It’s a misconception that your gun is your best defense. Yes, a firearm is a fantastic equalizer and the correct way to defend yourself against a life-threatening attack. But what if the situation dictates something a step below deadly force? What if someone is aggressive — minus the deadly intent — and could be dissuaded by other means? How can other skills, such as physical fitness and first-aid training, play a part in facing a catastrophe?

Part of being a responsible, well-rounded gun owner is being prepared to defend when a firearm is not required. You must know how to assess and deal with different threats and emergencies. That’s why proper training and being prepared are essential.

Keep Your Emotions in Check

This may seem like common sense, but it can be harder to accomplish than you may think. Self-control requires training and mental preparation. When you find yourself in a volatile situation, always be the calmer, cooler person. Be the adult. Do not let your ego play a role in your decision-making. In his excellent book, Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, Dr. George J. Thompson declared, “If your antagonist can upset you, he owns you at some level.” Think about that and let it sink in.

Just because someone behaves in an inflammatory way does not mean you should lash out or snap back. If you can walk away, walk away. If you can avoid an area, avoid it. Work to use non-confrontational body language. This takes practice.

And if the situation warrants it, apologize. Example situations include bumping into someone on the street or accidentally knocking a drink over. Isn’t your life worth protecting with a brief apology?

Refusing to fight isn’t a sign of weakness — it’s a sign of strength. If you can avoid a fight, avoid it. Be smart. Your brain and your training are the most valuable defensive measures you have available.

Avoid trouble hotspots in the first place. And as self-defense expert John Farnam likes to say, “Don’t go stupid places with stupid people and do stupid things.” Avoidance is a better tool than most people realize.

Physical Fitness as a Defense

Being physically fit is an important skill far too many people take for granted. What good will you do if you get easily winded or burn out quickly? You don’t have to be Tim Kennedy fit. But you want to be able to rapidly move during an emergency. Kevin Michalowski stresses the importance of improved arm and hand strength, balance, and improved cardiovascular health. These are all valuable for self-defense.

There are plenty of weightlifting and cardiovascular workouts available online. Most are tailored to fit specific personal needs. If you’re not eager to hit the gym, there are some wonderful workouts you can do from home. Some physical activity will leave you feeling looser, energized and alert. A little bit goes a long way.

First Aid

What if you or a family member is profusely bleeding due to a gun-related or non-gun related incident? Are you able to slow the bleeding? Most probably can’t. This may be your only chance to save a life before help arrives.

Get some training and make it a habit to carry something that can stop bleeding. Kevin recommends that you keep these three items in your range bag: a tourniquet, compress dressing and duct tape (you read that correctly). A tourniquet is for arterial bleeding. A compress dressing is for wounds that don’t include arterial damage. Duct tape, while an everyday item, can be used as a temporary chest seal for a sucking chest wound.

Secondary Defense Tools

Pepper spray is perhaps the most well-known secondary self-defense tool. It’s also one of the most misunderstood and misused pieces of equipment. When you use pepper spray, aim to stop the threat. Keep pressing down and spraying in the general direction of the attacker. During firearms training, you were told to shoot to stop a threat, right? Well, you spray to stop a threat too. One quick hit may not be enough.

There are other secondary measures on the market too, such as Tasers, knives and saps. Using a knife or sap requires more skill than pepper spray. Using a Taser isn’t foolproof either. Get training for any self-defense item you carry. Also familiarize yourself with the laws in your state or where you will traveling while carrying these items.

Keep Improving Your Defense

Defending yourself is more than knowing how to shoot a gun. Your education is never complete. The moment you think it is, you have lost. Strive to be a well-rounded protector. This National Preparedness Month, choose a specific skill and improve it. The decision might end up saving your life.