Don't be a Philistine

Are you confident in your defensive skills? If so, then don't take them for granted, but rather keep training. If you're lacking in these skills, then make them strengths by practicing.

Dave Smith Headshot

Illustration: Sequoia BlankenshipIllustration: Sequoia Blankenship

I have always been a big fan of David from the David and Goliath story in the Bible. A little shepherd is taking lunch to his brothers in the middle of a war when the Philistine giant challenges the Israelites to a one-on-one winner-take-all grudge match. Let's see, in this corner a giant with a hundred pounds of armor, massive weapons, and a bad attitude and in that corner a little shepherd boy with a staff and a sling and five rocks. I'm taking the giant and giving 20 points on this one, right?

"Sucker's bet," says Malcolm Gladwell in his book, "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants." Goliath never stood a chance. I had read about Julius Caesar's use of his Syrian troops and their deadly slings over a thousand years after David to attest to the power of this simple weapon. The author concludes the poor Philistine was essentially armed with a spear and sword facing a confident marksman packing the foot-pound equivalent of a .45 auto.

The book goes on to explain that too often what we think is a strength is the source of defeat and what we might think is a weakness is actually an advantage in the long run. I enjoyed the book and it supports my long-held belief that you can take a weakness and make it a strength if you just try hard enough. Case in point, the first woman to shoot a perfect score in our academy history had injured her trigger finger playing softball in college and as a result had to work extra hard to perfect her trigger pull.

All of us have a ton of such anecdotes and Gladwell presents some pretty entertaining ideas about how things that challenge us will make us stronger if we have the strength and determination to overcome them. But lingering in the back of my mind was the nagging issue, "How do I keep from being the Philistine?" How do you keep from taking your strengths for granted? How do you keep from getting defeated by a seemingly easy opponent or circumstance? Which weaknesses should you hunker down and make strengths?

Let's go back to our man David; he frankly didn't play by the rules. He had just one goal: to win. He was packing the ancient equivalent of a model 1911 and King Saul tried to get him to wear his heavy old armor before the confrontation. David, of course, declined. His speed and agility were advantages his enemy didn't appreciate; researchers say an expert slinger could swing and fire in about the time it takes you to draw and shoot. That is, if you've done your proper training and repetitions.

So a point I need you to think about is this: Are you dedicated to winning in all situations?

Never go into a situation in which you assume you are invincible. Confidence is not arrogance and it comes only from effective training and experience. If you are a good shot, still practice. But also learn to use cover effectively. Too often we learn to just hide behind cover, not to maneuver and win using it. One of Goliath's mistakes was just standing there waiting behind his portable cover, his armor.

Are you confident in your defensive skills? If so, then don't take them for granted, but rather keep training. If you're lacking in these skills, then make them strengths by practicing, learning new ones you believe in, and getting new tools and techniques to enhance your options in a confrontation.

Do you have something you think is a serious weakness? Then make it a strength by either working on it or finding a different option that gives you an edge to take its place.

I don't agree with Gladwell on all his propositions, but I do enjoy his writing and I always find kernels of real insight in all his books. Some, such as "Blink," even include specific chapters about our profession. But all of his books have something that will entertain you or make you better and stronger if you take time to put it into a law enforcement frame of reference.

So until you get a chance to go to the library and read the book, just ask yourself, "Do I want to be David or Goliath?" And finally, remember, David had absolute faith in everything…especially his ability. Train to win.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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Officer (Ret.)
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