Paul Howe: Combat Mindset
Media Format: DVD ($9.99) or streaming video ($1.99-$15.99)
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
For this month’s review, I studied an older video produced by Panteao Productions in 2012 that features Paul Howe. This instructor has been influencing military, police, and armed citizen training for many years. His experience includes 20 years in the U.S. Army, ten of which were in Special Operations, including the Battle of Mogadishu and other combat. He’s written several books, and teaches through his company Combat Shooting and Tactics (CSAT https://www.combatshootingandtactics.com/ ) .
Peripherally aware of his books and videos, I had not paid his work the attention it deserves until last year when Howe spoke out very publicly about law enforcement response to the Uvalde, TX school shooting. Reminded that I had always intended to study his teachings, I chose his video on combat mindset over his technique and tactical instruction for which he is also known. After all, not everyone can apply written or verbal instruction to physical skills, but every one of us can benefit from an honest evaluation of our mental and emotional readiness to defend ourselves and our loved ones.
Howe starts the video by acknowledging the need to be willing to “take a life to save a life,” driven by “a strong belief and desire.” Know the reasons that make your survival vital. For example, when he was deployed to Somalia, his need to be a part of his 6-month-old daughter’s life was “forefront in my mind during combat operations as a reason to come back.” Lest the viewer fail to understand that they may be called upon to defend themselves and others, he emphasizes the existence of evil, adding that it keeps coming back if each generation does not proactively fight it. He uses graphic video of horrific killings to cement that fact in the viewer’s mind.
The video excerpts also illustrate the terrible results of passivity. In one clip, close to a dozen victims are face down on the ground but none fight back while one is beheaded, then the rest methodically shot in the back of the head. In another, a chainsaw is used to behead two men sitting against a wall, which Howe identifies as a “cartel on cartel” killing from our southern border. There are also excerpts from a docudrama about the murders of the Columbine, CO students. Are the video excerpts too gruesome to justify their inclusion? Different people will have different levels of revulsion, and the video clips are preceded by warnings. Howe explains he doesn’t use the video for shock value but to emphasize that “there are people out there in this world who will do bad things to you … [and to] help you understand the savagery that is in this world.”
Having established the necessity, Howe defines the combat mindset as a person’s ability to go into harm’s way against overwhelming odds and focus on a task at hand, to solve one problem at a time. Defining what has to be done to stop horrific violence using methodical, previously thought-out tactics, he shows that situations where fear would paralyze many can be overcome. There are four elements feeding into a positive combat mindset, he teaches: mental, physical, technical, and tactical. Each is defined in the video’s format of short 2–4-minute chapters that move quickly from one facet of the topic to another. He covers a lot of ground. Understand that the video covers much more than I can highlight.
Your mental preparation starts by defining what you will use force to fight, and what circumstances will trigger how and when you will take action, a decision that is not uniform from one person to another. The mental trigger must be “worked out before game day,” so, for example, when it is time to talk, you talk but if it is time to shoot, you shoot. In addition to live-fire classes, Howe recommends visualization, explaining, “You can go through these scenarios in your mind...Fight the battle in your mind, before you ever get there.”
Fear is a “major obstacle” resulting from lack of confidence, or doubt, and not trusting your training. If your training is substandard, correct the deficit, he urges. Replace fear with the ability to take the fight to the assailant. “When you do that, there will not be room for fear in your mind, because you are thinking about positive solutions to the tactical problems that are coming up.” Replace negative thoughts like fear of dying with positive solutions to the technical problems, he urges. Achieve the solution step by step, by being deliberate and methodical and with the “tenacity to see it through.” Don’t quit just because you believe you have solved the problem, he adds later. Move to a stronger, more tactically advantageous position and look for what else needs to be addressed. “Look for work!” is a favorite phrase in the Combat Mindset video.
Be prepared to be injured, Howe continues, because you can be hurt going into the fight, during the fight or while ending the fight. Acknowledge that you could be injured and carry things like tourniquets and combat gauze. “You are the best first responder for any medical problem you encounter,” he states.
You need to learn to keep fighting even if you are injured. Don’t stop! In training it is important to keep working through the problem if something goes wrong. Instead of becoming angry, “Develop controlled aggression,” Howe teaches. This is no time to ride an emotional roller coaster. A neutral, workman’s attitude is most effective in a fight. When things go wrong, sort them out. Make peace with God in advance, then focus on the task at hand. You have got to convince yourself that you are going to survive. He adds later that the mindset must not be passive or neutral or reactive but instead be proactive and aggressive.
The value of physical fitness arises repeatedly, and particularly for private citizens, being fit may make it possible to retreat before fighting is the only option left. He points out the relationship between skill and fitness because you take away more from training when you’re not physically exhausted. You need to “Put your focus on the training, instead of your discomfort.” Train in various weather conditions, at day or night, in your gear so you know you can “move through obstacles...fight or retreat” with your defense weaponry. He later advocates ten minutes of dry practice several times per week for each system – rifle, pistol or hands and knives. “If you do that several times a week, that will keep your skill set up,” he says, and for marksmanship, it assures getting that crucial first-round hit on target.
The best tactics, Howe continues, are a small set of plans that will work across a “whole bunch of situations.” His battle plan? The hardest shot to make is on a moving human being, he notes, so if he can make the shot he will, but if not, he will move to cover, “then come out and make the tactical shot.” In today’s urban environment, knowing how to work around the angles of buildings is critical. He dislikes the quick peak method of searching, an opinion he supports with a video of police officers who were not ready to fight and were shot by a single aggressor. “If it is worth looking at, it is worth looking at with a gun,” he teaches, then plays a video clip of a team using hardcover effectively. Good use of cover gives you more time to think and your assailant less time to think, he states.
The chapter specifically addressing preparation to treat physical injury was already well-set-up by earlier mentions of the importance of carrying tourniquets, combat gauze and other things to preserve life until emergency medical care is available. Howe stresses how quickly blood loss can be fatal, recommending that the viewer practice applying tourniquets with left or right hand, on oneself and practice on another person.
He talks about the realities of injury within a team – for private citizens that translates to family or associates. If the threat is active and harming people, your team needs to stay focused on stopping the attack, so one who cannot proceed, perhaps due to a broken leg or other disability, may be temporarily left behind. For many in the private sector, that is a reality check that may have never factored into self-defense strategies families and other groups have discussed. Each person needs to carry their own supplies and one who can’t go forward to solve the problem shoulders their own initial care. Get yourself to a safer position, treat yourself, and “look for work” that you can do, Howe directs, until someone can return and help you. If evacuating a wounded group member for medical treatment, strip them of their weapons and gear so there is nothing that can hurt the medical crew, he teaches.
The Combat Mindset video moved so quickly from one element to another that I was a little surprised when Howe started his final summation in which he urges never quitting, practice with “the big four” – rifle, pistol, hands and knives, plus medical. Maintain physical fitness. Keep tactics and techniques simple and be prepared “to kill with ruthless efficiency and do it on demand.”
Training enthusiasts will find Combat Mindset a good reminder of many fundamental principles; anyone who watches it, regardless of experience, will find it clarifies why fighting evil is necessary. Learn more at https://www.makeready.tv/en/watch/tutorial/details/make-ready-with-paul-howe-combat-mindset/5462 .