great sendoff at Dawlish train station by Gary Dell and Paul Drury, for they
waited until the train pulled away, I took the Eurostar back through the Euro
Tunnel, but instead of heading back to Brussels I took the rout to Paris
instead. If it had not been for arriving in the middle of Paris right at the
worse part ofrush hour the trip
would have been great. Everybody squeezes into the les voitures (the train
cars) even if there is no breathing room. Naturally I did not have a seat
arriving so late and I did my best to keep a space between myself and the
stainless steel pole that was wedged between the ceiling to the floor. However,
true to my teaching of always taking the last train car in case terrorist bombs
were aboard (statistically bombs are placed in the front or middle of the train
in order to derail it), I was at least secure in my position should there be a
disaster. There wasn’t.
I had the weekend free before teaching my Level 1 courses in Paris, so Christophe Besse (my former Reality-Based Director of France and now my hand-chosen protégé of the system) and I hooked up and decided to go to the beaches of Normandie. I had always wanted to go there to see the battlefields for myself, and every time I tried in past years something always came up. Christophe knew this, and made sure that I would see it.
Christophe and his girlfriend drove and I just enjoyed the beautiful countryside of northern France. We stayed the first night in the city of Caen, which was the first major city of the invasion of France after American, British, and Canadian forces took the beaches at a cost of over 10,000 soldiers killed. The city of Caen also has the largest, and most impressive, museum dedicated to the landings of Normandie. All the wonder displays are in French, English, and German.
The Museum explains very well the events leading up to World War II, the landings at Normadie, the entire war after the invasion, and even a wing of the building dedicated to the Cold War; that was of particular interest to me since I was a solider in the United States Army (1980-1981) during the Cold War. There was also a touching section showing the horrors of the Holocaust (millions of Jews exterminated by the Nazis).
After a few hours in the museum we drove the 30 minutes to Omaha Beach where the American Cemetery sits gracefully as a testimony on the bluffs above the long beach now enjoyed by swimmers and wind surfers. A first-time visitor cannot but help be overwhelmed by the over 9,000 marble white crosses and a couple hundred Star of Davids. Each grave represents an American who gave his life fighting for American and the liberation of France. There are armed guards throughout the grounds and signs requesting respect from the visitors, and they get it. There are hushed tones and silent reflection everywhere. I had brought a dozen small American flags with me specifically for my visit and planted them near the headstones of unknown soldiers. Although the war had been over 60 years ago, there sacrifice is not forgotten by me at least. I wanted to see some of the other beaches, but there was just not enough time to see everything.
The next morning I met with Julien Nodier; the Reality-Based Personal Protection Director of France. We met the new students, and some returning instructors, and started a very positive and inspiring Defensive Tactics course. Right away I was impressed with my only female in the class, 58 year-old Anges Cochet, who was not afraid to do anything and had the “warrior mentality.” She had been very athletic all of her life and several years ago started training in the traditional martial arts.
The next day was Ground Survival followed by Knife Survival.We were not only very fortunate to be training in a huge gymnasium, and there were plenty of good places to eat next to the training facility.
The first day was traditional French food, the next day it was Moroccan, and the third day was Italian food. Of course, I told all of my students to “eat light,” but that’s a hard order for people to follow when they are so hungry and the food is so good in Paris.
Thursday was eight hours of Crime Survival and all day Friday was Terrorism Survival.France has seen its fair share of both crime and terrorism over the years and everyone took these two courses very seriously. Also, the terrorist attack in Norway several days before was still on everyone’s mind. My students had a keen awareness that they could be victims of a mass shooting and wanted to be prepared; along with armed robberies, gang attacks, and other likely violent scenarios.
Right after class Christophe and I headed over to the Arch of Triumph on the Metro to videotape a project for my jimwagnerrbpp on YouTube and a future DVD.We then raced over to the Eiffel Tower to wrap up the segment. The project was done in both the English and French language.I did my parts in both languages and Christophe did the same. I wanted Julien to come, but he had already made plans, and so we taped his part earlier in the day.
We Reality-Based instructors are not all work and no play, and not completely barbarians also. Julien Nodier bought us instructors each a ticket to a Vivaldi concert at the beautiful Madeleine Cathedral just a block from Place de la Concorde. The concert was held on Saturday night on August 6 at 20:30. Just before that we had a great traditional French dinner at a quaint café within sight of the cathedral. I was brave and started off with escargots (snails) et polis roti avec pommes de terre (French roasted chicken with potatoes).
The concert was very elegant and the music filling the vaulted ceilings was memorable. With the stringed instruments playing, the fantastic architecture, and the minimal lighting it felt like being in the 18th century. I enjoyed it immensely.
I was long overdue for a vacation and decided to take advantage of my seminar location. The next morning I rented a car for a week and took off for the south of France.Halfway to my destination I stopped at a rustic Bed & Breakfast north west of Bordeaux. It was a farmhouse surrounded by cornfields on one side and a lush green forest on the other side.The rest was much needed after driving all day from Paris.
After a continental breakfast, and a great conversation with a French family on their way to a bicycling cross-country tour, I accidently ran into one of the most beautiful castles in France. That’s not just my opinion, but also the opinion of The Wall Street Journal and several national French newspapers. The name of the castle is Chateau Rocquetaillade. The 8 euro one hour guided tour was worth every euro cent! The charming female guide knew her history, and I actually learned quite a few things about Medieval daily life that I did not know before.
Chateau Rocquetaillade also had its own vineyard and produced their own Bordeaux region red and white wines. I bought three bottles: one for some friends I was meeting in Biarritz, one for some friends back home, and one for myself. Of course, by the end of the day that is exactly where I ended up – in the famous resort city of Biarritz. My friends had a lovely home there, surrounded by a large parcel of land. Like my Bed & Breakfast location the night before this house was also out in the country; very peaceful.
After breakfast I hopped into my rental car and drove to San Sebastian, Spain; also known as Basque Country. Years earlier had I trained Spanish counterterrorists who were tasked with protecting Spanish diplomats and high profile businessmen against ETA terrorists (a Basque separatist group), and now I was right in the middle of their territory on vacation. Even recently there have been ETA attacks against Spanish government targets; including hits against the police. Of course, like I did when I was teaching in Ireland and going into IRA territory, I stayed out of the local politics then and now; both sides have their valid points, and both sides have caused their share of grief. Nonetheless, the Basque people on both sides of the border, both Spain and France, are very nice and hospitable people. It’s not fair to judge an entire group of people because of the actions of a few individuals.
After basking in the sun both in Spain and France I drove the eight hours straight up the center of France and into Paris. Christophe Besse and I wanted to see La Planete Des Singes (The Planet of the Apes) the next morning before I took off for Belgium. During my stay in Paris, while teaching my Level 1 courses, Christophe and I saw posters all over Paris advertising the movie that was to be released August 10. In passing conversation Christophe and I said that we wanted to see the movie together, and Christophe’s girlfriend was absolutely opposed to seeing it. So, as a jab to her we kept saying how excited it would be to see it. We even posed next to a La Planete Des Singes poster near the training facility and sent the image to her iPhone. We justified wanted to see it in order to learn “ape fighting tactics.” Of course, we were just having fun with it all. However, since I had a night stay in Paris Christophe and I decided to actually go see it since we had created so much hype about it.
The next morning, August 12th, we went to the theater and saw the movie. To my surprise it was actually well done and very entertaining.It was also good for me to hear it all in French to building up my language skills. After the movie was over, and Christophe and I were heading to lunch, he asked me, “Did you understand everything in the movie because it was in French?” I said, “Yes, I understood about 90% of it, although I had a lot of difficulty understanding when they spoke chimpanzee.” Christophe just laughed. Of course there was nothing to learn from the movie when it came to fighting tactics.
The next morning I took a train to Brussels.Nicolas Marucci, the Reality-Based Personal Protection Director of Belgium, was waiting there in the Brussels-Midi train station. I had three purposes for spending a few days in his country: 1. To spend some time with my friend and talk shop2. Visit the Waterloo battlefield and see the historical place where Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated3. Attend a business meeting that will unite the WARRIOR COMMUNITY.
On Saturday, August 13th, Nicolas and I drove to Waterloo, which is only 45 minutes from Brussels. The weather had turned gray and rainy, but I didn’t mind. When the French army faced off with the combined armies of Great Britain, Prussia, and the Netherlands the weather was the same on June 18, 1815. Of course, this was a problem for the movement of the artillery back in those days where the mud made it difficult to move.
Most of the battlefields are well preserved, and there are monuments everywhere up and down highway N5. The entire area reminded me of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (the American Civil War battlegrounds) that I had visited exactly a year ago. Of course one can’t help but notice Lion’s Hill from afar. This huge hill that took three years to make has a huge lion monument on top of it and can be seen from kilometers. On the base of the monument is the date of the battle. The hill did not exist at the time of the battle, but it was erected there because it was the spot where the La Grande Armee was actually defeated, and this event changed the course of Europe.
I am constantly researching human conflict, naturally since I am a Reality-Based Personal Protection instructor and currently a Reserve soldier, and every chance I get to visit a new museum or battlefield I seize the opportunity. Although I had been in Belgium before I had never visited Waterloo, and Nicolas was kind enough to take me where I wanted.
The visitor center at the base of Lion’s Hill was very educational, and I finally had a good grasp on the events leading up to the battle and the ramifications of its outcome. It was great to get some quality photos of Napoleonic weapons and equipment. I also had the opportunity to do a video in front of Lion’s Hill that I will be posting on YouTube shortly. In this video I discuss something that Napoleon Bonaparte said, and which is applicable to martial artists today.
Not only did Nicolas and I chit chat and catch up on things, but we also manage to get video project done. This too will be released soon on YouTube.
Finally, on August 14th I had a business meeting with Rock Dehon and Wim Demeere at the Conrad Hotel in the middle of Brussels. At present, I am not at liberty to discuss the project or my involvement in it, but let’s just say that it is something that will bring the WARRIOR COMMUNITY together. Come September I will give a news release and lay out all the details.
Before heading home I just hung out in Brussels for a couple days living the Belgian life: les moules, waffles, Belgian chocolates, listening to street musicians, catching up on the news, and weaving in and out of gift shops, historical buildings, and recharging my batteries. The next morning I was on a plane for the United States eager to get started on several projects I am working that the self-defense community will benefit from.
Copyright Jim Wagner 2003 - 2021 All rights reserved.