Prioritizing Your Defensive Dollar

We all know that time and money are finite resources and most of us normal folks have to make careful decisions about how to spend them, after all, most of us hand more than 1/3 of it to Uncle Sam so he can piss it away. That doesn’t always leave much for keeping a roof over our heads, meat on the table and the wolf from the door. Most of us know what our rent or mortgage payment is, and we budget for that. Most of us have some idea how much money we spend to feed ourselves and families, and we budget for that. We keep track of our time and plan for our day jobs, domestic chores, and recreation time. When it comes to keeping the wolf from the door, how do we budget our time and money for that? Some of us may use various alarm or private security systems – we know what we pay for those on some periodic basis, and these things don’t cost us much time, but cameras and alarms are a passive response to emergencies. If there’s a fire in my house, I could press the button on my alarm system keypad that immediately summons the fire department, hope everyone escapes, then wait outside in the mosquitoes, rain, or snow while my primary source of shelter and everything I own turns to ash, or I can grab a fire extinguisher when my smoke detector goes off and try to put the fire out while it’s still in the incipient stage, or at least control it till the dudes in the big red trucks get there. When you hear your back door getting pried open and muffled voices downstairs in the middle of the night, by all means press that police button on your security system keypad (if the intrusion hasn’t automatically caused your system to summon the police already), or dial 911 or whatever you have to do. While waiting for the folks with badges and guns to arrive, you can either attempt to engage the invaders in a philosophical conversation about the virtues of mercy, or arm yourself and get your family to a safe place, dealing with any imminent threats as best you can along the way.

So, we all have decisions to make. For those who decide to make firearms an aspect of their survival strategy, realize that this is an ACTIVE, not a PASSIVE response, and in order to be effective, you need to invest adequate time and money in your preparations. Folks who don’t shouldn’t expect a high level of personal performance in a defensive situation. Now, if you’re armed, even if you have only the minimum of training and meager practice, the statistics seem to indicate that you’ll probably do OK if you ever find yourself in this situation. First of all, you will probably fail the victim selection process. Most criminals are looking for passive victims, many of them can spot concealed handguns and most can intuitively read body language. If they think there is a risk of them getting shot while robbing you, the cost-to-benefit ratio is just too high, it doesn’t make good business sense, and they’ll probably wait until they see some oblivious “soccer mom” with a liberal bumper sticker who has been conditioned to be a good victim. But even if the thug flubs this up, (which might indicate he’s not too bright anyway) chances are you‘ll probably do OK. There are plentiful examples of people with little or no formal training who were able to successfully defend themselves from attackers, just like there are examples of people who have been ejected from automobiles and walked away from it; or people who’s parachutes didn’t open, but they somehow survived and recovered; or examples of people with terminal diseases who made miraculous recoveries. It is easy to cling to the desperate hope that, if the worst happens, some higher power like faith, karma, or luck will see us through and we will join the ranks of those statistical anomalies who survived the “odds.” But “hope,” while virtuous, is a PASSIVE activity. While there is nothing wrong with virtuously hoping for the best, we should also, quite virtuously, be preparing for the worst by buckling our seat-belts, avoiding jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, and making healthier lifestyle choices. This is because life is fraught with disappointment, and this experience teaches that life is not “deterministic,” that is to say: always producing the same outcome provided the same initial state, but it is actually “non-deterministic” or “stochastic.” Let’s define that: in a deterministic system, “A+B” always equals “C.” Deterministic systems are based on situations of “always” and “never.” In non-deterministic or stochastic systems, however, the outcomes of situations are based on probabilities and statistics. In these systems, “A+B” only equals “C” in “X” out of “N” cases. We are sometimes given colossal reminders of just how random our reality tends to be. This tendency is embedded in our culture and history; we find it in stories like David and Goliath, events like the American Revolution, and the sinking of the (unsinkable) Titanic on its maiden voyage. It is the reason people root for the underdog and love stories about beating overwhelming odds. We like these stories because they support the belief that we, individually, are somehow special, imbued with latent virtues that will surface at a time of crisis and assure a heroic victory over a physically superior foe. Most typically what passes for this is merely some displaced sense of individuality manifesting as either ego or bravado, which are not virtuous, and might just increase the likelihood of finding one’s self in a beatdown because your ego picked a fight your body couldn’t win.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

~Sun Tzu

This is where Jeff Cooper’s “Combat Triad” comes in. There is a bulk of material breaking that concept down, and if you are unfamiliar I will leave it to you to do your own research on that, but suffice to say the three pillars of the combat triad are: mindset, weapons handling or manipulations (what I like to call “mechanics”), and marksmanship. So when preparing to meet life and potential conflicts as an armed individual, I propose one can use the Combat Triad as a prioritization system for their time and money. If we contrast combat triad skills with the three ways people spend their defensive time and money, and assign a score based on the importance of each activity to develop that skill, we get something like this:

Mindset (Awareness & Critical Decision Making)50500
Marksmanship (Shot Placement)305020
Mechanics (Tactics and Weapon Manipulations)404020

These aren’t precise numbers, just a SWAG based on my own personal opinion at this moment in time. But speaking from my own experience, mindset is something that improves significantly with training (also with experience, but for the armed citizen, experience is actually something we are hoping to avoid.) Practicing proper mindset is crucial to developing the skill, so I judged it equally important as training. Gear on the other hand, well, there isn’t really a piece of kit that by itself can help us improve our awareness or decision making skills.

Marksmanship is something that you can teach yourself, as they say, there are many roads to the mountaintop. Self-education, however, is a long and arduous journey on twisting and turning back roads with no guarantee you will ever find what you are looking for. For a few dollars, you can hire a guide that is able to lead you on much straighter and safer paths. So I prioritize training as very important when it comes to marksmanship. Practice is necessary to develop skill, you must practice or you aren’t assimilating what you learned in training. Gear selection is important, but again, the most expensive firearm in the world can’t compensate for a lack of skill, whereas a well trained and practiced marksman can perform at least adequately with even mediocre gear.

In the weapons handling or mechanics category, learning proper manipulations is crucial. There are palpable differences between trained weapons handlers, and those who are self-taught. Here again, practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect as the saying goes, so getting some professional advice on what to practice makes your practice time more effective. Gear selection is important here as well, picking gear that is simple to manipulate is important, but the best gear in the world can still be mishandled by the untrained.

Adding all that up, we generate some percentages on what might be an “ideal” priority for your training and preparedness dollar in a perfect world. Let’s say you spend $1000 on gear: a quality defensive handgun, a few spare magazines, a flashlight, a good holster and belt. Let’s say that $1000 represents approximately 13% of your preparation budget. Think of what the benefits would be if you then spent the other 40% of your defensive budget (or about $3000) on quality training, which would also include your training ammo budget, travel expenses, etc… That would easily cover 3 days of training with many of the top-notch instructors. Now spend the remaining 47% (roughly $3600) on a club membership, practice ammunition, and the associated time (which is also an expense) to fully assimilate those skills you learned in training. You and your reasonable defensive handgun would emerge as a force to be reckoned with for less than eight thousand dollars. Sadly, clicking the “Buy it now” button on the newest set of adjustable super combat night sights from the comfort of your living room gives people the temporary sensation of preparedness, and satisfies our materialistic addiction to stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of my collection, and I’ve spent a silly amount of money on things that I felt like I couldn’t live without over the years. Hey, it’s your hard-earned money and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it by having a few fancy toys, just don’t confuse that with “preparedness.” When I add up the amount of money I’ve spent on training over the years, it outpaces what I’ve spent just on the guns and accessories, and I’ll tell you this: I’ve never had buyer’s remorse from a training experience, but I sure wish I could have a few of the paychecks back that I spent on that HK PSG-1 clone build, or the 100 yd/1-MOA custom 10/22 project, etc… “Things” don’t make us happy or prepared, they just make us heavy. They weigh on our minds; they take up room in expensive gun safes that we outgrow way too quickly, and they detract from our training and practice budget. Got an expensive safe queen tacticool AR? That just means you have disposable income. A certificate on the wall though means you might know how to use it. It takes a little work, and more importantly, it takes slapping back that little know-it-all rattling around in your brain that keeps telling you what a bad ass you are that doesn’t need to train. That little bitch will get you killed. Do you know how to shut him up? Find a class that pushes you out of your comfort zone, go to a training where you make all the mistakes and get your ass handed to you. You may come out of it thinking more humble, but you will BE stronger, and in the end that is far more comforting.

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