Strategy vs. Tactics

By Kellene Bishop

Strategy photo c/o

Strategy photo c/o

I often hear instructors refer to the use of strategy and tactics, usually interchanging the words back and forth as if they are synonymous. However, when discussing the use of self-defense strategically vs. tactically, it’s important that we understand a significant difference between the two and properly employ the strength of both. 

The use of a strategy is referring to what NEEDS to happen in the event of self-defense and why it needs to occur.  Strategy has everything to do with your mindset and your resolve to survive and attack.  While I constantly refer to this portion of self-defense as your most important tool, it is still somewhat useless in the absence of appropriate tactics. 

Tactics are about HOW you execute the strategy.  It’s about the tools you use—the skills you bring to the accomplishment of the strategy.  Tactics have everything to do with the specific actions we take at the onset of an attack. 

Both the implementation of strategy and tactics have a great deal to do with the level of readiness that we walk around with every day.  There are four levels of readiness.

  1. Unaware
  2. Aware
  3. Alert
  4. Alarm


Your state of readiness just prior to something taking place will always determine how you will employ your tactics based on you knowledge of the strategies which you have taken time to learn.  Your state of readiness will determine whether you freeze up, do nothing, or leap into appropriate action.  

Be Aware photo c/o

Be Aware photo c/o

We actually all have various states of readiness from one moment to the other.  Even a well experienced soldier or law enforcement person will have different states of readiness.  Frankly, it’s not healthy to always be in a state of alarm.  Your ideal state of readiness is to “Aware.”  That is physically and mentally healthy for anyone.  Work on being in that state at all times.  Start paying attention to where the exits are in a theater or a store.  Pay attention to what’s going on around you when you’re walking out to the car.  Don’t open your door to someone you don’t completely know, and don’t stand directly in front of the peep hole after you’ve assessed who’s at the door.  (Please tell me that you at least HAVE a peep hole?)  Your readiness to act should change based upon situation changes.  While you may see a creepy guy moseying around the grocery store paying way too close attention to what you are saying or buying, yes, you should be in a state of alert.  Alter your shopping pattern and be sure that you’re not going out to the car without someone else.  However, when you realize that the “creepy dude” is actually your brother trying to play a trick on you, your state of readiness can decelerate.  (At least a little. 🙂 )

Many of us have flawed strategies as a result of a lack of comfort in our tactics.  For example, some women plan on using a pepper spray regardless of what the encounter is presented to them.  Tactically, this will not match the necessary strategy in the event you’re attacked in your home and your key chain with the pepper spray is no where in sight.  It’s important that proper strategies DICTATE your ideal tactics.

Bear attack photo c/o

Bear attack photo c/o

As another example, last night I was teaching a class to a group of men and women.  One of the men was there to teach about heavy backpacking preparedness.  He was comfortable enough to carry a rifle with him and he was in good physical shape.  However, he informed me that because he felt he was too slow with a firearm, he would most likely attempt to physically charge an assailant, regardless of the presence of a firearm.  The reason for this is because that is this man’s particular state of readiness and comfort.  However, if you’re serious about self-defense, you need to be proactive to solidify the proper tactics to employ.  Just because the man felt more comfortable with his physical capabilities, does not mean he would be successful charging an assailant who is in possession of a firearm.  He’s allowed his strategy to be flawed as a result of his tactical knowledge and comfort.  What if his assailant was a really, big bear or a mountain lion?  Clearly the strategy is flawed and thus so are the tactics.  

Copyright 2009 Kellene Bishop. All rights reserved.  You are welcome to repost this information so long as it is credited to Kellene Bishop.


5 Responses

  1. Thank You once again for a well-written post. This information is intelligent, and very practical. Far too often, self-defense classes get way in over their heads with a fear-factor or machismo mentality, and the four basics of readiness that you mentioned are rarely addressed, let alone the differences between Strategy and Tactics. There is an important difference, knowing that could be what makes you the difference between a victim or victorious.

  2. Excellent post. Very good and practical discussion of the difference between strategy and tactics, both of which are so very important.

  3. Good post. Most folks do not have a understanding of these two concepts, unless they have served in the military or police,or received some sort of formal training.

    Therefor,you are dong a great service to both women,and men alike for bringing them to their attention.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Carrying while backpacking is a topic in and of itself. When I would go XC skiing my Glock in its shoulder holster with 2 spare mags would live in the top section of my ruck. I didn’t need to have it so much immediately available as generally around. If some real weirdo’s showed up at the hut or whatever I would throw on the holster and a light jacket.

    If I wanted to go for a day ski (leaving the ruck at the hut) I would detach the top portion of my ruck which had the gun in it and turns into a fanny pack and take it with me. Nobody except my immediate group (best friend, Dad, Sister) would have guessed I had a gun.

  5. Tactics are about HOW you execute the strategy.

    And if you get the strategy right, you more than likely will never need to execute the tactics.

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