What’s up guys? This may seem a little off topic for a martial arts blog, however this topic is one that I am very interested in and consider an extension of my training. From my military service and continuing love for camping and backpacking, I consider myself an avid outdoorsman. What appeals to me about these pursuits, aside from being able to get away from the city and enjoy the quite beauty of nature, is the sense of confidence and feeling of self-reliance that I gain from learning and practicing these skills. Whether you are a hunter, backpacker, camper, mountain biker, etc. skills like these may save lives in a bad situation. As such, we should regard this topic as inseparable from our martial arts in that it prepares us mentally and physically for any and all non-human threats to our safety.
Recently, it seems like survival skills have become a very popular topic. From the various television programs like: The Island, Naked and Afraid, Man Woman Wild, Men Women Wild, Survivor Man, Man Woman Wild, Dual Survival, and Man vs. Wild, more and more, the average TV viewer is being exposed to concepts and techniques that would guarantee their victory in any “survival situation”. Please note, with the exception of Man vs. Wild being listed last, the order in which I listed the programs is in no way an indication in their merits as sources for intellectual material on the subject. I would however consider with the Bear Grylls as the least useful of the more educational shows. The majority of the advice that he gives would get the average person killed. It should also be stated that Naked and Afraid, The Island, and Men Women Wild, while being pure comic gold and highly entertaining, are actually pretty good resources if you are looking at psychological effects of stress and interpersonal dynamics in survival situations.
With any fad, there are some risks for anyone wanting to jump into any training or buying any items that claim to be a “survival tool”. One problem I see with these television shows is that they do not often deal with some fundamentals in survival situations. First, these shows are designed to entertain. Les Stroud (Survivor Man) is typically the most boring of the viewing options, however, his show focuses on some of the core principals of survival. Armed with some essential items, he utilizes his knowledge and skills to forage items, acquire water, and feed and shield himself from the elements until he can be “found” by his rescue crew. As a general rule, he stays put. Occasionally, he will make a long trek to get to a rendezvous site while discussing the decision process of whether to not to self-rescue . Even with his more “boring” approach as compared to Grylls, he still faces real dangers that you and I would face in similar situations (ie elements, dehydration, and predatory animals), all the while carrying his own equipment and filming everything on his own.
In contrast, Bear Grylls always presents a situation where he must self-rescue, while never really discussing the various factors affecting such a crucial decision. While on his epic action packed journey to civilization, he will needlessly free climb cliff faces, zip line across gorges, execute complex and dangerous mountaineering maneuvers with a bundle of parachute chord, and step on the nuts of any predatory animal he sees along the way. The only reason I can assume for this is to try to entertain and convince his audience of how much of a bad ass he is. But seeing how he is former British SAS, his bad ass-ness should not come into question. But with regards how it is portrayed, the in reality, he is supported by a camera and safety crew who are in position to assist him in a matter of seconds. You and I however do not have that luxury. In fact, Bear Grylls has been highly criticized in the community of survival experts because of what he demonstrates on his show. Some of his most outspoken critics are also members of British Special Forces (SAS) and survival experts themselves.
On the subject of rescue, statistically speaking, the time before you can expect rescue is about 3 days. With regards to a plane crash, shipwreck, or any other public transportation emergency, modern technology (communications, GPS, etc) makes location of the vessel easy for rescuers. In terms of outdoor activities (hunters, hikers, mountain climbers, etc), as long as you have taken the normal safety precautions of reporting your intended timeline and destinations to a family member and park ranger services, you can expect rescue in a comparable amount of time. That being said, the option for self-rescue should not be entirely dismissed. There is no set rule, circumstances differ and situations change. The first skill of survival is flexibility and the most important survival kit is your brain. You must be able to dispel fear, analyze the situation, and formulate a plan. Remember this acronym, S.T.O.P (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan), and then you can GO.
I have also seen a variety of equipment and prepackaged survival kits and “bug out bags” for sale in stores and on line. Many of these kits cost in upwards of $150. While some of the material in these kits are over priced and useless, some are beyond the skill level of the average person who would buy it “just in case”. When I go out to the woods even on a day hike, I always carry some essentials, but the main point is that I know how to use what I carry. First aid kits are an example of this point. If you carry a first aid kit when you camp, hike, or hunt, it should contain items that you know how to use. If your first aid skill does not exceed the liberal application of Neosporin and a band-aid, you should not be carrying a kit with a tourniquet, scalpel, suture kit, hemostatic agent, and I.V. bag. However, if you feel these and other items are essential, than you need seek proper training.
There are a variety of survival books on the market. Some are good while others are not so good. My personal favorites are the SAS Survival Manual by Dave “Lofty Wiseman”, 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping You Ass Alive by Cody Lundin (Dual Survival), and The Green Beret Survival Manual by Mykell Hawke (Man, Woman, Wild). All of these books are sound in method and material and overlap on many key points. It is very important to understand, like any equipment, just because you have the book and read it, does not mean that you will able to execute the tasks therein. There is no substitute for practice in a safe and controlled environment.
Please check back next week for more on this topic as we gear up for what I would like to be annual FMA Camp and Survival Skills weekend in the Nashville TN area.
Let us know what you think in the comments and feel free to like and share. You can follow Guro Jerome Teague on Facebook (Balintawak Eskrima Bull Chapter USA) and Instagram to stay up to date on training events and instructional content via his Youtube channel.