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The Ethical Warrior: What does it mean to be tough?

It seems reasonable to view a combination of increasingly-challenging training and practical experiences to be the route to toughness, but what does it mean to be tough?

Let’s discuss some practical aspects of being an Ethical Warrior. We defined Combat Mindset in a previous article as “an attitude of awareness, confidence, and purpose — awareness of the situation, confidence in our physical skills, and clarity of our ethical and legal purpose.”

We’ve explored this mindset as the combination of physical training, mental toughness, and tactical awareness clarified by ethical life protecting values. We can readily imagine objective standards for physical fitness, tactical skill, and ethical knowledge.

We generally think of mentally “tough” people as those able to endure difficult situations calmly and effectively without suffering serious psychological damage.

Potentially Unhelpful Reactions
It seems reasonable to view a combination of increasingly-challenging training and practical experiences to be the route to toughness. But, what does it mean to be tough? How do you know you’ll be tough enough before the critical incident happens?

Human beings are emotional. While most professionals keep their emotions under control during routine events, the prospect of physical conflict can quickly upset one’s composure.

Excitement, anger, and fear are all natural — but potentially unhelpful reactions — to physical danger. Is toughness the ability to rid oneself of these emotions? Is a warrior (protector) mindset an emotional blank slate? We think the answer lies in the concept of “seeing the space.”

What do we mean by seeing the space?

The best way to understand the concept is to begin in the tactical realm. In any physical encounter there is a safest place to be. There may not be a completely safe place to be, but there are safer places and a safest place in any given situation.

We define “safest” as the physical and mental spot where you are simultaneously the most tactically effective and in the least danger from your opponent. Interestingly, this spot is usually safer for the opponent too, inviting them to surrender peacefully. Because conflicts are dynamic, the safest place changes moment by moment as the details of the struggle unfold.

“Seeing the space” means identifying where the safest spot is — the space where you get the tactical advantage — and maneuvering through a safe path to that spot.

This principle holds true in any encounter from a verbal confrontation to a firefight, and on through to military tactics.

For example, imagine an interview subject becoming agitated while standing on a sidewalk. There is a place to stand where you can physically control the subject before the subject can touch you.

This is difficult to visualize without a physical demonstration, but trust us, it’s there. In this spot you are the safest and the subject is also safe if the agitation subsides and no control is necessary.

You don’t want a potentially compliant opponent to resist because you have not made it safe enough for him or her to surrender. Of course, finding the best tactical space is easier said than done.

You need to train yourself to know what the safe space looks like and be able to see it while talking, surveying the surroundings, and evaluating the subject’s dangerousness.

These distractions won’t disappear, but you need to see around and between them to find the safe space.

Think about a firefight. A position of cover from which you can return fire from relative safety is probably the safest spot. The goal is to see the path of maneuver to the safest cover position while still being aware of the shooter, bystanders and obstacles.

The distractions in this case are even harder to ignore, but you can train yourself to see between the distractions to find the safest place from which you can protect yourself and others.

Applying the Model to the Mind
What does all this have to do with “mental toughness?”

Well, just as you can see between physical distractions to find the safest place to be, you can “see” between emotional distractions to find the best mental outlook.

Most sane people will never eliminate anger, fear or excitement from their mind in a conflict, but those emotions don’t use up all the capacity of your brain.

The goal is to see the spaces between the emotions that will allow you to apply your physical training, tactical knowledge and ethical clarity.

How do you train yourself to mentally see around and between the distractions of your emotions? The place to start is with tactical and combat mindset training.

We offer both at Resolution Group International, but there are many credible programs through law enforcement academies and training companies across the country. The key is to be aware of the emotions but not focus on them.

Instead of trying not to feel emotions, accept them and look between and beyond them to compose a clearer mental picture. With practice, the mental and physical practice of seeing the space can become a unified skill.

Law enforcement officers are human beings often called on to do super-human things. Through insight, training, and experience, human emotions can become an asset or at least not a liability.

The concept of “seeing the space” has infinite applications. Using this framework to sharpen mental focus under stress can have important practical benefits. Think about seeing the space the next time you are in a stressful situation.

So, if you are able to find the spaces between and beyond the emotions, what do you see?

You may just see a creative solution that saves lives — and that is the Ethical Warrior’s number-one job.

Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International, subject matter expert for Combatives and Warrior Ethics for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, and trains police officers in de-escalation skills.

Bruce J. Gourlie is a former U.S. Army infantry officer, a retired FBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge for Intelligence and currently the director of security in a large healthcare system.

Correspondence can be sent to both authors by emailing Hoban & Gourlie.