TTAG has never shied away from a simple truth about armed self-defense: a gun fight is a fight with a gun. In other words, it’s not so much about the gun as much as it is about the fight. It’s entirely possible an armed defender won’t be able to get their gun into the fight. Their firearm may fail (most probably through adrenalin-induced operator error). They may not be able to get a clear shot. Or miss. Or get shot first. As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to remind us “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.” The standard Karate Kid response to this shit happens truth about gunfights: you must have an indomitable spirit! Keep fighting no matter what! OK, sure. So, how do you get one of them indomitable spirit things then? It’s easier than you think. Start with this . . .

It’s all about fear. Not to coin a phrase, fear is the mind killer. If you find yourself in a life-or-death struggle, your own fear is your greatest enemy. OK, second greatest; the perp(s) trying to kill you being number one.

If you’re paralyzed by fear, if you lose your ability to create and adapt a survival strategy according to changing circumstance, if you operate purely on instinct, you’re fucked. Or not, depending on nothing more than luck.

The good news: if you can keep your fear in check, you will be able to keep ye olde OODA loop spinning (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) even when it’s painful or seemingly impossible (e.g., after you’ve been ventilated by a perp). Here’s an excerpt from my don’t-bother-asking-it’s-out-of-print book HypnoHealth on the subject:

Some people regularly do things that could kill them: soldiers, pilots, stunt people, police, racing drivers and others. To keep fear in check, they have to come to terms with the worst case scenario. They have to say to themselves, ‘If something goes wrong, I’m dead. If I die, I die. It’s worth the risk.’ It’s not about confronting your fears. It’s a question of accepting them. You look at the bleakest possibility and tell yourself that you can handle it. Even if it’s the last thing you do. Only then are you ready to give it your best shot.

Obviously, I’m an egomaniac for quoting myself. Equally, you’re probably not carrying a gun as part of your job. So it’s not likely that you’ve gone through this whole accepting your death mental process thing. You carry a gun because you want to live. To survive a criminal attack. Surely the will to live is the source of the indomitable spirit. As ex 2.0 would say, ja nir.

A Zen priest learns that his village is being over-run by an army lead by a cruel general who takes no prisoners. All the other priests get the hell out of Dodge (updated version). When the general hears of the priest’s defiance, he storms into the temple, covered in blood (for dramatic effect) and roars “Where is this priest who dares defy me?” Our hero waves hello. “Do you not know that I am the kind of man who can run you through with a sword and not even think about it?” The Zen dude says “Yes, but I am the kind of man who can be run through by a sword and not even think about it.”

If you make your peace with death you can fight for your life without fear. Well, less fear. So have you made a will? Seriously. Are your affairs in order? ‘Cause fatalism is the anti-fear. And you can’t be fatalistic if you’re not prepared–mentally and practically—for the worst.

Train hard. Train smart. Train often. Prepare your equipment. Home carry. Maintain situational awareness. Use your imagination to mentally rehearse self-defense scenarios. Always see yourself as the victor. Then relax and enjoy life. What’s the worst that can happen? Guess what? It’s going to happen to you someday anyway. Deal with it.


    • no doubt about it at all.

      I spent 11 months doing chemo with as many operations to remove one thing or another.

      After the last operation i almost died on the table when they took my spleen, was unable to be given ANY pain killers, and got to experience 30 staples down my gut moving like a live zipper that oozed blood every time you moved. I spent a week in ICU then another week in the recovery section of the cancer ward.

      Once you decide to survive something like that and have all that time to do nothing but THINK, you get a whole new perspective on life & death.

      Now, everyday I wake up is a good day and a bonus because I know for a fact that if I did not fight for my life I would have been dead five years ago.

      yup, life & death experiences have a way of making you grow up fast and decide for yourself if your gonna fight and live, or give up and die.

      • I want you to know how much hearing something like this means to others, as well as I agree whole heartedly!!

        Colon and now spleen. 4 major, 4 minor surgeries since 2008. Now halfway through 2nd chemo. regiment. The relief in knowing affairs are in order and am ready for the worst.

        Freedom to fight for the best with the fear put behind me!!

  1. Indeed. The will to survive is the most crucial weapon in your arsenal. Several FBI agents in 1986, and one dead scumbag who attacked LAPD officer Stacy Lim, found that out the hard way.

  2. I have absolutely not made peace with death, which is why I carry in the first place.

      • to what lengths will you go to preserve your own life

        Wade, I’d do what’s necessary. I have no fear of meeting my maker, but I’d like to put it off for as long as reasonably possible.

    • “Ralph says:

      May 23, 2012 at 13:23

      I have absolutely not made peace with death, which is why I carry in the first place.”

      Me neither, Ralph. FLAME DELETED that noise!

    • Ralph says:

      May 23, 2012 at 13:23

      I have absolutely not made peace with death, which is why I carry in the first place.”

      I am with you, Ralph. FLAME DELETED that noise!

  3. As Woody Allen said, “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

    But seriously, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head, and stated the fundamental truth eloquently. No one here gets out alive. When the end is all there is, the end counts. Make it count.

  4. Conquering or managing our fears in life is a fascinating and vital skill to master. When I did cold call selling the most effective advice I learned was to stop focusing on my own fears or rejection or the pressure to make quotas and to start focusing on helping the prospective customer solve their problems and meet their goals. I focused on something greater (a cause, a belief, etc) than my own selfish ego or needs. I focused on serving. Ideally, a salesperson is really a problem solver in a perfect world.

    How can I apply this idea or process here based on the above passage to a threat that makes sense to me? Possibly by focusing on stopping evil from succeeding in its expansion, in stopping it from harming others that I care about and live with, by being so disgusted with an attacker’s immoral ethics being akin to a sub-human wild animal that I focus on my action steps which I need to take and not on my fears.

    Faith in something greater than ourselves has kept men going against the greatest of odds. Sometimes those men still perished and sometimes they succeeded. Know who you are, be at peace with yourself regardless of the outcome, and be in the present moment doing the right thing.

    Putting too much thought and feelings into earning a commission for a sale or surviving the attack, and not taking the right action at the time can be detrimental at times. Lastly, be an optimist in life rather than a pessimist. Eighty percent of the time they are both right.

  5. Courage is not the absense of fear. It is putting your fears under control and moving on.

  6. Ron White is one of my favorite comedians….He has a useful insight on fatalism.—tiny-plane-trouble

    I have had a full life, seen the world, loved some good women, and had plenty of fistfights. If I ever have to draw, I want to win….. if I lose and die, I don’t want to go alone….. Living until your decrepit, tubed up, drugged up, and a burden to your loved ones is overrated. If ever someone decides they will shorten my stay here on mother earth, I’ll do battle. If I lose, the best I can ever hope for is to watch the light in his eyes go out…. first. If I win, then I live to fight another day. Life is a battle, and would we have it any other way?

  7. I remember reading an article by Massaad Ayoob about surviving a gun fight in where one shooting victim was shot in the belly and he fell over and died. Upon examination, the bullet that hit him hit his substantial belt buckle and penetrated no further. The thinking was he died because he believed he was mortally wounded and was supposed to die, when in fact, he should have walked away. And in the same article, a female highway patrol officer was shot in the chest with a .357 and made the mental decision that she wasn’t going to die unless she took her attacker with her. She returned fire and survived her wounds. I have also read accounts of medal of Honor winners combat experiences, and it is easy to see that their mindset was one of not giving up at any cost, push aside all pain, and to win against their foe if at all possible. Certainly something one can’t learn just by reading a book, but once aware of what is possible, it is something that training will build.

    • it is 99% a mental game.

      you are correct about the pain.

      pain is just our bodies way of saying: Hey! Look out, stupid!

      once you learn that and are able to put it in its place, you will win.

      being a stubborn SOB helps more than you could possibly know!

  8. My experiences with shooting were a bit different. I was stuck in a position in a gunner’s well in a huey, Feb 8, 1971. There was no cover and no place to run. From the beginning of Lam Son 719 we flew from Dong Ha to LZ Kilo, by Khe San, and then flew an average of 6 sorties per day, often 8, until winding down late in March. The last flight was perhaps on April 6. They knew we were coming everyday, they knew the route had to fly, and they had tons of AAA and 51. cal. Extracting the remains of the 4/1/1 ARVN Infantry was the highlight of that hell. I felt a certain amount of ambivalence and fear the first few times we were shot at, starting with LZ Hotel. Eventually my reaction changed over the days and I found myself feeling a sort of cool intense rage that some bastard was trying to kill me. By the day of the 4/1/1 extraction I could, did, have 14-15 second one-on-one shoot out with a .51 100-150 yards out of the LZ at about 200 feet alt. The cold fatalistic rage stayed that way for the rest of my tour, and was very helpful when we were loaded out to CCN types as taxis. I think it was a realization that there was not a millisecond to spare for fear. A shootout is beyond philosophy or preparation. When the aggressor is a legal shoot, one trying to kill or maim you, you just do it, whatever you know how to do, and you do it fast. It isn’t an essay contest and it happens much too fast to have a fighter pilot-style OODA loop. So train what you will, and that’s what you’ll do. And your gun better work.

    • Ropingdown, I lost a very wonderful friend like that on Halloween, 1967. We were both 19 at the time. I guess he still is.

      He missed out on a lot of living. I’m an OFWG now and don’t know how much time I have left — does anybody? — but I’ll be damned if I’ll let some goblin take away a single minute of it.

      I’ve told RF before that the secret to not being paralyzed with fear is to be royally pissed off. Nothing makes fear dissipate faster than a mind full of cold rage.

      • I agree. I think Josey Wales said it best: “Get mad. Get Mad Dog mad….” I read an article saying where perps and cops who’d been in gun fights were interviewed, and they found that in most instances, perps had more experience with their weapon and with gun fights, were driven, and lacked remorse, compassion, mercy, etc…While walking around accepting death might work on a battlefield, I don’t think I’d want to live my civilian life like that. I prefer to have a very short fuse, and be ready to take your —-ing head for screwing with me and mine.

      • Ralph, we’ve led parallel lives. Army, college, law school, though we followed different paths with law. Worked our way through. Sorry if I raised a painful memory of your lost friend. I have a similar view: I don’t know how much time I have, but I’ll be damned if some punk is going to pick the day. Doesn’t matter what death is. Doesn’t matter what drove the perp astray. That’s all beside the point.

      • And I agree with your counsel to RF. If it’s a legal shoot, there is nothing to fear because there’s no time for fear. The f’r wants to toast you or cripple you. He will toast you if he can. I strongly agree with the “keep moving” view, but that has to be automatic. I think if it isn’t deeply trained then people don’t do it. I also think changing guns, manual of arms, triggers, is a horrible idea for carry/bed-side guns despite what the market wants. The defensive pistol [shotgun, carbine] shouldn’t change without a very powerful reason. Of course RF’s choice of the G30 is excellent, so he won’t change. And Wevolvers are good, too.

  9. @Ropingdown: excellent, sir.

    I carry a gun for a a living, as I have for my past two jobs (USMC and armored trucking). I have come to the conclusion that my life is absolutely not for the taking, and I will fight until my final breath.

    I have not come to peace with dying, I’ve come to peace that my life is worth living – that I deserve to live and that my adversary bent on murder does not. I frankly don’t give a damn if a psychologist or author believes that my refusal to make peace with death constitutes a lack of preparedness.

    Kudos to those who refuse to become a victim despite whatever circumstances they face.

    • I couldn’t agree more. A perp who enters my life with the intention of raping, killing and stealing what I and my family has is not met with me displaying fear. They may startle me for a second but then the overwhelming rage that this intrusion into my life that some shitbag thinks is my problem is more than smashing any fear I may have had in any situation.

      In short: FLAME DELETED with the bull and get the FLAME DELETED. FLAME DELETED!

    • @accur81: Yes, your life matters. I think there is a tendency to weave complex means to cope with life’s stresses and dangers. This doesn’t seem appropriate to me for defensives, DGU. I think those who face shoots give up the philosophy bit. Some people are helped by this realization, which the law accepts: Assume in any case in which you reasonably perceive a person has the immediate intent and ability to cause you death or serious bodily injury…that they’re going to cause serious bodily injury. Take the question of death off the table. Simply realize the bastard intends to at least cripple you with his gun, knife, or fists. Thinking about DEATH is in a sense needless dramatization. He at least intends to cripple you: “Cripple me? The hell you will!” Action. Good luck with your work.

  10. “It isn’t an essay contest and it happens much too fast to have a fighter pilot-style OODA loop. So train what you will, and that’s what you’ll do. And your gun better work.”

    True DAT!!!

  11. Well… when I had the three armed goblins at my porch and they were deciding to come in…my mind was really on my Wife and 2 year old Daughter ( at that time). I thought that I did not want the publicity and trial for the three men I was set to kill, but I also thought that the three thugs potentially killing my family was an outrage I would not accept. My real mindset was to simply annihlate them without hestiation if they came through the door. I really went into a cold rage as Ropingdown describes with a will I never felt before. Luckily, the goblins decided at the last minute to go elsewhere.

  12. Accur81, Buuurr, CarlosT, Ralph, Joseph, Tom: This “no edit facility” forces me to add just these, since I hit “post comment” a bit quick: The 4/1/1 was on March 18, so it occurred after more than a month of Laos BS experience. We were under strict orders not to shot unless shot at, which was just a bit like the legal rules for CCW. There were exceptions to that when the operation commander of the moment would declare a “hot LZ,” meaning we should shoot up the area just outside the perimeter as we went in. That was very rare. I’ve had three experiences as a civilian over 39 years which justified a draw [if, in two cases, you can call presenting a skeet gun a draw?] and each time it was the same: No thoughts whatever except wordlessly, in ‘mentalese’…. “Am I legal? Do I need to pull the trigger?” No conversation, though people seem to like to trash talk as they move on you. Odd. Ignore it. Just all eyes on the perp until they stop, drop the weapon, backup. Three times they did, and three times the PD approved the “brandish.” On one of them the PD arrived exactly seconds after and arrested the guy [who was actually being hunted through the neighborhood after a burglary]. [We have a great PD.] These occurred before our SYG/Castle laws in PA were passed. Anyway, now I have to go look up Inigo Montoya. Live long and prosper.

  13. I suppose people have different ways to cope with the war and maybe the guy in the Band of Brothers video had the attitude that he was already dead. I will say that my Dad married Mom in November 1943 and was shipped out in December 1943. I think him being married to Mom and looking forward to settling down to married life after WWII, gave him a goal and kept him going through the war. I had always read that the soldiers who were married struggled a lot harder to stay alive for their wives and family during the war.

    • From my point of view, yes, having a wife and children DO give me the “umpf” to fight, I believe more than if I was single and childless.
      I wouldn’t expect any man to give up regardless of whether they had children or wifes, its just that the fight feels easier knowing I’m doing it for others, not only myself.

  14. “I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing……Only I will remain.”
    -Litany against fear
    Frank Herbert (in Dune)

  15. You should never be afraid of death. However, you shouldn’t be passive in the face of death.

    Do whatever you can to prolong your life if you enjoy it. Or not. It’s yours to do what you please with.

  16. This is kind of corny, but it says it all…

    “Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.” — Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales

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