Becoming the Civilian Defender

This is a weird time we live in.  You cannot turn on the TV without seeing horrible events of human atrocity, occurring twenty four hours a day, worldwide.  It seems that everything, everywhere, is in some type of disarray.  I think that preparing for emergencies that are commonplace in the world, is a good thing.  It is empowering; it makes you feel like you are not simply at the will of whatever danger or force is at work in the world.  And, it is fun!  As a lifelong student (I spent ten years in college/professional school/residency) I enjoy learning something new, everyday!  With preparation for emergencies, you can develop a graduate school level of education on something that very few people know about and are truly prepared for.

Years ago, Massad Ayoob, police officer, expert witness, and author penned a list of priorities that he probably, at the time, had no idea how influential they would be into shaping the training doctrine of so many capable thinkers in the future!  People have taken his list, and chopped it up or added to it to suit their particular end, but the original form is still the best.  It reads as follows…

Ayoob’s Survival Priorities

  1.  Mental Awareness and Mental Preparedness
  2. Tactics
  3. Skill
  4. Equipment


What I take from Ayoob’s list is that, at the top, the MENTAL AWARENESS AND PREPAREDNESS priorities are most important.  With enough mental power applied to an equation, nothing is insurmountable!  In context, this would explain why so many people have emerged victorious in the face of massive technological adversity, greater firepower, or superior numbers.  Thus, sharpening our mental prowess, is the absolute, most important action we can take to prepare ourselves to survive an emergency, of any kind.

This list is in order of priority, where a person needs to focus their intensity, when it comes to training to be, “THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER.”  Some people call this role different things…Pat McNamara called it, “The Sentinel,” and I like that, but out of respect for Pat, I’m not going to steal his idea.  He wrote a great book aptly called, “The Sentinel,” that covers a great deal of important information, and I recommend that.  Many folks these days use the, “sheepdog,” analogy, and I don’t care for it, as a sheepdog is a proactive animal and role.  Some people call the role I’m describing as the, “WATCHMAN,” but I don’t really think that is appropriate either, as a, “Watchman,” in the traditional sense (or in the Alan Moore sense), was a person who was up, awake, proactively guarding an empty building or a section of a town, from the criminal element.  Since what we are talking about is regular folks, like doctors, lawyers, IT professionals, pharmacists, secretaries, etc. we are talking about people that are on the, “reactive,” end of the equation.  We have to live our daily lives, care for our families, earn money, maintain our lifestyles, and enjoy life.  I’m NOT advocating that THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER learn any of these skills to replace the kind of help that our standing army, fire departments, police departments or emergency medical staff provide to our society…quite the contrary.  I’m advocating that THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER educates themselves to the end of being able to survive situations they may encounter, when the aforementioned public servants won’t or cannot be there to swoop down and save them from whatever perils they encounter. THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER’S job is to…PROTECT!  Protect themselves from bodily harm, protect their family from bodily harm, and protect their livelihood and quality of life, from the forces of evil, gravity, accidents, or whatever pitfalls that life throws in the way.  Being THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER is a lifestyle adaptation that simply ADDS to the quality of the possessor’s life.

I feel that there is a fundamental knowledge base that makes up the education necessary to give THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER the ability to better handle the MOST common situations they will encounter.  I know what you’re thinking, and since you are reading this, you are probably, a, “gun person.”  You might be surprised that there are no helicopter rescue courses recommended, nor are there a bunch of carbine urban assault courses listed.  I like to think of the aforementioned classes as, “electives.”  Just like in college, there are courses you NEED to earn your degree, and courses that you take simply because you have an interest or because your friends are doing it!  I took bowling as an elective in college, and I loved it.  I ended up taking beginning bowling, intermediate bowling, advanced bowling, bowling independent study, and I was a bowling teaching assistant.  So, just like my foray into the weird world of bowling (this predates the Big Lebowski by about five years) happened because of an initial interest that just happened to fit my schedule, you may decide at some point to take up an entirely new skill.  But, keep in mind the context of what you’re trying to accomplish!  Hit the subjects most relevant to your vocation, first.  Since you’re a regular guy/gal, your vocation is CIVILIAN DEFENDER…and here is what I feel should constitute the undergraduate education of THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER:

  1. Criminology/Street Smarts/Physical Preparedness
  2. Defensive Driving
  3. Emergency Medical
  4. Legal Preparation, Aftermath and Rules of Engagement
  5. Less Lethal skills
  6. Handgun Carry Course
  7. Handgun Skills and Tactics Course
  8. Defensive Tactics

You might be wondering why I listed the fundamental areas of study in this order, it’ll be clearer by the end of the essay…I have two models of course selection and you can pick the one that works best for you.  In the above list, I’ve ranked the fields of study in the areas that I feel that they are most commonly needed by regular people.  In people that are what I call, “higher risk,” (like shopkeepers, doctors, lawyers, jewelers, real estate agents, stalking victims, etc.) categories, the list can be chopped up and rearranged, to better suit their most omnipresent threat(s).  If someone comes to me and says, “Sherman, I know nothing about self-defense and I don’t know where to start,” this is the path I would recommend.  Along the same line of thinking, I have a ten-year old boy, and I’ve already started him out on this path, as well.  It could be equated to, “Eagle Scout Curriculum for Adults,” if you really want to break it down.  It is a path of study that aims to make the student a better person, with more utility to themselves and their environment, than the average civilian.


The best way to sum up this category is, to steal a phrase from Tom Givens, “Define the Threat.”  You have to know what you are up against.  How can you possibly defend yourself from something you’ve never experienced?  Most people come from law-abiding, peaceful areas, and have never faced the criminal threat, belly to belly.  So how can you possibly react thoughtfully and effectively in the face of extreme danger if you are stunned into inaction by the presentation of a weapon, extreme physical aggression, intimidation or violence?  As GI JOE used to say, “Knowing is half the battle!”  If you have defined the threat (and this can vary, geographically) then you can have at least somewhat of a blueprint into the kind of criminal (or terror) threat you may face.  Under this same category lives the skills of avoiding criminal threats, and not being a victim, as well as the (now beaten to death term) “situational awareness.”  The prototypical training courses for this area of training are Southnarc’s (SHIVWORKS) “Managing Unknown Conflicts,” or MUC.  Also, Dr. William Aprill’s, “Violent Criminal Actors,” lecture series, as well as his other work regarding sociopathy, and psychopathy.  Tom Givens also teaches many lectures relative to the criminology/street smarts/criminal psychology end, that any student would find value in.

Now that the student has developed their understanding of the kinds of threats that they will face, they will also understand the who, what, and why the criminal element operates the way that they do.  The student will have also begun the process to sharpening their spidey senses, so that hopefully, they can avoid any kind of criminal threat in the first place, through avoidance, deterrence and deescalation (in the words of John Farnam).

Another area of study I would include into this category as electives are skills like, “Defeating Common Restraints,” by Greg Ellifritz, or Mindset Laboratories Lock Picking classes.  Also, other soft skills like verbal judo, persuasion, and any other number of things that the THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER can find useful in their practice.  I would also recommend that, “simple,” life hacks be included here, such as operating a dry chemical fire extinguisher, or understanding how to use public transportation, like the bus, or subway (Hilary).  Skills that are simple, but not-familiar to the user can create bedlam if they are not practiced.  Being in the middle of a grease fire in your kitchen isn’t the time to realize that you haven’t unboxed or read your fire extinguisher’s instruction manual.  It also bears mention that, “addressing terror threats,” and, “surviving an active killer/spree killer,” are also now areas of knowledge that everyone can benefit from.

Lastly, physical preparedness is important, because you cannot rescue your own butt or your family if you have a heart attack or stroke out, because you have no exercise capacity.  Also, physical preparedness makes training for any other physical skill easier.  Shooting, fighting, wrestling, are all physical skills. So be ready for the challenge!


I’m not talking about dodging car jackers and flash-mob rioters with your car here, (although that WOULD be a, “DEFENSIVE DRIVING ELECTIVE”) but simple defensive driving.  It is darn near impossible to drive anywhere these days, without seeing a legion of hapless fools behind the wheel of their car, completely oblivious to the massive, thousands of pounds of moving metal and plastic around them, because they are so involved in talking on their phone, or (even worse) texting someone on their phone!  If you spend any degree of time in a motor vehicle, you could stand to learn more about being a better driver.  As I’ve said in past articles, your state’s driver testing doesn’t give you any of the knowledge you need to be a good driver…it just gives you enough information to be the least skilled and knowledgeable driver allowed by law.  You are literally at the command of a 2500-10000 pound cannonball when you are behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, but many of the folks in the concealed carry crowd are far more concerned about the outcomes and intricacies of directing a 115 grain bullet around their locale.

After you have a good command on defensive driving skills, THEN skills specifically relative to vehicle defense can make more sense.  Having been in a vehicular defense situation, I can tell you that it is far easier with less hassle altogether, to simply drive out of a ambush, car jacking, or aggressive driver (road rage) scenario.  I was fortunate in that I learned a great deal of defensive driving training (also EVOC and EVAP) from my time in the fire service, as well as while working as an armored car crewman.  If you can drive a 20 ton firetruck, defensively, at speed with lights and sirens, you can most certainly negotiate rush hour in a Toyota Camry.  There are many places where regular folks can learn how to drive defensively, and I just last week I noticed that the local Subaru dealership has a program where they teach people to drive their products more efficiently and carefully.  Well done Subaru!  There are local driving schools, which also offer additional training to drivers, regardless of skill level.  Not many of these schools will seem, “tactical,” or teach you how to drive like Jason Bourne.  But really, how often would you need, “those,” skills?  I’d be far more concerned about learning how to drive actively, alertly, and with a great deal of respect for the physics at work in your own car and the other cars on the road.  Most people DON’T understand the danger that they face in their cars.  The NUMBER ONE cause of motor vehicle collisions is people not looking in the direction that they are traveling in.  Training can correct these errors in judgement and technique, and make you prepared to handle the modern roadway.  “VIP Driver,” or, “Executive Protection Driver,” courses could be thought of as elective skills in this category, to give the student and even broader range of expertise.


If I could add anything to the national modern High School educational standards, it would be to teach every student the current, “First Responder,” curriculum.  When I was in Junior High (in the 1980’s), I was required to take a very gory (complete with 1970’s, practical special effects laden, reel to reel films) “Practical First Aid,” class that also included CPR, which I used to great effect, on several occasions, prior to getting more training in emergency medical skills.  Unfortunately, not many schools have these kinds of opportunities available for students.

While not everyone has the need to drive (like people that live in big cities and rely on mass transit) EVERYONE who has blood running through their body needs emergency medical skills.  Whether for self-rescue, or for helping someone else, emergency medical skills are VITAL.  Have you ever watched someone die, at your feet, because you couldn’t/didn’t have the skills or knowledge to help them?  The regret and self-doubt that would come from such an incident would be a terrible burden to bear.

Furthermore, if you are planning on spending any amount of time on the shooting range, you NEED to have emergency medical skills.  As much as it eats me up, there are IGNORANT, CARELESS people that are free to practice unmitigated idiocy on the shooting ranges of America, simply because they’ve paid their $20 and want to shoot.  I try to go to ranges during the, “slow,” hours so that I can work in relative peace, and not have, “neighbors,” of dubious skill levels bracketing me, and muzzling me with loaded guns.  Although it doesn’t happen frequently, these boobs will often shoot themselves, or their buddy, via a negligent discharge.  Of course, as a citizen you have no duty to render aid to strangers, although you could if you wanted.  If they inadvertently shot someone that YOU brought to the range, then you would most definitely want to know how to address that kind of injury.

It goes without saying that everyone should know how to perform single-rescuer CPR, and also 2 person CPR, the Heimlich Maneuver, as well as run an AED (automated external defibrillator).  Also, learning how to use a tourniquet, wound packing and pressure bandage can be the difference between being useful, and being a shocked onlooker.  I’ll always pick the option of being useful.  Elective areas of study in emergency medical skills are huge, and include emergency wound closure, rescue techniques, emergency veterinary skills (for our furry family members), dealing with environmental emergencies (like heatstroke, hypothermia and animal/reptile/insect bites and stings), and a myriad of other topics.  There is LITERALLY an entire industry dedicated to providing medical CE, and nearly all of it is open source.  I even know a guy that will teach the prepared CIVILIAN DEFENDER about the most mundane of topics, including addressing common dental emergencies!  Literally, if you can think of it, you can find a course on it.


Attend any gun-centric self-defense course, and there will be, “that guy,” who asks every conceivable hypothetical under the sun, relative to the scenarios he has thought of in his head.  Some of them are ridiculous and fantastical.  Some are plausible.  Unless you’ve thought through these problems, and applied a rigorous interpretation of the laws of your state, relative to self-defense, you will find yourself horribly behind the 8-ball once you’re in a life-or-death situation.  When you are shocked, scared and not able to think clearly, that isn’t the time to think through complex, multi-faceted problems!  There are a few training courses that can adequately prepare you for the legal planning, “rules of engagement,” for a violent encounter, and for the legal aftermath of a justified self-defense event.

Three organizations I know of that can prepare the student for the legal battle are the Massad Ayoob Group, Andrew Branca (The Law of Self-Defense) and Marty Hayes at the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network.  This is an often overlooked area of CIVILIAN DEFENDER preparedness training, but think about it…if you DO need to defend yourself, you will most definitely be placed under close legal scrutiny, in both the criminal and civil legal system.  In our current day and age, there is no, “free pass,” regardless of the, “righteousness,” or, “clear cut,” nature of YOUR particular self-defense case.  In order to survive the legal battle with your finances, reputation and sanity intact, you have to make specific preparations, mentally, to be able to defend yourself within the bounds of your state law.  Your carry permit class doesn’t count…that information is so basic in scope that it cannot possibly cover the myriad of information that you WILL BE expected to know, if you must physically defend yourself.  So knowing that information, long before you need it, and have a LEGALLY VERIFIABLE record of that information, will prove invaluable when you have to defend yourself.


Not all self-defense problems are lethal force situations.  Some, while you may be authorized to use force to defend yourself, you will have to use your bare hands, or some other means to do so.  In cases like this, having a less lethal option, like pepper spray, a club of some sort (like a baton, sap or blackjack) or an electronic control device like a taser, could be a viable option.  Not everyone has the stature or the physical prowess to mount an adequate physical defense, so a less lethal option is a MUST for these people.  Even for the physically able, a simple canister of pepper spray on the keychain can allow the user to escape from a situation that they might have otherwise had to slug their way out of, eyeball to eyeball, with their attacker.  Options are good things to have in physical altercations.  Adjuncts that can allow the user to simply escape unscathed, are REALLY good alternatives to have at your command.  Chuck Haggard, a retired Topeka, KS Police Officer, is an outstanding national level trainer that teaches a very thorough and useful pepper spray course.  Many shooting ranges also offer pepper spray training courses, as well.


You thought we’d never get here, didn’t you?  The carry permit class shouldn’t be thought of by the astute student as anything more than a, “check in the box.”  What training value does the permit class hold?  None.  What practice benefit (meaning what skills does the course teach that you can take home and practice on your own) does the carry permit class give you?  NONE.  The ONLY reason you take the class is so that you can get the permit.  That is unless you live in a Constitutional Carry state, in which case you don’t need a carry permit.  Until the rest of the country catches up with those few CC states, we are stuck with permits.  So treat the permit requirement for what it is…a government regulation hoop that you must jump through.  Don’t look at it as preparation of any kind, for a self-defense emergency.


You will need to find a handgun skills and tactics class that teaches you more than just blazing away at a piece of paper on the range.  You need to take a class that will teach you the SKILLS you need to run the gun in the broadest range of common circumstances.  Notice I say COMMON.  That means that you DO need to learn how safely and quickly draw the pistol, fire it with both hands (or one hand), reload the pistol and fix malfunctions that the pistol may incur.  All of this doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and although the skills can be learned singularly, they need to be practiced in context, so a class that requires the student to, “think,” through problems with a gun in their hand is desirable.  There are a number of classes and instructors that teach this type of, “integrated,” curriculum (some which include Force-On-Force classes), but a few are Greg Ellifritz (Active Response Training), Chris Fry (MDTS), Dave Spaulding (Handgun Combatives), John Farnam (DTI), Craig Douglas (Shivworks), Marty Hayes (Firearms Academy of Seattle), Rob Pincus (ICE Training), Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs (Hardwired Tactical Shooting), Chuck Haggard (Agile Training and Consulting), Massad Ayoob (Massad Ayoob Group), James Yeager (Tactical Response), Paul Sharp (Sharp Defense), Claude Werner (THE TACTICAL PROFESSOR), and Tom Givens (Rangemaster).

Whichever class you chose, make sure that it is preparing you for the threats you are likely to face.  This is where, “context,” is important.  You are a regular person…you aren’t a law enforcement officer or a direct action military operative.  You are just an average Joe or average JoeAnne trying to get home from work.  So find a course that caters to YOUR demographic.  I’m not saying DON’T take the long range precision rifle class, or the Urban Carbine course, I’m just saying put a sound, solid pistol class in front of it.  Besides, when the day comes you will need a gun to defend yourself, what are the chances that you’ll have your carbine handy?  If you are one of those people that believes that you will, “fight my way to my rifle/shotgun with my pistol,” then you are probably mistaken.  If you have to run from danger to get to your rifle, why stop?  KEEP RUNNING.  Remember, as the CIVILIAN DEFENDER, we aren’t looking for a fight; we are just reacting to the fight that has been brought to us.  There is no shame in escaping without a shot fired, and if that is a workable solution, it should be attempted!  However, if you are faced with the scenario of having to defend yourself, the statistics reflect that it will most likely be outside of your home, and it will be in a, “street crime,” scenario like a strong arm robbery or carjacking.  You may truly have no avenue of escape, and you might have to shoot your attacker.  So, as much as we’d all like to have the rifle or shotgun in hand, since it stops fights much more decisively anyway, chances are, we’ll be armed with only a lowly pistol.  So plan accordingly, train appropriately and pack accordingly!


This final category of training prepares the THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER to do a few things.  ONE, defend their gun from being taken away from them.  This is not as easy as it sounds!  Second, it prepares the user for situations where their gun isn’t available (like on an airplane) or where the gun isn’t appropriate due to the totality of the circumstances.  Also, in this category of training would be fixed or folding blade knifework, if you chose to carry one and they are legal in your area.  There are a number of combatives trainers that are proponents of the multi-disciplinary approach, including Michael Janich (Martial Blade Concepts), Craig Douglas (Shivworks), Paul Sharp (Sharp Defense), and Greg Ellifritz (Active Response Training), Cecil Burch (Immediate Action Combatives), and Larry Lindenman (Point-Driven Training).

Thanks for reading this far.  I know it’s a big pill to swallow, but I really feel that this core curriculum, or, “Undergraduate Degree,” makes up the basis for the well-prepared and capable, “THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER.”  I listed the areas of study in the rank that I did, out of the probability that they will most likely be needed or used.  Sure, some of them could be argued to be of equal acuity, but I think that you get my point.  We are FAR MORE likely to need to avoid an inattentive driver or an aggressive driver, than we are to shoot a carjacker.  And many of the skill areas act as prophylactic medicine towards entering into the shooting problem.  For example, using your street smarts skills you acquired, you recognize that the three youths across the street, in front of the bank you are walking to, are in fact, gang members from a local set of the Latin Kings.  And thus, it might be smart to find a different bank branch, or at least wait until they abate the area.  What are they doing there?  Who are they there to meet/rob/murder/ambush/have lunch with?  Let the police worry about them, and you go elsewhere.  Get in your car and drive attentively and alertly to an area where the threat profile is lower.

Also, if someone moves through the skill areas as I have ascribed, they may decide, at any point along the curriculum, that they don’t want to go any further.  For example, someone might attend a, “Violent Criminal Actor,” course from Dr. William Aprill, and decide that they are going to move to a privately policed, gated community, that is 25 miles from the nearest urban housing project.  There, they can live a life of, “relative,” security (at least in their mind).  Furthermore, someone might take the permit class, and then decide that there is no way that they can fire a gun at another living human being.  In that case, at least they have a modicum of awareness training, as well as improved driving skills and medical skills, and possibly also have a good command of pepper spray skills for their own self-defense.  They may skip the firearms sections and go straight to defensive tactics, to round out their, “degree.”  In situations where people are facing a higher threat profile, they may have to obtain their core skills in any order possible, starting with the gun skills and then branch out to the other areas, since they MAY be under a higher probability of needing to use the gun to defend themselves.

I hope that I have maybe clarified some direction for some of you, into the skills that you really need to have at your command, when emergencies arise.  And maybe for some of you that have acquired these skills, but done it in an erratic, spontaneous, “willy-nilly,” way (looking at myself here), when someone you know asks what the best way for them to get, “educated,” in matters of personal defense and preparedness, you’ll have somewhat of a framework to give to them.  It doesn’t have to be exactly like what I am recommending, but remember that a good THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER education will prepare the student for the things that they are MOST LIKELY to encounter.  These days, you are more likely to encounter a violent criminal attack than you are a snake bite, shark attack or lightning strike.  However, you are FAR MORE LIKELY to encounter an aggressive or inattentive driver, or someone choking in the foodcourt or having a heart attack at the gym, than you are to have to shoot someone trying to rob you.  I hope that this helps clarify your thinking, or inspire new ideas to better direct your efforts.

Thank you for reading.

-Dr. House