Paris, France, the city of lights, has always been one of my favorite cities to visit since I first went there as a young man of 20-years-old exploring the world on my own, and for the past several years I have had the pleasure of working there once a year. I’ve already got one of the best jobs in the world, that is teaching people how to stay safe in an increasingly violent world, and having the opportunity to teach these skills in Paris makes the job just that much better. Not only did I enjoy teaching each and every one of my French students Level 1 and Knife Camp of my Reality-Based Personal Protection system from July 30 to August 6, but I also took a week vacation right after that from August 7 to 13 touring all over northern France sticking to my philosophy of work hard, and play hard.
The seminars in Paris, which took place at the University of Paris X Nanterre thanks to the Security Department, were a huge success mainly because of Christophe Besse, the French Director of the RBPP system and my protégé, who did an outstanding job in marketing, organization, and administration. Students came from all over the French Republic, as well as from Switzerland, to attend the 8 different courses. Throughout the eight days I had highly motivated groups of people that included martial arts instructors, fitness instructors, a couple of beginners who had no self-defense training in the past, and even members of the French police (Gendarmerie) and the French Army.
Although I always feel a bit rusty with the French language when I first step off the plane at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, within two or three days of teaching in the French language it all comes back to me and I soon settle in and interact with my students to give them the best techniques and training methods that I know. My students are always gracious with me and my thick American accent, and if I have trouble with a word or a term they kindly correct me on the spot. For such occasions I carry a notepad with me at all times and jot down the new vocabulary word, term, or idiom at first chance. It’s not easy teaching in several different countries each year and mastering each language, but I accept the challenge.
Level 1 is the foundation of the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system, and those who went through it with me the entire first week of August graduated with the skills to help them deal with most modern self-defense situations. I had personnel from Air France, one of the world’s leading airlines, attended a few of the Level 1 courses because they often find themselves in very dangerous cities around the world due to their unique job. One pilot told me, “I fly down to Africa a lot. There’s a lot of crime outside of some of the airports, and I want to learn how to protect myself when going to or coming from the hotel. I also know that terrorists can strike at any time, like they did in Mumbai, India a few years back, and I don’t want to find myself not knowing what to do if I ever get caught in the middle of something like that.” A flight attendant echoed the same feelings to me and said, “Every flight crew should take your courses.” I agreed with her, and responded with a smile, “I’m ready to teach all the flight crews of Air France.” Although it is a long shot, for very few airlines spend enough money on security training for their personnel, my background as a United States Federal Air Marshal, a private pilot, and trainer to many police and military units worldwide, would give them cutting edge information and survival skills. In fact, my return flight home back to the United States was with Air France out of Paris, and I do enjoy flying with them.
Like most of the world, France is going through an economic crisis. There is a lot of worry that France could be facing problems in the near future similar to that Greece of right now. Some predict that the French economy could collapse in two years if things don’t change now. Just like in my own country at the moment, with local governments slashing programs and laying off police officers and the federal government cutting down on military spending, France is doing the same. One French police officer pointedly told me, “The French police are weak, the French military is weak, France is weak.” He came to my courses paying out of his own pocket because he felt that the training I had to offer would help him be safer on the job, and he wasn’t going to get it anywhere else.
Wednesday, August 1st was the ever popular Knife Survival course. Driving down from Charleroi to assist me and Christophe in teaching people how to survive knife attacks and how to used edged weapons to protect one’s self and others was Nicolas Marucci, the Reality-Based Personal Protection Director of Belgium. Nicolas frequently assists me when I teach in France, Germany, and Italy. His fighting skills are superb, and the students are always appreciative of his insights. After the end of the day I went out with Nicolas for dinner and caught up on his latest “close calls.” Nicolas is a security agent in some of the roughest places in Belgium and sometimes works as a doorman. In the city of Charleroi he is a legend and well known in the MMA community. I’ve seen him at work when visiting him in Belgium.
When it came time for the Crime Survival and Terrorism Survival courses Patrick Wengler, the Reality-Based Personal Protection Director of Luxembourg, stayed the two days to assist me and Christophe. Patrick not only played the role of “bad guy” a few times (street robber, bank robber, and other unsavory characters), but I also handed him the reins at one point and had him teach the entire section on identifying and protecting evidence at a crime scene. After all, Patrick is a police officer back in his country, and like me is an expert on the subject. When it came time for some simulated terrorist attacks the next day I had Patrick and one of my French military students do the first few attacks in order for my Terrorism Survival students to understand the dynamics of an attack on an airport terminal, train station, government building, or any other likely terrorist targets. My “terrorists” used Airsoft guns that fire a 6mm plastic projectile that sting a bit when they hit the body, but as I tell my students, “You learn through pain.” Usually I get hit with a stray “bullet” or two, but not this time.
In my Terrorism Survival course the current affaires topic on everyone’s mind was the recent movie theater shooting that took place in Colorado just a week before my trip http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Aurora_shooting. France has had its share of lone gunman massacres and I told my students, “This is exactly the reason you are in this course today; to survive such attacks, be it a lone gunman or a full terrorist attack.”
When Level 1 ended I had 10 new French certified Reality-Based Personal Protection instructors. Others who could only take a few of the courses told me that they will finish up their training next year or catch up in Germany where I also offer Level 1 courses coming up in September. For me personally it is very rewarding to get a student from A to B, and in the end know that the system has not only given them the skills and information they need for survival, but it has open their eyes to the reality-based way of training.
After five straight days of training, a normal expected work week, there was no rest for me and Christophe. The next day we started the three-day Knife Camp, and like each morning before class we had our customary deux croissants au beurre et un chocolat (two butter croissants and a hot chocolate; a common French breakfast). Of course, sometimes we’d swap out one of the croissants for a pain au chocolat, but the routine remained unchanged. Nobody makes croissants better than the French. Perhaps it’s the wheat they use or the ovens, but nobody else seems to come close to taste and texture.
Although I have taught plenty of Knife Survival courses in France this was officially my first Knife Camp in the country. Knife Camp is composed of Knife Survival, Knife Expert, and Knife Instructor.
I had four women go through my Knife Survival course and the next day when they all came in for the Knife Expert course their arms were a bit black and blue. The three that do not mind being named are Anne Moeglin, Gaby Tornaire, and Julie Duranton. For the men this discoloration on the arms does not seem to attract a lot of attention, but for our seemingly delicate women it looks out of place. They looked like battered wives and girlfriends. However, this tough group of ladies saw the temporary discoloration as a sign that they deserved to be there just like them men, and they knew that they had the mental fortitude that few women have. My youngest female student, Julie, was only 18-years-old and at first I was not sure if she would be comfortable training with some of the more experienced male students, but when I did a few drills with her myself she was surprisingly aggressive and could handle herself quite well. By looking at her you would never expect that this quite blond teenager, who would look more natural in the habitat of a shopping mall than in a knife class, put some of the men in retreat, but she did. With all four of the women in the class the men learned quickly that a knife in the hands of a well-trained woman was indeed an “equalizer.” For these women I also ran them through some scenarios that they were most likely to face than the men would. Carrying a knife of any kind in France is against the law, but my females soon learned that a sharp business pen or a tactical pen could be just as effective as a commercially made knife. They adapted the U.S. Marine Close Combat Instructor motto that I taught them of, “One Mind Any Weapon.”
Once five o’clock hit and we said our final good byes to our Knife Camp students both Christophe and I were officially on holiday, and we took full advantage of it. We drove into the center of Paris and had dinner in the Latin Quarter with some friends. Christophe also took the week off so that we could go do some sightseeing together. He originally comes from the east of France, and so he has not seen many parts of France, and I tend to pick some of the really hot tourist spots.
Our first trip was to the breath taking Mont Saint Michel in northern France. If you have ever seen a travel brochure on France the castle of Mont Saint Michel is inevitably in it. This medieval castle and village sits upon a rock, a small mountain, which raises right out of the beach. When high tide comes in it is almost completely surrounded by sea water except a small service road, and this road is soon to be replaced by a bridged to the castle so that the sea water can wrap completely around the mountain like it once did in the past.
The night Christophe and I arrived we stayed in an elegant 200-year-old house. We got there in early evening and so we decided to go have some dinner and see the castle at night, for we were told by the owner of the manor that it is illuminated at night and quite an impressive sight that we should not miss. The owner was right, and the castle was like that of a fairy tale. Once we got past the outer wall it was like stepping back in time. However, Christophe and I were not only there to see one of France’s great treasures, but we were also there to do a video project for my YouTube channel jimwagnerrbpp. This project requires the visiting of a few castles that I will later tie in with some modern concepts.
The next morning Christophe and I had some breakfast with some Swedish, Dutch, and American tourists and then set off again for Mont Saint Michel. The view in the daytime was not quite as “magical,” but no less impressive. We did some videotaping, a lot of climbing stairs through ramparts and towers, and then after lunch decided it was time to move on. We then drove to Bayeux that houses the famous Tapestry of Bayeux. This tapestry records the Norman invasion of England in the year 1066, and it’s a piece that I have always wanted to see for myself. Since roughly 40% of the English language contains French words, due to the Norman occupation of England, this history is also a part of my personal history. Every country I visit I do a little more research on human conflict.
After viewing the tapestry, and buying a book on the subject, we had the four and a half hour relaxing drive back home to Paris through lush green farms, corn and wheat fields, and the occasional tollbooth. With last year’s trip to the beaches of Normandie and Monet’s Garden coupled with this year’s trip, I had the pleasure to see much of Brittany and Normandie (the northern coast of France).
For two days Christophe and I hung around Paris. One of my goals was to go to the Chateau de Vinncenes; another castle that I needed for my video project. This castle, on the east end of Paris, was built in 1371 and is an important part of Parisian history. So impressive is this castle and surrounding grounds that after World War II President Charles de Gaulle briefly contemplating having it his government headquarters to meet Heads of State in. It is a classic medieval castle, and built for warfare. Fortunately this castle was never taken by the enemy. It is also contains a dungeon that once confined Nicolas Phouquet for 19 years until he died there. Who is Nicolas Fouquet you ask? See the July news story.
After hanging around Paris, darting in and out of cafes and tactical supply stores, Christophe and I took our second road trip, except this time we drove in the opposite direction, east toward Strasbourg. Situated in the Alsace region of France right on the German border we ate their famous food and then took a boat ride around this city island. This city is quite fascinating and a medieval treasure. Only an hour away was one of the most remarkable villages I have ever seen, and that village is Riquewihr. This medieval town is so picture perfect it almost seems like a Hollywood movie set. The cobble stone streets, ancient shops and exposed wood beam houses, with flowers and ribbons everywhere is a place few Americans have laid eyes upon. It’s here that we ate in an open air café where I snacked on froie gras and cheeses of the region. I also had some Alsace white wine, from the very hills covered with vineyards that encircle the village. Like I said, “like right out of a movie.”
The next day was our final destination – Belfort. Overlooking the city was a giant fortress that began in the Middle Ages, added upon, and functioning until modern times. Today it is a reminder of the past and a fantastic museum filled with hundreds of weapons, uniforms spanning centuries, and historical artifacts. It was Christophe’s idea to take me to this fortification, for this was the first city he lived in when he left home. He pointed out his first apartment to me as we drove by, where he worked, and some of the points of interest in the city. When Christophe first became my French director he was living in Belfort, however he insisted that all of our Reality-Based courses be taught in Paris, which was a very wise decision on his part. Christophe’s full-time job as a fitness instructor, and one of France’s most sought after, gave him contacts all over France and he first hooked us up with a fitness club near Place de la Republique.
Like the drive back from Mont Saint Michel the drive back from Belfort was relaxing and gave us time to talk and strategize. We were both pretty tired from the day of activity and the occasional cup of coffee along the way helped on the five and a half hour drive.
Just for fun Christophe and I ended our one-week vacation by going to the Asterix amusement park just outside of Paris. Asterix is a very famous French comic book character that every Frenchman knows. I first learned about Asterix with my first trip to Paris when I was 20-years-old, as I had mentioned before; my first real foreign adventure on my own. Asterix is a fictional character who lived 50 years before Jesus Christ in Roman occupied Gaul (today’s France). Asterix and his companions, true Gaul warriors, are always fighting the Romans, and when they are not fighting they are having a feast. Well, this amusement park is quite fun, and made to look like comic book Gaul. What’s great about this park are some of the fast rides, and we went on the best ones. I love a good roller-coaster ride, and I have to admit that we were like little boys when the seat bar finally came down. For a souvenir I bought a little Asterix character to place in my world travel case I have displayed in my home. My friends and family like to see all of the objects, and where I have been.
The next morning, August 14th, Christophe dropped me off at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport where it all began 20 days earlier. It was great “living the French life,” and I’m going to miss all of my old and new French friends, but Christophe and I already are planning for 2013. For now it is “au revoir,” that is “see you again,” and next month I’ll be “living the German life,” but not before a little time at home to catch up on things and enjoy the remainder of summer in Southern California. One of the first things on the list when returning was a good old fashion American breakfast and hitting the beach to do a little surfing.
Be A Hard Target.
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