Reality-Based system in South Africa By Jim Wagner
The post office in Kibler Park just 20 kilometers outside of Johannesburg was filled with customers waiting in the queue to send their parcels and to purchase stamps. Suddenly three of the “customers” pulled AK-47s from long cardboard boxes that has been cleverly disguised with addresses as to appear like parcels. One was even marked in large red letters HANDLE WITH CARE. Suddenly, one of the robbers yelled out, “Don’t move or you die. Give us everything. Watches, jewelry, wallets, everything!”
One of the store clerks tried to make a run for it, and this caused a domino effect making a customer to panic who in turn tried to run to double layer security doors. There was no way he could make out both doors alive. At almost the same instant there was a loud BOOM! Then things went totally out of control. The other two men shot at the fleeing customer and he immediately collapsed to the ground in a clump.
After the carnage I yelled, “Johan, you’re dead because you induced the chase instinct phenomena from the gunman. Don’t make sudden movements or run if you cannot be in a safe zone by the time he fires. You weren’t convincing in looking dead. Plus you were ‘flagging’ (making a slight movement with the heel of the foot)!” I turned to Adélle, “Good! You survived because you stayed to the edges of the room, your Position of Advantage, and were not caught in the Center Mass area.” I then turned to one of the robbers, Garth, and complemented him on his brutal tactics.
This event that I described was not in some exotic international location where South African citizens take their vacation, but it was a simulated gang robbery in Johannesburg – the type one sees all too frequently lately. The real customers were not really customers at all but martial artists taking part in the Reality-Based Personal Protection courses taught from March 10th to 18th.both in Durban and Johannesburg.
When I landed in Durban, and walked out of the airport I felt the hot muggy subtropical air. The Durban airport sits right along the warm Indian Ocean. As soon as I emerged from the customs gate Morné was there waiting for me.
“Welcome to South Africa” he greeted me. “Do you need time to shower and rest?” “No” I answered, “I’m ready to teach. Let’s go.”
It was a miracle that I was even there at all. I was suppose to have been in Durban a day earlier, but the security agents at gate 38 in Frankfurt airport in Germany would not let me board my aircraft. They told me that the last page in my passport was technically the back inside cover and could not be used for my South African visa to get into the country. I told the supervisor, “Look, all that the South African Consulate told me in Los Angeles was that I needed one blank page in my passport, and I saved this page for my trip.” To them it didn’t matter. I was screwed, because the rest of my passport was full. Every page was stamped from traveling all over Europe, South America, and the Middle East. She apologized, but she would not let me board the aircraft. However, she did tell me that the American Consulate was located in Frankfurt. That was a small glimmer of hope.
At 6 a.m. in the morning I was first in line at the Consulate. I stood in the cold dark for 45 minutes slapping my arms and walking in small circles to stay warm. Finally at 7:30 the sun was up and the window opened as 100 people stood in line behind me.
The clerk said to me, “It is no problem, we can add new pages to your passport.” Two hours later I was back in a taxi on my way to Frankfurt airport. I got my new airline tickets, at an extra 100 euros, and 12 hours later, after a nice walk around the center of the city first, I was flying the length of Africa: Libya, Dakar Sudan, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and finally into Johannesburg.
When I arrived in my Durban class, a couple of hours late, I apologized to my 24 students who were anxiously waiting for me, but which Morné had filled the morning with some good alternative training.
I was in Africa to teach introduction courses. Morné was not sure how the Reality-Based Personal Protection system would be accepted in his country and opted not to do the full Level 1 program. Yet, to our pleasure, after the end of the courses in Durban and Johannesburg many students came up to me telling me that they would take Level 1 courses and even get instructor certified when I return next year in 2008.
The Reality-Based hands-on courses that I personally taught in Durban were: Defensive Tactics (everything a person needs to know for hand-to-hand conflict), Ground Survival (how to survive on the ground in a wide variety of violent crimes), Knife Survival (a real eye opener that is like no other martial arts system in the world), and Crime Survival (learning about what really happens to people, and not just training them for the proverbial “pub fight”).
After my first day of teaching I had a chance to see how real Afrikaners (Dutch heritage) live, because Morné invited me to stay with him and his family in their spacious home with a true African motif – a Zulu shield on the dinning room wall, thick dark wood furniture with Safari animal print fabrics, and earth colored tile floors.
While it was winter back in Los Angeles it was the end of summer in South Africa. That night I was sleeping in just shorts, without a blanket, with a fan blowing all night ling to make it cool enough to get a good night sleep.
The next evening after teaching my two Sunday courses I was in for a real treat. The Swanepoel family and I sat under their lapa (large wooden poles in a circle holding up a grass roof in the backyard) as Morné placed meats on the barbeque; or as they call it “braai.” Afrikaners are very family, and friends, oriented and love to hang out in their backyards to eat, drink, and socialize while the kids run and play and try to catch geckoes on the walls and ceilings.
The next evening the Swanepoel family had a very traditional Afrikaner dinner called poitjie kos, which is like a thick soup with large chucks of meat an vegetables cooked in a big rod iron pot over burning sticks. Needless to say, it was delicious. I would have loved to have carried one of those iron pots home with me, but hauling it all over Europe and back to the States would have been a chore, and shipping home something that heavy would have been quite expensive.
On my day off, Monday, Morné showed me around downtown Durban, also known as The Golden Mile, which is the tourist area. However, tourism has dropped off considerably over the past few years, and parts of the city are outright dangerous. Just a week before my arrival in Durban a French diplomat and his family were gunned down and killed by gunmen in front of a local mall. It was a carjacking – a common occurrence in South Africa where the murder rate is the highest of any Western country. Morné took me to the very spot where this unfortunate incident took place, and true to the area there were some unsavory characters there when we drove by. During the impromptu tour Morné lamented, “When I was a boy I used to play and hang around this area. Look at it now. I could never let my boys walk around here. They are too naïve, and they wouldn’t last a day.” South Africa also has an extremely high child abduction rate.
On the first Wednesday of my trip I also had a “bonus course” where I taught a live-fire handgun course at the Hammond Range located one hour outside of Durban in the subtropical hills. Attending this course were beginners all the way up to security specialists with advanced shooting skills. Fortunately, I was even able to each the “old dogs” some new tricks. One of my top shooters there was Du Toit Lambrechts who is the operations manager for Gauteng Protection in Weltevreden Park. He also runs Defensive Training Concepts www.defensivetraining.co.za
I have taught hundreds of firearms courses over the years and it is always a thrill to run a hot range blowing my whistle, hearing the CRACK! of rounds and smelling the burnt cordite in the hot summer air. Only this time the backdrop was the beautiful African scenery. During lunch at the range snack bar I had an authentic South African hot dog. It is similar to an American hot dog but with a slightly bitter taste and a strange speckled gray color.
On the way home Morné drove me through some of the poor neighborhoods where most of the homes are little more than tin shacks. It is one of the many contrasts of the country where the first world standards live side by side with the third world.
During two evening, Tuesday and Thursday, I taught Morné’s regular evening classes. The students were enthusiastic and appreciative. The first evening I went over choke hold escapes and on the second evening it was all scenarios relevant to South Africa – carjackings, multiple gunmen, robberies, and kidnappings. Although the gun laws are becoming increasingly stricter each year South Africans are able to legally carry knives, pepper spray, and expandable batons. Therefore, much of the training included using these legal weapons in self-defense scenarios.
Morné and I then caught a British Airways flight to Joburg. As we were climbing out of Durban Morné pointed out several kilometers of shacks that littered the hills and I snapped some digital photos. During the rest of the flight we talked about marketing strategies for his business and how we were going to promote next year’s courses. I told Morné, “Unfortunately, due to my schedule and the limited market, South Africa is a once a year trip.” There are approximately 50 million people in South Africa where 3 million are white (Afrikaners and English), 2 million Indians, 2 million colored (white and black mix) and 43 million blacks. Unfortunately, not one black signed up for any of our courses even though it was open to all South Africans. So, essentially Morné has a limited population pool to advertise to who are interested in the martial arts. In addition, the South African Martial Arts Illustrator, South Africa’s #1 martial arts magazine, has a circulation of less than 3,000 copies. Yet, despite the small amount of martial arts participants in the country Morné managed to fill to capacity six courses, and half fill three courses. Morné told me, “I am already one of the best known martial arts instructors in South Africa with a thousand students in four locations, so dominating this country with the Reality-Based Personal Protection system is my next goal. It won’t take long, and it is needed here.”
On a tragic note, the night we got to Joburg two tidal waves battered Durban (the KwaZulu Natal coast); the very beach where Morné, his sons and I had been swimming the day before. We all had noticed that the Indian Ocean was quite turbulent, and dared not venture too far out into the surf.
The waves that literally came up into the city were reported to be higher than 6 meters (around 18 feet). 20 people were missing and several injured after the two waves hit between 2 am and 3am. The waves actually penetrated into beachfront businesses, lifted up and threw cars, and 20 people had to be rescued off of the roof of a hotel in Isipingo. Metro police were called in to prevent looting. Rescue boats combed the area to look for bodies and assess the damage.
The tidal waves were believed to have been caused by high winds on the seas in combination of high tide.
In Joburg I had a chance to meet Morné’s parents who were a lovely couple and very hospitable. As tradition would have it we ate barbequed meats outside in the warm evening air, but dry compared to the east coast, and washed it all down with ice cold Castle South African brand beer. Throughout the night we talked about the Cricket World Cup going on in the West Indies, Afrikaner history, and South African Politics. It was quite an education for me. Of course, one theme that always came up in conversation with anyone I came into contact with was the worry of increasing violent crime. In every neighborhood you go to the residents all have burglar bars, car gates, spear head fences, and even a large number of homes and gated communities have electric fences and concertina wire. In fact, when Morné and I were leaving for one of our courses in the morning in Durban he saw a coke can sitting on his driveway outside of the security gate when we were pulling out. He stopped the car he immediately said to me, “They marked my house!” He first scanned left and right and then stopped and got out of the car to throw the can across the street into some bushes where it disappeared. He got back into the car and told me, “The criminals mark houses with different colored bottles or cans. Red might mean a ‘hard target,’ while an orange label from a Fanta bottle may mean that the occupants are at work during the day.”
The bottle or can looks like just trash someone dropped, but they are markers for a criminal team to come in. Sure enough, when we were in Joburg Morné’s wife called us and told us that two of their neighbors next to them were burglarized. Perhaps Morné tossing the bottle away and the two big guard dogs he has had something to do with the bad guys passing up their home…
My first course there was Improvised Weapons (using everything except a knife and firearm), Conflict Conditioning (preparing the mind and body for conflict using drills and exercises from the world’s elite units), Control and Defense (a course dealing with chokes, holds, citizen arrests, and positional asphyxiation), and we ended with Terrorism Survival (learning to survive everything from a hand grenade attack and small arms fire to where to sit on various forms of public transportation). This was our least attended course because many South Africans do not think the country has a terrorism problem. Although this is true, in the sense that there has not been Islamic terrorism here, many of the vicious crimes committed in South Africa fall into the category of Terrorism Survival. After all, a home invasion with five or six gunmen is not the norm in Europe or North America. Police roadblocks with fake police who will carjack you for your car are things you may find in Baghdad, but not in Western nations. These may not be “terrorist attacks” per se, but they are definitely terrorist tactics, and thus this course is much needed in today’s society.
All of the Reality-Based courses were organized by Morné Swanepoel, Reality-Based Director of South Africa. He was certified by me as an instructor after studying with me in New York City. Soon afterwards, seeing that he was an excellent martial artist and good businessman, I appointed him as my representative for South Africa.
This was the first time that I taught my Level 1 courses in South Africa. In fact, it was my first visit to the country. The majority of the students attending this event were martial arts instructors from all parts of South Africa, but it also included Garth (the owner of a successful security and personal protection company www.delta01.com), Justin Willmers (a firearms instructor who also owns and operates a security supply store called Blades & Bows in Durban), and members of Gauteng Protection. The other attendees were students who signed up for individual courses, and not the whole week, which is allowed. The Reality-Based system is a modular system.
Despite the many problems within South Africa it is a beautiful country with spectacular scenery. Most of the people I came across, of all colors, were friendly and courteous. Those learning self-defense are just as dedicated as anywhere in the world, and when given a chance to train in the Reality-Based Personal Protection system they are sold on the system.
Just before I left Africa I bought lots of artwork and goods: carved woods, jewelry boxes, a Zulu shield and spear set, clothing, and jewelry. The U.S. dollar was much higher than the South African Rand (7.58 %), and with most things being inexpensive on the whole, I left the country with a suitcase full of treasures.
My trip to South Africa was a wonderful experience, and Morné Swanepoel did a fantastic job in organizing and running the courses. My hopes for my next trip is to attract black martial artists, to have representation from the majority of the population, and to certify several instructors who can further spread the system in each of the states.
Just before I left for my trip to South Africa, as I was in the KPN Internet café in Amsterdam International Airport checking my emails, I received a message from my Reality-Based Personal Protection director of the Nordic countries, Peter Falk, who informed me that a Swedish television company, Nordisk Film TV, wanted me to travel to Stockholm, Sweden to demonstrate my Reality-Based system for a new T.V. series that will air on prime time television in Sweden starting around the middle of April.
Fortunately for me I had a week of free time in Amsterdam after my trip to Africa, and right before I was to teach my Level 1 course from March 26 to 30.
I had appeared on Swedish T.V. back in 2004, and that is exactly how I met Peter Falk, because he had seen me and contacted me to find out about my system. The host of this new show, Musse Hasselvalls, remembered me from when he filmed the show about me in Los Angeles and wanted me to appear on his new show with his co-host Jarmo Ek.
While in Africa Peter Falk wrote to me again and said that the producer was going to pay both of us, fly us to Stockholm, and put us up in a hotel in Stockholm. I agreed with the terms and told Peter to set it up.
As soon as my plane landed in Amsterdam, after an 11 hour flight up the continent of Africa, I picked up my stand by e-ticket at the SAS ticket counter, and proceeded to kill six hours at the airport. That was fine with me since I had to finish up my newest book for Ohara Publications. Fortunately for me Schiphol airport is one of the nicest in Europe and I was quite comfortable there.
When I finally landed in Stockholm at 21:30 hours I made my way to the hotel in the center of the city. I got a quick bite to eat, and then slept for 10 hours. I was exhausted from the flight from Africa, and the long layover in Holland.
After a great Swedish breakfast in the four star hotel I was staying in Peter knocked on my door at 9:00 am. We were supposed to have been picked up by the film crew at 10:00 am, but they were running a bit late and it turned out to be at 1:00 am. Peter told me that the two hours of free time was enough to give me a good tour of the heart of Stockholm. Amazingly, I saw the major sites in just two hours: the parliament building, the residence and office of the Prime Minister, the bay, the Theatre, the posh neighborhood of the city, and the museum which houses the largest 16th century wooden war ship ever built, which capsized and sank on its maiden voyage in Stockholm harbor on its way to make war with Poland. Fortunately for future generations the ship was preserved in the mud for centuries.
At 11:00 am the T.V. crew and Musee picked us up at the hotel. Filming began the moment they shook our hands. They wanted everything on film. We then went to an actual theater, not the national theatre, in order to use the sage and lighting to demonstrate the Reality-Based training methods. Musse wanted an environment similar to my school in L.A. and he remembered my set up and wanted to recreate it. As everyone knows in the Reality-Based system “We see our school as a stage, not as a martial arts dojo.”