Combat Mindset – A Beginning

Chance favors the prepared mind. The unprepared mind just leaves you with file not found syndrome.

I am certain that this is something that many of you have covered and perhaps even think about on a regular basis.  However, it is so important to survival that I think we should cover it again to make sure everyone is periodically reviewing their own frame of mind.

Combat mindset is a simple yet vital component of preparing yourself for an armed encounter.  It allows you to learn and store those skills necessary for the gunfight and more importantly; it enables you to apply those skills knowing you are prepared mentally for that, which must be done.  There seems to be a shortfall when it comes to training in this area.

I recently had a student in a class who was there because he walked into his house during a home invasion.  Throughout the class this gentleman was angry, frustrated and at times visibly shaken by the event that had happened over a year ago.  He was quite forthcoming and offered that he wanted vengeance.  Even though the police, with his help, had quickly apprehended the suspects he wanted more.  I believe he wanted a reckoning and that he wanted to be the one to deliver such an act.  I referred him to counseling because I saw a man with quite a few unresolved issues.  What I also saw was a man who had failed to prepare himself for what he needed to do and was now blaming himself for not acting. It seems as though that what he now wanted was a chance to go back to that moment so he could do that which he failed to do in the first place.  He wanted a chance to go back and shoot them.  In speaking with him after class what I learned was that he had never taken to time to develop his combat mindset.  He was mentally and emotionally unprepared to use deadly force.

A well-developed Combat Mindset is something that allows you to do anything that is necessary so that you can go home each and every night.  It is what sets you up mentally and emotionally to press that trigger when you need to do so.  My student was not mentally prepared to use deadly force.  Sure, he had gone through the classes and understood the parameters of the law.  He knew that the person had to have the means and opportunity to do him grave bodily injury or cause death.  He understood that the manifest intent of those two individuals in his house that day was to do him harm.  Yet he failed to act and by a shear stroke of luck he managed to survive.

Relying on luck is best left to games of chance.  Preparing your combat mindset is not something you can do in the moment any more than you would wait to learn malfunction clearance skills while under fire.  There are a few basic steps necessary to establish and tune your combat mindset.

Ask yourself this one simple question; for whom am I willing to kill or die?  A short list of people, including you, should have just come to mind.  Those are the people you hold the most dear and will do whatever it takes to make sure they go home every night.  They are your primary parameter and the first priority when evaluating a situation.  Certainly LE or professional protective personnel may have a much broader list than the average person, but that parameter is set none-the-less.  So, aside from the legal requirements, your first step in deciding to use deadly force is whether or not the people involved are on your list.

What is important to remember here is that unless the guy behind the counter at the local convenience store is on your list, your barging into the middle of that armed robbery is not part of your combat mindset.   While I am certain that they would be proud of you, the people on your list will be even happier that you came home that night.  Establishing your mindset regarding your role in society will allow you to establish your engagement protocols.  Do I rush in and fight, or do I withdraw and be a good witness.  That answer can only come from you and it must be thought out ahead of time.  Anything less will lead to a significant disruption of your OODA loop at which time you will be standing there trying to figure out what to do.  And if you are like my student, relying solely on luck.  Just remember that your family will want you to come home.

Establishing your perceived and actual roles in society and incorporating your combat mindset will provide more parameters for you to draw upon while developing your mindset and perhaps even when preparing for that life or death fight.  For a moment, let’s borrow a term from Dave Grossman.  Are you a Sheepdog or are you a Sheep?  The Sheepdog protects his flock.  What is important there are those two simple words; “His flock.”  Is your role that of a Sheepdog?  If so, act like it and establish your combat mindset as one of protection.   Where Mr. Grossman falls short is that he misses another parameter.  He assumes that all wolves, that all predators, are the bad guys.  This simply is not the case.  I have come across many dedicated LEOs that are also wolves and I think I like it that way.  I prefer a predator hunting other predators and find that to be an excellent way for them to establish their combat mindset.

Since you are reading this, it is highly unlikely that you are a sheep.  More than likely you are a Sheepdog.  Set yourself up for success and establish that boundary now.  Unless you fall into that small category of predator hunter, you are a protector of those people on your list.  Your primary responsibility is to protect your flock.  When you hear those gunshots ring out on the other side of the mall, you gather the people on your list and you get out of there.  You protect your flock.  Because you have already established what your combat mindset is, you act knowing that you are doing the right thing.

Here is the point where many of you will say, I am not a coward and I will run towards the sound of gunfire and I’ll take that bad guy out.  Why?  As heartless as this may sound none of those people are on your list.  Why would you change your plans now?  Why would you insert yourself into a situation of which you know nothing?  Exactly what does an undercover police officer look like?  The fact of that matter is that unless you are directly involved, as a protector of your flock, you have no business inserting yourself into the situation.  Your predetermined role is that of the protector of those people on your list.  Your mind is prepared to do that which is necessary to protect them.  Yes, it sucks, but to whom are you responsible?  This is why preparing your mind is so important.  The time it takes you to hesitate and finally come to a decision could have been the time you needed to get your loved ones away from the threat.

If your job is one where you protect the citizens of a community and enforce the law, then your mindset will include additional parameters.  Am I on duty?  Do I have my family with me?  They make for some tough decisions, but I can assure you that in the moment is not the time to be making them.

Now that you have set the parameters for who and when you will fight, take a few moments to determine what you will do and what it may be like if it does happen.

Many times I will see students on the range who shoot with their mouths open and some with their tongues hanging out.  I have found that the simplest way to positively influence this behavior is to explain the concept of blowback to them.  That being if you shoot someone in close proximity to you, there will be a significant amount of high velocity splatter of a biological nature.  Some of these biological agents will likely blow back on you.  If you have your mouth open, you will have just joined a very exclusive club.  And no, it does not taste like chicken.  Using deadly force can be a violent and penetrative act.  If your mind is not prepared for what may come, you could experience increased levels of long-term emotional distress.  Being forced into the fight in the first place is bad enough, having no other option but to use deadly force exacerbates the problem ten-fold.  Preparing your mind for what may happen ahead of time enables you to mitigate those stresses and allows you to come to terms with them much sooner.  More importantly is enables you to act with hesitation or doubt.

I am supposed to do what?

Eliminating hesitation and doubt helps you to mitigate risk.  For starters, a confident man does not look like prey.  A man aware of his surroundings who is constantly assessing is a man prepared to fight.  Criminals seek the path of least resistance.  The prepared man is certainly not that.  This brings us to the easiest and most difficult step.  Determining what you will do and how far will you take it.  For some of us, this is simple. We have been there and know that we will act.  We have prepared our minds and reviewed our parameters.  We know we will act and do what needs to be done.  Knowing that it is a violent and dirty business, how far are you will to take it?  Can you visualize it now?

Visualization training is an important tool when preparing your combat mindset.  It allows you to go places in your mind that you can’t go in real life.  It allows you to work through the problem in you mind so that you can determine how far you will take things.  Remember my student that walked in on the home invasion?  He had not prepared his mind to use deadly force.  Simply put, he froze while lost in a sea of thoughts without order or reason.  If he had established his mindset and used visualization to determine what he should do in that moment, I am certain the story would have had a different ending.  Luckily for the two young criminals who were violating him and his home, he was not prepared.

When using visualization, keep it within the parameters of your life.  Sure it is fun to fanaticize about spider repelling from that helo while saving the day, but that is not what you’ll be doing.  It is important, just like with scenario-based training, that you keep it in context and that you include the unpleasant.  Visualize all the aspect of using your firearm for defense.  What does that include.  Prepare your mind for the violence of the moment and for the aftermath.  Include preparations for what to do if you or a loved one is injured.  Walk through each step of that scenario from the beginning to the end to include what and how you will say things to the 911 operator and the responding LE agents.  Plan ahead for what you will do if your weapon fails.  Plan ahead to fight, survive and go home.  Include all the details you can think of and then add more.  Most important of all, when using visualization to establish your combat mindset, do it frequently and keep it in the context of your day to day life.

Success comes from being prepared.  My student was simply not mentally prepared.  Sure he had the gun but his mind was so full of other thoughts, he failed to do that which was necessary in that moment.  For whom are you willing to kill or die?  Establish that list.  Decide which role you play in society.  Be real and honest here.  Decide exactly how far you will go and what you will do to survive and protect the people on your list.  Then use visualization techniques to test your plans and affirm your combat mindset.  Train your brain!  Without a well-prepared and tuned combat mindset, you are just some guy, standing in his kitchen, frozen in place staring at the two criminals who are stealing your stuff and threatening your life.  Find your balance between mental toughness, preparedness and ethics; never forget the importance of physical fitness when it comes to having a prepared and balanced combat mindset.

This is just the beginning of what you need to do to prepare yourself.  Start here and advance as you grow.  Remember to always keep re-evaluating your mindset and never stop learning.  There is so much more to a well-developed combat mindset.  Hopefully this will get you started.

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About Scott Ballard

Scott Ballard is an instructor at the Sig Sauer Academy with 25 years of experience working as a private security contractor and executive/dignitary protection specialist. His experience includes training and development of high-value/high-risk protective security details and corporate security teams. Scott has over 15 years experience as a security detail trainer that includes specialties such as protective tactics, firearms and less-lethal weapons, defensive driving and detail operations. Scott is a certified executive protection specialist, master firearms instructor, force-on-force instructor and range-master. He is also a member of the United States Concealed Carry Organization, the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network and is a life member of the NRA and SAF.

5 thoughts on “Combat Mindset – A Beginning

  1. Well stated,Scott. The fact that civilians are indeed their own security force to those “on the list”, they must have access to quality training and the very best tools for the job. No, Joe, not a double barrel shotgun. It’s sad that many “think” they can just depend on LE to do it for them. They assume they are on someone’s short list, and they most likely are not. Great article.

  2. Well said Scott.
    When teaching I find the hardest topic to get students to understand is mindset and preparation. So many students take a basic class and get a CCW Permit and think “I’m ready.”

    Then on the other hand we have the “Training Junkie” who has the cool gun, cool gear, and has taken every class they can, but as you said has never come to grips with the reality of using deadly force, and has not made the decision prior to the incident. They are usually the one in class who has the idea they’ll rush to the aid of the innocent victim and save the day, not knowing what the actual situation is. For most people the list should be shorter than they may think.

    Excellent article and food for thought. Be Safe

  3. Good article, all good information. I am especially interested in your predator hunter concept, the “good wolf” if you will. I feel comfortable asking because you are obviously taking training to a higher level if you are getting inside your students’ heads and counseling mindset as well as teaching mechanics.

    I do visualization and think through scenarios. I think about my surroundings and mentally map exits and lines of fire, measure other people, make eye contact and study body language, all that. Here’s the problem. Maybe it’s not a problem, but it concerns me.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that I will act. I’ve never been in a gunfight, but In life threatening situations in the past I think quick, move fast and usually can’t really appreciate what I did until after it’s all done. That’s not the problem.

    If my wife was with me, again, I’m 100% certain I would be exercising your list idea and my only priority would be to get her to safety and I would avoid an engagement at all costs and put myself between her and danger and do anything required to ensure her safety. That’s not the problem either.

    Here’s the problem. I think I’m that good wolf. I’ve heard the sheepdog theory and I know people like that, it’s a sound concept. I’m not that guy, though. In scenarios where I am alone I can never see myself deciding to stay out of it if I’m not involved. I’ve never done that. I’ve always jump in when people are getting beat up or in some other way victimized even when the odds were against me and I don’t expect an armed situation would be any different.

    If I could mentally unflip that switch I would, I think it’s very stupid, but it’s just not how I’m wired. Upon reflection it’s not as motivated by benevolence as I thought. I want to attack that threat, it’s almost competitive. I don’t feel like a sheepdog at all, I feel like another wolf. I think, perhaps, I enjoy violence, but because I’m actually a nice guy who cares about people, being presented with situations where I can be violent for an acceptable reason, ie “stopping a bad guy”, I take them.

    You say you know people like this. Is it more common than I think? Is it all bad or can it be put to good use? If you had a student like this would you try to train it out of them or try to channel it as much as possible?

    • I do know quite a few people who are natural predators. They all work in some form of a LE or military role. Places where their aggressive tendencies can be applied within the confines of policy or the law. What you are asking is if it is acceptable for you to run into the violence without cause or reason to fulfill a competitive urge. That I do not find acceptable. Inserting yourself into a situation of which you know nothing is severely high-risk behavior. Usually this is associated with young men with very few responsibilities in their life. You have a wife. Ask her what she thinks about your making such a potentially life altering decision unilaterally. How would you feel if the roles were reversed? The decisions you make don’t effect just you any longer.

      I admire you for taking the time to examine your reasons for wanting to get involved. There is honor in wanting to protect the innocent. There are also societal and legal limits to such behavior. Many people wants to step in and be the hero for one reason or another. Fulfilling a competitive desire is simply not a justifiable reason for using deadly force. I strongly encourage you to plan for the safe escape of you and your wife.

      I do try to get my students to think their way through their training. Avoiding surprises provides a tactical advantage. The ultimate decision still remains within each and every one of us as individuals. Establish your list first. Then stick to it. It will require a lot of maturity, forethought and discipline on your part, but in the end, your wife, and someday maybe even your children, will thank you.

      As for “training out” a student’s desire to do certain things, all I can do is point them in what is commonly viewed as the right direction. They each have to choose their own path. Establish your combat mindset within the confines of the law. Plan your actions in a manner which is reasonable and safe, then act on that plan if needed.

      • I have noticed a lot of improvement in my control of my instincts, improvement being more thought being done before acting. I have caught myself many times ratcheting down my tension level by remembering the lady who needs me to come home. This has been with long-term dangerous pursuits of mine. Visualizing my wife identifying my body at the morgue works really well to put the situation in perspective.

        I have hope that if I was ever in a situation where, for instance, a store I am in was being held up, instead of rushing forward aggressively I was able to ready myself, but then pause and see if it resolves itself without anybody getting hurt. If the guy gets his money and doesn’t hurt anybody, by my measure, it would be unnecessary to get involved. I think the clerk would probably prefer nobody escalate it if it’s winding down.

        I know hero types and I am not a hero. Those kind of people actually make me nervous. It seems a very dangerous and naive way of thinking. They scare me more that the alpha guys out to prove something because they have the added drug of a sense of nobility pumping them up.

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