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Derek Smith’s 10 Life Saving Lessons

My time as a Federal Agent in the government and military as well as serving in the Navy, Air Force and the Army taught me many things about the correct way to deal with an attacker. Every lesson I have learned, and subsequently taught to other agents as an instructor, has been extremely valuable. Some rank higher in my mind than others when it comes to surviving a deadly confrontation. Here I will share ten of my most valuable lessons to sustain your life or the life of a loved one. Heed my words because they come from experience.

Lesson No. 1: Train as You Fight

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that one must train as they will fight. Everyone fights differently. I have seen many martial arts and self-defense courses being taught with attackers executing techniques that you would NEVER see used in a real life situation, especially when I see knife attacks.

I really hate seeing demonstrations with the attacker leaving his arm out so that the defender can grab it and execute a perfect Aikido technique, or karate punch block combination. I often laugh when I see a Kenpo karate guy execute 10 techniques while their opponent just stands there taking the shots.

Taking the time to train realistically (training how you will fight) will maximize your chances of surviving a REAL attack. Training realistically will also develop the correct muscle memory needed to deal with a real attack, instead of the unrealistic attacks you will never see in real life.

Imagine being prepared with your karate X block for a downward knife strike that will never come. Watch any YouTube video of real knife attacks and you will know that they almost NEVER come this way.

Training as you will realistically fight will put your body into a state where your mind and your muscles will react correctly from memory when performing your techniques every time. This is critical when the time your brain has to react to an attack is extremely limited.

Lesson No. 2: Mindset Is Everything

In order to survive a life or death situation having the mindset of a survivor is critical. One of the greatest lesson I ever learned, and later taught, was that even when injured you can survive. Often when you watch a television program you see people get shot and they are blown backwards sprawling to the ground from one shot.

Well in real life that is often not how it happens. There have been many accounts of people being shot 20 times and still returning fire. Oh, they may eventually die from their wounds, but they are still either a threat or able to defend themselves even with that many bullets in them.

My point is that I tried to teach officers, and even civilians, that being shot, stabbed, or punched is not the end of the fight and that you can survive and still effectively defend yourself, but you have to have the correct mindset to do so. Those who think to themselves that they will survive no matter what are often the ones who will survive. The key is to be smart and maintain a positive outlook.

Maintaining a survival mindset involves knowing that you have the ability to push harder than you imagined you could, even when you think you have no fight left in you. It also means training with the right techniques and adhering to rule number 1 above.

Lesson No. 3: Plan for What You Will Face

I often visualize scenarios of various types of attacks that I might face. Also, unfortunately I have been in many real life fighting situations.

I have had a gun put to my head, a shotgun pointed at my chest, a samurai sword swung at me by a drug dealer while undercover, a guy try to cut me with a knife in a bathroom, two guys both put knives to my throat, and countless other events happen to me, so I have some basis for my attack scenarios.

You can use real life events if you have them, or just imagine scenarios. Take the time to think about inevitable, likely, possible and improbable threats you may face.

I size up everyone. If a stranger gets on an elevator with me, I size them up… and prepare. If I am driving my car and a bunch of guys in the car next to me give me a strange look, I size them up.

Plan and prep for your survival in an attack situation. Determine what the threats are and appropriate reactions to each threat as you never know what will happen.

Once I was sitting in my car in front of my apartment having just returned from my karate class. Two guys walked up to my car on either side. They both grabbed my door and tried to open them. Luckily I ALWAYS lock my car doors when I am inside. I had nunchakus in my car from my class and I grabbed them from my bag, however when the guys could not open the doors they kept moving. I was a bit shaken, but I had gone over scenarios like this in my mind and I was prepared to defend myself.

Lesson No. 4: What You Have Is What You Get

Sometimes, you end up alone in a situation and what you have in your pockets, or purse or car is all you have to work with. While I believe in turning your body into a deadly weapon, I prefer to have something I can use as a weapon (btw, I teach improvised weapons in my course and almost anything can be turned into a weapon.)

I ALWAYS have a knife in my possession, a baton in my vehicle, and because of my law enforcement experience and due to the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) that allows certain former law enforcement officers to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, I can carry my 45 as well. My point is that make sure that you have all the items you need to survive an attack every day and everywhere you go.

Lesson No. 5: Only Take What You Know How to Use

In lesson four, I said that you should carry everything you need to survive. However, you should only carry weapons that you know how to use.

I have seen this lesson learned the hard way many times. There is never a good outcome when a person places his or her life on a weapon that he or she is not familiar with.

People have tried to defend themselves with firearms they don’t know how to use only to have their own weapon taken away and used against them. Or someone pulls a knife only to end up cutting himself with it. Or tried to use a stick, nunchakus, pole etc., only to whack themselves in the face with their own weapons. You would not believe the number of agents I have had who ended up pepper spraying themselves, or their partners during an attack.

With this being said, you can avoid making this mistake altogether by ensuring that you are familiar and trained with the weapons you carry. I laugh when I am out walking and I see men and women out jogging with a bat, stick or pole. I imagine how they would awkwardly swing their weapon at me and I would take it away and use it against them. Don’t let that happen to you!

Lesson No. 6: Invest in Weapons That Are Sturdy and Dependable.

Following along with the last lesson, I warn you that the last thing you need is to have your weapon fail on you in the middle of using it in combat. Once I had two friends end up in battle and one pulled a knife and began stabbing the other. The buddy being stabbed grabbed the blade of the knife and actually broke it. He sustained major damage to his hand, but he saved his life. Fortunately, one friend did not kill the other, but my point here is that he broke the knife.

Any weapon that you carry must be good enough to save your life. Weapons must be sturdy.

Don’t scrimp on these items, as your life depends on them so buy the best you can. Attack scenarios will push your equipment to its limits, so make sure they can take it and make sure you keep them in good repair.

Lesson No. 7: Maintain Situational Awareness

Speaking of walking down the street carrying a weapon while on your daily walk. With times as they are, there are no secure areas other than what you ensure is secure, like your home if you have secured it as I have.

There is not a specific area that can always be counted on to be secure. With this in mind, it is imperative to always be aware of what is going on around you. Look at all of the school, night club, and theater shooting that occur today.

With practice and vigilance, you can stay aware of your surroundings and extract yourself and your loved ones from a potentially dangerous situation. I take my children to a movie on almost a weekly basis, and you can be sure I know where the exits are, where I want to sit, and how I will defend us in case of an attack. I suggest you do the same.

Lesson No. 8: Know Your Enemy

Today, it is very difficult to tell who the enemy is. It could be terrorists or that guy sitting next to you at work. I suggest that you study incidents that are occurring today, watch the news, watch YouTube videos of real attacks and then prepare yourself for them.

Also, keep a close group of friends and family members that are always reliable and trustworthy to lean on in difficult times. It is critical to stay alert and know who can be trusted and worked with if they situation warrants it.

Lesson No. 9: Know When to Flee and When to Fight

Like Kenny Rogers sang in his famous “The Gambler” song, “you’ve got to know when to hold ’em Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away and know when to run.” Some may say that only a coward will run away from a fight. But there is a big difference between staying to get killed and leaving a situation and going home alive, or regrouping for a smarter and stronger defense.

I have been in situations where the biggest and baddest shit talking guys have folded when the bullets started flying so you never know how you are going to react. However, if you find yourself in the middle of an attack, it is also smart to make the safe move and survive rather than put on the tough act and get your ass whipped, or even worse, be killed.

The skills I teach in my course will give you a fighting chance to save your life, but my first advice is to not try to be macho and get away if you can, that is what I would do. Once your life is taken, it’s not coming back. There is no “reset” button.

Lesson No. 10: Never Fight Alone

Finally, there is a similarity between Rambo, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, and Jack Reacher, they are all fictional characters, and none of them would ever be able to take on an army alone as they do in the movies and on TV. I am real and trained and definitely cannot take on many attackers alone.

There are historical accounts of military fighters who have completed heroic acts by themselves, but those are the exceptions and many end up dead. As an agent we always deployed more agents than the number of bad guys we expected.

Our rule was to have at least two agents for each assailant. If you can, enlist the help of others in your defense. Band together if attacked.

This can be family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers who can rely on you and, in turn, you can rely on them to survive. In the end, the lone wolf scenario is almost never going to be a successful scenario.

My combat experiences as law enforcement and in the military makes me an informed and formidable opponent and I would not trade that for anything. But at the same time, it is not reasonable to expect everyone to have to endure the same challenges in life that I have so my goal is to share my knowledge and experience with you.

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3 thoughts on “Derek Smith’s 10 Life Saving Lessons”

  1. Good article, very common sense. I agree with all the 10, especially the 5th rule carry what you know how to use. I too have seen people take something that was “cool” only to fail as they never used or practiced with it before getting into a situation that they needed it.

    Good stuff, keep it up.