The Four Pillars of Fighting: Mindset, Tactics, Skill, Gear

By James Yeager and Paul Markel4 Pillars
Independently published, 289 pages, paperback $16.99 or $6.99 eBook
ISBN 979-8385645008

Reviewed by Gila Hayes

Video dominates instruction and has cut badly into print books despite readers who prefer the written word, which accommodates rereading and reviewing key elements, following citations and other learning methods less well-served by video. Sadly, most of the dominant voices in firearms training are no longer producing books, relying instead on video. Recently, I set aside my reservations about the late James Yeager’s videos and learned a lot from his posthumously published book The Four Pillars of Fighting, compiled from a manuscript that was in-progress when he died and finalized by Paul Markel.

Markel writes that Yeager deemed the instructional blocks on mindset the most important aspect of his classes, then offers his own notes from Yeager’s mindset and post-shooting instruction. Yeager identified three battles: the gun fight, criminal and civil court, and the emotional aftermath, drawing on “interaction with others,” and his own experiences. He asked students to neither replace their own opinion with his nor to throw away his input. Put it away for the circumstances to which it applies, he urged. Finally, he stressed, come to grips with the fact that you will someday die. Yeager wrote that he and his school, Tactical Response, exist, “because we want to control how that happens, at least as much of it as we can. We can steer some of our fate in that respect,” he observed.

Yeager advocated speaking in plain terms without fear of hurting feelings. Call a silencer a silencer, he advised, that is what the inventor called it, that is the term used on the NFA paperwork, and “suppressor,” he asserted, is a made-up term the politically correct employ “to make silencers seem less scary to their liberal masters.” Agree or not, it is a taste of classic Yeager. Don’t let people belittle your decision to carry a gun for self defense, Yeager also urged. “It’s imperative that we understand that we are not the crazy people. Wanting to protect your life is not something that people should make fun of. You should put them in their place when they do that.”

I was only about a quarter of the way into The Four Pillars of Fighting, when I gratefully realized that while I’ve previously studied many of the topics in classes and books, I was engrossed in Yeager and Markel’s viewpoints on well-accepted principles and enjoying their everyday-language explanations.

Yeager gave examples of critical incident realities like time-space distortion, memory losses, detachment, sensory anomalies affecting vision, hearing or sense of smell, and other effects of adrenaline and the near-death experience. Gentle-persons may take exception to some of the language used, and I urge readers to push through. Plain-talk descriptions of physiological and psychological reactions to the stress of near-death dangers are instructive. Subjects presented in academic and scientific terminology, are easier to accept as proven and real. The same material, when presented in simple words and stories of those who experienced life-threatening dangers, helps us accept that sensory distortions may also happen to us.

Yeager’s instruction on mindset drew on and, in my opinion, modernized Col. Jeff Cooper’s classic, Principles of Personal Defense. Alertness is the foundation, which Yeager taught through a discussion of the best use of available time, observing that armed citizens focus on taking guns, rifles, ammo, armor with them in case they are attacked, but “What you can’t take is more time. It is your most precious commodity in a gunfight. It is imperative that you have your head up and you see the bad guy from as far away as you can see him.”

Of the principle of decisiveness, Yeager wrote that too often people talk themselves out of taking action. “Whatever your first thought is, do that. If your first thought is, ‘Bolt!’ then bolt. While you’re bolting, consider what other options you have. Don’t flinch … then talk yourself out of it.”

Teaching the principle of aggressiveness, Yeager warned, “if you wait for absolute confirmation that you are under attack, it means you must sustain damage.” The principle of speed is related, and Yeager urged, “Don’t wait.” On coolness, he explained that panic is contagious and interferes with clear communication. Be ruthless, Yeager continued, commenting that “good guys” are often held back by mistaken ideas about fair play. The final principle is surprise. Do the unexpected, he wrote, even if it is only a side-step to draw your own gun and use the time the assailant needs to reorient to defend yourself.

To Cooper’s principles, Yeager added acknowledgment of fear. “Only fools are fearless. There is nothing wrong with being afraid. Being afraid is a normal, natural, human reaction and there is nothing unmanly about it. Focus on victory. Think about winning. Think about not only surviving (surviving could mean you have tubes hooked up to you) but think about winning. Focus on the mechanics of getting the job done,” and let fear motivate you to action, he taught. Fear doesn’t really make your life flash before your eyes, he continued. Fear brings to mind your regrets and your responsibilities. He urged his students to resolve as many regrets as possible, and thus reduce the mental “clutter” regrets cause.

The Four Pillars of Fighting is a bounty of solid education compiled from Yeager’s written work, articles, blog posts, and student notes, and it too extensive to fully cover in a book review. This is solid material, hard-earned through Yeager and Markel’s personal experiences, addressing mindset and character, self-defense tactics, firearm skills, and gear.

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