Don’t hate on the sheep

I have some thoughts on my mind and want to share them here, but it’ll take some time before I can put everything on the table. So bear with me while I do that. I’ll try to let it all make sense in the end, even though it might not seem that way in the beginning. Here goes.

First, please read this article if you haven’t done so already. It has become a classic in certain circles, primarily those of self-defense advocates and practitioners, gun rights advocates and many more. Please note that I am not disparaging these groups. In many ways I’m a part of them. Nor am I critiquing the article, I understand the intent behind it and agree for the most part. Even more, I believe On Combat and On Killing should be required reading for everybody.

Second, there are all sorts of people in these groups. Some are men and women who have a certain mindset and belief system that values human life and thinks preserving it is important. Even if that means using violence. I get that. In essence, I agree with it (depending on certain conditions, which is a long article in and of itself.) and applaud them for it. I have nothing against those folks, on the contrary. If only there were more of them, I believe the world would be a better place.

Unfortunately, those groups also have a bunch of douchebags and assholes in their ranks, just like all other groups. People who use the belief system I just described as a punch line. Others do it to make themselves look tough/cool/smart/whatever. A final portion of them just doesn’t know any better and spouts nonsense out of ignorance. It’s those people I am talking about for the most part in this article. I’ll add a second group later.

Third, I’m generalizing with all this, I know. Here’s the thing though: I’ve consistently seen the behavior I’ll describe here below for years on end. So to me, it’s real. If your experience is different, then I’m happy you haven’t encountered the assholes I have.

Fourth, the sheep/sheepdog/wolves analogy works. It’s simple to understand and it gets the point across well enough. My only issue with it is that “sheep” inherently has a negative connotation. In most cultures that I know of, sheep are regarded as “dumb” animals. So comparing people to them isn’t really like giving them a compliment. Even though Lt. Col Grossman clearly states he doesn’t mean it in a negative way, it’s hard to see it as a positive term.

And that brings me to my point:

A lot of people look down on “sheep”.


The assholes I mentioned before do so for whatever reason makes sense to them. Perhaps they are motivated by a need to aggrandize their own ego. Perhaps they see themselves as sheepdogs just so they can look down on others. Or maybe it all comes from a need to dominate others. What bothers me the most though is when they use it as a means to justify their shitty behavior:

“Yeah I punched him in the face because he’s a wolf and I’m a sheepdog!”

All fine and dandy, but you’re not a sheepdog if you were provoking the guy in the first place…

Or they are always armed and make it a point to let people notice their weapons. Or steer the conversation to weapons and their right to use them at the drop of a hat. The narrative then often boils down to something like this:

“You can’t be too careful, right? If you’re not armed, how can you defend yourself? I’m not going down without a fight like one of those sheep!”

And more along those lines.

Do they have the right to claim the “title” of sheepdog? Of course.

Can they do so for a variety of reasons, including stroking their ego? Yup.

But in my not so humble opinion, then they also have to step up and put themselves on the line when it counts.

Unfortunately, that’s something I don’t see them doing. They’re all talk, but lack the will and guts to back it up. They want the goodies and cool points of being the kind of person who says “You shall not pass!” when the wolves come calling. But they don’t want to stand there in the front line. When the shit hits the fan, suddenly, they aren’t anywhere to be seen. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare this behavior to Stolen Valor, but it’s something similar. Just as I loathe the idiots who claim to be Navy Seals when they don’t even know what they’re talking about, I don’t have a lot of love for people who claim to be sheepdogs when they are unwilling to take up the role when it really counts.

They’re sheep who pretend to be something more.

They use that as an excuse or a justification to look down on the other sheep. I believe they should just be quiet. All the true sheepdogs I know, the soldiers, police officers and other first responders, those true warriors usually don’t like to talk about their heroism. It makes them uncomfortable. The wannabes should take their cue and just shut up. I don’t have high hopes that they will, but one can dream…

For the record: I don’t see myself as a sheepdog, even though others have told me I am one. Somebody even got upset with me because I refused to see myself that way. It’s a label I’m not comfortable with and I don’t use it to describe who I am. To each his own, but I’ll pass on this one. As an aside, an additional reason why I don’t want this label is because my first name means “the defender” or “the protector” in ancient Germanic. That’s more than enough of a burden already, thank you very much.


Sheepdog standing watch

Sheepdog standing watch, while others sleep…

The other side of the coin

For the last twenty years, I’ve been teaching martial arts and self-defense to a lot of people.  Because I don’t believe I own the “Ultimate Truth” ™ on those topics, I sought knowledge and experience wherever I could find it. Preferably with those more experienced than me. As a result, I’ve been in touch with numerous individuals who have lived interesting lives, to put it mildly: soldiers, cops, intelligence officers, bouncers, tough guys and more. Some of them are good people. Others are not so good people. A bunch of them are bad people who try to be good. I consider most of them friends. Over the years, we shared blood, sweat and tears. They were there for me when I was in need of help and I tried to be there for them as well. It’s safe to say they are not average Joes. They have a unique outlook on life. One that is borne of hardship and spilling their own blood. Most of them are sheepdogs, the way Grossman described in his article.

The conversations we have (especially after a few drinks) tend to go all sorts of places. Invariably, the stories are often hilarious, incredible, frightening, humbling, excessively violent and also beautiful. My own experiences often pale in comparison with theirs but I do have a couple that crack them up. One of them starts like this:

“So there I was, 18-years old and repeatedly axe kicking the head of this soldier who had both legs amputated. He asked for it and I didn’t want to be rude by not obliging.”

My friends get why I would have insulted that soldier by not trying to bash his skull in. The majority of other people do not, even when I explain the full context of that story. They look at me like I’m a freak. It’s so far out of the ordinary for them, they can’t fathom it and are usually disgusted. (Those very same people come running to me when they’re in the kind of trouble that involves violence, but I digress.) I quickly stopped sharing that type of story with others. Simply because there’s no point in telling it to people who really don’t want to hear that stuff. Multiply this by two decades and I no longer share large portions of my life or thoughts with people. They just don’t understand.

This can make you feel alienated from society, which in turn can make you resentful: if only the “sheep” knew what you know, they wouldn’t be so judgmental…

You might not hate on the sheep for the same reason as the wannabe sheepdogs I mentioned before, but in essence, you’re doing the same thing: looking down on them.

I went through that a long time ago and was fortunate to have the help of a few friends to see the error of my thought process. No matter how much it might hurt at times, there is no point in looking down on the people who were fortunate to not have violence in their lives. In other words, just because your life sucks and their doesn’t, that doesn’t mean you should look down on them.

It’s hard though.

The more blood and death you see, the harder it gets to not slap the shit out of a twenty-something who’s whining because he can’t afford the latest iPhone. But you should suck it up and see him for who he really is: somebody fortunate enough to not live through the worst parts of your life. It’s not his fault, he can’t help it because he doesn’t know. Just like you didn’t before you experienced that world.

If you give in to that resentment, you run the risk of alienating yourself even more and truly living isolated from society. When that happens, you are no longer a sheepdog. Perhaps you aren’t a wolf just yet, but you’re sure as hell no longer one of the good guys.


All this is illustrated very well in this scene from A Few Good Men. You can analyze this scene to death, there are so many reasons why it’s relevant. But in the context of this article, I’d like to point out that both Cruise (the sheep) and Nicholson (the sheepdog) think they are right and righteous. And they hate each other’s guts…



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  1. Darrin Kemp says

    I grew up in and still live in the south Bronx.I’ve seen things that I hope other people never have to see.This gives me a certain perspective.Most people suffer from serious Dunning/Kruger efect when it comes to violence.Most laymen think they are far tougher than they really are.Paper tiger wannabe badasses spoiling for a fight.At least until they actually get one.Sheep thinking they’re sheepdogs,sheepdogs not think of themselves that way and the real wolves are too busy doing the very worst of the wrong things to even give a fuck.The world would be a better place without all these clowns walking around rying to be John Rain.John Rain hates what he is.And no sane person would really want to be that. Sorry for the rambling .I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.You just happened to do a blog about it.Thought I’d vent a little.
    There’s a song by the band Depeche Mode called Walking in my shoes. Every potintial badass should listen to it.

    thanks Wim. Darrin Kemp

  2. Vaughn Heslop says

    I don’t know what to think.

    Thank you.

  3. Thought provoking article Wim. I am in agreement with everything you’ve said though I have a problem you alluded to but didn’t have space to elaborate. I am going to run long—my apologies up front.

    I believe it is a waste of precious energy (violates law of conservation of energy…psychological or physical) to get stuck resenting anyone for any reason.

    It’s hard to hate sheep if you pray as few people as possible are ever exposed to real violence. Some sheep become apologetic that they are naive and unprepared to deal with wolves. Why apologize ? You are blessed if you can live your life untouched by violence and ugliness. I wish this for my loved ones. I don’t have a problem with sheep per se.

    However, at times I catch myself being annoyed when I am the only one to speak up or intervene when a wolf is verbally and/or physically berating and bulling a “sheep”….pharmacists, store clerks, teachers, phelbotomists, and so on. At the age of 53 I am growing weary of intervening (there is virtually no free will involved rather a reflexive response) when there are other men/women around seemingly capable of offering some type of assitance. In my worst moments I grump that all men have a responsibility to cultivate the knowledge and fundamental skills to permit them to fulfill their obligation to protect the innocent and vulnerable. Believe it or not but Pope John Paul II was quite explicit about this obligation. Right or wrong it is something I sense is necessary.

    So I find myself brooding a bit that it is because the presence of sheepdogs or dumb Irish-Catholic eldest of 6 siblings taught to defend the underdog and ALWAYS come to the aid of an innocent/vulnerable person–that other men can stand on the side lines.

    I’m reminded of the people in the boat confronted with those who refuse to do their share of rowing. Well, if you don;t row you must go-overboard. Most people agree with this sentiment. But few people apply the same principle to placing oneself between wolves and sheep. There is no comparable social pressure or expectation that men will accept the responsibility to cultivate their skills to intervene if it becomes necessary. Moreover, plenty of people will pop me for expecting others to develop something my parents instilled in me–a reflexive response impulse to keep bullies etc in check.

    Yes, it gets lonely. Like you most of my thoughts are not meant for public consumption. Not everyone was raised and truly “brainwashed” and trained from a very early age to look after others (my brother and sisters-all 5) and to go on parent ordered missions to “inform so and so that it is unsafe to mess with your sister….no matter how big Goliath was or how badly I got my ass whooped.

    It doesn’t take long to realize it is essential to become proficient in neutralizing those engaged in causing harm to essentially defenseless human beings. And it becomes necessary to “cross the threshold” of accepting that you are capable and have a responsibility to end a life if such a situation called for it and there were no alternatives (including lack of skill to be able to subdue….use chin na to seize and control till police arrive vs. breaking limbs and worse). It is not easy to make peace with one’s ability in mind and body to kill someone, to imagine it, to live with it. Personally, I am all for sheep being sheep up to a point. Again, I dont want my loved ones to have to learn about the dark ugly brutal side of life.

    Frankly, this “reflexive response” is a burden. I am not thrilled about it. I grump about it. However, all of that disappears in a flash if a situation pushes the RR button. Then what happens next is a mystery to me.

    Living in the # 1 or # 3 city in the USA for violent crime per capita It seems I run into more “situations” than people living in different places. The odds are very much against me now. I have prevailed and survived for 30 years very rarely needing to put hands on people (with exception of 8 years working inpatient psychiatric units–more dangerous than most understand, riding with police, juvenile prisons, etc). And as it seems the odds are against me I am more inclined to look around to see who isn’t assisting. It’s not hate—it is frustration and disappointment.

    At the end of the day, we ought accept what we can’t change and do as we must. No point wasting time and energy hating people or “being frustrated and disappointed”. We play the cards we were dealt, eh ?

    Perhaps we label this a TIR. Thanks Wim

    • I used “hate on” more in the sense of “look down on” or “think negatively of”. Not the same thing as actually hating. But you kind of made my point: being frustrated and dissapointed” is a part of what I tried to explain. If it happens too often (like in your case), it’s easy to end up in the kind of mindset I described. Understandable and only human, but still not a good place to be.
      If only it were easy… :-)

  4. Charles James says

    I recently wrote a post adding in what I would refer to as a “shepherd” to this wolf, sheepdog and sheep from Col Grossman. Those are the guys who were sheepdogs and took it a step further to become the leaders and trainers of the sheepdogs.

    Thanks for another fine posing Mr. Demeere

  5. Old Bull Lee says

    Thank you so much for writing this Wim. I’ve always had some issues with that article and analogy.

    The phenomenon goes farther than even you stated. There are also honorable people who are genuine sheepdogs, but sometimes they take the attitude a little too far and completely devalue sheep because of the culture you are talking about.

    But society needs sheep too. Maybe someone never learned any self-defense because they spent time learning the surgery skills that will save your life.

    Another thing: couldn’t these categories be relative to each other?

    The unskilled wannabe carrying around a Taurus judge who think’s he a sheepdog? The cops think he’s a sheep.

    The cop trained in aikido who thinks he’s a sheepdog? From the perspective of a deployed soldier, he’s a sheep.

    The soldier who did a combat tour and got in one firefight? He may look like a sheep to a special forces guy who has seen ten times as much combat.

    I don’t want to bring sheepdogs down – we owe our lives to them. I just think Grossman’s article (or its misinterpretation perhaps) has drawn these lines of moral superiority that don’t do sheep or sheepdogs any good.

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.
      I don’t think Grossman meant to draw those lines. I think a bunch of other people used his analogy for their own purposes. Rgardess, the point is moot IMO: those assholes are out there.

  6. Darrin Kemp says

    What I’ve been thinking about is this:If you grew up in “the hood”,like I did,you dont tend to run into wannabe sheepdogs.You run in to wannabe wolves. And you end up spending a lot of time dealing with their particular brand of epic stupidity.
    I wasn’t interested in being a sheep dog.Infact I’m not.What I wanted to be was a sheep tough enough to make the wolves think twice.

  7. Dear Wim, I love reading your articles. I even bought your e-book. I like the analogy of sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. There is one point I contest.

    |It is a conscious, moral decision

    I thought this way as a teenager and young 20-something, even then I wondered if I were right. I know all to well how good people are at lying to themselves without meaning to and just how fallible I am.

    The reason I contend with this point is a lot of recent research. Indications are that human beings make decisions without any conscious thought. Actually even our thoughts are unconscious. We are aware of our thoughts and decisions, but not really how we make them.

    When asked how we came to a decision we can lay down all kinds of reasons, but ultimately we are reconstructing.

    This information comes from loads of brain diagnostics that are done to gather data. Turns out a lot of people, neurologists and psychologists of various types, are very interested in hard answers to epistemological whimsy.

    This does not mean people cannot develop some sort of control, only that we have no conscious determination in our decisions. We can inform that part of us that makes decisions, apparently, as people do change over time and there is plenty to suggest it is not entirely an accident.

    What does this mean for the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs? That we must be even more concerned with our internal personal grooming. Being aware is being empowered. So how we train ourselves to respond to those who just follow their impulses is even more important than before.

    It has nothing to do with morality, it has everything to do with ignorance versus awareness. Training and discipline to steer carefully versus not even knowing it is your hands you see on the wheel.

    • Michael,

      If I read you correctly, you’re saying/implying that we really don’t have much control over our decisions and actions and that morality is more coincidence than choice. If so, then I very much disagree with you and so does a lot of the research (both old and new) that I’ve read, along with my personal experience.
      E.g.: I wake up every day and decide to not be a flaming asshole to others, especially when I feel like it. That is me consciously determining not to do something I really want to do. I’m far from the only one doing this.

  8. I agree with your statement about not being able to tell people about episodes in your life and have them understand.I have found that I couldn’t possibly explain my life from age 14 to 26 without alienating them forever.Have also heard the expression that getting involved in martial arts is a cure all for anti social behaviour I started at 20 didn’t effect me much or change my world view for 6 long years .Something traumatic has to happen sometimes several times for you realize you are the asshole you are learning to defend against.

  9. would prefer to not use a name says

    I’ve been struggling to figure out where I fit in this analogy.

    I’m not a sheep.

    Looking back I see quite clearly that I have been a wolf. I’m not a wolf anymore.

    I’m not a sheepdog. I feel no sense of selflessness or need to serve others. But I am trained, prepared and INCLINED to aggressively (and passively) protect those in my immediate circle.

    My training, preparation, and DESIRES are all selfish in origin.

    I don’t think I’m unique, so there must be another overlooked category. Maybe I’m the loyal family dog, descended from wolves, related to sheepdogs, but only loyal to and responsible for my own pack?

    Have you had any thoughts similar to this? It’s been bugging me lately, especially as I get more exposure to the preparedness/ self defense/ use of force community.


    • I think you’d still fit in as a sheepdog in the spirit of the analogy. Like you said, it’s not out of a sense to serve and only to your own pack. But regardless of your motivation or focus on a limited set of people, you are serving in that capacity for them. So functionally, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference.
      I don’t see it as either or. I don’t think you have to go into law enforcement or the military to be considered a sheepdog. Being the one who protects the family/friends is plenty for me. But as I said before, this whole analogy is limited in scope and usefulness. It works in getting a basic idea across but beyond that, it begins to fray at the edges I think.

  10. The “sheepdogs” exist to protect the “farmers” profits, and carry out his orders which generally involves controling the sheep through terror. sheep are protected from the wolf not out of concern for the sheep’s wellbeing but rather its because of its value to the farmer! the sheepdog need not understand this, he simply needs to feel part of the pack and will be happy with scraps from the farmers table!

    • Like I said, the analogy isn’t perfect. :-)

      • Maybe it is? ;-)

        An interesting question is what motivates the “sheepdog”?
        As a poster above said, its easy to be motivated over one’s own pack / family but over unknown “sheep”?

        it would be interesting to ask a decorated US Iraq veteran, did he risk life to free the people of Iraq and to protect “democracy” (as he understands it) or to protect the profits of the superrich heavily invested in multi-national Industry reliant on petro_chemicals? (The wars actual effect clearly indicates its true purpose.)

        Why is there a very low age limit on entering “sheepdog” roles? Is it simply a “fitness” concern? Or is “duty” and “courage” dependant on naive belief often absent in those who’ve been around?

        It is interesting to read say Sasson’s poetry and watch a “sheepdog” full of belief and duty, become utterly cynical in the trenches, until he realises the “wolves” he kills are more “kindred” than the generals he follows orders from (farmers), and those “wolves” are someone else’s “sheepdogs”! Consider the reasons behind crime, the “class war”, and excluding the “rabid” sick few, one may conclude that there are no “sheepdogs”, just domesticated and non-domesticated wolves, one may even admire the the noble-spirit that fights a losing battle against the farmer and his traps in the pursuit of individual freedom!

        Kindest regards,

        The Big Bad Wolf! ;-)

        • Dunno Niall. I think the analogy is accurate up to a certain point. Individual freedom is interpreted very differently today than it was throughout human history. In the past, there were families=>clans=>towns=>cities=>countries, etc. for reasons. Strength in numbers and all that. It makes sense in that light to have sheepdogs and an ingrained path to that “lifestyle”. If there weren’t any, your group was exploited, killed, raped, looted, etc.

          The reality of the matter is that this is still valid today, even though modern society pretends it isn’t. Yet I don’t see many countries disbanding their law enforcement agencies or military apparatus, including the countries (like my own) who are not important players in The Big Game. There are reasons for that. :-)

          • My point is that the “sheepdogs” main function is to control the sheep, not protect them! One could argue that the sheep resign their power to the sheepdogs due to the “farmer’s” use of the threat of “wolves” to engineer consent, despite the fact that the “farmer” is far more dangerous to the sheep! The sheep’s power is of course the “flock”, and they evolved perfectly fine without sheepdogs for most of their existence. Rams played their natural role in protecting the flock!

            David Hume addressed such issues 250 years ago, intrigued by “the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, the implicit submission with which men resign their fate to their rulers”, He finds this surprising as “force is always on the side of the governed”.

            My point here is to consider which is “special” even “unnatural” – people adopting the nature of the “sheep” or the “sheepdog”?

            The article kinda suggests that “sheepdogs” are feared by sheep because of their capabilities that keep sheep safe! And that the sheep should really learn to accept the sheepdogs, even admire them. Certainly force is required to protect sheep, it is just that I feel such power should be held by the sheep, and that sheepdogs are still wolves! albeit it domesticated!

            To further this thought….It is stated that there is nothing “wrong” with being a sheep, this is a nice embracing thought, but is it true? A “domesticated” sheep is one that has been engineered to be docile and resign all defensive power to a supposedly “friendly” wolf. It amounts to an abdication of responsibility!

            In a way martial arts teach the sheep how to defend themselves without resort to a “friendly wolf”, for this reason, I believe, throughout history, many “farms” have banned such practice!

            ;-) think I’ve done that image to death now, the anarchist in me couldn’t resist an Orwellian play! lol!

            I’d recommend Naom Chomsky’s “Profit Over People” which expands upon the nature of power, control, violence, consent, freedom and “democracy”!

            • Gotta disagree with you here Niall. I think you’re reading too much in the analogy. Like all analogies, it breaks down at a certain point of analysis. I think the anarchist in you is reading things into this the author didn’t mean. :-)
              IMHO, the analogy is good to get a certain point across to people who live in a modern society and have no understanding of violence anymore because it isn’t part of their life and never has been. It works real well for that. Once you go into deep nuances and interpretation, not so much anymore.

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