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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Imagining guys running around in black pajamas and swords, disappearing in a puff of smoke? Well let’s start with a proper… non Hollywood idea of what the Ninja were… or are… and then see what we can learn from them.

Today we have this image of the Ninja as evil assassins sneaking around Japanese castles and killing under cover of night. What most people don’t know is that the Ninja were simple farmers, priests and shopkeepers who were forced out of Japanese society and hunted by their own government. They were the ultimate survivors. In fact the word Ninja in old fashioned Japanese translates to “the person who overcomes”.

Early in Japanese history a Samurai General named Daisuke Togakure lost a battle; and as was tradition in Japan his master ordered him to kill himself and ordered that his family be stripped of all title and land. Instead this Samurai General chose to survive. He fled his home with his family and went to live in the wilderness. Now an outcast being hunted by his own government he was forced to re-invent his understanding of combat. Togakure met up with some Chinese immigrants who had fled the massive wars going on in China. Their knowledge of battle tactics, medicine and technology from all over the Asian main continent helped Togakure form what would become one of the earliest and oldest traditions of the Ninja. (This is just a rough and quick version of the oral history of the founding if this tradition) There are many other traditions of Ninjutsu but they all are similar in that they contain a philosophy of life which values surviving and overcoming or “persevering” and which leads to a simple life style with a very alternative method of self defense. The philosophy of the Ninja stood in opposition of the Bushido code of the Samurai which contained a strong class structure, and espoused suicide as a noble and honorable ideal. To the Samurai the Ninja were dishonorable, evil creatures who had no right to live… the Ninja just wanted to be left alone to live their lives as they saw fit. Enough for my quick history lesson, for more information on the Ninja I recommend the book Ninjutsu: History and Tradition by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi.

As a person who has studied and practiced this tradition for several years now I have found some great principles which are a guide I use in life and in my preparations to continue life. In all of my training and all of my study of the Ninja culture as it existed hundreds of years ago and as it exists today I have found five principles that seem to apply to the Ninjas secret to not only survive but to thrive. Here I plan to lay out a quick example of these five principles and how we may learn from them to protect us from things to come.

Principle #1: Strong and clean spirit
The Ninja were mostly followers of Shinto or Buddhism, however their traditions have strongly embraced members of many faiths and as a devout Christian I have found this to mean a strong relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Ninja speak of attaining an unfettered mind; that you should know who you are at your deepest core. Life should be spent learning, knowing and practicing what you are. This done in everyday life gives an unfettered mind and leads to good decision making under even the worst situations. With a strong foundation in Christ and a daily relationship with him, I find that when hard decisions come I have no trouble knowing how to proceed or at least knowing where to get my answers. This leaves me with a mind and heart which knows what is right and able to act upon it, not getting bogged down in the heat of the moment. When TSHTF it helps to already know in your body, mind, and soul what to do.

Principle #2: Utility.
While the Samurai prided themselves on beautiful swords passed down through their family for generations and body armor decorated with family crests and religious icons the Ninja often used little more than modified farming implements as weapons. This was in part because of the ban on civilians owning or carrying swords… (we can learn a lesson here) but also because of the principle of utility. To the Ninja they were not mere weapons, but rather everything was a tool. A Ninja didn’t pride himself on a fancy sword; instead he would make a sword which like all of his tools served more than one purpose. His other commonly used weapons were converted farming implements. One great example of a converted farm implement turned multi tool was the Kasuragama. It was essentially a small hand held sickle about 3 feet long used for harvesting grain. Sharpened with a rope or chain attached at the end, at the end of the rope was a heavy iron weight. This was used to tie up or entangle an enemy, and then the sickle blade would be used to finish them off. Most of the Ninjas weapons served many uses… sort of like an ancient Leatherman tool. Another example would be the Kunai. This tool started as a small shovel or trowel and was adapted to be used as a dagger, throwing blade and was even used to saw holes in walls for clandestine missions. Also for consideration were the Tekagi-Shuko which were iron bands with spikes on them worn on the hands and feet used for climbing trees and walls, but they were also used extensively as a hidden weapon which was both lethal and able to deflect or catch a sword. Sure the Ninja would have never turned down a fancy ray skin and ivory Katana, but he would usually be found with a much cruder instrument. Much as I am sure a Ninja would have loved to own a fancy piston driven AR-15 but would have likely found more use and value in an FN/FAL or AK.

Principle #3: Simplicity.
As I said earlier the Ninja were mostly farmers and merchants, but they could be found in all levels and aspects of life. There were even some Ninja amongst the ruling class of Japan at one time. What was common amongst them was that they strove to live a simple life. Both historic and modern Ninja rarely had lavish homes or castles. Rarely were known to frequent parties and social events. Instead they lived simple lives enjoying the things in life which were of true value. Simplicity permeated all aspect of their life. Often a diet of simple, healthy home grown food was eaten. With this simplicity in lifestyle one also becomes more in tuned to your own environment, able to notice small changes in weather and even understand nature on a closer level. Rarely did the Ninja draw attention to themselves. Instead of going off to become famous warriors and have grand adventures most Ninja lived quiet lives in their villages and trained diligently in their fighting arts; not for glory, but simply as a means to protect them and their families from the outside world. OPSEC was a large part of this simple life. When the majority of the country you live in wants you dead why would you want to announce your presence and tell the whole world that there is a village full of trained warriors living here? This shows that an entire community of people can live their lives every day just like everyone else, yet still prepare and train. The rest of the world didn’t know then and they don’t need to know now.

Principle #4: Community and Self-Reliance.
Contrary to what some may argue community and self reliance are not mutually exclusive ideas. The Ninja were experts at having a community OF self reliance. The Ninja often lived in very close nit villages and towns where they worked and trained together so as to provide everything they needed and thus insulate themselves from the rest of Japan. Today we have been trained to think that community means reliance upon others, but who decides where our community ends and who we are to be reliant on? If we were to think in terms of a community of self reliance, perhaps in our churches and neighborhoods we could go along way to change our nation in a better direction. Instead of thinking its all about me and my preparations we should look to find a group of like-minded people with similar moral values and help each other work and train to provide for our every need locally. (Mr. Rawles has expounded this idea for many years, and I say it’s a sound principle wherever it comes from and can be applied to far more than just a retreat group.) This could go along ways even in our own neighborhoods and churches to insulate us from the insanity which is happening to the rest of the world. Imagine you belonged to a church or lived in a town which took no federal subsidies, grew its own local food and had a strong tradition of tradesman and craftsman industry… how bad would a collapse of the dollar and international economy be for you then? Not good for sure but a lot better than what your looking at now.

Principle #5: Fluidity.
Absolutely essential to the fighting style and even day to day life of the Ninja is the principle of fluidity. The Ninja fighting style involves five principle ways or feelings of combat. Each one represents an element of existence and grants almost a personality to your movement and technique. Examples are fire, a strong hot burst of energy cutting through an opponent or earth, the stable and immovable feeling of power. The five elements (earth, wind, fire, water, and the void) are not in themselves all powerful; it is the Ninjas ability to transition from one to the other and combine them in response to any situation which is essential. This fluidity was not just expressed in the elemental forms of combat, but instead is the fundamental difference between the Samurai and the Ninja. The Samurai followed set in stone techniques and movements. Memorize enough movements and you will have one for every situation. The Ninja started when they had to adapt and abandon old ways; this flexibility allowed them to meet all situations and adapt their techniques to any situation. A fundamental idea in the Ninja philosophy is not to have expectations of what will happen, but instead to be ready for and deal with whatever comes. Work towards your goals but adapt to the outcomes as they happen, don’t get caught in a frustrating loop of things not going your way and reacting with the same effort every time. We prepare for a myriad of predicted situations, financial collapse, martial law, foreign invasion, civil unrest, tyrannical dictatorships or natural disasters. We should not have categories of tools and utensils for each scenario all stored in labeled lockers and sealed for that day. We should have basic tools which will work in any situation. Tools which serve multiple purposes and can be adapted to anything we need.

There are many things we need to be prepared and I pose we can learn from the Ninja just what we need. We can use the five elements to know what we need to have in order to flow from one situation to the next.

WATER: Just as water feeds life and contains a power in both its ability to draw away from and crash back onto anything, to slowly erode a mountain, feed the tallest tree; we need the essentials of life. Food and water, staples which will allow us to pull away from society in crazy times or from a disaster; then crash back into the world to effect proper change because we did not have to corrupt ourselves or compromise our morals to obtain the basic necessities of life. Having extras of the basic staples of life also can allow us to slowly erode the negative influences in the world around us by being able to help those in need. When a friend or neighbor loses a job or goes through a personal tragedy having extras allows us to help, possibly preventing them from becoming dependent on a corrupt system of entitlements and government dependency.

EARTH: Strong foundations in faith and community allow us to stand like a rock against the corruption and destruction around us. Drawing strength from our foundations in the lord and our ability to stand on our own can enable us to be the rock upon which the golden hordes can wash upon with no effect. Earth also is the principle in which our retreats and our property can give us strength. It is the foundation in this world from which we draw strength. Having our own land, untouched and uncontrolled by the outside world allows us to have a foundation which can not be corrupted; to remain in our communities and to hold our morals untouched by the rest of this corruption we see around us today.

FIRE: Fire is our arms, our brute force through firepower.
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States" -Noah Webster
The Ninja as with all people of Japan were disarmed by the ruling elites, however the Ninja refused to comply, instead they fought back. There is a time in life when life can only continue to exist through the direct application of violence. Fire comes in a burst of violence, heat and action. It is emotional, but not un-controlled. Fire also represents our passion, the passion which makes us act. It is the burning sense of right and wrong which protects our very soul from the corruption of the world. When the world around us descends into chaos it is this passion for justice which will separate us from the looters, not just our stockpile of food.

WIND: Wind leaves us aloof, it represents the lighthearted sense of security preparedness gives us. Knowing that you can not be harmed by a grid down situation, or a food shortage; knowing that you are ready to take on armed bands of looters, or able to provide medical aid to a family member. This is the goal of every prepper, and with it comes a feeling that you can flit through life untouched like a leaf blowing in the wind. This feeling does not come from having stockpiles of dry beans, nor does it come from an arsenal of guns and bullets. This feeling comes from the training we seek. Having beans and bullets does you no good without the ability to use them and the confidence which comes from training. The feeling of being un-touchable effects your very movement and every aspect of life. Being self reliant, with your own business and self sustaining property gives you this confidence and allows you to take stands politically and economically without fear of losing your job or being evicted from your home if you oppose the powers at be.

THE VOID: This is often a difficult concept. In a sense the void is entirely what preparing is. The void is the sense that anything can and will happen. On one hand it is the knowledge of all potential dangers and the ability to handle them. On the other hand it is the ability to react with anything, having every tool in your toolbox so that you can react and adapt in any way necessary. Basically preppers have a stereotype, a reputation for being the crazy guy sitting in his basement full of food and guns with a frying pan for a helmet declaring the end is near. Where the void can help is in the idea of not being an idea. Not being anything in particular, be void of form. Don’t fit a stereotype; don’t buy tools or equipment because you are told it’s the cool prepper thing to do. Void means that your entire life is intertwined with the principles of survival preparation and you live the way you believe. Prepping isn’t just something you do, it is a part of who you are and in everything you do. You do not have the form of a prepper, you’re just prepared.

I have done my best in this article to both educate you about the medieval survivalists of Japan and to point out lessons we can learn from their approach to life. I am by no means an expert in the subject, but I have brought to you my understandings. I hope that this has been a great help for you. If you are interested in this subject and would like to pursue it further I strongly encourage you to do so. There is so much that the Ninja of our modern world can teach and can give you for your survival preparations. To learn more I suggest you seek a group called the Bujinkan.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mr. Rawles:
First of all, I would just like to say a huge thank you for all the advice, expertise, and survival techniques that you have bought to my attention through your books and your blog. I never realised just how much of a risk our current climate is, and how likely we are to get to a state of "every man for himself" survival.

My name is Steve. I am a 21 year old living in the West Midlands county in the heart of Great Britain. I have always had survivalism in my blood, and have always liked to think that I am prepared for whatever the world can throw at me, but recently, the last four years or so, I have become increasingly worried with the state of my country and economical clime. My fears were confirmed last August when mass rioting and looting took control of many of my country's cities, including our capital, London. The authorities and law enforcement were powerless to do a thing, and we were nearly in a state of "Northern Ireland law enforcement", in that the armed forces were to patrol the streets, and we were to have riot shielded police with water cannons on every street corner. Thankfully, that situation has calmed down now, but I know it is only a matter of time before chaos breaks out again.

My main concern is that I, like many million other British residents, live in multi-story, "high rise" flat (apartment) which I see as near enough impossible to defend in the event of WTSHTF. Some "high rise" flats can have as many as 60-70 homes, with 200+ people living in them. It's one thing to secure my front door from burglary and looters, but what's the point when our housing options are so small that we barely have enough room to sleep a family, let alone store equipment and supplies for the inevitable. It's impossible for me to keep a back up generator along with substantial food, water, and fuel supplies in a home that has the total floor space of around 30'x30', including bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room and dining space. My home is just not a practical safe house for me, my fiancée, and our daughter. Let alone the fact that we are on the 5th floor, and would have almost zero chance of escape in the event of a fire or terror attack.

I know that the obvious thing to do would be to move house, somewhere out of the city with the space and freedom to properly prepare, but we simply can not afford to. I am currently out of work. I lost my job over a year ago and have been unable to find work since. The same goes for my fiancée, who lost her job nearly two years ago and has also been unable to find a new work placement. We both have to survive on[a combined unemployment insurance benefit of] just over £53 per week (about $84.50 USD), pay all our bills, rent, buy our food, and also bring up our young daughter. It's outrageous. In the past two years alone I have witnessed more businesses and company's both regionally, and nationally, collapse due to the economic state that my government has put the country in. I have recently applied to join the British Armed Forces Reserves (Territorial Army, or TA) in an attempt to earn more money to support my family, and also acquire any necessary tactical, survival, and combat, training and techniques that will undoubtedly prove vital WTSHTF.

Another concern I have, the laws and regulations in this country regarding owning and using firearms. Shotguns and shotgun licenses are fairly easy to obtain, if you own a farm or are a registered target/clay-pigeon/small-game shooter. But other than that, pistols, rifles, and semi-auto weapons are nearly impossible to obtain and get a licence for. A licence can be applied for, but are rarely granted. If you are lucky enough to obtain your licence and firearm, you can expect regular "knocks on your door" at 3 a.m. by the local armed police to check your ammo count and security cabinets for both weapon and ammunition. Then there is the fact of actually getting hold of ammunition for your gun(s). The only real stockist of rifle and pistol ammunition is local "gun clubs" where enthusiasts can go and fire a limited number of rounds from their weapon. But even then, only specific weapons are allowed to be fired. Mostly, some pistols and shotguns. We have no real facilities to accurately zero and test fire weapons that we will no doubt need for our own protection and survival in the case of TEOTWAWKI.

I know I may be thinking small in terms of what will happen, but these are real concerns that I deem as extremely important to the survival and order of my family and fellow country man in the near, inevitable, future.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback or advice that you could give me.

Thank you again, and keep yourself safe. - D.S.

JWR Replies: Joining the TA is a great way to get yourself training in marksmanship, land navigation, first aid, small unit tactics, and even NBC defense. The rigorous physical training will also get you in great shape. BTW, I recommend that you start running every-other day and doing dozens of sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups a day, months in advance of your enlistment.

The free SurvivalBlog archives are fully searchable for the many articles that we've posted on selecting and training with weapons for locales with draconian laws. The article topics include:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
I'd like to throw in a different angle on SHTF-oriented fitness and martial arts.  A little over two years ago I felt the need to get back in shape, I remembered what I could do as a Marine in my early 20s (I'm in my mid 30s) and wanted to at least get within shouting distance of that.  Going to the gym solo just never worked for me.  So I started doing some research and came across Japanese Kendo --- the modernized Samurai sword fighting sport.  The pros are many.  You don't have to start in great shape or be flexible.  After the initial cost of equipment, it's cheaper than any gym.  It's a very long road to competency, even after two years I'm considered a beginner; in some strip-mall karate dojos I'd have a brown or black belt by now, this dynamic keeps the "yahoos" away and is really only attractive to serious people (I prefer serious people to yahoos any day).  You will get in great shape, especially after you start practicing in armor, I never got a workout like Kendo in the couple "hands and feet" martial arts I have done in the past.  The armor and uniform are heavy, and you're swinging a bamboo sword (shinai) constantly.  My dress shirt sleeves stop a full inch short of where they did when I started Kendo, that's attributable to gaining that much shoulder and back muscle.  Your abdomen and legs will get stronger too, all good core muscles.  I had poor wrist/grip strength from a previous sprained left wrist and a sprained right thumb and now I can shake hands with the best of them.  You'll certainly need this muscle tone and endurance when the SHTF.

There are some cons of course.  Your body won't be conditioned to run long distances from Kendo, you won't add five inches to your biceps either.  You won't learn five simple techniques to take someone out with your bare hands.  You're not fighting in street clothes.  You will lose weight if you're overweight, but it's not the primary focus of Kendo.  It's very traditional and the pace of learning will seem slow to most Americans.  Buying all of your equipment can easily be a $500-$700 one time cost.  You probably won't find a Kendo dojo outside of a city.  Everything is with a sword which is probably not above rifles, shotguns, and handguns on your SHTF weapons list.  With that said I'd rather have a knife, sword, fireplace poker, etc than my bare hands and feet in a fight, plan accordingly!

One more plug:  If you live in the Seattle, Washington or Prescott, Arizona areas, then check out American Combato / Jen-Do-Tao.  This is one of those "5 simple techniques to take someone out with your bare hands" martial arts I mentioned above, it's oriented specifically to real world situations.  I have not checked out the DVDs but did attend classes for over two years, it's a fantastic self-defense oriented martial art. - J.S.

As a long time martial arts student and instructor (28 years) I would like to welcome Dimitri G. back into the ranks.
Dealing with students both old and young always poses challenges but the real challenge comes in dealing with students that studied when they were young and then return with older bodies.
The main challenge is attitude. I do not challenge Dimitri’s attitude and sincerely respect him for his decisions and driving commitment. What I want to point out is how attitude changes with older students that may have had a bad experience while being the younger student
As I have learned and observed from witnessing myself and other students we all get old, our bodies break down, and we want to recapture the bravado of our youth.
The biggest lesson I have to keep learning as I age and keep teaching are the basics.
For me my basics fall in to three categories’ physical, mental, and skill.
These represent a foundation for me to age gracefully, grow old, and not be a grumpy old tough guy.
To help define how I look at each section:

Physical – “I also call these the three hardest things you will learn in the martial arts”
         How to walk
         How to fall down
         How to breathe

         How to realize I don’t have all the answers
         How to learn that education is a two way experience between teacher and student – we both learn and we both teach
         How to stay in touch with my peaceful side but still let my need to kick butt side lead when necessary
         Learning how to kick, block, punch, fall… are basic skills and need to be reinforced on a continues basis
         My physical fitness level will change with age and health so I must be willing to change my perspective, ways of training, and styles of striking to one of mastering the situation via mental and other skills.
         Education comes best from having someone play the leadership role; e.g. one man does not an island make – you can trade leadership roles within a group but the student teacher relationship is very important
Unfortunately Dimitri post alludes to the "colored belt factory" industry that is so prevalent in our U.S. culture. While good schools do exist they are fewer by number and are getting harder to locate. His recommendation to find private instruction is a good one to help someone who is coming back into the arts.
Another method is to locate a local martial arts store in your area and have a chat with the owner. They can be a wealth of knowledge in locating good teachers. And remember, you don’t necessarily want the teacher with all the stripes on their belt. Rather, you want the one that doesn’t care about all the stripes. - Old Man Karate

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

First off: English is not my native language. I apologize if this article is not easy to read. I hope that its usefulness will outweigh the inconvenience.

I am 40 years old, overweight by about 50 pounds, and I regretfully admit that in the past 15 or so years I became a “couch potato”. In other words, my physical fitness is not up to the challenges of any survival situation.

When I was a lot younger, I practiced karate, boxing, and weight lifting. I was pretty tough, and even back in high school there was no bully who would risk messing with me.
Apart from being a martial arts practitioner, I had (and still have) a huge library of very good books on various martial arts, with an emphasis on “street fighting” applications.
I dare think my opinions are based on a thorough analysis of various available options combined with my own experience and learning from mistakes, rather than mindless following someone else’s rigid views or advertisement.

As I got a family and a job about 18 years ago, hard work with lots of overtime did not help my plans of “getting back to the gym”, but quite frankly - I just got lazy.
I trained less hard and less frequently, until one day last year I realized that I had completely lost whatever skills and physical fitness level I used to have, and I can hardly run half a mile, let alone being able to defend my family in a SHTF situation.
I walk my dog, with an occasional sprint-run up the hill to the house where we live in Western Washington, and I try to keep my flexibility at a semi-decent level... but, other than that, I am completely “out of shape”, - both figuratively and literally.
My results in push-ups and pull-ups exercises are ridiculously low, and my punches are too far from being nearly as powerful as I want them to be.

I’ve been pondering an idea to start regular training, but without a well thought out system, I have more chances of hurting myself in the process than getting any results back. [Been there, done that...]

This article is my first attempt in many years to create an actionable fitness and hand-to-hand combat plan, and I hope that it will be useful not only to myself, but also to someone who can honestly identify himself (or herself) as a “couch potato” and wants to start preparing physically for the SHTF situation.

I will spare you my efforts to provide mental preparedness and/or motivation.
If you have a family, you have all the motivation you need. Just imagine what might happen to your loved ones if a gang of armed, ruthless, blood-thirsty looters attacks your neighborhood... and you’ve got all the motivation you need.
The only trick is to learn how to turn your fear and anger into a burning desire to train harder than before. But please remember that the older you are, the more careful you need to be when performing physical exercises.

Let’s start with the goals: what are we trying to achieve?
Your goals will define your list of exercises, training sessions frequency, etc.
In time, your goals will mostly stay the same, but the list of exercises will have to change.
Here’s my list, which might be very different from yours:
Minimal physical fitness to help me and my family survive the coming collapse. I must be able to:
- walk long distances with at least 50 pounds of weight (basic bug-out bag, weapons, ammo);
- run fast;
- run long distances;
- carry bigger weights for a short period of time (e.g., if an injured family member or neighbor must be evacuated from a burning building);
- climb and jump;
- fight (unarmed) against one or two enemies who are not armed and do not have special training.
Long-term goals:
- continue getting stronger and faster;
- more physical endurance;
- fight using a stick, a knife, and anything that can be used as a weapon, against armed and well-trained enemies.

This last one most likely made you laugh...
I know all too well that real-life fights are nothing like movie tricks.
It is almost impossible to win a fight if you are unarmed, and you fight against a group of special forces soldiers armed with guns.
But seriously: who do you think will be your real enemy?.. Most likely, one or two (worst case scenario, - three) gang members, armed with sticks or knives. Maybe, one of them will have a gun which he will be pointing at you at a short distance.
It is realistically possible to win this fight.
Of course, you need to be really well-prepared, and you need a good portion of sheer dumb luck... but there is a chance. And I say, it’s better that just giving up and letting my family be raped and killed. I’d rather die fighting, but I want to take as many bastards with as possible. Perhaps, as luck would have it, even win…
I can’t rely on always having a gun available, because we all know what happened after Katrina.
How such a situation would develop depends on a lot of factors, such as their original intentions (grab-and-go vs. rob-rape-and-kill), how many members their gang consists of, what the surrounding circumstances are (are you on the second floor of your house with a gun in your hand, with your family behind you, or are you unarmed in a street, with a bandit holding a knife at your teenage daughter’s throat?..), what weapons their have and - more importantly - how ready they are to murder someone. Needless to say, a hungry unarmed neighbor who came to steal your can of beans is not exactly as dangerous as a gang of prison escapees armed with guns.

Sorry, I digress... That was more of a motivation than a plan...

Anyway, let’s get back to the goals.

If you’re like me, and you need to start your physical fitness almost “from scratch”, you need to start slow.
I can run up my hill twice, but then I’ll probably have a heart attack. At the very least, my knees will hurt for several days.
Punching a heavy bag too hard is another good example of my stupidity.
I learned from my own mistakes that I need to know my current limitations, or I won’t be able to exercise for quite some time just because of traumas. If you are half as pissed off as I am, and about as willing to defend your family as I am, it is far too easy to overestimate yourself and have one training session after which you will be able to barely move for a couple of weeks, if not worse. Be realistic. Do not expect great results in a day.

What I am going to do (and you probably need to do that, too) is make a list of some basic exercises that I am going to perform in the nearest future (that is, within the next couple of months, until I feel I am ready for a more serious training) and write down the results I can currently get without negative consequences.
For example, how long can I run at a relatively slow speed before I feel I’ve had enough for today? How many push-ups, and in how many sets, can I do, without having debilitating pain for the next few days? And so on, and so forth.
If you don’t know what exercises to perform, don’t worry, I’ll get to them shortly.

The idea is to figure out how much you are capable of under normal circumstances, and start – slowly but steadily – building up the foundation for future exercises that will help you prepare for a survival situation.
When analyzing your abilities, try to figure out what you already have and what you need to focus on.
For example, if you are strong, but you can’t run a mile, it is obvious what you need to do: more walking and running.

An important thing to keep in mind is that there are different kinds of pain, and it is extremely important to be able to distinguish between them.
If you practiced any kind of sports ages ago, you know what I am talking about.
There’s good pain which you feel (normally, for a day or two) after a good workout. It shows that, once your body has had enough rest and food, your physical results will grow a little bit, thus adding up to an overall progress of your training program.
And then there are all kinds of bad pain, which indicates that something is wrong.
This might be from some illnesses, but it can also be caused by over-exercising or traumas.
I can’t describe in a short article how to be sure that the pain you are feeling is good. If you are sure, fine. Otherwise, talk to a doctor.
Bottom line is: “no pain, no gain”, but not all pain is good.
And you need to be certain that you get exactly the right amount of exercise for your current level of fitness and for your current condition. Too little, and you won’t get any results. Too much, and you’ll be sick. The same goes for frequency and intensity of your training sessions.
Besides, you might feel great today and be able to exercise a lot, but tomorrow you’ll get tired at work and be unable to exercise at all.
There are far too many variables which make it absolutely impossible to make an optimal training plan for everyone. Experiment with your training routine, and change it often to continue “surprising” your body to give it a stimulus to develop.
Worse yet, for each “couch potato”, it is often very difficult to distinguish between tiredness and laziness. Deal with it. Motivate yourself. Just imagine what would happen if your family is attacked, or starving, or needs to be evacuated from a burning building, or something like that...

Now, a few words about self-defense.
I could write a book about all kinds of Bravo Sierra surrounding martial arts, but this is just an article.
The more you research this topic, and the more you practice some kind of fighting skills, the more “deep understanding” of it you get. Sometimes, it’s just a feeling that something is right or wrong, and it is difficult to put it into words.
So, I’ll be very brief.

  1. Practice often.
  2. To start with, use only a few primitive techniques (punches, kicks, blocks, movements) and combinations of them. A simple well-practiced technique is far better than several of those which you won’t be able to do in the critical situation. A simple and reliable technique is far more valuable than a complex one.
  3. Each technique must be practiced in all kinds of scenarios hundreds of thousands of times before you can be sure it will work for you when you are scared to death, in an disadvantageous position, tired and injured, and so on, and so forth.
  4. Practice while wearing the same type of clothes you wear every day. If you train for a survival situation, a uniform with a colored belt is not for you.
  5. If you never practiced martial arts before, too bad. Learn. Read books. Do not learn from movies. Nearly all martial arts schools suck: it is rarely their goal to teach you how to fight for your life. If you can, find a private instructor who has experience teaching in the military or law enforcement: most of the time, they know how to fight for real. The best possible option is a Krav Maga instructor with military background.
  6. There is no substitute for a very heavy and very hard (as opposed to “soft”) punching bag. Period. Buy it, use it, learn to love it. Remember to start slow, even if you were very good at it years ago.
  7. If you can’t do at least 50 push-ups in a single set, your punch will never be any good.
  8. Practice kicks from a sitting position on the floor with your hands tied behind your back. If you know what I mean, good. If not... just do it. Thank me later.
  9. Practice as if one of your arms is injured. If you are any good with kicks, practice with tied hands (there are a lot of blocks which use feet or shins). Practice hand techniques while hopping on one leg.
  10. Learn to sweep an enemy’s weapon away from you (and away other people around you) in one swift move. Practice those moves with a heavy club or a dumbbell, then repeat without a weight, but with a maximum speed. If you see techniques which show a couple of steps combined with a complex wrestling-style throw or arm lock, know that this is BS. Remember that your enemy is neither super-dumb nor super-slow, and there will probably be at least two of them. You can only hope to distract his/their attention and then use at most half a second before he pulls the trigger. As a general rule, learn to tell movie tricks from real practical techniques.
  11. Practice at home, in the backyard, on the staircase, in a car, in a room full of furniture... in other words, practice your skills everywhere where you expect to fight in real life. A gym is hardly the right place. Fight on the ice, under rain, under blindingly bright sun, in complete darkness, when it’s cold and when it’s hot. Wear shoes or be barefooted.
  12. When you get better at fighting skills, add exercises with weapons, especially a knife and a club. Do not use nunchaku or sai or kama or any other samurai/ninja/peasant garbage: it’s just stupid; we are not in a medieval Japan. Learn to use almost anything as a weapon that you can find in the street (a stone, a piece of wood) or in your living room. But again: be realistic; you can’t use a match box as a weapon, regardless of what some idiots claim. A weapon must enhance a human’s ability to self-defense. A table lamp, a pen, or almost any potentially dangerous object probably can be used as a weapon, but a coin with a sharp edge cannot. Just imagine defending yourself with a sharp coin or a match box against an attacker armed with an AR-15, laugh, and move on to practicing serious stuff.
  13. Learn how to fall down. While you’re at it, learn how to fight when you are on the ground. No, I am not talking about wrestling; I mean blocks and kicks and jumping back up to your feet. If you have any doubts about efficiency of wrestling techniques for a real survival fight and if you enjoy watching MMA fights, imagine that the referee is another one of your enemies, and he is armed with a knife while you are wrestling with another guy.
  14. Practice blocks. It takes time and lots of practice to set up your defense, but you won’t survive without it.
  15. There are hundreds of martial arts styles, dozens (if not hundreds) of thousands of individual techniques. Let this sink in: YOU DO NOT NEED THEM. All you need is (at most!..) a dozen punches and kicks, plus a dozen of blocks, all of them combined into 2-, 3-, or (at most) 4-elements combination techniques, which you have practiced countless thousands of times each, and which you can deliver under any conditions with lightning-fast speed and steel-crushing power. Leave jumping-spinning-back-hook-kicks to movie actors, professional sportsmen, and chronic idiots.

Of all the styles, I recommend Krav Maga and Shorinji Kempo.

I can spend days discussing pro’s and con’s of various techniques for self-defense.
But the point is, you either start practicing now, or you spend years talking about it while scratching your belly.
What works for me, might not work for you, and vice versa.
To start with, for a complete newbie, I recommend:

  1. Forward elbow strike.
  2. Palm-heel straight punch.
  3. Forward knee kick.
  4. Forward kick to the groin.

Once you’ve got some experience (assuming you don’t have any yet), you will add more techniques (but not too many!..).
These 4 will get you started. Imagine a very fast and very powerful kick to the groin, followed by an elbow strike, and you’ll feel much better about your ability to defend you loved ones and yourself. Another good thing is, - these simple techniques let you not worry too much about your enemy wearing a bulletproof vest: it is very unlikely that his groin will be protected.

One of the most difficult things to do for someone like me is holding myself back when performing some formerly-familiar exercises.
When I was 17, my friends and I used to break bricks just to show off. My mind still remembers all the stuff, but my body doesn’t. If you practiced, for example, boxing 20 years ago, but have not hit a punching bag in years, be extra careful on the punching bag: you can think you can punch a hole in it, but your fist is not nearly as strong as it used to be, and your wrist will hurt terribly if it can’t hold the punch and bends. Hence, my advice to strike with a palm heel.
The older you are, and the less fit you are, the more careful you must be when you try to become fit.

And I want to emphasize it one more time: talk to a doctor before you start any kind of serious training.

In my opinion, the most important fitness-related abilities for SHTF situation are endurance, some basic strength, and self-defense.

If you’ve been running/jogging for some time now, you are in a better shape than most of us.
But if running is the only exercise you’ve been doing, then you are still not prepared physically for survival.

For a complete couch potato, I recommend the following exercises:

  1. Walk as much as you can every day. If you have a dog, just walk him around your neighborhood or in the park, until you feel really tired. (again: do not confuse it with just being lazy).
  2. Run as much as you can at least 3 times a week. It may be for just a few seconds to start with, but do it. You’ll get better very soon. Watch your pulse and breathing. Talk to your doctor first, especially if you have any medical problems.
  3. Do squats without any weight. Just stand up (try it now! I’ll wait...), then bend your knees completely, so that your butt almost touches the floor, then stand up again. Do it slowly, as many times as you can. If you can do it close to 100 times, you are not a couch potato. Sorry for wasting your time. Keep doing whatever it is you do to be in good shape. Otherwise, do one set of this exercise twice a week (say, for example, right now, and then in 3 days, and then in 4 days, and then again in 3 days, and so on). When you feel it is easy, start doing 2 sets, with 2 minutes rest after the first set. Perform this exercise right after you’ve come back from a jog. Then do the stretching exercises, and then practice kicks: this “pre-tiredness” will help a lot if you have the same problem with my knees as I do (they hurt from kicks unless my muscles are already not only warmed up, but really tired when I start kicking practice).
  4. Pushups. A must-do for everyone. One of the best exercises for your upper body, and you can do it anywhere, anytime. If you can’t do it properly, put your hands on the side of your bed (instead of the floor), and you’ll feel how much easier it is. If you are able to do at least a couple dozen pushups in a set, start varying the technique: put your hands shoulder-width, or wider, or narrower. Keep your feet on the ground or put them on the chair. Push up on open hands or on fists or (if you can) on fingers. Do slow pushups or very slow or normal speed or very fast or “explosive” style. There’s a big difference - and you’ll feel it - between hands-together-feet-on-the-floor-very-slow-pushup and fists-very-far-apart-with-feet-2-feet-above-floor-fast-pushups.
  5. This one is very hard for a real couch potato... but also extremely important. Pull-ups. Basically, the idea is to grab something above your head and pull yourself up by bending your arms. Before I got my own training equipment (and while having no money for a gym...), I used to do pull-ups in a children’s playground. There’s always something close to your home where you can do pull-ups. Worse-case scenario, just hang a rope between two trees. Or, buy a pull-up bar from a sports store: it goes in a doorway, it is easy to set up and to remove (it takes seconds, without any tools), and it costs around $30. Look up “pull up bar” in to see what I mean. The problem with pull ups is that not every middle-aged man or woman can do them. Don’t trick yourself by thinking that you can replace this exercise with dumbbells or barbells “curls”: no, you can’t. If you can’t do a proper pull-up now, not even once, do not despair: you can put something under your feet to step on, so that you can grab a pull-up bar while your arms are already half-bent, and then perform partial pull ups. When your arms get stronger, eventually you’ll be able to get rid of that chair or whatever, and perform regular pull-ups. There might also be another problem: if you are overweight, and/or your grip is weak, you might have difficulty just hanging in there... literally. There’s no better solution for this than regularly hang on the pull-up bar as long as you can, and for as many sets as you can before it really hurts, as many days a week as possible.
  6. Abs workout. There are so many exercises... If you are overweight like me, I am sure you know them all. Do whatever works for you. My favorite: lie down on the floor, then simultaneously raise your hands and legs while exhaling, so that only your butt touches the floor; slowly lie down again; repeat until it hurts.
  7. Punching bag. If you’ve ever worked out on a punching bag for more than a minute, you must know that it’s also a great workout, - both for your muscles and for your cardio-vascular system. The only problem is to be careful with every single move; otherwise, the traumas take very long to heal. The most common injures happen when you punch too hard and/or almost miss the right spot (in which case your wrist can bend and hurt terribly for several weeks), and when you punch the bag without any protective gloves, and your hand slips (this is where you lose a good chunk of your knuckles’ skin, and you can’t punch a bag for about a week). Just be careful, use gloves or hand wraps, and land you punches with precision.
  8. Jumping rope. If this exercise sounds silly and childish to you, try to do it 200+ times without stopping, and you’ll feel how useful it is. You don’t need an expensive jumping rope from The Sports Authority. A piece of regular rope which is long enough and heavy enough will be just as good.
  9. Developing a strong grip. Useful for all kinds of survival situation: from lifting and carrying heavy objects to evacuating from a tall building using a rope, to climbing, to self-defense, and so on, and so forth. There are good grip strengtheners; be sure to get those which are hard to squeeze. Pull-ups, hanging on a rope or a pull-up bar also helps. Besides, performs pushups on your fingers at least once in a while.
  10. Last, but not least: practice blocks and punches with weapons. I don’t mean guns, but heavy objects. I perform several sets of blocks with police-style clubs which have a short handle sticking out (these clubs are also known as “tonfa”), and this helps not only techniques, but also muscles and tendons, while developing speed.

I’d like to say a few words about diet, but I do not think I have a moral right to talk about it until I lose a few more pounds.
Anyway, the only thing really worth mentioning is fasting: regular fasting is good for your health if you do it right, and it is certainly useful to be able to function a day or two while being hungry in case you just don’t have any food at all in a survival situation or you have to give it all to your kids if there’s too little available.

It turned out to be nearly impossible to cram a lot of information in a short article.
I hope it will be useful for someone who wants to get started on TEOTWAWKI/survival self-defense and fitness training, but does not know how.

Yes, I am a grumpy, middle-aged, fat man. But I am determined to maximize my family’s chances of survival in the coming imminent collapse of life as we know it. I’ll do whatever it takes to defend them, and hopefully help my neighbors and friends in the process.
I am preparing, and I suggest you do the same.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

When a SHTF moment happens, preparedness is everything. But it is more than just having a bugout bag and a meeting place for your family. It means being ready, economically, intellectually, and physically.
I’m going to talk about three specific goals, why they are so important, and the techniques you can use to get yourself in the best position possible.
Don’t wait to progress from one to the other – instead, look at each of the three goals and pick an idea from each to focus on, then continue to add and build as you go.

Goal #1 - Economic Readiness
Zero Debt - If you are currently in a position of zero debt, and I include mortgage, car payments, credit cards and student loans in this, congratulations. Now…stay that way! As for the rest of us…get out of debt and avoid all debt if you don’t have any yet.
Why is this so important? Put simply, debt is slavery. Stop worrying about your credit score or whether you have one of those nice new flat screen televisions. Keep in mind that every commercial is a siren call to stay a slave and be in debt. It is a pervasive message, one that urges you to continue to swim upstream and be beholden to the credit card and mortgage companies. They want you to believe that your credit card score will be terrible if you aren’t out there running up the numbers.
Living within your means is excellent training for the complete financial collapse that is almost assuredly coming. It isn’t the time to party until the 11th hour, but to teach you what reality, with all of its bristly parts, is really like.
Accomplishing zero debt takes time – especially if you are an owner of a house with a mortgage or cars in the driveway with a few payments to go. Consider either doubling up on payments and forgoing the annual vacation or if you have a decent amount of equity in the house, selling it and purchasing a smaller, more affordable house that has a zero or minimal mortgage. Then pay it off.
If you are currently looking at buying a car or a house, make it a priority to consider whether it fits your needs. Does the car get excellent gas mileage? Could it be converted to biodiesel? Will it carry all the members of your family and have room for the belongings you will need if you have to Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.)? What can you afford to pay double payments on (thereby reducing your term of slavery by half)?
Don’t depend exclusively on debit cards, have some cash on hand at all times - A credit or debit card in your hand will not buy you groceries when the store is out of power and full of desperate people. Have at least a small amount of cash on your person at all times. Invest in a money belt or other hidden contraption and keep some cash in your vehicle and in a safe location in your home.
A source for good money belts and travel wallets can be found here.
I recommend this article on places to hide cash in your house.
And this web-based vendor carries a variety of hidden safes.
Silver and Gold - Consider storing some ‘junk silver’ coins in a safe place in your home. If the dollar continues to devalue, having a precious metal on hand to barter with may make the difference between being able to eat or not, and having the fuel to Get Out of Dodge.

Goal #2 – Intellectual Readiness
Learn something new every day - I’m not just talking self-sufficiency here. Learn a different language, for example. The United States, the country that I and a vast majority of SurvivalBlog’s readers live in, is a melting pot of diverse cultures. And while English is the primary language, having the ability to converse in another language gives you an advantage. It shows your flexibility and willingness to learn from others. If you learn Spanish, Italian or French, they all share common Latin roots – enabling you to communicate in a limited fashion with speakers of other Latin-based languages. 

Learn survival skills, take a CPR class, learn to cook foods from scratch. (This includes practice replicating mixes such as Bisquick, muffin mixes, bread mixes and more).

Learn to garden, farm animal husbandry, auto maintenance and more. Don’t just write it off as ‘not your specialty’ – instead, become a generalist. Science fiction author Robert Heinlein once wrote, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Play games   - All sorts, but mentally challenging ones are best. Rev up your brain. Engage in challenging games of strategy by playing chess or other mentally stimulating games. Do crosswords or Suduku and word scrambles. The key here is to challenge your brain – to make it struggle a bit, so that it continues to grow.

Engage in ‘what if’ scenarios – What if there is no way to rendezvous back home with your family? Where do you go? What if you are hurt, or they are hurt, are you prepared? What can you do to prepare?
If you aren’t asking yourself these questions and more; if you aren’t thinking of ‘what if’ scenarios, then you are not prepared. Your bugout bag might be sitting at home, twenty miles away and all your plans shot to dust.

Organize yourself – Know where everything is and have a place for everything. You should know exactly how much food you have in your pantry, how much cash (or gold or silver) you have on hand, and where everything you need to survive a SHTF situation. This means keeping the house tidy, evaluating and re-evaluating the need to keep items and where to store them. Do you have a basement jumble of ‘stuff’ that you haven’t touched in years? It is now time to go through it.

Can’t park your car in the garage due to the pile of belongings inside it? Figure out what needs to go and what needs to stay and find appropriate storage solutions.
Streamline your life and possessions as much as possible.

Increase personal productivity – Increase the number of things you do each day. Make it into a challenge to see how much you can get done (and how few steps you can take to do it) on a daily basis. You can start by making a list of goals…and then get started accomplishing them.

All of these steps will help you become ‘mentally fit’. Someone who is used to working out their brain, every day, will be better prepared for the twists and turns of an unknown future. They will also be better able to make a snap decision that may very well save their lives and the lives of those that they love.

Goal #3 – Physical Readiness
Exercise daily – Whether it is walking, running, working out with weights, yoga or Pilates. Ask yourself this – how far can you walk before getting tired? How far can you ride a bicycle before reaching teh point of exhaustion?
You don’t have to be in ‘run a marathon’ physical shape. What you should do is build your endurance each day, challenging yourself to go that extra five minutes, that extra mile, or that extra five pounds of weights.
Think about creating more flexibility as well. Yoga, Pilates, or just simple stretching activities are good for this. Coax yourself off of the couch and onto a treadmill – or better yet, a walk outside. Take in the fresh air, meet your neighbors, and scope out your surroundings near and far.

Learn a martial art – Increase your chances in surviving a personal assault by taking some kind of self-defense class (even consider fencing – it is mentally challenging and requires quick movement, flexibility and spatial awareness). It will help get you into shape, teach you good body awareness, and help if you are ever in a situation where you need to defend yourself against an attacker. This makes good common sense, with or without a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation.

Learn Gun Safety - Learn how to handle a gun. I was quite young when my father taught me gun safety, around nine or ten. At fifteen, I was the only other female and the youngest of our group when I attended a combat firearms course taught by Massad Ayoob in the mid-1980s. A special note to any women who may be reading this, do not depend on someone else for this –learn how to operate and clean a handgun. Your life may depend upon it.

Stockpile Medications - Maintain your health and stockpile any needed medications. Ask your medical provider if they will issue you a second prescription that you can fill at cost. Insurance might only cover one, but a good doctor will issue two if you request it. For those with chronic conditions (high blood pressure, Type I diabetes, and any other medication-dependent conditions) it is imperative you stockpile these medications. Most insurance companies will only pay for 30 day supplies, keeping you dependent on their medical system. That system is all well and good, until it breaks down in a socioeconomic collapse, or even a basic natural disaster. Medical records could be lost, and your store of medications could quickly run out. Stockpile what you can – and if possible, keep additional prescriptions on hand to be filled at a moment’s notice if things start to go bad.

The Side Benefits
All of these goals will prepare you for TEOTWAWKI or a SHTF situation, and give you that added level of preparedness that may well make the difference between living and dying. However, they are also good common sense.

Being economically prepared also means that you are no longer a slave to debt. Instead you are being financially savvy, and that is a huge step up from the neighbor who only buys Abercrombie & Fitch, or can’t live without getting a new car lease every three years. Your life in the here and now may be simpler, but it will be far better in the long run.

When we keep ourselves mentally challenged, we are encouraging our brains to work out hard each day. There has been a great deal of research into the possibilities that keeping our minds mentally fit is just as important as keeping our bodies physically fit – and could even stave off the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

And of course, when we keep ourselves at a healthy weight, exercise and prepare our bodies, we are more flexible in combat situations or able to flee while our neighbors huff and puff along behind us. Having the presence of mind to ensure our health through necessary medications will give us the upper hand when faced with others who have chained themselves to a system that is ripe for failure.

In Summary
I hope that you also now see that ‘being prepared’ is more than just a bugout bag near your front door. It is a lifestyle, it is a frame of mind, and it is also completely achievable. Better yet, it will keep you alive…come what may.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Mr. Rawles, 
Reading your blog on Thursday, I was interested in the Self-Defense Advice posts. I absolutely agree that unless you have mastered the basics and developed the muscle memory that comes with it, learning Self-Defense from a book or from a video or from an online program is difficult to near impossible. That said, if you have the muscle memory and skills that come from training for a number of years, and you have someone of equal or greater skill level to work with you, it might be possible to obtain information from a book or video, but it is important to remember that a novice cannot learn the material needed from a book. A novice or beginner needs direct, physical, in class training. Grandmaster John Pellegrini and Master Yeager are both very fond of saying, "To see is to be deceived, to feel is to believe."

I was very fortunate to train under Master Yeager (affiliated with Grandmaster Pellegrini and Combat Hapkido) when I was younger and I first trained in Tang Soo Do (for the sake of brevity consider it a variant of Tae Kwon Do), then when I was old enough I joined the Combat Hapkido classes (adult's only at the time). Here I feel it important to note that Combat Hapkido is specifically designed for the purpose of self-defense. It covers a great deal of situations from empty hand defense against grabs, holds, thrown techniques, stick, gun, knife, defense against multiple attackers, and situations where you might be incapacitated by space, where your back might literally be against a wall, where you might be in the isle of an airplane and unable to move out of the way, or in a situation where you find yourself on the ground with your attacker in a dominant position. Combat Hapkido also stresses the importance of incapacitating your attacker(s), and if you attend a seminar you will probably receive a great deal of legal information since many techniques are very damaging physically when executed at full speed. Our school also required us to learn how to defend ourselves with the Escrima stick or Arnis sticks. We would also work on drills that used a knife, or cane, or improvisational weapons (rolled up newspapers, a pen, keys, or a CD case) to defend ourselves. Combat Hapkido is very much a street oriented self-defense style designed to get you out of a confrontation as quickly and safely as possible, our school's mantra on night we trained self-defense was, "I am going home". I have attended several seminars with Grandmaster Pellegrini, and other instructors in the Combat Hapkido system and can attest to the effectiveness of the style in a self-defense situation, so if it is an option I would highly recommend without reservations at least checking out Combat Hapkido.

However, Combat Hapkido may not be a possibility for everyone, in which case my recommendation differs little from Mr. Rawles or F.P.'s, Tae Kwon Do or Tang Soo Do, are excellent traditional styles that will teach you basics on kicking and punching and will often help with strength and conditioning. However, for the complete novice without any training in self-defense or martial arts whatsoever, I would recommend finding a martial arts "dojo" of any style that does not focus on competition. If it is a competition school the chances are that it is concerned about trophies and titles and not about preparing someone to use the techniques against a determined attacker on the street who isn't going to play by tournament rules. Ask to watch classes, talk to the instructor about their school's focus, the style and purpose of the style that they train in, and I would also recommend leaning toward styles that focus on empty hand fighting rather than styles that are geared toward weapon's fighting like Kendo. And if all else fails find a boxing gym or a mixed martial arts studio.

Ultimately on the topic of self-defense is is a matter or developing the attitude and fortitude necessary to use the information that you learn. You can know all the techniques in the world, but unless you have trained yourself to the point of being able to react without thinking to threats, and to literally have the will to break and arm or a knee then all the training in the world will do you know good. This is where good instruction and good classmates come in handy, they will drill you repeatedly till you can do the techniques in your sleep, and they will provide you with the most realistic training possible so that when something does happen for real you will not be unprepared. So take your time selecting a dojo, and stay away from "belt factories", find a school that is difficult to rank in, because chances are they require the dedication necessary to make you capable of defending yourself. Regards, - Coastal Texas Prepper

Captain Rawles:
I fully agree that you can not learn self defense by reading a book or watching a video. However, when I think of paying $100 a month each for eight kids to attend a dojo I know that reader must be crestfallen. I know there is no substitute for a good instructor to give you hands on instruction, but in the past I have trained regularly at home with a partner using the following instructional dvd's:

Gracie Combatives: If you are going against a single opponent without a chance of someone else coming up and knocking you on your head, this course on the fundamentals of ground combat can't be beat. Royce and Renner Gracie have put out a first rate lesson plan with moves clearly explained and demonstrated, action drills, then they lace them together in simulated combat drills. They focus on the moves that win the highest percentage of fights and the basic moves that they say if practiced according to their plan will have you ready to defeat an unarmed and untrained street opponent of literally any size when you can pass their blue belt qualification test at the end (and I believe them). Because small guys rarely pick fights with bigger guys, and a bigger guy has a good chance of getting on top of you if the fight goes to the ground (and statistically, 80% of fights end up on the ground), the first few lessons teach you how to turn the tables from the bottom: Whether the opponent is mounted on you, or, preferably, if you are able to attain the guard position (opponent on top, but with your legs wrapped around his waist - actually a very strong position with a plethora of attack options, after practicing these moves you might actually pull an opponent on top of you if there is no other way to get him to your territory. They also offer the option to film yourself and a training partner performing the moves, send it in for evaluation, and if upon their evaluation they decide you've done them properly and in the proper  time and order they will award you a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu blue belt, without ever having to step into a dojo!) I know this sounds like a sales pitch, but I'm not affiliated with them in any way. If I could choose only two methods of self defense this would be one of them.

If I could choose only one instructional set to train with, and I only had six months to train, I would choose a system called the F.I.G.H.T. System of Haganah. I would make this my primary choice because there is no guarantee that you will never be in a situation where it is two (or more) against one, and the last thing you need is some guy to clobber you on the head as you are on the ground winning a fight with his friend. This training takes from the Israeli systems of Krav Maga, Kapap, Lotar and Saldud. Krav Maga is the best known Israeli defense system, which was developed for the IDF to defend against every day attacks by disenfranchised Palestinians who were either unarmed, or armed but too close to draw and shoot when they begin their attack. Kapap [which stands for Krav Panim El Panim which means "face to face combat"] is their knife defense. Saldud is the sport martial art. The instructor demonstrates defensive strategies and tactics for virtually any situation you are likely to encounter. He teaches stacking for multiple opponents, attack in retreat,  realistic knife defense for a few angles of attack, and more. Another thing I like about the system is it teaches you to go from any unpredictable attack situation and end up in one of a couple of basic positions that inhibit your opponent's ability to harm you while you finish him off by either a takedown or snapping his neck (this set is not recommended for those who can't control their temper -- if they are dead set on studying martial arts they should realize that the only chance they have of avoiding life in prison is to find a good instructor  and listen to him when he lectures about power and responsibility. If he doesn't give the occasional short lecture, and the attendant attention to fits of temper or signs of insecurity change schools because that one will not serve you).  In my humble and limited opinion there is no better system that, if you train with a partner, will have you up and ready quickly. Starting from zero and each training for only six months, I'd bet every time on a student of this system against an equal student of any other system (besides a ground grappler, but this system also teaches defense against the common takedowns, and as of a couple of years ago they had plans for supplemental dvd's addressing ground defense)

A nice addition to this set if you can swing it, would be Combat Survival Commando Krav Maga. The instructor Avi Monik is one tough hombre who was in the thick of it in Israel, and even tells us about his experience helping Imi Lichtenfeld create the Krav Maga system. This system has a ton of useful techniques, and even touches on some training drills. The section on Ground Defense is no joke, you'll learn a couple of techniques the Gracies won't teach you and that would get you thrown out of a tournament, but that's Krav Maga: it means Combat Contact and it's not for sport or people who can't control their tempers. There is actually way more content in this set, but I recommend the FIGHT system over it because their system is simpler to learn, more integrated, with a feel of completeness that Combat Survival's sometimes seemingly (to me) disjointed system lacks. However, this is a very close second.

Above you have my recommendations for down and dirty, basically street defense ready in six months if you practice four hours a week with a partner and a little intelligence.

I may be doing Krav Maga a disservice due to not really having a lot of experience with the system besides a few months training from the videotapes from a friend, but I will state the following: In six months I'd bet on the Krav Maga student. In six (or sixteen) years, I'd probably bet on a dedicated student of one of the more traditional martial arts. All physical, mental, and dedication attributes of the students starting equally, Tae Kwon Do is one that could have a fair chance to take on Krav Maga some time after six months, all things being equal (and depending on what a particular instructor focuses on in the first six months). Tae Kwon Do is a fighting art that doesn't mess around. It was originally developed from a need for unarmed peasants to knock mongols from their horses and kill them (hence the amazing high kicks) but it doesn't stop there. I have no videos to recommend for this art though.

Wing Chun Kung Fu is the first art Bruce Lee trained in, and in spite of his later disavowal of systems, forms (katas), and the like, in my opinion the incomparable Mr. Lee would not have achieved his legendary level without a firm foundation of thousands of hours practicing those forms he later appears to have disavowed and training on the wooden dummy. Wing Chun (Called Gangster Fist in the back alleys of Hong Kong, I'm told) is an art that was designed specifically for a small person to defeat a larger opponent, and if you are a dedicated practitioner you will succeed in that endeavor. I know of one Kickboxing champion who switched to Wing Chun after discovering the system. The sixteen disc set by Randy Williams is the best of the two I own. He demonstrates everything you'd need to know to develop proficiency in the art, starting from basic single sticky hands, to the basic forms of the art, to partner drills, etc. If I ever get the time to dedicate myself to learning a new art, Wing Chun is the art and Sifu Williams DVDs will be the ones I use.

Other noteworthy members of my instructional collection, some which I've spent a lot of time training with, and some just watching, include:

Caesar Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  After finally watching (on disc) Royce Gracie carry away the first several UFCs where the only rules were no biting and no eye gouging, period, and not being in a position to go to a dojo and learn a new art (the seemingly undefeatable art of ground grappling), this was my first set of instructional DVDs. For about a year I trained separately with two other men almost exclusively in the techniques that Caesar Gracie teaches here. If Gracie Combatives had not superceded it, this would have been up on top instead. If you can get this set used, and can't afford the $100 for Gracie Combatives, get it! It's almost as good, but without all the same moves (For example, Caesar teaches the ulma plata, a move where, from the guard position (on bottom) you use your leg to twist your opponents arm up behind his back and towards his head, which is a great move if the opportunity presents itself and you can swing it, but leaving it out of Gracie Combatives detracts nothing in my opinion)

Small Circle Jiu-Jitsu. Professor Wally Jay has modified traditional Jiu-Jitsu in a way that he says allows a small, weak person to defeat a much larger and stronger opponent (even more so than traditional Jiu-Jitsu) by focusing on the weak points of the body and the nerve centers. I actually spent a lot of time with this and I like much of his technique, but without confidence built up by years of training, the adrenaline will kick in and destroy someone's fine motor skills, making pressure point fighting impractical -- however, aside from that, there is a lot of great training, and if you come across it, you could do worse than training with these techniques.

Self Defense Encyclopedia. Sang H. Kim has put out a lot of Tae kwon do videos which I have not had the fortune to view. This one, however, is a single 36 minute video with a worthy overview of self defense techniques. If it's all you can get, and you practice these techniques, it will not be a waste of your time.

Vee Arnis Jitsu is a small set put out by Espy TV which has a dynamic instructor who teaches some realistic defenses for numerous practical street fight situations. Watching this guy inspired me to learn to flow from joint lock to joint lock.

I should add that unless some guy just made up his own style, any style of martial art has survived the test of time and can be valuable to train in. My opinions above are a result of my limited knowledge and reflect only on the video training materials I have viewed, not on any particular school or individual instructors abilities.  I hope you find some value in this. - Al in California

I just had to write a response to this letter. Martial arts training is very good for building discipline, and self confidence. Its also excellent physical training/ exercise, but lets look at this from an extreme survival situation.  empty hands wont save you every time.
Any one who is smart enough to see what the potential future of this country might be, should be willing to consider this advice: Learn how to fight with a knife.
Not one of those cheap gas station lock blades, but a real quality knife that is built to last. Your fighting knife will never need to be reloaded, it will never misfire. And unless your opponent has a loaded gun, there is no good defense against it.
I have spent more than five years in Afghanistan and Iraq, and learned some hard lessons in that time  period.  Please take my advice, and you can avoid a hard lesson in the future. - Casey B. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I noted that some letters responding to the subject of unarmed combat (self-defense advice) referred to Tae Kwon Do as a form of self defense. I have been involved in the martial arts for over 40 years and my opinion is that most modern martial arts are sport forms and not suited to real world self defense. Even mixed martial arts (MMA) forms while formidable, concentrate on fighting in the ring (or octagon) and not on the street. My current pick for self defense instruction would be Krav Maga – Israeli hand to hand combat. It has the following advantages over more traditional forms:
1.       There is no “sport version” of Krav Maga. It is strictly geared toward defeating violent attackers.
2.       Its fundamental techniques are simpler and easier to learn quickly.
3.       There are no “katas” or “forms” in Krav Maga; these are a waste of time.
4.       While grappling is taught, it is taught with aim of getting to your feet as fast as possible. Krav Maga assumes there is always more than one attacker and the last place you want to be is on the ground.
5.       Drills are intense and as realistic as possible without actually killing or maiming each other. Example: in knife defense drills a shock knife is often used where if you screw up the defense you will learn in a painful manner.
6.       Weapons defenses against stick and gun are similarly intense.
7.       There is no aversion to firearms in Krav Maga as there seems to be in many traditional martial arts. Krav Maga practitioners who are willing and capable are encouraged to learn the proper use of firearms. At higher levels, weapon retention is taught.
8.       Krav Maga is a proven self defense system and is taught in many police departments and military organizations. Why? It simply works if you are  willing to put in the sweat and effort.
9.       Krav Maga also teaches third party defense techniques – handy if you have to defend your loved ones.
10.   Krav Maga is an open system - whatever works is adopted by Krav Maga practitioners.  
So – if you have access to a Krav Maga school I would recommend it highly over other martial art forms for actual self defense. - Phil S.

A few thoughts concerning the topic of self defense advice.  First and foremost, the question of which martial art is the best is not the right question.  All of the arts have something to offer, and the one being recommended is probably the one practiced by the person recommending it.  I’m partial to the art I’ve continued to practice for almost 40 years.  Is it the best art?  It is for me.  The best one for you is one you enjoy and one in which you will continue to train.  Which brings me to the next thing. 

Martial arts skills, like firearm skills, are perishable.  If you don’t continue your training on a regular basis your skill level will degrade.   If you’re not in it for the long run you’re wasting your time.  Most martial arts systems have a long learning curve.  It’s going to take a while for you to develop real competence.  (The two arts that may have the shortest learning curve are the Israeli art of Krav Maga, and the Russian art of Systema.  I’ve never practiced either of these so I may be misinformed.)   If you’re doing it because you feel you have to, or compelling your children to do it against their wishes, you’re probably wasting your time. 

Finally I’d suggest that if you’ve gotten to the point where you are faced with a physical confrontation something has gone terribly wrong.  The most important self defense skills you can possess are situational awareness, the ability to project that self awareness and self confidence, and the self assurance necessary to walk away from a potential confrontation.  Your best outcome is always to avoid a confrontation, and awareness is a significant part of that.  It’s been said many times, because it’s true, that predators look for victims.  Don’t look like a victim.  Be aware.  To my way of thinking a good martial arts instructor—in any art—is one who stresses avoiding conflict and confrontation, and teaches you how to do that.  If you learn that, you can practice that aspect of your art every day in all aspects of your life.  And that will make it less likely that you’ll ever have to use the physical aspects of your art.  - Rick S.

Mr. Rawles:
In reference to the letter looking for an online self defense course for her children, I would like to recommend the Gracie Bullyproof program.  You can find the info at  I am in no way affiliated with the Gracie's or their course. 
I recently found out about Bullyproof while researching bullying for my church's youth group program.  Having had about six years of Jiu-Jitsu training, I could immediately see the practicality of the program.  It begins with a series of 10 games (for children ages 3-6 or 7).  These games introduce the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu in a fun format for kids.  For older children, they can go directly to the Jr. Combatives program.  One note:  be sure to watch the Parent Preparation course (it's free).  In it, they describe their teaching method, which I found helpful in daily life with my kids, not just with their program.
I started immediately with my three year old daughter, and she loves it.  After the first time, she has asked to play the games since.  The great part is, the Gracie's offer enough information to get started right away for free.  You can purchase the remainder either on DVD or download the videos directly from their web site.  (I found the DVDs on Amazon for less than what they offer it on their site.)
Be ready, because this isn't learning by watching;  you have to participate with your child.  Check it out!  It's proving to be a lot of fun for my daughter and we spend more time together. Thanks, - Dusty 

James Wesley:
As a master in Kung Fu and having multiple black belts in several systems, I would like to comment on the Happy Homemaker in California's question.

Ideally any system will teach the student discipline, balance, and muscle memory. The key to using them in a self defense situation is quite different than simple kick, block, punch, technique, or drill. I agree with the fact that learning online with videos by themselves will not equip the student sufficiently. They can be used to supplement training and give them more in depth understanding of the techniques they would experience they would receive under a qualified instructor. 

What is lacking (sadly in many run of the mill schools) is adding stress to their training. The ability to respond in stressful situations is the end goal for self defense. Whether learning from home or any school, the lack of putting stress on the student has resulted in what many call 'paper black belts.' Without stress, students are simply learning basic routines choreographed in a curriculum only to give them a false sense of confidence in their skills. Any skill learned must be proven on the mat.

An example of what I am talking about is an anti-abduction drill I use when working with kids. We setup the floor to have an open space of fifty feet whereby a child can use any technique they are taught to get away from their abductor. The abductor is one of the instructors or adult student who will wear full pads including head and groin protection. The abductor will then grab the child and try to drag them to the end of the fifty foot space. If a child is dragged across that line, they have failed the drill and have to do it over. We encourage the children to use full force to simulate what it would be like for real. Even with pads and protection, instructors end up with bruises at the end of the day. Training this way is just like anything in life. If you don't put the proper energy and diligence into it when practicing, more likely than not you will not have high results when you have to use the skill for real. Without actually beating the students black and blue, this is one of the safer alternatives to put the students under stress to perform.

I don't believe one system is better than the other. It is more of what a person has an affinity for. I don't feel that jumping systems for one set of techniques or another is a good idea simply because a system is built to train a person from the ground up. Learning ala carte doesn't give the student skill mastery necessary to be able to use them effectively as most skills are built upon others as the student grows. This belief comes from popular beliefs held about different systems and propagated in the mixed martial arts arenas.

As for grappling and ground fighting, many systems incorporate this training at different levels. In Tae Kwon Do, you don't learn these techniques until a much higher level do to the concept of building a strong body first as a foundation for striking, then learn to use the same techniques for grappling and take downs. A perfect example of this is a simple outside to inside middle strike. In preparation, one hand is brought up in a fist next to the ear with the elbow out while the other hand thrusts forward in a counter punch. Then the hand which is next to the ear strikes forward with the elbow brought in allowing the hand to strike with either a hammer fist, or striking with the bottom two or top two knuckles with a twist of the wrist at the finish. This same technique can be applied as a hip throw. The list goes on and on when you combine stances and transitions which are taught from the very beginning which later can be applied and figure four locks, or popular moves such as a 'guillotine'.

Now, only after studying several systems in my life did I come to this understanding that any system taught by a quality instructor will give a student the self defense skills they need. So when looking for a school, don't look for a set of techniques, look for a competent instructor. A good instructor will be able to help you reach your specific goals. Don't forget that a good school will incorporate realistic combat/self defense  exercises which will teach you to perform under stress. Most importantly, a student will only get out of it what they put into it. - Jeff B.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dear Jim,

Tae Kwon Do is a perfectly adequate martial art, and very accessible. However, it is so popular it has morphed into several markets. Make sure the school you are attending teaches fighting and self-defense. If they
say they are "non-competitive," then they are a glorified exercise program, not a martial art. Also, while all sparring is good, there's sparring intended for learning to compete, and sparring intended for learning
to disable attackers. Stress to the instructor you want to learn self defense and have no interest in competing in tournaments. If they are unwilling to accept that, they're not the right school for preppers.

Competition oriented schools will stress punching (which favors males and taller fighters) and high kicks (above the waist). Martial arts intended for defense will stress both hands and feet, low kicks and joint strikes (a damaged ankle slows or stops a pursuer, for example), and grappling with the intent of pinning or disabling. - Michael Z. Williamson (SurvivalBlog's Editor At Large)

Mr Rawles,
I would like to reply to "A Happy Homemaker in California". I know the best class for her kids. Mine are enrolled in Sierra School of Survival, run by Doug Huffman. You have the option of online or in-person class time. I have my family enrolled in both. It is a urban/wilderness survival course. It is a whole-family course from food storage, food collecting, weapons training to your children being able to free themselves from zip-ties. The first class my boys 17 and 15 went to, a very capable tiny 12 year old girl whooped them in knife drills. I watched this girl disarm attackers, scale an eight foot fence in two seconds and clear a room with a Airsoft pistol. As JWR said it is all about muscle memory, and they get drilled. - Amy M.

Mr. Rawles:
Just a brief comment concerning an item that appeared in SurvivalBlog, re: Self Defense Advice. JWR stated: "You need to physically practice, to develop muscle memory. I'd recommend a year of Tae Kwon Do to learn kicks and punches, followed by at least a year of Jiu-Jitsu, to learn grappling and falls."
Rather than take Tae Kwon Do and Jiu-Jitsu separately, why not take the Korean martial art of Hapkido, which combines elements of both systems you mention? Hapkido is a comprehensive system of hand-to-hand combat, including kicks, punches and other strikes, as well as holds, throws and joint locks, as well as ground techniques. It also has devastating cane, staff, and edged weapons methods, as well as gun and knife disarms (where applicable). Hapkido has no sporting arm; it is designed solely for real-world use. It is favored by some of the best military, law enforcement and security pros around, including U.S. Special Ops personnel. The members of the presidential guard of the Republic of Korea are required to be experts in hapkido, and all members of the South Korean armed forces take instruction it and/or Tae Kwon Do.
Many of these organizations have been taught Hapkido by the founder of Combat Hapkido, Master John Pelegrini (I am not affiliated with him in any way). Another legend in the art is Steve Sexton, the subject of a Patrick Swayze 1980s movie Road House. The movie is mostly nonsense, and Swayze isn't doing Hapkido in the movie. However, see Steve Sexton's instructional videos on YouTube or at his own web site to see a hapkido master in action. Mr. Sexton has survived hundreds of violent encounters in his long career as a security professional, he has "been there, done that" and knows what works. He is a 7th Dan in Hapkido. Jino Kang is another master you can see on You Tube. I am privileged to know Master Kang, who is one of the finest people and martial artists around, in addition to being an amazing practitioner of his art.
The only drawback to Hapkido is that it is a somewhat rare art and can be tough to find in some communities, in which case your recommendations make sense, as Jiu-Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do are more common.
I have studied hapkido for six years, and it is very effective, at least in my experience.
Most any legitimate martial art is valuable if one is diligent and trains consistently and hard - you are entirely correct that "quick fixes" don't work. You have to be willing to pay the price in hard work, pain, blood, sweat, and injuries at the dojo to become proficient. There are no shortcuts.
Perhaps the most important benefit I have derived from martial arts training is psychological - namely, the warrior mindset. As important as physical hardening, technique, skills, and practice are, they mean nothing without the will to use them when necessary. These benefits carry over to the use of weapons and arms, by the way, which is one reason martial arts are prized within the Marines and other military organizations. The martial arts foster aggressiveness, tenacity, endurance, skill, leadership, teamwork, individual initiative, and many other sought-after qualities for the individual soldier or Marine. - F.P.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
I have eight children, the oldest of whom is 15 years old, and the youngest, 6. I would love to do an at-home self defense course with all of them, but especially the teen girls. Do you have a recommendation for an internet course that isn't cheesy or a scam? - A Happy Homemaking Prepper in California

JWR Replies: You cannot learn how to fight someone by reading a book or watching a video. You need to physically practice, to develop muscle memory. I'd recommend a year of Tae Kwon Do to learn kicks and punches, followed by at least a year of Jiu-Jitsu, to learn grappling and falls.  I'm sure you recognize that we live in the modern world, so you will also need firearms training, starting when each of your children is about 12 (depending on their maturity.) The Appleseed Project's rifle range training is excellent, and available at very low cost.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I am an American in Ecuador, and I have a story to tell.  This happened in July and I should absolutely be dead. 

A little introduction to the kind of person that I am.  Growing up in Alaska and playing in the great outdoors has always been a huge part of my life.  When I was a couple of years old, my wonderful father would strap me on his back and take my sister and I fishing.  I absolutely love him for that.  The beauty and serenity of the great outdoors has always been a stress reliever for me.  My other hobbies, which of course involved the outdoors is organic gardening and gold prospecting.  My life in general has been one of a hermit.  I have lived in many states, but most of those years were in Alaska.  I always had a pretty great job as a carpet installer which allowed me to work all over the US.  One day I landed a pretty nice job in Whitehorse, Yukon Canada and decided I wanted to get out of the rat race.  I would work during the day and research on my dream destination during the evening.  Gold was skyrocketing in value the last few years and it is a passion of mine.  I had spent six weeks in Belize and Guatemala, and I really loved the tropics.  Throughout my research, I always came across Ecuador and as a very unexplored region with massive "golden" opportunities.  To top it all off, the small village of Vilcabamba is known for its fertile soil and perfect climate.  I decided this would be my mini-base from which to explore. 
I have always been a huge adventure fan and I feel like I had a past life as an explorer.  I always loved ancient history and the Inca culture especially fascinated me.  I worked continuously for eight months, enduring the insane weather of the Yukon territories to save up for my trip to Ecuador.  It was a pretty exciting day stepping on the plane to Ecuador. (Partly because I was still freezing my butt off in Whitehorse).  The only negative I could think of was having to learn another language.  I am still working on that!
Entering the third month of my trip, I had the worst day of my life and will most likely be my worst day until I die when elderly.  I had been making some multi-day trips into the jungle outside of the Amazonian town of Tena.  Before my final trip, I had completed two other trips of three days each.  I was sampling for gold by crevicing.  This particular river is very fast flowing and has eroded the area of the river all the way down to bedrock.  Gold is very heavy and will sink down to this layer of rock and it gets trapped inside the large cracks.  My job was to clean out the cracks in search of the elusive shiny stuff.  After my third trip in, I made a conclusion.  This river is very rich in gold! I managed to scrape out 2-3 grams of gold a day.  On the evening of the third day on the third trip in, I suffered through some
pretty heavy rains.  So heavy, that my special Clark's Jungle Hammock that was supposed to be torrential rain proof actually started leaking on me.  That entire night was very uncomfortable for both my little puppy and I. (I had been given a cute five month old puppy as a gift from a friend).  I was up most of the night trying to stay dry and had to get soaked rigging up a second cover over my hammock. 
The rain continued all night and the water level was quite high.  I decided to call it quits and pack up and head to my room in Tena.  In order to get to my area I was working, I had about an hour hike on a decent trail.  This area is absolutely beautiful and very pristine. I packed up and headed back up the trail.  I finally made it to the entrance of the trail system and noticed just how quiet the surrounding area was.  The entrance to the trail system is at the "Piscina" which means pool in Spanish.  It is a beautiful natural pool caused by a smaller river entering the larger one.  Usually the place can be fairly hopping, but not a soul was around due to the high water level.  I pulled out my cell phone and had no signal.  I didn't realize there was no phone signal for a couple of kilometers.  My phone's battery was dead, and I had felt downright stupid when I discovered I had forgotten to turn it off.  I knew there was a village only a few kilometers away, so I started my small journey.  About halfway to the village, I saw a couple young adults riding a single silver bike.  It had pegs, and one of the guys was standing on them. 

I greeted them and they waved back.  I asked them if they could call a taxi for me, not realizing there wasn't a signal in the area.  One of them said no signal.  I said thanks, and they both rode on ahead of me up a hill.  It was about 9:30 am at this point and I saw the same guys looking down at the river ahead of me on top of the small hill.  They waved again, and one of them pulled out his cell phone to check again and shook his head no.  They rode on ahead again around a curve in the road. This is the point where I started to feel a bit nervous.  Small alarms were setting off in my head.  I noticed on the ground there was a pretty pathetic stick, about the size of your average walking stick.  Just having the stick in hand relaxed me a bit.  There was a slight curve in the road, blocking my view ahead of me. I again saw the two guys looking down at the river.  The one who had a cell phone earlier again had his phone in his hand and nodded yes to me with a bit of excitement.  Yes, he was calling a taxi.  He had his phone to his ear as if he was calling one and they both approached me.  My puppy ("Tequila") started freaking out on me and I had never seen him act this way.  He was yipping in fright and this is where the nightmare began.
As the two guys got within five feet of me, the one without the phone charged me and closed the gap in a split second.  He was unloading punches on the right side of my face. I was completely focused on blocking as many punches as I could.  I had three things working against me at this point.  There were two of them, and one of me.  I had a 60 pound backpack completely strapped to my back, and lastly I was beyond tired from the crazy night I had.  In addition to having punches rocking my right side of my face, the second guy was working on securing my arms.  The one unloading punches managed to assist in tying up my arms and now the second guy started strangling me.  I was so focused on trying to avoid as many punches as possible, that it was almost too late before realizing I was being strangled and losing consciousness. I knew if I didn't break the strangulation, I was dead.  It isn't until a life or death situation like this that you gain tremendous strength out of adrenaline.  I managed to use every last bit of strength that I had to fling the man strangling me off.  I knocked him back a good five feet.  This is the point where the two guys realized they had to put me down or they would risk getting seen.  Between the two of them, they managed to drag me over to the edge of the cliff and heaved me off.
(An aside: As a kid, I used to spend half my life tree climbing.  When I was about 7 or 8, I was climbing a great oak tree.  I was about 60 feet up, when I slipped and fell all the way down.  As I was falling, I managed to slow my fall by grabbing branches, as well as slamming into them.  Believe it or not, I walked away from this with only cuts and bruises and not a single broken bone.  This experience I believe is what assisted me in saving my life.)
They dragged me to the cliff and threw me over.  I had a distance of about 20 feet free fall to a out jutting lip.  I slammed into it and started rolling down the very steep cliff.  As I fell, a combination of vines, tree branches and shrubs somehow slowed me down a bit.  I continued to roll, occasionally slamming into to bushes and trees but unfortunately gravity worked against me.  At this point I saw the river getting closer and closer to me.  In addition to the river, I also had a very large tree approaching.  I knew grabbing that last tree was my only hope and managed to grasp for it.  Slam!!!  With my wind completely knocked out of me I stopped the fall a mere 15 feet above the massive class 5 river below.  I later found out the total distance of this fall exceeded 100 feet. 
I laid there in disbelief marveling at being alive.  I am not a religious person, but I felt like some divine guidance had a part in keeping me alive.  The odds of surviving a serious beating and surviving the fall was nearly impossible to imagine.  Enduring this trial, I made a decision to give a little prayer of thanks to whoever was looking out for me.  After my little prayer a sudden realization hit me. My two attackers might still be above me and there is a chance they might be able to see me still alive! I then proceeded to drag myself up and to hug the side of the cliff as best as I could.  After about five minutes of catching my breath, I then heard the horrible sound.  The frantic yip of my puppy descending.  It is a sound I will remember for the rest of my life.  After a few seconds the sound ended in one final yelp and
never again did I hear my wonderful puppies yip.  My two very evil attackers threw an innocent puppy to his death while still conscious.  The realization of that hit me as hard as the actual attack.  These guys had no conscience and were absolutely evil.  Another couple of minutes passed and I saw my torn shirt get tossed over and join a pile of other bits of clothing and odds and ends. 
After about 10 minutes of hell, I decided to carefully explore area where I'd halted my fall.  There was a fairly scattered pile of rubbish laying in the area, from water bottles to torn clothing and boots.  Others had died here, most likely getting chucked down and into the river.  My survival-oriented mind told me a couple of things.  I can scrounge up some odds and ends from this pile of trash to assist in my survival.  I knew there was no hope of white water rafters coming down the river from the point I was.  The main entry into the river system was still another mile+ at the village I was originally heading to.  I thought maybe I could tie some of the torn clothing items together and hang it off the tree in case it could be seen from a distance.  I knew it was early, and due to the numerous water bottles I could
survive at least a night.  This is the point where I had a decision to make.  Stay here for the night and wait the murderers out, or go ahead and try to climb out. I couldn't even see upper part of the cliff above me, but had to make up my mind.  I knew once the adrenaline was gone, I would be hurting and had only a single eye to work with.  Time would be the enemy, so my decision was made. 
I am an experienced climber, from my boyhood tree climbing to some rock climbing.  I started out trying to scale to my left, but I came across a large area that was completely open, with absolutely nothing to grab on to.  I had no choice but head to my right.  There were numerous obstacles in my path, from massive, dense bushes, to again, large open areas.  I had to scale up and down over and under the numerous obstacles.  Throughout all of this, I was being stung by many dozens of vicious fire ants.  When you are clinging to shrubs and anything else to save your life, a little ant bite is nothing.  To top everything off, all branches and footing was completely slippery from the recent rain.  I had quite a few close calls and near death experiences, one being a situation where I slipped, fell another few feet and racked myself.  If that tree hadn't been there, I would have fallen all the way down into the river to my death.  After a good hour of scaling, I started to grow weary and desperate.  One point I reached an area that had no branches, shrubs or anything to grab onto.  A big open patch of dirt.  After a minute of resting and trying to clear my head, I noticed the area was dotted with decent sized trees and i know just how extensive the root systems of trees needed to be for survival.  I noticed a root looping out of the ground not too far away and it was this that gave me the idea.  The soil was fairly loose in the area, so I used one hand to dig as best I could.  It was actually a bit spongy and I was able to dig in fairly
deep. I found some solid roots within 6 inches and it was perfect for grabbing onto.  I could pull myself up a bit, but then what?  It was about 8 feet across to more trees and a continuation of my nightmare journey up and out. 
I knew I could continue digging for roots, but how would I know where to put my foot?  I broke off a few sticks and put them in my pocket.  I could use these sticks to mark the roots I dug out to provide some footing, albeit treacherous.  Success!  By pushing the stick into the hole, I was able to mark the very important locations for my footing.  My plan worked quite well, and I reached the area with more plant growth.  Keep in mind, I only had a single eye through out this entire climb.  I had to look over as best I could using my left eye only.  I was scaling to my right.  Another useful tactic that worked for me was grabbing the root base of even small bushes, branches etc.  I was able to continue pulling myself along on these rather small shrubs and in some cases branches.  Never, ever grab the middle, or even worse, the end of a branch.  You have your best chance of survival by grabbing towards the base of the branch.  It was a good 90 minutes or even a bit longer that I came across a miracle and my first real hope. 
A huge landslide had occurred quite some time ago and left some large trees uprooted.  I was able to use these trees like a ladder, climbing upward to victory.  I slowly climbed up, rejoicing at the sight of the road.  A sudden fear entered me, slowing down my celebration a bit.  What if my would-be murderers were still around? I made the decision to crawl into a pile of high brush that would conceal me to get an idea on the dangers of moving forward.  I rested in the same spot, unmoving, for a good 15 minutes or so.  The adrenaline was starting to wear off, and pain was returning at a very rapid rate.  As I was climbing up, I heard the sound of a motor heading from my right to my left heading to the direction of the touristy pool.  I knew wobbling back to the pool and hoping someone was there was my best hope.  I had this nagging fear that my would've murderers would be at the village I was originally heading to.  So I made up my mind and as quick as possible hobbled to the tourist pool.  I was constantly fearful or running into them, or having them sneak up behind me.  Eventually I made it to the entrance of the pool and saw the light.  A motorcycle was parked outside!  I quickened my pace and made it to the picnic area where I saw the most wonderful sight ever!  A family was having lunch.  They looked at me in shock as I approached, a bleeding mess.  I explained my situation as best I could in my broken Spanish and they quickly led me to their motorcycle, and to the rest of my life!
This ends my story.  In the end, I ended up with a massive black eye, a very sore chin, massive lacerations to my neck, a sprained leg and about 100+ ant bites, scrapes, and dozens of bruises.  Not a single broken bone throughout my body and no permanent injuries.  I made a full recovery from this physically, except for a strange flash in my right eye.  It only occurs when it is darker, but it is bearable.  For those who have helped me, physically and emotionally, a very grateful thanks.  I have dozens of other stories to tell, though none quite like this one. 

JWR Adds: A.'s story is a sharp reminder that traveling unarmed is foolhardy. As I've described before in SurvivalBlog, there are weapons options including walking sticks and folded umbrellas that can be kept close at hand in even to most legally restrictive environments. And keep in mind that the training to go with them is just as important.

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