Self-Defense Tip: Be Cool, Fool

“When an expensively-trained police officer from one of the largest police departments misses a felon six times at a range of ten feet (and don’t think this doesn’t happen), his failure is not due to his technical inability to hit a target of that size at that distance, for he has demonstrated on the firing range that he can do so,” Col. Jeff Cooper writes in Principles of Personal Defense. “His failure, and often his consequent death, is due to his lack of concentration upon his marksmanship—the loss of his cool.” Cooper correctly points out that grace under pressure is an invaluable survival skill for an armed self-defender that’s both genetic and environmental. In other words, you can train yourself to be cool. So how do you do that then?

Cooper recommends that armed self-defenders play football “of course.” He also sees training benefits from sailing (sailing?), flying, motor racing and mountaineering.

I know I speak for many members of our Armed Intelligentsia when I say my knees are shot; boats, planes and track days are well out of my price range and the highest point of Rhode Island is 812 feet. And my parachuting days are over.

But I get the main point: do something where you have to make decisions in the middle of a big ass adrenal dump. Even better if that something involves shooting at targets. In that sense, I’m down with Cooper’s exhortation to shoot competitively.

The average competitive pistol shot works and trains far harder to earn a little brass cup than the average policeman works and trains to acquire a skill that can save his life.

We’ve talked before how competitive shooting is NOT self-defense shooting and can create training scars (e.g., no “no shoot” targets) that can get your ass killed. But the benefit of shooting under pressure outweighs the disadvantages of having to reprogram yourself on a regular basis. As long as you do.

I also can’t stress enough the value of force-on-force training. Wherever and whenever you can get some, get some. Nothing quite prepares you for firing a gun whilst being fired upon like firing a gun whilst being fired upon. Eventually it becomes . . . routine.

All that said, finding your inner Dirty Harry is not necessarily the key to survival. In fact, coolness seems to fly in the face of some of Cooper’s other personal defense principles. How can you keep cool when you’re also trying to be explosively fast, unreservedly aggressive and morally ruthless?

Dunno. And even if you manage that trick, you might get killed anyway. Still, that is the goal.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

33 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Be Cool, Fool

  1. Obviously you’ve never been sailing, my fellow New Enaglander.

    Being constantly on the point of having your boat tip over, which would lead to drowning in the frigid North Atlantic and never being seen again, is a terrifying experience that requires one to keep their cool under extreme circumstances.

    I have some fond memories of sailing through a hurricane once. The waves were higher than the mast, and the wind was amazingly loud. It was awesome.

    • avatarRopingdown says:

      Absolutely agree. A dinghy in a gale or a cruiser in a hurricane will definitely test a person’s cool and provide a lifetime memory, not to mention that it will inspire more attention to weather radio and NOAA radar image printouts. Skippering in a storm is like an armed encounter: There just is no time to fear. There is too much to do and you do it. You put aside fear because it is “do or die.” The entire experience is washed in a gray adrenaline fog in my experience. After its over, of course, you just sit there thinking “damned that was terrifying.”

      As for the “explosively fast, unreservedly aggressive and morally ruthless” bit, that’s BS for civilians. I was in Laos, Lam Son 719, other rubbish in I Corp, and I’ve had several civilian armed encounters involving drug users. I’m neither explosively fast nor unreservedly aggressive. It’s a gun. You make it visible. If there isn’t time for that then you just shoot it. If you’re lucky, you survive. There isn’t time for macho. Even 5 foot tall mama’s boys from suburban Hanoi were able to kill people! The hard part is to notice danger in time. Nothing macho about that. More about being sober and alert. The FBI-published study of officers killed by criminals showed that the first person with a gun in their hand and willingness to use it usually was the survivor. So have the gun in your hand! Sounds to me like a good reason to have a pocket pistol, given that brandishing is an offense most places.

      As for Cooper, nobody has ever been able to show me that Cooper did anything during WWII as a Marine except cruise the West Coat on an aircraft carrier. In Korea there is no public record of his serving in a front line unit. I don’t know where he got his shtick from. If anyone has knowledge that Cooper had actual “getting shot at” experience, or “shooting it out with someone” experience, feel free to reply with citations. I don’t wish to criticize the dead, but the living who quote him endlessly should investigate the source before assuming his writings reflect actual experience, or thinking we should consider them authoritative.

  2. avatarST says:

    What?There’s Text?

  3. avatarjwm says:

    Military service helps in the “keep cool” department. Not because you are trained as a better marksman than a civilian can be, but because from day 1 of your service you are dumped into stressfull situations where you need to think and keep cool under great pressure.

    You can quite literally die in some cases if you fvck up. And your buddies can die too. Adds a whole new level to “keep cool” when the shitstorm is approaching. YMMV.

  4. avatarIng says:

    I guess paintball and airsoft might help. Not that there’s any element of real danger, but you’ve got to work in teams, separate friend from foe when sometimes they look alike, execute maneuvers under fire, manage your ammo, etc. And even in the most relaxed games there’s enough competition/excitement to get the adrenaline flowing. Been a looong time since I did anything like that.

  5. avatardracon1201 says:

    I play paintball witha Desert Eagle sized pistol with no tank, semi auto with four seven round magazines,in athletic pants and a t-shirt. It may eliminate a lot of variables in the real world, but the ammo counting,friend or foe confusion and the whole elements of force on force in a confined area make it a hell of a training experience for people like me.

  6. avatarJess Banda says:

    The massive adrenaline dump he experienced did him no favors. There are very few methods, outside of actual combat/DGU, which can stimulate the massive involuntary adrenaline dump you’ll experience. Fortunately, the few methods available are inexpensive and require little equipment. Unfortunately, a great number of pseudo trainers believe jumping rope or swinging kettlebells on the range will do the job…

    • avatarPascal says:

      Speaking as an instructor, There is only so much you can do in a class. The jumping rope and kettle balls are the best compromise you may have depending who and where you are teaching.

      There is always better but maybe not in the situation you are in.

      • avatarJess Banda says:

        The issue is a combination of the gear selected, how its utilized and the instructor’s understanding of how the body reacts to life/death enocunters. It seems as if every week a firearms instructor writes an article on how to increase the stress factor during firearms training, but the information they share reads as if they only spent 10 minutes reading about the subject via Google search or Wikipedia.

        The most commonly utilized tools (kettlebells and jump ropes) do not stimulate the body to release a sufficient amount of adrenaline…it may release enough to cause shaky hands/muscular tremors, but nothing like you’ll encounter in real life. Remember, during life/death encounters, your body releases such a load of adrenaline, that you’re temporarily “allowed” to display your full muscular strength….how many instances have you heard of people flipping cars off loved ones in car accidents?

        The issues: does the implement and how it’s utilized produce the same level of adrenaline dump as seen in life/death encounters? And having watched most of the firearms training videos which incorporate some form of exercise, I can tell you that they all focus on the duration of the exercise, rather than the intensity (the exercise scientist’s definition of intensity, not the PX90 definition.). I learned this from Ivan Abadjiev, who is one of the leading experts on how to stimulate this adrenaline dump.

        There’s only so many hours in a day, along with the financial expense of ammo, so you might as well maximize your results and investments. These trainers who spray water bottles in your face or have you perform kettlebell swings while on the range are demonstrating a lack of knowledge, wasting your time and money, in an attempt to make themselves and their training look tacticool.

        For more info, check out my article Stress and the Armed Professional, in the May 2011 issue of S.W.A.T. Magazine.

  7. avatarRambeast says:

    That is a very nice pair of guns.

  8. avatarAharon says:

    Athletes, actors, and others have used visualizations for a long time to prepare for events. For example, public speaking is one of the most common and greatest fears since it involves about three different fears combined together. One method speakers use to get over their fears is to practice detailed visualizations and drench them with emotions. Humans remember emotional experiences far longer and more deeply than other non-emotional experiences. The more emotionalized the more real anything is for us. A key here is that we can create an emotional event of a SD when it has not yet occurred in real life. Our subconscious does not distinguish between an actual event and a fantasy, day dream, or fear of the worst thing occurring. Draw upon your newer first brain to creatively visualize numerous potential SD experiences. Imagine yourself remaining calm, responding quickly, effectively, and dealing with the police afterwards. Seriously detail the events out before, during, and after it occurs. Ingrain the experience in your emotional muscles. It is part of preparing yourself for the real thing just like the shooting range is about practice.

  9. avatarensitu says:

    teddy kennedy’s driver died decades ago,this is all fuma!

  10. I’ve cooked the breakfast shift at Denny’s, does that count as high stress training?

  11. avatar277Volt says:

    What a cutie! Go full sleeves with a nice chest piece and I’d be putty in her hands. And for the love of god no gauges in the ears.

    As to the thread topic, I always find this topic amusing. How many of all the DGU’s TTAG has ever covered involved good guys or gals that have seen extensive (or any) training or even know who Jeff Cooper is? I’m in no way trying to say that training is a waste of time – nothing could be further from the truth – but I feel basic fight or flight plays a large part in how a DGU turns out. Mindset trumps all in my opinion. A highly trained IDPA competitor that hesitates to pull the trigger on a human dies when granny with a gun and an attitude wins.

  12. avatarBiofire says:

    Years as a firefighter/EMT helped. Haven’t been shot at, but had my life in danger many times.

  13. avatarensitu says:

    I left the service and got job as the sole armed guard at the west coast’s largest truck stop (6PM till 6AM). Later I got a job as an EMT, then a Fire Fighter 1st Responder and later still as a PC. As for the girl, I absolutely hate tats, it denotes a woman that sees herself as an object rather than a spirit. Does anyone see anything spiritual in that woman’s eyes?
    As for being shot at,and missed: if you do not take it personaly your response will be more appropiate to the situation than if you take it personaly.

  14. avatarSplashman says:

    “As for the girl, I absolutely hate tats, it denotes a woman that sees herself as an object rather than a spirit. Does anyone see anything spiritual in that woman’s eyes?”

    +1 on the tats rant. And to answer your question: yes. I’m guessing whiskey.

  15. avatarOradeo says:

    Play Call of Duty online competitively. And try your best to maintain your cool if you can. :)

  16. avatarflboots says:

    shes got tats, and writing on her shirt. I didn’t get past where the guns were pointing. What was the conversation again.

  17. avatarJoatmon says:

    As someone who has used a weapon in a DGU and also in combat, training does help a bit but the rush can be overpowering. Most of the rush is post incident in a DGU because it is over and done with in a matter of seconds. Combat is a different story. Being shot at for an extended period of time(and firing back) tends to lead to a peak and then evens off. Hyperalert is the term I would use. I don’t know that doing an extreme sport would help or not.

  18. avatarkarl hungus says:

    nothing matters except who the girl is, because, the internet.

  19. avatarg says:

    Keeping cool? Learn to survive in a classroom of 26 post-Halloween sugar hyped 3rd / 4th 5th graders. ;)

    I think sailing is valid too. Being out on the sea in a small boat at the mercy of a storm = you better learn to keep your cool if you want to survive.

  20. avatarTR says:

    …and my wife thinks I’m crazy to not want to go sailing. I have to agree with Joatmon above, although I’ve never been in a DGU situation. I have been in a couple situations where I thought I might have a DGU, and I’ve grown up driving on icy mountain roads all winter long. The adrenaline dump you experience when a deer jumps out in front of you on an icy road is not what makes you down-shift, pump your brakes, pull and release e-brake to control back-end drift, all while steering to make sure you and a loved one don’t end up in the trees or the ditch. Mindset and practice under controlled conditions are what make you do that. Adrenaline is what leaves you shaky afterward.

  21. avatarPaul says:

    I don’t know. I’ve never used a gun, but I have been in a knife fight and a few fist fights when I was much dumber. The adrenal dump is HUGE in those and I don’t think I’ve ever found anything that even remotely resembles it. Which is fine, tbh. I’m OK never feeling that way again ever.

  22. avatarGreg Camp says:

    Did Ernest Hemingway have the guts to write “Red Sector A”?

    • avatarIng says:

      I dunno about Hemingway (not a fan), but Rush wrote a pretty fine song called Red Sector A. Rush wins, hands down.

  23. avatarRalph says:

    So I suppose that the 90 year old woman in San Antonio who shot a home invader had been trained in counterinsurgency. Or the 69 year old woman in Decatur, GA. Or the 66 year old grandmother in Redding, CA. Or the 18 year old single mom in Oklahoma. Or the 12 year old girl in Oklahoma. I’m sure she had been thoroughly trained by Gabe Suarez.

    It’s a gun, people. You point it, you shoot it. That’s what it’s for.

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