Skills And Training



I am Selco and I am from the Balkan region, and as some of you may know it was hell here from 92-95, anyway, for 1 whole year I lived and survived in a city WITHOUT: electricity, fuel, running water, food distribution, without any kind of organized law or government. The city was surrounded for 1 year and it actually was a real SHTF situation. Our allies were our enemies from one day to the next. Today I’m prepared and share my experience on this blog.

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I have just finished delivering another ‘Mile In My Shoes’ (MIMS) down here in the Balkans. As always it was a great event with many insights both for the students and me. Having finished the course I got to thinking more about training in the survival and preparedness community.

Learning real survival skills in the field is something that cannot be substituted with anything, but I see people often try to do that.

Another mistake in learning skills is because they are often (almost always) taken out of the context, or even more often, there is no context at all.

Somehow as a result, there is a whole bunch of people learning skills without mindset where and when to use it, or not to use it. (I agree it is better to have skills even without context than not to have them at all, but that sounds more like an excuse than a justification…)

Prepping is a BIG industry, and for lot of people it just needs to be “sugar coated” in order to be consumed.



Two examples here:

When you say to me “SHTF” my first thought is partial or complete collapse of the system and its services, so my second thought is about (lack of) resources, and other people realizing that fact, my third thought is about fight with other people for the resources still left.

It is my thought when you say SHTF.

For some people when they heard “SHTF”  their first thought is let’s say ‘power shortage’ that’s going to last for about 12 hours, their second thought is that they need to be comfortable for those 12 hours (only) because after that government (system, services) will jump in and fix things.

For them SHTF is 12 hours without electricity…

Now what is clear here, I firmly believe that there will be event of complete (prolonged) missing of the system (law, medical services, food distribution chain…) and some of the reasons could be new pandemics, economic problems, ethnic race (religious) reasons, chaos, or simply some wide world event.

Important thing is that people believing in any of these two levels have a lot to learn, but the starting point should be different.

For example for the folks who think that it is impossible to meet anything more complicated then short disturbances in electrical supply there is no too much use in throwing to them war scenarios and tactical shooting course, because for them it is maybe going to be fun, but there is no context there for them, no understanding.

It is more use for them to read history books, speak with war veterans-to try to understand that shit (will) happens, even in most modern societies where similar things did not happen for generations.

That is start for them.


Skills and Using Skills In Context


Real danger here is not about learning skills (which is again great thing to do), it is about not understanding how to put it in correct context and real life situation.

If you putting skills learning into good, practical multi day courses of “basic primitive skills learning course” or “wilderness skills course” and play it like that it is perfectly good and useful.

But again there are courses (or books, publications, media, you tube videos) of “how to survive end of the days”, “austere medicine course” or simply “buy this and you will survive and thrive when SHTF” and inside are skills, and list of items to learn or buy without connection to real situations, it is not only scam (more or less) – it is quite dangerous.

What I am trying to explain is best to show through the example.

Let s say there is “where there is no doctor” or “austere medicine course”, and it is like “advanced” too.

In short part of the course goes like this:

-Students start with drinking coffee, and getting know each other

-It is nice, weather is fine, there are snacks and food available, all students feel really comfortable

-They are injuring a pig (or other good sized live animal) and then trying to stitch the pig, or stop the bleeding in different ways

– The pig does not survive and they learned something about stopping the bleeding, and they feel stronger (and disgusted) because of the amount of blood and screams and how ‘real’ the training was.

Good things here that students get some feeling about blood, and they learned something about bleeding and ways to stop it.

But bad thing here is that they been told that now they are ready for SHTF in terms of the bleeding and stopping it.

In reality they are not even close to be ready.

Preferable this is  how this part of the course should look:

-No coffee on the course

-No food that day

-Bad weather is preffered

-Students are divided in two groups

-Preferable one at least one student in each group should be slowed down (let say evil instructor will “somehow” cause one of the student to have serious case of diarrhea)

-Students (each group separately) are instructed to carry the pig 5 kilometers to a near mountain or a specified place using compass and map only

-Half way to the mountain they have been (each group) instructed to stab the pig, stop the bleeding and carry the pig to the mountain again (while pig is screaming)

-Groups should hide one from another

-Group who get first to the mountain top with alive pig is winner


Now this is very banal example, and it is here only to in terms of an example, but point here is to understand – there is no sense only from learning skills without putting (and testing) those skills in scenarios that need to be as close to real life as possible.

I mean, if we are learning about stopping bleeding on someone when serious SHTF do you really believe  that you ll be well fed, healthy, in good mental state, perfectly capable for that?

There is the huge probability that you’ll be in poor condition while you trying to stop someones bleeding, remember it is SHTF? Actually you may be in condition where you may not be able to stop someone s bleeding at all.

What is the point of testing yourself if you do not push yourself at least close to the limits while testing ?

It is much more important  after the some  course, book, or you tube clip to understand and realize that you are not yet ready, and to know your current limits than to be sure “you are ready for full SHTF” because your instructor told you that, or simply book saying you that, while clearly you are not.

If you know your current  limits you know what more to learn or practice or achieve, and that is good, I learn almost every day something, and in many fields there are unknown stuff for me and there is nothing wrong in that…

Remember “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus




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22 Responses

  1. Good points. Maybe throw in only two small ruck sacks per group. Empty canteen. Flashlight with dead batteries. BIC lighter. Limited cordage. Small Swiss Army Knife. Cheap tarp for cover. And demand for student to carry dumbell to finish line – no weight, no passing grade.

    1. Agree. Options are endless, i prefer to make it as hard and complicated as possible, in other words as real as possible.
      Point is that lot of the folks would not find it “fun”. But it would be real.

  2. So you’re saying, even in your regular courses you hurt an animal just for “fun” and “learning”? It can’t be that i’m the only one that thinks this is unethical? Are you an animal abuser? People pay for it, and you are willing to let them do this?
    And yes you made the Point – your Training is good, the Facts and Setup might be real. But you didn’t do this in preparation of your own survival Situation, why should others do? How are (para)Medics trained on these issues – surely not by hurting live animals!

    1. -No i do not hurt animals in my courses “for fun”.
      -I think you are not only one who think about ethics here, are you calling all us unethical here?
      -Animal abuser? Are you crazy or something?
      -Others COULD do because it is close to reality sometimes, it is up to each of us to do whatever he (or she) wants to do
      -I am Medic (and paramedic too), and combat medic, so i know some things about training, again it is up to each of us to choose his way…

      You missing the point here, completely.

  3. I’ve bought and read your book, so i know what experience you have and respect that. You are always making the Point that practice always outruns theoretical knowledge – and i agree to this in most Points.
    All i’m interested in is getting my question answered, sorry if i have mistaken anything or insulted you in a way or another:
    Is there a possibility that you offer your students to train on a living animal, that is being hurt (and hurt seriously as you mention the possibility it could die) just for the sole purpose of training to treaten wounds?
    Yes or No as an answer if fully sufficient for me.

    1. Apologies accepted.

      And I am sorry too if i am reacted too “hard” on your comment, sometimes it get like that, sometimes it is because English is not native language, sometimes reasons are deeper.

      If you go trough my article again (please read it again) you may see (it was one of my intentions, one of the points) that i am writing about perception that people want to get from training.
      My point is that you need to train to do your skills on correct way in bad condition, and that is not too much “doable” by killing pig while you are in perfectly normal condition.

      It may sound hard and tough and survivalist, but it is actually not too much about skills and bad condition.
      I know there are survival trainings that includes (hurting) live animals, sometimes to get “feeling” of shock to people, sometimes to train them in skills (like medical training).
      My point was that those trainings usually do not train folks on proper way because concept is missing, whole story is missing.
      If you want to kill pig only in order to stitch it i suggest to include all other things with that pig, in terms of whole training.

      Killing the pig just to make the point of bleeding is kinda- doing something huge in order to gain small-if you understand.

      In terms of bringing people to shock by killing live animal-i think there are much more efficient ways of doing that, physical and psychological, again, in order to “fit” into the story and scenario of given SHTF situation.

      And at the end, no, i offer different kind of courses and training, but up to now we did not included killing (or hurting) animals in order to treat the wounds, learn medicine or for “fun”.

      It can be done on other ways.

      But that s me and my training, as i said everyone of us can choose.

      Thanks for your comments!

  4. my sincere apologies for misunderstanding you. the error is on my side then. you may delete my comments in order to not raise any false images about you. you know how fast damage is done and how hard it is to regain standing. so as this discussion was obsolete, you can clean this up if you want. looking forward to your future topics, and thanks alot for all efforts done.

  5. Good points. I know of one military-level Medic course where a goat is shot with anything from a.22 to a 12 gauge slug (equal to a 20MM round), and the Medic has to stabilize and keep the animal alive for 24 hrs. In another course you get issued a rabbit. That’s right, a rabbit. Then the rabbit’s leg gets broken. You have to E and E across country to a designated point while feeding yourself AND the rabbit. BTW, you have to name it. I won’t talk about the end of the course. But the point is, why? Stress. Pure stress. When you’re tired, hungry, and weak, ALL the FLAWS come out. You find out who you REALLY are and what you can handle. No lies, no excuses. Want to see the REAL person? Take them out, get them hungry tired, and stressed. You’ll know EXACTLY who you’re with.

  6. I’m glad someone brought up the animal thing in MIL medic training… had a buddy that was a Special Forces medic and he had to save the shot goat, true story. If the goat dies, you fail your MOS training. Period. I think we all need to find balance… if Matthias eats meat, animals were killed. Shot, in fact. In the head. If he eats chicken, those were slung by the feet and had their heads lopped off, live, in a processing machine. Fish? Dragged out of the water to slowly suffocate in air, then heads cut off with a knife while still alive, and processed into machinery. This is normal mass food processing, folks. So let’s not get all uppity about “hurting animals”. If it’s meat and you eat it, it was killed violently.

    However, one does not hurt animals for fun. But for science and training (although not with Selco), it is surely done. If an animal has to sacrifice so a human can be saved later, then so be it. Oh, wait…. that’s what food processing is also. 😉

    Let’s all man up and realize that resources, of all kinds, are used by humans to preserve humans… even the Bible says that. The creatures of the earth are given to us to dominate, subdue, and consume according to Genesis. Let’s not get all freaky and squishy. It always amazes me that some can talk freely of war and self defense (hurting and killing of humans, sometimes en-masse), but God Forbid we talk about hurting an animal. I think it’s a by-product of too many decades of imbalanced thinking as a society.

    Anyway, kudos to Matthias and Selco for working their discussion out. Just wanted to toss my 2 cents in. Carry on.

  7. Selco

    Very interesting training, and realistic, you have going. I admit that despite a lifelong hunting life, and killing a lot of deer with the bow, I would be reluctant to deliberately wound a captive animal. Not saying your course is inhumane, just saying I would have a hard time with that. Now I can assure you that I have no problem killing any wild animal for food, or if SHTF for sure. In my retreat area hunting and fishing opportunities abound. It is surviving a winter here that would be really tough. Staying warm is very tough, need lots of wood cut if no power, like grid down

    Your blog and keen real insights are outstanding. I eagerly anticipate each article. Thanks for all you do in the survival community.

  8. This is a comment to Matthias (with no rebuke, or disrespect, or defamation intended). Immediately prior (within days of) the Desert Storm (1990-91) Ground War soldiers practiced blood control combat life-saving on each other in groups of 12-20. Our objective was to insert a bag of saline solution into the blood stream (at the inner elbow). We had to get the needle device (with its the entry port) in the vein of everyone’s arm and then attach the saline bag and learn how to position it on the chest or a makeshift height. The stress factor came from (1) The Air War had been going on for awhile–and from our ground position, the jets shut off their lights directly overhead and then 20-seconds later we heard the explosions; (2) how the Ground War would play out was unknown; (3) up to that point no one in my group had ever punctured a vein in order to attach saline, though probably most of us had “given blood” before and knew how that worked. My point is only that some “living thing” has got to volunteer (or be made a slave) by becoming the “victim” for the sake of training. If one thinks enslaving a pig raises ethical issues; what about not training on fellow soldiers who are depending upon their comrades to do what can be done to save each others life? I volunteered my arm to about 8 different soldiers. One guy got me squirting. Another guy went right through the vein such that there was a bubble under the skin. Somebody punctured something (I think the Doc called it a blood vessel valve). It hurt (slightly) for a year afterward, when I moved in certain ways. War is hell; but it is conceivable that SHTF is worse than war because at the outset of a USA war there are plenty of supplies and helpers, but there is no guarantee of any supply in SHTF, BTW, after the ground war I entered a huge underground Republican Guard hospital (cement bunker). There were metal tables (like seen in funeral homes where embalming takes place). At the end of the tables were 50gal steel barrels, completely full of blood. The RG left quickly with people only, nothing else. And do I “feel” trained because of an experience 25 years ago–absolutely not! Some training, like what Selco is describing, services “opening our eyes” for real training. Without knowing how difficult experiences can be, one cannot know how to train for dealing with them. Trained people are essential to the care of all animals; that training proceeds from what we don’t know to what we learn along the way–whether one is a rancher-farmer, hunter, trapper, or first respondor. In real training we match up (as best as possible) novices with experienced people, and then pray and hope for the best.

  9. Selco, as usual, brings to our attention the grave FACTS of what truly is,
    coming at us… like a jugger naught….”Reality”
    Men, women, boys, and girls will all fail, and all fall victim to the horrors
    which awaits them in the not too distant future.
    As Selco has warned, those who’ll survive, for any length of time, will be
    the ones who adapt to the cruelties and harshness of these coming days…
    Whether one is trained, or not, the days to come WILL “try” ones soul and
    especially one’s mind….There really won’t be any survivors, for the scars
    which will be left upon bodies, and minds, will never heal.
    The true survivors of the horrors, of our future, will be those which we birth afterwards. Whereupon shielding them from our experiences through education. The days which we’ll meet, can only be met with God’s Spirit of protection and
    shear determination of survival. May God have mercy on us all…..

  10. There are some good points in both Selco’s original post and the answers but you have to put the sort of training suggested in the context of the learners level of knowledge and experience too. Throwing people in at the deep end, to start their training in really difficult conditions is not a good way to help them learn. Sure, they will get some experience of things they will remember, but that might be about difficulties and not the most important things they should learn. I speak from over 40 years experience as a trainer in a wide range of subjects, 17 of those during my 22 years military service including 16 years as a combat survival (SERE) instructor. The fact is that training in realistic situations is not the place to start. People do not learn new things well or remember them clearly when they are tired and cold and wet and hungry and/or tense.

    Training has to start with basic levels of instruction and gradually increase in detail of both the subject and the situation if it is to be effective and lasting. The combat medics who go through the training like that with the goat have both much prior medical training and lots of experience before they attend that course (if they hadn’t they wouldn’t be on a Special Forces course!). In any effective training you develop knowledge, skills and attitude in ‘easy’ learning situations,, then raise those to the next level, then the next, each time increasing the difficulty. At appropriate times you evaluate their capability, and when the learner is ready you put them into that sort of realistic situation with various challenges they have to overcome.

    Even in the forces, recruits start with classroom training on weapons and tactics and fieldcraft, etc. then move onto practical application of that knowledge and skills outdoors, practise their skills, move on to exercises in tough conditions, and eventually go through an evaluation to see whether they meet the required standards. If not, they go back into training at what is considered the appropriate level to give them another chance. Some eventually make it, some don’t. When those that do pass then go to an operational unit their training and development will continue, with new skills and new situations constantly being introduced, until eventually they might face the ultimate challenge and test of being deployed in a real conflict.

    Now most Preppers and Survivalists don’t have the benefit of that detailed a system of learning, but they can go through something similar by reading good books or watching good videos, including real life reports about situations faced by people in the sort of situations they believe they might be faced with (one way to put their learning into context), getting out and practising the skills they have learnt – preferably with other people doing the same things, or their family if that is what is needed – and hopefully attending a properly organised course run by instructors with genuine experience. Then they can spend years practising and applying what they have learnt, learning new things and applying them in a wide range of places and environments. Joining groups locally or online where the can discuss things with others, some of whom will have more and/or different experiences, can also help them with context.

    Developing and practising skills in realistic situations is an important part of learning any skill set, but it should be done at the right stage in a persons learning and that stage is not at the beginning of their training or in what might be their only practical course.

    1. Thanks for comment DEC, i agree with point of levels and starting points of training, that is why i mentioned that sometimes good starting point is reading history book, or some manual.
      There is no point of jumping in high level training for people who need to get understanding why that training make sense or when it can be used.
      Problem alone is to make training look “flashing “and fancy only because it looks cool, somewhere there have to be point of why you need to train some skill.

      And there is nothing wrong in starting training from the “beginning” or very basic things, like reading, i do that actually all the time.

      Mistake is when people think that they have to jump right at the start in full “tactical” mode.
      It is process.

  11. Following WW2 The Allied SpecOp community routinely shot pigs as part of it’s gunshot wound care training. This intense training saved 1000s of lives as well as providing 1000s of nutritious meals. Socialists on the other hand routinely shot PPL to the same end

  12. Absolutely right, Selco.

    In fact when I started delivering any training my first question to the students on the first session was always, ‘Why are you here?’ If the training session was for survival then I might put that as, ‘What is it that you believe you might have to survive?’ That would help me to adjust the course content to include some extras and maybe reduce others. As you say, many students really don’t know how to answer that question. When I write, or when students booked to attend a course I would recommend that they thought about their real threats and needs and made a list of what they thought were realistic for them – and their family or group if appropriate – and put them in order of priority, starting with the most likely and most dangerous for them in their situation, then use that to book the most appropriate course. There were some who had booked for a wilderness course, for example, when actually the most likely threats they would face and the place they were most likely to have to deal with them was in an urban area. Most had booked a wilderness course because for prepping they immediately thought of bugging out to the wilds, but with no idea or experience of the real dangers that would present for them or how they, and sometimes their wife, kids, and elderly family members, would be able to cope with that. Studying wilderness survival was certainly something to include in their list, because situations we don’t expect can always arise, but it wasn’t where they should start and when they did get to it they needed to look at what was really required in that situation, not play around attending a bushcraft course and then think they had everything covered.

    I’m retired now, so my training is mostly confined to my grandchildren, and sometimes their friends. Sometimes their parents attend too or we do it in a family gathering at home or when camping, depending on what we are covering, but it keeps my knowledge and skills current and helps prepare them should, god forbid, they ever need it.

    Good topic and some really interesting responses. thank you.

  13. I’m 69 years old. I’m not a handsome muscular stud any more and I’m not afraid to die. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let someone else arrange it. I’ll do the best I can. I’m a serious survivalist. My personal motto is; If you tread on me, you’ll run away on stumps.

  14. I don’t reckon we treat animals any worse than we treat each other. In fact, I doubt any animals have suffered the way humans have been made to. I don’t see it stopping any time soon, either. For having such high ethics and morals, we sure are a miserable lot.

    Real survival isn’t very pretty, is it?

  15. I think that your points were well written. If I were to travel to your area (1/3 way around the world) for training I would not be expecting coffee. However I hadn’t considered a trainer that would use dysentery as a training tool. Anyone who would travel to do that training, you would hope, would already be thoroughly testing their own training very hard in their own area and be looking for a very advanced exercise, from a very different perspective.

    For me the pig example did just that, gave me a different perspective. It drew a crystal clear picture in my mind of what SHTF might be like to carry a wounded person in bad circumstances.

    I too would not personally mortally wound an animal to practice my skills. But your example brought together what I could imagine with what I could not picture (carrying a wounded friend to safety).

    Thank You

  16. I’m a little bit late on responding to this article, but as a long-time lurker I feel like I do owe a little bit of a comment on something I do know something about. As part of my preparation for ‘land war in SE Asia’ as a military medic, of my preparation for land war in SE Asia, we had both survival and medical courses.
    Yes, as a private in the U.S. Army, I had the basic survival course where we were told to pair off and the instructors went down the line of buddy teams handing each pair of trainees either a live (domestic) rabbit or chicken. This was a very early level of training for the beginners, which I was already considerably ahead of thanks to the Boy Scout organization and my grandmother.
    I got to laugh my backside off at the two who didn’t listen when told how to hold their rabbit and watching as their intended evening meal was leading them around the area for about 20 minutes. I ate very well that evening since all my fellow students were city kids who had never even seen a live rabbit or chicken before and had no idea how to deal with them. I did a good bit of business killing and dressing animals that day (something like a dozen each killed and four rabbits and one chicken field-dressed) in exchange for either first choice of a bit of meat or owed favors (food) later in the course.
    I still have the U.S.-stamped demolition knife (think Scout-type knife) we were issued as a part of that class. Mostly the memory of those two trying to catch that fat white rabbit is what comes to mind.
    I did attend SERE school later on, and have nothing but the highest respect for our instructors. Three minnows about 4 inches long, and having to decide whether to use a couple of grasshoppers for bait or supper over the course of a couple of weeks is something I will not soon forget. I also won’t forget the expressions during an after-action review (AAR) with our opposing forces (OPFOR) when the instructors asked if any of us had gotten weapons past our pat-search when we were captured (thanks to rain and darkness, I escaped before being gotten to the P.O.W camp, so I can’t help you there much) when I held up a Gerber Mk ll knife.
    As part of our medical training shortly before we went from juniors to seniors, we were required, as part of a four-person group, to perform an exploratory laparotomy on a dog from the pound which was otherwise scheduled for euthanasia. We had to go through and identify for our instructors all the various internal organs, and our animal had cancer of the uterus. She had to survive or we did not become seniors. As seniors, we had to anesthetize the juniors’ animals by ourselves with our instructors watching and making no comments until after the procedure. Both dogs I worked with survived and lived about two weeks longer than they were scheduled to, and were well-taken care of for the last days they lived.
    When that class (not a basic-level course) began, I was the 82nd student to sign in. When we graduated seventeen of us walked across the stage. We had to have our animals survive before we were ever allowed to work on a human. We were told as part of our class we might well be the only medical or veterinary care our clients might ever see or have seen.
    The course I graduated from has been ‘reorganized’, and the Dog Lab no longer exists. However, I would have had no qualms about being taken care of with combat injuries by any of the graduates I knew.
    Matthias, I hope this answered your question about the training with animals. There was no deliberate injury as such, although I am certain there was pain and discomfort. We actually did everything we could to keep that stuff to a minimum, just as we would have for a human, and did use appropriate medications as needed.
    – Papa

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