Jeff Cooper and Gabe Suarez

I was doing some thinking the other day about some of the differences and some of the similarities when it comes to Jeff Cooper and Gabe Suarez. For those that have worked with both, the differences seem to be more of an evolution of gun fighting.

Jeff Cooper and the Modern Technique of the Pistol

I have not met a single handgun instructor that doesn’t teach the Modern Technique as the core of their course.

Jeff Cooper codified the Modern Technique of the Pistol based on his JeffCooperobservations of competitors at his Leatherslap events held in Big Bear Lake in the late 1950’s. The Modern Technique was founded based on man vs man competitions where both shooters shot at targets, 10 yards away, and the first to get a good hit won. Cooper witnessed the evolution of single handed point shooting to the two-handed Weaver stance, for example. Cooper’s competitions provided more realism than found in typical bullseye competitions by introducing time stresses.

Over the years, Copper developed the Modern Technique and began teaching it in the mid to late 1970’s. Cooper started teaching the Modern Technique at what is now known as Gunsite. Cooper made it clear that the intention of a defensive shooter should be to shoot quick, accurate, and incapacitating gun fire. Cooper’s Modern Technique includes:

  • Large Caliber Pistols – Cooper preferred 45 ACP over other ammunition based on the increased damage over other ammunition. Cooper preferred the 1911, but also saw the value of the CZ-75 and the Browning Hi-Power chambered in 45 ACP as well as other semiautomatic 45 ACP hand guns.
  • Draw Stroke – The five step draw stroke is an important part of the Modern Technique. The draw stroke is practiced from an outside the waist band holster in the 3 o’clock position.
  • The Weaver Stance – Jack Weaver began using the two-handed grip and his self-developed stance to win several competitions at Big Bear Lake. The theory behind the Weaver Stance is that sighted and well controlled accurate gun fire will win over single-handed point shooting.
    NOTE: Jack Weaver has stated that his stance came about because of an issue with his elbow, and while it is still taught, it has been replaced by more of a hybrid stance that includes some elements of the Weaver stance. He discusses the beginnings here.
  • Flash Sight Picture – While a perfect sight picture is preferred, it was found that just getting the front sight on target while it is somewhere within the rear sight, is usually enough to get good hits on target.
  • Compressed Surprised Break – Pressing the trigger, instead of mashing it, will result in less movement of the gun and better accuracy. As experience is gained with a particular trigger, it is easier for the shooter to keep the gun steady, and reach the trigger break faster.
  • Color Code – The color code of awareness was created and codified by Cooper.

While not technically one of the principles of the Modern Technique, the Failure to Stop Drill (Mozambique Drill) was added to the Modern Technique. In the case where a controlled pair fails to stop the threat, the defensive shooter snaps the sights up the head and fires a shot to the cranial/ocular cavity to immediately stop the threat by destroying the central nervous system of the attacker. Cooper also added some other drills to the Modern Technique in order to provide more real world solutions.

In recent years, there has been a move away from the Weaver Stance to a modified/hybrid version of the Weaver and Isosceles stances. There has also been a move to the 9mm as a defense round because of the performance advances; round expansion and improved accuracy because of its reduced recoil. However, most training classes still use the Modern Technique as the basis of their teaching.

Gabe Suarez and the Suarez System

Gabe Suarez is a controversial figure in the industry in that his system is GabeSuarezrooted in reaction, movement, and extreme violence. The Suarez System has its roots in the Modern Technique. However, the Suarez System uses reactive tactical movement as supported by after action reviews of gun fights and what worked for those that survived. The Suarez System does not fully depend on everything taught on the artificial world of the gun range. The Suarez System includes many differing elements from the Modern Technique, to include:

  • Movement – Suarez implements movement as an integral part of self-defense and winning the battle. Suarez refers to it as “getting off the X” by moving out of the line of the bad guy’s fire while firing at the bad guy using a less than perfect site picture, if one is even achieved, and without using a stable shooting stance. Standing still makes you a much easier target and movement keeps you safer.
  • Reactive – While Cooper taught the color code of awareness, Suarez found that it is very hard to keep high awareness and be proactive in the reaction to a potential threat. Suarez sees quick and reflexive reaction to surprise as vital to winning. It is almost impossible to be in a constant state of awareness.
  • Stance – Suarez realizes that the Weaver Stance, used to control recoil for most shooters, just isn’t useful in reactive environments. In reactive environments, our natural tendency is to draw and punch our gun out in the direction of the attack while running the trigger. Many times, the reaction is to use one hand and not turn towards the attack while building a two-handed grip. Remember, you should be moving. A strong stance can be used, when possible, but it should not be required before firing in response to a threat.
  • Sight Picture – While a good sight picture is not ignored, reaction often calls for just centering the slide of the gun on the center of the attacker. Suarez refers to it as “the meat of the bad guy surrounding the metal image of the slide.” Eventually, you can get to a proper sight picture for follow-on shots, but that first shot may be based on point shooting or the meat and metal picture. A good site picture will be used, though, in situations where you have surprise on your side, and you can take the time to establish that site picture.
  • Compressed Surprise Break – While the compressed surprise break is preferred, the best and quickest reaction might just be mashing your trigger fast and repeatedly. This is especially true in close quarters situations. The trigger should be run based on the distance and the degree of initiative when shooting at the bad guy. Having the initiative allows the smoother compressed surprise break, but being reactive requires quick firing.
  • 9mm – Cooper preferred larger caliber guns. Suarez has found that 9mm guns are very effective using today’s defense rounds, and the higher capacity of 9mm guns is a major plus.
  • Shooting to the Ground – Cooper taught controlled pairs, and this is still taught today. The defensive shooter fires a controlled pair, and evaluates the situation and either continues to fire to center mass or to the head based on the evaluation. Suarez teaches shooting in bursts to the chest and bursts to the face to bring the attacker down and put them out of the fight when in reactive mode. Suarez also teaches bursts to the face when in a more proactive mode where you have the initiative. Aggressive violence against those trying to harm or kill us and our loved ones is fully justified, especially when a terrorist is involved.
  • Instanbul Drill – In the case of a terrorist, we use a head shot as an anchoring shot. The term, anchoring shot, comes from big game hunting where hunters attempt to bring down the animal by breaking supporting bone structures of an animal that might charge and kill the hunter. The hunter would then follow-up the anchoring shot with a shot to the brain to kill the animal, quickly. In the case of a terrorist, and an active shooter, the anchoring shot is to the head. This, to be clear, is just in situations where the threat is a terrorist or an active shooter that may be wearing a bullet resistant vest or have an explosive device where you need to stop them from deploying it.
  • Holster – Suarez teaches drawing from concealment, exclusively, as we should be grey, and Suarez also prefers appendix carry because of its improved retention, better concealment, and quicker draw.
  • Malfunctions – Suarez teaches a basic flow chart where if a malfunction happens, we do not try to fully evaluate it because you are in an incredibly high stress environment and you are moving. Instead, you tap/rack, and if that doesn’t fix it, you strip out the magazine, replace it, and rack the slide. If the gun ran empty or experienced a type 3 malfunction, both of those problems would be resolved with the magazine replacement.

Another major difference between the Modern Technique and the Suarez System is that Suarez recognizes the differences between a mugger/robber/home invader and a terrorist/active shooter when it comes to the attacker’s motivation and you stopping the threat. A typical criminal wants to live, so a controlled pair will often stop the attack. A terrorist wants to wreak havoc and does not care of about living through the incident. In many cases, just stopping the attack of a terrorist might result in triggering of a bomb. To properly diffuse the terrorist and prevent triggering a vest or some other improvised explosive device, they need to be killed. The terrorist/active shooter needs to be killed, not just stopped, so you should shoot them to the ground, and keep shooting them while advancing over their body.


While Suarez worked under Cooper, and much of what he teaches is based on the Modern Technique, Suarez recognizes the differences between the typical street criminal and the terrorist. For the typical criminal, we still use much of what is taught in the Modern Technique by firing controlled pairs and assessing the target. However, the terrorist that has no desire to get away and live, has to be treated differently, and that is where the Suarez System shines.

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