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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

The Will To Survive

Knowing how to fight is just part of the game; you also need to be mentally ready to fight.

June 05, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Photo by Kelly Bracken.
Photo by Kelly Bracken.
I may not be in the Adonis-like condition that men aspire to, but my health is inarguably better than a decade ago. Part of this is due to a change in diet. The adage of "garbage in, garbage out" is oh so true, friends. Another part is the almost daily indulgence of a variety of exercise programs.

Increasingly, my "go to" exercise is bicycling. True, I might get blindsided by our local deranged squirrel, carried off by a condor, or kidded about the flowery basket adorning my handlebars, but in the meantime it's easier on the knees than running and praying for better health. (My ass is another story, however.) Besides, as "Zombieland" astutely notes—and graphically illustrates —you gotta have cardio.

While my efforts have left me with a growing optimism that I might well prevail in a death match with the average fellow geriatric, I know full well that the money's on the other guy if I was forced into the octagon with a strapping 25-year-old.

But if all my ensuing and considerable efforts at cajoling, begging, groveling, and other manners of 21st Century diplomacy failed to save spare me a terminal ass-beating, I'd like to think that before going lights out, I'd give my aggressor something for him to remember me by, something above and beyond the tattooed date commemorating my demise that'd doubtlessly come to adorn his vascular calf.

Why? Because I think a lot of my precious hide. As such, any altercation involving yours truly as underdog is going to closer resemble a Three Stooges outtake than some well choreographed Jason Stratham number: It ain't gonna be pretty.

This means that everything is on the table. Otherwise inanimate objects may become animated; eye gouging, hitting, slapping, choking, more-or-less-lethal weaponry, avian flu, nuclear devices, and Barney's Beanery-enhanced flatulence are all fair game. And don't think I haven't contemplated what my well preserved teeth—three cavities in 50 plus years—might be capable of. We're talking deep in the heart of  "Boy Named Sue" Mike Tyson territory. In short, whatever would leave the SOB with his own element of pain and scarring, I would do. And if by some miracle I might lacerate a jugular, so much the better. I don't like fighting, and resenting the imposition, I want the other s.o.b. to pay.

Perhaps, it's odd for a man my age to contemplate such things. How to prevail in hand-to-hand combat is rarely encountered within the pages of the AARP newsletter, and it’s easy to dismiss these speculations as paranoia-induced, the ruminations of a misanthropic recluse with too much time on his hands and mind. Nor would I necessarily refute such conclusions. I would, however, remind said detractors that we live in a land that was credibly portrayed in the film and novel "No Country for Old Men."

Ironically, it isn't some stateside horror that finds me in such frame of mind.

No, what has me feeling sad, defensive, and–yes–speculative is the latest unspeakably brutal attack perpetrated by self-proclaimed ambassadors of that "religion of peace." That it was perpetrated upon a much younger and much healthier man on another continent does not deter my obsessing about it. That British soldier Lee Rigby was ambushed and run over by a car prior to being decapitated does not diminish my thoughts one iota. Indeed, it only amplifies them.

It is probably inarguable that Rigby didn't stand a chance. Lord knows, many a good man has been taken down by the element of surprise. One of the most lethal men who ever lived, American sniper and SEAL Chris Kyle, was murdered earlier this year on a firing range by a man he was trying to help. Kyle had no reason to suspect he was in danger, so he was surprised by the man's attack and had no chance to react. The moral here is that sometimes, you don't get a chance to fight back.

But in preparing a feature story in recognition of our 100th Shots Fired column, I can't help but be reminded that there are those instances in which the suddenly ambushed have the benefit of a split-second cognition of their predicament and with it the opportunity to respond. Repeatedly I am reminded that training, anticipated possibilities, and conditioned mindsets are rewarded and the victimized are often able to turn the tables on their attackers.

Of the components of the will to survive, I am increasingly of the opinion that none is more important than mindset. How often have we seen a man of lesser skillsets come out the survivor of some confrontation simply because he refused to go down?

But then that is exactly how our minds should be constituted. So long as we are still breathing and mobile and lucid enough in the aftermath of such an attack so as to recognize our predicament thereafter, we should then go balls out to do whatever we can to take the upper hand.

That will to survive thing is a curious thing. One would seemingly think that something so embedded in our DNA, so Darwinian an aspect of our evolution as our ability to speak or think, would apportion itself to all men equally. But the fact is that it doesn't.

The will to survive includes much more than the resolve to fight no matter what, the ability to retain one's wits in a crisis, and the discipline to perform as one has been trained. It means anticipating the inevitability of the day that you will be challenged. It means doing whatever you can in anticipation of it to avoid it, if possible, and to exploit it to your advantage, if not. It also means living life in condition yellow. (Thank you for your service, Jeff Cooper.) It means anticipating that today may be the day that you will have to drop the hammer and perhaps for no other reason than for the uniform that you're wearing.

If there are those who refuse to believe they may be targeted by virtue of their uniforms like the British soldier Rigby was, I need only remind them of stateside officers who were murdered just because they wore  uniforms and badges. California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas Steiner was shot and killed in 2004 outside of a Pomona courthouse. Bardstown, Ky., officer Jason Ellis, was ambushed two weeks ago by a man who stiffed in a call of roadway debris and opened fire and killed Ellis as he began clearing it.

As sad as it is to think about it, the only warning you might receive could be a peremptory cry of "Allahu Akhbar," so it might be worth memorizing that phrase and committing yourself to some course of action before you hear the fourth syllable uttered.

I routinely remind my son that he should never lose his compassion, but that compassion extends to himself, as well. That no one has the right to victimize him in any manner and that he has the right to defend himself vigorously against any assault.

There are implicit caveats, for as Stan Lee said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Those who have the power over life and death should be damned discriminating in how they exercise that power. The extent to which either civilian complicity, officer paranoia, or some other unfortunate confluence of factors played a role in the LAPD shooting of two women during the search for former officer and cop killer Chris Dorner is unknown to me. But I would hope that the next cop who thinks he has a killer at gunpoint is just as committed to not injuring innocent bystanders as he is to protecting his own life.

Look, I know that there will always be a cadre of troops that leave it to dumb luck and dumber criminals and hoping for the best when it comes to getting home at the end of their shift. I just like to think that most of us take the appropriate mental precautions.

And so, even as an old fart, I dwell on such prospects.

I also try to take appropriate physical precautions. This includes wearing my helmet when I ride. One never knows when a declivity or bump can get the better of your momentum.

And then there's that damned homicidal squirrel.

Tags: Officer Down, Assaults on Officers, Defensive Tactics, Self Defense, Officer Psychology


Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Gerry King Hitt @ 6/6/2013 11:04 AM

As a woman married to an alcoholic who became violent under the influence, one of my first lines of defense was to call 911, always to call someone else in capable of punishing violent behavior if I was not. I have been asked many times why I did not leave him before ten years, but I thought it would take him only a minute to kill me if I left him at the wrong time, so I had plan my strategy about how to do it, but in the meantime I retreated a number of times to safety, called the police, etc, because there was no way I could get the advantage of him in a physical encounter. It is my opinion that many women are murdered because they don't take very seriously that possibility when dealing with a violent spouse.

Mark Tarte @ 6/6/2013 5:28 PM

Well spoken Dean. You are not the only plus 50 man who thinks like that. Having had to actually go hands on a few times in my teaching career keeps me always in condition yellow (Thank you Mr. Cooper) and always looking for "weapons of opportunity" as my kid, the Marine tells me...

Lee @ 6/7/2013 8:33 AM

This is true. I know that once the fighting starts ant thought of NOT coming out on top ceases to exits. My muscle memory takes over for the most part while my mind focuses on defeating my opponent as quickly as possible using any and all means available to me. If needs be I take my opponents life if that is the only way to end the fight.

Chuck @ 6/11/2013 3:28 PM

Damn good article. Always stay io n condition yellow, look alert look alive. Have your head on a 360 degree swivel. Im always playing what if games with myself.

Jim A @ 6/11/2013 6:40 PM

I am 60 and I hear you loud and clear. Thanks for the reminder!

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