Sunday Rant

From Jeff Cooper, Principles of Personal Defence.

Principle One:


“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

our senses.

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

be surprised.

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

correct habits.

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

defensive action.

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.

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