The defensive mindset is the foundation to your entire defensive strategy regardless of the training you’ve had or the tools you carry. Just as a building with a compromised foundation can result in a crumbling structure, an inadequate defensive mindset can result in your entire defensive strategy falling apart in the midst of a fight for your life.
What a Defensive Mindset IS
So what does a good solid defensive mindset look like? Here are some identifiable characteristics:
Proactive: A defensive mindset is one that is proactive. Proactive people are the ones that get a permit to carry a firearm as soon as they can rather than waiting for a potentially violent situation in their life to prompt them into action. They are the ones that then seek out much more training than their state requires. They are the ones that develop a plan for their range time so their time and ammunition is productive rather than wasted by just putting holes in a paper target.
A person with a good defensive mindset shouldn’t wait for a need to arise to develop skill or obtain equipment. They should spend time learning about the techniques they are most likely to need in order to adequately defend themselves and then seek training in the implementation of those tools and techniques. Discovering you aren’t equipped with the necessary skills or tools in the middle of a fight for your life is a bad time to wish you had been more proactive.
Introspective: A defensive mindset is one that is introspective. Introspective people understand what they are capable of because they spend time thinking about their current level of skill. Instead of an over-inflated opinion of their abilities, they have a true knowledge of their capabilities.
You should never be afraid to take a long hard look at yourself. Your skills can never be improved inside a vacuum. Put yourself to the test. Find a training class or a training partner that will allow you to test your skills in a safe but realistic environment. Will you be humbled? Probably. I, myself, have been humbled many times in many classes when the skill I thought I possessed failed me. But that’s how we learn and it is essential to skill development.
Retrospective: A defensive mindset is one that is retrospective. Retrospective people are the ones that have a clear training plan for the future because they know exactly where they have been in the past. They see the failures in past training experiences and they learn from them.
We all fail sometimes. After a training situation in which I feel as though I failed, I like to list the things I feel like I did “wrong” and the things I did “right.” Only through this introspection, can we learn from our mistakes. A training environment is where we want to fail so we don’t when it really counts.
Dominant: A defensive mindset is one that is dominant. Dominant people are the ones that others naturally look to as leaders. Displaying your dominance to an attacker might very well make them change their minds about attacking you.
Dominance can be displayed in the way you conduct your daily life. Looking people in the eye and standing erect are indicators of a dominant personality. Displaying dominance may cause an attacker to choose a different person to attack. Even if it doesn’t, it’s possible to deescalate a potentially violent encounter by asserting dominance over an attacker. Some people are born with a dominant personality but a dominant attitude isn’t reserved only for those few. Virtually anyone can learn to impose dominance over another with the right instruction and practice.
Aggressive: A defensive mindset is one that is aggressive. I’m not talking about people that are intentionally mean to others. Those people aren’t aggressive, they’re jerks. I’m talking about those that have determined beforehand that any degree of violence should be met with an even greater degree of violence.
When necessary you should be ready, willing, and able to meet violence with more violence. Street thugs often don’t understand attempts at peacemaking but they do understand violence. They understand that the winner in a fight is the one that displays the propensity for the most violence.
Flexible: A defensive mindset is one that is flexible. Flexible people understand that anything can happen in a fight. For that reason they intentionally keep their plan of action open to improvisation.
Mike Tyson astutely noted: “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” This is why you shouldn’t place too much stock in choreographed fighting moves. Keep your options open. Most defensive encounters devolve into street fighting regardless of the training of either participant. Limiting yourself to “real” fighting techniques will put you at a distinct disadvantage. Remember, there are no rules in a fight for your life except one: win. Any technique or weapon that allows you do get closer to winning is valid.
Unrelenting: A defensive mindset is one that is unrelenting in the struggle to win the fight. People that refuse to give way to the attacker, no matter what happens, generally prevail in the fight.
You may consider the officer that was attacked while confronting a mall shoplifter (you can see an interview with him HERE). At some point he became certain he was going to die. He determined at that moment that he was going to make sure he took the attacker with him. This unrelenting mindset not only allowed him to prevail but he survived.
What a Defensive Mindset IS NOT
Now that we’ve discussed some key characteristics that define a defensive mindset, let’s define some things that a defensive mindset is NOT.
A defensive mindset is not unafraid. Courage can be defined as “acting in spite of fear.” Being afraid in a fight is OK. Setting your fears aside and doing what is necessary to win the fight is the key. It is a lot easier to do that if you have spent time being proactive and developing the right skills.
A defensive mindset is not unwilling to run away. Unless you’re a law enforcement officer, you have no legal obligation to continue a fight. Running away from a fight is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it takes a modicum of strength to make the decision to run rather than continue the fight. As an armed citizen, your goal should be to win the fight and go home at the end of the day. If running away achieves that goal, you should consider it to be a viable option.
A defensive mindset is not all about situational awareness. Being situationally aware is great… when you are situationally aware. A person with a good defensive mindset will realize that they can’t always be situationally aware. It simply isn’t possible to go through life being aware of every little thing no matter how hard you try. Distractions occur all the time and we usually don’t even realize we are distracted in the moment. An attack will almost definitely occur in one of these unaware moments instead of when you can see it coming. Having a good defensive mindset means you will train to deal with surprise attacks.
A defensive mindset is not all about a gun. Guns are great defensive tools but one can defend themselves without the aid of a gun or any other tool. You are the weapon. The gun, knife, club, pepper spray, etc. are just tools. They are force multipliers that can help get the job done much like a lever helps move a heavy object. A person with a good defensive mindset will spend time learning how to defend themselves with nothing if necessary.
A defensive mindset is not lazy. Getting better at anything takes work. In the case of self-defense, it can take a lot of work since we can’t practice our skills every single day. I recommend taking at least two training courses each year, even if you’ve taken them before, as well a regular range time for yourself preferably with a training partner. But far too often I see people put trivial matters before training and practice. Taking time to rest is mandatory. Not putting in the work because of laziness or discomfort is unacceptable. A rainy day is no reason to skip that class you signed up for. Get out and do the work. Bad guys don’t take days off so we shouldn’t either.
Becoming proficient in self-defense techniques is a balance between training and practice, and spending time with family and friends or doing your honey-do list. It should be an important part of your life because your life depends on this knowledge and skill but your life doesn’t have to revolve around it.
Now that we’ve defined a defensive mindset and described several characteristics of what a defensive mindset both IS and IS NOT, I would ask you this: Is your mindset right? Do you have a solid defensive mindset or do you need to work on it? Does your defensive skillset have a firm foundation or is it a bit shaky?
If we’re all honest, most people, me included, would admit that we still need work. Maintaining this mindset is difficult and sometimes all but impossible. Life gets in the way. Time and finances are limited. We all have demands on our attention that it can be hard to meet.
I simply try my best. I do everything I can to make myself a less desirable target and a more likely victor in a fight. I ask you to start today with some good introspection of your own. Once you know where you are, you can move forward.