March 2014

March Blog of Education

 Choosing the Right Survival School

Let’s face it. Survival instruction can be very expensive. Then again cost is relative. There are plenty of folks who won’t bat an eye at dropping a few hundred dollars on a pocket knife but will grimace in objection to the thought of spending half of that on a seminar. A knife can always be left at home but you are never without your knowledge. Which will serve you better and which in the long run is more valuable?  Remember, you get what you pay for. Gear can be lost or broken but proper knowledge can’t fail you.  If this is too much to handle, stop reading go buy more equipment, compensate for your lack of skills and have a nice day. If you are still reading, you’re likely still interested in seeking out instruction to develop skill. Great!

Now that you’re over the sticker shock of survival education, you need to think about finding the school that fits you best. Notice, I said, “FITS YOU” best. Don’t go to a school someone else raves about without doing your own research.  Here are some good general questions to ask any potential instructor you may sacrifice some of your hard-earned money and valuable time to learn from. I’ve provided not only what questions to ask but the reason you should ask them!

1. How much actual instructional time is provided in a course?
This question will reveal how much instruction you are actually going to receive. In a given day, you should know when instruction begins, how long you are given for lunch and if there is a session after dinner. To put things in perspective, I will generally start as early as 0800 hrs and go to 1200 hrs, break for an hour then go from 1300 hrs to 1700 or 1800 hrs. This provides the student approximately 7.5 to 8 hours of training a day. If you want to keep learning, I’ll keep up.

2. Is there a secular or spiritual atmosphere to the school?
There are some schools with a very strong spiritual curriculum. If a school promotes “native awareness” they are likely promoting “Native American” spirituality too. If this interests you great, but if you are interested in learning real skills first you should look elsewhere. You can always add in your own spirituality after you learn to save your own hide. Some of the primitive schools out there have some very skilled instructors and their skill shouldn’t be downplayed just because they promote spirituality you don’t believe in. In my courses, I leave out the spirituality.  That’s too personal for me to tell you what to believe and not believe. You can decide on your own.

3. What is the student to instructor ratio?
Do you want a seminar style with dozens of students or a more intimate setting with less than 12? Find out how many students are in each class and how many instructors will be there. You should know if you will be “that guy” or someone called by name.

4. Are meals provided and if so, what kinds of meals?
Always ask if meals are provided. If they are, you just have to worry about chowing down. If they aren’t you will have to prep your meal, eat your meal and clean up after yourself. One option is more time consuming than the next. Also, find out if there is a menu or ask to see pictures of the food served. One well-known school serves porridge of oats, nuts and berries for almost all meals. When the pot gets low, they add more ingredients. I believe in feeding my students well (unless otherwise specified for certain clinics) and on courses students can expect to gain weight. Happy bellies affect the brain. Basic Maslow psychology right there!

5. How much physical activity can be expected?
There are some schools that require students to work under stress. This is usually induced by lack of sleep, cardio vascular training, heavy tool use or long hikes. Think military drill instructor type training over your weekend at the resort “oh look honey they’re offering blah blah blah on the putting green after tea” type of school.  Other schools have a laid back approach where students usually bring folding chairs to sit on around the fire. Depending what you want, find out if the instructor is going to drill you hard or if they will be more of a helping hand nurturing you along in a comfortable environment.

6. Who is instructing the course?
Look up your instructors. Who are these guys or girls anyway? See if they have any materials available online. Use YouTube to see if they have examples of how they teach. Find out if they are credible. Ask for references and see if they are an expert in one area or a jack-of-all-trades. For a specific topic like bow making, I would suggest finding the best bowyer out there. However, be wary of going to a bowyer to learn about plants, cooking, fire starting, canoeing etc. etc. There is a benefit to both kinds of instructors and a tradeoff as well. Also, look to see if the course is taught by recent graduates. That is a common strategy some schools use. Bring back the students as Assistant Instructors who may only have as much experience as was given to them during their course.

7. Where is the course held?
Find out where your course will be held to understand the limitations. If the course is taught in a public area, there is only so much you can do. On private land, you may be free to do more with the resources. Also, if held in public, what is done about those not in the course who may interfere? Keep asking questions.

8. Can you take photos or video?
Sounds like a no brainer but I know of a few schools where students are not allowed to take photos or video the clinic or course. Photos and video don’t show the whole picture anyway. Distance learning cannot replace hands on instruction as the camera can deceive. The reason some schools don’t want you to take photos is to eliminate the possibility of looking bad. That or the idea you are going to steal knowledge or something proprietary. If you have a photographic memory, you won’t need to have photos to supplement your notes. Most people aren’t endowed with this ability so finding a school that allows photographs is a good choice. Photos provide great cues to jog your memory. Do you want them or not?

9. How much of the course is primitive, traditional and modern skills?
You should know if you are headed to a school that frowns upon using modern tools. You should know if you are going to a school where the emphasis is only on using what you can carry as opposed to what you can find. Resources vs. resourcefulness. Find out what the school promotes and if this falls in line with your own philosophy of preparedness.

10. When does the learning end?
Your course may be only a day or weekend or 5 days but the learning process never ends. Find out if the school you’re interested in has other opportunities to learn, practice and apply other skills. Find out if there are any related skills your instructor can teach you. Find out if there are trips open to students or opportunities to learn from other students. The bottom line, just because the course is finite in length doesn’t mean your learning has to end. There is always something else you can learn.

My Final Thoughts:
Don’t be afraid to walk away from someone who has spent the time telling you about their school. That is their job! Rejection is normal and you don’t have to feel guilty for not wanting to spend your money with them. Find the school that fits you. My stance is simple. I stand on my reputation and the quality of instruction I provide. My resume speaks for itself and I know what I have to offer. I want students to research other schools. I want them to see what my competition has to offer. The informed students will be back. For those who choose elsewhere, good luck with finding the right fit, good luck with your training and hope to work with you somewhere down the line. Make informed decisions and spend your money wisely.