combative and defensive mindsets

Post Resurrection.


There is a distinct difference between a “combative mindset” and a “defensive mindset” and its rarely discussed. In a “defensive situation” your goal is to escape without harm, using deadly force only when all other options have been exhausted. In a “combative situation” you are attacking; locating, closing with and destroying the threat. In the “real word” you may have to cross back and forth between these mindsets several times in one situation. You may be trying to diffuse a situation, deescalating, retreating, defending then suddenly the only option is offensive action. Or you may find yourself the only armed person in an active shooter situation. To save lives you may have to engage and defeat the shooter. It comes down to defining what “victory” is. Escaping from a threat unharmed is a “defensive victory”. If retreat is not an option or no longer possible then it is time to go on the offensive. A military truism is that victory cannot be achieved through defense.  I know..I know..some arts claim to be “purely defensive”…turning the opponents energy against them…and all that. But if you are facilitating that “turning” then it is just a “passive” form of “offense” as I read it. In my opinion, the serious student has to train for bolth worlds. Sometimes “the only way out is through”.


13 thoughts on “combative and defensive mindsets”

  1. Tgace:

    It’s interesting that you mention this as I recently had this conversation with someone else. There are Combatitive/Survival systems being taught now which advance this concept as there being no defense, only offense and counter-offense. Very suitable for the battlefield and life-or-death encounters but not for what most people would term a non-deadly assault. However, this begs the question of how much you don’t know about a situation – Is the person attacking you armed, is he a trained combatant, is the terrain dangerous? Answers to all of these questions can change the scenario a great deal quickly. Good post.

  2. Hi Tom

    Enjoyed todays’ post. This is one of my favourites – from my Sifu – the philosophy of Wing Chun, and your post reminded me of it.

    “Stay with what comes…follow what goes. When contact is lost, thrust the hand forward.”

    Ciao…Kerry W

  3. Completely agree with your description of the two mindsets. With regards to Richard C, I think there is some room for the “no defense” crowd. JKD after all is based on the concept of “offensive defense.” But I would not necessarily lump it in with certain “civilianized” combative programs that preach “attack, attack, attack!” Good in some cases but as you point out, not in all situations. JKD is still offensive in nature, but it does allow for measured force.

    One last comment, the military truism regarding victory can only come through offensive is actually a fairly recent development. Clausewitz always believed that defense was the strongest form of war. Only with the advent of “manuever warfare” did the idea of offensive victory really catch on as a truism. However, propents of 4GW or at the very least, students of insurgencies promote the idea that such forms of conflict are infact just long defensive actions. Letting the attacker go on the offense and much like Ali’s “rope a dope” exhaust themselves with futile attacks. Attacks on supply lines, aborbing attacks while whittling away the attacking force, all are forms of defense and would suggest in today’s fight, Clausewitz may still be right.

    Then again, it could just be the macro version of what you call “passive offense.”

  4. True. To clarify my opinion on the matter a bit, I think that the “no victory through defense” maxim refers more to “battle victory” rather than “political/war victory”.

    I think that “battle” is a closer analogy to self-defense than “war” is. Much like defending yourself against a mugger is a “battle” vs. “a war on crime”.

    IMO. 4th generation warfare only works because the attackers are far more civilized these days than in days past. Back when the victor sacked the vanquished, slaughtered all who opposed etc. etc. maintaining control over the enemy via the “iron thumb” was possible. Tito, Saddam and the ilk were fairly modern examples of the principle. Not that Im suggesting a return to this, but I think that there is a difference between “total war” and the type of war that 4th generation tactics will work in. Our civility is our weakness.

    Back to the analogy;

    I can man the perimeter and beat off an attack, but if the enemy is still surrounding me, all I can do is sit and continue to defend. Unless I counter-attack while hes still weak from the assault.

    Of course self-defense isn’t the same as battle. These things can only go so far, but I think the analogy holds when describing that there may be times you will have to retreat/defend and then suddenly have to ruthlessly attack if you are going to survive.

  5. Excellent post.

    From the police perspective, I think many officers respond to situations based on their personality type. Aggressive officers are on the offense (combative mindset) almost all the time and cautious officers are defensive most of the time. The best officer has the flexibility to move smoothly between both using the most effective aspects of each when the situation calls for it. That takes training because everyone is more comfortable with one or the other and needs to study themselves and train to develop their weak side. They also must develop the situational awareness to know which mindset to employ.

    The law enforcement industry has gone through trends itself. In the past, officers were trained to be defensive. Weaponless combat and control techniques are still generally labeled “defensive tactics” in our industry. With incidents like Columbine, we learned that there is a need for offensive or combative mindset as well to effectively carry out our mission as protectors.

  6. How do you train your mindset? I’m curious to hear what techniques are out there. I’ve seen a number of different ones that are currently popular with the RBSD/Combatives set for instilling the “killer instinct.” Appears to have been derived from IDF Krav Maga type-training (if the videos I’ve seen are to be believed). Mostly a lot of pushing with pads, yelling obscenities, and then signalling for the student to “explode” into their attackers.

    I suspect that training to both mindsets would require extensive amount of time, predominantly via scenario training. That may not be too difficult for someone enrolled in a regular MA/RBSD/Combatives class, but what about professionals who get more infrequent training/inservice training/refresher courses?

    Honestly interested in hearing what the professionals do…

  7. Good question. I think that you are correct. Scenario training is really the way to go. Simunitions mixed in with role play and “hands on” is how we do it. When it comes to time/training funds issues, the next best thing IMO is visualization and “mental role play”. I always try to imagine what I would do in various situations. Often as im rolling to a call. “What would I do if I take fire as Im pulling up?”…”What will I do with this guy if his buddy starts running?”….”What would I do if this guy comes off the car and puts a hand into his waistband?”. You need a solid foundation in the physical techniques, but programing the “software” in this manner can resolve a lot of “what do I do?” confusion when the @#%$ hits the fan.

  8. Do the “offensive” and “defensive” mindsets apply to the police officer responding to a call? Or, for that matter, to the Soldier in a COIN/LIC environment?
    I can see discriminating between lethal and non-lethal, but it seems to me that the policeman and the soldier are charged with dominating and resolving the situation, and thus do not have the option of the “just make an effective escape” defensive mindset. I think whether to escalate to lethal force is a different decision-making process than choosing between offensive and defensive courses of action.
    I was worried, pre-deployment, that with Iraq having segued into a COIN environment, troops would have problems shifting from a lethal-force-only mindset to one more resembling a law enforcement escalation of force ROE. I’ve been grateful that the guys don’t seem to have a problem incorporating consideration of non-lethal force into resolving the tactical problem set at hand. Of course, we don’t have–at least as of this writing–all the potential negative and punitive consequences that a LE officer has to consider if he’s wrong, so maybe there’s less stress involved in the process.
    Also, I’ve noticed the better trained the individual soldier is in the employment of lethal force, the more likely he is to resolve the situation in the most non-lethal manner available. I think it’s because, knowing he can go lethal and survive/succeed at any time, he feels less threatened and will accept a little more risk in giving the other guy that last opportunity to save his own life. It’s the poorly trained/scared troops (particularly our Iraqi brethren, for now)that will go lethal almost immediately, often with results that would be comical if they weren’t tragic.
    I concur that situation-based training is the single best vehicle for preparing someone to make those decisions.

  9. I believe that offensive and defensive mindsets can apply to the LEO or to soldiers in peacekeeping missions. For the cop, many people we deal with could be your mothers, friends and children. That makes a big difference in our actions. When I approach a car stop I would say that I’m in a “defensive mode”. I cant place every soccer mom at gunpoint until I issue a summons. If the operator draws a weapon on me I plan on retreating to the rear of my vehicle or better nearby cover and call for back-up. If the person doesn’t drive off there is going to be some negotiation going on. Assaulting the vehicle would be my last option. If the gunman exits the vehicle, enters a nearby store and starts shooting now I will be assaulting. Defensive-Offensive.

    I also think that there is a “micro/macro” aspect to the concept. What we are talking about is more “macro”. On the “micro” level I can see it in LE when I am fighting with a suspect. While trying to wrestle an opponent into cuffs could be termed “offensive”…I think that when I am just grappling, rolling and cuffing its more “defensive” (or maybe “passive”). If the BG goes for a weapon its time to go “offensive”. That could be anything from strikes, batons to lethal force.

    I think what Spartan and I are talking about is how some officers get into trouble when they continue to try and take a person into custody when what is required is lethal action.

  10. Defensive and Offensive ‘mindset’ are really strategic plans. Within either a ‘defensive’ or an ‘offensive plan, you can initiate attack or wait for them to come to you.

    I think in the civilian world ‘defensive’ strategic planning is the overarching way to go. I am not looking to gain ground, take on a local gang of drug dealers and/or in a take over of another house in my area.

    I think you can have an ‘offensive’ defense plan that is about taking the initiative, being proactive, and uses intelligence/patterns to find ways to nip problems in the bud

    I also think that you can have a defensive ‘offense’ in which you are cautious, methodical and let asset protection/preservation be a major consideration in your planning…

    For civilian life, I am a ‘citizen’ and MUST remember what that means in terms of scope of authority and power to act within my national/local laws.

    Remember “Justified use of Force” is a DEFENSE after you’ve technically broken the law by bashing someone. If your ‘justification’ looks reasonable enough and sound enough you are off the hook – litigiously. Be prepared for the poop storm of liability that can still follow, though.

    1. I think its important that people realize that there is a difference between a strategic “defensive”…”defensive” tactics…and a legal “defense” or what the legal system would regard as “self-defense”.

      People should remember that the “defense” of another party basically means “attacking” (or going offensive against) a person who is unlawfully attacking a third party.

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