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Instead of the paranoid “looking for something that’s not there” mentality so many seem to perpetuate, why not make a game of it. Something that’ll keep you alert, aid in cognitive function, and increase intangibles like detail-attention, memory, and engagement with the actual world around you?

Instead of terminology and searches that increase anxiety or paranoia, I utilize terms that lighten my cognitive load and push the “play” aspect of my focus (singular) or attention (can be split). As well, most of these I pay attention to naturally due to my own preferences and self-comforts and try to find daily reasons for apart from the rare and paranoid chance I’ll end up in a physical conflict. For example:

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  1. Space. Generally it’s something I’m already coherent of due to the fact I’m Canadian and spatial-distancing is quite different here. With the previous-base and the pertinent adjustment, it’s something that comes naturally to me and likely anyone who’s ever lived in a foreign culture where proxemics are drastically different.
  2. Hands. Instead of adding to the paranoia, note the hand position with reference to greetings, handshakes, hugs, and visual-communication methods. That way, I can either rapidly pick-up on any social graces that I may miss out on as an expat, or dictate them myself in-advance if I’m uncomfortable, behind-schedule, or not wanting personal interaction with someone.
  3. Engagement. The chance or inevitability of having to interact with other people. Also something that’s natural to me, personally, as I’m not particularly outgoing or open so I generally (outside of kind greeting, projecting friendliness, and acknowledgement) try and make personal interaction a brief thing. I’m also sometimes taxed or conscious of my Spanish-language skills when speed, slang, and coherence are an issue….like on the street, early in the morning when people are frenetically on their way to work, or preoccupied with the necessities of their day.
  4. Surface. What’s most comfortable on your feet, factoring in the shoes you wear, and restrictiveness of lower-body clothing you have on? Cement, asphalt, concrete are all sometimes hard on my knees and back when wearing dress-shoes, far moreso than grass, sand, or carpet.
  5. Accessibility. As space is generally more enclosed and claustrophobic (at least for a Canuck from the Prairies used to wide-open spaces) here, I want to know (whether on-foot or by-car) that I have rapid-departure capability without the heavy traffic and poor-driving culture that usually permeates my day.
  6. Movement impediments. Unlike surface, which is horizontal, considering this the vertical equivalent.
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I DO NOT, as with the above, make this a conscious safety-issue as much as a daily-efficiency one…the safety element usually becomes a subtle byproduct of the rest. If you train your brain into noticing details for brain-engagement (as stated above – memory, detail-attention, social-engagement, focus, brain-function), there are far more benefits than the paranoiac ones fed to you so often hyperbolically that drain, exhaust, and fear-monger. That being said, all these can be reversed or manipulated when/if needed for purpose other than the daily variety. It acts as a sort of “combat-mnemonic” to set the brain non-stressfully for a time when that stress hits and it’s been subtly-conditioned to act without all the wear-and-tear. By then you’ve wired your brain to notice general things that aid you in the smoothness of your day….and clearly able to see important things that do stand out when necessary and should they be of value – instead of the perpetual stress-result we gain by being “jacked” all day….looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack instead of the elephant in the room.


As I’ve noticed a couple of threads on social media that both deride those from the West for their refusal to adopt Eastern martial metaphysical cultures…and the reverse, mocking by those Westerners over misunderstandings of  some southeast Asian ones, I thought I’d regurgitate a previous commentary on the topic. Both sides often are quite uninformed, though as always, people are free to judge based on their own misinformation openly in that forum. Note the following is from my experience and my knowledge given by some quite legit people within the southeast-Asian (predominantly Filipino) and Latin-American weapons community. On the topic of cultural superstition, the power of belief, and the metaphysical side of martial arts, I’ve researched quite thoroughly over the years and from very diverse sources….though I am not an expert.

The image below is an “anting-anting” (amulet in Tagalog) I was given by a close friend. It’s an amulet that can apparently only be gifted (and rarely done) to you by someone else…its power is supposedly taken away if obtained by yourself. It has long thought to have supernatural powers to the bearer….protection from harm, from evil spirits, from enemies wishing to do harm or wrong to you. I have friends….normal, well-adjusted, emotionally-stable friends….who will swear they’ve seen multiple people shooting at one hanging from a tree with an AK, and having every bullet miss with zero damage being done to the amulet. Curses or chants that’ve imparted ill-health, disease, and death.

anting-anting from the Philippines that I was gifted by a close friend

This one is a chain/pendant, but through history, anting-antings have come in many shapes and sizes, often claimed to have come from something in nature that stands out as unique or with special qualities. Talismans, good-luck charms, or a personal “rabbit’s foot.” Historically, men with bad ambitions have robbed graves to obtain the organs (the heart, for instance) of a past enemy or someone powerful and eaten it to “absorb” its power. Head-hunting to glean the head of an enemy or someone powerful. Histories of both good and bad spirits that can increase one’s power…or take it away. Animism has long been a part of combative/violence culture in a reverence, deification, or demonization of predatory animals, whose body parts many often carry around for protection or power. (HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, for example, noting the diagram below from Fiore. Colors – many a FMA-club wears red in some manner as it, in many parts of PI, drives-off or protects from evil spirits.

red Sikaran training pants

Dangerous spirits themselves, both good and bad, were another element of both fear, respect, and power. (In Batangas, where the family I learned from originates, for example they have the evil “Tikvalang/Tikbalang”, seen further down, which is a half-horse, half-human that causes travelers to lose their way and lose their sanity. As per all, there are superstitious ways to counter the effects of each spirit’s trickery, as well)

Orasiones (or chants, prayers, mantras) recited are another powerful entity in Filipino and Indonesian culture. Hilot (a healing method) also brings herbs, liniments, and procedures designed to protect and ward-off curses, bad vibes, and such…as well as actually healing practices for illness and pain, whether placebo or actual. Ritualistic ceremonies with the earth, liquid, fire, and various other elements to cleanse evil vibes or feelings or impart bravery or fearlessness to the invoker. (involving specific times-of-day, days-of-the-month and a cleansing of the body/mind in some way) Winnipeg, my hometown, is the city in Canada that has the largest Filipino/Pinoy population in the country and, wearing this chain at the park and downtown has drawn a number of both fearful and respectful looks, at various times. Apparently a foreigner wearing one reflects connections, ingrained presence in the culture, and respect for adhering to the culture. It’s often a dark side of martial culture we hear little about and few delve into…for reasons fairly self-explanatory. A Pinoy woman, neighbor to my parents, was told by my father that his son had previously studied arnis/FMA intensely for a time and that alone caused her to cut off the topic and, inevitably, the conversation.

Many mock this as in the same category as “chi” or imaginary powers. While there are some correlating disbelief aspects, the context here may be a little different based on historic-significance. Being willing to cut an enemy’s head off, eat an enemy’s heart to gain his power, or penetrate them with a big knife repeatedly because a deity is telling you too and you have divine protection, is a little more disconcerting than believing you can keep someone at bay with an imaginary forcefield. One may be blind faith, the other a false justification to do unjust acts. Deep-seated belief drives both, though, undoubtedly. My instructors always taught me that one aspect of the orasiones or agimats/anting-antings was that, if utilized for evil or bad, they lost their power.It was also historically, from what I’m told, a way to motivate Pinoys into battle against far stronger and better-trained forces who’ve previously invaded – the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, for example. How better to drive people into battle knowing that, although enemy forces are far greater, we have powerful spirits, magical entities, or God himself on our side.

To be sure, other global weapons systems are also not immune to these elements, either. HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, for example, noting the diagram below from the Italian, Fiore dei Liberi. On the Argentinean pampas, they too have their own rituals and superstitions. Drawing first-blood in a mutual knife-fight or duel showed greater skill and “branding” one’s opponent for life with one’s “personal” mark. Hitting one with the flat-of-the-blade in a duel showing greater prowess and being the ultimate derogatory insult, mystical power associated with certain blades. The Indonesian kris was purported to be able to fly, kill, and act of its own volition. Weapon arts and weapon cultures, in general, often have this metaphysical element present should one explore deeper, to be sure.

We sometimes laugh, but belief and placebos are extremely, extremely powerful tools in the undeveloped/Third-World that override reality many a time, especially as they pertain to violence or power.  Empires have been toppled by belief, whether that belief has foundation, or is entirely built on a house-of-cards. Remember, too, that people in the 3rd-World or un-(or under-)developed nations don’t have that same mentality that those in the 1st-World have. Less hope, less to cling too with regards to future prospects, less opportunity – so they rely on outside sources to glean those elements, sometimes the taboo, ritualistic, spiritual, superstitious, or mystical. Whatever gets you through your day and allows you to sleep soundly at night. Hope comes from mysterious places when life is a perpetual struggle; and whether I believe in it or not, I respect that fact.

Here in Costa Rica the metaphysical element is omnipresent as well. Offshoots of the Catholic church that practice much of the above in spells, incantations, liquid- and smoke-cleansers, chants. Charm papers of the Virgin Mary or one’s personal/name saint to carry in one’s wallet for confidence or good fortune. An unerring belief that their life-course is dictated by God Himself and whatever happens, happens because of his divine hand. (“si Dios quiere…”) I’ve attended shamanic cleansings, “prayer groups” (read: cult) dressed in face-covering white flowing garb with chanting and mantras and incantations, had people put colored water on our doorstep as a curse or blessing (who’s to say for sure without knowledge of intent and placer). Reasons vary from gaining loyalty, assisting outcomes, granting protection of either aura/chakras/karma/fate or the physical person itself, or gaining the backing of spirits or divine powers.

I see people whose actual fight training may be lacking but, because of that belief structure and placebo-reinforcement, have become dangerous and self-believing. Remember, too, (and this can be important) that throughout all of this, any powerful superstitions and symbolic beliefs can also be manipulated and used against the believer with such deep over-reliance, as is always the case. Self-doubt, psychological damage, paranoia, and rendered “tool” ineffectiveness can also be equally-powerful tools with which to utilize against someone. Manipulation of one’s belief-system can be an equally-valuable tool to use against someone bent on harming you in some way. (another topic entirely)

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The tikvalang, half-horse, half-man.

However, contrary to what some instructors and exponents will tell you, this knowledge is NOT widespread nor a regular part of most modern FMA- or martial-training. It’s often ingrained in the culture itself. It is, however, there for those Westerners (and nationals) who delve deeper, want to learn more about where combat-culture derives from, and historically what purpose things were done for. Of the many Pinoys and Latinos I’ve talked to or am friends with, some don’t believe other than a likely hardwired wariness of the whole element. Some begrudgingly or respectfully acknowledge they’ve seen or heard of strange, unexplainable things, though their personal jury is out. Some believe deeply and intensely. ALL, however, know that belief and placebo are immensely-powerful drivers, regardless of the metaphysical reality of things. Even unfounded deep beliefs are a dangerously-powerful thing…and I’ve witnessed that here in CR in spades as well. Not proof of the spirit world…proof of the immense power of belief and self-reassurance itself and the human action(s) that can be justified…or at least self-justified…by it. No small thing, I assure you.


I have come to the honest realization that I’m not a great instructor. Seriously and with no attempt at sarcasm. There are those with more patience, care, kindness…those that were meant to be teachers. To impart knowledge. Regurgitate data and information. Cultivate learning through highly-evolved teaching methodologies. I, unfortunately, simply do not fall into that category….at least in-person, and not with the content I teach. I’m not a “gifted” instructor.

The saying “there are those who teach, and those who do” is curious in that, like all other catchphrases, context is often left wanting and binding (leaving you seemingly with only 2 choices from which to choose) is the norm. There are those rare people who can do both equally well in their field. There are also those who specialize at one or the other and kudos to them both….this article isn’t a critique in any way. It’s a personal self-assessment. I’ve always been more of a doer.

It was a perception-error that I felt I needed to understand. After recently having come to the above conclusion about myself, I started wondering why, upon which it became crystal clear. I’ve spent the last 25 years not learning systems, but learning how to fight. How to protect myself and my family. How to function. Be pragmatic. To take what’s of value from those systems for me, my body type, my mindset, my movement, my vision, my subjective (as combat-function is staunchly that…subjective) view of function. Selfish and focused. When I started teaching I wasn’t familiar with the idea of a syllabus, an organized curriculum, a formulated progression of material. Admittedly….and at times frustratingly. I was familiar with fight-function from the physical perspective. Granted, over the years, with the page and this very blog, I’ve covered a ton on emotional, psychological, social, anthropological, mental, and legal aspects but I’m referring to what I teach face-to-face from a physical-only standpoint.

At first this realization sincerely disappointed me as I had legitimately thought I was of equal parts from both categories. Not true, I discovered. What I am able to impart is functional skill-sets on a wheel that overlap and intertwine with others. Fundamentals. Base tools. And a very clear ability to see the natural movements and micro-details of how people move individually. Instinctively. Innately. I’ve started considering myself more a fight coach than a martial-arts instructor. Not that I’m some big weekend fighter or guy who’s been in 500 fights. Not a violence-junky by any stretch. Quite the contrary. But someone who, regarding armed martial systems, dueling, resistance, pressure, dynamic-environments, adaptation….can chip away clay. Sort-of a reverse osmosis. Whether it’s grappling, clinching, dueling, sparring, broken-rhythm, dynamic movement….I get the moving parts and how they interact with each other. And people learn from me by watching me, seeing me apply it against a resisting opponent, seeing me demonstrate it in real-time. I’m not (and never ever have been) a big (or particularly good) demo-guy. I’m really not good at looking beautiful or flashy. And none of my long(er)-term students look or move like me. They move to their strengths – which are staunchly different from mine, as is nature.

I am also not a good knowledge-regurgitator. I’m not good at cookie-cutter solutions to dynamic problems. Nor at creating a copycat-machine. Systems have worked for me, but they’ve generally been my servant, not the other way around. I’m not a dogmatic-adherent to them, I believe they’ve been put here to help us understand things. A tool to aid, and then be discarded when one understands those things. Or at least to deconstruct and reassemble as needed when adaptation, diversity, or evolution are in need of changing.

I’ve always admired those with airtight teaching-methodologies, solid student-factories, patient and caring learning cultivators….mentors. The real-life “Miyagis”. Truly and no sarcasm. I am, however, not one, as much as I may wish that weren’t so. That my shtick isn’t to perpetuate and continue the genealogical system-tree. But I will show you how the systems that I happen to be good at, and, without any intended arrogance, I am very good at some….work. And I’ve also discovered that that’s okay too. It’s important to know what you’re good at so as to best help people….and to admit what you’re not. I’m knowing more about “my lane” every year I do this.


Growing up on the prairies in central Canada (13 in Winnipeg, 21 in rural Manitoba), one’s body (and mind) became accustomed to extremely harsh winters. It was, and will remain, a threat unlike any other I’ve faced. In fact, Winnipeg is regarded as the coldest city on earth with 500,000 inhabitants or more. Winter lasts 5-6 months of the year – from mid-November through early-to-mid-April. Temperatures regularly reached -30-degrees Celsius, with some every winter hitting -40. That wasn’t yet factoring in something on the wide-open spaces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and eastern Alberta called “wind-chill.” It was a regular occurrence for the meteorologist on the evening news to mention “It’s -33, -48 with the wind-chill.” The strong winds went unimpeded across the province due to the landscape. It was, as my Costa Rican wife says, simply brutal. Exposed skin could freeze in a minute or less. Frostbite was a thing. A furnace dying became an imperative, same-day panic. Your car breaking down on the side of an isolated roadway in a blizzard could be life-threatening.

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Yet, people adapt. Bodies adapt. Manitobans are known for being tough, resourceful, resilient..and hard…but warm people. You learn to bond together. In a survival context, you learn a ton of methods that become simply daily-living. What to wear. How to drive or re-calibrate your summer driving. How long to be out or outdoors. What to pack or bring. How to prepare. Hell, I remember warming myself up when chilled or stranded at times using my mind. Willing myself warm. Regulating my breathing and warming extremities with thought on days where it was almost unbearable. Imagine, too, the added desperation and survival-need this climate brings (or changes) for street criminals, the homeless, lower-class subcultures, and the changes in violence-dynamics that it could bring.

Here, Costa Ricans are always shocked by my ability to adapt to the hot climate here as there perception is often that Canada is a winter-wonderland 365/24/7. At the beach, it gets to 40-degrees Celsius here and it doesn’t affect me particularly much. Back home, we had 35 in summer as well, a dry Prairie heat with a hot wind. That’s a 75-degree shift in the weather that the body has to adjust and become acclimatized to. No small feat when you think about it and an amazing capability of the human anatomic wonder. The body has an amazing built-in climate-adaptor on top of everything else. Having been in CR for 9 years now, reflection gives insight and has made me look back in amazement at how profound that really is for people that live there for a lifetime. People in this culture simply cannot imagine or fathom what it’s like to live in that climate. In that terrain. With those particular dangers. Really, innate survival-skillsets are limitless….and unlike what many will tell you, most often enough. Human physiology, adaptation, and evolution is a marvel. They’ve gotten us this far long before systemized combat systems became a thing.

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In hindsight, 2 things to be gleaned from this:

  1. Growing up in that environment shaped who I am today. It gave a certain resilience, toughness, and adaptability that is reflective in my outlook, my training methodology, and my perception over the holistic sphere of self-preservation
  2. When we talk about “environment” being such a factor in counter-violence and personal safety, that “environment” is most often reflected in class of upbringing, level of violence exposure, nature/nurture, quality of life, risk-assessment…..and justifiably. However, that “environment” that shapes us into who we are can also refer greatly to climate, Mother Nature, greater environmental dangers, and the survival tools and skillsets we cultivate from the above, specific to that environment.
  3. I am not unique or rare because of this. Quite the contrary, everyone has their adaptive environments that cultivate specialized and niche areas of survival-culture. Exactly the point. How do yours transfer to your personal mind-body personal-safety arsenal? Think on it for a time, bet you’ll come up with some things you weren’t consciously aware you possessed…


This is a sticky one, be cautious and take some time to evaluate. Here are some facts to help you make your assessment:
1. Zicarelli had already turned himself in and admitted to the crime.

2. He was already handcuffed and under-arrest when the beating started.

3. The beating did not happen immediately upon child-recovery – it happened back at the station. (meaning there was a gap between initial response and engagement with the suspect, important)

4. While Zicarelli was handcuffed, Hallgrimson sat on his chest while beating him.

5. It was apparently all caught on the body-cam of another officer.

6. The FBI is also investigating this case due to an agreement signed by the KCPD (Kansas City Police Department), based on 4 previous cases under investigation involving officer-involved shootings and excessive-force complaints by the community.

7. As a professional, he did not act with self-control, restraint, and discipline, especially with current media and FBI attention, while on the job, in front of the public/co-workers and with a restrained civilian.

Now, some further points to add:

1. Hallgrimson, regardless of your assessment and feelings, was a hero for helping save this 6-month-old child.

2. Trying to drown your child is a heinous, reprehensible act regardless of legal bureaucracy and I am hardly stating that I might not do the same thing upon handling this case, but I’ll keep my personal feelings as to what should happen to the father out of this, though I’m sure you can guess exactly what they are, knowing that I’m a father as well.

3. It is not easy being a law-enforcement officer and having to see the worst side of humanity daily, well-acknowledged and hardly blamable when/if it gets the better of them sometimes….they are staunchly human, like the rest of us.


I often find myself wondering, if nothing more than out of curiosity: If we were in times of serious survival-duress and not the generally-safe times we live in, would our perspective on functional violence-training change, and change rapidly?  Would there be a sudden and drastic paradigm-shift in focus? An upkeep/maintenance mentality is much different than a daily-usage one….energy-conversation could very well be a thing. I often mock many hardcore, ultra-serious combatives instructors for their training for a post-apocalyptic world. The “Mad Max” approach to modern personal protection. Overkill. Excessive. Paranoid. Hyper-vigilant. Not my style in any way.

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However, we do live in a world with some long-term (hopefully?) species threats. Growing artificial-intelligence (AI). Cloning. An ever-growing over-reliance on the Internet for communication, business, finance, knowledge…..which begs the question of what a downing of the grid would do. A world gradually decreasing in natural resources/water shortages/climate-destruction. Nuclear war among super-powers with growing technological arsenals. Political upheaval/unrest and population division/segregation. (The term “civil war” gets tossed around regularly across the globe these days and the widening gap between classes is a wonderful divider)

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I’m sometimes curious as to how my violence/counter-violence prep might be altered (more streamlined/ultra-efficient/tailored-to-fit?) based on survival-need…especially if your approach is more holistic and not one-dimensionally physical. What parts of my training would I immediately take-away? Which ones would become more paramount? Which that I don’t put any focus at all on now, would become integral then? Would I need an entire paradigm-shift or is my current-training relatively on-par in at least a number of pertinent areas with which to build a foundation and add as needed? What abilities am I void of that would pay to invest some immediate study and formulate ideas? It’s not paranoia to at least gloss-over where your skillsets, knowledge, training, and experience lie and would or might need alteration should macro-context suddenly and irrevocably be altered…and how those would change depending on that particular macro-context. As usual, something worth a little thought, self-assessment is always valuable.


Lately the online chatter and rush to self-promote and corner the market has gotten pretty loud, maybe if nothing but in my own head as it becomes ever so tedious. It seems every SD/MA/combatives instructor and his/her dog are coming out with their superior and elite version of combat and conflict reality. Podcasts. How-to articles. Youtube videos. Marketing gimmicks. Unbeatable techniques. Exorbitant self-promotional claims. 5-step cookie-cutter approaches for all who come their way. Evvvveryone is trying to set the market and have their voice heard above the chatter. Allll to set themselves apart from everyone else in the industry and be unique….usually with amazingly unique experience that no one else could possibly have. (As an aside, from personal experience, case studies, videos…..most violence seems to have a lot of similar and overlapping traits so I’m not sure how everyone’s experience and approach can be such a unique snowflake in the life-blizzard but, hey, digressing…)

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I’m planning on being relatively short here, considering the potential vastness and complexity of the topic. All of the above are ironically confirmed by a quick look at how people process information in their world. Everybody’s experience is staunchly unique, to be sure. First, let’s quickly define what “perceptual filters” are. Perceptual filters are the lens one looks at, assesses, and perceives the world around them and the events within it. It’s the criteria that they use to make decisions and deductions about important input. Decipher the information present(ed). Analyze situations. Form opinions. Develop “databases” and the framework for future like scenarios or situations. But where do they come from? How are these elements cultivated? From what sources?

1. Experience/experiences (events and decisions in life that shape our way of looking at things and making future decisions)

2. Nature (personal values/beliefs/morals/internal wiring/personality/mindset) *nature/nurture can tend to overlap and have influence on each other, so as to be clear

3. Nurture (parental grooming-influence/learning from example/upbringing/familial structure/familial dynamic/imparted lessons)

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4. Environment (surrounding people/habitat/neighborhood/influencers/micro-cultures)

5. Culture (rituals/superstitions/social norms & acceptances/taboos/practices)

6. Age/gender/race/class (filters and their assessment can dramatically change whether from a woman’s perspective vs. a man’s, a black person vs. a white one, older vs. younger, poor vs. well-off)

7. State/momentary physiology (tired/angry/sad/happy/distracted/euphoric/bitter/drunk/high/ stressed/aroused)

8. Long-term health/condition (mentally-ill, with disease or illness, disabled, gas-lighted)

9. “Mission statement”/spirituality (religious, agnostic, atheist, spiritual)

That’s quite a few (likely among a few others) that make the information-processing part of the human equation pretty intricate and unique to the individual, don’t they. To sum it up, everybody’s life-experience is uniquely individual. However, that also means that, if everybody’s perceptual-filtering mechanisms create amazingly unique perspectives and experiences….it also means that nobody’s a special snowflake in the snowstorm. All of our experiences help construct a “best-possible scenario” each time a decision need be made….including during a violent or conflictive or confrontational one.

Of course, as mentioned in a previous article ( ), the things we do with this information aren’t always accurate either as we all distort, delete, and generalize it to fit our current narrative or the one that’s needed at the time…both of which can change over time as perspective is gleaned, time passes, and memories become distorted. And, if this applies to most potential students…it most certainly also applies to your neighborhood self-defense guru, as well.

So, regarding the “seller”. How did your experience develop? What was your environment? What was your contribution to those experiences? Was most of it necessary or were you an active escalator…are you aggressive and confrontational? Context….was it in a war-zone or violent inner-city…safe surburban-living in middle-America…or in a war-torn country or undeveloped nation? From being a professional with a greater willing/obligated exposure to aggression…a doorman or LE officer or security guard, perhaps? Lots of questions should be asked on how your potential instructor’s perceptual-filters have developed his/her view of the world….and, more importantly, how they can correlate with yours. If your coach claims expert status because he’s been in 6,000 fights and can’t for the life of him avoid violence in any way with that lightning-quick trigger….maybe teaching you soft skills isn’t his lane. The reverse is also true. If you’re an infantry-person on the way to Afghanistan at the start of declared-war and your coach is a de-escalation, classroom-instructor solely with minimal pertinent experience, maybe he/she isn’t the right information source for you.

So, what then is my point? Well, the fact that so many are trying to claim that they have the market cornered on human experience, deeply-subjective topics, and each person’s universal needs….is pretty pretentious, in the least. Downright dangerously arrogant and blind at worst, considering we’re talking about “personal” safety. While this is, as stated, a deep topic for expansion, noting the above, my will is just for anyone reading this to exhibit a “buyer beware” approach to self-defense/martial arts hyperbole. Nobody has all the answers. No one source is so much better and more qualified than all others that they’re the top resource or final authority in the industry or on all things fighting. Nobody tells more than a partial truth from their seated position….readily including myself here as well. Really assess what it is that you feel you’ll be needing with your lifestyle, environment, culture, and dynamic. An honest self-assessment is usually the first stage in developing an idea towards that need. Your experience by-proxy is but one element in a matrix of others needed to learn functional personal-safety…


Ever pick a topic of study that’s simply not your specialty, just to see what random thoughts come in your head if you had to utilize the skillset on-the-spot? While surveillance is simply not my lane, I have formulated some ideas on things I’ve seen. I also like the challenge of exploring avenues outside that lane to glean greater perspective on parallel areas of study. I absolutely do not claim to be any sort of expert on this topic. That being said, where do my ideas delve from? A little background. I’ve been exposed here to a top security-company that subcontracted me for 3 years, been around top political reps in the country (they were friends of my late father-in-law with prior political-affiliation), and talked to various expat-PIs in the country. I’ve also been a foreigner living abroad for almost a decade, one that pays attention out of necessity. So I’ve seen a sliding-scale of various levels of surveillance. That being said, just some random thoughts from my (very) civilian (and novice) perspective and internal thought-process:

-the “secret service” here takes the standard Hollywood template – black suits, open earpieces, concealed-but-seen carry (visible printing), active contact, and somewhat invasive body language at a civilian event. To me, watching it, it was outdated and attention-drawing when there are subtle and protected (cellphone/outside tech) means of agent-to-agent contact available, garb that fits in more subtly with the surrounding public, and without drawing public scrutiny and anxiety.

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-P.I.s are far more brazen and uncouth but stand-out for other reasons as it’s a staunchly a North American thing, they’re not uber-present here and I have yet to see one from a local apart from LE stings. Here any white gringo that doesn’t speak Spanish, and doesn’t dress like the nationals is going to have a hard time doing surveillance himself without contracting locals (and that’s a trust issue where they can turn due to low-wages in that field), regardless of how efficient he thinks he is, especially with only civilian-background.

-I think with GPS-trackers, geo-tagging, easily-accessible low-cost bugs, and free cellphone apps, it’s more easy than ever to at minimum keep tabs on someone of-interest. I think I proved that with the profiling article from the license-plate I posted a short time ago. ( ) Information-gathering can be damn-near free and self-achieved.

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-people here/lower-to-middle class Latinos in-general are far more innovative than NAs when cutting-corners…out of necessity. They find efficient, cost-effective/free, easy, highest-percentage ways to accomplish a goal so a tail here can be far more serious when it’s present – most sicarios (contract-killers) make a hit from a motorcycle with 1 or 2 people and they (until the last second) look like any working-class guy on a bike. Sicarios here can cost as low as $50-100. Point being? Surveillance is rare here. P.I.s or surveillance teams are usually only hired by rich Ticos or North American expats with money. And most aren’t directing that money to low-class or majority-poor locals or foreigners. They’re not going to put out that kind of money unless the threat or danger is of the high-order variety.

-If being honest, “surveillance” in its most primal and base term is done by criminals staking-out a potential mark for robbery, home-invasion, assault, etc. In fact, we just had one here a couple of weeks ago checking us out. Feigning being a long-time neighborhood resident, asking for some money as he’s fallen on hard times (though wearing a pressed white dress-shirt, carrying a clean black backpack, and wearing non-ripped jeans), asking questions about the property, asking to be let out the gate again (thought he was trapped inside, either faking or a tactical error). They check-out the area for escape routes, ask very specific questions, check the security, see how homes are set-up and with how many people, what kind of value could be obtained, etc. And they can be quite effective in spite of the brazenness. I followed him for a time and he didn’t go to one other single house in the area. Again, point being? “Surveillance” does not need to be done with tech, from a car, over a certain time-period. It can be surprisingly simple and basic…again, if one has intent and motivation. These are a far-greater concern than the surveillance-guy in his car outside the house. I busted an employee next door by planting an ipod in a pillow and caught him stealing $1000 over lunch-hour from my sister-in-law. They had never thought of it and weren’t proactive at all in options for stopping the theft. I solved it in 12-hours.

-Doing a self-check on how you’d do surveillance on your own living area gives great perspective on how you’d do it on someone else. How would I access me if I were the target. Are you in a compound or gated community with access code or security? Are there high-ground vantage points to assess the area? Can you enter the area as a guest or professional in any way? Can you gain accessibility doing what the above gentleman did? It’s what I’d do. Then, if able to not draw attention, be authentic, subtle, outgoing, and get information from comments and subtle casual questions. Take photos/video as needed of accessibility, entry/exit points, best vantage-points from distance, number of people/staff on-premises at any given point, visual access/acuity-points, dogs…maybe stumble into a couple of restricted-areas by accident trying to find your way-around.

-Staying at a target’s location, takes advantage of people’s Hollywood belief/perception that all surveillance is from a distance, from someone whose last wish is to interact with you, and that it’s high-tech. The minute you put money into their business, compliment them, show an interest in their perspective on things…their paranoia and distrust most often goes elsewhere.

-I’m not a millionaire, CEO of a large company, heir to a small fortune, inventor of a life-changing tech product, or spy with insider trading secrets so the odds of me having high-level surveillance put on me are slim-to-none, if I’m being honest. So, in the words of a close friend and topic-pro, the vast majority of occurrences that make me paranoid that I’m being followed by a multiple-person surveillance team…are likely mere coincidences 9 times out of 10. On the chance they’re not, as high-order surveillance isn’t my lane, I’ll likely be reaching out to law-enforcement (if nothing but to establish precedence and open up a case-file) or tech/surveillance-professionals, whose lane it is. Then probably delve deeply into the reasons why I’d be a target considering my societal position. (erroneous target, a satellite to a known acquaintance with questionable ties, a financial-lender/creditor, high-order crime ring that perceives you having something of value, etc.)


So, who manipulates data? Government, business (individual or entire industry as we constantly see in martial arts/self-defense), media, social organizations with agenda. They utilize a grouping of information to create a narrative on a topic for specific reason, most often of benefit to them. The data itself could be entirely legitimate and authentic (though it may not be)….it’s how it’s spun that’s important, and most people rarely dig deeper and go “Hey, wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right….” Remember, there are multiple benefits to data manipulation and if it fits a person’s narrative, they will often support their angle of it even if it’s different from the original source that was manipulating the data in the first place.

With regards to crime, the entities information-alter for any number of reasons: to create or change a market or push value of product (security/arms/training/surveillance), to alter public-opinion (shift-of-perspective/vote-swaying/neighborhood growth), to reinforce personal/individual message, to play on public emotion (fear/anxiety/paranoia as propaganda), to create perceived need where there isn’t one. It’s often done very subtly yet suddenly. Remember “Inception”, that Christopher Nolan movie from a few years ago? “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.”

How is it done? Data can come in any number of ways and it always pays to research who the data was provided by and any satellite bodies backing or financing that data and why, what the sample-size is, and who stands to benefit by putting out said data. From the data-source, spinning a positive or negative message by selecting a skewed/cherry-picked portion of the data is often done. So is subtly changing the narrative of what that data actually means. This is accomplished by using a small sample-size to represent an entire geographic area, or to “chunk-up”/generalize and try to distract from a full-analysis of data as it pertains to a specific location/time/demographic. So what are some examples of this in the area of crime and violence?

*Telling people that an increase in in a certain kind of crime (murder, for instance) reflects a widespread elevation of violence, that crime is universally on the rise. Questions that need be asked: In what area? All parts of the city/province-state/country? Who’s getting murdered – is it a specific demographic? What were some choices made by the victim that could’ve altered the What were the victims doing, where, why, and when? Shouldn’t each case be assessed independently from others – with context and circumstance?

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*Issuing public-warnings or alerts to alleviate responsibility. When there were 3 separate female tourists killed here, I received almost immediate notice from the Canadian government, issuing security warning on higher-risks of violence in CR to Canadian residents and ex-patriots. Not even close, though I get why they’re obligated to do this for their citizens abroad. All 3 incidents were unique unto themselves, isolated, contributed to by at least some victim-naivete, and crimes of opportunity. That was late last year, 2018. There have been no further tourist-murders since. Calm has been restored. No epidemic occurred. CR tourism has not generally could be expected. And the panic has gone quiet. But I bet the security, arms, and surveillance industries flourished for a time….and future votes were gained for the political-party righting the ship so quickly. (I’m not sure what they actually did but they promised lots originally and sometimes that’s enough, akin to a placebo) Questions that need be asked: Does it affect me directly? Are isolated incidents a reflection of the overall national safety? Who have been the targets and what could they have done differently? Do statistics reflect this warning?

*Creating false data from scratch. A few years ago when we had a medical tourism facilitation business, the statistics for foreign medical-procedure investment grew every year, according to the national medical-tourism promotional body. Often in double-digits. But whenever you’d contact the very same hospitals administration department where the statistics were supposedly compiled from, they were entirely perplexed, noting openly that they certainly weren’t the ones benefiting from this claimed increase. Note the promotional body projects these statistics globally (important for market-confidence), they’ve tried to get funding from the government-run international tourism board for years but to no avail (someone doesn’t seem to be buying the stats sheet), and they were in danger of becoming redundant (which they now are as they’ve been replaced by a broader-perspective body not at all limited to a small market-specialization) Questions that need asking: Data taken from? Source? Compiled by? Based on what sample size and from whom? Done by outside impartial entity?

*Media fear-mongering. Sensationalizing one story to build anxiety, stress, and fear in a market for viewership, popularity, and ratings. This is often the most transparent and easy-to-catch if one is coherent and questioning. Here we have a newspaper that posts dead bodies on the front page, shows open murdered corpses, half-naked women on the front, and glorifies violence. While one would think it wouldn’t have legs in a staunchly Catholic, conservative, passive-aggressive society….it’s quite the opposite. Remember, “all press is good press” for many and they’ve found a comfortable niche regardless of the comments on classlessness and inappropriateness abounding. Questions that need asking: How are their ratings? Do they have a history of hyperbole? What’s their personal agenda and what are their general political leanings? Who owns the station? How could they benefit from my knee-jerk reaction to their sensationalism?

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*Propaganda is byproduct of the avenues above and it can intentionally increase crime and violence as well. As we saw here in CR a short time ago, one video on Youtube from a supposed paramilitary group, coupled with (intentional?) rumors of natural resource/supply-and-demand shortages, government corruption, and a nervous population…and violence can be the product, not the cause. When you have political de-stabilization, lack of faith in the status quo and videos/pamphlets/fake news omnipresent, certain societal factions can be mobilized to rebel and unify. Governments, groups, and businesses know this. Violence can be created as well, rest assured.

Martial artists and self-defense authorities are noted for making vast, general claims about the state of current society to peddle fear and stress in potential clients….without the data. Crime is always rising. Murders are way up. Rapes are on the increase and women are in-danger. We’ve never lived in a more dangerous time. If you’re not learning (their) self-defense you’re naive and ignorant and nonchalant and should be shamed for not wanting to protect your family and lazy and a host of other ad-hominems they throw your way to guilt you into investing. There’s generally no data to back this up as, on the human timeline, we generally live in the safest time in recorded human history. They heard it on a promotional-snippet, heard a friend say it, have personal trouble avoiding conflict in their own life, relate their experiences and needs to every potential student’s, and a host of other context-delusional assessments that pertain specifically to them. Questions to ask: what style are they peddling? What program (women’s self-defense, seniors, kids, adult males) What’s their market? Do statistics and data back their claims? Does the current community level of violence jive with their promo-material?

The reality is that we “manipulate data” all the time. We generalize, distort, and delete parts of stories and anecdotes regularly to fit our narrative, manipulate (I mean, convince or influence….semantics, right) others, or convince ourselves of something we’re indecisive or unsure about. Communication is filled with these methods of filtering information….sometimes it helps us positively, sometimes not. Sometimes these perceptual filters are generally accurate, sometimes entirely off whether intentional or unintentional. So we do them as well….ad nauseum…to create our reality. We’re all experts at data-manipulation and propaganda, especially to ourselves. That being said, it should give proper perspective to take closer looks at information you’re fed…with an unbiased eye, or at least as unbiased as that eye can be.

Asking these questions and identifying the type of message and data being pushed go a long way towards understanding intricately the dynamic of how people can manipulate data and utilized propaganda to promote message….even on crime and violence. From what I see daily, current technological distractions and information-bombardment, coupled with personal factors like confirmation bias(es), decreasing attention-spans, micro-relatability – are huge factors in others’ ability to pull this off successfully. Relating to our personal safety and (especially) our stable mental health relating to it, be extremely cautious with the (often subliminal-)messaging you’re bombarded with. And ask the right questions….

(Thanks to Oleg Fadeev for the topic-inspiration.)


Being followed. I guess we should start by noting there are 3 areas worth exploring here, being followed while on-foot and moving, while in-car and moving, and being under surveillance while static. (I doubt many of us are worthy of ongoing covert surveillance so maybe I’ll leave that one to the PIs out there) We’ll Take note that I’m just a regular civilian with common-sense (which I like to think I’m blessed to have a fair amount of), not a highly-trained surveillance-operative. Maybe that’ll help you relate better to my particular experiences. I try and address safety concerns from my personal first-hand experience and perspective.

First, we should establish who (of the 5ws) would or might be following you as a private (generally) law-abiding citizen. Creditors/money-lenders/financial institutions, ex-girlfriends/wives wanting to catch you in some act, lawyers who may be planning case against you for false accusations or for employers/ex-employers, jealous spouses, someone with a grudge wanting to implicate you in something, envious family members….most often someone in our sphere of current/past interaction and very unlikely to be the FBI/CIA, government agencies, or hit-men. We’re usually not that important or glamorous, and hiring a private-investigator or surveillance team costs money that most lower-to-middle-class families or individuals simply cannot afford…at least not daily or weekly. As well, I’m not going to delve into male-on-female infatuation stalking as that entails an entirely different personal profile and safety-defenses. (these have powerful elements of emotional, personal, psychological natures)

For me over the years it has been ex-wife’s boyfriends/lovers, police (when younger for questionable activity or traffic infractions), a few road-raging drivers who feel I or the car I’m riding in has wronged him/her in some way or committed a traffic transgression, personal enemies. To think back, I’ve probably been tailed more than I should have due to poor lifestyle and friend choices earlier in life.

How to know for sure you’re being followed? With some of the above, it’s relatively easy. You spot them or their vehicle, maybe known close-affiliates. (friends/co-workers/family) Or you know you’ve committed a driving transgression or perceived one to somebody else minutes earlier. Other times it’s not quite so easy. Multiple consecutive turns can certainly help reveal. The 1st follow is normal, generally. A 2nd could be coincidence or similar route. A 3rd should definitely pique your curiosity and get your spidey-sense tingling, and a 4th should leave no doubt…has been my experience. Often either reveal intent or blow cover and nullify the pursuit. Sometimes they may be on to you and fall back in traffic, or pull over and wait a short time while watching where you go, or take a parallel street if they know the area. But if you’ve gathered some intel (which we’ll address a little later on), you should be able to pick back up on them when they re-integrate the pursuit.

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So what can we do. Well, first of all, don’t panic, “being followed” always has such stigmas, like that your life is in-danger or someone wants to kill you. Most times and for most average people, nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a specific reason you’re being followed and a reason the pursuant doesn’t want to be found out. So breathe (and continue to regulate your breathing), you’ll need calm to make some quick-thinking decisions while on-the-fly and if you’re panicked or deeply anxious or stressed, that’ll be more difficult to do.

Then make mental or physical note or hypothesis of the other 4ws & the how as well: why would the above be physically following you and what would they have to gain by it (information-gathering/intimidation/pattern-learning/living details/known affiliates), how (foot/vehicle/static surveillance/3rd-party questioning of acquaintances), when (times/days/conditions that may be consistent), where (is it the same ballpark locations? at the same places or general vicinity?)

Whether on-foot or in-car, call someone while being followed and let your pursuer know you’re calling while looking in the rear-view or making eye-contact if the pursuit doesn’t abate. Make sure to tell someone trusted to make note or file-away for future reference after the fact as well. Most pursuers don’t want 3rd-parties involved, don’t like being discovered, and aren’t fond of paranoid, nervous targets that can expose them or get them in trouble with law-enforcement or violence. There are times where simply acknowledging them and their presence may be a good tact but note that the information-gathering stops here, different methods of following you will be implemented, and at times hostility at being found-out could be the result. If yours is one of those times (and you’ll likely know by the context and type of follower it is) do it subtly…eye-contact or acknowledging greeting or genuine smile…don’t make a spectacle of it and keep it low-key. If feeling greatly threatened, make sure to open a police-report or call law-enforcement. Even if they won’t do a damn thing about it, it’s on-file and documented, should personal-defense or counter-violence means become necessary. It sets a precedent for future potential legal issues that may arise.

*As an asterisk to this, sometimes it’s prudent to not give away that you’re aware of their presence, if you’re information-gathering, for instance. Trying to learn more about your tail and their motives. If that’s the case, no peripheral head-turning while looking in mirrors, use your eyes alone. Sunglasses can aid here in preventing them from seeing pupil movement toward the rear-view mirror or in their direction if on-foot. 180-degree scans of the area while picking up whatever information you can as they pass into your moving vision. Try, while remaining attentive to traffic/driving and if pursued by car, to get the license plate number, make, model, color, and any identifying marks (bumper stickers/dents/unique features/paint scratches/rearview mirror hangings. Here in Costa Rica, as we’ve stated in a previous article, you can do a vehicle check online to find out owner, registration number, corporation names affiliated, and if you connect that name to social media and other online avenues, as we’ve shown, you can sometimes find out a ton of valuable information about your pursuer.

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If on-foot, make note of as many identifying features as you’re able to catch; these days you can even subtly take a picture of someone else, often without them knowing (feigning looking at or typing on your cell, reversing camera-direction on your camera-phone, or if low-threat outright taking a photo or video as they’re in-range to put them on-the-spot. Finding a security-camera to have them walk in-front of shortly after you can be another bit of evidence should any legal issues or proof be needed. Have a decoy that’s with you break-rank and circle around to take video is another.

Different elements that you pass can help gain info without revealing you’re on to your follower. Utilizing reflections in store-mirrors/stands/window-glass. If outside, silhouettes or shadows after turning corners to expose their identity or catch them in the act. Positioning yourself so the sun is in their face to gain momentary knowledge or escape. You can utilize poles, display stands, aisles, building-angles, corners, barriers, other people, and apertures where he/she can’t see you but you can see them for concealment or to gain advantage of view/vantage points/escape routes. Utilize crowded areas by ducking/lowering body/using serpentine routes instead of straight line and diving into stores along the path to utilize the above-mentioned strategies.

What about by car? You can lose them in traffic naturally if ingested, utilize sudden lane-changes or abrupt turn-offs from alternate lanes if they’re trapped in the other lane from you on 4-lane thoroughfares. I’d recommend ‘not’ getting out of your car at any point to engage or confront. Road-ragers, jilted ex-lovers, PIs, strangers with potential unseen weapons, even police will all have different, yet usually equally-negative reactions to this. Threat, defense, anger, aggression.

Change your routes daily, even slightly. Even if you narrow it to 2-3 different routes you’re comfortable with and alter the times you depart or arrive at daily destinations, even by minutes. As a foreigner who stands out here, I often take backroads on daily routes (also to avoid the horrible traffic here), change portions of my routes when a longer drive is in-order (as well as for a solution to boredom), and use route-apps to give me the best-possible route automatically (which fluctuates from day-to-day) when heading into ingested traffic-areas. WhatsApp is a great app to utilize for upcoming traffic-blockages, roadblocks, police-checks, fastest routes, high-volume traffic areas (car). It does use GPS but with the demographic that’s usually following everyday citizens, I doubt they’re concerned with tracking you via GPS and one can always turn off GPS in your car if you lose pursuer if it’s a concern….or turn it off to prevent tracking in the first place. And, yes, the technology is available to almost anyone to track phone numbers via GPS, as this article explains and I’ve tried first-hand:

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If the pursuit is aggressive or threatening, you can drive to/in front-of a police-station or call 911 while on-the-move as a deterrent or for assistance…but DO NOT lead them home or to meet the wife and kids for lunch. This last one applies to being on-foot as well. I cannot stress this enough and I made that mistake once when young. Nothing happened but it set an anchor for a lifetime even without the consequences.

As a rather common-sense element upon the realization you may be being monitored, cease posting your whereabouts on social media and turn off all apps that do so automatically (geotagging on Facebook & Instagram, for instance) I can’t stress this enough. I don’t use it at all. Ever. I don’t need to advertise when I’m not home and my house is unattended, don’t need to alert strangers on Facebook to my whereabouts, or tell the world what I’m doing and with whom.