by Mike WoodWoodM

I’m a “gun guy.” I always have been. When I was a kid, my buddies read comic books and Sports Illustrated, but I studied gun catalogs and read American Rifleman. Firearms and ammunition have always fascinated me, and over the decades I've delighted in learning everything I can about them and getting my hands on as many examples as possible.

So, when SHOT Show finally rolls around every year, I’m always eager to see the latest guns, ammunition, gadgets and gizmos. However, I must admit that I’m even more excited to see and visit with my industry friends. We certainly enjoy talking about the new hardware on the show floor, but the part of our discussions that I truly enjoy the most is when we talk about the “software” associated with self defense—the mindset, awareness, training and tactics that are so critical to winning the most dangerous of contests.

It was such a conversation with the Network’s own Gila Hayes that prompted me to write this little article, and I thank her for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.

If you caught my interview with Gila in the November 2014 Network eJournal (, you know that I’m a big proponent of “software over hardware.” I’ve written extensively in my book and in many articles about the priorities of survival established by our friend, and Network Advisory Board Member, Massad Ayoob. In Mas’ model, equipment is the last of the priorities. Instead, mental awareness and preparation, good tactics, and personal skill and competence with your equipment (in that order) all rate much higher than your choice of gear. As tempting as it is to focus on stuff, we must never allow ourselves to forget that what you have in your hand is a lot less important than what you have in your head.

Our mental awareness and preparation can help us avoid a bad situation to begin with, by allowing us to recognize a potential danger and take the steps to avoid it. Even if we don’t recognize and avoid a situation, our mental preparation will help us to bounce back more rapidly from the shock and surprise of being attacked, and allow us to break the dangerous “mental freeze” which paralyzes the unprepared mind and leaves a person defenseless. Having a trained response on tap, to access when things fall apart, could mean the difference between life and death.

Awareness & Preparation
Skill and Competence
Optimum Equipment

If we find ourselves in an unavoidable confrontation, we can dramatically increase our chances of success by using good tactics. If we use good tactics (i.e., “get off the X,” seek cover, command voice) we might avoid injury, convince an opponent to disengage or surrender, effect an escape, or avoid having to use force in our own defense, all of which are very good things. If force becomes necessary, using good tactics will improve your position, enhance the effects of your force, and increase your survivability. For example, moving to cover and firing from behind it will improve your odds of hitting your opponent before he hits you.

This is especially true if you are highly skilled with your weapons and empty-hand defenses. The greater your skill at arms, the greater your chances of stopping the threat quickly, with a minimum amount of force. One or two well-placed shots may end the affair much faster than a barrage of poorly-controlled fire, and reduce your exposure to danger.

Let’s leave the theoretical for a moment and consider the example of a Network member coming home from work after the sun is down. Our friend remembers that she needs to stop for some groceries on the way home, so that she can make a late dinner for her family, so she pulls into the parking lot of the store where she usually shops. It’s busy there tonight, so she is forced to park in the corner of the lot, far away from the store’s entrance. As she walks through the parking lot, she reviews the grocery list on her smart phone’s brightly-lit screen, so she can get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.

Can you see it coming? Of course you can. With her head down and her nose buried in a glowing screen, she’s not paying attention to her environment, she’s robbed herself of her “night vision,” and she’s dramatically increased her chances of blundering into a dangerous situation. This is the type of victim who later tells the police that the attacker “came out of nowhere.”

It wouldn’t matter a bit that our friend was armed with the latest wonder blaster, or that she practiced with it once a week, if the first time that she saw her attacker was in a fast blur out of the corner of her eye–just a fraction of a second before his fist caught her on the chin. Your skill at arms and your choice of equipment cannot be relied upon to get you out of the hole you dug with your poor preparation, awareness, and tactics. The fanciest carry gun and fastest draw cannot save you if you walk around in “Condition Facebook.”

So keep those priorities in mind. Focus on your education and training, and challenge yourself to maintain a high level of awareness when you’re out in public. Learn about the law of self defense, so that you’re mentally prepared to know when you’re allowed to use force, and won’t waste valuable time sorting it out while you’re under attack. Practice your skills frequently and seek high-quality, reality-based training. Learn about the tactics used by criminals in your area, and develop counter-tactics and good habits that will help you to defeat them.

Our firearms and associated equipment can be interesting and fun, particularly for hardcore enthusiasts like me. The challenge for us as students of self defense, is to remember that while quality equipment is important, there is nothing you can buy off the shelf that trumps the mindset, tactics and skills achieved through solid training and mental preparation.

Be safe out there!
Mike Wood is a Network member, an NRA Law Enforcement Division-certified firearms instructor, and the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis. Please visit the official website for this book at for more information.

Click here to return to May 2016 Journal to read more.