The Individual Mindset

*this is an excerpt from the book How to Survive an Active Killer

A friend and fellow instructor at our gym in Columbus, Ohio put on the first mass violence seminar I ever attended. The program was roughly three hours long and involved not only a slew of amazing information on past workplace and school shootings, but also involved hands-on training with members. During the hands-on portion, we discussed throwing objects at the attacker and swarming him as he entered the door. Both of these tactics are very common in the training community. The training was fantastic. It gave people a look at the realities of the events and gave them some quick actionable drills to help stay alive.

Over the years, the gym ran this course on several occasions and a few of us switched from participating in the seminars to helping run the seminars, usually as the one getting pummeled by the group. One thing we noticed, but never really addressed or dug deeper into, was the fact that even though the drills were simple and actionable, not everyone responded the same way. Yes, they all would throw something, yes they would move towards the attacker, but if you actually paid attention, they all moved differently.

Some were aggressive in their throw. No matter where they were in the room or how good their aim was, that object came like a rocket. However, some threw with more of a half-assed toss, more out of compliance and not wanting to be the “odd man out” in the drill. The same happened with the tackles. Many were antsy, jittering in their chairs, excited for a chance to smash the bad guy. Others were quiet and also jittery, but because they wanted nothing to do with actually jumping on a bad guy.

It didn’t really occur to me for years, but the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter if we all have the same information, are given the same commands, or warned ahead of time, when push comes to shove, every person is emotionally drawing from a completely different set of experiences and mental preparation. Every single person will respond differently based upon their willingness, not our plan.

In these particular drills, the entire group was given a godsend: they knew they were going to get attacked, knew exactly how we wanted them to respond, knew no one was going to get hurt (intentionally at least), and knew they were going to win. They still responded differently.

Now imagine you’re out with your family at the mall. You don’t know anyone else around you. You weren’t given a warning you were going to be involved in a shooting. You didn’t have time to plan and train with the other participants. You weren’t given clear and actionable drills for this specific situation. You’re with your two children. All of sudden… BANG!

How exactly can we expect anyone to respond as a group in the immediate onset of chaos?

This thought has grown over years of training and is certainly backed by history and research. The fact of the matter is that group response is not possible in the absence of communication and coordination. Communication and coordination is non-existent in the immediate vicinity of the attack in the initial moments of the attack. Everyone will respond as an individual. Even in the presence of coordination and communication, you cannot be certain the others (or yourself for that matter) will actually respond as you planned, when push comes to shove.

The fact is, you’re on your own. Anyone that supports you is icing on the cake, but do not be mistaken: you are the only one that can protect yourself 24/7/365. The fact is, whether you like that responsibility or not, it can be no one else’s but yours!

Each individual will respond based off the information they were able to process in that moment, the knowledge they possessed before the attack, the experiences they had prior to the attack, and, most importantly, they will respond in the best interests of themselves (and hopefully their loved ones).

Just as tactics have evolved and adapted for law enforcement in response to these events, so must tactics for those caught in the midst of these events. Just as group tactics for law enforcement have been drawn down to single officer response (in most cases), so too must the civilian mindset change from the group to the individual.

The most current version of our seminars is built around this concept. We work hands-on, teaching individuals the skills they need to run or barricade. We address the realities of wrapping up or tackling a gunman one-on-one. We run drills teaching them how to generate force to break the attacker if needed. We discuss how to give trauma care not only to others, but also to themselves. We teach everyone in that class how to take care of themselves. Yes, we take a second to discuss what it may look like if you can create a plan with a group of people, but that is predicated by the ability to communicate and coordinate with others.

If you are serious about training and survival, you must start by training yourself and your loved ones to respond to violence as an individual. If you truly care for your family, you won’t feed them the line that you will protect them 24/7, because we know that’s not possible. You must teach them how to care for themselves and survive violence to the best of THEIR abilities. Then with that foundation, you can build a possible group response, but always with the knowledge that they are the only ones guaranteed to help themselves in every moment of life.

Be good, train hard, stay safe.

-aaron