“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, was as wise as he was keen on warfare and tactics. His early political career was voluntarily interrupted to serve as a captain in the Illinois state militia and his presidential term saw the deadliest war in U.S. history. During our country's civil war he had military advisors who, even to this day, are considered some of the greatest war tacticians this nation has ever seen. Undoubtedly, he had a profound understanding of conflict but his quote about “sharpening your axe” is mostly uncomplicated. Essentially, it provides insight into the individual using the tool – one who knows how to make it ready and effectively wield it – one who is an energy and focus of force to be reckoned with. It also drives a point about the importance of preparation and how it preserves energy that would otherwise be wasted. What Lincoln is saying here is that “the tree” has no chance... And wise ol’ Abe? – He’ll hardly break a sweat.
But there is something deeper, more subtly drawn. What if the axman needn’t sharpen his axe at all?
Imagine that call coming, and a silent, inert sharpening wheel is the only thing heard. A blade at rest, that needs no polish, nor oil, is all that is seen in his toolshed. All would appear to be motionless. However, this stillness should not be confused with a response delay, or fear, or anything wavering at all. Because the blade, although glistening, is not unused. Quite the opposite is so. You see, this calmness is the byproduct of the knowledge that the tree may need to be removed one day, followed by the wisdom to always be prepared for the need of its removal. Skills and tools were carefully refined, honed, and made ready long ago. The blade is only waiting for one to wield it, as its master has only been awaiting the moment that would require its use. He is prepared. He is ready. And the fallacy of the quote is that the tree is not a six-hour job. In fact, there are no criteria for completion, just that it must be done. “It doesn’t matter what it takes”, a warrior will avow, “it will be done.”
All of this considered, we must ask ourselves, “Am I reactive, or proactive in my response to the potential challenge(r)?”
One of the co-owners of AVR Defense sent the other two of us the following quote (and we believe it can be applied to many of our lives). He is still active in the law enforcement community, by the way, and upholds his convictions through his actions. He has an absolute right to make such a statement. We found it to be a powerful and profoundly simple truth. He said:
“So many cops say they’ll do whatever it takes to get home to their family but won’t even step foot in a gym, on a range, or do anything that will challenge them. Don’t be that cop. Too many depend on you. (Once you take on that responsibility) It’s not about you anymore.”
This speaks to a certain probability. Because as a cop, there is a decent chance that you will cross paths with that hard arrest – the 250 lb. aggressor who doesn’t plan on going back to jail that day. And if you are the reactive type, he just might be your last call and the end of your watch. That’s a hard pill to swallow for some, but it’s the truth.
Applying that to the average Joe or Jane with a concealed weapon license, the same is true. There is a decent chance (arguably much smaller, though, as your profession isn’t actively confronting and apprehending the criminally violent members of our society) that you’ll live or die on such a day. Either way, if you’ve taken up that responsibility, you ought to ask yourself what are you doing carrying around a firearm in public places if you completely lack any situational awareness, firearms training, sense of duty and empathy for others, physical maintenance, or common sense. Likewise, this is a hard pill to swallow, but it is also a hard truth. It is simply NOT about you anymore.
Once we accept the fact that our brains are more powerful than any tool we will ever place into our hands and that our skills – if not constantly maintained and made ready for the confrontation with “the tree” – will be lacking and could fail us during a desperate moment, only then can we begin putting plans and actions into place that will yield the best possible outcome. We must understand that when we are complacent, tired, and “going through the motions” we are the most vulnerable to an attack. And that is when it will come. This applies to more aspects of our lives than just being a cop or a concerned card-carrying citizen. No task that challenges any of us can be managed by placing quantitative constraints, timelines, or audible buzzers on it. When the task is at hand the simple fact is that the extent to which you’ve prepared, followed by your ability to follow through, will have the most impact on the outcome.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu
It seems that Sun Tzu might have shared some core beliefs with Lincoln. “Take a proactive approach to the tree, to a challenge(r). Ask yourself what challenges might you face? How are you preparing for them? What are you doing to ensure you engage with maximum effect? Are your actions that of a victorious warrior, or a defeated one?”
When the day comes, will your wheel sharpener be silent, and your blade glistening, waiting for its master to wield it with fury and might? Will all appear motionless to your enemy, deceiving him into a false belief that it is an easily won battle? Will his misjudgment of you being complacent become his complacency?
“It will be done.”, he will say with a sneer. But it won’t be done, for he’s crossed one whose days are spent preparing for the tree. His silence is misjudged as delay, fear, or deficiency.
But he is far along the path, prepared for war, and a force to be reckoned with. And the tree is no match for the blade in the hands of a master.
-AVRD, signing off