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Columns : In My Sights

Are You Ready to Win?

You can have the best equipment, but you still need the training and the mindset to use it.

September 04, 2012  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

The other day I was attending the Team One Network Training Conference put on by my friend John Meyer. The conference culminated in a range day where I got a chance to try out new weapons with someone else buying the ammo. Good times!

After I finished a string of fire with a suppressed full-auto Kriss, a fellow spoke in my ear, "Wish you had that in your day, huh?"

I looked up and down the line of all the new high-tech weapons, and I remembered how excited I had been back in the day when I finally got speed loaders for my Smith & Wesson Model 15. Suddenly, I could deliver 18 rounds of .38 Special in 25 seconds, maybe less.

Man, have things changed since I was on patrol. Mace has disappeared and OC is ubiquitous. My hardwood baton has been replaced by an expandable metal baton that generates a lot more energy. And a TASER was something only science-fiction writers were thinking about in my patrol days. 

Back then, revolvers were the one truly reliable firearm, and semi-autos seemed to need fine-tuning to feed hollow points. Now, revolvers are relegated to backup status and ammo goes through my semi-autos like water through a tube. 

The guns themselves are not the only thing that's changed. Ammo expands like mushrooms in a rainforest. Sights glow in the night and lasers reach out and mark the target, while a strobing flashlight with 500 lumens blinds entire neighborhoods as you move tactically. Not only is body armor lighter and stronger, a tiny robot can run down a hallway to clear it for you while you and your K-9 split a sandwich.

All this came to me as I moved down the line to shoot the new SOCOM, but I also thought that—even though we now have these marvelous tools—the key to winning confrontations is still what is happening behind our eyes, not in our hands. Yes, great weapons help us win, but we have to have our minds right, before and during a life-and-death confrontation.

A trainer's true job is to get the long-term performance of the students to as high a level as possible with the tools they are training with, and at the same time get each trainee to believe he or she is a winner. Simply put, whatever tools and training you receive are ultimately only as good as your belief about yourself. If you believe you’re a winner you will find a way to win with whatever tools you have, and if you believe you're a loser, you will find a way to lose no matter how good your tools are.

The greatest trainers are the ones who realize training is not just about "teaching a brain how to remember a skill," but also "creating belief in the result that skill brings," the future the skill creates. One of the toughest things for me to convince cadets was that it was OK for good people to kill bad people to protect their lives or the lives of other innocents. We will never know how many of our brothers and sisters failed to win armed assaults, regardless of the quality of their weapons, because in their hearts and unconscious minds they didn’t have the belief in their right and duty to defend their lives by taking the lives of others. 

I know we don't shoot to kill, we shoot to stop threats. But it just so happens that, if we do that well, bad guys often die. We have to be able to win without hesitation, whether due to administrative concerns or moral ones.

A good trainer develops the skill and the mind together. "The Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi is supposed to be a book about sword fighting, but the last part of the book, the "Book of Void," is about mindset. Musashi says we should fight with "virtue and no evil." Damn good advice centuries later and something we all need to follow. 

Whether or not you are a trainer for others, you are responsible for training yourself. Prepare yourself to win. And while you may or may not have one of the cool weapons I was shooting the other day, it is important to train with the weapons and tools you do have and to develop the mindset to use them to do one primary thing … win.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.


One Book You'll Want To Read

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Bob @ VA @ 9/11/2012 8:59 AM

Good essay. LTC Dave Grossman's books "On Killing" and "On Combat" provide excellent and practical insight into the winning mindset.

walkin' trails @ 9/12/2012 5:51 AM

This is a really good article and reminder to us all that all the gadgets and gizmos don't make us any better than our mental preparation and training. For example, after adding all the stuff onto my patrol carbine that my agency issues or allows, I'm not any more accurate than I was with an old M16A1 in Viet Nam era configuration. Plus, the toys just seem to make the gun heavier. Anyway, a couple of other great books to read are Bill Jordan's "No Second Place Winner," and Patrick McNamara's "T.A.P.S. Tactical Application of Practical Shooting" (Second Edition). Jordan's book may seem old school at first, but if you look beyond the original Jordan holster and the practice of "prepping" the trigger while still in the holster, the concept of being able to draw and take an accurate shot to stop a threat at real close range in less than a second still has a strong argument considering that the last I heard the badguys still out shoot us from 0-7 yards. T.A.P.S. reinforces everything we had already been taught with a no-BS approach.

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