A while ago I heard about a book which chronicled the history and evolution of skills and tips for the Prisoners of War (POWs) or captives in a foreign land. After much digging, I contacted the author, Mr. Joseph A. Laydon Jr., and arranged to purchase a copy to be shipped to Canada.
Mr. Laydon was very kind and forthcoming in his communications with me and I received my copy (and a bunch of other goodies) from him shortly afterward.
Mr. Laydon’s compendium is a ~350-page tome of well researched historical material. He has dug deep into the world of POWs (in an American context, specifically) from the US Civil War to Cold War-era and their methods of survival, escape and reunification through simple tips as well as in-depth case studies.
As the nature of warfare has changed with the introduction of ever-advancing technologies, the realities of captivity remain. Allied soldiers have been held captive in more recent conflicts such as the Gulf Wars, The Balkans/Former Yugoslavia and in the Middle East. And though one never knows in advance the circumstances of one’s possible captivity, a study of historical methods (both by captors and captives) is beneficial. It gives scope and depth of knowledge which may be adapted in given circumstances. In some current theatres of conflict, one’s adversaries may tend to be on the less-technologically advanced side. If one is to be effective in combating such foes, a study into their “low-tech” methods will yield insight into their weaknesses. To that end, studying past historical methods of captivity and restraint allows for the operator or agent to understand the weaknesses in those methods and train to exploit those weaknesses to one’s advantage.
As an example, “high tech” security features, such as locks and handcuffs, may be in use by one’s own forces, but in some areas in the world, technology may be 50-80 years behind the times, often using outdated and “low tech” restraints and locking mechanisms. Awareness and training in the exploitation of these are crucial to one’s survival.
I would also argue that even by reading through it in a non-military or operational context, if one were to find themselves kidnapped or held in unlawful confinement, some of the points discussed in this book may be of help, again depending on the circumstances. But the more you know, the more options you may have.
To bring this around full circle, Mr. Laydon does an excellent job of providing a thoroughly researched historical account of survival methods used by POWs and also the captivity methods of their captors and aggressors over a very long period of time across a wide range of theatres. Even more useful are his personal notes from his time in the Military and through various survival schools. All very useful information. There are many practical and informative (and genuinely interesting) tips and tricks covered. It is not an instructional manual, per se, but rather an in-depth reference highlighting many historical and contemporary methods and ideas for use in such environments. The author has augmented historical methods with personal anecdotes and experiences to bring context. There are no pictures or diagrams to see (though there are a few exercises to learn some of the tricks shown) however the sheer multitude of referenced tips and tricks leaves one much to internalize and think about. I would recommend this publication to anyone looking to expand their knowledge of this subject matter. Sometimes, the saying “what’s old is new again” may come to pass. You never know, it may come in handy some day.
Though the information in this book is good to know, Would highly recommend finding training in these skillsets in-person. Nothing beats hands-on instruction and personal first-hand experience.
Training Review: IRETC with 4TAC5, Chicago, IL, May 2018
In May of this year (2018), I travelled to Chicago to expand my skills in the field of Counter-custody and counter-kidnapping but attending the IRETC Instructor Certification with Karl from 4TAC5.
For the longest time I had been working towards attending the counter-custody instructor certification course with 4TAC5 – IRETC (International Restraint Escape Training Course). I had tried for months to connect with them and was planning to travel to their training base in England to attend it when I was referred to Aaron Cunningham of the ITTA (International Tactical Training Association) as they were going to be hosing IRETC in Chicago. As luck would have it this made things much more convenient and less expensive.
Upon arrival I made contact with Aaron and he picked me up from the airport. I treated him to breakfast for the courtesy. As I had only had communications with him through e-mail to that point it was good to finally put a face to the name and get to know him. After breakfast, Aaron and I took a little tour around Chicago (he showed me some of the sights and gave me some background to the respective history and current situations with specific neighbourhoods we were traversing) and then we did two more circles to the airport to pick up other attendees and finally to pick up our instructor, Karl, and make our way to the training facility and our lodgings.
There were 4 of us with Karl and Aaron. A small but diverse group of LEO/MIL personnel.
***I will not speak to the identities of the others in the training as they are currently operational with their respective security services, nor will I get into specifics of the training due to it’s nature. ***
Over that first evening we all had a chance to get to know one another and discuss the upcoming week of training. Admittedly, I was very excited to get the training started and build upon my existing skills.
The next day training started and we covered a LOT of ground. The content for day 1 was vaguely as follows:
Overview of material, counter-custody principles, kidnapping & hostage survival;
Detailed review of improvised restraints and manufactured restraints;
Improvised tools against restraints;
Mindset and tactics
I felt as if I’d been overloaded with information and it took me a while to process what I was learning. So much amazing stuff was coming to me – efficient and effective techniques and principles to put to use immediately. My hands and wrists were smashed and raw by the end of the day but it was well worth the pain to gain the knowledge and hands-on experience in a controlled environment where mistakes can be made and learning can occur. Very helpful when you get yourself in a pickle and need someone to cut you out so you can try again.
Day 2 was much the same in so far as having a firehose of info shot my way. After a great breakfast, we got fuelled up on coffee and a recap of the previous day’s material and dove right in.
Recap Day 1;
Tools, carry, concealment and deployment;
Handcuffs (various, identify, function, features)
More mindset and tactics;
Special tools (contents, function, use)
Anatomy of abduction and custody (phases, counter-intelligence, immediate actions)
Captivity & custody Exercise
Day 2 was a long day filled with more work, soreness and trial and error. However, the more exhaustively we practiced, the more confident I was with the little curve balls that were thrown our way and, with patience and focus, they could be overcome.
Day 2 dinner was another great time gelling with the group and expanding on the day’s lessons.
***BTW the food in Chicago was AWESOME!***
Day 3 was the Big Cahuna. Exercise after exercise after exercise, more scenarios and practice. Very involved to test our newly acquired skills and assure we’d assimilated the little tricks and remained focused on the task regardless of the negative stimulus applied. I found this culmination was a thorough test of my skills and my ability to apply them under stress and in unknown conditions.
As a finale to the week, Aaron arranged a tour of the Chicago Police Marine Unit (with associated boat ride and waterfront tour) and topped it off with a ride-along with the Chicago Police Aviation Unit aboard a CPD helicopter above downtown Chicago. And, as it was Tuesday, what better dinner to have than tacos? I guess you really haven’t lived till you’ve watch a White Sox game at Wrigley Field from a police helicopter. Karl and I had a blast. What a great night.
The following day included a debrief, discussions, clean-up and certification presentations. My trip to the airport was bitter-sweet. I had made some new friends, learned and experienced some top-tier training and was leaving a very Toronto-like city (minus the 14 people who were shot while I was there).
I extend my sincerest thanks to Aaron Cunningham and the ITTA for hosting the training and for their wonderful hospitality. True professionals doing a great job.
To Karl of 4TAC5, thank you for your knowledge, patience and great sense of humour during the week.
To the Chicago Police Marine and Aviation units – thank you for your hospitality and for the amazing ride-alongs. Stay safe out there!
And to my fellow attendees, thank you for the laughs and lessons. Stay safe in your respective areas of operation and keep in touch.
For those of you who are in Canada looking for counter-custody and hostage survival training, keep your eyes peeled for our offerings for both civilians and military/law enforcement (restricted content) or contact us directly for private training solutions for your group.
For more information on mentioned training and entities, see below and feel free to contact us.
When preparing to go (either to the airport, train/bus station sea port, etc – it applies to all equally), ensure you charge all of your devices and that you have the appropriate connectors and adaptors for the region in which you will be travelling.
Take an empty water bottle and some snacks with you so that you can refill it post-security and always have a drink. You never know when you may be delayed and airports are notoriously expensive.
At the airport, keep your passport and ticket/boarding pass hidden to avoid people targeting you and gleaning information about you and your travel. As you walk through the airport, keep an eye open for places of cover should an attack occur. Columns and pillars, concrete planters, walls and corners as well as exit stairwells can offer ballistic protection. Try to stay away from public-side-facing windows.
As a general rule, try to pack for quick and easy movement. Travel light and fast. I avoid checking a bag if I can which enables easier movement and less of a chance of lost luggage. Stick with low-profile, non-tactical-looking luggage and bags. The only downside is that if you’re travelling with items prohibited from going in the cabin of the plane, you’ll be forced to check a bag. DO NOT try to sneak anything through security as it’ll either be seized (best case) or you’ll end up arrested (worse) depending on the local laws.
Here’s another tip: DON’T AGREE TO TAKE SOMEONE ELSE’S BAGS FOR THEM! It doesn’t matter if it’s an old lady, a “man of the cloth” or a child “travelling alone”. Carry only your bags, keep a vigilant watch over them at ALL times, don’t leave them unattended and say no to anyone asking you to carry something for them.
If you find yourself waiting on the public side of an airport or rail terminal, keep your eyes open for suspicious activity. Set yourself up where you have a good vantage point and no one behind you, close to cover. If you observe someone suddenly get up and walks away from a bag or parcel, quickly find cover and tell security services. If you leave your bags unattended, you risk losing them to security.
While travelling, do your best to be aware of the local news and goings-on. This can give you a feel for the local environment in which you find yourself and to possibly give you a heads-up in case of impending bad weather, criminal threats or civil unrest.
ALWAYS secure your passport. It is the most important item you have when travelling abroad. And depending on the country of issue, it can be worth upwards of $50k on the black market.
When you arrive to your destination and have cleared customs/immigration, you can then “tool up” with any gear you have legally transported or acquire locally-sourced tools.
Do your best to blend in with the local population. Look at online photos of locals and get a sense for what they wear and how they go about their days. Consider stopping by a local store to purchase similar clothing to wear while you’re “in country” and then leave them behind when returning home. With this method, you are essentially renting a “persona”and will bring down your visibility as a tourist to some degree. Leave your “5.11 Tuxedo” at home and get something local instead. Oakleys, Salomons and 5.11 pants and shirt that all say “covert” are usually anything but.
If you’re in a situation where no amount of “low-key” will do it (such as travelling with your family or in a group) do the best you can and always remain polite. A smile and a kind word can go a long way in the right context. With this in mind, don’t discuss your personal life with strangers. You don’t know who they are or how they could use that information against you. Steer your conversations about their home country under the auspices of learning more about them.
When travelling to and from your accommodations (or any base), vary your route and timings and maintain your situational awareness at all times so that you’re not being observed or followed.
When moving around, don’t carry all of your cash in the same place on your person. Break it up across your pockets, decoy wallet and other stashes. Use credit cards when you can to reduce the visibility of cash.
When on the ground, take a few mins to orientate yourself to the area using your maps and the local geography. Look for common landmarks and pay attention while being transported from the airport.
When you’re first able, make contact and touch base with the folks back home to give them a status report that you’ve landed and what your situation is. This allows those back home to have a time marker as to when was the last contact they had with you, where you were and what you were doing should something happen.
Beware of situations where you are consuming alcohol or drugs (say no to drugs, even if the jerk-off on the beach tells you it’s completely legal, you have no idea what is in it and if you’re being set-up) in the company of those who you do not trust completely. Also, try and stick to bottles and cans instead of drinks mixed out of view, lest someone spike it. And never leave your drink unattended or unobserved.
**The video below shows exactly how easy it is to have your drink spiked**
While travelling around, try to use ride-sharing services like Uber of Lyft over taxis as they are more reliable with better kept records of your trips. You’re also less likely to be robbed (as you don’t require cash to take a ride with them) and if something goes wrong, the driver, car and trip details are all stored with you and the company. If taxis are your only option, prior to getting in, ask for how much it would cost and take a look inside to ensure all looks legit and there are door handles in back. Either way, ALWAYS have a method of escape (some form of window breaker) to get out should something go sideways.
On the more likely side, you’re also more likely to be the victim of “tourist pricing” when arranging rides. For example, a local taking a taxi may only get charged $4 whereas a tourist will get charged $40 for the same ride.
Change money in banks or approved locations with security, not back alley “cambios” where you might get mugged after people know you have cash.
When buying supplies in local stores, keep an eye on the price tags that are on articles and ask what currency they represent. And if they start taking prices off articles as they “ring them in”, you’re being scammed. They’ll present you with a price which you won’t be able to recall and you’ll be left wondering what happened. You’re better served to walk away and try elsewhere unless you’re really in a jam.
When checking into your accommodations, ensure that the bellhop goes in first, and that the lights are on. Check every nook and crannyImmediately ensure that the doors and locks are all in working order and use a door wedge to secure the door once you’re alone and have engaged all of the locks. Draw the curtains and turn on the tv when you’re not in your room and hang the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob.
In respect to OPSEC (OPerational SECurity), ensure that you aren’t posting too much on social media which can identify things like your room, locations you’re visiting and valuables you may have on you. Post after you’ve returned or at least left the location.
In the event of a disaster or large-scale event, make your way by whatever means necessary to the Canadian (in my case) or alternately, to an allied nation’s embassy for protection and support. The United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand or another Commonwealth country will support you when carrying a Canadian passport.
Situational awareness, pre-planning, having local currency (and knowing the exchange rate) and a resilient mindset will help deal with most problems you would encounter on your travels. Travel light, travel low-profile and arm yourself with as much knowledge about the area you’ll be in. Remember, low-profile equals a difficult target.
On the weekend of 28-29-30 July, 2017, True North Tradecraft hosted the first-ever offering of The CORE Group’s Covert Entry Concepts course in Toronto. We had 9 students, an excellent venue, great food and of course, fantastic training. (To read my review of the course I attended in Maryland, click here.)
Friday evening saw the group meet up, make introductions and immerse themselves in Street Thief, a mockumentary based on a thief. Though not “real”, it did accurately illustrate how an actual thief does what they do, ideas for protecting against such things and using the same methodologies in conducting security assessments and Red Team-type attacks. That, coupled with some yummy pizza (no Hawaiian, you’re welcome Rob) made for a good evening.
Starting bright and early on Saturday morning, we hit the ground running getting into the principles of physical security, locking mechanisms and the basics of attacking them. This was framed within the construct of proper evaluation and approach vectors for attack and assessment.
Thanks to The Lucky Penny for providing scrumptious snacks and endless coffee to get us started and keep us going.
The entire day was fast and furious. We hit on a vast breadth of topics and brought it all to practice very quickly. The students were introduced to various locks and their corresponding pick and bypass tools.
Wafer locks, pin & tumbler, dead bolts, combination locks, padlocks, warded locks, etc. The pace was fast but students picked-up the skills quickly and began to progress through to more difficult locks. After everyone felt they were getting the hang of it, we moved right into impressioning and key casting.
Saturday had some tasty lunch too…
The rest of the day was spent discussing elevators and their uses in Red Team operations and physical security, safes and other miscellaneous related content.
We finished off the evening as a group at a fantastic nearby Mexican restaurant where the food was excellent and the tequila and mojitos flowed.
Sunday, though rough for some more than others, continued the same high tempo. We dove right into more elevator stuff and more impressioning challenges.
One challenge was who could impression a key properly before anyone else.
The second was the T-Rex Challenge. Picking a lock while a electronic muscle stimulator is hooked-up to one’s forearms. It’s a laugh for all.
That winners of each challenge got some stuff from our friends at Delta 2 Alpha Design (The Lolly and The Mark, and stickers, each.)
After we all stopped laughing and got feeling back in our arms, we carried on to lock bypassing, familiarization with various tools and techniques associated with it and giving them a trial run.
We then transitioned to removing/replacing tamper-evident seals. A very delicate operation to say the least, this portion of the day was slow-going and painstakingly irritating when impatience wrecked it all. That said, it was very interesting in its method and application. We also discussed security posturing, use, strength and limitations of seals and tamper-evident devices along with best practices.
To round out the weekend, we finished on a high note with restraint escapes. Dealing in escaping unlawful custody while restrained by handcuffs, nylon zip ties, duct tape and cord. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.
One of the most important parts of the learning was the manner in which it was delivered. Rob’s easy-going and humorous nature, coupled with his expansive knowledge and professionalism made for a relaxed yet powerful learning environment. He is an exemplary instructor and trainer and is so giving of himself and his knowledge. That and he couldn’t get over how no one carried guns. Yay Canada. It all makes a huge positive difference.
As with all experiences of this kind, there was so much more we covered and were exposed to that it simply wouldn’t do it justice to speak to here. There is only so much you can read about or learn from on YouTube before you hit a wall. Well-delivered, quality, in-person training has no substitute. I recommend this training to anyone interested in these skills. In the end, an excellent group made an excellent class. Congratulations to all.
We are excited about how everything went that we are already planning our next offering. Keep tuned to the Blog (and Instagram and Facebook) for more details.
Thank you to Rob and to all others who helped make this happen and make it great (See below) and thank you to all who attended.
A topic I tend not to hear or read about very much is the fitness in every-day preparedness. Sure, there are plenty of opinions on gear to carry, the kinds of shoes you should wear, the emergency kit in your car, etc…, but how often if physical fitness mentioned as a component of your preparedness? Not much, sadly.
As we go through our daily lives, 99% of it isn’t a high-stress, threatening situation. Maybe we work out or go to the gym, but we’re not threatened.
If we find ourselves in a survival situation, be it a physical attack, a disaster requiring us to get out of an area, a broken-down car or anything similar, your chances of successfully negotiating that event are raised directly in proportion with your level of fitness. The right gear and training are also factors, of course, but if your body is conditioned you stand a better chance. Here’s why:
A survival event demands extreme resources from your body. You may be required to fight off an attacker, or run/climb/drag someone/thing intensely for a period of time. How long you’re able to last in that, or how much you can lift may directly impact who you save. Including yourself or a loved one. If you can’t do a pull-up, you may not be able to pull yourself out of a window in a burning building.
A fit body equals a fit mind. Psychologically, if your body is in-shape, your mind will be better able to focus and adapt during a high-stress event.
Staying power. As you call your muscles into action to “fight or flight”, you will have a flush of adrenaline and lactic acid in your muscles. It will also metabolize and work off adrenaline and lactic acid buildup created in that process. If you’ve ever gone 100% in a fight or even on a punching bag, you’d know that that level of exertion is brutal even for one minute. If you’re not sucking wind after 1 minute, you’re doing it wrong. But if you build up your muscular and cardiovascular endurance through regular training, you’ll be better able to recover more quickly.
You can do more. Being fit allows you the capability to do more. Sure, you may have all manner of skills in fighting, but someone with an equal level of skill but higher level of fitness will likely defeat you. Strength, as well as skill, combine to the application of technique against an opponent. If you’re weak, or overweight, you likely won’t be as agile to get out of a bad situation. Your EDC (Every-Day Carry) equipment won’t lift you over a fence when thugs are chasing you.
Ask yourself this: if you had to, can you pick up your 70lb child and run away from a riot or terrorist attack, or would you have a heart attack in the attempt? I look at worst-case scenarios and work towards being able to address them. I am by no means a Special Forces Operator, nor do I pretend to be, but I do exercise regularly and aim to be prepared for things going south. What is the likelihood of something happening: very low. Impact if it does and I’m unable to do anything about it: very high.
So how does one develop their physical fitness? Here are some ideas:
Start small & simple. Start walking, or jogging. Biking, swimming. Whatever. Push-ups, squats, sit-ups, chin-ups. Get out there and start. Movement is life. If you find yourself in an Active Shooter situation and you just stand there, you are an easy target.
Look into joining a class or a gym. If you’re short on cash, look up body-weight and yoga videos online for free and do them in your home. It only costs you time and effort.
Change your eating habits if they need it. High levels of processed sugars and foods aren’t helping you. Change it up and and just your diet to something better. Small adjustments can yield large improvements.
Get motivated. Set small goals and accomplish them. Work towards each one until you achieve it and then set the next one. We are all motivated by different things, so find what works and “git ‘er done”.
Ask for help. If you’re completely lost and don’t know where to turn, ask for advice. I have found that the vast majority of people who are fitness enthusiasts didn’t start out as athletic. Many worked hard to get there and are happy to offer help or advice and cheer you on.
You can do it. I have seen wounded Veterans without legs, without arms and sometimes both, continue to push themselves and achieve. If they can, then holy shit, so can the rest of us. Stay positive. Stay focused.
***Naturally if you’re not fit the only way to increase fitness is to begin exercising…but always consult a doctor or health professional prior to starting, especially if you have any health concerns.***
We all have our various levels and goals, and no two people are the same. The crux of the argument here is that you are constantly trying to improve. Various body types, health issues, etc, sometimes restrict what can be done, but with a positive attitude, setting of goals and the effort to improve, gains can be made in leaps and bounds. Don’t be afraid to try and fail, keep trying. Ask for help. Its about self-improvement as much as it is personal survival. You don’t have to be a fitness model, or even look like one, but building in a level of fitness training into your preparedness mindset and arsenal will greatly increase your confidence and capability when dealing with a hostile event.
The side benefits also include better sleep, lower levels of stress, less pain, more flexibility and agility. Higher levels of endurance and a heightened level of calm and confidence. You’ll also be able to enjoy more adventurous experiences. Just, saying.
Remember that a good level of physical fitness will never be a negative or work against you, it will only ever be a positive.
the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
As we go through life we face challenges. Some benign and yet some are scarring and life-altering. Either way, it isn’t always the WHAT which defines us as people, but rather the HOW we deal with those events that define us. These are usually things we suffer through, in whatever way. As unfortunate as it is, we learn most through suffering. Through heartbreak, loss, pain, catastrophe – overcoming and surviving those events teach us something about life and about ourselves. For every bruised knee we endured falling off our bikes as kids, we became tougher, stronger, better at falling and bouncing back to deal with bigger and worse things. This mental posture developed through various trials is what builds our resilience in life. It is for these reasons that the Military, for instance, trains its people so hard, pushed them to physical and mental extremes – so that when the day comes to face something truly terrible, they will be better prepared, more resilient, to meet the challenge and survive.I have translated this concept into a personal philosophy. I try to make myself uncomfortable, to try new things, challenge myself, and fail trying, just to learn from those experiences and to build that level of resilience in myself. It’s also about being prepared. Not for the Zombie Apocalypse per se, but for an event that may threaten you. Small habits, tools, preparations and knowledge properly put into use before something bad happens can mean the difference between an inconvenience and something serious. Seeing that guy on the corner eyeing you can give you the tip-off that he means you harm. That second or two may give you the edge.I am always learning, always challenging myself to be better and always looking for ways to improve.
Don’t wait for something to happen to you to start getting tough, start now, so when it does happen, you can fight back with all you’ve got and have a better chance of coming out on top.It is for this reason I started True North Tradecraft.
Tradecraft, as defined by Wikipedia: Tradecraft, within the intelligence community, refers to the techniques, methods and technologies used in modern espionage (spying) and generally, as part of the activity of intelligence.
So, skills used by spies, agents, soldiers, operatives and their vast knowledge is advantageous to us all. These people are trained and paid to put themselves in dangerous positions and survive. They have developed strategies to keep themselves alive through tradecraft, through these skills. If they can use it to be safer and more resilient in their day-to-day lives, why can’t you?
Years ago I had an epiphany, where I realized I was far from the level that I wanted to be. I wasn’t prepared to defend myself from true aggression to the level I wanted, and certainly unable to bring to bear force against someone who would threaten me or my family. I was also suffering from a lack of real skills. Skills and training which would genuinely prepare me to be better than I was. I have poured much time and effort into correcting that. I believe anyone can improve with guidance, drive and the will towards change.
True North Tradecraft was envisioned to bring such techniques, strategies, knowledge and support to a wider audience from a Canadian perspective. I have found through my personal encounters with members of both the Public and Government that overwhelmingly, the masses are apathetic in living in the bucolic lives supported by governmental systems. Relying on others for your safety and security is folly. Taking responsibility for yourself is the first step in resilience. Too often such resources are framed within an American context. This is not, in itself, a bad thing, however I have yet to read an EDC blog or book, or have a conversation where a firearm is not included. As great as it would be in some cases, guns are a non-starter here in the Great White North. So, as it is a less-permissive environment, other avenues for personal security and preparedness must be explored. Just because you don’t have a gun doesn’t mean you can’t be safe, or dangerous, or both. You just need the right knowledge, training and mindset.
If you value your personal security, safety and well-being, I look forward to helping you grow, as I have, into a more resilient person, better prepared for threats and hazards and living a life in-tune with your environment.And that too will come.