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Warrior Mindset

Fighting/Combat/Warrior Mindset: What is it and how do I get it?


“Violent crime is feasible only if its victims are cowards. A victim who fights back makes the whole business impractical. It is true that a victim who fights back may suffer for it, but one who does not almost certainly will suffer for it.” – Jeff Cooper[1]


Depending on who you ask, fighting can be instinctual or trained. All of us are equipped to a certain degree to fight to protect ourselves if necessary. Some are bigger, stronger, or faster and may have an advantage. Others are total pacifists and will not fight regardless of the circumstances and would rather try to negotiate their way out. The following is not for the later, for you are doomed to be the perennial victim.


Combat mindset is an attitude of awareness, confidence, and purpose - awareness of the situation, confidence in our physical skills, and clarity of our legal and ethical purpose - the ability to act effectively and ethically under adversity. Whether it happens consciously or not, all physical actions begin in the mind.[2]

Many gunowners who carry for self-defense, spend most of their time on skills (marksmanship) and tactics practice with little, if any, time given to developing their mental skills. As Gunsite Rangemaster Steve Hendricks said, “If you are shooting tiny groups, you are not fighting.” More in context here, Hendricks also said, “The mechanics of shooting are easy. The difficult part is fighting.”


Many years ago, Jeff Cooper[3], in an effort to codify the basics of using a firearm to survive a lethal confrontation, established what he called the Combat Triad. This ‘triangle of guidance’ consists of mindset, gun handling, and marksmanship. Though the three sides of the triangle are considered equilateral, the base or foundation of the Triad is mindset, for without the combat mindset, your skills and abilities with weaponry and tactics are of little value.[4] Think of it like a 3-legged stool – remove one of the legs and the stool is worthless.


The proper mindset for self-defense cannot be retrieved or memorized from a book. It’s a state of mind that must be honed and developed. While good skills and tactics may contribute to the proper, the application of a handgun in a self-defense situation is nothing more than an extension of your will; you fight with your mind; the handgun is just a tool you use.[5]


In his book, Principles of Personal Defense, Cooper outlines what he feels are the primary characteristics of a prepared mind:

· Alertness: Be aware, be ready. Do not be preoccupied with irrelevancies.

· Decisiveness: Counterattack now! Do not dither.

· Aggressiveness: Go at it like you mean it.

· Speed: Be sudden, be quick. Be first.

· Coolness: Keep your head. Keep control of your emotions.

· Ruthlessness: Strike with all your strength with every blow.

· Surprise: Don’t be predictable. Fight back!


Besides being able to handle the firearm efficiently and shoot well, the defensive shooter must also be able to fight well. Awareness, tactics, and determination all come into play. Developing a realistic defensive plan is also a part of the Combat Mindset. As Thunder Ranch's Clint Smith says, “If you have to fight, fight smart.” That all speaks to the Combat Mindset. It is the difference between being a good shot and being a gunfighter.


The serious defensive shooter should give deep thought to incorporating all three elements of the Combat Triad into his defensive planning and training. To leave any one of the three elements out of the picture creates the potential for losing your life during a violent criminal attack. In the words of Col. Cooper, one should be able to say, "They told me this could happen, and I know just what to do about it!"


Your awareness, anticipation, concentration, coolness, and self-control are part of your mindset. With the proper mindset you will not be caught off guard. You will be able to unleash your inner monster in order to prevail upon your antagonist. It also means you’re prepared to act in a manner that, while not with malice, could ultimately result in the death of your attacker. With the proper mindset you’re prepared to win. To stay alive and fight – kicking, clawing, and screaming – until you’ve expended your last breath.


Be Safe · Be Effective · Be Ready


[1] Cooper, J., 1989. Principals of Personal Defense. [2] Bruce J. Gourlie, B., Hoban, J., 2011. The Ethical Warrior: Developing a cop's combat mindset. [3] Jeff Cooper is known as the creator of the "modern technique" of handgun shooting and founded the American Pistol Institute (later Gunsite) in 1976. [4] Mann, R., May 2021. Self Defense Essentials and the Combat Triad. [5] Ibid. Mann, R.




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