Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Surviving the Economic Collapse reviewed

Here's a rather thorough review of my book at dunedain.net.
One clarification though, in my book I clearly say that I consider gold junk jewelry more of a "pocket change" kind of thing. Any larger sums of money that want to be kept safe from fiat currency should be put on recognized gold and silver coins.
By the way, there should be an interview following up soon, I'll link to that as well when its done. Take care.


Surviving the Economic Collapse


With the economic turbulence that began in earnest in 2007, there has been a renewed interest from surprising quarters in what was once the domain of fringe groups and disgruntled Vietnam veterans. In the 70’s “survivalism” became an undercurrent and a catchall for disciplines as varied as defensive pistol shooting and organic gardening, covering an amazing array of interests. Today’s version has been noticed by a far greater slice of the general population, as evinced by firearms and ammunition sales in the US and an unquantifiable but widely acknowledged upswing in the sales of tactical gear, homesteading equipment, water purification kits and the other detritus of a modern day, hardware-fueled urban consumerist that just gained an appreciation of how hard things can fall.

For such folk, the temptation is inevitable- the tendency is to buy specialized weapons, gadgets and tools and to think in terms of “bugging out” and leaving to some remote mountain retreat. Most thought is still largely driven by thinking prevalent during the previous surge in interest, perhaps a variation on being prepared to fight the last war . Into this maelstrom of buying, selling, and fantasy scenarios that bear little resemblance to reality comes Fernando Aguirre’s The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse. A witness of and participant in the Argentinean economic crisis of 2001-2002, Aguirre watched his first world, urbane and educated society slip with frightening speed into a state of turbulence that produced conditions more readily found in the darker bits of the third world. Pockets of general lawlessness and an upswing in crime were right on the heels of economic paralysis as the government attempted to handle a frightening debt situation with devaluation, depegging of the peso to the dollar, and de facto seizure of economic assets. With alarming speed, the currency devalued to a quarter of its original value, and many secure urban professionals found themselves contending with circumstances for which they were dramatically unprepared.

Going into this experience, Aguirre had a modicum of preparation that turned out to be exceptionally useful, including a background with an early education in firearms, unarmed combat and backpacking, which alone can be tremendously useful if for no other reason that it strongly encourages fortitude and self reliance. More importantly, Aguirre was able to adapt to and learn from his situation quickly enough to come out of the situation comparatively intact, no small feat considering the breadth of skills that had to be assimilated. Mindset, awareness of the shadowy world around you, improvisation, even inculcated reactions to incidental confrontations on the street, all had to be retrained in the environment of the new reality. He credits his transformation to his willingness to never quit, to persevere, to adapt, improvise and overcome- and indeed stresses this as the primary tool for anybody in any situation of the gravest extreme.

Police involved shootings, stories of survival in the wilderness, accounts of war and even incidents of grave injury all show this as a common and critical element – a firm belief that, come what may, you are going home when this is over, and that you are going to make it for those you love. Aguirre’s motivation to prevail is the foundation upon which all other efforts are built, and they should be for anybody. As someone of repute once said, when man has a why, the how follows. Aguirre gets this.

Though he does go into the kit he found useful in a comprehensive manner, he is not what some disreputable musician-types refer to as a “gear queer,” and stresses finding what works for you, not what just came out on the cover of “Survivalist Monthly.” He travels light (though as an aside, I would love to compare contents of our everyday bag, and see who can go for more function with less weight), and insists on what police learn very quickly: you are most likely only going to have what you habitually, physically carry on you to deal with an emergency or emergencies when the feces strikes the rotating oscillator (hereafter referenced, as in the book , as SHTF) . He also seems to have an appreciation for tailoring the tools for the job, and recommends some of his favorites, what worked, and what didn’t.

This actually expands into a wider ethos of self reliance for Aguirre, as he notes that if one is serious about preparation for hard times, physical conditioning and what is essentially preventative maintenance on your own body need to be addressed while they may be. One might encounter considerable exertion and much more scarce/expensive medical attention in such environs, and what crises that can be averted or attenuated ahead of time, should be. Similarly, any deficits in knowledge should ideally be addressed in the good times There will inevitably be a very steep learning curve established immediately after things begin to get ugly, and realizing the paramedics aren’t coming after you’ve fallen and broken a leg is no time to learn how to splint. Aguirre advises taking at least basic first aid and CPR courses (easily located by contacting the Red Cross), and if possible, further training in an EMT/trauma mold as it may be available.

Hand in hand with this emphasis on preventative training is his insistence that one take charge of the most basic element that the state must provide to maintain viability, and what is frequently the first thing to fail after mass crisis: personal security. Aguirre maintains that all categories of crime became much more prevalent, with robberies, kidnappings and “commando style” home invasions a common occurrence. Concurrently, police response became slower and at times nonexistent, leaving law abiding people with no particular preparation as vulnerable to assault as sheep in the face of wolves. Notably, Aguirre encourages the sheep to become sheep dogs, and have a positive impact on their entire area.

Aguirre spends about a third of the book on self defense, covering a wide range of subjects that include improvised weapons, tactical driving, empty hand styles and pistol shooting. Again, his intent is not to give exhaustive instruction, but to communicate some tips and the occasional tricks picked up in his own training or from experience where it mattered. He does well to consider a multidisciplinary approach and stresses the importance of force on force training against an opponent with intent, something sorely missing among the legions of dojo ballerinas that buy a black belt and expect the enemy to attack in a very obliging, very narrow range of action. Aguirre knows this is a good way to get your head pulled off like a crayfish.

In fact, Aguirre has a rather good handle on what works, and clearly pays attention to the words of older and wiser men (something that can sure save one some stitches). In the whole of this section, I found only a single element where he mentions something that I find to be aiming in the wrong direction, and to prove just how deep one has to look and how nitpicky I would have to be to truly find any fault with the whole of his effort as regards self defense, I will address Aguirre’s section on boxing and knockouts in general. You will see what I mean.

Boxing is the first skillset for empty hand that Aguirre recommends, and indeed it was the first formal unarmed training I received. However, after considering the counsel of various teachers in aikido, competitive breaking and the styles perhaps best typified by John Perkins’ Ki Chuan Do, I came to alternate conclusions than I learned on the heavy bag .

Aguirre indeed puts considerable weight on boxing and the idea of a knockout blow, and while he does relay the repeatable actions that can lead to consistent knockout, I feel he goes astray here for two reasons. First, a closed fist to the head, unless targeted very precisely , is just as likely to injure the hand as it is to achieve knockout and second, such precision is a low-percentage shot . While such targeting is considerably easier to acquire ( and less likely to injure the striker) with proper training, the fact remains that the opportunity to deliver a knockout blow is far more often a product of a closed ring with consistent stances, distances and intent than it is on the street . Amateur and pro boxers routinely break knuckles , and always fight with the benefit of wrapped and taped hands inside of protective gloves , something that will be lacking in the street .

Any resulting injury is not only going to limit options for the remainder of the incident (if any) but will also be a serious handicap in the weeks and months it will take to heal- time when you can ill afford the incapacitation under the conditions mentioned. And that assumes it will heal properly to begin with, something altogether uncertain considering a quarter of all the bones in the body are in the hands, with the resulting specialization and fragility. I like to make a point this way: if you were challenged to hit a concrete wall with your hand with as much force as possible, without hurting your most important tool, how would you strike?

If you say with anything but the heel of the hand, you really ought to spend a few weeks in a cast to encourage remedial thinking. Any place a fist can injure, a palm heel can devastate. The same force that yields a knockout punch might tear a mandible completely out of the socket. Knockout is not a byproduct of striking a nerve in the chin and sending a consciousness-negating signal to the brain. It is a byproduct of an inertia rebound (either at acceleration or deceleration) of the brain off the interior of the skull, or alternately, brief interruption of blood flow to the brain. Any sudden impact to the head can set up such rebound- the goal is quick transmission of force, something that can be more readily accomplished with the hand open.

As well, many fights can be defused even very late in the game, and adopting an aggressive, fists-balled posture is telegraphing intent and possibly making a fight a self-fulfilling prophecy. With hands open toward a potential attacker, you appear conciliatory or at least unprepared, when in fact you are that much closer to performing a grab that turns into a grapple, or an open hand soft tissue strike following the palm heel, like eye rakes/gouges, ” fish hooking” and ear tears. Hey, nobody said soft tissue on the head was sacred. Destroy the opponent and preserve your weapons. Think long term.

Other than that bit, which seemed to stick out in prominence because the rest of the defense advice was largely so sound, I could find nothing to correct or critique. He sees the force continuum appropriately. In the gravest extreme, you must always be prepared to take it to the next level of force if you would ultimately prevail or fall, and Aguirre, again, gets this.

Another note: Aguirre goes at some length into the proper selection, carry and use of a knife, drawing again from force on force training and the colorful past of the gauchos, hard bitten Argentinian cattlemen from the pampas that lived and died on the points and edges of their facon. The knife is something that does not get much attention in the West, as it is a brutal weapon more commonly associated here with Jack the Ripper and OJ Simpson than a decent person trying to stay alive. This is a foolishness that emergency will ill afford, as a knife is a tremendous close quarters tool, something that can be both hideously effective and omnipresent, often allowed in places where a gun is not permitted. Proper intent above all else matters with the knife, as it is a hard business to carve into another human being , no matter how ornery they may be; but once that line has been understood and kept in perspective, a blade can be more lethal than a pistol. Again, Aguirre gets this.

Besides the heavy and warranted emphasis on defense, Aguirre relates some tips and tricks of storing what you use as foodstuffs and household items. He advocates getting as much as you can afford, in terms of money and storage space, of what you already use, always with an eye towards securing items in a way that will preserve utility. As well, he deals with what might be handy to have around in a compromised economy, items such as small bits of gold (NOT bullion or coins) and foreign currency that may be more valuable than toilet paper. The tips are still valuable, though, if nothing else than they paint a picture of an economy driven by need and ingenuity, developing in the shadows of the official (non-functioning) economy. It is quite a leap from there to the Road Warrior (though Bartertown from the third Mad Max movie does get an honorable mention), something most survival authors usually miss because they simply haven’t been there. Again, Aguirre has.

It would be very difficult to even mention all the angles brought up in the book, as it is comprehensive in its approach in a way that an abstract relation of facts and techniques can never be. This is the life experience of a determined man relayed in sometimes less than perfect English, a snapshot of how he handled waking up one day to find that his country wasn’t really there any more. However, if you are looking for instruction in specific disciplines with a thorough, specialist’s focus in any of the fields Aguirre mentions, there are better books to be had. If you were to have only one comprehensive manual collating likely details and tables that might be needed into a one-volume survival library, this would not be it. However, Aguirre’s Modern Survival Manual is a great beginning in the pursuit of finding out how to stay alive when it seems God might not want that as much as you do.


BulgarWheat said...

I've been very impressed with ferFal's blog and articles. I never know what to expect.

All in all, I think that's a pretty good review of ferFal's book

Don Williams said...

1) Boxing suffered a tragic and undeserved decline in the USA because of the influx of Asian martial arts --and massive hippie bullshit -- in the sixties and seventies.

First we heard TaeKwondo would kick butt. Then Okinawan karate. Then we heard those were lesser, bastard forms copied from the real source: Chinese Shaolin. Then Robert Smith came in and argued that the REALLY powerful methods were the Chinese "internal arts"
like Tai Chi.

Except that I studied with Robert Smith for about nine months circa 1977 before leaving and purchasing a gun. Because all he was teaching was aimless handwaving in order to develop a body energy called chi. Which takes around 10 years or so, supposedly.

2) Someone who actually knows about fighting is Tim Cartmell. Cartmell studied fighting on Taiwan for 10 years and fought in tournments there. Tim states , in an interview in the book Nei Jia Quan, that anyone who thinks they can learn to fight without lots of sparring is fooling themselves, that his masters said chi had nothing to do with fighting, and that the best text Tim has seen on how to hit hard like the real Chinese xingyi masters is Jack Dempsey's
Championship Fighting.

3) Dempsey's book, which was written to tell people how to fight, not just box , is available online here:

It tells how to punch bareknuckled with power and how to do so in order to avoid injuring the knuckles. Instead of bullshit about "chi" it tells you about the Falling Step. Which looks an awfully like the xingyi punching step. Finally, it tells you it will take 3 months, not 10 years.

4) Tim Cartmell is studing and teaching Brazilian JiuJitsu nowdays as well as the Chinese fighting methods.

Don Williams said...

PS Forgot to mention -- Jack Dempsey was an American Champion in boxing during the 1920s.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Nice writeup!

WRT self-defense, in many large American cities there're classes that teach self-defense using model mugging. The classes are targeted at women, but many chapters have classes for men. They teach real-world fighting techniques and strategies.

The model muggers - heavily padded guys who mock attack (and sometimes suffer serious injuries despite the padding) - allow students to practice techniques full-force and in a moderately frightening simulation. It's good training and I've sent all the females in my family after attending myself. There's some touchy-feely stuff to deal with the emotions associated w/simulated attacks and trying to drive a man's testicles through his skull, but it's mostly action. And they focus on developing a survivor's mindset, too.