Mindset: The Most Important Part of Self-Defense with Ken Hackathorn

With all the craziness going on right now, it’s a good time to refocus on the basics of self-defense. World-renowned firearms trainer Ken Hackathorn discusses what he considers the most important part of self-defense in the video linked below: the self-defense mindset.

The most important part of self-defense. Ken Hackathorn
Ken Hackathorn says a proper mindset is the most important thing in self-defense.

Ken notes that people tell him they want to be “a real good shooter.” But your most important asset is a proper mindset. He breaks mindset down into three categories, listed in order of importance.

The Most Important Categories of a Proper Self-Defense Mindset

Situational Awareness

“You need to be aware of what’s in your environment. What’s going on around you.” Everyone seems to walk around looking at their phone, meaning they might be aware of what’s happening in a two-foot radius. They’re oblivious to everything else. “Phones are the devil when it comes to situational awareness,” says Ken. “If you’re any place where you can be compromised, don’t take [your phone] out of your pocket.”

People on street corner distracted by their phones
Do you think any of these folks are really aware of what’s happening around them? (sociable.co)

You have to be aware of everything happening around you. “Keep your head on a swivel.” Ken then gives several good examples before saying, “Situational awareness is so important that, if you are dialed in, and you see something wrong…you can leave. It’s cultivated behavior, and if you don’t work on it, you’ll never get it.”

Decision Making Skills

“This is where people really fall apart,” Ken observes. People may perceive a problem or threat but can’t decide what to do. “You’ve got to develop the ability to make a decision quickly.” If you can’t decide, stop and go back to where you came from. Don’t continue into a dangerous area while trying to come up with a plan.

woman followed in the dark by potential assailant
Overly dramatic, but perhaps this wasn’t the best decision. (storyblocks.com)

“Under stress, the conscious analytical brain doesn’t work very well,” Ken says. The only things that work are reflexive. Things you’ve practiced in the past like turning around and going the other direction. Or just stopping before you get into a bad place.

“Decision-making means I’ve got a plan…doesn’t have to be exotic. Doesn’t have to be complex.” It can be as simple as “I’m going to move to cover,” or “I’m not going to get out of my car.”

Ken refers to another video published by the Wilson Combat channel by Paul Howe called Hostile or Friendly? Target Discrimination. He strongly suggests you watch it. I did and I agree. Excellent video.

Combat Marksmanship

Ken notes that this is what gun guys want to hang their hat on, but he ranks it as the least important of the three. “The most important thing you can do is not to get into a situation.” There’s a good chance you’ve already screwed up the first two categories if you get to combat marksmanship.

self defense - drawing pistol from holster
If you get to this point, chances are you messed up rules 1 and 2. (guns.com)

Of course, that’s not always the case, and Ken says that “Life sometimes deals you a bad card and you may be faced with combat marksmanship. In the real world, you don’t have to be a great shooter. You need to be a good shooter. Fights are not won by greats. They’re won by people who are good. It takes situational awareness [and] it definitely takes quick decision-making skills. Finally, practice your skills to the point where you’re competent and capable.”

Remember What’s Important

“Think about it,” Ken says, “And remember, how well you shoot and what you shoot is really secondary to Rule 1, Situational Awareness, and Rule 2, Decision Making.” I encourage you to watch the linked video. Ken goes into a lot of detail and gives some very good examples. It’s worth your time.

Things seem chaotic right now, so get your head right. Your chance of getting into a bad situation is never very high, but you can still minimize it by practicing the three rules Ken lays out. Remember, “keep your head on a swivel.”

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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