I often wonder what separates human predator from human prey in today’s world. What is it that drives some to act as warriors and others to simply succumb to the evils of the world? While I may not have the exact answer, and we may never have one, I would go out on a limb and say that the answer is all mental. It is the mind that allows one to overcome fears and phobias, to step up and face the monsters.
I have watched it transpire ever since I was growing up in one of the rougher areas of the sixth largest city in the U.S. Predators, bad guys, criminals—whatever label you put on these people, they prey upon those who do not or will not stand up and defend themselves. These criminals feed on the weaknesses, perceived or real, of good and decent people within our society. They often escalate this behavior, becoming more and more violent as their confidence rises with each victim they traumatize. If they meet other like-minded thugs, they often fall into packs and together, their behavior and victimization of the innocent increases dramatically.
So when these wolves are on the hunt, what makes that special person, that sheepdog, stand up and say, “I will not be a victim and I will not allow others to be victimized”? It is that drive, that inner voice, that moral compass that drives a good majority of you reading this to stand up against such tyranny. It is the will to do what is right, the warrior mentality, that makes some run toward chaos when others flee.
There are no other places that these warrior traits are more evident than in our military and law enforcement world. Every day these normal men and women perform extraordinary duties. Standing watch against evildoers, and protecting the herd, they are the sheepdogs. These are the men and women who stand against anarchy and provide some level of protection for everyday citizens.
Coming up as a young deputy, I was often told, “You either have it or you don’t.” For many years, I too held this exact opinion. I thought those who could not or would not step up when the time came were weak. I never stepped back to explore the reasons these men and women were lacking the needed skills or will to bring the fight to their opponent. It may have been that they had not been properly raised into the warrior culture, or that they did not have good mentors to teach them the way. In many cases I did not have the time or energy to worry about them, because there was work to be done and bad guys to deal with. What I did know was that no matter the reason, these men and women needed “it” to stay alive in the world of ever-increasing violence that many of us call work.
Having been a part of the law enforcement arena for nearly 20 years, I have had the honor of working with and learning from some great people, both in the law enforcement arena and with our military brothers and sisters. I have also been tasked with the privilege of mentoring and teaching some brave people. In addition to these experiences, I was also a student of martial arts and the system of the ever-enlightened Bruce Lee. In all these experiences, I would see in people the drive to be a warrior. They strived to be the most prepared and ready to do battle against evil, both mentally and physically.
The world we live in requires a heightened level of awareness, preparedness, and decisiveness when confronted with a challenge. While I was training new recruits, I really started to notice that some were lacking the drive necessary to operate in our world. Further compounding that concern, I noticed the same lack of drive while involved in training more veteran officers. It was almost as if they were just going through the motions to complete the tasks, but were not mentally preparing themselves for battle. These men and women who had taken an oath to protect those who cannot protect themselves were somewhat incapable, at least at that moment, of being warriors.
So first I looked at the new inductees who were being trained. What caused some of these people to excel and others to just not “get it”? A lot could be attributed to their different backgrounds—how and where they were raised, their role models, etc. But that was not a steadfast rule. Often there were people of the exact same background, and one would be a warrior and one would not. This pushed me back to the belief in the theory that people either have it or don’t.
Then I looked at those more tenured people. How had these fine men and women allowed themselves to become deficient to the point that they could not perform at the most crucial times? Or was it that they had never had that special something, and their lacking this quality had not shown itself before now? Had these students not sharpened and honed their skills enough to ensure they were properly prepared for battle? Maybe they had allowed themselves to become too relaxed in their positions because they had not faced battle in some time—or ever.
Even worse, I thought, was it that previous instructors or mentors had not cared enough to identify these deficiencies and instill the critical mental shifts needed to make the transformation from civilian to warrior? Was it their lack of either possessing or keeping their skills sharp that had caused a significant lack of ability in dealing with the criminals they were entrusted to combat? Whatever it was, it was apparent that something was going terribly wrong.
As the years have passed, I have grown wiser in both my understanding of the world and of people. Along with this wisdom, my opinions and beliefs have changed and continue to change with stimulus from new experiences and teachings. I believe there are certain individuals who do inherently have the warrior drive, which they foster and feed their entire lives.
I also believe that those who are seemingly lacking that drive are not a lost cause. These people may not have developed the warrior within themselves, but it is deep inside them waiting to be awakened. Sometimes these individuals do not even realize they have lost whatever “it” is. Once that awakening or realization takes place, these individuals become just as much warriors as those who have always had “it.”
Now let us discuss what “it” is. I should start by going over what “it” is not. It is not simply physical abilities, speed and fine motor skills. It is not all those fine gadgets and equipment. Of course these things help make the warrior’s job easier to perform, but they do not make the warrior.
The mind is the one thing, that one special tool that makes the warrior complete. If a person has learned to properly train and control their mind in their favor, combat becomes just another task that has been ingrained into the warrior’s mindset. So “it” is as simple as that: it is your mindset.
To ensure that those entrusted as peacekeepers and sheepdogs perform to standard, that combat mindset must be developed. There is an understanding and acceptance that this particular realm of the world is violent. There is further understanding that violence must sometimes be engaged with violence. Accept that this is a customer service business and that predators are essentially customers.
If these customers demand violence, then it becomes one’s duty to ensure that they are provided with overwhelming violence. The difference is in how this violence is used or applied. It is not used to intimidate, intentionally hurt, or violate criminals. Violence is used to overcome the criminal violence that these bad guys impose on us and those we serve. A proper response to an attack must be quick, violent in action, and precise, because in this realm there are no “do overs.” In the law enforcement and military worlds, hesitation or lack of response can indeed result in loss of life.
This ultimate realization is what each of us must accept in order to properly enter into the combat mindset. The acceptance of injury and death as part of the world we operate in. Embracing these things and letting them drive one as a warrior. Understanding that you have these vulnerabilities becomes the driving force behind how you train and how you perform your duties.
There must also be an understanding that, when faced with violent confrontation, you will not have the ability to stop your body’s natural reactions to such confrontations. The body’s reactions are primal and have been with us since the days of cavemen. The body will naturally look to preserve itself, going into what is known as “fight or flight” mode. Of course it is more widely accepted now that the body’s reaction is actually “fight, freeze or flight.” These three things can happen to any of us and, depending on our level of training, ability, and mindset, can significantly affect the outcome of these confrontations.
Again, I believe that of all these things, mindset is the key to victory in any such confrontation. There have been plenty of cases of untrained and seemingly feeble individuals who have faced attack and, because they switched on that combat mindset, decisively took control of the battle and overcame their opponent. Now imagine that same confrontation with someone who has been trained to defend and has tools to use. It seems a very simple task when you look at it in these terms.
To the average person, flight usually becomes the viable option. However, for warriors, there is but one option, and that is to stand and fight. We know that some of these battles are anything but simple. They can be life-or-death struggles. It becomes our duty as protectors to ensure that when we get that call, we are willing and able to perform.
Holding such a position of importance comes with a heavy price. You must constantly be vigilant, prepare your mind and body for battle, and know your enemy to know their weaknesses.
Matt Thomas is a 19-year veteran of the Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff’s Office and holds the rank of Lieutenant. Matt has been a member of the Regional SWAT team for over 15 years and is currently assigned full-time as the SWAT Commander. He has worked assignments in Detention, Patrol, Traffic, Training, Academy, Narcotics and Motors.