Mental Preparation for Combat
I have written a lot about mentally preparing yourself for combat/self-defense situations. Recently, I wrote an article titled: ‘On War‘ on April 22, which further discussed some of these subjects. I notice that Mountain Guerrilla wrote a post on May 7 titled: ‘Developing a Pre-Disposition For Effective Violence‘ and its good to see him jumping in this with a great article.
One of the things I notice in both the MG article and in the comments is a lot of focus on the veracity of the studies and conclusions of BG SLA Marshall (i.e. are his statistics right?) and LTC Grossman. The main thrust of the argument with LTC Grossman is whether or not his conclusions about the reason for a human reluctance for killing are right or not. Specifically, he postulates that the reluctance is genetic, whereas more recent studies/opinions have concluded that it is not genetic, but rather a result of cultural conditioning, that causes this resistance to killing.
In so many ways, this is just semantics. Yes, it may be important to the purists. But these studies have been taken seriously and have led to a great deal of advances in effective training techniques that have resulted in more effective responses in combat. I’m not going to give you any statistics or studies today, just opinions based on my personal observations. I’m not a psychologist. As Americans, whether your reluctance to kill your fellow man comes from genetic programming, or cultural conditioning, or some mix of both doesn’t really matter – what matters is that you have to overcome it to better prepare for combat.
I think a reluctance to commit harm to others is a good thing. Where would we be without it? The important thing is to be able to break out of your genetics/conditioning and act effectively in those situations where you actually do need to harm/kill in order to protect yourself or your loved ones/team/group. I don’t want this post to become a debate about Marshall/Grossman (I really don’t), but I want to discuss how to better mentally prepare for combat.
What are some of the things that can go wrong when people are suddenly faced with a violent situation?:
- Denial: things just took a left turn, but you are still trying to go straight. Particularly dangerous when faced with a rapidly evolving threat situation or a blitz attack. Yes, I know you are on the way to that soccer game/late for your appointment, but you can’t just deny the situation and keep going. There is a clear and present danger and you have to deal with it. Mostly these situations happen fast and things are never the same again after. If you can’t adapt and respond appropriately, you are in deep trouble.
- Freezing: see training and visualization below, and denial above. You freeze up and are unable to act appropriately.
- Panic/flight: due to an inability to rationalize the situation and the appropriate response because of a lack of training and preparation.
- Firing over sights/without aiming: somewhat against the findings of Marshall, this also doesn’t chime with those who say that studies show that there is often too much firing (assuming it is effective). The thing is, often in their panic/inexperience and lack of desire to really kill anyone, soldiers will fire over sights or otherwise not really focus on hitting the enemy. This creates a lot of volume but not necessarily effective fire. Those that do focus and put the enemy down are not sociopaths, they are just good well disciplined soldiers. Have you ever been on a range or at a paintball game and wondered how anyone ever survives a real firefight? This is partly why. Lots of rounds, not so much focusing on the kill.
- Random: this is tied in with denial. People will focus on entirely the wrong thing, probably the task you were doing before it all went to rat shit. You have to develop a flexibility of mind to adapt to the new situation. You were on convoy from A to B, and were running late with pressure from the TOC. Now you are in an ambush. If you are still focusing on being late, you are wrong. Or they will try and take up your attention with random shit, because they are in denial/panic and finding things to occupy their mind with. Conversely, this is a good way of making someone who is not dealing well with the situation focus. Like making them fill magazines, or watch the flank – give them a job.
So how do we better prepare to avoid the above?:
One of the big things that stymies effective action in a sudden self-defense situation is the mental complexity/conditioning regarding what is legal. By which I mean self-defense law. i.e. Doubt. You may hesitate to shoot when you need to because you have heard, for example, that it takes$50,000 on average to successfully defend a wrongful shooting case. So you need to be clear on the law and when it is appropriate to respond with violence. You also need to shake off the BS trappings of modern conditioning and have a firm moral conviction of what is right and wrong. You WILL defend your family and yourself with extreme violence if necessary, and not feel guilty about it. You may want to worry that ‘he had a mother too’ afterwards, but even so, tough shit. If you have to act with violence to defend your group or yourself then there is no alternative – you must do so in the most effective manner possible. There will be no time to second guess the situation. It will happen and be done, and you will either act appropriately or you won’t. You will be left with the aftermath. When people are dead, they are dead. Including your family. Laying there cold and lifeless. No amount of hand wringing or whining will bring them back. You are responsible for the safety of your family – not the cops, or any State agency. They will be minutes away, when the thing is already over, so don’t worry about what they may think.
In my classes I often talk about keeping a low flame of anger, or controlled aggression, or determination, deep down inside you at all times. One retard took this to mean that I was angry all the time. Not so. There are times when you can be ready for trouble. Like if you are doing a raid. Other times, it’s the slow drag of day to day life, or surviving the collapse, or a long patrol or convoy. You have to be ready to turn it on at all times, even when it comes at that least expected or wanted time.
This applies not only to things such as the law, as mentioned above, but to tactics. You have to have a frame of reference as to what an appropriate response is. Otherwise, how will you know how to act? This will also cut down on indecision. It also goes to training drills. This is the framework in which you operate – which must be a realistic one in order to avoid normalcy bias and thus a freeze response when the ‘left turn’ happens.
This is the primary technique that I have always used. You have to run through your responses in your mind. To do so, you must have the knowledge and trained SOPs. You will do this on a case by case basis. Today, you are out and about carrying a concealed handgun. You need to visualize responses, from drawing to firing. What if it happens as you are driving along? Is the holster in an appropriate place? Can you get to the handgun? Etc. Another day, you are in full tactical gear on a combat operation. What is the threat? Complex ambush? What is your role in that if it goes off? What is your appropriate response? Visualize as you are preparing for, and during, your missions. Run it through in your mind. Whether that is the action on the objective, or what the appropriate response would be if you are hit driving along the road in a boring convoy. Visualization also helps to combat complacency – because you are remaining mentally alert and not slipping into denial.
Anyone seen the Sherlock Holmes movies? It’s a little exaggerated, but when he has fights, he sees it all in advance, visualizing what will happen, ahead of time. Yes, I know we don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t predict the future, but it is an extreme movie example of him planning/visualizing appropriate responses and predicting what the enemy will do.
Training, both as an individual and a team, will inform that knowledge and appropriate response, and thus give you the drills/SOPs to visualize and plan with. It will also give you, as both an individual and a team, that ‘muscle memory’ and groupthink to allow you to respond faster and in a more appropriate manner. In terms of the ‘OODA Loop’ you can be rock and rolling before the other guy breaks out of his shock.
Even dry firing with your rifle/handgun is training that allows you to visualize. Getting that cheek weld when you practice ‘ready ups’ as the initial part of your RTR drill will lock in that ‘muscle memory’, but also train your mind. If you then take that training to a stress environment you will find that when the SHTF, before you know it you have cheek weld, safety is off, and rounds went into the bad guy(s). It almost seems like you didn’t have to think – but you did. The best things happen when time seems to slowdown, and you just have it down, almost watching as the situation develops and you react appropriately. I think that may be an adrenalin response. The first time that happened to me was in a judo fight when I was about 8 years old. It it was knock out competition and I was fighting one of the older bigger kids. The thing started and he came at me across the mats, and I just watched as I took him and slammed him down. Whatever it was called, it was one of those throws that wins the fight. No idea how I did it, but I had trained to do it.
Train those drills: Enemy up. React. Cheek weld sight picture safety off – rounds into the bad guy. Into cover, more rounds into the bad guy if he is still a threat, scan, communicate, another enemy, engage, stoppage, look, tap rack bang, back in, continue….etc. You are thinking, but you are reacting without having to think about all the little stuff that will slow you down. Your head is out of your weapon and locked on the situation.
This is a primary asset and is so sadly lacking in all those chest thumpers I see out there (Facebook anyone?) commenting on ‘what they would do in that situation’ – which invariably involves using a firearm when they didn’t need to. Bravado bullshit based on fear and ignorance. I am willing to bet that most of them wouldn’t even draw.
You have to have judgment. When I spent a lot of time in the middle east, part of why I had a job was due to the ability to exercise judgement. Operational analysis. What is the threat situation? How do we mitigate that? Do we have to go out? Yes. Then if so what is the best way of achieving the mission? Make an operational call. Try and not get people killed.
After all the bravado, in a survival situation you are like a wild animal. A wild animal has needs to feed itself, but something like a fox will try and not risk injury in killing its prey. If it gets injured, it may die. Thus, avoid conflict unless for some reason you assess that you need to engage in it. Either to survive, or as part of a higher calling to fight an enemy. If you do have to, or choose to, fight bad guys, don’t be a hero – try and stack the full advantage to your side. Hit from ambush using surprise. Try and achieve your ends without loss of life to your side. Why do you think back in the day they would trap the enemy in their hall and burn it down around them? To avoid losses to themselves, if they felt the dirty deed was justified. Not because they just wanted to kill people.
Some of this goes back to knowledge. Knowing what is appropriate. Having a good frame of reference. This is one of the things that worries me about a collapse – all the preppers hunkered down ready to kill anyone that comes on their property. I mean anyone. How about using some judgment? How about a warning sign if you are covering an approach with fire? So you see an armed man with an AR, patrol pack, earth tone clothing and a chest rig creeping up the wood line, scanning ahead. Bam, you shoot him. He was a survivor, with a wife and young kids hidden back in a ditch, going forward to try and find a safe spot. If you are just about yourself, then you don’t care, but the law of unintended consequences says you will probably pay for the murders in the end. Maybe it wasn’t just a family, but a tactical team. And they were just FREEFOR, on your side. They are now deploying, and you didn’t see the two other satellite teams now going hard and fast into depth to cut off your escape. Tough shit asshole.
But of course, that is only if you, as a budding retreat sniper, even have the balls to pull the trigger. And if you have the balls to pull it, you don’t subconsciously pull the shot because you don’t want the responsibility of the kill? Because you are probably in denial, and don’t want to face the reality that maybe you need to pull the trigger on that guy down there, framed in your optic. But don’t forget, once you pull the trigger, the situation takes a left turn, and whoever is with that guy will be reacting and moving and hunting. They won’t be where they were when you decided to pull the trigger, waiting their turn to die. You better have a good plan.
Yep. The better shape you are in physically, the better you will be able to handle the stress of survival situations. The less exhausted you get, the better you will be able to maintain your judgement and analytic skills.
Morale is an interesting one, because it has nothing to do with being in a good mood. It is a deep seated belief in the ability of you and your group. It is an unwillingness to give up, or be defeated. High morale will carry you through the worst of situations because you will simply refuse to be defeated. It’s what gets you up out of your bag on freezing cold mornings and keeps you alert in that ambush.
This is an interesting one because it is often an unexpected casualty of high morale. Morale can be real, or it can be fake – it can be the type of indoctrination people experience as part of an ‘elite’ unit. That is particularly true when there are no real standards to reinforce the elitism. It’s just a case of being told you are the best, when you aren’t. Very prevalent across American society and indeed, the military. It’s a great way for military leaders to get people to walk into enemy fire, by indoctrinating them with the belief.
Let me try a flip side to the whole ‘positive thinking’ BS you see across America. Conversely I have always thought the worst, but hoped for the best. Rather than thinking I was the best guy at a class, or a selection, or whatever, I was always worried about how good everyone else was, and how was I too measure up. It took me a few years before I realized that I was doing pretty well myself. I have found over time that rather than exuding that false type of bravado confidence, I have grown a more humble confidence based on the actual results of my efforts, but always knowing that there are standards to meet and people that are better. A little humility, tempered by the occasional arrogance, goes a long way. You have to believe in yourself, on a deep level, but you also have to have the fear of failure that will ensure you strive to do better. Fear of failure that is not so strong that you will not actually try, for fear of failing, but that will allow you to volunteer while motivating you throughout.
That is a lot different from the ‘all children left behind’ BS we see nowadays, with people, exuding this false confidence based on no verifiable achievements. That’s why I make my classes without ego. It’s a knowledge transfer. And when you get home, be proud of yourself but realistic as to the level you have gotten. Don’t sit on your laurels, but be realistic and keep working.
If you decide to live by the sword, then be prepared to do so. Don’t fuck about, and don’t fuck it up. Also: Live by the sword, die by it: