The People of the Gun are nothing if not predictable. Start talking about the philosophy and practice of armed self-defense and it’s only a matter of time before they trot-out what’s called “received wisdom.” A gunfight is a fight with a gun. The only gunfight you’re sure to win is the one you don’t have. Beware of the man with only one gun. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Let’s take a closer look at the last one . . .

It’s a quote from German Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke. Wikipedia.org opines:

Moltke’s main thesis was that military strategy had to be understood as a system of options since it was only possible to plan the beginning of a military operation. As a result, he considered the main task of military leaders to consist in the extensive preparation of all possible outcomes.

His thesis can be summed up by two statements, one famous and one less so, translated into English as “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength” (or “no plan survives contact with the enemy”) and “Strategy is a system of expedients.”

Monty Python updated the sentiment when the actor playing Cardinal Richelieu announced “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” In other words, you can’t know how a defensive gun use will start, proceed or finish.

That means you can’t prepare yourself for every possible defensive scenario. In fact, if you train too rigidly — training yourself to react reflexively the same way to a threat over and over again — you’re training for failure. You’re setting yourself up for an inappropriate survival response to a life-threatening stimulus.

That said, you need certain instinctive or reflexive responses, such as moving as you’re getting your gun out. Or focusing on your front sight. Or squeezing rather than slapping the trigger. But these are baseline responses. To respond to a threat, you need the general ability to observe, orient, decide and act. And then repeat the process (the so-called OODA loop).

As Moltke reminds us, a successful soldier/commander realizes that he or she has a range of options to fight a battle (i.e. a “system”). These include — but are not limited to — shooting. If your plan is simply to perforate the bad guy, the chances are it won’t be enough. To increase the odds of winning, you have to assess and choose from amongst the available options — while under tremendous pressure.

The only way I know to both evaluate and improve this combat mindset: force-on-force training. Not only does FoF [somewhat] inoculate you against debilitating stress, it gives you insight into the chaos that is a defensive gun use, and your abilities and limitations within it. It’s expensive and hard to find and the best investment in self-defense you can make, bar none.

Meanwhile, know this: you can’t know what you don’t know. Be ready to be surprised — and take action.

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29 Responses to No Plan Survives First Contact with the Enemy: Guns for Beginners

  1. I find great humor the amount of training newbies subject themselves for the sum of point then pull trigger.

    Training only makes familiar and helps control fear, it cannot provide courage to fight.

  2. We played games as children that trained us how to deal with an adversary. Hide and Go Seek, Freeze Tag, and my favorite, Kill the Man With The Football or as we called it down South , Smear the Queer.
    Hide and Go Seek taught evasion and stealth. Freeze Tag taught escape and teamwork. Smear the…I mean, Kill the Man with the Ball taught you how to make split second decisions in a fluid situation dealing with multiple attackers.
    Our children have none of these skills. My generation has the instinct to deal with danger. We weren’t raised in a chicken coup. We are free range birds who grew up avoiding the fox.
    I forgot, another game we played was Cops and Robbers. We either had cap guns or a stick shaped like a gun. Or we just pointed our fingers like a gun. Kids today get expelled from school for that finger jesture. And they are more likely to die from homocide as a result.

    • Weird. We played it too, called it “muckleball.” As in muckle the guy with the ball. One guy, some twenty pursuers. Some of them big, some of them fast, some of them big and fast.

      When you’re about to be tackled, you can throw the ball. (Opponents would often tackle the former ball carrier anyway.) Often a ring would form around the ejected ball. No one would dare grab it; he’d face immediate destruction. Except for David Beghold, of course. I wonder if that guy got into S&M . . .

      You’re right: the “game” taught us more about broken field running — and courage — than any other activity we played.

    • Paint ball and air soft are excellent and fun fof training grounds. Getting into the woods and hunting is good too.

      We did a nerf gun capture the flag birthday party for my sons birthday last summer. It was educational and fun!

    • Michael in GA for the win!

      ALL of those skills port over quite nicely to self-defense.

      I would add one additional game that I played a lot as a child and even a teenager that is incredibly useful for self-defense. We called it “Got ya last!”. The basic idea is like tag: you do not want to be “it” with the added dimension that you wanted to tag the other person back as quickly as possible. But it wasn’t a game played all over the yard with several people. We played in “close quarters” and usually with just two people. As soon as the other person tagged you, you wanted to tag them back. And here is the rub: sometimes you would tag them back immediately in a brute force full frontal attack. Other times you would go for stealth and try to distract them with a hand and tap them with your foot, or make them think you were going to tag them with your right hand while sneakily bringing your left hand around behind them.

      As silly as that game sounds, it develops skills that are invaluable for self-defense. It teaches FAST reflexes. It teaches you watch your adversary’s entire body (which teaches you to use peripheral vision and not get locked into tunnel vision). It teaches you to expect the unexpected. And it teaches you that an adversary is entirely unpredictable. Finally, it teaches you to MOVE and COUNTER STRIKE … as well as teaching you to anticipate and evade any counter strike.

      All of these skills are invaluable for self-defense with and without a firearm.

      Bonus: the person who masters the game “Got ya last!” is nearly invincible during martial arts sparring and competition. Even as a beginner in martial arts, I had no qualms taking on black belts who were surprised at their inability to land meaningful strikes.

    • In the U.P. of Michigan it was also called Smear the Queer and that name was socially acceptable until I moved out of the U.P in 2001. We had all the other games as well plus Kick the Can.

      Heh, I haven’t thought about StQ game in a long, long time. Interesting the name was the same in the redneck North as it was down South.

    • Strangely, I don’t recall being taught these games. Perhaps it’s an instinct leftover from hunter-gatherer days. Those “games” soon become very serious when “Kill the Man with the Ball” turns into “Kill the Beast with the Food.” By then all the kids know who’s strong, who’s fast, and who’s clever. Those “games” make us effective hunters.

    • “I didn’t care if my men pulled the trigger with their c#*ks, just so long as they shot a LOT” -Captain Richard Markchenko, USN SEAL (R)

      • If you read military history much, one finds a lot of references to a percentage of Soldiers and Marines that do not fire their weapons in combat. I have read about this phenomenon many times in accounts from the CW-Vietnam. I haven’t heard about it from the sandbox, but I can’t think they’re immune. Some people just freak out when the bullets are flying in their direction…FYI, take a deep breath, and SQUEEZE the trigger….Aim Small, Miss Small

        • I think the way our youth were raised and trained changed. Prior to the 60s our young were taken to church every weekend and sunday school. We were put into scouting. And when the military got you they trained marksmanship on square ranges with bullseye targets.

          During the 60s the young were not as exposed to the 10 commandments and the military training became more realistic with pop up, human shaped targets.

          It must have made a difference, however slight. Throw in FPS video games and you have young people that are probably more likely to fire when needed.

          And our young people in uniforms are no longer draftees.

        • And I think an even bigger problem is those who do fire at the enemy, but fire to miss. Studies show that that used to happen to a great many soldier, but training under pressure(pop up targets and such) seems to help keep that to the minimum. Probably because the round is on the way before the brain gets a chance to think about it. Which would also explain why PTSD(or combat fatigue, or shell shock, or whatever other name gets put to the condition next time around.) is MORE prevalent now. Because the brain does have the time for analysis…. later.

  3. I try to practice the act of drawing from various clothing types, and I work on marksmanship and reloading from a magazine pouch. Aside from that, situations will just be too random and chaotic to plan for scenarios and I totally agree that training to react one way leads to disaster as you will only react that way regardless of variables.

    As the instructor in my first carry permit class said when stressing the importance of practicing drawing from concealment: “Start off slow, then after you have done it a couple of hundred times, speed it up a little. That is how you will build a reliable technique. Once you have the technique, then worry about adding speed to it. “Slow is smooth and smooth becomes fast”.

  4. . . . and don’t let anyone talk you into believing that you can’t (first) have a plan [regardless of it’s chances for longevity on encountering anything].

    “the best strategy is one that falls to the one who chooses” (J.M.Thomas R., TERMS, 2012, Pg. 30)

    “the best strategy is always to follow your first instinct until you are certain that you are incorrect” [paraphrasing Clausewitz/Rappapot] (J.M.Thomas R., TERMS, 2012, Pg. 182)

  5. And we have stumbled upon the Truth here at The Truth About Guns. The wrong training can be worse than no training at all. What an armed citizen needs is a good defensive pistol course backed up by frequent practice. He does not need tacticool training which will condition him to exceed his legal boundries. If you go into a tactical course with the attitude that it is fun instead of useful that works but as soon as you start taking it as something that hones your self defense skills you are marching down the wrong path.

    And if you want to practice and hone your situational awareness skills don’t count boys and girls when you walk into a bar, look for the hot babe crying in her drink. Not only will it teach you to look for what’s different you might get lucky. SA is about looking past the normal and findind what deviates from normal.

    • You really can’t let it go and still don’t grasp the point of that game.

      Ah well, in the meantime follow your dick to the drink-slut/unstable chick. Wrap it up and hope you don’t get herpes or something.

      • I got preoccupied and never had a chance to further respond so I felt that this a good topic to do it since SA is related to developing any on the fly self defense strategy you might want to come up with. An essential part of any plan is knowing what you are planning for.

        Now, You are one who doesn’t understand that’s it’s not a game and what you recommend is not twhat professionals do. The best can in fact identify and remember everything they see but they are merely using that as a filter to find what’s different. They aren’t looking for noise, they are interested in signal. Train yourself to look for signal, not noise. Your suggestion was to train yourself on noise. Since there will be no threat in virtually every situition you face, you can train by looking for what is different. I can and have walked into many places and identified things that are different and/or suspect. This is the training I got from IC professionals.

        And if you think my little quip was anything other than tongue in cheek than you really aren’t very aware.

        I am always amused when TTAG publishes a piece on something I have pointed out long ago and have received the scorn of readership.

  6. I tend to look at this from a marital arts perspective in terms of your actions closing as few doors as possible so that you don’t end up going down a proverbial dead end. Sometimes that’s not possible to avoid, but you should try.

  7. Meh. Training, smraining. If you want to have fun and go play G.I. Joe with the other suburban slugs at the local tactical facility, go for it, but don’t think for one second that it’s preparation for kicking down doors in Kandahar. 1. It isn’t sufficient or rigorous enough, 2. Your basic carrier is too out of shape to pull that off, anyway.

    The only training you need that is guaranteed to help you no matter the situation is being able to present and operate that self-defense firearm. Watch surveillance footage of emergencies on youtube. You see people in a panic as killers approach, earthquakes are triggered, etc. who then gingerly set down their cup of coffee, search for their purse, then attempt to run in high heels. This isn’t a slam against ladies, as men do similarly stupid things.

    The point is, if you’re not training to drop whatever in an instant, rip open your shirt to get to that IWB holster, and present that firearm like your life depends on it (because it does), then nothing matters. It’s just so much live action video game make-believe B.S.

  8. It’s astonishing how closely intertwined driving a race car is with operating a fire arm under stress. Both require split second decision making, inability to predict the future, dealing with failures as they occur (and not giving up) and the OODA loop processing at rapid speed.

  9. If you survive the first few seconds, the enemy will be apparent, react accordingly. Your primary skill should be to identify the threat and hit it. If you freeze, you are dead, if you panic, you are dead. You could do everything right and still be dead. Face that first, the rest will come to you.

  10. This is basically about what your response is to stress. I live in New Zealand, where threats from armed offenders are rare, and usually aimed at other drug dealers/ criminals. However we are a robust society, and as kids, we were required to play rugby, whether we wanted to or not, and I am sure many of us were concussed before our teenage years. We also have frequent severe earthquakes, and those get your attention for sure. I used to enjoy them but we had a real mean one this year. We used to play paratroopers as kids, jumping off the shed roof and rolling through the fall, and this stood me in good stead for a couple of minor motorcycle accidents, and when tripping over carrying a parcel. And tree climbing was allowed and encouraged. And although we have different races and colors, we seem to be more homogenous than in the Stats. We all went to school together.

    I have two brothers, so unarmed combat was the order of the day. Protecting from swinging fists and flying elbows became part of our routine. Again, not army training, but we knew how to look after ourselves. And part of that is learning to just not be a dick. Many people have an attitude of entitlement, as though they have a right to go into another neighborhood without paying a tax, or that they can say what they want without being shot in the face. Just don’t be a dick.

    And realize that bullets are not magic, and many go through and through without causing any real damage. A handgun is not a cannon, and will not blow an offender into the next room. There are limits.

    As is sometimes said here, if I knew I was going to be in a battle that day, I would have taken a recon battalion and artillery support. A lone person with a handgun might change the course of history but is much more likely just to become another statistic. Be careful out there, and don’t be a dead hero.

  11. With all of this talk of Moltke, we just needed some dead Carl somewhere in there to rrally bring the article together.

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