The Combative Mindset

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Dear Brendan,

I’m going to focus my next couple of pieces to you on the importance of mindset.  There are two main parts to being combat effective.  They are the physical and the emotional/psychological sides that you must bring together in order to truly have what it takes to win the fight. 

I’ve been researching, studying, and training since I was in grade school.  You could say I’ve always been motivated to fight the good fight.  I’m that hopeless romantic that still believes in all those bumper sticker sayings.  I believe we should protect our loved ones, that we few should fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.  I recently talked with you about bullying in our schools and self-protection for our children.  It’s fair to say that bullies have also inspired me to develop a functional form of self-protection that can be learned by anyone and applied that night in a parking lot if needed. 

My life experiences from around the globe with the USMC, CIA, DoD and Interagency have taught me many life lessons.  One of those is that there is both good and evil in our world.  I firmly believe in the quote by Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.  I believe we have a moral and ethical obligation to stand and fight for all that is good in our world.  During my journey in life I have continued to train, learn and evolve as what I like to refer to as the warrior athlete or combat athlete and as a man/son/father/friend.  I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work and train with some of the best people in the world from within our warrior class, intelligence community, DoD and others.  This includes a solid cross-section of martial arts, close quarter combat and other tradecraft that have honed various combative skill sets.  As I look back I can say that every person and every experience both good and bad has given me something to add to my toolbox. 

Here’s the harsh truth and BLUF:

“The truest measure of competition is not in the stadium. The truest measure of competition is on the battlefield. The fiercest competitors face off with their lives on the line, and the winners simply are able to survive the encounter. The fact of the matter is that in war your every moment of hesitation, move, strength, and weaknesses will weigh on your survival. The terrifying and unsaid truth is that even if you do everything right, you can still die. In virtually no other sport is this true.”

Instead of detailing past experiences I’d rather talk more specifically about some of the conclusions I came to.  It should now be common knowledge that in a physical sense the fighter/operator/combatant who hits first and continues on with constant offensive pressure until the opposing threat subsides offers the highest probability of success in terms of strategy,  as long as he can bring significant power and employ it with determination.  This should be a given by now and at this point in our many conversations.  And if you didn’t know this already, consider yourself informed and make note of it.  The conclusions I want to talk about with you come from a psychological point of view and I will begin by posing this question.  In regards to traditional martial arts, combat sports (MMA or UFC) and to a degree so called reality based self-defense material that’s offered today, what is the main area left either completely unaddressed or at least barely mentioned? 

I’m curious to hear your answer to this important question.  Here is my take on it.  The psychology relating to any violent encounter has two main elements of concern to address, our state of mind/emotional and state of mind/physical.  

In simple terms the first relates to the ability to control your emotions during the stress of any violent confrontation to a significant enough degree that will allow you to access your skills so that you can effectively deal with the threat.  The second relates to developing the ability to access the most resourceful state of mind and body before, during and after the full spectrum of any violent encounter.  Both of these relate to “mindset”.  Professional sports trainers, SOF operators and others from such communities that are at the top of their field will know that the current addition to physical training comes from the advances of certain learning technologies and techniques relating to neural based learning and or neural linguistic programming (NLP) in direct relation to combative and other such related training. 

Please allow me a minute to briefly define the term “state”. This refers to our current thought patterns and associated physiology and demeanor at any given moment.  Examples include a happy state, a tired state, excited, angry and so on.  Throughout our day we slip in and out of different states without giving too much thought to where we are at any one moment.  But what if you had the ability to access the most resourceful state applicable to any of your specific daily tasks?  How useful would that be?  Now let’s take this idea and apply it specifically to counter violence.  The fact is, if you take any individual or group of individuals who can do something, anything, really well, be it any sport, musical instrument, top business CEOs, or in this specific case anyone who is extremely capable of dealing with violence such as a SOF operator, you will find that each example of such excellence has something in common.  There are certain key traits in all these successful people within their various fields of expertise that can be construed as the difference that makes all the difference in terms of the results they get. 

If you are not familiar with NLP, I encourage you to look up the founders of NLP John Grinder and Richard Bandler. 

We all know that the best preparation of all comes from “experience”. I’m talking about real world experience and not simply from a book.  Looking back on those times when I was most active, in terms of accumulating “real world experience” I know that I gained a good degree of combative functionality years ago. I suppose like anyone else exposed to such experience, you’ll be amazed at what you get used to and proficient at.

Now outside of the physical stuff that we have come to know, in terms of what works such as hitting first/pre-emptive attack, with power/strength/impact, following up as appropriate or in short taking the initiative to exploit weaknesses/openings until the threat is no more.  I didn’t truly stop to analyze why those of us that operated/fought in such a manner were consistently effective until recently.  I knew there was more to it than just the physical aspect.  I knew about the need to understand your own emotions, fear, adrenaline and that you had to control them or they would control you.  You had to master your own emotions and self, before you had any chance of dealing with anyone else.  At that moment in time I just considered it getting my mind right and staying focused on the task at hand.  I believe, like many people within other fields and professions, you may not always know the whys and how of what you do well; you simply know that you can do it at a high level of proficiency.  I’ve come to realize and noticed as I write to you, instruct/teach others and continue my own training just how important the psychological part of the equation is and that this was what most people struggled with.  Without question the science behind training professional athletes, Olympians and others at the top of their game has improved dramatically.  Many professional sports teams have psychologists on their training staffs.  The saying fitness of mind and body is so true.  It’s like we have discussed before, true fitness is task oriented.  You must train for the mission/fight.  Also keep in mind the saying, “one mind, any weapon.”  We will get back to this in future pieces/discussions.        

I hope this helps you see/understand the importance of managing your emotions and state of mind during fight stress.  The starting point, of course, begins with accessing the right mindset.  Any resourceful state begins with the way you communicate with yourself, via the way you think and talk. (Internal dialogue) This affects the way you feel which in turn affects the way you act, which of course ultimately affects the results you get. It is a dynamic process: Any internal or external change to any of the components involved will have an impact on the whole. I want to apply this concept specifically to the full spectrum of a violent confrontation, i.e. what happens before, during and after such an encounter. The main element of concern here is “perspective” or your outlook during such a violent/aggressive encounter, both before and as it unfolds.

The simple fact is this; the reason some people freeze up in the face of a violent confrontation or in anyway allow themselves to get derailed via the affects of adrenal stress is because they fear consequence, particularly the consequence of injury.  Fact is if you fear getting injured in any potentially violent confrontation then you won’t do anything to deal with the situation in a physical sense. If you enter into any potentially violent confrontation worried about the outcome or consequence be it getting hurt, police involvement, being sued or possible jail time then there is no way that you will be able to access your skill sets regardless of how much combative training you have. Control of negative emotions leads to the access of skill under pressure and this starts with the way you think, or your perspective.  This, as I said before, affects the way you feel, the action you take and the results you ultimately get.  If I walk into a potentially violent event thinking “man look at the size of that guy, he’s gonna kill me!”  Do you think such a perspective will allow me to access a state of resourcefulness that will ultimately bring about a successful conclusion?  I can tell you straight up that it will not.  The commonality that any individual who is capable of dealing with violence well, regardless of whether it’s a street thug, a violent sociopath or a SOF operator, is mindset.  Their perspective of the pre-fight event will be the same or very similar.  In short their mindset will be a combative mindset, focused on what they’re going to do to the threat/attacker in front of them, NOT on the consequences of what the threat/attacker they’re facing could do to them. Perspective is just one part of the combative mindset or the psyche in the fight; it is the doorway to efficient combative psychology.  NLP is based around the modeling of excellence within any field of study; this is about developing the ability to counter violence well.  Any way you cut it, violence is negative and anti-social behavior but sometimes it is a necessity.  The sociopath capable of the unthinkable and hate or the SOF operator capable of de-humanizing an enemy to nothing more than a target, is not someone I’d desire to be 24/7 but it is definitely the ideal state to model for the 60 second duration of any potential threat to life event, particularly if it allows me to win.  Remember this saying. “Whatever you have to do.  Just find an excuse to win.”  The objective, of course, is state management/state of mind, which is defined as the ability to control state; that is access, use and control it at will and like anything repetition is the mother of mastery.  I’m simply introducing a concept, hence the recommendation for further training and studying.  The point of this was to discuss conclusions, so here it is… the compressed combative platform that I teach and train comes from a toolbox of functional, pressure tested hard skills adaptable and task specific, built from the power base of a combat mindset.  The key to mindset begins with your perspective of the coming event.  Mental “crisis rehearsal” to map out how you will win via visualization is just one key tool for the cultivation of perspective and mindset.  Like all good preparation it must be practiced to a level of unconscious competence before any such encounter might turn into a physical/violent one. Within our combatives platform Mental Conditioning gets as much, if not more focused time in training as does Physical Conditioning and tools/skill sets/tradecraft Development.  So, mindset and perspective are all about cultivating the mentality and preparation; that if this situation is going to “kick off” you are prepared to fight until there’s nothing left to fight about!  The focus that accompanies such thinking is all about, “what I’m gonna do, NOT what he or they are gonna do.”  The very root to all such thinking comes from your values and beliefs.  What is your belief system?  We have all heard about the power of belief.  There are various warrior cultures with many examples to offer, for example the old Filipino knife masters would often settle disputes and pressure test their art through challenge matches or combat to the death.  Such individuals believed that the outcome of such combat had already been pre-decided by a higher spiritual order.  Similar examples can be found from historical culture both Eastern and Western from the ancient Samurai to the Knights Templar.  The latter believed that if they fought bravely in the name of Christianity that each Knight would be cleansed of all sin on the Day of Judgment.  I offer such historical examples, both out of interest and as relevance to cultivating the mindset and will to do what is necessary. 

My own Belief System and Values allow me to access and manage the most resourceful mindset needed to prevail within any combative/violent encounter.  My belief system is based upon a framework of Family/Team Value and Family/Team Importance.  I don’t mean that in an arrogant sense that says my family/team is more important or better than yours.  I simply mean that too many people in my life (my children, my family and friends/teammates) need me, rely on me and I need and rely on them.  Therefore I am too important to be taken away from them.  I must prevail, I must Win the Fight!  The next layer of mindset comes from focusing my anger/love. “How DARE YOU threaten/attack/hurt and compromise all that I love!  If you bring such violence to me, I will destroy you and burn your world to the ground!” This focused, determined attitude (mindset) allows me to control fear and utilize adrenaline.  It’s common knowledge that no one fears when angry.  Instead adrenaline is now the fuel for the fire to fight the fight.  It’s important to understand that such a mindset is merely a necessary resource, called upon only in times of great urgency.  This is not a place I want to hang out.  Think of it in a similar manner as this quote,  “A lion sleeps in the heart of every brave man.” There will be times when you will need to call upon your inner lion to deal effectively with violent situations.  The control of such a mindset will allow anyone to control his or her emotions during the full spectrum of a violent encounter.  Pre-fight, the ideal state is highly observant, calm, collected and confident with my anger quietly bubbling under the surface just waiting to strike.  My confidence comes from pressure testing my training, previous real world experience and crisis rehearsal that is mentally visualizing how I will win the fight.  The bottom line to confidence in your own abilities comes from knowing you WILL fight with impact (strength & power) and attitude (mindset).  This really is the very foundation of combative functionality, employed where possible from exploited initiative.  I relate this to the five elements of combat (speed, surprise, diversion, superior fire power and violence of action).  If for whatever reason, I find myself having to react to something that someone else is doing to me or my loved ones (never the ideal situation) then I will operate from a real world tested support system in order to regain the initiative and finish the fight.  The late U.S.M.C. hand-to-hand combat instructor John Styers said it well in the following quote:

“CONFIDENCE in yourself, the Self-Assurance that YOU CAN DO IT, is the first prerequisite, the rest is a matter of know how and practice! This confidence allows you to stay loose both mentally and physically, until the moment that necessitates the application of your chosen plan of attack. Then hit FAST and HARD, pressing the attack to its successful conclusion!”  -John Styers

With that in place, if the physical becomes inevitable then our plan of attack is to hit first sustaining the offensive until the threat subsides.  Such a response should allow you to turn down your offensive as appropriate, when and if a lower level of force to the threat becomes necessary. This is the conflict phase of the encounter. The visual representation of explosive aggression is contained only within the skill-set of your physical response for the brief duration of the violent encounter.  This is fuelled by your determined will to win and offensive forward pressure.  Such aggression is controlled and cultivated and comes with an accompanying Big Red STOP button that can be hit at any point during the fight, as soon as your objective is met.  And just as before the event, post-conflict you need to be collected and in control of your emotions.  You are now looking to break state, back into one of collected observation in order to re-instate a higher level of brain function in order to make sensible decisions, such as finding an exit, driving a car safely, administering first-aid or talking to a police officer without incriminating yourself.  This three-fold approach to combative functionality is the difference that makes the difference.  The physical part of the equation is easy, it’s the mental state/mindset where most fights are won or lost. In closing, like was mentioned earlier, the people that can effectively operate within any field, do not necessarily know the whys and how of what they do, they simply know that they can.  I hope this has given you food for thought.  Perhaps it will enlighten some who have such efficiency already, as to why you operate so effectively.  I believe that equal focus should be given to mental conditioning as well as all aspects of physical training.

“The Spartans say that any army may win while it still has legs under it; the real test comes when all strength is fled and the men must produce victory on will alone.”

“Whatever you have to do.  Just find an excuse to WIN!”

“Superior gear will never make up for a lack of training or attitude.”

“You can live 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 minutes without air - but you won't last 3 seconds without the will to survive.”

“We are experts in the application of violence...We possess the mindset and will to do what is necessary...”

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t you’re probably right.” 

TRAIN-FIGHT-WIN

-T