Combat Mindset – Are You Ready for the Next Active Shooter Incident?

By John Krupa III.

Our nation was shocked yet again by another senseless mass murder on July 20th when deranged psychopath James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and murdered 12 unarmed citizens and wounded more than 100 others.

With the increased frequency of mass murder incidents in our nation – Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and now Aurora – are you prepared to deal with the next active shooter incident when it happens in your backyard?

As a police officer and professional trainer, I can’t emphasis enough (law enforcement officers and armed citizens alike) how important it is to remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness, and be ready for anything – anytime, anywhere!

I teach personal defense courses to law enforcement officers and civilians across the country on how to respond and react to active shooter situations, and while the rules of engagement may differ based on situation, the combat mindset is the same.

There is a long history in the evolution of combat mindset and how we prepare the mind for combat going all the way back to World War II with Rex Applegate’s publication Kill or be Killed. This was followed by two excellent short books in the ‘70’s by Jeff Cooper: Principals of Personal Defense and Color Codes of Awareness.

Fast forward to the late 90s and early 2000s and we have Dave Grossman’s fascinating research On Killing: The Psychology of Killing in War and Society as well as Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge by Bruce Siddle. Do a quick search on the Internet and you’ll find a plethora of articles and publications by writers from all over the country supporting combat mindset research and development.

But once we have absorbed all this combat mindset information, how do we use it, and how is it applied in real world situations such as active shooter incidents?

I like to break it down the same way I learned it:

Situational Awareness

A catchy phrase, but what does it mean? I think the Color Codes of Awareness best summarizes how you should be conducting yourself in your everyday travels – stay out of condition white (the lowest awareness level of Jeff Cooper’s color code), be aware of your surroundings, identify specific problems or threats, and be prepared to execute a tactical plan to deal with each threat as it presents itself.


Part of being prepared to deal with a situation is to play the “what if” game in your mind everywhere you go. As a field training officer for the Chicago Police Department teaching new recruits how to work the mean streets of Chicago, one of the first things I would teach them is to always be prepared for the unexpected. I challenged them to think about locations we would respond to for calls before we arrived. Visualize the interior of a structure or building upon approach, and always play the “what if” game. Think to yourself, “If this or that happens, what would I do?”

The same game can be played off-duty or as a civilian. If you walk into a store, bank, mall, theater, etc., your head should be up and on a swivel. You should be looking around for things out of the ordinary (running through the Color Codes of Awareness), looking for things that are odd or out of place, paying attention to detail, and always looking for a point of egress. I call this the “Krupa relaxed paranoid mode,” because that’s exactly how you feel, but this is what you need to do to develop Situational Awareness.


A trait that can’t really be taught but is learned through life experience. Alertness is the first principal of personal defense. Some people have it, some never will.

Obviously, victims are never to blame when tragedy strikes, but there are some actions and habits that may decrease your chances of survival in dangerous situations. The people in the most danger are what I like to call “sheeple.” We’ve all seen them – people that walk around every day like wandering sheep in condition white, oblivious to their surroundings. Just stand outside on a busy street, public transportation hub, or in a mall. Everywhere you go, people are walking around with their heads down, texting or operating one of the many electronic devices that have become an integral part of our daily routines and way of life.

People are walking into each other, walking into obstacles, walking into oncoming traffic, falling off train platforms, and falling down stairs because they are oblivious to what is going on around them! In order to avoid this dangerous distraction, people need to put those devices away, minimize their use in public, and get back to being aware of their surroundings. You will never have situational awareness if you are not vigilant.

The Winning Mindset

To avoid becoming a victim, there may be a time when you have to use various levels of force, up to and including deadly force for personal defense.

The last three principals of personal defense are needed to accomplish this task – decisiveness, aggressiveness, and ruthlessness. Jeff Cooper was specific in selecting these last three principals, and he combined them as the primary elements of what he believed is necessary to win the fight when you’re at the phase where the meat meets the metal.

Once you have made the decision to execute a tactical plan, be decisive in its execution. Aggressiveness is needed to overcome your adversary – dominate the threat! Ruthlessness is necessary in the application of ANY level of force that may cause death or great bodily harm to stop an assailant’s deadly actions.

Ultimately, the person that possesses superior mindset, tactical aptitude, and situational awareness is the person that is most likely going to WIN the fight!

It’s not a matter of if another mass murder active shooter incident is going to occur but when and where! ARE YOU READY?

For more information about our training courses, visit our website @

As always, stay safe and Fight to Win!

John Krupa III

Master Firearms Instructor

President / Director of Training

Spartan Tactical Training Group, LLC

About John Krupa III

John is an active duty police officer with the Orland Hills Police Dept. (IL.) and has over 21 years of experience in LE. He has previously served as a patrol officer, rapid response officer, FTO and firearms instructor with Chicago PD. He is a graduate firearms instructor from the Secret Service Academy, FBI, DEA and FLETC. John is founder and president of Spartan Tactical Training Group, Director of Training for the DS Arms LE Training Division and has previously presented at training conferences across the country with the AFTE, ASLET, GTOA, IALEFI, ILEETA, ISOA, LETC, MidTOA, NTOA and TTPOA.

25 thoughts on “Combat Mindset – Are You Ready for the Next Active Shooter Incident?

  1. This article is right on the mark. Trying to convince young officers that they are never really off duty. Trying to get them to carry their tools of the trade off duty is a challenge. I would dare to say 98% of them have never had anyone punch them in the face or threaten their safety or will being. I try to teach them that even when off duty in their jurisdiction a threat could come at time. When it does come the sheep around them are going to look to them for protection. The sheep do not know the difference of being on or off duty. They assume that your an officer and you are armed at all times and you are trained to save them from threats. One of the ways I see to force officers to carry off duty is make it policy. The problem here is there are administrators now that are in the same mindset as the young officers. When I am off, I am off. We need to convince the top brass in order to have the street level officers take the threat to themselves and those we are charged to protect seriously.

  2. I totally agree.I am a civilian with a CCW permit. There are only a few trusted people that I let know about my permit and that I’m carrying. I’ve had to explain myself over and over again to even my wife why I carry my gun at home or to a friends house. She is starting to see the light but it’s taking a while. Is there a easy to explain why if you carry, why you should always be carrying?

  3. There is one thing i disagree upon in John’s article: “active shooter”. We are active shooters everytime we are at the range. I think LE needs to rethink this phrase and change it to “active killer”. I know the term “active shooter” has been ingrained into the education of LE academy’s country wide, but i think it definitely puts the shooting community in an awkward position to defend themselves. Aren’t these insane individuals motive to cause harm, death, and distruction in the first place? I know the the scum in Colorado wasn’t there for the popcorn and sodapop that night. Let’s place these psychopath’s in the correct category.

  4. Unfortunately, the main thing we concealed handgun licensees can legally do to be prepared for active killers is to avoid the “gun-free zones” they so obviously take advantage of.

  5. Not sure I agree with the term “active killer” to actually describe what an active shooter is realistically doing – which is shooting at people. With a little research on the history of mass shooting incidents, most incidents result in more people being shot then killed. There are dozens of documented incidents where multiple people were shot and no one was killed! Also, there have been multiple shooting incidents where the “active shooter” was just randomly shooting at people and the police, and not hitting anything at all! My opinion is that if someone is running about, randomly shooting at people or discharging sporadic shots indiscriminately, that person is in action (in progress) of shooting – thus active shooter. To be a killer, that person would have to actually kill someone during his active shooting rampage. For example, if I was standing in a store and some maniac runs in and starts shooting at everyone in the place and I use my legally carried firearm (CCW, of course) to stop his deadly actions, all the maniac did was enter the store actively shooting. If he doesn’t, hit, injure, maim or kill anyone, all it comes down to is that he was actively shooting at people. This seems to be a Pandora’s Box of “who can come up with the best tag line for active shooter”. I don’t have the answer, but why complicate it. It is what it is. Mr. Krupa, I think your right on the money, don’t change anything.

  6. Totally agree; here in Puerto Rico the CCW is as difficult to obtain as in NYC.
    I have been carrying for 21 years I’m civilian and every morning before I take my tools I have to remind me that today could be the one.

    I had only 3 times to upholstered my gun and with that was sufficient for the bad to turn around, but believe me this is a 24 hour mind set. My friend until recently call me paranoid know that Puerto Rico had became the capital of murders on US Territory 4,000 for the last 4 years they understand why I”am “.paranoic”

  7. John – Great article! We can never hear enough of this stuff. It is amazing how fast people forget this information after they learn it. Time and again, the most common things that lead to failure in incidents of this nature are complacency and not being ready / prepared. There are way too many officers not carrying off duty and to many citizens that have CCW permits that get lazy and don’t carry. Carry your guns guys and be ready for anything!!!

  8. Excellent! I now have a name to tag my situational awareness with: “Krupa relaxed paranoid mode”

    I’m glad you put this up as a reference. Now I can send links to people and say “This is the guy who came up and put on a pistol class. He knows his stuff. So NOW do you want in when he comes up here next?”

    Thoroughly enjoyed the article. Now to forward this on…

  9. John Krupa is not only a great police officer but a great person. The tactical training John offers through his many classes will teach the individual to achieve great tactical advantage, not only if you are a police officer but also a civilian, in real world situations. John offers some of the best live fire exercises in the country, far better than ” training ” offered through my Police Department. We are living in drastically changing times, not for the better, especially for LEO’s all over the country, Train to Win.

  10. This article has great information for everyone, whether they carry or not. Situational awareness should be activated the second you unlock your front door. I too live in the “Krupa relaxed paranoid mode” thanks to John. I have taken many courses with Krupa as my instructor at STTG. I am a firearms instructor myself, a civilian living in Indiana and have been carrying for over 20 years. Anyone that is a gun owner should be taking as many courses as they can. Training groups like Spartan Tactical Training Group put great emphasis on situational awareness and combat mindset as do I in the courses that I run. One of STTG’s mottos are, “You will fight the way you train! Train with intensity. Fight to win!” Your combat mindset and situational awareness will give you that extra moment needed to react in any situation.

  11. Couldn’t have said it better John. Seems too many people either don’t think it can happen to them or believe the police will protect them.
    I prefer to be the Sheepdog than the Sheep. Perhaps one day the honorable citizens of Illinois will be able to legally carry. I train for that day.

  12. Good follow-up article to what you guys actually teach in your classes. I liked the combat mindset lecture you presented at the action target seminar we attended and this article reinforces what you teach! It is very important on how we prepare the mind for combat, and as you presented in your class, just as important as training with the weapon. My instructors got a lot out of your pistol class at the seminar and we’ve implemented a lot of what you presented. We’re looking forward to your rifle class next year. Keep bringing the thunder! J.S. Master Firearms Instructor (ILETSB)

  13. Active Shooter / Suicide Bomber = Active Killer/ Homicide Bomber do we really have to go there and worry about what its called? Its the context in which its being used! I dont think Im going to have a rapid reaponse team deploy if I’m on the range shooting, but if someone calls in an active shooter at a school I hope they would know the difference!

  14. Great article. I was always one of those people walking around oblivious to my situation until I became a volunteer reserve cop in my community. This role has provided great experience and training from outstanding full-time LEOs. It has really helped me change my mindset to make sure I’m at-the-ready and aware of our surroundings. Outside of my reserve cop duties I recently obtained exceptional firearms training and am just moving into carry mode. We can’t carry on duty – other than a Taser, baton and OC. Off duty, though, I can carry and I hope I never have to find myself in a situation where such force is required, but articles like this one help create a winning mindset and reinforce the need for constant awareness of our surroundings (without being totally paranoid, of course!).

  15. Great article John, but the key thing to achieve a winning mindset is training. Officers do not train and I can name handful officers who do not carry off duty and if they do they practice their skills once a year. I love these three winning principles decisiveness, aggressiveness, and ruthlessness. Today LE is not about about crime prevention or fighting crimes is about SURVIVING THE LIABILITY

  16. John, great article! A lesson to all “NEVER” be in Condition White. We should all live in Condition Yellow in these current times. Best said is Practice, Practice, & Practice. It could save your life or someone close to you.

  17. Great article, Krupa.

    Situational Awareness is definitely one thing alot of people forget to live by and have when they are thinking and planning their staying alive plan.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    Semper Fi
    DMZ Tactical

  18. Awesome article John, and VERY well said! The times that we live in no longer afford us the luxury to go about our day to day activities with a total sense of comfortability. It’s sad to say that due our recent history of tragic events, that life or death moment for you or your family may come anywhere at anytime. ALWAYS be prepared, always be vigilant, and always remember, decisiveness, aggressiveness, and ruthlessness!!!

    STAY SAFE & God Bless John!

  19. How eerie it is to see an article on this topic and within a week, the Brookfield, WI. salon shooting happens leaving 3 people dead and another 4 injured. And this all happened in a so called “gun free zone”. John, you should consider doing an article on gun free zones, how useless they are and what, if any, repercussions occur for carrying in a gun free zone. As I said before, keep bringing the thunder! You have an excellent method of delivering information and keeping people informed. More people need to hear your voice on this subject. J.S. Master Firearms Instructor (ILETSB)

  20. Suggestions:
    1) If you’re a gun owner, go to the range monthly or every other month.
    2) Take a friend who’s never shot before.
    3) Take a woman shooting, especially one who’s never shot before. We need all the good folks to be armed (98%) to fight the tiny percentage of our population willing to kill/maim you for fun/money (2%). Numbers are a non-scientific estimate by the late Col. Jeff Cooper.

    If you don’t believe “it” can happen to you, read The Ayoob Files in American Handgunner or any other good firearms magazine. (No promotional consideration was accepted for this mention of AHG.)

  21. Mr. Krupa is a consummate professional who I had the pleasure of meeting and training next to him at an F.B.I. school many moons ago. This article is excellent. I have always argued the need for more training for military, police, and private sector both interagency and through joint exercises. Unfortunately there have been too many instances in reference to active shooters where multiple agencies are involved within seconds or minutes of an incident. This mix of services does not always gel out the way we want. Perfect practice makes perfect response. I was fortunate to do a mission readiness exercise at a major academic institution alongside HRT and NYS-MRT. The attention to detail and the breakdown of duties, roles, and participation was incredible. The walkthrough, the walkthrough of the walkthrough, hot washes, staff briefs, and rehearsals lead to one of the most surgical executions I have ever witnessed or been a part of. A law enforcement, military unit, or private agency that does not conduct active shooter and mass casualty response training quarterly, if not monthly are doing their communities or principals a disservice. As a Soldier myself, and a trainer of Soldiers, I found myself entertaining topics in this article, driving these points home to my troops (both Army and Marines) before going into one of the most dangerous places in the world, the Kunar/Pesh Valleys in Afghanistan. These very principles Mr. Krupa discusses became a mindset, muscle memory, and I would almost say a lifesytle. The ability to always be ready at a crowded market in a foreign country while on dismounted “presence-patrol”, delivering humanitarian aid on a mountainside, or looking for an HVT at a congested border crossing, carries over to being that ever vigilant member of the community.

    Thank you once again Team Spartan.

    “Blessed are the Peacemakers”

  22. Very good artical awesome job.
    Great reference
    I would maybe suggest a follow up on how to handle emotional effects that can appear after, you win the fight that involved deadly force you may be in a second fight with less defined enemy a  pycological battle perhaps. More training on that should be completed also detailing how to combat that enemy.

    Be Brutally Accurate Every Day
    mikewiilshoot channel on youtube

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