The concept of the Gray Man is one that has been popularized in recent years within and outside of the military and tactical shooting communities. Some in the reality-based martial arts and survivalist communities also adopted it heavily, often to comical results.
The notion of becoming a Gray Man is based on the idea of being equipped mentally, physically, and materially for any and all situations that may come your way while not looking like this is the case. The true Gray Man does not wish to be identified as such or stand out in any capacity. We wish to be forgettable and simply blend in until the time comes when we must act. As Sun Tzu states in The Art of War, “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” Some of the major factors of consideration are dress, speech, and mannerisms to name a few. I will go into greater details on these topics later.
Some may ask why Going Gray is a point worth analyzing. As I have stated in previous writings and talks on self-defense, a criminal mind is a predator’s mind. Your typical criminal seeking to do someone bodily harm or take something from someone is not looking for a challenge, to the contrary, they are looking for an easy meal. Individuals walking distracted with faces in their phones or headphones in their ears are putting themselves at a deficit when it comes to being able to recognize an impeding threat posed by such predators. This is common sense situational awareness stuff that any practitioner of martial arts should always be applying.
However, on the other end of the spectrum is the possibility of standing out as a predator yourself.
Sometimes looking like the most dangerous man in the room can make you a target for ambush. If someone wishes to commit a crime in a public space and has prepped and surveyed before going into action, you may be singled out from the beginning as one who could pose a threat to their agenda.
Additionally, if you walk around looking like the poster child for 5.11 Tactical you may be advertising your home as a target for personal robbery or home invasion because, most likely, you have guns. Firearms, above all else are one of the primary moneymakers for criminals in any theft scenario. There are countless stories of concealed and open carry individuals who were robbed at gunpoint for their personal firearms. Obviously shit happens, however it is very likely that the individuals in these instances were “marked” and moved upon at the most inopportune time for them. Those of us who are current or prior service military and law enforcement have lived and worked in the realm of human violence. As such, we try not to stand out as members of these professions because of the inherent risks associated with being targeted both domestically and internationally.
GOING GRAY: By the Numbers
1: DRESS CODE: The first element to be addresses is your physical appearance. The most important elements of this are dress. I will very seldom wear any articles of clothing that would denote my training or experience. This goes for martial arts training shirts, veteran paraphernalia, cammo, or any tacti-cool or catalog commando fashions. This includes hats and t-shirts advertising gun ownership or any firearms or tactical gear brands.
Mostly, I prefer to wear collared shirts and jeans. These allow me the ability to conceal my EDC (typically a combat folder and combat flashlight 1000 lumens). From time to time I will wear cargo pants or shorts with plain t-shirts while avoiding cammo patterns or colors that would stand out as a potential first responder.
When traveling, it is also a good practice to note the common styles based upon your gender and body type while avoiding some of the stereotypical tourist fashions. I will go more in-depth on this topic in later sections.
2: HAIRSTYLE: For hairstyles, I like to keep it short but avoid the classic high and tight style that is popular in military and LEO circles. While those haircuts are very utilitarian and are very functional in terms of time and comfort, they make you stick out of the crowd in the most glaring of ways.
Going further, dress and hairstyle are not only important when it comes to avoiding being flagged by a criminal, but it also can produce some snap judgments or stereotyping in social interactions day to day. For example, my military status, while still serving on active duty, got me out of a few tickets over the years. However, when I was out in the communities around my duty stations, it was guaranteed that any service member would get a ticket by the local police who had a negative view of military personnel from their experiences with testosterone filled 20 something year old sex, drinking, and killing machines.
3: SITUATIONAL AWARENESS: This is perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of the Gray Man philosophy, and one that everyone, regardless of job or lifestyle should be practicing. In a world of constant distractions we must learn to use ALL of our senses to survey our surroundings. The first step to this is putting down your phone (but not until you finish reading this!).
I have seen time and again, people walking down the street oblivious to their surroundings because they have their faces buried in the screen of some device. If you are doing this, you are splitting the focus of your brain and diminishing your ability to actively assess potential threats. You need to have your eyes up and scanning your surroundings and using your ears to try to pick up on the subtle sights, sounds, and even smells around you. Typically your ears will detect an incoming threat before you see, and ultimately you need to see to be able to react. And additional element that we often neglect is our sense of smell. A lot of information can be garnered from the nose if you are observant. When surveying your surroundings, make a deliberate point to take a few deep inhales through the nose to see if there are any distinct odors (gas, fire, cigarettes, etc.). Almost as often as hearing, you may smell a potential threat before ever seeing it. For example, if I step off an elevator into a parking garage and I smell the odor of a fresh cigarette, I automatically know that someone is nearby before I ever see them
4: CLEARING THE CORNERS: (Call of Duty 101): This is standard operating procedure for MIL and LEO. Even gamers who play first person shooters understand this concept. If you do not want to be taken by surprise, be observant to potential hiding spaces for threats. I am not saying you have got to slice the pie around every turn, but keeping your head up, eyes open, and looking both ways before stepping through a doorway, or swinging wide around a corner will give you a bit more standoff distance. Additionally this is a good practice and can be applied to the office and other public spaces. I very seldom bump into others because I am generally aware of my surroundings and move through all spaces in this fashion. The difference between this and true tactical application is pace and intent. When you feel as if there is potential to be a victim, you move more slowly, with greater precision, and specific intent.
5: SOCIAL MEDIA SEALS/RANGERS/AND TIER 1 D-BAGS: After the Las Vegas mass shooting in October 2017, there was an Internet feud started between Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer and self-proclaimed “King of Instagram,” Dan Blizerian. Blizerian was in attendance at the concert in Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire from the adjacent hotel. Conspiracy theories aside, during the shooting, Blizerian fled, as any sane individual would, and in the process took the time to make an Instagram post in which he claimed to have seen a girl get shot in the head in front of him. Later he stated that he went to his vehicle to grab his firearm and went back to the scene to help. Dakota Meyer criticized him for fleeing the scene and posting on Instagram when he could have been helping.
Fundamentally there is a problem with both individuals line of thought. And frankly both of them are just trying to stay publicly relevant. With regards to Meyer’s statement, what could Blizerian actually have done? He is not a doctor, EMT, or combat medic. He was not equipped with any first aid gear. Second, Blizerian’s claims of going to his vehicle for his weapon to go back and help, whether it happened or not, is the most ridiculous plan ever. What you would have in this instance is a large bearded man running around in plain clothing brandishing a firearm while there is an unidentified active shooter gunning down masses of people while brandishing a weapon. What could possible go wrong?
It would be likely that the police would have shot Blizerian as he was moving his way through the panicked crowd. However, at a minimum, he would have diverted law enforcement resources from handling the situation to having to deal with his delusions of heroism.
Dan: “I am here to help!”
Officer: “Who the hell are you?”
Dan: “I am Dan Bliz…..
Officer: “Piss off Dan!”
Dan Blizerian is a Navy veteran whose closest experiences to combat was failing out of SEAL training. Nothing against him for that, as the BUDS and the SEAL course have the highest attrition rates of any of the Military Schools. However according to his military records, he was dropped for safety violations during live fire exercises. This makes his persona as a “gun guy” pretty amusing. The story gets a bit murkier as Blizerian claimed to have completed “SEAL training” twice. It is important to know that SEAL training is not a true school for many of the stages. It is more of a selection process. You are put through the ringer physically, mentally, and emotionally to assess your capabilities for operating in the fast paced and high stress missions the SEALs are known for. And while this training is among the best in the world, it still is not REAL combat! As and aside, there is no way he would have gotten accepted to SEAL training with tibial fractures in his legs.
Controversy aside, my biggest criticism of Blizerian beyond his “stolen valor” is his public persona as a millionaire tacti-cool playboy. I love my guns too, but when you cultivate a public image like his, you take away the element of surprise when it comes to your equipment and abilities. In a SHTF situation, everyone knows where to find guns and ammo. In regular civilian life, this type of persona could potentially harm you in the legal aftermath of a self-defense shooting. Any prosecuting attorney would have a field day with this type of social media persona. A statement to the effect of, “This man seems like a paramilitary wannabe who is obsessed with guns. It is very likely that he has always wanted to shoot somebody and is always looking for an excuse to do so” could justifiably be made about him in legal proceedings.
For me this lesson is a natural extension of Lesson One that extends to everything including bumper stickers and back to clothing/attire featuring logos from arms manufacturers. When it comes to personal security, bumper stickers on a vehicle or a cheeky sign in front of your home essentially identifies it as a place to get guns. Whether that means smashing out the driver’s side window on the off chance that you left your gun in the cab, or a full-scale breaking and entering when you and your family are out.
6: WHEN IN ROME (Sort of): No doubt you have heard this expression. From the historical perspective, it is kind of a non-sequitur. Rome was the first cosmopolitan city in the world due to Rome’s constant expansion and absorbing of other groups into the empire. As such, it is difficult to truly define what a Roman is or most importantly, what a Roman looks like. Roman citizens came in all shapes sizes and colors, and yet despite coming from all corners of the known world, they were considered Romans. Perhaps it is the fluidity of that definition that can be best applied to this topic.
As an American traveling overseas it may not be possible to simply act, dress, or look like the locals depending on where you are. If you don’t meet the phenotypical look of the place you are in, you cannot expect to blend into the crowd. Here it would be more important to behave like as a local, or better yet, an expat. This could be achieved by some simple tactics like knowing where you are going and how to get there before you set out so you are not fumbling with maps or your phone, particularly while walking.
I generally like to use my Google maps app while walking when I visit a new area. My typical process for this is memorizing at least 3 turns ahead and having the phone in my pocket with the volume down. If I need to refresh myself or look ahead to the next series of turns, it is as simple as pulling the phone out and checking it for a few seconds. This can be construed by on lookers as checking a text. Additionally, I try to walk with a purpose to any destination. If you are casually walking and gawking at all the local color and scenery, it would be very easy to pick you out as a tourist which generally makes you a good target for assault,robbery, etc.
To sum it up, it is possible to seem like a local without necessarily looking the part on the physical level. I would begin by asking the question, what would a foreign resident of this country look and behave like?
7: IF YOU LOOK LIKE FOOD SOMEONE WILL EAT YOU: This is also one of those martial arts axioms that I have hear a lot. As a general principle, it does ring with some truth, however, with some caveats. First of all, some guys take this to mean looking and acting like the biggest and baddest mofo on the block. Problem with this is that eventually someone may want to try you out. Why invite this kind of attention? (See Points 1 and 5). Some of the scariest dudes I know have nothing conspicuous about them. Frankly, you could not pick them out in a crowd unless you knew what to look for. The behaviors that you will see if you are observant are the subtle things like situational awareness, scanning, and being generally aware of the environment. With that being said, this does not and should never come across as a deliberate set of behavior. Instead, it looks natural and comfortable and makes you look like you belong. This interplays with point 5.
Situational awareness is learned and honed through practice and diminished through non-use. You can practice little things in your day to day like that will assist you in developing these skills which can be applied anywhere.
There is a careful balance between looking like a tough meal versus looking like a predator. Some traditional wisdom on this subject can be found in General George Mattis quote, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet…” and Churchhill’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Individuals in the Self-Defense industry often use these quotes; yet, many of them consistently miss the mark on application. It is not about looking or acting hard, it is about mental and physical readiness. This comes through in body language and conduct. A lion does not pass over a gazelle in favor for a sick, weak, or injured one because the former looks like it could kick the lion’s ass. The lion will simply take the easier meal with lower risk in the hunt. This is true for human predators too because the criminal mentality is, at its core, a predator’s mentality.
Sometimes it is good to blend in, and other times it is better to stand out as a hard target. Look at the situation and decide what is best on a case-by-case basis, but regardless of the situation, always be hard to kill!
8: SECURITY AND COMFORT ARE INVERSELY PROPORTIONATE: In his book Escaping the Wolf, REAL NAVY SEAL, Clint Emerson describes the relationship between security and safety as the balancing of a see-saw. An increase of one will be a decrease of the other. This is not really a “how to” in the traditional sense of “do this to achieve that,” but it is important to have a governing philosophy and mentality to frame your approach. In my opinion this is one of the best axioms on the subject. Going through this list, you can see how this model can be applied to all of it.
To give some context, planning ahead for the types of situations that can arise at home or abroad requires the allocation of time as well as mental and physical energy. It is up to you to assess your own situation, needs, and desired level of security, but remember, a failure to plan is plan to fail.
9: KNOW WHEN TO HOLD EM, KNOW WHEN TO FOLD EM:
After spending years training for a day that may never come, it is very natural to want to test yourself. You may even go as far as wanting to look for a situation. This thinking is the antithesis of the Gray Man approach. The whole idea of the Gray Man is to be invisible, undetected, and when the time if right, you act. Until that moment, you never want to show your hand. Furthermore, you need to make an accurate and educated assessment of the situation and decide when that time is right.
For example, back in November of 2017, there was another mass shooting at a church in Texas. In this instance “a good guy with a gun” brought down the shooter. Steven Willieford and Johnny Langendorf, local residents living near the Church where Delvin Patrick Kelly had opened fire on parishioners. Willieford heard the gunfire and screams and responded by returning fire on Delvin forcing him to flee. Langendorf and Willieford then pursued Kelly in his vehicle at speeds in excess of 90mph, resulting in Delvin crashing his vehicle. While I personally do not agree with the high-speed pursuit through residential neighborhoods, I am fully in support of how both men responded to the situation. Here the civilian shooter had auditory and visual confirmation of the threat and acted accordingly. In stark juxtaposition, Blizerain, as mentioned above, thought it would be a good idea to flee the scene and return with a firearm to engage an unknown threat when LEO and first responders were on the scene and conducting operations. Frankly, I believe Blizerain was merely grandstanding for his audience. I know lots of guys who talk about what they will or would have done, but it is all talk. You don’t know shit until you been in the shit, plain and simple.
Conducting an immediate situational assessment regarding risk and benefit is crucial to deciding when you show your hand is a crucial skill. I typically think in terms, of minimizing risk to bystanders and then to myself. If I find myself in these types of situations, my first objective is to get bystanders and myself to safety. If I happen to be armed at the time and encounter the threat, I will engage so long as it is safe and reasonable to do so. You need to be honest with your self in your expectations of your own capabilities. Are you the kind of concealed carry shooter who can put accurate fire on a target armed with assault rifle while being fired upon? If not, or if there is any doubt, it would be best for you should keep your self out of that scenario. In my opinion, you should always look to preserve life and don’t go looking for a gun fight.
This holds true to all potentially physical altercations. It is best to avoid the risk to self and avoid these types of encounters in the first place. Remember, If you avoid going to stupid places, at stupid times, with stupid people, doing stupid things, you will probably be just fine. The Gray Man does no look for trouble; the Gray Man is trouble when the need arises.
10: TRAINING TO THE LEVEL OF YOUR EXPECTATIONS:
The often quoted Greek mercenary and poet Archilochus once said, “We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” Even though he made this statement between 650-600 BCE it is still serves as the fundamental principle at the root of nearly all military and law enforcement training, however many civilian shooters really miss the mark. Simply because you own a gun and put in your range time does not mean that you are ready for a gunfight. Just like if you carry a knife, it does not mean that you are prepared to use it against someone who is armed as well.
There are so many aspects to surviving a real life violent encounter that target shooting on a firing line does not prepare you for. If you carry a pistol for personal defense to and from work, then you must learn how to proficiently draw that weapon and put rounds on target quickly and accurately. If you keep a firearm next to your bed for home defense, you need to understand the ballistics of that weapon system and how it interacts with the materials that make up the structure of your home. You must also understand the layout and know how to move through your home in a manner that gives you tactical superiority against an intruder. Going a step further, if you wish to carry in public spaces as a means of not only protecting your self but others, then you need to bring your “A” game.
Can you accurately engage a target while minimizing damage to yourself as well as bystanders? And can you effectively move through an unfamiliar space in a tactically proficient manner while engaging an active target and discerning bystanders from the threat? If you only do standard range shooting, then the answer is no. Nowadays, with the availability of training courses, DVDs, training aids, and free content on YouTube, it is very easy to access materials to compile a descent skill set. However once you acquire the intellectual tools, you need to put them into physical practice.
While I enjoy the comfort and safety of an indoor range. I recommend public outdoor ranges. The benefit of training at outdoor public ranges is the lack of rules. At most indoor ranges that I have access to, individuals cannot do things as fundamental as working from their holsters let alone shooting on the move, while kneeling, prone, supine, shooting around cover, and practicing combat reloads. Everything on this list is a much for self defense shooters.
If you observe the points outlined above, specifically those regarding situational awareness you will avoid most, if not all of these potential situations. And if the need arises, hopefully you will have put in many hors of thought, planning, and training you will overcome the threat. Training is not one size fits all. But if you pursue education and acquire a useful set of skills and tools, you can easily adapt them to fit your personal needs and expectations.