Design a site like this with
Get started

Opinion: What are prototactics?

I’ve spent the better part of the last couple years (to be honest tactics and strategy have always been a big interest of mine) studying small unit tactics from different perspectives in an attempt to discern those that might be practical for today’s concerned citizens, including myself. I wanted to go beyond the typical self defense tactics though, and delve into something deeper, and maybe more taboo.

Popular culture and politicians want the “regular” (I use this term loosely, since many of the men I’ve trained with are anything but regular) guys to think tactics and tactical training are reserved for those in the employ of such “elites”, and “regular” guys don’t have any use for them. They want “regular” guys to think that if they find themselves interested in such things, they are hobbyists, LARPers, or “doomsday preppers” and that they have no practical need for such knowledge or skills.

Yet, as the fabric of society continuously unravels, and old norms are replaced by newer, often less desirable ones, the need for “regular” people to adapt to the situation in order to defend hearth and home, all while the “elites” reserve security forces for themselves (or simply restrain them from doing their jobs for political reasons), becomes more evident every day. The ability to adapt is one of the key traits that have allowed humans to get to where we are today, yet most people don’t understand what it means to be adaptable.

Contrary to what the “elites” of the western world want you to think, tactics and their proper employ is not solely the realm of those on a government or corporate payroll. There’s no license or permit required, no membership to purchase. It is actually the realm of those who recognize they have a responsibility to their families and communities, and they see it as a paramount skill in preserving human dignity. It’s the realm of those peaceful people who feel the calling to stand in the gap, to not only provide for, but to protect, those and that which they love, and they’ve chosen to take on this responsibility themselves.

Throughout history there are many examples of these types of people. My good friend NCScout over at the Brushbeater blog penned an article a few years ago that sums up many of these traits. Joe Dolio, in his book “Tactical Wisdom: Fieldcraft” described this concept as the “militant farmer”. Envision the security needs of the American pioneer for instance. Not only was he responsible for literally every one of his families needs, from food to water to shelter, but he also had to protect them, and what resources he had, from attacks and theft from other people and animals.

Pioneers clinging to the sod

Archilochus (Greek poet and soldier) said that “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”, and it’s absolutely true. Considering this quote comes from a man who trained with the Greek Hoplites (Greek volunteer citizen soldiers), I’d be willing to bet it was a statement based on what he observed first hand on the battlefield rather than something he philosophized. This is why we need to train when we can, and we need that training to be practical. It does us no good to learn or train in interesting things if we can’t apply them efficiently and easily in the field.

Greek Hoplites

There’s a stark difference between playing fantasy football and actually playing football, and tactics are no different. Just like the arm chair quarterback mindlessly screaming “catch the ball!” at the T.V., it’s easy to talk about tactics from an academic perspective. It’s when we want to create a functioning team that things get a bit more difficult. We need to train in practical skills for that team, not just whatever the soup du jour for tactical training tourism (thanks for that one James!) happens to be. A good team will build upon it’s individual member’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses, and their tactics need to do the same.

It’s also been said that “there’s nothing new under the sun” and as more time goes by the more I believe it. Oftentimes I’ve had an idea but dismissed it because I didn’t know of any contemporary use, only to find something very similar later in a book or other historical reference. The old maxim “If it works, it isn’t stupid” comes to mind, or you might even say “If it worked, it wasn’t stupid.” We have to be willing to approach our training with an open mind, not just relying on any preconceived notions or previous experiences. We have to keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that our next fight will look like our last fight. We need to have a depth of knowledge so we can adapt to changes.

General Mattis famously wrote: “Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for
how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give
me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
I think the General is showing us all a bit of true wisdom here, choosing to personally and continually develop his knowledge rather than focus solely on the current doctrine.

The problems facing today’s concerned citizens aren’t really any different than problems faced by people over and over at times throughout history. As part of my studying I’ve had to learn about the tactics and techniques of people who were enemies of the U.S. military at the time and as a patriot that required a certain amount of detachment. If I reference a particular group or their tactics this should never be interpreted as me glorifying them, their goals, or what they’ve done, it’s just an observation. For instance, modern day U.S. military combined arms tactics have their roots in the German Army’s Blitzkrieg tactics, yet the study and improvement of them doesn’t make one a Nazi. (Don’t let cancel culture get ahold of that one or our Grunts will be canceled back to bayonet charges and muskets for sure.)

Strategy dictates mission, and mission (if you recall, a good mission statement simply answers Who is doing what? Where? When? and most importantly Why?) dictates tactics. For the purpose of my study, I wanted to separate the tactics out by working in reverse. If a particular group in history had similar strategic goals to ones that I think a modern day citizen might have, I paid more interest to them.

At the very top of my list of strategic goals to filter by was whether the particular group in question were the invaders, or were they the home defenders? In other words, on the strategic level, were they fighting for their home? I didn’t look at the politics or other historical details, just whether they were on offense or defense, and what they did. I think by taking this approach, it helped me to sort through a lot of history and start prioritizing my effort. Studying tactics is another lifelong endeavor, and while my studying may help you, I’d encourage you to start studying yourself to see what you can dig up that pertains to your own circumstances.

This isn’t a study on the underground or guerrilla warfare, although there are similarities for sure since prototactics is also irregular warfare. This is more a study on how to apply appropriate and solidly proven tactics to civilian defense groups. This study was to also serve as the basis for developing my class, The Bush Tactics Course.

So if we look a bit closer at the word prototactics (I’m not sure who the authority is on what constitutes an official word, but I made that one up myself) it’s a compound word made up of two parts. Proto, meaning original or first, and tactics, meaning skills or techniques. So in other words, original skills or first techniques.

Time to shoot and scoot..

Essentially I wanted to study the historical roots of our modern day tactics, as well as the tactics that have been used to counter those tactics, and wherever I found similarities to my own circumstances I started taking notes. Similarities such as:

  • Were they defending their home and culture from foreign invasion?
  • Were they firepower, material and manpower deficient?
  • Were they in the cities, or in the countryside?
  • Did they have popular support amongst their people?
  • What did they do to alienate themselves from or ingratiate themselves to their people?

So with these thoughts in mind as I studied, I started separating certain tactics into a group of their own. It was these I started to think of as prototactics. Like I said, there’s certainly similarities between Guerilla or Partisan tactics and what I came to think of as prototactics, in fact most of my studying was devoted to different forms of “unconventional” warfare (men have been making war on each other, in what was once a conventional manner, since long before the big budget techno militaries of the last 150 years became “conventional”). The primary difference being the fact that Guerilla warfare represents the unconventional military arm of a political group working to replace another political group, whereas prototactics are not necessarily attempting to achieve a strategic political objective, but rather support the security needs of a community, group, or tribe.

I believe these original tactics existed long before modern day standing armies, only to be adopted and made respectable later. To envision this contrast, think of a barbarian ambush on a Roman supply column versus attacking the Phalanx itself, or an American Minuteman fading into the forest after ambushing a column of marching red coats. At the time these tactics were considered low brow and dishonorable, yet now they are a basic part of modern small unit tactics.

“Ambush in the Teutoburg Forest, 9 AD” – Angus McBride

Prototactics are the original small unit tactics, predating the organized militaries of the west and going all the way back to tribal warfare. In modern times, they are the tactics used by those who are firepower, manpower and material deficient. At their root, they are stealth based hunter tactics. They are the tactics of the flea versus the dog.

They are the tactics of the indirect approach as summarized by Captain B.H. Liddell Hart who stated “In strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way home.” His indirect approach strategy focused on 8 tenets:

  • Adjust your end to your means
  • Keep your object always in mind
  • Choose the line (or course) of least expectation
  • Exploit the line of least resistance
  • Take a line of operation which offers alternative objectives
  • Ensure that both plan and dispositions are flexible – adaptable to circumstances
  • Do not throw your weight into a stroke whilst your opponent is on guard
  • Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) after it has once failed

While these sound like guerrilla warfare tactics, these were actually penned after World War One in an attempt to create a strategy to avoid the brutality that trench warfare, and it’s frontal assaults, proved to be for the large professional militaries of the time. These ideas went on to directly influence the German army in its creation of the Blitzkrieg tactics used so well at the start of World War Two. And while Capt. Hart certainly deserves credit for listing them, I think we can safely assume that the aforementioned barbarians and Minutemen both understood these principles and put them to good use hundreds of years before he penned them.

It’s through the lenses of the indirect approach that we as armed protectors of our families and communities should be analyzing our tactics. This is also what I think of as “prey mentality”. Think of a rabbit, squirrel, or other prey animal. They rely on stealth and maneuverability to stay alive, either out-hiding or out-running those that hunt them. Of course these skills are also part of the “predator mentality” as well, as most predators utilize stealth, speed, and cunning to capture their prey. While both require large amounts of patience and discipline to ensure their success, it’s the ability to “exploit the line of least resistance” that separates predators from prey.

Should we ever find ourselves in the position of having to defend our families and homes it’s these two mentalities we should be looking to emulate. First the prey as we avoid our enemies strengths and look for his vulnerabilities, then the predator as we strike to take advantage of those weaknesses.

In training it’s this predatory instinct that I’ve noticed not all men understand, and even if they do, some are made very uncomfortable by it. Playing the sneaky, hiding prey is easy, it almost comes naturally, nobody wants to get hurt or killed after all. But to be able to switch from that to kill or be killed is often a hard jump to make for some. I call this going from “tip toe to skull stomp” and it’s a transition we have to be able to fluidly make to ensure our survival in life and death fights. Think of the springing of a trap- the timing has to be perfect, and the effects lethal for the trap to work.

For those who are made uncomfortable by the thought, what we have to remember is that we are defending our homes from people who have made it their business to disrupt or destroy our lives. They made the choice to become our enemies of their own free will. Instead of being safe and comfortable in their homes, they’ve chosen to take on the risk in order to advance their cause and at a minimum they deserve to be held accountable.

Recommended reading

I’ve been asked to prepare a reading list for those wanting to study on their own. While there are a few books I’ve found that are full of useful ideas, there’s not a definitive source that I’ve found yet either. This is partly due to the fact that I have certain information I’m looking for that is unique to my own needs, so be sure and identify those questions you’re looking for answers to as well. I’ll be adding to this list periodically but just looking over at my book shelves a few that jump out at me are:

  • Tiger’s Way – H. John Poole
  • Small Unit Tactic’s Handbook – Paul D. LeFavor
  • Combat Tracking Guide – John D. Hurth
  • Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Ovservation and Tracking – Tom Brown, Jr.
  • The Way of Men and Becoming a Barbarian – Jack Donovan
  • To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth – Jeff Cooper
  • MCTP 3-01A Scouting and Patrolling
  • Undaunted Courage – Stephen Ambrose
  • Bush War Operator – A.J. Balaam
  • Devil’s Guard – George Elford
  • A Handful of Hard Men and We Dared to Win – Hannes Wessels
  • Jack Hinson’s One-Man War – Tom McKenney

18 thoughts on “Opinion: What are prototactics?

  1. “The ability to adapt is one of the key traits that have allowed humans to get to where we are today, yet most people don’t understand what it means to be adaptable.”

    Long ago, when I was an angsty teen, I figured out being “responsible” meant that one was able to respond to changes and sustain that which worked. Kept me alive when my decision-making skills were… questionable… at times…

    “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
    Yep – never hope your way beyond ability.

    *Excellent* post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you sir, I appreciate your thoughts. That’s an interesting way to define “responsibility” that I hadn’t considered before but I like it. I know in my own life I’ve had to learn what works and what doesn’t and even before that I had to learn to pay attention long enough to figure those out. Take care and have a happy new year!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your posts are always worth more than one read as there are nuggets of useful info sprinkled throughout and I am more than grateful for your shared wisdom.

    But my friend, this time you have at hit a 4-run homer and knocked the cover off the ball. This one is getting printed and widely shared as well as getting tacked to my bulletin board for daily reading.

    Here’s to a wiser 2023. You are surely off to a great start in helping all of us with that lift.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Very good point, I absolutely think that’s the case. I think we can easily envision the first cavemen setting out to kill a mammoth as a team, and then subsequently defend that kill from predators, humans and animal alike. Thank you for sharing the article, did you write it?


  3. Good article. I’ve read most of what you’ve wrote, mostly gear articles done well.

    This is quite different, going into the realm of ideas. Again, you write well on a niche subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you sir! I do write quite a bit about gear, I like to share what I’ve learned to help prepare others. I had this article as a draft for over a year, revising it here and there. I almost trashed it a few times too. I appreciate you taking the time to share some feedback, I’ve got quite a few articles that I have had planned that would be more in the realm of “ideas”, so I will look more into finishing them up as time allows. take care!


  4. Well said bro. I’ve found that many people have an aversion to studying any tactics prior to WWII because they’re “outdated.” Technology may advance, but human nature never changes, and there are invaluable lessons to learn and trends to observe by reading about old battles and the men who fought them.

    Excellent article. I hope to train with you once I finally make my way out West.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you sir, I appreciate it! From what I’ve seen the “old timers” were down right impressive considering so many of them were fighting without the equipment we’ve come to consider “conventional” today. Brass balls must have been standard issue back then! Take care buddy, I look forward to you coming out west too!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very Well done BR. Well-written and presented. Do you have a reading list of some of the references you used in your study and that you have been studying from? Perhaps a list could be appended to the article. That would help me get started on my own study. I believe this is one reason the Commandant has a reading list: so Marines will read and learn. Thanks BR.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: