There are skills in this world that, independently of where you live and who you are, you need to know. Not only to be prepared, but to be worth of being called human, may I say. Our long line of ancestors made it through a multitude of obstacles, from saber-tooth tigers to World War II, and everything in between. I believe we owe ourselves and the people around us to be capable, strong and knowledgeable.
We are lucky enough to live in a time of relative peace and abundance. I am talking here about Europe, the United States, and many other countries in the world. It isn’t the case everywhere, I know. Pandemics have ravaged the world in the past, killing millions. We dodged a few bullets more recently with Influenza, as well as Ebola (search Wikipedia on “pandemic”). Many other killer strains are only waiting for an opportunity. New wars, civil unrest are never out of the question. Natural disasters such as tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes can happen at any time. Hopefully none of these disasters will happen in our lifetime. Some of you guys though may have children, and who else will teach them but you? Not the public school system. And even if nothing bad happens, why not be a stronger, more capable individual?
A lot of the skills we learn today are based on work, not survival. We have everything at our disposition: Shelter, supermarkets, gas, electricity, communications, transportation. We become very good at using computers, complex phones, and rely much on them. We drive cars, even for short distances. We become dependent on technology and services provided by others to survive. We grow fat and become lazy. When was the last time you walked for ten miles? When was the last time you had to hunt or fish for food (not counting doing it for fun)? Now, imagine that all the supermarkets in your town close. Then, the power company shuts down; no more internet either, and you can’t recharge your cell phone. Land phone lines are cut. Gas stations close. How long will it take for the situation to become dicey, for people to start panicking? What would you do then?
Acquiring the skills you would need to survive or get out of the area can be fun week-end projects. Learning them when the shit has already hit the fan is too late, you probably will become a statistic. You don’t have to think about catastrophes all the time and live in fear, simply learn what you need, and put it in a compartment of your head somewhere, until you need it..
Learn to navigate: In an evacuation, roads could be blocked by traffic jams. They could be blocked by people, or physically destroyed. Buy topographic maps for your area, or your state, and get a compass. One without the other isn’t of much use. Learn dead reckoning, where you pick a landmark in the direction you want to go, walk to it, and pick the next one. Count your steps, know how many you take typically per mile.
Building shelters: A few days of camping should suffice for this. Have a comfortable tent with you, but bring a hatchet and nylon string. Don’t try anything new or fancy, good shelters have been built for eons by cavemen who’s lives depended on it. Copy them. Look into the history of your area, you will find out what they used. Try to isolate yourself from the ground. Make sure you know what trees or plants to use, some might be poisonous.
Food: While you are camping, try to make a bow and arrows. Have a family competition to see who can be the most accurate. Learn to build traps. You can find numerous designs online. The most commons are the figure 4 deadfall and spring traps. Not only can you make traps for land animals, but also for fish. Buy a book on local flora and comestible plants. Go out in the woods and try to identify them. Ask an expert before you try eating anything you aren’t absolutely sure about! Getting food is one thing, but then you might need to skin it, gut it and cook it. You should have done this successfully at least once. A note to vegetarians here: Do not think that because you don’t eat meat you should skip this. If you get hungry enough, you will eat anything. No, don’t think “No, I still wouldn’t,” because you would, period. If you think otherwise, you are a fool, and you might as well close this page and go cook some tofu.. Learn about cooking methods in the woods, using hot rocks for instance.
Water: How do you boil water without a pot? How do you make one? An important skill to know is how to make a solar still. There aren’t many ways to purify water without chemicals or a special filter. Are there springs in your area? If not, how far would you have to go to find a natural spring. What about wells? Who has one? Do you know the owner? It might be time to go say hi.. Water is heavy, carrying it will only work so far. I would not attempt a journey if no rain is expected and there is no source of water on the way.
Fire: You see it done on television all the time, and it looks so simple and easy. It is not! You could waste hours trying. Making fire without modern source is difficult, and must be practiced until you get it right. Try with wood friction and also with flints. Once your fire is lit, make a fire bundle to carry it. See if you can take it with you and start another fire later with it.
Learn to handle firearms: You may not like guns, but the day you really need one may be your last, or the difference between a good meal and an empty stomach for a few days. If you are not a police officer, a handgun is pretty useless. You can’t really hunt with it, and in a conflict, you will almost always lose to a rifle. So, learn to handle a rifle, starting with safety. Go to a range, and get help. The best rifle for small game would be a .22lr, the best one in my opinion being the Ruger 10-22. You may also use a pellet gun, in .22 caliber. Something more substantial would be needed if you must feed more than yourself, or if there is a possibility, and there almost always is in a disaster scenario, that you may encounter hostile people. A lever action rifle in .30 or .44 mag. will serve you well. Shotguns are very good for hunting too. If the situation is really bad, AK-47. By the way, do you think that you will be the only one in the store the day things go wrong? Buy one now. If you have kids, buy a safe, keep it locked. Teach them gun safety as well.
If you haven already, learn to swim. No comment here. You should be able to cross a good size river, and thread water for some time. Learn to lay flat on your back and float on the water.
Learn to defend yourself empty-handed: This is complex subject, and I probably will write about it in my martial arts section. In brief, there are a lot of martial arts out there that are not worth a dime for self defense. There are also good styles but bad teachers. I would suggest trying to find a school or style that emphasizes principles over form and techniques. Avoid styles that are too stiff in their movements or teachings, and promote violence or aggressiveness. Going nuts in a fight won’t help you. Emotions won’t help you. Also avoid styles that use excessive protections, have too many rules (like not hitting the face, etc.), or simply avoid contact. The style you choose must also consider multiple attackers, armed or not, and fighting on the ground as well as on your feet. If you see twelve-year-olds with a black belt, run! If they promise you a black belt next year, run! Actually, be suspicious of belts altogether. My favorites are, almost in order: Systema, Bujinkan, Penjak Silat, Kuntao, Kali, Wing Tsun, Aikido, Krav Maga, Boxing, and I am sure I am forgetting some. I would not suggest TaeKwonDo, traditional Karate, and other styles based on outdated forms of combat, or geared towards competition. Some combinations are good, like boxing and JiuJitsu for example. Shop around before you sign-up, and don’t bother spending time on martial arts forums on the web, there is nothing to learn from them. If you don’t have a good school nearby, go to russianmartialart.com, load up on DVDs and start a study group in your town.
Get in shape: Well, your martial arts training should help you there, but walking is a great exercise, and knowing how far you can go is a valuable piece of information. Knowing how far your family members can go is even better. Who is going to break first? When? Is there something you can do? Learn to carry people in an efficient manner, by yourself, or with help. Do regular push-ups, squats and crunches. You don’t need any machines or gym memberships for that. Don’t eat fast foods, and when you go shopping, read the labels. Avoid MSGs, high fructose corn syrup, and too much fat or sugar. Stay away from processed foods. Dump sodas, even (or especially) the diet ones. Drink water and tea. Don’t abuse coffee. Stop smoking! Eat raw vegetables and don’t have meat every day.
Learn first -aid: The Red-Cross probably has classes nearby. Take all their classes, and learn resuscitation techniques, and especially how to treat wounds and burns. You can find numerous books on the subject at your local library, and many web sites with tutorials. Learn about the specific threats in your area. Cross-check your findings, because theories do change, and what may have been thought to be a great technique one day may be considered dangerous the next.
I might add more to this blog. I do not claim to be an expert at all. These are just ideas I gathered over time. Feed back and new ideas would be appreciated. I have been intentionally vague here, so please post your comments. I would like this to be a living document.