You must keep your head

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

The fifth of Jeff Cooper’s Principles Of Personal Defense is coolness — and, if firearms are used, precision:

You must keep your head. If you “lose your cool” under deadly attack, you will probably not survive to make excuses. So don’t bother to improvise any… just keep your head. Anger, as long as it is controlled anger, is no obstacle to efficiency. Self-control is one thing the sociopath does not usually possess. Use yours to his undoing.

If you counterattack with your hands, use them carefully. (Remember that a blow with your closed fist to your enemy’s head will almost always wreck your hand. A finger in his eye is easier, safer, and likely to be more decisive.)

If you improvise a weapon from objects at hand, use it in a way most likely to do damage without loss or breakage. The points of most improvised weapons, from umbrellas to fire pokers, are usually more effective than the edges, as they can be applied with less warning and without exposure during a “windup.” A blunt point should be directed at the face or throat Drive it carefully, coolly, and hard.

The optimum defensive arm is the heavy-duty pistol, though a shotgun may surpass it for home defense if there is sufficient warning. If you are fortunate enough to have access to any sort of firearm when under attack, remember that it is only as good as your ability to keep cool and shoot carefully. My pupil, mentioned in Chapter Four, did not shoot carefully, and he survived largely through luck alone, for his attackers shot just as sloppily as he did. But we cannot count on miserable marksmanship in our enemies. The sociopath is indeed usually a bad shot, but not always, Clyde Barrow was quite good.

Another student of mine did far better. To begin with, he heard the approach of the assassins’ car in the cold grey light of dawn. He was alert even at that hour. He was on his feet immediately, pistol in hand. Through the blinds he saw two men coming rapidly up the walk to his door, one with a shotgun and one with a machine pistol. He decided that such a visit, with such equipment, at such an hour, needed no further explanation. He flung open the front door and went to work, and he remembered to remain cool and to shoot with precision. The two would-be murderers died in their tracks. The householder caught six pellets of bird shot in the leg. The attackers outnumbered and outgunned their proposed victim, but they were defeated and destroyed by a man who did everything right.

When an expensively trained police officer from one of the larger police departments misses a felon six times at a range of ten feet (and don’t think this doesn’t happen), his failure is not due to his technical inability to hit a target of that size at that distance, for he has demonstrated on the firing range that he can do so. His failure, and often his consequent death, is due to his lack of concentration upon his marksmanship — the loss of his cool.

The ability to remain cool under pressure comes more easily to some people than to others. But it is in no sense out of anyone’s reach. In fact it is the first qualification of a man that Kipling calls for in his immortal poem If. It is illustrated beautifully every time you see a quarterback calmly select and hit his receiver while under the threat of more than one thousand pounds of rock-hard, cat-quick muscle only a step away. It’s a matter of will. If you know that you can keep your head, and that you must keep your head, you probably will keep your head.

To train yourself to do this takes some thought. Certain kinds of athletics are excellent — football, of course, in particular. Sailing, flying, motor racing, and mountaineering are also good. But in my opinion the best of them all is the hunting of medium and big game. “Buck fever” is a classic affliction, and a man who has conquered it can be guaranteed to shoot carefully under pressure. While it is true that a deer is not shooting back, this is less significant than might at first appear. The deer is about to vanish, and, odd as it seems, fear of sporting failure is usually greater than the fear of death. This startling point is easy to prove. The average competitive pistol shot works and trains far harder to earn a little brass cup than the average policeman works and trains to acquire a skill that can save his life.

Not all hunters make the grade — the woods are full of ditherers in red jackets. But the really expert hunter/rifleman is a very good man to have on your side. Under any sort of attack, keep cool And if you must shoot, shoot with precision.

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