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?
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.