Mindset and Life

Deadliest weapon ever devised. Use yours.

Deadliest weapon ever devised. Use yours.

Mindset is life.

Or, sometimes, death.

Faced with a survival situation, some fight. Some flee. Some just freeze and wait to die or be saved by third party intervention. And some are not faced with this situation because they saw it coming and absented themselves. That is, in our opinion, the smartest thing to do if you don’t have to stand and fight. In order, the best outcomes are:

  1. A fight you never have;
  2. A fight you win without fighting;
  3. A fight you win, killing the enemy;
  4. A fight you win, wounding or scaring off the enemy.

The reason (4) is not as good as (3) is that you leave a possibility for revenge out there. Dead guys can’t seek revenge.

Indicators and Warnings

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero at Pearl Harbor. Illustration by Darryl Joyce. (Actually, we think he has the color wrong).

“Where did all those ^%^#*!! Japs come from?!?”.

Every time the national security bureaucracy is caught flatfooted, a rather frequent occurrence, reconsideration shows that there were was a sufficiency of Indicators & Warnings, I&W. They just weren’t read right, or interpreted, or they were ignored.

You don’t have to find big screwups like Pearl Harbor, the Chinese entry into the Korean War, or 9/11, to find examples of ignored I&Ws. Consider two individuals whose demise was reported in these pages in the last few months: a young man in Maine who blew his head off with fireworks, and a young man (hmmm… first indication of a pattern?) in coastal Texas whose last words were, reportedly, “F the gator!” Yes, he was warned about a large alligator in his chosen swimming hole, and yes, he ignored the warning, and yes, the gator killed him. Likewise, the Maine decedent’s friends warned him that setting off a large fireworks mortar on his head was A Bad Idea.

They didn’t heed the indicators.

That’s the biggest problem with human beings and I&W, even when the I&W is pretty obvious: “Hey, setting off an explosion on your brain housing group might be a bad idea,” or “There’s a man-eatin’ gator over yonder.” And the I&W is not that obvious, always. People hear hoofbeats and they’re not looking for zebras.

The US is not the only nation to be get caught napping like this. A couple of patrolling Zekes formed up on two B-25s one sunny morning off the coast of Honshu, and, not believing their eyes, convinced themselves they were looking at two experimental Imperial Japanese Army bombers they’d been told about — and let two of Doolittle’s Raiders go on to bomb Tokyo. That was fair payback for the Air Corps lieutenant three and a half months earlier, who, knowing that some B-17s were inbound, told some radar operators not to worry about what looked like a 50-plane raid on Oahu. Didn’t heed the indicators.

Some indicators are transient, some are durable, some are eternal. Obviously the Kaga and Akagi air wings on Pearl Harbor’s radar is a transient indicator. A durable one? Certain neighborhoods’ reputations. There were four fatal opiate ODs in our little county last weekend, in two separate towns. All four of them happened in streets that would have come up in discussion if you asked a town cop, “If someone OD’d here in your town, exactly where would you find the stiff?” If you’re not looking for hard drugs, you probably don’t want to go to those places, even in these very safe (generally speaking) towns.

The character of a neighborhood only changes over time, and with a change of people. When a neighborhood is improved, it’s not because they built shiny new buildings or added street lamps. It’s because they removed (or the cost of living in a shiny new building removed) the people who made the neighborhood bad.


“The superior person uses his superior judgment so as not to have to make a vulgar display of his superior skills.” This has long been a saying among pilots, but we’ve torqued it to fit a more general set of superior persons.

In interpersonal conflict, judgment is displayed best by the party that seeks to avoid, evade, and escape the conflict, and only goes to the gun (or lead pipe, or barstool, whatever) when the evasion phase has failed.

In analyzing any conflict, certain inflection points are evident (in hindsight!) where better judgment might have defused the situation or deflected the juggernaut before the collision point. Consider the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin. There’s no question that the evidence shows that George was in the right by any measure of morality or law when he plugged Trayvon (and made one small contribution to the cause of fighting future prison overcrowding in Florida). But if you mentally “walk” the scene with George, you can see some of these inflection points, even if he didn’t, at the time.  Once the fight started, of course, he had no choices except to take the beating and roll the dice on personal death or serious inury on the one hand, or use force to stop it on the other.

And, while we haven’t spoken to the man, we have no doubt that, in retrospect, George Zimmerman would have rather avoided his fight with Trayvon Martin than, as happened, won it; his victory was the very definition of a Pyrrhic one. His life will never be the same again and he will never be free from intrusive, hostile reporters (who continue to report a false narrative and vilify Zimmerman to this day).

And that’s a case of a guy who won an unnecessary but desperate, life-stakes fight. The guys who lost are not available to tell us what they wish they had done.

We recall that instructor John S. Farnam had (and has, he’s still working) several pithy ways of saying this, but the best fight is the one that doesn’t happen. (Farnam is hardly the only one with such a message. It’s as old as Sun Tzu).

Mindset & Judgment Can be Learned

To an extent, anyway. We’re not as confident as the Army is that it can teach anybody pretty much anything, but we do believe that anyone can, by a process of analysis leading to mental and physical drills, improve his mindset and therefore his or her odds of survival.

These odds of survival are improved by training to hone your skills and survive an armed encounter, but they’re improved more by using your superior judgment so as not to have to make a vulgar display of your superior skills. Too few people do the former, and far too few people do the latter. (A lot of cops who are involved in shootings are just unlucky. But there are others, where none of their cop friends are surprised they were in a shooting. Why do you think that is?)

Most of us are not cops, and not soldiers (any more), and therefore, do need to saddle up and go into places where you’re likely to be engaged by gunfire. So here’s our version of some guidelines for fight avoidance:

  1. Carcharodon carcharias: business end of a healthy one.

    Carcharodon carcharias: business end of a healthy one.

    Don’t swim where the sharks feed. Yes, home invaders can come to suburbia, but most criminals live in poor, lousy neighborhoods and prey on each other as well as the majority of non-criminals who have the bad fortune to live there, too. If you live there, leave. If you go there, stop.

  2. If you must go where the sharks feed — you may have reasons; we had a friend whose elderly mother would not leave her house in South Central LA until the Rodney King riots burned it down and settled the question for her — don’t look like bait. Don’t act timid, walk boldly with your head up, like you belong there — and are the baddest mother in the valley. Also, don’t flash stuff that is irresistibly attractive to the sort of people who have been listening to TV and therefore think they’re entitled to take it from you.
  3. When you have to go into the badlands, take a lesson from the cops and don’t walk alone. If you can’t help looking like prey (maybe you’re small, or elderly person), bring a buddy who looks intimidating if you can.
  4. Don’t get distracted. This is the wrong time to be facebooking, texting or reading WeaponsMan.com on your jeezly phone. In fact, it’s the wrong time to be taking calls. You need to be 100% in the analog world. We don’t know what the percentage of mugging victims in NYFC and San Francisco is, who had their ear buds in, but we’d take a guess it’s fairly high.
  5. Be conscious of concealment. Don’t give anyone the chance to ambush you.
  6. Manage the Clock. Most criminals stay up late and sleep late, too. If you have unavoidable business in their precincts, do it at seven o’clock in the morning when they’re down for the count, not at midnight when they’re just warming up.
  7. Be conscious of the fact that you may have to be ready, and always be ready to deliver a violent counterstrike.
  8. Work on avoidance, but once avoidance fails you should immediately execute a drilled, conscious plan. Strike hard and decisively. (George Z. got this bit exactly right, and every day’s life he has now, he only has because he did).
  9. If you err, and are attacked, act. Save regrets and recriminations for later.


Tam has commented on this at her indispensable blog, with some references to an earlier post of hers that made many of these same points, and one more important one. Go thither. Read that. Return smarter. That is all.

23 thoughts on “Mindset and Life

  1. Boat Guy

    A great summary of basic wisdom frequently unused. Some time ago we taught unarmed self-protection skills to women and in the course of this had access to prison interviews of convicted rapists; most picked vitcims that didn’t meet thier eyes “She didn’t get a good look at me to identify me”. This fact came as a surprise to many students who had been taught NOT to make eye contact as such was judged “provacative”.
    Speaking of I&W, I can’t figure out exactly WHY the US economy hasn’t crashed yet…


    Great advice.

    When I was young and salty my mates and I got into a few street brawls where the worst outcome for me was breaking my hand on some dudes face once because I hit him wrong.

    It didn’t take me too long to realise that things could’ve gone a lot worse for me, and I decided that I wanted to keep my teeth and eyes intact so I stopped going to stupid places.

    I consciously avoid such places and people and I haven’t had an altercation in nearly 30 years. I’ve always been ready for trouble if it was unavoidable, but avoiding it through good situational awareness has proved to be a far better policy.

  3. TRX

    > I&W

    I’ve worked for companies where things crashed because various managers absolutely didn’t want to hear bad news or anything that rocked the boat of their bureaucratic routine. Most of the time the Bearers of Bad News had been chastised enough that the entire structure was unwilling to pass unwelcome news upward to the next level, not just the top.

    Everyone knew what was going on, but they all acted like it was a huge surprise when the company finally collapsed.

    There’s a complacency factor in there too. “Nothing has changed in a long time, no need to stay so vigilant.” I’ve read accounts from both CIA and KGB officers who were stationed in Tehran when the Shah fell. Both outfits learned of the event from the local TV news. There had been *years* of exactly the kind of I&W they were being paid to gather and evaluate, but they were too busy with paperwork and the local expatriate party circuits to be doing their jobs.

  4. BAP

    Maybe if weaponsman.com didn’t have so many damn fine articles I wouldn’t be tempted to read it at every opportunity. Haha

    Very true about the avoidance thing though. Whenever someone gets under my skin and I want to teach them some manners I think “well then what?” Even if I win it will be a pyrrhic one. Now if only my wife and her sisters would think like that. Haha

  5. The Reaper

    An old man I knew once said that you never have to run from a fight if you start walking soon enough.

    Good country wisdom there.


  6. James Sullivan

    Great article. Particularly in regards to having ear buds in or having one’s face buried in one’s phone constantly.

    I can only image some imaginary super-predator-alien thing licking its mandibles at all of the fresh meat with their faces glued to text-Book of Face-Jewel game phablet. The minute you step away from the real world for the digital, you advertise your status as potential prey.

  7. archy

    Some people in some trades, including military combat arms branches, not only have to live with an aggressive, get in the first shot/punch mindset that doesn’t translate well to a civilian defensive mindset, but is easy to identify: they’re the ones who when a fight or the likelihood of one comes to them, don’t shirk or walk away from it but get that goofy grin on their face and the *here we go again* look in their eyes. You’ll see it with fighter pilots and CAS *flying artillery* aviators, and especially with tank crewmen, particularly the drivers and gunners. The WWII Marines [and Army beach invasion forces; there were a lot more of them than just on D-Day at Normandy] who island-hopped the Pacific island war very often had it, mixed with the *boy am I tired, I’d rather be ANYWHERE else* look and of course it’s not at all particularly limited to Americans; it’s just that we’re more likely to be around such in this country.

    But if you see it, you’ll know it, instantly, if you’ve seen it before. And you have the choice: walk away in the other direction, or run if it looks like the dance is about to begin right soon.

    Or you can grin right back at him,- or her- line up alongside, and join the party. It’s probably not the smart thing to do, but after 45 years, it gets to be a habit.

  8. Kirk

    I’ve seen and adopted a set of survival rules that have stood me in good stead, over the years. Summed up succinctly, they are: “Don’t put yourself in stupid places at stupid times, with stupid people…”.

    Now, how the hell I reconciled those principles with having re-enlisted in the Army six times, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader. Suffice to say, after awhile, the entertainment value outweighed the potential risk. After awhile, I think a lot of my re-enlistments boiled down to “Wow. I can’t believe they did that/I’m still alive… How the hell are they going to top that one…?”. I was basically hanging around to see if they could, and… Somehow, they always did, with a new and more spectacular set of stupidities.

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  10. ToastieTheCoastie

    Concerning #3. Apparently cops are sometimes less safe when they have a partner. The presence of another cop makes them overconfident and also introduces the dynamic of cops not wanting to look weak in front of each other.

  11. Y.

    Likewise, the Maine decedent’s friends warned him that setting off a large fireworks mortar on his head was A Bad Idea.

    They didn’t heed the indicators.

    Those weren’t screw-ups. A screw-up is when someone prevents an idiot from getting his just desserts. That is against the natural order of things.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Ah yeah, Syria. I have to say that your country and my country are involved, and your country is the one that knows what it’s doing. I actually have something on Syria probably going up on Monday. (And the situation of the 30 Division trainees is mentioned in the Friday Tour d’Horizon, which went up late. Airplane building holding me back).

  12. JTC

    Mas Ayoob did an extensive series on the Zimmerman shooting; very good stuff, he knows whereof he speaks. But throughout, and right up until the epilogue of the 30 or so installments, I peppered the comments beseeching him to say pretty much what you did here, in the interest of learning from the mistakes made. He didn’t really want to hear it, focusing primarily on the (unquestionable) justification of the shooting itself and Z’s innocence of the charges brought, rather than avoidance of what made that defensive execution necessary. Thanks for vindicating my positions in the matter. JTC

    1. Hognose Post author

      A lot of good shoots aren’t necessary, just like a lot of crimes would not have been carried through had they become good shoots instead. I will not try to guess what Ayoob was thinking. He’s a grown man. Andrew Branca’s coverage at Legal Insurrection was, in my opinion, the best.

      I cannot recommend Branca’s book and seminars highly enough. I also recommend Ayoob’s books (as does Branca).

      1. Tam

        I will not try to guess what Ayoob was thinking.

        Having spoken to Mas face-to-face as recently as this afternoon, I will simply state that this puts you light years ahead of the above commenter.

        1. Hognose Post author

          He was really the first guy to talk about the psychological aspects of what came after the shooting, and about the legal imbroglio that follows. Until he started writing about that stuff, most instructors took you as far as “pew pew pew,” and then the goblin was down, the police arrive and hoist you on to their shoulders. Roll credits, play theme.

          He was the first guy I recall who stepped up to say “the shooting” does not end when the “shooting” ends, and to warn guys to have their ducks in a row for the events to come.

          1. Tam

            Yup. I’m on record as saying that Mas is the second most important dude in the whole Armed Defense for Average Earth People movement after Cooper hisownself.

            He is certainly responsible for creating the awareness of what Clint Smith refers to as Problem Number Two.

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