A Camp Combines Krav Maga With Surviving in the Middle of Nowhere
Illustration by Noah Patrick Pfarr
On a blistering hot, summer Friday night, 65 people arrived at a campsite in the scrubby foothills of Brea for a wilderness survival camp called Krav vs. Wild. On the first evening, they learned how to maneuver in the dark, did hand-to-hand combat in the sand, practiced taking down an opponent, went on a mock intelligence mission and dispatched a few guards and attack dogs. They slept on cots in military-style tents, woke at 6 a.m., saluted the flag, ran a half mile to the sand pits for more combat, then fashioned improvised weapons for stabbing, crushing and throwing. Today, they'll be rotating through one-hour classes, including paintball, rock climbing, land navigation, archery and throwing tomahawks at severed pig heads.
It is, everyone decides, shaping up to be a pleasant weekend.
Now in its third year, Krav vs. Wild is organized by the training center Krav Maga Worldwide. Krav Maga is Israel's martial art. Instructors at the center figured their students might enjoy rounding out their personal badass-ness with wilderness skills.
It is the only event of its kind. While there are plenty of self-defense classes, and nearly as many wilderness-survival training events, organizers believe they may be the only one that combines the two.
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The general public is welcome to participate. Last year, as lead instructor Jon Pascal tells it, a man brought his wife as a surprise for their anniversary. The wife, Pascal notes, wasn't particularly athletic but "had a great attitude." Which is to say, she did not sue her husband for divorce.
"The survival mindset is something people work on the entire time they're here," Pascal says. "They use their Krav Maga fighting spirit, their losing-is-not-an-option mindset, to get them through."
Earlier this morning, in fact, a guy sprained his ankle but elected to stay. "He didn't want to stop." His teammates have been carrying him from place to place. "I'm gonna move him to his next station soon," Pascal says.
Pascal is 42, with alert, brown eyes and a relaxed demeanor. He started doing Krav Maga as a kid in suburban Northridge. He had a pretty good teacher — Darren Levine, the guy who brought Krav Maga to America. Over the years, the martial art has become a way of life for Pascal, a way of doing things and committing to things, of having "a high level of confidence" in himself no matter where he goes.
As he hops into his jeep, several young guys amble up. "We've still got rabbit blood all over our hands," one says, waggling his fingers.
"Oh good, good," Pascal says. "Wash up then before you eat or touch anything."
The rabbits, he explains as he drives, are for the foraging class. The first year of camp, "People had the opportunity to eat a live earthworm." Last year, it was crickets. This year, the organizers noticed an abundance of rabbits and squirrels in the camp area. "But we weren't going to ask people to kill the rabbits or gut the rabbits, and because a lot of the rabbits have fleas, we went instead and purchased rabbits that were for eating." They prepare those ahead of time. Live slaughter, Pascal reasons, "might be a little too aggressive" and best reserved for advanced study.
He drives on now past the 30-foot rock wall where people are learning to climb and belay and rappel. Then past the survival shelter station, where a makeshift hut has been torn down and rebuilt half a dozen times. He arrives at a small clearing where people are hurling tomahawks at clumps of wood. There is a pig head on the ground, and another one — bits of it, anyway — hanging from a chain on a tree. The pig heads also come from a butcher.
"How're you guys doing?" Pascal shouts. "Having fun?"
"Oh yeah!" A guy waves a stick of wood wrapped in barbed wire and grins.
"He improvised that weapon," Pascal says, proudly.
For some people, survival camp is basically a chance to walk around in combat fatigues and play Boy Scouts in the woods. For others, it's a chance to pick up valuable skills. All the instructors have special operations military or law enforcement backgrounds — they are U.S. Marines, or Army Rangers, or Advanced Interdiction Team Coast Guardsmen.
At the foraging station, Pascal spots the man with the sprained ankle — his teammates are carrying him up an embankment. "I love it!" Pascal calls out. "Why don't you take him up and I'll bring him the rest of the way?" He notices something a few feet away. "Oh," he says. "They've got the rabbit."
He tramps through the brush to where a partially skinned bunny is strung up on a tree. Of the instructor, Pascal says, "He taught this in the military. He'll show how to cut off the ears and make slits in them for goggles. You know, over your eyes? You might do that in a winter survival situation."
"Cut around the tendon 360 degrees to take the foot off," the instructor is saying. "As far as the feet, there's not a lot you can do with them."
"Key chains?" one guy suggests.
Nearby, the first aid instructor is discussing how to treat a sucking chest wound with a plastic bag and tape. "Simple solutions for complex situations," Pascal says. "That's what it's all about."
Most everybody is here to learn what his or her limits are. "You want to know what you can actually handle," attendee Kelly Campbell says. Her feet hurt, it's hot, and she is looking forward to washing her hair. But she will persevere.
The first year, they did sleep-deprivation training. That was tough. "They haven't asked us to do it, but I won't eat any bugs," she decides. "I won't do that for fun." After all, each camper is paying $199 to be here.
For Campbell, the most rewarding aspect has been the team building. "You realize it's OK to have weakness. We always expect people to put us down for our weaknesses. So we try to hide it. But here, people just accept it. They help you." When Campbell was struggling up a hill, for instance, one of her teammates threaded his belt around his belt loop, made her hang onto it and hauled her up.
At the archery range, Pascal encourages an exhausted girl. "It's OK," he says. "Breathe. Stay in it."
People come from all over the place to be pushed to their limit — Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Virginia. One fellow flew in from Peru.
At the paintball enclosure, Pascal greets a colleague, 38-year-old Richard Schatt, who came in from San Diego. Schatt has just run the course and is breathing heavily, shaking with adrenaline. Getting shot with a paintball can feel like being hit with a rock hurled at full speed. Schatt got shot in the head.
Like Pascal, he is a Krav Maga instructor. As such, he considers himself professionally fit. Still, the hardest thing for him this weekend is finding enough energy to do everything he wants to do.
"We leave it all out there," Schatt says. Did he feel like quitting at any point?
"No way," he says, at which Pascal smiles and adds, "That's not in his nature."
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