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Courage is a choice.

February 28, 2018

By the time you read this, I would be surprised if there are many in America, let alone among the readership here, who are not aware of the fact that, during the recent mass killing at a Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, several deputies of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, including at least one School Resource Officer (SRO)—whose primary duty, at least in theory, was to protect those young people of his community—stood outside, even as local municipal police officers moved into the building.

Initially, it was pretty quickly known that one deputy, the SRO, had never even attempted to enter the building, once the gunfire began. Quickly—and righteously—he was labeled a coward. Just as quickly however, more than a few notable people, across the Internet and media—including some with stellar combat records themselves—jumped in to the fray in his defense, pointing out such things as their experiences having seen other brave men finally run out of nerve, and etc.

My response to this is two-fold, as we will see below.

Rather quickly though, the news leaked out that it wasn’t just the SRO, but two or three other BCSO deputies besides, also stood outside, even after local municipal officers arrived on scene, and initiated entry into the building. Now, it was pointed out that perhaps, after all, it was simply that they were following department policy, to wait for SWAT in such instances. As more information comes to light, this does appear to be the case, along with a host of other egregious wrongdoings on the part of BCSO that—if they did not lead to this event, then, at the very least, contributed to it, and made the outcome far more gruesome than it might have been.

I am not going to waste a lot of time, effort, or bandwidth discussing the niðing behavior of the deputies. They are all cowards, and department policy be damned. You do not take the gifts—pay and benefits—of your community, in return for the expected duty of protecting them and—especially—their children, and then, at the moment the bell tolls for you, decide department policy and officer safety trumps those obligations. Doing so makes you an oathbreaker and a coward, by any reasonable definition.

I am not particularly a fan of “the police,” but neither am I a “cop hater.” I count a number of sworn officers amongst my friends, and at least two within my innangarð, making them oathsworn brothers, rather than simply friends. I understand the importance of “officer safety,” and I don’t begrudge a peace officer ensuring his safety, within reason. However, like myself, and every other man I know who puts a gun on their belt in the morning, and steps out, ostensibly ready to provide protection for those around him—especially if you are receiving compensation for said service—deciding that “officer safety” trumps doing your duty is the definition of cowardice.

Again though, I am not spending my supper time with my family on writing about them. Instead, I am going to discuss some things, from my own experiences and observations, that relate to this, in the context of the prepared citizen, recognizing our current position in the normal cycles of history.

To whit: courage is a choice. It has been said that courage is like the fuel tank on a vehicle, and eventually, if you use enough of it, you simply run out. I don’t know how perfectly accurate that is, but it is a good enough analogy for the moment. Here is the thing about that analogy though, and the point of this: like a fuel tank, you can refill the reservoir before it runs out—or even before it runs low. Running “out” of courage—especially in an occupation or role that demands physical and moral courage—is no different than running out of gas…it is a choice, and rather simply remedied, by topping off the tank regularly. If you read this blog regularly, I will take the liberty of assuming that you have chosen to identify yourself as someone who intends—when the time arises—stand to protect your innangarð, however you define it. This article is intended then, to discuss HOW we might make ourselves more ready to do so, without becoming niðings, when the moment comes.

I have previously written at least one article with Aristotle’s famed quote, “We become what we do,” as the title, and it is a line I have mentioned numerous times over the years in my writing. It is a core part of my personal philosophy on life, and has been since my grandfather said it to me decades ago, before I even knew who said it first (seriously, until I was in my thirties, I thought my grandfather had made it up.).

So, what does that have to do with the choice of courage? We are not born intrinsically courageous. If anything, our evolutionary biology programs us to be rather craven, into at least adolescence, as a survival mechanism. Due to our inherent physiological shortcomings as “hairless apes,” who lack fangs or claws, until we are old enough to manufacture and wield tools, natural selection has made it the role of the adults of our tribe/clan/pack/community, to protect us from harm.

For most of humanity’s existence, the majority of humans have understood that those “bumps in the night” are not just random noises. SOMETHING made those noises, and sometimes those things had claws, fangs, and a taste for the succulence of human flesh. It was understood that the role of any man who considered himself such, was to go out and hunt down and slaughter those things that might harm the young of his tribe or clan or community. It was the duty of every woman, no matter how domesticated she might be; no matter how happy she might be keeping the hearth clean and welcoming, to stand ready to pick up her husband’s extra shield and spear, and stand in the door of their hovel, hut, or fortress, and slaughter those beasts that came looking for the flesh of her offspring, when her husband was absent.

I doubt few Americans, even today, do not have—buried somewhere in their brain—an image of a brave pioneer woman, nuzzleloading rifle in hand, standing in the door of a small frontier cabin, ready to shoot down any marauding intruder, bear, wildcat, wolf, or man.

The problem in America, as with every other great civilization in history, is that we—like our forebears—abrogated that responsibility to a selected corps of “protectors,” in favor of doing less dangerous, “more rewarding” tasks like banking and arguing before a courtroom, fixing someone’s plumbing, or working on their computer problems. Even my farmer neighbors, those stalwart representatives of our yeoman agrarian past, when a predator stalks their livestock, are as likely to call in the game warden as they are to simply shoot, shovel, and shut up.

This then, is the most important lesson given the American people by the niðings of Broward County—and perhaps the only thing of worth they’ve done in their lives, if I had to guess—and it is one that many of us have been telling people for a very long time: no one is coming to save you. You are responsible for your safety, your family’s safety, and the safety of your community (and if you think any of those stand alone, then you are a fool).

How then, do we ensure that, when the bell tolls for us, we make the “right” choice, and choose courage over cowardice? We begin by ensuring we have filled the fuel tank, and then we top it off at regular intervals, rather than letting the needle ride the “E.” We choose courage—moral and physical—in our every activity, every day.

My experience—and every one with similar backgrounds that I have spoken to about this subject has agreed wholeheartedly—is that, in the moment, running toward the sound of the guns—real or metaphorical—was not particularly difficult. The choice had already been made, and the pattern of behavior set in place through repetition.

In a nutshell, making the choice of courage, rather than cowardice is as simple as “always choose the harder path.” We are, at our most base, lazy. Again, it is evolutionary biology at work: the less we do, the easier it is to store calories for the winter starving time. Getting out of bed, in the morning is, at a very basic level, an act of courage. We are accepting that we might expend calories that will not be replaced, which could—ultimately—result in death from starvation.

That’s not the choice I’m discussing though.

It’s not a particularly widely known fact about me, and certainly not something anyone expects to hear from me, given my professional background, but I am horribly, deathly afraid of heights. I am scared to climb a ladder, or stand on a table. I don’t even particularly like standing on a chair, to change a lightbulb. I had two particularly bad falls, as a very young child, both of which resulted in broken bones. This resulted in the very natural aversion to repeating the experience.

Despite this though, I managed, for almost a decade, to remain on airborne status in very active special operations units, as well as fast-roping out of helicopters, and even spent a significant amount of time, in and out of the service, as a recreational rock climber. I have roofed several multi-story buildings, both with and without fall protection in place.

Now, ultimately, military parachuting is—statistically—a remarkably safe activity. Since 2004, the US Special Operations Command has had a mere five static-line fatalities, and only 16 deaths from free-fall accidents. When considered in light of the number of successful landings that occur in any given year within the SOF community, that makes dying in a parachuting accident somewhat less likely than dying from being struck by lightning, and significantly less than dying in a traffic accident driving across town.

Despite that, I’m seldom scared of driving, and I don’t have a qualm in the world about being outdoors in a thunderstorm. Fear is not rational. Not succumbing to fear however, I posit is entirely rational. Courage is a choice.

How then, do we make the decision to charge the sound of the guns, when it is our time to leap into the breach? The same way I made the decision to overcome my terror of high places, and not only volunteer to go on airborne status, but to remain there. The same way I can stand on the top of a parking garage in a metro area, and look down, without having a panic attack: we choose to not be cowards.

I have discussed it in the past in articles, and it is often derided as posturing, but I stand by the statement, as have other experienced people in the training industry: hard, uncomfortable, potentially dangerous training and activities, force us to fill our courage reservoirs. Brazilian jiu-jitsu training builds physical courage. It is distinctly frightening to be choked into unconsciousness. At an evolutionary level, we understand that being unconscious leaves us susceptible to whatever someone else wants to do to us. Being put into a position where we know only the goodwill of our training partner is stopping them from rendering us helpless or even dead, is frightening. Putting yourself in that position, by choice, is choosing courage.

Pain is scary. It is our body’s way of screaming at us, “Danger! Danger! Danger!” At an unconscious level, we KNOW getting punched in the head is an invitation to being rendered unconscious, just like being choked out. Getting repeatedly punched in boxing training is frightening. Especially against a significantly more skilled sparring partner or coach, when we are basically powerless to stop the assault, our brain registers that we are at their mercy, until we learn more and advance. Putting yourself into that position, long enough to learn and advance, requires making the choice to be courageous.

Making the courageous choice is more than that though. Making the choice of courage is also about moral courage. It is standing by your convictions, even when others around you succumb. Most people talk about this, yet every day, we see people succumb to pressure to bend the rules or violate their own beliefs. Like courage, cowardice is made up of small choices, and the more small choices to the wrong that we make, the easier it becomes to make wrong choices when the stakes actually matter.

An example of this I’ve seen a lot, is when someone who brags constantly on their honesty and integrity discovers that a store clerk gave them too much change. Rather than going back and giving back the incorrect extra, they chalk it up to “my good luck.” Well, that’s fine, but it puts the lie to their integrity, doesn’t it? They engaged in a commercial transaction of X amount of money in return for goods or services, but the other party made a mistake, and rather than be honest to the contract, they took advantage of it (and yes, for the record, I make it a point of returning to the cashier when this happens, if I don’t notice it at the register and repair it then. Courage is a choice.). Moral courage is as important as physical courage, if not more so.

I got stopped one evening recently. When the officer approached the vehicle, he asked if I knew why he stopped me. Since I knew I wasn’t speeding, I assumed it was because I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, and informed him as much. He laughed and said, “Well, no. I didn’t know that. I stopped you because your tail light is out.”

“Well, now you know I wasn’t wearing my seat belt either.”

I didn’t get a ticket for either violation, but he could have written me the ticket and added the seat belt infraction, since I had already admitted it. That’s okay. I certainly wasn’t going to simper and cower, “Gee, no, officer. I have no idea why you stopped me.” (I get stopped for not wearing my seat belt, a lot. Since I don’t ever speed, any time I get stopped, I just assume it’s for that. I KNOW it’s a ticketable offense, and I don’t care. I am willing to accept the consequences of my choice to not wear my seat belt in urban traffic. Courage is a choice.)

When someone uses an excuse like the murder of children to try and rob you of your ability to protect your community, I would offer that, rather than hide behind “it’s my right!” or any other excuse you have been handed by others, choose courage, and simply tell them, “No.” I have reached the point where I no longer engage in debate with those who demand I give up my best weapons to protect my people. I won’t argue with them about the Constitution. I won’t argue statistics with them. I won’t argue the morality of using armed police officers to take guns away from people. I simply tell them, “No.” It is not easy, initially. We all want to be liked and likeable, no matter how misanthropic we try to portray ourselves. We want to reason and rationalize with them, so they will see things from our perspective. Don’t bother. Be willing to be the pariah they want to make you. Courage is a choice. Just say, “No.”

At some point, it is time to accept that you will not change their minds, and compromising is only resulting in more victories for them, so stop compromising, by having their discussions, on their terms. When someone tries to bring up the idea of registration, confiscation, or bans, just say, “No.”

These seem like small, petty things, but they really aren’t. They are deposits in the fuel tank—or savings account, if you will—of courage. Courage is a choice, and everything you do that requires you to exercise physical or moral courage, builds that balance up in your favor.

Cultures of Courage

Ultimately, as in so many other ways, we are social creatures by design. “No man is an island,” as the man said. No matter how well-intentioned you are about making courageous choices, if you surround yourself with cravens, you will make a coward’s choices. You may chalk it up to “department policy,” or “well, everyone is doing it,” but at the end of the day, you are making the choice, and those around you are not only facilitating it, they are encouraging it.

In Forging the Hero, I spent a lot of time explaining the concept of innangarð, and that our tribe/clan/community is defined as those who share our values, as evidenced by shared traditions and customs. If you identify as part of a tribe, or “inner circle of trust,” no matter how lightly, that practices behavior (customs and traditions) that evidence cowardice as a value, then you will succumb to the ease of cowardice.

This is entirely too easy to do in today’s wider society. We are too often not accountable to anyone, and we are bombarded with media and entertainment images of people who succeed because of their lack of integrity and cowardice, rather than in spite of it. It becomes very easy to fall prey to the allure of the easier path. We must then, choose to surround ourselves with people who will hold us accountable. When you tell a story about “getting one over” on a sales clerk, and laugh about it, your friends—if they are really friends—will greet the tale with the stony silence of disapproval. If you are screwing around on your wife, your real friends will not laugh it off and cover for you. They will beat the shit out of you. If your wife cannot trust you, why the fuck would they trust you? Courage is a choice. Choosing good companions, oathsworn brothers, to stand in the shield wall with you is one of those choices.

My Christian friends would call it good fellowship, and I cannot argue with that. Choose to surround yourself with people that will hold you accountable for making courage a choice, and making courage a choice becomes easy. If you choose the coward’s choice, they will shame you until you remedy it.


It has become a ridiculous cliché in the training industry, and the wider gun culture as a whole, but at the end of the day, it is true: each of us is responsible for our own safety. While I know—for a fact—that there are individual officers across the US who are courageous men and women that will not hesitate to run to the sound of the guns, if the Florida shooting did nothing else, it showed any person honest with themselves that counting on the police to come to your rescue is a fool’s errand.

Gun up. Train. Surround yourself with a culture of courage, amongst others that will hold you accountable, and choose courage in the small and large, so that when your time comes to confront the dragon at the gate, that you will sally forth, even if armed with nothing more than your wits and the courage of your convictions. Courage is a choice. Cowardice is a choice. Choose.

Choose to be like Aaron Feis, the unarmed assistant football coach who used his body to shield fleeing students, sacrificing himself to protect the youth of his community. Choose to be like young Peter Wang, the JROTC cadet who stood proudly in his uniform, and held open the doors as an escape route for his classmates, sacrificing himself in the process of helping his community. You think those two men weren’t scared? They CHOSE courage.

Fuck the niðings. Honor the courageous.





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  1. hollicusbaolcom permalink

    I love this post.


  2. ERDoc permalink

    Amen to the strong, simple “NO”…. I don’t care what someone else thinks. THEY ARE NOT MY PEOPLE. My role is to facilitate the survival, skills, and success of MY people. That begins with being able to provide basic protection for my offspring and mate… along with the other men who make up my peers. I will not waste breath explaining how counter violence is the only answer to violence. If I have to tell you how dark this world is that we live in, then you are BURYING your head in the sand. And more, you are not MY PEOPLE.

  3. Nathaniel Cruce permalink

    Hell yes.

  4. rightwingconservativenewsblog permalink

    In the beginning of my work a few things scared me.

    Then they didn’t anymore.

    Finally, nothing scared me anymore. A curtain would just drop down.

    It wasn’t even a choice.



    Anyway, you’ve got a lot going on behind that skull. I don’t know how anybody can marshall so many thoughts and get them down that well on “paper.”

    Keep ‘em comin’ 🤠

  5. Brennen Munro permalink

    I have been trying to explain to some of my “friends”, that I will not be debating anyone else about guns… I am done with it, they are not going to listen and only seek the opportunity to call you a Luddite Rightwing Nazi and baby killer… But hey, I am all for progress, I am not rightwing, and they are just to damn dumb to realize that the Nazi’s are more in line with their politics. I have not ever engaged in any form of baby killing, although I do know of some who I think should have been drowned at birth… I have been telling folks “NO” to any debate on guns for some time, and it pleases me to see that I am following good company in this!

    As I have always told my children through the years of them becoming the fine adults they are now, do the right thing. Who you are is defined by the things you do when no one is watching you, and you have nothing to gain from said action other than the knowledge that you did the right thing because you WANTED too. I never shied away from telling my son to be a man, because being a man is defined by doing the right thing… Not your bank account, or your car, and most definitely not defined by the number of women you bed, but rather be the man that your wife is honored to stand beside. I gave my daughter the same advice, be true to yourself, and find that man that you are honored to stand beside.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with those of us who are doing, as well as those of us who are still in the trying stage. It is going to suck real bad before it gets better.


  6. J Victor Hatheway permalink

    A wonderful essay saying what needs to be said! TYVM.

  7. Diz permalink

    That was probably the best thing I have ever read on this fucking internet.

    Well said.

  8. Beautiful!!!!!!!

  9. Reblogged this on The zombie apocalypse survival homestead and commented:
    Just say no!

  10. So…. Wearing seatbelts is for cowards?

    People must decide what they stand for.

    But usually they must learn what they won’t stand for first.

    • That’s not what I said, was it? It wasn’t even what I implied. I choose to not wear my seatbelt, knowing that it is a traffic violation. The courage is not in whether I wear my seatbelt or not. The courage is accepting the consequences of my choice, without whining, pleading, or making excuses.

      But, hey…nice try.

      • Lugh permalink

        Why? Do dispute the safety statistics? And if not, how do you justify it to yourself?

  11. TnDoc permalink

    I’ve always loved your posts…this one knocks it out of the ballpark….well done my friend. Would love to train with you one day.

  12. Thanks John, just what needed to be said and just what I needed to hear. Thanks again.

  13. wunhunglo2 permalink

    Amen to all that you said.
    I too am sick of worthless conversations, and the older I get, the less time I have for fools.
    My one prayer when the shit hits the fan is “Let me do as must and not be found wanting”.

  14. Roseman permalink

    About the law enforcement section of your essay;
    Unfortunately, this non confrontation policy by the police in a life and death situation is not all that rare. During the Cheshire CT home invasion in 2007, the police arrived at the home and set up for ‘hostage negotiations’ while inside, the perps strangled the mother then tied the girls to their beds and set them on fire.
    A wrinkle to the old adage;;When seconds count the police are only minutes away, if they go in at all.
    We are responsible for our own safety.

  15. House permalink

    Well written and a great message. Thank you.

  16. Nyle Fullmer permalink

    Simply, THANK YOU for being able to verbalise what so many of us think and feel in a way that is clear, concise and to the point !

  17. Thank you John for sharing your thoughts and putting them into words the way many of us can not…

    I just received my copy of Forging the Hero, can’t wait to dive in…


  18. Diz permalink

    I am still gob-smacked, wondering why you get all these goofy comments about seat belts and the like, when you have written one of the most profound essays ever penned on line. Even though I realize IQ’s have dropped to around room temperature these days, I would hope folks are still able to grasp the concept here, rather than “picking the lint” off your prose.

    The attribute of courage must be practiced, much like physical training, on a regular basis. Without it, all the rest is bullshit.

    But SEATBELTS, he said SEATBELTS! (or BEANS and FRANKS! if you prefer)

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