Get Your Mind Right

I’ve previously written about the importance of a defensive mindset HERE and HERE.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Carry Your Gun

Sometimes it blows my mind when I hear some of the ridiculous excuses made by folks when it comes to why they don’t carry their gun.  They have put a lot of time and money into buying a gun, taking a state mandated safety course, paying for their carry permit, and buying a holster and other equipment but choose, instead, to leave their gun at home.

Let’s look at some of these excuses and see why they are invalid.

It’s not comfortable.

I hear this one most often.  They don’t carry regularly because it’s just not comfortable.  This excuse is shattered by two simple facts.

Proper carry equipment will make you much more comfortable.

Carrying in a $10 nylon holster attached to your $15 Wal-Mart belt is likely the culprit.  The added weight and bulk of a gun takes the right belt.  I have used a 5.11 TDU belt daily for about ten years.  It’s a great value at around $17 but it is very high quality.

The right holster is also essential for daily carry.  Most people I know have a bag of holsters they have tried but abandoned due to various factors.  Most of them were just not comfortable.  You don’t have to spend $100 on a holster to find the right one but it’s unlikely the $10 nylon holster is going to cut it.  You should expect to spend between $40 and $80 on a decent holster.  All you need to do to help eliminate the bag of holsters collecting dust is a little research to make sure you’re getting something with a known reputation for comfort before you buy it.

Additionally, you will probably need to adjust your wardrobe to accommodate your gun.  It may require purchasing pants a size larger and wearing your shirt untucked.

Carrying a gun shouldn’t necessarily be too comfortable.

While we all want to go through our daily lives without discomfort, it’s important to realize you are carrying a tool, which if used or handled improperly, is capable of inflicting serious physical injury or death upon yourself or another person.  This responsibility should never be taken lightly and, therefore, the weight of the gun should never be so comfortable that you take it for granted.

It’s important to remember a gun is not a magical talisman that can ward away evil doers by its mere presence.  Despite that, I’m still much more comfortable internally if I have my gun with me than I am when I am forced to be unarmed.  I know that I at least have the means by which to meet violence with an equal or greater amount of violence if necessary.

There are just too many places I can’t carry the gun so I just don’t take it.

I’m going to be blunt here.  This excuse is generally the result of laziness.  Either they are too lazy to learn the laws regarding the carrying of a firearm in their locale or they are too lazy to disarm when required.

Of course, each state and municipality may have its own set of laws governing where you may or may not carry your gun.  Some states are quite restrictive but most states are much less so.  It should be a relatively easy matter for you to choose to patronize businesses that have not posted signs prohibiting firearms in their establishment.

It’s best to become intimately familiar with your state’s carry laws.  Never rely on what a friend or relative, or even an instructor or cop told you regarding what is and what is not legal.  Many of these people don’t know the laws as well as they think they do and it could be to your detriment to take their statements as fact.

Regardless of what the laws are where you live, there may be times you simply can’t carry your gun.  I recommend a good gun storage box for your vehicle so you can unload it and lock it up when necessary.  I prefer to use this method even if it means I have to lock my gun up several times in a day just for the simple fact that I would rather have my gun on my person as often as possible rather than not carry it because it’s inconvenient.

I only carry when I think I’m going to need it.

I actually hear this one a lot.  Unfortunately, those that use this excuse haven’t thought logically about their statement.  I avoid places I think I will need my gun.  If you thought there was a chance, even a small chance, you would need your gun, why would you ever go to that place?  A wise person would avoid a place where they think they will need their gun like the plague.

Of course, what they really mean by this statement is that they only carry when they are going to a place in which they are more likely to need their gun.  The problem with that lies in the fact that violent criminals don’t only choose to prey on victims in “bad” neighborhoods.  Many violent criminals are opportunists and they will attack if you appear to be an easy target or, sometimes, because they just felt like it.

A gun should be considered as emergency equipment.  Fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, emergency candles, etc…  These are things we keep on hand at all times just in case there is an emergency and they are needed at that time.  We don’t run out and buy a fire extinguisher after our kitchen stove catches fire.  Likewise, a gun should be kept with you as often as possible should the need to use it arise.

There are relatively few things in this world that I am totally certain of.  One of these things is this:  You definitely can’t shoot back if you don’t have your gun.

Don’t make excuses.  Find what will work and do it.  Carry your gun as often as possible.

Your Most Effective Weapon

If I asked you what your most effective weapon in a dynamic lethal force encounter would be, what would your answer be?

Would it be pepper spray…

A Taser…

A knife…

A gun…

I have often heard people that practice martial arts and other fighting techniques claim that if you can’t win a fight without a gun, you won’t be able to win it with a gun.  Most of them use this claim due to their desire to get more people involved in hand to hand self-defense techniques.

I believe such a blanket statement to be untrue.  There are many people that have successfully defended themselves with a gun that would probably not have survived had they not been armed.

I submit, though, that the difference between a victim and a victor lies much deeper than the weapons or tactics employed during a fight.  The average person with minimal training can set themselves up for success well in advance of a fight if they have the proper mindset.

The human brain is one of the most complex and amazing things on the entire planet.  Running on only twenty watts of bioelectricity, it is capable of storing up to 3,500 terabytes of information at a rate of 2.2 quadrillion operations per second.

Compare that to your iPad which stores only 64 gigabytes at a rate of 170 trillion operations per second.  I know the numbers are so high it’s difficult to grasp but the human mind runs approximately 13 times faster than an iPad and stores over 50,000 times more information.  Even under extreme stress, the human brain can observe the events before it and make a decision on an appropriate course of action in a fraction of a second.

In other words, your ability to think cognitively through a deadly situation and your will to prevail in said encounter are much more vital to the outcome than your possession of any other weapon.

The question, then, is two-fold:

  • How do we develop the proper mindset?
  • How do we achieve the ability to “think” your way through a fight?

Mindset

To develop the “right” mindset, you must first determine what is right.  I believe the proper defensive oriented mindset could be defined as:

“A determination beforehand that, regardless of the amount of force applied by your opponent(s), you, using all tools and techniques at your disposal, will not submit or relent until you have prevailed.”

Of course, it’s much easier to say it than it is to live it.  Part of this development is equipping yourself with the necessary knowledge, skills, and tools needed to follow through on your predetermination.  It’s easy to sit on the couch and armchair quarterback dash-cam videos.  It’s quite another thing to attend a Force on Force class to see if your “techniques” will work in a real fight.

  • Knowledge – Take classes. Watch (good, credible, realistic) videos.  Read books.  Learn what to expect from both an attacker and yourself in a fight so you know what techniques are most reliable to counter an attack.
  • Skills – Once you learn the techniques, you need to practice until you master them. This may involve a training partner or even additional training.
  • Tools – Purchase and carry the tools you need to defend yourself. Are you going to use a gun?  If so, is the gun you have a good gun to use in a fight for your life?  What if you need to fight your way to your gun?  Can you do that with your hands or do you need a knife or some other object to get the job done?

Spending the time, money and energy on the above list can result in a strong defensive mindset provided you have also considered the fact that failure will most likely result in your death or the death of a loved one.

Cognitive Thought

In order to develop your cognitive abilities under stress, there’s really only one solution:  Good reality-based defensive training.

A good defensive course should tell you what happens to your body under stress and why each of the physiological changes that occur is useful in a fight.  This understanding of the body’s physiology is the first step in retaining some of your cognitive ability.

In addition, a good defensive course will put you through drills specifically designed to make you think about your situation and environment before you take a shot.

  • Could you escape instead of engaging in a confrontation?
  • Is there cover available to use?
  • Do you need to change position so you won’t shoot an innocent person?

It is also necessary to consider the fact that, despite your training and preparation, you may not retain cognitive thought.  It’s for this specific reason that the techniques you learn need to be as intuitive and consistent as possible (but that’s a different blog).

In conclusion, don’t take a concealed weapons course, buy a gun and think you’re Rambo.  Find a good instructor with a good reputation and a good reality-based defensive training course.

Taking the necessary steps to develop the proper defensive mindset and learning how you react under the relatively minor stress of a reality based defensive training course can provide you with a good foundation for success in a fight.  The other things you need (i.e. gun, knife, hand to hand defensive techniques, etc.) only serve to enhance and solidify your structure.