A new martial arts teacher and perspective

Re-engaged with a new (old) teacher for physical security training recently. I’ve known this fellow for years, trained under him awhile ago, and trust him to teach me these potentially deadly techniques with the correct mindset. Specifically, one of being positive and solution-focused.

He was open to contracting with me for private lessons in a customized format, makes my dojo commute time only 15 minutes (by bicycle) each way, and meets with me during my lunch break. Cool.

We’re studying the same practical topics as krav maga (unarmed defense against chokes, strikes, kicks, knife, and gun), but from an aikido perspective. Aikido is known as the only martial art that is non-aggressive. While I appreciate that fact because I believe in seeking harmony, it also leads to criticisms of the art.

We are attempting to remedy these critiques by bringing in portions of other disciplines, such as Brazilian ju-jitsu (ground work/escape), Wing Chun (close combat), and Muay Thai (striking/kicking distance), with a focus on simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers.

Because all aikido-based techniques wait until the other person attempts to do something negative to you before responding, it is great for diffusing potentially negative situations. But in case they can’t be diffused, I’ve added weapons training to my sessions for the jo, kubotan, and stick fighting. Why those specific weapons? Because I already carry them every day.
  • A jo is basically a long stick. Between hiking sticks and garden tools, I spend a fair amount of my day with something like a jo already in my hand.
  • A kubotan can be any small cylindrical object. For me, that’s the space pen, small tactical flashlight (during travel) , or pocket multitool (not during travel) that are always in my pockets.
  • The fighting sticks are martial arts version of a policeman’s baton. I keep a collapsible ASP baton attached to my bedside so I can sleep better.

And why weapons training at all? Because a recent discussion with my wife made it clear to me that I will never be allowed to store guns in our house, loaded or unloaded. Scratch that, once the local coyotes and raccoons started attacking our chickens, guns made it onto the approved list. But this logic still applies for those (many) times when I am not armed. I can usually find something nearby to serve as a stick.

I do not disagree with any of her arguments; I could make all the same arguments myself. But it convinced me of one thing. If I cannot have a “weapon” in the house (e.g. a gun), then I need to become the weapon myself.

Which is going to take *alot* of work.

How to get your spouse involved

I distinctly remember when I finally had the Big Talk with my wife about emergency preparedness after months of research and reading. I was waiting for the right time and (luckily) hit it. The good news was that she did not think I was insane.

I asked her to list the possible emergencies for which she would want us prepared. Her exact reply:
  1. Earthquakes
  2. War
  3. Food/Water shortages
  4. Looting

I expanded each of these with her to include the areas you see here and launched this blog to document our successes and failures preparing for each of these scenarios in order to encourage others to opt out en masse as well.

As for failures, here’s my first major one: I stopped communicating with my wife immediately after the above-mentioned conversation. I just went head down into preparation planning and execution.

While I subscribed her to this blog, I never bothered to ask if she would actually want to read it. It turns out, she doesn’t. Her time on the computer is so limited by our current life stage (two young active kids) that she barely has enough time to stay current with friends via email.

Blogs? Facebook? Are you kidding? These don’t even make it onto her radar. Oops.

She watches me read through emergency prep books each evening. She hears me on the phone with contractors getting bids. She talks to me while I’m cutting paths into our steep hillside to make more room for vegetable beds. But through all this, I did not actually communicate with her.

I failed to communicate the Big Picture of what we as a family are preparing for and its cost implications. When viewed individually, the costs can actually be quite alarming. She was recently balancing our checkbook when it came to a head.

“You spent $600 on wheat?!?”

But when you realize (e.g. discuss) that we normally spend $1200 a year on wheat, then a one time hit of $600 for that same amount of wheat begins to make sense financially. It makes you feel good and wise having that amount of food in storage for a rainy day. But only if you talk about it.

Lesson learned. Whether the project is harvesting our rainwater from the roof into food grade tanks or building out a permaculture-style “food forest”, I’m going to communicate with my wife more frequently in her preferred medium – an actual conversation.


Physical security training begins

This part of my Physical Security task overlaps with my Personal Training task. Much of physical security is centered on hardening my home to burglars and would-be home invaders, but a portion of this task is the hardening of myself.

I’ll also (selectively) begin hardening my family. I want my wife to know how to physically defend herself and escape an attack should I be traveling for work. And I think it is one of my fatherly duties to raise children who know how to responsibly defend themselves and their friends, and to encourage others to think peacefully. As my young son said the other day, “Dad, I think there are alot of unfriendly kids in the world.”

Like many other parts of the Personal Training task, I’m now making up for items I wish I had learned as a youth or young adult. Things like how to solder, how to use a plumb line, or how to disable a person(s) attempting to hurt someone I love. It’s this last item for which I’ve started conditioning recently. I’m now studying martial arts for the first time in a focused, supervised manner at a local dojo.

My primary focus is how *not* to get in a fight; how to deescalate any situation that might cause someone to physically attack you. But part of martial arts is also focused on how to efficiently and effectively disable someone threatening yourself or your family.

Even though we train at speeds well below full speed, I’m going to be lucky to get through this training without breaking my nose at least once.

Investing for the Peak

What “peak”? Well, peak everything, actually.

I’ve been researching where to invest cash for two scenarios, the first being the transitional years I believe we’ve just entered which are marked by a lousy economy and strange up/down market fluctuations related to energy and food stuffs. The second scenario I’ve been researching is where to invest cash in the economy that will emerge from the current shakeup, after the transitional years.

Frankly, I have no idea if this economy will fully emerge in my lifetime, but when I think about investments, I’m automatically thinking very long term…for our kids’ benefit.

We’re currently sitting on all cash and short-term US Treasury bills, split among several different financial institutions. But with hyperinflation looming and the international loss of confidence in the US dollar, our paper assets could dwindle very quickly. My friends in the financial world believe a second major correction on par or worse than the last financial meltdown is coming.

So where do you invest in a post peak world? Well, the most attractive option is to turn those paper assets in real assets, specifically in the form of local business ownership and local farmable real estate.

It was with that thought/question in mind that I attended a recent Post Peak Living seminar titled “Sustainable Post-Peak Livelihoods“. It was a two hour session taught by Sarah and Paul Edwards, with ample time allowed for discussion. I found the content high quality and access to the instructors and Andre (session host and founder of PPL) easy and straightforward. Recommended.

They confirmed two things I had been discussing with my wife, the first was the wisdom in investing in the local businesses in our small town that I felt were serving me well during this series of “opt out” experiments we’ve been doing. Specifically, the two bike shops in town, the local hardware franchise, and the two gardening supply shops. In the transitional years we are just beginning, these would become the core businesses of our town.

The second was a long-standing thought which is any time I’m investing my money, I also want to be investing my time and talent. The folks at Social Venture Partners cemented that idea in my brain more than a decade ago.

But the Edwards opened my eyes to an additional investment opportunity: tradespeople. Whether they are existing woodworkers, plumbers, or electricians, they skills in a post peak world will be at a premium since their ability to travel via car while be severely hampered. We discussed financially investing in both established tradespersons as well as younger folks just coming out of apprenticeship programs.

Switching gears, of the post peak investing books I’ve been reading, I have one only recommendation so far: Profit from the Peak, particularly the epilogue. The book addresses more classical investment vehicles, namely public companies. Several of their recommendations are well thought out and worth mentioning:
  • General Electric (NYSE: GE): largest producer of domestic wind turbines and innovative new hybrid locomotives
  • Zoltek (NASDAQ: ZOLT): US based maker of carbon fiber, which goes into modern wind turbines (and really cool bicycles)
  • Toyota: clearly the leader in hybrid vehicles for consumers, particularly with their upcoming plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Although Peak Oil will likely send all vehicles to the junkyard early, Toyota seems best positioned as a good investment during these transitional years.
  • Railroads; Gates, Buffet, and Soros are all buying into Canadian National Railway, Burlington Northern, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and CSX.

Anniversary of 9/11 tragedy

On this solemn day, I’m reminded of a quote from Paul Hawken (of the Smith & Hawken garden supply company, among other things).

“Doom and optimism are twins. One does not exist without the other. The only way you can be truly hopeful about the future is to have a very accurate read on the problems of the present.”

Many people think about the War Against Terror and related efforts with a sense of doom because the task seems insurmountable. I disagree. While our US Empire is crumbling – no argument there – I believe this gives us an opportunity to reposition the international US reputation from a very negative one to a positive one. But it is clearly going to
be a multi-generation effort. And it’s going to be led by folks who are thinking clearly about the condition of country is in today.

According to homeopathic doctors, a human body that has suffered from an illness for X months will require *at least* the same number of months for healing. There is no quick, pharmaceutical-induced pill in homeopathy to fix the body in three days or less.

I believe the same is true of the US reputation among other countries. We’ve spent decades casting ourselves in a certain light through our actions and words. We’ll likely have to spend at least the same number of decades recasting a more positive and sustainable attitude.

Hawken’s commencement speech from this past May is a quick and worthwhile read related to challenging the upcoming generation to continue this positive work. The interesting backstory is that he tossed the speech he had written for the occasion and finished this one minutes before the ceremony itself.

Solar and wind power

We added a new feature to our view this week. Look closely in the picture and you’ll see a 30′ high pole with a small wind measurement tool on top.

Not everyone is thrilled with the addition; my wife and eldest child both commented on the first day, “Boy, that is ugly.” Oh well.

There are some bright folks (T. Boone Pickens comes to mind) who have teams analyzing wind power. Turns out the US has some of the best wind in the world for harvesting on a mass scale. We put up this measurement device to gather data for one year to see if our specific location is worthwhile for a small wind turbine.

We’re also getting bids for solar, specifically solar tubes to heat our hot water. We live in a difficult place from straight photovoltaic (PV) panels, but may be able to gather enough solar to significantly offset our hot water heater, one of our primary uses of electricity. You might be in a better area; check out this site to test your roof for PV potential. As PV technology improves in the future, I hope to be able to add panels to our roof as well as plant a solar forest in the front yard to replace the garage.


The only thing that worries me about solar is the current reliance on oil and transport to produce the parts. When oil gets too expensive and then (permanently) goes away, I hope these same bright scientists can quickly convert to other building/transportation methods to get PV installed around the country.

The setup we’re looking to build is 50 tubes on the only two small pitches on our roof that face south, which will lead to a 120 gallon storage tank, which will feed into our existing hot water tank.

While we’re talking about alternative green energy options, I was recently called a Green Hawk by an acquaintance when I brought up the idea of microgrids for our small town.

“I’m a what?”

Green Hawks are those in the environmental movement who tend to think of green solutions as being good for the national defense of our country. Well, good point. I believe we need to get off oil and get off it fast. I guess that does make me a Green Hawk. I’m hoping there is a cool merit badge or secret handshake to go along with the label.

Awareness arrives in stages

“Awareness arrives in stages.” A fellow named James Kunstler said that. Wise words.

In my own life, awareness of sustainability issues came in waves. First it was organic food, then Fair Trade products, then green cleaning/building products for the home.

Then the combination of studying Peak Oil, global warming, and the recent US economic financial services meltdown led me to where I am today. Although attempting to foresee the future is tricky at best, preparing for future scenarios is prudent. While I am optimistic about future possibilities (e.g. near limitless energy from geothermal, wind, and solar), I am realistic in planning for more negative eventualities (e.g. a pandemic flu correcting our over-populated areas).

But where to begin? Every once in awhile I feel overwhelmed by the negativeness of it all, or the absurd, massive, endless lists of things that I *could* be preparing for. Then I look at my relatively short prioritized task list, take a deep breath, and move towards getting the next item checked off.

If any of you are thinking that way, here’s your *one* task to do this week: buy a bunch of bottled water (2 gallons per person per day for 30 days) and stick it in a closet (but not on concrete; a chemical reaction fouls the water over time). It seems like alot of water when you are buying it and getting weird looks, but not so much once it is stashed in the closet.

Then smile, relax, and tell yourself you are a great person because you’ve got one month of water stored for your family in case of massive tornados, fires, floods, earthquakes, excessive house guests, whatever.

Now that you have your immediate water needs taken care of, you can start reading through the blog posts on food security.

Why a blog?

But why a blog on this topic? Well, in the wise words of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, “silence is the enemy“. We need to be discussing and sharing best practices for moving ourselves as North American citizens (note I did not say “consumers”) towards sustainability.

One group doing an outstanding group of presenting calm, fact-based discussion on these topics is Future Scenarios. It’s a website/book created by David Holmgren, the co-originator of the permaculture concept. Worthwhile.

Building relationship networks

While some believe emergency preparedness is best done as a solo effort, far away from “civilization” and prying eyes in a remote location, I believe the opposite to be true. Similair to the conclusion that Neil Strauss reached in his Emergency book, I plan to stay and help when the national emergency hits, not run away from it.

More wisdom from Joel Skousen:

“Possessing a few personal friends you can intrinsically trust at all times is one of the most important contingency preperations you can make.”

Part of my personal training is using some of my natural skill set of marketing and networking (Hey! My current skills are not *completely* useless!) to build a strong network of friends and colleagues who share this same passion for being prepared…and specifically being prepared so that we can help others who did not make preparations to weather the next two week power outage due to us selling our electricity to California, the next local volcanic eruption, or the next national/international economic meltdown. It will take a group of folks who are already prepared and thinking clearly to help our country and cities regain positive momentum.

I’m building three overlapping networks of contacts: local, regional, and national.

The national guys are already in place. It was numerous emails with these lifelong friends (“brothers” would be a more accurate term) that led me to create this blog as a time-saving and information-dispersing vehicle. They are each on their own path – somewhere along this continuum of preparations – from bare minimum (storing two weeks of water and a lot of ammo) to significant (way to go St. Louis!). The general idea is that because we are spread all over the US, if a regional emergency dictates that we need to leave quickly for a short duration (Mt Rainier erupts, chemical spill, whatever) we can go to whichever area is safest. On the to-do list: get Canadian passports in case we have no easy way to reach these friends on the other side of the country during an emergency situation. We can always go north.

The regional network is my least developed at this stage. I suspect it will consist mostly of regional farmers and others concerned with food/water security, but I have not spent alot of thought here yet. If there is a future business idea somewhere in all this thinking/planning/doing, it is likely at the regional level. Something that could be freely shared and replicated in other regions of our country and beyond.

The local network is my current focus. I want to get to know folks that I could reach by walking or bicycling, which limits this network to our small town of 23,000 people who live in a (roughly) 4 mile by 8 mile stretch of land. In a world of very expensive gas, I may still be able to afford to drive a vehicle around, but most folks won’t. Which will lead to something we’ll want to avoid: attention and resentment.

Current local plan:
  1. Connect the various parts of our small town via ham radio to maintain contact even during emergencies when our phone and cell systems have shown they can be easily overwhelmed. Specifically have these ham radios sit at locations where we are connecting food, water, and reliable heavy transportation (horses). These radios are not sitting at city government offices, but in private homes of clued-in people.
  2. Map walking/biking/horse riding paths for non-vehicle transportation around our town.
  3. Create my own personal “Board of Mentors” of those who can train me, help me, and join me in leading our small town in preparedness.
Current local network:
  • A close friend who is clued-in and knows many of our local farmers on a first name basis. He’s a rebel rouser who has proven that he can create positive solutions that fly in the face of traditional wisdom. The one who clued me in to Wendell Barry.
  • An acquaintance who is an expert on ham radio, electric vehicles as alternative transportation, and has significant financial resources.
  • A close friend who has recently become a local micro-farmer / micro-rancher. The one who turned me on to Joel Salatin.
  • Several acquaintances who are skilled craftsmen (wood working, plumbing, etc).
  • An acquaintance who is a permaculture expert.
  • A former student who is an alternative energy expert (solar and wind). We’re setting up a tool next week to measure our wind capabilities for the next year.
  • An acquaintance who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and member of our town’s volunteer fire department. He also trains doing MMA, so he may become a reliable Krav Maga sparring partner as well. Although I’d have to convince him this is not a sport for me, but a way to keep my family and friends safe.

What roles am I missing? You tell me. Either comment below or send me email at optoutenmasse at gmail dot com.

Is self-sufficiency selfish?

In a very real sense, yes.

Every hour I devote to personal self-sufficiency is an hour I take away from my Fair Trade business, which by its very definition is focused on helping others (usually on the other side of the globe). It is an hour I take away from the students I teach each Fall. It is an hour I take away from visiting with friends. It is an hour I take away from sleeping.

So why do I do this?

Partially because I believe a time is coming (likely in my lifetime, definitely in my children’s lifetime) when life will get very local, very quickly. The time I spend in preparations for myself and my family is a selfish investment. But I believe it to be a wise one that will enable us to help others (neighbors, friends, family) later, when they are in dire need due to lack of preparations.

Becoming self-sufficient myself – and teaching my children how to become so, as well – is one of my primary duties as a parent.