Staying to help

A recent conversation with a friend reinforced the need to encourage local people to stay and help during an emergency, whether it is a long one or just a few days. Over the course of a few conversations, I could see his outlook change from “I need to escape to another country with my kids” (he’s divorced) to a more positive, healthy attitude of “I need to get trained up so I can stay and help my community.”

That’s a *great* change in attitude, applicable for many situations (I’d still use the Go Bags if you’ve got a nearby chemical spill on the highway). I appreciated watching the stages of my friend’s progression as I port my self-reliance projects from a personal level to a town level.

You can read a similair journey taken by the excellent writer Neil Strauss in his book, Emergency. Another author, Zachary Nowak has an interesting take on this attitude here. His editor Adam Fenderson, founder of the Energy Bulletin, commented on Nowak’s essay:

There is also a ‘third way’, one which combines self-sufficiency/survivalist type tactics with community building and some relatively positive visions. Eco-villages, Richard Heinberg’s lifeboats strategy, and the [Transition] town-scale efforts in places such as Kinsale in Ireland and Willits in California might be considered part of this approach.

Isolationist survivalism, constantly on the guard from marauding hordes, doesn’t sound like an existence most of us would consider worth living. And promoting it, where it takes our energies away from more collective energy descent tactics might actually increase the likelyhood of such uncontrolled collapse and desperate marauders. So the ethics of promoting such an approach are complex.

We publish Zachary’s article because it is full of excellent advice and resources of value to anyone with an interest in taking more than a superficial approach to sustainability (a term which ultimately does mean the same thing as survival.)

Go Bags: do you really need them?

Frequent business travelers are familiar with the idea of keeping an always-packed bag ready to go. Thankfully, I’ve now progressed to a point in my career where I have more control over my business schedule. I no longer need a Go Bag, as we called them. Or do I?

If you think of the many emergency scenarios which might force you and your family to vacate your home at a moment’s notice, there are actually quite a few. Anything from a chemical spill on the nearby highway to a fire on your neighbor’s roof can force you to abandon your home and all the preparations it contains to help you weather an emergency and be available to help others.

But recently I learned another reason to have a set of well-equipped, well-marked Go Bags ready to throw in the trunk. I received a phone call from a friend that said, “Dude, are you watching the news? Your house is on it. I’m watching a feed from a helicopter.” Ha ha, what a jokester. Although a couple of helicopters had been hovering for over an hour, passing back and forth around the forest near our home. I thought they were just doing survey work. Hmmm, maybe my buddy is not just pulling my leg. I don’t subscribe to TV, so I had no idea what he was talking about. He relayed what was happening while I called it up on the internet.

At the end of my driveway (it’s long and you can’t see the beginning through the forest), we had 50 officers from the local and county police, ATF and FBI, plus some US Marshals in a stream of unmarked and normal patrol cars, including a full-blown battle wagon. Really, it looked like a tank. This is a photo of it sitting at the end of my driveway by our trailheads. The officers and agents fanned out in the forest that surrounds us, looking for an armed robber’s weapons cache. Because weapons were involved, these guys were wearing full body armor, camo, and carrying assault rifles. Great; just what I wanted in my back yard.

What to do when the battle wagon rolls up your driveway? Thank the officers for doing their job, grab the kids and Go Bags, and get out of there.

So, what makes a good Go Bag? Google will return lots of helpful lists for you, but in general, put into 1-2 bags everything you need to camp comfortably outdoors, without power for several days, and you have the beginnings of a good Go Bag. I’ve added a few items for minor medical emergencies and items specific to our climate/terrain. Store the bags near your vehicle so you can grab them on the way out.

Since this incident, local friends have stopped raising their eyebrows in skepticism when I mention things like emergency preparedness and self defense. They’ve started asking detailed follow-up questions about how they can also become more prepared. I suppose I have a felon to thank for that.

Alternative to self defense :: self offense

I joined a second dojo a few weeks ago. The teacher there has extensive experience with boxing, Brazilian Jujitsu (what you do once you’re on the ground for newbies like me), and training students for the sport of MMA. He knows I’m not there for the sport, but the real life applications, and throws me an additional insight from time to time (“here’s what you’d do if you are on concrete…”).

The other aspect I like about this second dojo is the emphasis on full speed, full contact. With fairly complete body armor and *lots* of verbal communication with your partner, we can safely ramp up the sparring while staying in a learning mindset, avoiding that triggered reaction of closing off your mind and going into fight-flight mode.

I’m beginning to think of this less as “self defense” training and more of “self offense” training. Given the scenarios I’m training for (someone trying to abduct my child, etc), my objective is to hit first, even though I am the second to move. A professional trainer named Jerry Lee Peterson came up with this concept first, I think. The idea is the the Bad Guy(s) have made the first move, but through superior conditioning and training, I am the one to land the first significant hit.

Similarly, Paul Evans explains that self-defense is very different than a counter-attack. A defense merely delays the oncoming attack from overwhelming you, whereas a counter-attack stops the attacker by attacking him…which is quite different than defending against him.

Am I ditching my first aikido-based training? No way; it is still the foundation of everything I’m doing, given it’s pure focus of diffusing the negative situation with a positive outcome. How could potentially disabling someone by smashing them in throat and then nuts for a quick “stun and run” be considered positive? Because it is better (legally, ethically) than the alternative. There is a reason the police train in aikido tactics for control and restraint.

Now that I am spending more time on BJJ, I’ve found some interesting thoughts that BJJ instructors are saying about aikido and how one flows into the other.  You can see it in Roy Dean, who holds a black belt in both aikido and BJJ.  And Ari Bolden, who holds a black belt in aikido, Japanese Jujutsu, and a purple belt under Eddie Bravo. These are genuine Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners demonstrating an appreciation for aikido. That’s got to say something about the art.

And finally, a bit of aikido geek humor

Hard to imagine an aikido competition without the image of two competitors within an arms length telling each other, “Go ahead, grab me. No, you grab me. NO, you grab me.”

How to use row covers

This past winter we got to start eating our own salad again in February thanks to an experiment with floating row covers.

Wow. What a difference this stuff makes. Suggestions: use wooden clothes pins for an inexpensive, easy-to-remove fastener on top of the wire frames.

Between these covered beds in both the raised bed section and the food forest, our cold frames, and our hot beds, we’ve been eating well and have a serious jump start now that spring sunshine has arrived.

Productive pockets

I was asked what was in my pockets the other day. Odd question, but useful answers. Here’s more details re: a few items I mentioned in a previous productivity post.

I carry the same items in my pockets day in and day out, with one additional flashlight carried during the six months of shorter days during winter.

  1. Leatherman Expanse pocketknife with both types of full size screwdrivers + bottle opener/carabiner clip
  2. Space pen + hipster PDA (2.5″ x 3″ cards)
  3. iPhone 3GS + cheap wired earbuds/mic (because they break every 3 months)
  4. Streamlight tactical flashlight
  5. Quark 123 backup flashlight
  6. Gerber Curve Mini Tool (sometimes alternate with CRKT mini KISS knife on keyring, mostly not) backup blade + screwdrivers + bottle opener
  7. Paracord king cobra lanyard
  8. Money clip wallet from Fossil (the best fit for me after dozens of clips over the years)

I’m a dork for pocket knives; my next one is likely the Leatherman Expanse after my current one bites the dust. In a recent trip to a tropical humid location, almost 30% of the knife developed rust…in just two weeks! Weirdest thing, but a bath in naval jelly solved the problem.

I used to carry a multitool Leatherman knife, but the only tools I actually ever used in addition to the blade were the screwdrivers. I also still keep this semi-useful but dead simple multitool from Swiss Tech attached to my car keyring, although I don’t drive often anymore.

I grew up thinking the “Always Be Prepared” boy scouts were geeks until I got to know a couple of Eagle Scouts in college and realized just how much practical knowledge they had been absorbing in between those useless cheesy pack meetings. Eagle Scouts are good guys to have as friends. I need to find non-cheesy options for this type of thing for my children; perhaps just teaching them myself.

Update: awesome EDC site to see other folks’ productive pockets a.k.a. their everyday carry. Many thanks for teaching me the value of a backup blade + torch, as well as the usefulness of having some paracord in your pocket all the time.

The new and improved American “empire”

Dr. Thomas Barnett is a seriously smart fellow. I hope his ideas spread far, wide, and deep into our society so we can see change along the lines that he offers.

Note a couple of items:
1. This speech is at TED, which typically leans heavily towards the Left side of the political spectrum and eschews war and violence. But despite his aggressive, military-tough talk, he gets a standing ovation after his conclusion. His sense of humor certainly helps, but those folks (and myself) were applauding his research and plan.
2. Dr. Barnett replaces an international American Empire (based solely on a Leviathan Force) with an international American System Administrators Force. Given that our empire is crumbling fast, it is a brilliant transition. There are lots of other folks talking about our crumbling empire, but this is the best roadmap that I’ve seen to divert us from that destructive path.

Six month progress report

A quick check-in on my goals set out six months ago….here were the topics:

  1. Water security. Done. Have 5000 gallons of rainwater harvested. It only took about 10 days of rain to gather. Amazing.
  2. Food security. Done. Regular biointensive gardens + permaculture food forest + backyard chickens installed. Chest freezer + storage closet full of one year’s food as backup.
  3. Personal training. In progress. Unarmed self defense training is well underway; I’ll continue practicing this in perpetuity. Next up is likely medical training via advanced CPR and EMT classes.
  4. Physical security. In progress. We start weapons training at local range this month. Motion-sensitive security lights installed. Safe room planned but not constructed. Dogs discussed but not yet purchased.
  5. Transportation alternatives. Done. The longtail utility bike works well for me, although this might expand to an inexpensive neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) in the future, replacing one of our gas cars.
  6. Wealth management. In progress. Actually, it is just on hold. And I don’t have an excuse for the inaction, other than these are very weird economic times. There is zero consensus among money managers what type of investments to be pursuing right now.
  7. Energy security. In progress. Whole house generator in place. Two cords of wood for fireplace stove in place. Solar hot water tubes scheduled for a March installation. Still have several months left for measuring wind speed for our location to see if wind mills are feasible.

Overall, I’m pleased with our progress. It has spurred many conversations re: emergency preparedness with others in our small town, with both old and new friends.

And I’ve avoided getting cauliflower ear so far in MMA training. Thank goodness for arnica. 🙂

MMA for self defense, not sport

When describing my 3X weekly training sessions I do during my lunch break, I’ve found the easiest, most accurate description is “MMA for self defense, not sport”.

For those that even know what MMA is (“mixed martial arts”) they immediately understand the reference to it not being for sport. In regulated MMA bouts, there are many things off limit, like the gouging of eyes, striking of throats, and kicking of groins. Exactly the type of techniques you want to use in a real life self defense scenario!

For those who know martial arts, I can usually make reference to studying MMA from an aikido perspective and they at least begin to understand why. I’ve been asked if this is Hard Aikido. It’s really not. Hard Aikido appears fairly effective (and darn cool), but it still involves just too many complex moves, and suffers against attacks that are based in grappling.

The Hard Aikido moves are beautiful – a true art – but the spheres involved are just too large. The aikido that my sensei is drilling into me uses very small spheres, usually transitioned to by something in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, Muay Thai, or Wing Chun, depending on the distance of the original attack. Spheres? What are spheres, you ask? Learn more.

For those who have no idea what MMA refers to, they still understand the “self defense, not sport” reference refers to my lack of interest (but not respect) for progressing to higher levels (belts) or doing sport competition. It’s simply me, my sensei, and a desire to learn very practical techniques to protect my family and friends.

I put together the attached diagram to quickly describe what our training is beginning to look like in a flowchart manner (because I’m a dork for diagrams). It’s based off a quick flowchart my sensei drew (as an artist, he also tends to diagram alot; we have a whiteboard in the dojo).

As you go through life, you practice continuous, calm awareness, noted on the left side of the diagram. When a situation progresses from normal (green) to cautionary (yellow) to immediately dangerous (red), my hope is that I train my mind/body to respond automatically in those high stress situations.

Scientific writers describe this auto response as an “autonomic reaction” – an automatic response of the mind and body at a subconscious level. Aikido writers refer to this “move second, strike first” concept as harmonizing, or welcoming the attack. Your awareness to an attacker (moving first) enables you to blend with the attack (moving second) and still land the first blow (striking first). The blow might be a parry done while spinning to one side, but if done in the correct “always thinking forward” mindset, the first strike disables the attacker’s would-be blow.

Of course, the primary goal would be to evade those situations anyway, even before they hit the caution stage.

There are thousands of techniques in the various martial arts that we *could* study, but won’t. Unless you are logging decades of concentrated study inside a dojo, all those techniques just won’t work in a high stress situations when your “fight or flight” adrenaline has taken over your brain and body functions. But if you know a few relatively simple and fast techniques very, very, very well, the mind/body should be able to protect you and your loved ones when it goes into auto-drive.

This is what I am striving for in my training.

Weapons training :: videos

I get asked often what type of “weapons training” I am doing that does not involve guns. The basic answer of “I train with a stick” usually solicits blank stares in return. Look up a few videos on YouTube like these to see how powerful a practiced stick defense can be:

Arnis (shows transition from stick fighting into unarmed self defense):


Take a moment to look around you and realize just how many “sticks” are within reach as you go about your day. For me, there are usually plenty available (a.k.a. rake, walking stick, tree branch, baseball bat, rebar, shovel, etc).

Warning: take a note from Kip in Napoleon Dynamite. You might not want to train to be a cage fighter by just watching videos. Head to your local dojo for real instruction and full armor/speed practice.


Beating the flu

Ugh. I feel like I’ve survived death. Swine flu is *not* fun. I picked up the bug on a plane ride back from Chicago. Just finished four days of misery.

Thank goodness for Oscillo, N95 masks, and a loving spouse. All this preparation is for naught if you don’t have the right supplies on hand when you need them. Your health is everything; tough to enjoy the fruits of your Food Forest when you’re stuck in bed sick as a dog!