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Focus vs. Thought -- The Difference Between Winning And Losing

The Deadliest Men

By Greg Moats
I was honored last week to host Dave Spaulding as he presented his Handgun Combatives course at my home and range in Wyoming.  His schedule for next year is half as frenetic as this year’s and he’s making noise about shutting the door at the end of next year.  My guess is that like Cooper, Chapman and Awerbuck it will, in the not-to-distant future, be a point of pride to say, “I trained with Dave Spaulding.” 

One of the highlights of his program is his presentation on mindset.  It bears little resemblance to the well-known and excellent Gunsite material with which most of us are familiar.  Whether or not it was his intent, his Power Point presentation left me thinking more about focus and commitment than awareness.  To wit, he presents the TV coverage of two female police officers that were shot in the line of duty in separate incidents.  One, a former social worker, confronted a miscreant that was arbitrarily shooting up the “hood.”  When ordered to put down his gun, he responded by telling the overly-well-intentioned police officer to put down her gun.  She did and came out from behind cover with the intention of negotiating.  The perp was so impressed that he shot her in the throat, severed her spinal column and made her a paraplegic for the remainder of her severely shortened life.  The second female officer was attacked by a gunman that approached her driver side window and shot her 4 or 5 times as she was seated behind the wheel.  He then opened the door, shoved her over, got in and drove off.  While severely wounded, losing blood and straining to maintain consciousness, she radioed dispatch, drew her gun and killed the attacker while he drove the car.  As the perp behind the wheel assumed room temperature, the car eventually careened in classic cinematic-cliché fashion into a concrete wall.  Fortunately the heroine of the story survived. 

To my perhaps dim thought process, the dichotomy between the two examples represents the chasm between “thought” and “focus.”  As Spaulding points out, the first officer made the mistake of assuming that the perp “thought” the same way that she “thought.”  He didn’t.  The second officer while in severe pain and undoubtedly fear had intense “focus.”  The first officer said, “Let’s talk.”  The second officer said, “I knew that one of us was going to die that night, and it wasn’t going to be me!”  The first one “thought,” the second one “focused.”  I’m pretty sure that sight alignment, trigger squeeze, grip pressure and breath control never entered the mind of the second officer.

A second story presented by Spaulding is the story of Lance Thomas, the LA jeweler who shot 5 miscreants in 4 separate attempted robberies.  The story is told in full by Paul Kirchner in his excellent book, The Deadliest Men.  During one of the engagements, Thomas was shot in the neck and lying on the floor.  In describing the fight he says, “I was still alive and I still had ammo.”  The result is that Thomas survived; the perp, not so much.  When you’re lying on the floor in a pool of your own blood, it takes focus -- not thought -- to prevail.

At about the same time as the class, I had been engaged in an internet discussion with a man with whom I’ve only corresponded but have come to respect.  His father had been one of the Alamo recon scouts for the 6th Army in WWII.  In discussing the war, his dad had told him, “You had to believe you would survive, but fight like you were already dead.”  That statement touched me as being cerebral with a touch of Zen, and infinitely wise.  “...Fight like you’re already dead” seems like an unabashed statement of commitment.  It didn’t guarantee survival, but it did guarantee dignity.  His father was awarded the Purple Heart and 3 Bronze Stars, one with the V for valor.  I’m told that in combat, fear is often the bi-product of thought.  The focus and commitment to fight like you’re already dead undoubtedly didn’t eliminate fear, but certainly helped that soldier fight through it.

If you're a fan of Stephen Ambrose (& if you're not, you should be), he mentions in a couple of books that the fledgling Army Rangers after the fight for Point Du Hoc on D-day determined that other than physical fitness there was NOTHING that could adequately prepare men for combat….NOTHING.  Also Dick Winters, CO of Easy Company in Beyond Band of Brothers states that the guys who performed best and most courageously in combat were almost NEVER the guys who performed the best in training. You can’t “train” someone to insulate themselves from the effects of fear.  I don't know, perhaps the same is true of us sloppy civilians.  

Greg Moats was one of the original IPSC Section Coordinators appointed by Jeff Cooper shortly after its inception at the Columbia Conference. In the early 1980’s, he worked briefly for Bianchi Gunleather and wrote for American Handgunner and Guns.  He served as a reserve police officer in a firearms training role and was a Marine Corps Infantry Officer in the mid-1970’s.  He claims neither snake-eater nor Serpico status but is a self-proclaimed “training junkie.”

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