From Jeff Cooper, Principles of Personal Defence.
“A commander may be forgiven for being defeated, but
never for being surprised.” This maxim is among the first to
be impressed upon new lieutenants. It is equally applicable
to individuals who aspire to a degree of physical security in
today’s embattled society. Alertness is, to some extent, an
inherent personality trait, but it can nonetheless be learned
and improved. Once we accept that our familiar and prosaic
environment is in fact perilous, we automatically sharpen
Two rules are immediately evident: Know what is
behind you, and pay particular attention to anything out of
It is axiomatic that the most likely direction of attack is
from behind. Be aware of that. Develop “eyes in the back
of your head.” Eric Hartmann, the World War I1 German
flying ace who is unquestionably the greatest fighter pilot
of all time (1,405 combat missions, 352 confirmed victories),
feels that he survived because of an “extremely
sensitive back to his neck”; and, conversely, claims that 80
percent of his victims never knew he was in the same sky
with them. Combat flying is not the same as personal
defense, but the principle applies. The great majority of the
victims of violent crime are taken by surprise. The one who
anticipates the action wins. The one who does not, loses.
Learn from the experience of others and don’t let yourself
Make it a game. Keep a chart. Every time anyone is
able to approach you from behind without your knowledge,
mark down an X. Every time you see anyone you know
before he sees you, mark down an 0. Keep the 0s ahead of
the Xs. A month with no Xs establishes the formation of
Observe your cat. It is difficult to surprise him. Why?
Naturally his superior hearing is part of the answer, but not
all of it. He moves well, using his senses fully. He is not
preoccupied with irrelevancies. He’s not thinking about his
job or his image or his income tax. He is putting first things
first, principally his physical security. Do likewise.
There are those who will object to the mood this
instruction generates. They will complain that they do not
wish to “live like that.” They are under no obligation to do
so. They can give up. But it is a feral world, and if one
wishes to be at ease in it he must accommodate to it.
Anything out of place can be a danger signal. Certainly
anyone you don’t know approaching your dwelling must be
regarded askance. It’s ninety-nine to one that he is perfectly
harmless, but will you be ready if he turns out to be that
other one who is not?
Certain things are obvious: an unfamiliar car parked
across the street for long periods with people in it who do
not get out; a car that maintains a constant distance behind
you while you vary your speed; young men in groups,
without women, staying in one place and not talking. These
things should set off a first-stage alarm in anyone, but there
are many other signals to be read by the wary. Anyone who
appears to be triggered out of watchfulness and into action
by your appearance must be explained. Anyone observing
you carefully must be explained. Anyone whose behavior
seems to be geared to yours must be explained. If the
explanation does not satisfy you, be ready to take appropriate
A common ruse of the sociopath is the penetration of a
dwelling under false pretenses. Anyone can claim to be a
repairman or an inspector of one sort or another. It is often
impractical to verify credentials, but merely being aware
that credentials may easily be falsified is protection against
surprise. The strong need only remain watchful. The weak
should take further precautions.
On the street, let no stranger take your hand. To allow a
potential assailant a firm grip on your right hand is to give
him a possibly fatal advantage. Use your eyes. Do not enter
unfamiliar areas that you cannot observe first. Make it a
practice to swing wide around comers, use window glass
for rearward visibility, and get something solid behind you
when you pause.
All this may sound excessively furtive and melodramatic,
but those who have cultivated what might be
called a tactical approach to life find it neither troublesome
nor conspicuous. And, like a fastened seat belt, a life jacket,
or a fire extinguisher, it is comforting even when unnecessary.
Needless to say, no sensible person ever opens the door
of his house without knowing who is knocking. If your
entranceway does not permit visual evaluation of your
caller, change it. The statistics may be against a threat
waiting outside, but statistics are cold comfort after you
discover that your case is the rare exception.
The foregoing suggestions are merely random examples
of ways in which the principle of alertness is manifested.
Situations are numberless, and specific recommendations
cannot be made to cover them all. The essential thing is to
bear always in mind that trouble can appear at any time. Be
aware. Be ready. Be alert.