Can Mindset Trump Skill?

Anytime someone in the tactical firearms community brings up the need for unarmed combatives, many people will inevitably bring up some objections. They range over a number of things, but generally come up with two major ones.

I dealt with one of those in an earlier blog post ( This time I will tackle the other oft-repeated objection.

That objection is essentially that learning some specific unarmed combative skill set is a waste of time since their individual combat/fighting mindset will see them through any H2H involved violent encounter.

There are a number of fallacies at work here. First of all, if this is what you are counting on, how do you know you have the needed mindset in the first place? Have you ever once demonstrated that you have it and have used it? If not, then why are you assuming it will just be there? It is like buying a Lottery ticket, then spending all your life savings because you “know” you have a winning ticket before it is announced. You are placing a huge bet with the highest stakes, and you don’t know what your cards say.

There is another problem here as well. Let’s say for the sake of the argument that you do have the needed mindset. Why can’t the attacker have as much if not more mindset than you? What if in addition to the initiative of starting the attack, he has developed a killer mindset that leaves yours in the dust. What will you do then? You are behind the curve in acting, you don’t have the physical skills, and he has a more devastating mindset. That is the definition of a “can’t win” scenario.

The third problem is one of logical equivalency. If we take the same logic at work here, and apply it to other things, we see the foolishness. “I don’t need to take any first aid classes. If something happens to my child, I will just have the mindset to get me through.” Or “I don’t need to have gone through medical school. Just let me operate on you. My mindset is awesome and I will know what to do when I cut you open.” Stupid, right? But, that is the exact same logic used in their attempt to dodge the idea of needing to know unarmed skills.

Another way of stating this logical fallacy that hits closer to home for some of those who object to training H2H methods  is “I don’t need to practice with my gun, or take instruction from a reputable teacher. When I am attacked, I will just pull out my gun and take care of business.” I guarantee you that if you used that statement in any online firearm discussion forum or on Facebook, you would be raked over the coals. But the same people who would excoriate you for the above statement will then in the next breath use the exact same argument to dismiss their need for H2H training. You cannot have it both ways. If we have a need as well as a responsibility to learn how to use a firearm in a self-defense situation, then the same need and responsibility is there in the realm of unarmed combatives.

However, the biggest fallacy lies elsewhere. This is the whole underlying idea that even if you have the right mindset, it will somehow, magically, give you the ability to defeat someone who has the initiative and more aggression and greater physical skills. Sorry to disabuse you of this, but mindset is not like spinach to Popeye. You don’t just ingest a swallow of it and are then able to thrash Brutus. It is not a magic pill or some special talisman. It cannot give you abilities that you don’t have in the first place. You are not the Hulk, and you need something more than anger to power you up.

Take a look at the following video. It is an excellent summation of everything I have written. Notice that the bigger, stronger, more physically intimidating person is completely aware of what is happening. He is not taken by surprise and has had time to work himself up to a fighting rage. He verbally engages the smaller and obviously younger opponent, and gives every indication he has prepped himself for the fight, and indeed, he even launches the first strike! Also notice that as he finds himself in an inferior position taking a beating, he does what many pro-mindset superiority people promote – he engages in “dirty tactics” and any action possible to win the fight, including striking to the face as he is being choked, and even slamming the smaller guy onto asphalt.  And watch where it gets him:



Not how absolutely nothing he did had any effect whatsoever. He unleashed every trick in the book, and had the double extra advantage of initiating the fight as well as having the superior physical attributes. Throughout, he exhibited a dedicated “mindset” to fight. And the results were a complete and total loss. The only reason he is even alive at the end of the video is solely because the smaller person decided not to do any more damage. That is it. Period. Superior skill set wins out. End of story. And this will be the same story in 98% of similar situations.

Edited to add: Something I forgot to mention earlier, but was pointed out by a buddy (thanks Phil!) – Also in the video, note how the bigger guy taps. In the sport/friendly training world, this is an acceptance of defeat and is a signal to the winner that he  has the submission hold on tight and has succeeded and can let go. In the Reality Based Self-Defense (RBSD) world, they will say that when you train with tapping, you will go on autopilot in the real world and let go and then get killed when the other guy continues the attack. This video shows what an utter load of crap that is. Tapping is always a conscious act in a training context and is not done by rote. Only someone who has never put any real time into serious pressure tested training would say something so completely unproven.

I am not advocating a lack of attention to developing combative mindset. Far from it. I would actually tell you that training a fighting H2H method against resisting opponents BUILDS true fighting mindset. I would also say that is the desired result. However, if you think mindset is something that during a fight will give you superpowers and allow you to prevail against a trained opponent, well; you may as well stick your nose back into a comic book because that is where that attitude belongs. Mindset comes about through demonstrated success, not in some fantasy that plays out in your head.

Take the time and spend a bit of energy to build a decent level of empty hand self-defense techniques that have been proven to work, and then add in some mindset. The result will work much better than trying to be lazy and take a cheap, mentally masturbatory shortcut.

5 thoughts on “Can Mindset Trump Skill?”

  1. You points and video convinced me that I need to learn some basic skills. Think I would have done all of the things the bigger guy did, maybe some elbows to the mid-section but was an eye opener.

  2. Beautifully written and very well argued. I have almost 10 years of training in Kenpo and I get annoyed every time I hear some arm chair quarterback of the gun world dis hand to hand training. I get even more annoyed when they start talking about “bringing a knife to a gun fight”. Do you need to train with your gun? Absolutely! But against a trained opponent your gun is unlikely to be all that effective if you’re closer than 7 yards, and even at 7 yards it’s iffy if your opponent is exceptionally fast. I’m not, but I guarantee if I’m armed with a knife and you’re less than 18 feet from me I’ll have my knife in you before you can get off more than 1 shot. I’ve proven that time and time again in multiple training scenarios against many different training partners including veterans.

  3. Cecil,

    John Mosby – – recently linked to this article (and your site). I am not sure if this video is completely relevant to this article, but relevant to the need for H2H training in general. I immediately thought of you and JM when I heard/saw this:

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