Massif Rocks!

Combat Mindset, Weapons, and Brains

Yesterday I was standing in a fast food restaurant getting a refund from a mistaken drive through order when I got a good reminder of personal defense and security. When you have been a cop for more than a few minutes you develop some habits; some good and some bad. One good habit is the ability to see through people’s camouflage and see them for who they really are. Like the fireman with a good eye for smoke, a cop has a good eye for drug addicts. Inside the restaurant my attention was drawn to an angry customer who was standing at the counter arguing with an employee about how they messed up his order as well. When I stopped looking and started seeing the guy my decades of training and experience took over. While most people would be concerned by the large spider tattoo on his neck, it was his inability to stand still, large coat, and dark paranoid eyes that bothered me. At the same time as I was forming my opinions about his particular lifestyle, his head turned and he did a similar assessment of me. He looked me up and down and what he saw a short haircut, tan tactical pants, fleece jacket, and combat boots. While I cannot read minds I can read body language. I know the look on someone’s face when they are trying to remember if they have drugs in their pocket. While I waited for the guys fight or flight response to choose between his hands or feet I too pondered my own choices.

I learned and accepted a long time ago that people do terrible things for a variety of reasons. That is the world we live in. We do not get to choose all of our fights but we do have a say in the outcome. The best way to survive a violent encounter is to be the one inflicting the most violence. To me personal defense is an individual responsibility. With that responsibility is the burden of countless training hours required to familiarize ourselves with the tactics, techniques, and procedures of combat. After more than two decades of training and surviving violent encounters I have formed some pretty strong opinions on personal defense. My tendency is to simplify complicated ideas by breaking them down into basic principles. The three basic principles of self defense are: combat mindset, weapons, and brains.

Combat Mindset

Don’t live in denial; war is all around us. The first rule combat is to win with ruthless efficiency. Preparation for combat has many factors. First it requires the ability to focus on potential threats and not be distracted by the civilized world. Second is situational awareness of escape routes, physical boundaries, and empty hands. Last and most important factor is the willingness to take lives to save lives. Living a defensive lifestyle requires constant vigilance. 


The weapon is simply a tool to aid in winning. Having a handgun, rifle, or shotgun gives the individual the ability to inflict lethal injuries at greater than arm length distances. While I am a firm believer in always carrying a concealed handgun, but there are times due to circumstance or laziness that we find ourselves without a gun. If you don’t have a gun you still have access to tools. Look around, if it is heavy or sharp and fits in your hand it is a weapon and weapons are everywhere. It is just a matter of seeing things for what they can be and not what they are. Never forget that the true weapon is the individual.


The human brain is made up of many pieces but for self defense its best to think of the brain as two main parts: the advanced brain and the primitive brain. While the advanced brain has the ability to view complex tactical problems and create simple solutions, it is the primitive brain we need when it is time to dig in our claws and fight for our lives. There are times where we need to listen, talk, and be open to making compromises. There are times for war. Don’t confuse the two situations. Our brains, advanced as they may be, can also be easily distracted by danger, stress, and electronic devices. The best advices for a defensive brain is to stay calm, stay observant, and don’t stare too long at shiny things.

Lean, Smart, and Angry

The outcome of so many scenarios is dependent on choices and actions. The paranoid drug addict waiting for his food chose to leave as quickly as his feet could carry him. For both of us I am glad that he did because I did not want to go to war waiting for a new sandwich. I firmly believe that for every fight we avoid there is another more lethal waiting around the next corner. Avoiding conflict is not a victory. Wars that are narrowly avoided are just a series of hypothetical battles with hypothetical conclusions which results in a false impression of capability. If conflict is inevitable, and I think that it is, our most dangerous battles are in the future. The polar opposite of fat dumb and happy is lean, smart, and angry. If you want to live in a safe, warm, and comfortable world; never get out of bed. 

About the Author

Roy A Woodall, Jr is a retired career Police Officer, U. S. Army Infantry Veteran, and private military contractor. As a freelance writer he is a frequent contributor to gun magazines and has authored several books on leadership, tactics, and survival.

14 Responses to “Combat Mindset, Weapons, and Brains”

  1. Loopy says:

    So, what happened in the restaurant?

  2. Marcus says:

    >>”I learned and accepted a long time ago that people do terrible things for a variety of reasons. That is the world we live in.”<<

    I say similar things to my family all the time. That SA is a life skill and will never fail you. I also try to tell them having a "combat mindset" doesn't mean you can't otherwise enjoy life, in fact in means the converse. It ensures you will be around to enjoy more of it.

    Thanks for posting this. I'm going to print it for them to read.

  3. Homer says:

    Great essay Roy. Thank you for putting it together, and thanks SSD for publishing it.

  4. Todd Schooler says:

    Excellent article!

  5. Ed Hickey says:

    Yep! People places and things!

  6. Maskirovka says:

    “…he saw a short haircut, tan tactical pants, fleece jacket, and combat boots.”

    Another lesson in there. Unless I have a reason to be in a uniform of some kind, or to look “tactical,” I’m not. I look like just some guy. I prefer to pick the circumstances in which I “out” myself to a criminal. My very presence shouldn’t elicit a fight or flight decision in a felon when we are ordering sandwiches.

    • jbgleason says:

      This. I learned this when I started flying domestically for work 50 times a year. I made it a game to pick out the other armed travelers on official business from the gate crowd before the airline pre boarded and introduced us. It’s amazingly simple when you start looking and that is when I learned how the bad guys ID us.

      • PETE says:

        A few months back, I watched the Secret Service team load up on a small commuter plane. Seven guys and gals ushered onto a plane early, taking one-third of the seats… All window seats. That did not seem too tactically composed, but then, I had an aisle seat.

        Similarly, easy folks to make – 5.11 and Propper pants, short hair, MOLLE-y bags and all the tells. At first I thought they were the EOD support team, but when they boarded early, I confirmed them as agents.

    • Seamus says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Be the Gray Man. The haircut for me is not an option, but the rest of the dress is. I try to stay away from “tactical” and I am glad to see companies like 5.11 and others start to adopt this principle in some of their new pants and shirts look more “outdoorsy” (i.e. NorthFace, REI, Columbia etc) and less “tactical.”

  7. Chalky says:

    Great advice, great article…

    “The polar opposite of fat dumb and happy is lean, smart, and angry. If you want to live in a safe, warm, and comfortable world; never get out of bed”

  8. James Carmen says:

    Guys i need help on this: i managed to talk my wife into carrying a gun a blade and a light for self defense. But she just always holds this notion that if it really comes down to confronting a rapist, she’d rather hand over a condom than get wounded in a gun/knife fight even if she comes out winning. I kept on saying there’s no guarrantee the rapist would leave a witness or she won’t catch AIDS, but she still seems kinda reluctant in believing in going ruthlessly all in. What should i do/say to get her out of this half-ass mindset? I’ve already taken her to a pistol class and a rifle class.

  9. Jim says:

    With Ref to PETE’s post, I was EOD in Belfast when Pres. Clinton visited, The RUC as it then, was offered to provide close protection, knowing the ‘players’ as they did and having the ability to blend in, the Secret service politely declined (understandably not wanting to hand off their primary mission to a 3rd party), and fielded their team stating “Dont worry, our guys can blend”
    Now in NI there were about 3 black guys in the whole province, guess who made up the majority of the crowd team? All wearing what appeared to be issued Mackintoshes, same tie, and with the left index figure permanantly in their ears.