Training is EVERYTHING!
“Practice makes perfect”. Not really, as a Navy SEAL and friend once pointed out to me “Perfect Practice makes Perfect”. For someone like me, with 34 years of experience in the field of isolated personnel recovery and survival, this statement was prophetic. I had never thought about there being “Bad” practices but there are and it answered a lot of questions which often haunted me.
Being properly trained is the key to success in any operation, from business to survival the training you receive is the basis for your success. Unfortunately, in the survival world training can be the difference between life and death. We talk about the 5 “Ps”; prior preparation prevents poor performance but maybe we should focus on 6 “Ps” Prior proper preparation prevents poor performance. And this Preparation should focus on Perfect Training!
I observe peoples equipment and preparation all the time and I read every magazine and article I run across on survival and prepping. I also watch different episodes on television and listen to the “experts” who profess to have all the answers on what to do if you are isolated and living off the land. Whether it is an urban environment or field they all have one thing in common, they eventually give out information which will not work or will flat get you killed.
An example of this is an article I read concerning fire construction where the “expert” ended the article with the statement “be prepared to fail”. What? You just told the audience in a national survival magazine that they could fail to save their own lives? Sounds like you need more “perfect practice”. I cannot think of a situation, outside of not having any equipment or nothing to burn, where a fire can’t be built. Sleet, snow, horizontal rain, high winds, one hand, hypothermic these are all the times you need a fire. If your situation isn’t life threatening then you’re building a camp fire, not an emergency fire. So, where is the disconnect?
This disconnect comes from the instruction and the practice. In both instances people tend to take short cuts, employ bad habits or listen to people who frankly are clueless. As professional SERE Instructors we spend years researching and perfecting methods of self-preservation. I all things we focus on what it takes and how long it takes, to do a specific task, in order to save your life. In all tasks there are principles; principles that when not followed cause failure. Whether it is urban survival, surveillance detection, camouflage or trapping game if the principles are not followed then failure does.
So to compensate we begin to build redundancy in our equipment at the cost of weight and the possibility of physical fatigue. We also begin to overlook necessary equipment to make room for the redundant. For six months of training, in the art of survival, myself and my team mates lit our cigarettes with a ferrocerium rod (then known as a metal match), lived out of a poncho or natural shelter, used only a canteen cup to collect and prepare food and had two knives; one straight and one folding. We here taught to maintain our equipment and not to lose it because that could mean death.
I’m not saying that everyone, who wants to learn how to survive, needs to go through the painful and long training that I did. However, the type of training and who is giving the training should be evaluated. There are many questions you should be asking before you get involved with buying equipment or attending training, but the first one should be to ask yourself “why am I doing this.” Is it because of natural disasters and I’m waiting for help? Is it because I’m waiting for National upheaval or a meteor strike or am I just wanting to take care of myself if I fall down and get injured on a weeklong hike?
All these questions come into play when choosing the right training format or equipment. It may be that you only need some medical training from the local Red Cross or it could be that you need advanced survival training under tactical conditions. Regardless of the type of training you require you need to ask the facility you are training under what their credentials are.
- In the US only the United States Air Force has a designated career field built around “Global Survival”. All military courses and documents are based on information complied and researched by the Joint Services SERE Agency (JSSA). The only information which doesn’t come from there is based on Native Americans, aboriginals and Mountain Men. However, JSSA researches, studies and applies some of these also. Home grown courses may not be following current or even safe doctrine so ask for qualifications.
- Is the school technology driven or is it primitive means driven? If your looking for a school which teaches you all the new toys, fine. If your looking for a course which trains you to live like a native then good. In either case enjoy yourself and have fun. However, if you’re looking to save your life just keep in mind that Natives don’t build a friction fire in the rain and batteries die in the heat and freeze in the cold. So find out the focus of the school. If you want to survive you have to use technology where it is best suited and primitive means where they are best suited. A good training school will teach the best of both.
- Don’t get caught up in the hype! Whether it’s TV, Articles, movies or conversations don’t get caught up in the hype. Do the research and pick what fits your needs. I understand the need for advertising, but it’s only designed to do one thing….sell something. Remember that and also remember your life depends on your decision. If they are selling equipment, look at the quality. Someone who takes the protection of life seriously is not going to handle substandard equipment regardless of the profit margin.
- Look at the equipment used by the instructor. Is it for show? Is it the same as what he/she is trying to sell? For example, the instructor may have a giant Bowie for the entire world to see but it never comes out of its sheath, ask yourself why? Same thing applies for demonstrations and practices. A good instructor should never ask a student to do something he has not demonstrated with GREAT proficiency and with the same type of tools as the student. “Beware the Instructor who shows you a perfectly constructed natural shelter but doesn’t have time to demonstrate how he made it”.
- Good Survival Instructors are very opinionated and grounded in what works and what doesn’t. This is based on research AND experience. The best advertised knife in the world may fail and the most popular pack on the market may rip so you may NOT see your Instructor with the latest and greatest gear. In fact he may be carrying a well, worn pack and a old knife. So if you ask them their opinion on what the best piece of equipment is you may not get the answer you are expecting!
- Watch for POSERS! Just because they wear the beret doesn’t mean they are “Special”.
Once you have asked yourself all the right questions and have chosen you’re training facility or Instructor go into the training with an open mind. All of us have our built in paradigms on how something is to be done, but in this case try to put them aside and learn from scratch. Skills taught right and learned right will always serve you better. Also remember that survival is just that, SURVIVAL and skills which are not proven under adverse conditions are no skills at all. So everything you learn should have gone through a litmus test and not just created as “woodsy goods to know”. After all we are not camping, we are surviving! Remember there are no special tactics just perfected principles practiced over and over again.
“Perfect Practice makes Perfect” will always ring in my ears.
Overall preparation for what nature can throw at us is not that overwhelming but it does take a little effort. USI has a wealth of information, equipment and training for everyone about all forms of mitigation so visit our web site at www.usiusa.com and if you have a need feel free to call!
USI Understands that Survival isn’t learned from books but real world experience. This is just one area which makes Universal Survival Innovations unique in the world of training and equipment.
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Author Ben Barr is a 30+ year SERE Specialist who has been a curriculum developer for the USAF Survival School, USAF Water Survival School, USAF Air Mobility Command, USMC and USN