Head vs. Holster: The Importance of a Solid Self-Defense Mindset

posted on October 8, 2018

I saw a statement on social media to the effect of “personal defense begins in your head, not your holster,” and wish I could remember whom to credit for this piece of wisdom. I wish I had thought it up because it says so much about what it takes to stay safe in today’s world. As gunwriters, we spend most of our time talking about defensive firearms. And firearms are a big part of the personal-defense picture. But, they are in truth only a part of the bigger picture.

All too often we find people who, having decided that their personal defense is important, run down to the gun store, buy a gun and some ammo and figure that they are good to go. Many of them haven’t even considered that a firearm is not much use without the ability to use it accurately, safely and wisely. They are often the ones who will intimate that the mere presence of a gun will often stop criminal attacks. They are less vocal when considering the times when it won’t, and a person has to shoot quickly and accurately in order to save lives.

The purchase of that gun is also not much use when a person has to be in areas where they cannot legally be armed. I’ve heard some reply that they simply stay away from those places. And that causes me to wonder how a person can successfully avoid being in courthouses, schools, airports, some churches, places that serve alcohol and businesses or workplaces that prohibit firearms. I know it is ridiculous, but the list is really quite long.

In his teaching, Col. Jeff Cooper talked about the Combat Triad, which is made up of Marksmanship, Gun Handling and the Combat Mindset. He showed the three elements in the form of an equilateral triangle, suggesting that each of these three elements should be understood to be of equal importance.

With all due respect to the colonel’s memory, I would suggest that mindset is actually more important than the other two elements, especially in today’s society. (It would be another way of saying that personal defense begins in your head, not your holster.)

The person who sets out to develop a good defensive mindset examines all of the elements of personal defense and not just skill with firearms. One should study ways to make their home a harder target to combat home invasions. They need to sit down with family members and discuss ways to make the family less susceptible to criminal attacks and other forms of violence.

A critical part of the combat mindset is to develop the skills of awareness and avoidance. The more aware we are of our surroundings, the more likely we are to spot trouble while there is still time to simply get away from it. Common sense tells us that there are parts of town, bars, businesses and events that are wise to avoid altogether.

Even when we have to be in places where we cannot legally carry our defensive firearm, it does not mean that we are unable to defend ourselves. Many less-lethal options are perfectly acceptable in those locations. Of course, we need to develop the skills to use them effectively, too. Pepper spray and walking canes are two items that come quickly to mind that, when used effectively, will sure beat facing a criminal attack empty handed. Some training in martial arts would also be beneficial. And, we are always looking around us for everyday objects that can be used as defensive tools.

We are especially fortunate that we live in a time when there are so many good training schools and instructors available to teach us these vital self-defense skills. In addition to numerous quality shooting schools, a person can also find professional instruction in martial arts and defensive driving to avoid carjacking and road rage. Asian stick fighters will even show you how to turn that old walking cane into a useful defensive tool.

When taken as a whole, the defensive mindset affects our entire lives. It shapes how we act, how we dress, and how we interact with others. It crafts our conflict-resolution skills to be as peaceful as possible. It affects how we see and understand potential danger while there is still time to exercise the most options for avoidance. It molds our ability to avoid looking like and being an easy target for criminals. It impacts our ability to better protect our family and loved ones.

So, by all means, go out and buy that new defensive handgun. While you are at it, though, be sure to buy the best defensive ammo available, along with some good gear for carrying it. And, be sure to book a respected defensive-shooting school in order to handle your gear in the most effective manner.

But, at the same time, don’t fail to look at the big picture. It is equally important to develop ways to protect yourself at all times and in all situations. Be conscious what makes a person look like the sort of person that criminals might choose to avoid. Be conscious of the various things that can make you, your family and your home look like a less-desirable target. Wherever you are, be conscious of objects that can be used as informal defensive tools. Hone your skills at situational awareness and conflict avoidance.

Personal defense begins in your head, not your holster. Focus on developing the correct mindset and skills rather than the content of your holster. A person might say all of that might take a long time and a lot of work to develop. That person would be correct. Personal defense is a commitment to a lifestyle, not merely a hobby.


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