One of the concepts I teach to police recruits their first day of the academy is the “Officer Safety Pyramid.” I didn’t come up with this idea (it’s part of the AZ POST curriculum), but the premise is that each side must be balanced to be structurally sound. The four sides are Skills, Tactics, Fitness, and Mental Conditioning.

I hear people talk a good game about buying a gun for protection, or carrying a knife for self-defense, and this is one area that this survival pyramid concept really counts. Just owning the gun or knife doesn’t give you the skill you might need to employ it, and we haven’t even talked about the tactical considerations that go into using them. At what distance do you think you’re going to whip out (and unfold) your pocket knife, and in how big of a hurry? Carrying your tricked-out “EDC” gun (and an extra magazine!?) is neat, but let’s face it: You’re probably never going to need it. We refer back to John Boyd’s principle: “Machines don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds. People, ideas, hardware—in that order!”

I think it’s important to sit down and take an honest inventory of your training for the sake of finding balance moving forward. One of the big flaws in the minds of many police officers is related to physical fitness. I’m no PT stud, but there’s a reason I work out far more often than I shoot. Cops tend to over rely on the fact that they carry a gun. Some can shoot really well, but the truth is their gun will stay in it’s holster for most of the fights they get into, and their shootings are likely to happen at a distance that won’t require all that much marksmanship. Cops should still get out to the range and shoot, but they also need hand-to-hand and weapon-retention skills—and if we’re being honest, few ever practice in those areas.

What about the mental stuff? Well, it’s difficult to teach or talk about without deep-diving into mountains of research—but let’s start with this: What’s your training usually feel like? Are you ever uncomfortable? One of the goals of mental conditioning is to build resilience, that is, your capacity to cope with and recover from difficulty. To deal with a violent personal encounter, you are likely to face adversity, and it will be uncomfortable. You need to push yourself and get out of your comfort zone to prepare for that. A lot of people go out and shoot a lot because they are already pretty good at it, or because they enjoy shooting. But they don’t PT very hard, and they don’t learn how to fight, because sometimes that isn’t much fun. Don’t be that guy! Be honest with yourself, take an inventory of the areas you need to improve, and get to work.



Related to this topic, there’s a really good interview coming up on the podcast with Craig Douglas, who runs a business training people for worst-case scenarios related to entangled gunfights and interdisciplinary skills. Coming soon! Subscribe today for new episodes on the 1st and 15th each month, go to or search for us in your favorite podcast app.


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