By Andrew Branca
December 21, 2015
Several weeks ago Paul Higgins–a military combat veteran and current executive protection professional–was kind enough to send me a review copy of his newest book, “Meditations of a Modern Warrior, Volume II.” I’d much enjoyed Volume I, and looked forward to mining Paul’s insights in this follow-on book. I was not disappointed. (And sorry it took me so long to get to this review, Paul!)
Like the first volume, this book is arranged as a series of concise 3 to 5 page chapters. Each of the more than 40 chapters concentrates upon a particular practical/tactical issue relevant to both self-defense and defense of others (one of Paul’s current areas of professional expertise being Executive Protection). Paul also addresses scenarios of both armed and unarmed defensive force, including active shooter and mob violence scenarios.
Despite—or perhaps because of—their brevity, each chapter is highly concentrated and both thoughtful and thought provoking. Indeed, a wise way to read the book would be at the pace of a single brief chapter a day, allowing you time to think through the practical (and tactical) implications of each.
While all of the book’s chapters are very relevant to the effective use of defensive force, a few in particular resonated with my own views and areas of concern (my own expertise being the laws that govern the use of force in defense of persons and property). I’ll touch upon a few of those briefly here
I am, of course, doing much paraphrasing in this review, placing Paul’s insights into my own relevant context, in my own words. After all, that’s how I’ve absorbed them and thus will apply them. Naturally I claim nothing like Paul’s expertise—for the real “gold,” get the book and absorb his insights into your own relevant context.
One of the things I greatly emphasize to my students is the need to prepare themselves mentally for the prospect that they might need to use force in self-defense, in part through a process I call “mental dry firing.” That is, when they hear or read about or imagine some scenario in which a defender is faced with some degree of threat, think through ahead of time what might be their appropriate reaction to such a threat.
Not every facet of every possible scenario can be imagined and pre-planned, of course, but having at least a general framework means that the defender can make better use of his stress-reduced mental bandwidth to solve the immediate problem of the threat without first having to think through every prospective alternative course of action (most of which, with forethought, would have been long since abandoned).
On page 21 of his book Paul presents just such a Threat/Action Cascade in which various levels of threat ranging from a mere nuisance person to a vehicle ambush are arrayed alongside responses reasonable to the circumstances. In Paul’s case these are in the context of an executive protection role, but much the same cascade should be well-established in the minds of anyone who contemplates that someday they may have to defend themselves or their family.
We’ve all heard the phrase “flight or fight.” In fact, however, the phrase leaves out one of the most common reactions of the unprepared to a violent attack—FREEZE. Many victims of violent crime neither flee nor fight, but simply freeze in place, both unable to effectively defend themselves and simultaneously making themselves even more vulnerable to death or serious bodily injury.
Depending on the circumstances either flight or fight might be the optimal decision in the face of a violent attack, but FREEZE is almost certain to guarantee a sub-optimal outcome. How to best avoid defaulting to FREEZE? Mental and physical preparation to respond to a violent attack is the only solution.
Statistics and Reality
Many people imagine that the actual statistical probability of them being faced with a violent attack are quite low. In fact, in the US the odds of being the victim of a violent attack are much higher than folks might think, substantially closer to 1 in 10 than 1 in a million.
Regardless of the statistical probabilities, however, there is practical reality: the defender actually targeted for violent attack, whether murder, maiming, or rape, is for all practical purposes abruptly at a 100% probability of victimization—unless they have an effective means of defending themselves.
Further, the lawful defender has little choice in the time, place and manner in which they are about to be made a 100% victim of violent crime—the bad guy makes those choices for him. Are you ready for when your probability of being targeted abruptly hits 100%
Expect the Ambush
Having said that it is the criminal and not the victim that chooses the time, place, and manner of attack, it follows naturally that we owe it to ourselves to maintain an effective level of situational awareness at all times.
Nevertheless, there are some circumstances that are more conducive to a criminal attack than others, and these must be recognized as the higher-threat environments that they are. These might be termed “natural ambush sites,” much like a watering hole is a natural ambush site for animal predators.
In the US, gas stations and exterior ATMs are perhaps the clearest examples of such natural ambush sites. The victim will be task-focused, and as a bonus they’ll even have their wallet in hand. At the gas station there will also be an unlocked car with the keys in close vicinity for the taking.
Of course if we own a car we need to occasionally gas it up, and thus really can’t help but occasionally place ourselves at a natural ambush site. The key, then, is that when we’ve necessarily placed ourselves in a natural ambush site that we not also let ourselves be surprised—EXPECT THE AMBUSH.
Action vs. Reaction
It’s a cliché that action always beats reaction, and in the simplest sense that’s true. It becomes far less true, however, if the person reacting has prepared himself to respond.
An example of what I’m talking about can be seen in the common activity of driving an automobile. A novice driver often finds himself suddenly surprised by some hazardous event—the car in front of him brakes suddenly, for example—and he finds himself having to “catch up” to events as he reacts to that external action.
For the skilled driver, however, matters are much different. He’s not surprised by the car in front of him braking suddenly, because he saw other cars’ lighting their brake lights further down the road, or he saw the driver’s head swiveling back and forth as if he was looking for a turn, or any of a thousand other similar indicators. As a result, the skilled driver is already covering his brake pedal, just in case he need apply it. He’s still reacting to an action, but his insight and preparation enable to him to react with sufficient efficiency that he’s not overtaken by the reaction.
Exactly the same paradigm applies to self-defense scenarios, and the more practiced the defender is in “covering his brake pedal, just in case” the less vulnerable he is to being unable to react efficiently to an aggressor’s action.
Defense of Others
One of the most troublesome areas of self-defense law involves the prospects of coming to the defense of another, by which I mean primarily strangers (as opposed to family or close friends). Here I’ll quote Paul briefly, because he precisely echoes the concerns I raise for my own students to consider:
Unfortunately, coming up on an altercation, I might not have enough information to know who is in the right. Was the[apparent victim] attacking the [apparent aggressor]? Does anyone even want my intervention?
What would happen after you save a violence objector [or a ‘victim’ in a domestic fight], would you be the one they round on? Would they defend you in court if it came to that? I f you had to use lethal force or near lethal force to save the person would they see it the same way as you or would they in turn get you jailed?
And remember, you have absolutely no control over how the person you “rescued” will recount events to the authorities.
The Myth of Ground Fighting
One of the most popular methods of unarmed close quarters fighting these days is what might be called “ground fighting.” These techniques have been highly popularized through such sports as MMA and UFC. Clearly, in those well-controlled venues such ground-fighting techniques are demonstrably winning approaches.
Unfortunately, in the real world you are not limited to a single attacker who is unarmed and obliged to release you once you tap out.
Even assuming your bare-handed ground fighting techniques are superior to those of your attacker—a matter that can’t be assessed until it’s too late to matter—the aggressor you manage to “wrap-up” on the ground may simply brandish a box cutter and start slicing you up in unpleasant ways. After all, you’re right there, easy-peasy.
Further, if the aggressor has a friend or two along, while you’ve masterfully wrapped up their buddy on the ground they are gleefully kicking you in the head and jumping up and down on your bones and joints—which DO break under such treatment. This is not a formula for self-defense success.
The lawful defender has no business fighting on the ground, and if brought to the ground their first priority should be getting back up off the ground.
By the way—when was the last time you practiced fighting your way back up OFF the ground? Or did your sparring outside, in your typical day cloths, in the rain, on gravel, at night? Your real fight probably won’t be in a dojo wearing a gi.
Get the Book
Well, that’s enough, I think, for the purpose of illustrating the insight and real-world relevance of what Paul offers in “Meditations of a Modern Warrior, Volume II.” There’s roughly 35 more chapters of similarly great insight. In short, I can’t recommend the book strongly enough. (And, for that matter, Volume I, as well.)
You can find both volumes for order at the “Recommended Readings” page at the Law of Self Defense web site.
–Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense (www.lawofselfdefense.com)