sign your work with head shots.”

Suarez International Pistol Gunfighting School student. Photo by David Yamane

Here a very different combat mindset begins to become ever clearer. Suarez reminds his students, “The paradigm of conflict has changed. This is not just about ‘defensive pistol’ anymore. We know how to deal with the mugger in the parking lot. This is more challenging.”

Rather than imagining the typical counter-ambush defensive scenario, Suarez is suggesting the students prepare themselves mentally and physically for counter-terrorist (active shooter) offensive scenarios.

…to be continued…


  1. I first saw Gabe S’s method of moving toward the threat on Michael Bane’s ‘Zero To Hero’ segment of ‘Shooting Gallery.’
    Best I could find was it probably being episode 3 of season 14.
    Intriguing and very aggressive (color me shocked). I’ve added it to my practice since seeing the segment. Certainly more dynamic-a-move than a coreographed ChaCha Slide to the left! Slide to the right!
    …are we at a wedding or a gun fight?!
    I have a DVD of it xferred from my DVR but could not find a clip via Google…

    Really enjoying the Suarez entries, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree in an urban setting with various groups still attempting to attack us and then there are the copycats and such you are more likely to face terrorist attack. But what about if your in a very rural area like I am now? Be prepared more for a home invasion by a criminal(s)?


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