Warriors vs. Praetorian Guard…which mindset fits you best?

It’s been said, and I agree, that we are in the early stages of a renaissance of the warrior mindset.

This is due in part to the fact that we’re 14 years into the Global War on Terror, part due to movies, TV, and novels, and part because of the fact that computers and the internet have paved the way for the collection and analysis of large amounts of post-incident data that used to be impossible.

The refinements in training, tactics, and techniques have created an unprecedented number of warrior minds which has resulted in countless lives saved in battle.

But what about outside of battle?

Is the warrior mindset beneficial or even healthy if it doesn’t have the proper outlet?

Is it possible that a “guardian” mindset is more realistic, healthy, and productive for most people, most of the time? Even for warriors back from overseas and law enforcement?

Maybe. Maybe not. I want to share some thoughts with you today inspired by an article that we ran in the Journal of Tactics and Preparedness a few months ago from the former commander of the 19th Special Forces Group and internationally recognized SWAT instructor, Randy Watt.

In the article, Randy spoke of watching a TV show about a SWAT unit getting ready to serve a narcotics related search warrant.

Instead of following current best-practices for the situation that emphasized a low intensity approach with the ability to switch to high intensity if necessary, they got themselves all jacked up on adrenaline and the alluring maiden of going to war to vanquish an evil foe.

Instead of using tactics designed to preserve and protect life, they decided to go on the offensive in a non-life threatening situation and execute a dynamic entry…and one of the SWAT officers was shot as the entry began as a result.  As Randy said in his article, it didn’t need to happen.

There is a definite place for the warrior mindset, but it can also cause unnecessary frustrations and problems when people operate in that mode unnecessarily.

Let’s step back for a moment and define terms…

Lt. Col. David Grossman defines a warrior as a knight of old and if I substitute the word “knight”, “paladin”, or “guardian” in place of “warrior” in Grossman’s writings, I agree with him 100%.  He’s a legend, I have tremendous respect for him, and don’t want anything I say to appear as if I’m nitpicking.  I’m not.

But history and popular culture has defined “warrior” differently.  Instead of a “knight,” “paladin,” or “guardian,” most people see/think of an Apache, Zulu, or Spartan warrior when they hear the term.  This creates mixed messages and as great as Grossman is, it’s hard to compete with a constant onslaught of media defining the term “warrior” in a different way.

I’m defining a warrior simply as someone who is on offense and taking the fight to the enemy. They are a specialist and a master at offensive skills and they don’t play defense.  Their goal is to make the world better by eliminating evil by kinetic means.

They don’t think that they might engage the enemy.  They KNOW, without a doubt, that they are going to engage the enemy.

This is where things get a little complicated…because for most people, it is valuable to be able to switch into warrior mode, but not good to be in warrior mode all of the time.

A couple of examples are that if you are ever attacked, you want to immediately switch into warrior mode and in a firefight, military and law enforcement personnel better be in warrior mode.  The faster you can flip the switch, in all 3 situations, the more likely you will survive.

As I said, this mindset and attitude is incredibly valuable in the right circumstances. In it’s purest form, it’s also very rare. As Heraclitus said:

“Out of every one hundred men,
ten shouldn’t even be there,
eighty are just targets,
nine are the real fighters,
and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle.
Ah, but the one, one is a warrior,
and he will bring the others back.”

And yet, if you watch movies, look at clothing at an MMA gym, or read any law enforcement magazines, it appears as if being a warrior is the standard that all “real” men should aspire to and the mode that they should be in all of the time.

Let’s take things to an extreme and look at a historical example of what a warrior culture looks like.

The Spartans (think of the movie, “300”) were legendary warriors. Their craft, focus, passion, and purpose was warcraft and some of the lessons they learned are still in use by today’s modern warriors. Spartans weren’t farmers. They weren’t merchants. They weren’t guards.  They were warriors.

That part’s really cool. The other side of the story isn’t. They killed their infants who weren’t “warrior material.” They exiled youth who didn’t make the grade as far as health, physique, mental toughness, and combat ability. This wasn’t like getting kicked out of the military or washing out of an elite unit. In many cases, it was banishment from society into the wilderness and essentially a death sentence.

In modern terms, that kind of pure warrior focus on the tactical arts has a time and a place, but when there is no opportunity to use those skills for good, it leads to frustration if that’s the only mode that they have to operate in.

A warrior with no war to fight oftentimes looks for a war to fight, creates a war to fight, or lives in frustration like a dog who can only run to the end of it’s chain and bark. I’ve been there. It’s no fun.

This happens A LOT…

– This happens with warriors who come home from battle who no longer have an offensive outlet where they can “take it to the enemy” with “speed, surprise, and violence of action.”

– It happens when warriors switch from offensive roles to primarily defensive roles like most law enforcement, security, and close protection details like the Secret Service without switching their mindset.

– It happens when people start getting firearms and other self-defense training and their “bogeyman” meter is a little too sensitive.

– It even happens with SWAT and SRU units that have a low offensive OPTEMPO and don’t get called out enough.

Some of the consequences of continually being in an offensive warrior state with no enemy and no war to fight are frustration, negative impacts on relationships, and even the potential for unnecessary injury, as was illustrated in the SWAT story above.

That being said, when a situation demands a warrior, nothing less will do. And when society realizes the situation needs a warrior, it’s already too late to create/build one. (H/T to Force Recon Marine, Chris Graham)Whether it’s a war overseas, in a plane on 9/11, an active shooter situation, or a couple of terrorists in Garland TX…when you need a warrior, you need a warrior NOW.

I want to propose a solution that takes advantage of the warrior mind, warrior ethos, and the ability of a warrior to completely change the tide of battle without the negative impact of creating a warrior who has no outlet for their mindset.

Why’s this matter? Because everyone has a movie playing in their head where they are the lead character. The role that they see themselves playing affects everything that they do, regardless of whether or not it’s accurate or beneficial.

If the movie in your head and your internal dialog constantly frames you as a warrior when you don’t have an outlet to be a warrior or the ability to be a warrior, then you’re going to be frustrated and/or looking for excuses to be a warrior, whether they’re necessary or not.

In short, I’m suggesting that for most people, most of the time, it’s healthier and more accurate to have the mindset of a guardian—even a Praetorian Guard–than continually operating with the mindset of a warrior.

Why the Praetorian Guard in particular? Praetorian Guards were the elite bodyguards of Roman emperors who guarded the emperor and his family, the palace, and certain other high ranking officials. Like law enforcement and Secret Service today, many of them participated in wars and had combat experience.

As Praetorian Guards, they were able to operate on both defense and offense. They acted as observers, protectors, and guardians when that was appropriate and could flip the switch and go into warrior mode when necessary.  It wasn’t an either/or situation.  They trained themselves to flip the switch back and forth, depending on the situation.

Here’s a couple of illustrations of the difference between warriors and guardians…

A warrior will spend his days seeking out and approaching hornets’ nests and destroying them.

A guardian will go about his business, avoid the hornet’s nest when it’s practical, but won’t hesitate to destroy any hornet that threatens him or his family. If the nest has to go, he’ll flip into warrior mode or call in warriors and take care of business (TCB).

Here’s another example…

A warrior has a hammer, is an expert with it, and is always looking for an opportunity to use it to do good. If he can’t find a nail that needs banging, sooner or later he’ll look for something else he can justify using the hammer on.

A guardian has a hammer, is good with it, but also carries a screw driver, a ratchet set, and other tools. Since he has other tools, he’s not always looking for nails or excuses to use his hammer, but when the need arises, he uses it with expertise and without hesitation.

And an example from football…

A warrior is like a football player who either plays ONLY on special teams and who’s job it is to sprint down the field and crush the kick/punt returner or who only comes on the field to sack the QB.

A guardian is like a football player who can still make tackles, but 9 plays out of 10 fills more traditional roles like plugging a hole on the line, covering a receiver, or even blocking and catching on offense.

And one more that may or may not be a stretch…

A warrior wakes up knowing that he’s going to either train for war that he eventually WILL be in or will take the fight to the enemy that day.

A guardian knows that the possibility exists that he might be involved in physical violence when he wakes up in the morning and is ready for it, but it doesn’t consume his day.

So, what’s the point of all of this?

Two things:

First, I’m trying to help warrior soldiers who have transitioned into a phase of their life where they no longer have the opportunity to take action as a warrior. I see and hear frustration from them on a regular basis. I want more guys to know that a slight shift in inner dialog can make life less frustrating for the “frustrated warrior.” They can still be a bad-ass Praetorian Guard and flip the switch into warrior mode if necessary, but they don’t have to be in warrior mode 24/7.  If you see any ways to fine tune the message, I’d appreciate it.

Second, as alluded to with the SWAT story at the beginning of this article, when law enforcement (and civilian sheepdogs) see every situation through the eyes of a warrior, the tendency is to act offensively with speed, surprise, and violence of action. Sometimes that’s what’s needed, but for people who are looking at the world through the eyes of a warrior but who never have the need take action like a warrior, oftentimes it’s better to look at the world through the eyes of a guardian.

Where’s the balance between a warrior and guardian mindset? It’d be nice if there was a clear cut answer. There’s not, but hopefully this will help you sort it out for yourself.  Questions?  Comments?  Please sound off by commenting below.


  1. Great article OX.
    There is certainly a time to be a warrior and to go and seek out the bad element. But the Praetorian Guard seeks to better his surroundings. One way this can be done is by making sure you know ALL your neighbors not just a few and push your fire wall out as far as possible. Try and look at your neighbors as your platoon. The more of them you know puts you in a mode that leads to helping others and that leads to a place where one begins to be more at ease. This allows the warrior to be vigilant at all times in what is around him yet provides a place which helps him become the Praetorian Guard.

  2. I wanted to add that we should also be educating our friends and family about our responsibility to each other. We are the first responders for our families and friends. Leave a copy of the USCCA mag out, take someone to the range etc.. all in a very low key way to encourage their curiosity.

  3. Good article. As we prepare for this changing world and try to protect ourselves and loved ones, it is a good thing to take a step back in our minds and realize that we have to maintain a balance in our lives lest we become like the crazies out there. I know I have become more aware of my mindset and behavior since I’ve become an armed citizen. Thank you USCCA for being the responsible voice in this room.

  4. Good insights, Ox. It explains why my head is usually on a swivel, being aware of who and what is happening all around me. As society deteriorates further, on-going practice and a higher level of sit rep makes all the more sense even for us older guys.

  5. Interesting article and valuable comments. I am 69 and can’t remember a time when I have not been on alert mentally & phsyically. Being born right after WWII and growing up during the Korean conflict, I was conditioned to be prepared for attack. From 1966-70 I was a USAF medic and took care of wounded Vietnam Vets at a casualty staging unit in Wash. D.C.. I saw the results of war and it was horrifying. All my illusions about the glory of war were dashed when I saw the damage, both physical and mental, that occurred in actual combat. Still I dreamed of testing myself to see if I had what it takes. I practiced a verity of martial arts for about 30 years and learned to fight with all kinds of weapons. I became proficient with many firearms and prepared for the worst.
    In Ninjitsu I was taught that if I had to fight, I had already lost because I should have been smart enough to avoid it. I guess that I learned that lesson well because I have rarely had to fight. I still believe in being prepared, but I no longer yearn to test myself in battle. I stay in shape, keep in practice, but hope that I never have to use what I have learned. In this society, if you have to use force to protect yourself, your likely to end up in jail, or in an expensive law suit. Your advice to become a protector, rather than an aggressive warrior, is good advice. Avoid combat if you can, but give it everything you have if you can’t.

  6. Ox, sure wish that someone in the gov. told me this back in 69 when i returned from 2 tours in nam. was in usmc force recon. took 2 marriages and a lot of hell to come back from that warrior mindset. still struggle at times but articles and understanding like this and others sure do make a lot of sense. i just could not click that warrior button off for a long time. thanks for understanding

  7. Ox, What you pointed out in this article has great truths about warrior mindsets. Being raised in a Marine Corps family and living adjacent to one of their major installations, I have seen both mindsets of warrior and guardian. I was always amazed that my father was a great guardian, but could turn on the warrior side when situations deemed appropriate. Thank you for this realistic lesson.

  8. Coming home, a warrior must view his training as a tool kit of skills that have been uniquely developed to dispense with conflict. Now, these skills can be used to mitigate asocial incidents with the intent of securing and maintaining peace, rather than destroying the enemy. Ever vigilant, rarely violent, but always prepared. And Thank God for it!

    • punisher says:


      • Amen to that. Thanks, Punisher. I’m familiar with the Oscars…not sure if you were one of them, but it sounds like similar mission profiles.

        I realize I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be, but the point of the article was to try to point out that the mindset that kept you alive outside the wire in Vietnam isn’t necessarily the best mindset for everyday life in most places in the US. I’m not advocating throwing the warrior mindset away…just adding another gear to your transmission and running in guardian mode when there’s no clear and present threat and it fits the mission profile better.

  9. Truly profound, Ox, thank you. Between you and Col. Grossman’s Bulletproof Mind, we can find more truth and wisdom than in all of the sages inside the beltway combined. I wish the two of you could get much more public exposure. You would have to learn to work within 20 second sound bites, of course. Our nation desperately needs your voices of sanity and truth. My own transitions from farm boy to warrior (Vietnam FAC) to frustrated warrior to guardian have had their rough spots, but age 70 and your wisdom have helped me settle into a stable sheepdog role. Wish I had understood all this 45 years ago.

    • Dang, TRE…Grossman’s the real deal–Army Ranger, Psychology professor at West Point, etc. I am just an outsider who gets to spend a lot of time with the “cool kids,” happens to share a lot in common with them, and who has a knack for piecing together disparate pieces of information and making something of it. I’m truly honored at your comment.

  10. I appreciate this article. It reminded me of a situation where a lady I knew was always in the warrior mentality. She wasn’t happy unless she was instigating an argument of some kind and getting the rest of us agitated at each other. There are those types around as well.

    I was in a situation that could have been a major problem where it not for me being with three others. It took place in Reno, NV. We had parked and were walking up the street when I noticed a guy across the street keeping pace with us. As I watched him, I suspected what he was up to as some guys work in tandem to determine if the situation renders it feasible to rob someone, or not. The guy kept watching us as well and nothing happened, but I figured if I had been alone, I might have had a problem. It is this kind of awareness we need. One reason I like the color code. I went from yellow to orange and back to yellow in a couple of minutes or less. I think that is the guard mentality.

    Also think of a mother who protects her children. There is a person who springs to warrior mode in a heartbeat. I think sometimes women have an easier time to be guardians who can spring to warrior mode when needed and them back to guardian. A lot of fathers have the same capacity when it comes to their kids as well, as was stated above.

    I wonder sometimes, too, how much the issue of PTSD affects the warrior mentality in some of the situations that former combat soldiers face. It is a double-edged sword.

    • Here’s what a buddy of mine emailed me last night on the PTSD component…

      “the piece touched on psychology of ‘warriors’ feeling restrained/ frustrated- your points make sense –

      I think there is another – highly relevant to PTSD, suicides etc- that is that guys who volunteer to become warriors and go into harms way are highly idealistic- the experience of deployment/combat reveals many of their (my) mental constructs to be (tragically) false. When young soldiers/Marines unhesitatingly risk their own lives to fight evil and veterans see the restraint of military/political leaders apparently motivated by personal career fears/hopes, loss of respect for seniors occurs — when veterans see Muslim Brotherhood influence in politics, PRC influence in politics etc and the defense establishment’s dollar-is-no-object data crunching on how to think faster, run faster, recover faster, shoot faster, etc, but sycophantic blindness to ‘leadership’s’ chumminess with and obfuscation for Muslims, communist and or fascist ideological initiatives–

      many can’t put their finger on it, but I believe they sense it and see that nothing lives up to the ‘honor’ they bought into when they and their (lost) friends laid it on the line for an ignorant uninterested populace — we are well on our way to becoming the most data based-scientifically (validated) trained military that is subjugated by our enemies”

      • Spot-on Ox- add to that the broken promises made by their government when they come back and see reality with how VA has been working (or not working in this case- though Pres. Trump is turning it around quickly) (not that affects all veterans) and it’s easy to become jaded and depressed from it all when it seems like they used one up and now want to throw them away or hide them, so as to not bring light to their own corruption and evil deeds. Best thing to do is to keep shedding light on them all and their corruption and publicly shame them…that is the only thing that seems to still work, since it’s very hard to vote them out office with the majority of the population in a sleep-trance, and the international cartels and lobbyists buying them off to get what they want.

  11. For me the mental change happened after getting married and having kids. I had been a Combat Airborne MP back in the 80s. Spent time in Grenada where my unit did patrol with the 82nd, did door to door, and set up police departments across the island, helped restore order. I did time in Egypt, Turkey, working under cover in Germany. So you go from being edge of the sword to back home sometimes literally within hours. Hard to make that mental shift in gears. But once I got married and had kids it was more about keeping them from harm than me addressing the threat directly. So I focused more on detection, preparedness, and avoidance which serves me better now as I cross the 50+ years of age. I still see myself internally as an old warrior, but its more in the sheepdog frame of mind. I no longer go in search of. But I stand between those I love and those who might wish to do harm to them, ever vigilant. I continue to prepare myself to do violence with the hope of never having to.

  12. Dennis says:

    The mindset is what I like about Grossman’s writing. When I encounter an agitated person:
    – evaluate their potential for harm, body language and bluster
    – square away, get a wider stance, drop my chin, hands just above belt level
    – am aware of their hands and fix a hard stare at one of their eyes
    – I have a plan for action based on the circumstances

    Afterwards I am thankful no one was shot (especially me) and evaluate how to better detect and avoid a situation that has any chance of ending in using lethal force. In this day of Ferganistan and the People’s Republic of Maryland, I have much respect for the courage of the officers who serve. A lot of good people will leave those out of control cities.

  13. Excellent article that I agree with wholeheartedly! Can you repost Randy Watts’ piece as well?

    • Hey Stu,

      You can read this piece from Randy, as well as 15 more from Randy and 110+ from other special operations personnel and Pentagon consultants by subscribing to the Journal of Tactics and Preparedness > tacticsandpreparedness.com

  14. scout44 says:

    This appears to me to be a really good collection of thoughts..given the current situation in America with the apparently over aggressive police actions which often seem to take a situation and escalate from a relatively mild encounter to full forceful engagement, your
    thoughts would suggest that a middle ground is very difficult to reach and maintain, which
    would explain so many of these seemingly unnecessarily violent outcomes. It might also
    explain why so many combat veterans have so much difficulty fitting back into society
    upon their return home that many actually can’t wait to return to battle with their now
    enhanced connection with their buddies who share the same mentality . Police can seem
    to maintain an “us against them” mindset, which might also be a part of the escalation of
    public encounters to violence. The concept of “protect and serve” has been replaced by
    the “warrior” mentality and approach you speak of…How that mind set can be reverted
    to the “pretorian” approach is the major obstacle facing todays law enforcement..thanks
    for your thoughtful commentary …perhaps this concept could be offered to those who
    are seeking to resolve the current escalating distrust of the police..

    • I wish I had the answer.

      The truth is, the ideal officer must be able to flip the switch back and forth between warrior and guardian instantaneously and with perfect judgement, regardless of what is going on in their life, how much sleep they’re working on, and what kind of call(s) they were just on. It’s not only difficult, but impossible.

      Add to that events like this week, where 2 officer Moores…one in NYC and one in Coeur d’ Alene Idaho died of gunshot wounds sustained during routine activities. How are all of their brothers in arms going to approach suspects for the next few days, weeks, or even months? Could you blame them for shifting more towards the offensive warrior mindset where everyone is an enemy to be vanquished until they prove otherwise? I don’t like it, but I can’t say that I would act any differently in their shoes.

      • NavCat says:

        But that is just the point you made so well….we have to. It requires a tremendous amount of self control but like our ability to act was learned through training when adrenaline flowed and we willed ourselves to control it, the same applies now. It can be done.Not easily but we did before and we can and must now. Nothing else is acceptable

  15. So THAT’S why I am always itchy. This makes very good sense and I now see there is nothing wrong with being a Guard. Going to take a lot more thought, but I do understand the diference.
    Thanks for the thoughts.

  16. What the heck? Do you work for the government? f you WEre a veteran with brains, then you wOULD know that the US military is a paper tiger that bribed its way out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military is mentally screwed up. Ho ah my ass!
    You are not a true survivalist or revolutionary because you are brainwashed by US military propaganda. As a true believer, AND lock-step stooge of media propaganda, you are useless and marked as an enemy of the free people WHO DEMAND TO BE LIBERATED!

    • I have no idea what you’re saying.

    • Yes, John…We work for the Government. We are watching you right now….you have a crumb on your left cheek, by the way. We are watching you, John. We will brainwash you too. the messages are in the TV, John. You will be assimilated to the collective. Come join us, John. Join us foreeeeveer.

  17. Excellent article, Ox. I especially connected with this paragraph: “That being said, when a situation demands a warrior, nothing less will do. And when society realizes the situation needs a warrior, it’s already too late to create/build one. Whether it’s a war overseas, an active shooter situation, or a couple of terrorists in Garland TX…when you need a warrior, you need a warrior NOW.” Parts of our society are trying to do away with firearms and warriors, when the exact reverse is needed in these times. Tangoes have already infiltrated. Disarm the populace and it’s a slaughter waiting to happen. With a 100,000:1 public-to-cop ratio, when the SHTF, the populace needs to be armed. There are no two ways about it. A few of those will turn out to be our needed warriors, guardians, Praetorian Guards.

    As I geared up my preps in the past years, I noticed that itchy feeling and got my head right so I didn’t end up as an “active hammer”. We surely don’t need those.

    Thanks for the Heads Up to our returning warriors, too. We Good Guys (the majority of the public and all the warriors) all need each other. HooAh!

    • Thanks, Lars. As much as I wish everyone was aware, prepared, in condition yellow, and in sheepdog mode, it’s just not going to happen. That doesn’t mean that I will stop trying to convince people of the need. It just means I realize that some people are content being sheep.

  18. Jim McRae says:

    Very well done. I especially liked the 100 men part, probably pretty accurate too. I teach NC Concealed Carry among other shooting stuff, where I try to move people from the group of 10 or the 80 to the 9. I never really intended to get so strongly into the self defense stuff, but the idea of taking someone from the group of 80, stick a gun in their pocket or purse and they feel all better. The problem is they are not really that much better off unless they want to be. They could be worse off, if they are relying on a tool they don’t really know how or when to use, without time to think. The part about everyone has a movie going on, in which they are the lead character is profound.

    God Bless, Jim

  19. Jeffrey says:

    I agree! That should be the job of the sheepdog. I like the multi-tool analogy. I am a multi- tool personally both in mindset and in actuality.

  20. Good article. In my line of work (correctional officer) it pays to have the guardian minset. I don’t look to start trouble with the inmates, but will handle business as needed. Warrior v. Guardian mindset also involves awareness, avoidance, and the color codes (i.e. Condition white, yellow, orange, red). We as preppers/armed citizens should have a guardian mindset.

    • I don’t envy you, Leroy, and I have a ton of respect for what you do. Thanks. That being said, it would be fascinating to be around that many people who are at the extremes of various psychological spectrums.

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