I should preface this all by saying I am not naturally gifted in survival skills. I spend most of my time indoors in front of a computer. However, I think it’s important to learn a basic understanding these skills, and that the mindset gained from them translates to other areas of life.
The topics covered included:
- Butchering & preparing animals for meat
- Rifle training
- Handgun training
- Self-defense Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training
- Trauma medical care
- Obstacle-course run
- A talk on the legal realities of using force
There was also a lot of camping out in the cold, hiking, drinking beer, talking by the campfire, and a big feast of delicious meat killed and cleaned earlier that day. All in all, a weekend well-spent.
Here’s the skill by skill breakdown:
If you’re going to eat meat, you should know what goes into it. The process of humanly killing animals we were shown involved stunning them (yes, with a hammer, like in the picture) and then slitting the throat. If that makes you uncomfortable, you should probably go vegan.
The farm owner leading the class described his goal as to have happy animals with one bad day. I felt a bit queasy beforehand, mostly because I was concerned we’d do it wrong and cause unnecessary harm to the animal. Thankfully, each kill was swift, and the process went well.
Rifle & Handgun
I went into the weekend having never shot a gun, and was nervous as hell beforehand. I mean, you can kill people with these things, right? Thankfully, the instructors walked us through everything from how to draw and hold your gun with proper stance to more advanced drills.
This demystified guns for me. I noticed the process of gun training is very similar to learning any other skill, from barbell movements to martial arts. I could see how, with committed training, one could go from civilian to soldier.
Most of the other participants had not only shot before, but brought their own guns. However, there were several other newbies there. By the end, there were no nerves, just fun.
Self-Defense Brazilian Jui-Jitsu
I had already trained in Krav Maga, so this section came most naturally. Plus, martial arts is just fun.
It was interesting to see where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu differs from Krav. Most Krav is designed to be easy to execute under pressure, so they’d have the first half of a Jiu-Jitsu response and then go to punches, whereas Jiu-Jitsu would execute a more complex grapple to go to ground.
The nice thing about Jiu-Jitsu however is that it’s easier to deescalate a situation. There was one move we were shown in particular that could easily stop a fight before it happens.
Again, the drills covered took people from total basics to things even those already skilled in martial arts could practice.
Emergency Medical Care
I hope I never have to use these skills, but I’m going to be most thankful I know them if I do have to use them. Trauma medical care included CPR, and tourniquets for serious wounds.
I learned that CPR no longer requires you to “tongue-fuck a stranger” as our instructor put it – just do the compressions. The insturctors had some helpful ways for remembering the correct pace for compressions – apparently the 100 BPM of “Another One Bites The Dust” or “Stay’in Alive” is exactly the right for giving those 2-inch pushes on.
This section may be the least flashy, but the most useful in an emergency. The EMTs teaching the class were incredibly knowledgeable, grounded, and presented the skills in a memorable way.
I didn’t think much about the rappelling… till I got up there. Then I noticed my body really didn’t like the idea of stepping off a four story ledge.
The interesting thing about rappelling is there’s no safety mechanism. You hold the rope behind you back and if you left go, you just fall all the way to the ground. The key is to let go a little bit and allow yourself to fall slowly. You literally have your life in your hands.
There’s something really freeing about this. Most activities have a lot of safety built in. Doing something like rappelling builds a lot of self-trust, because you see you can handle things totally on your own. It’s your hands that decide what happens to you.
One thing that stands out at Vanguard is the quality of people. Many of the participants were former military, EMTs, martial artists, and gym-goers. They were people who enjoy pushing themselves physically and learning new skills. There were no complainers. People had a great attitude, and built each other up. If nothing else, it’s worth going for that.
Another thing that impressed me was range of training. They managed to find drills and activities that challenged everyone, from the total newbie like me, to experienced people with military training.
If you’re someone who isn’t familiar with survival skills, this event would make a good introduction. If you’re familiar with one or two of the topics covered, there is bound to be new information in one of the classes. Even most of the trainers were only experts in their skill and benefited from the other areas of training.
Plus… it’s one weekend. Where else are you going to pick up this many new skills in two nights? If any of the above sounds like something you’d want to learn, this is the place to do it.
All photos courtesy Atomic-Athelete. Disclosure: I have trained at Atomic Athlete, and know the organizers personally. They’re great guys, and I wouldn’t write about the experience if I didn’t like them.
P.S. I made a short film that deals with survivalism in the media. It’s kind of a funny story. You can watch it here.