Why the Purpose of a Fight is to Win

posted on May 30, 2021

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill flashes the “V for Victory” sign, evincing his nation’s resolve to defeat the Nazis.

The circular staircase in Jeff Cooper’s Sconce leads down to his library and armory. It is the library that demands our attention here, as it is clearly the domain of a man who reads deeply on history, government and particularly war and weapons. Even Cooper’s choice of names for his home reflects these interests. In medieval terms, a sconce is a small shelter or fort, usually on high ground. Scanning the many book titles in Cooper’s basement library is a window into the thinking of the man widely regarded as the father of the Modern Technique of the Pistol.

As most shooters are aware, Cooper is equally to be remembered for his several books and multiple columns—he was a fine writer. It is seldom remembered today, but in the early days in Arizona, Cooper also edited and published a slim anthology of brief quotations from other authors. This little pamphlet effectively summarized the honest, self-reliant manner in which he conducted his life of service. 

I devoutly hope that Cooper’s heirs will reprint this nifty little collection of annotated quotes for the reading pleasure of current generations. Let’s look at a sample. There’s no better place to start than the words of one Winston Churchill:

Never give in. Never, never, never, never! Never yield in any way, great or small...Never yield to force and the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. 

Do you have the slightest doubt about Churchill’s intent? It is a forceful statement of resolve, almost to the point of being reckless. In response to that possibility, consider the included quote of Eric Hoffer, America’s longshoreman-philosopher:

The sickness of the late 20th Century is cowardice. Anger is the only cure for cowardice—anger strong enough to overcome fear.

For those who fully contemplate violent actions to achieve these goals, they would be well advised to consider a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: 

Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die, and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life. Both life and death are part of the same Great Adventure.

To all who come to grips with the necessity of fighting in a modern world, there is one quote that strikes as vividly apropos. Novelist John Steinbeck, the Pulitzer- and Nobel-prize winning author of several classics of American literature, was writing during Jeff Cooper’s lifetime. Before he passed, Steinbeck was hard at work on a book called “The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights.”

The unfinished manuscript was published in the late 1960s, a retelling of Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur.” Cooper was obviously enthralled with the portions of the book that had to do with the training of young Ewan in the martial arts of the day. Clearly, Cooper saw these brief few words as wisdom for the ages.

This is the law. The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplementary.

Text placed just before this quotation in the manuscript talks about choices in armor. Generally, the idea is simply less is better. According to the instructor, the purpose of a helm (helmet) is to deflect and not to block a heavy sword or mace blow. It might be possible to construct such a device, but it would interfere with your ability to strike. That premise is applicable to the fighting in current times. 

The choice of firearms, knives and related equipment in military, police and even civilian situations is important and certainly more important than protective devices like vests, etc. The Law does not deny the importance of a defensive tool, but it firmly assures us that you cannot expect to win by the use of it alone. Whatever firearm is to be used, it must be skillfully used, so regular, disciplined practice is in order. 

If, by some nasty stroke of ill fortune, somebody finds themselves in a fight, they have a situation that has to be resolved. It is best to approach that resolution as a winning effort and not as avoiding a loss.  It is a little like that mild pleasure of my autumn Sundays—NFL Football. You cannot win an NFL game with defense alone, because it can only achieve a 0-0 tie. The rare exception is the two-point safety. A defensive player who ends up with the ball (fumble, interception) instantly becomes an offensive player.

It’s just possible that the last sentence of the Law is the most important. Great common sense must attend the use of fightin’ iron.


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