I don’t know how I first heard about Ed’s Manifesto. I can’t even remember whether it was on Facebook or Instagram that I first started following Ed. What I do remember is going through the content he posted and thinking to myself, “Self, this guy seems fairly well acquainted with violence.” A lot of people talk about mindset. Few are qualified to talk about it from personal experience, and fewer still possess the skill to articulate it as a teacher. At the core of all of the various topics around which one can wrap the label of mindset, is violence. Understanding it and how it can be used, as well as defended against, are critical for the martial practitioner, regardless of his discipline.
When I saw the Black Box material, I knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to go down that rabbit hole and see where it would take me. As the owner of a hosting company, it was a logical step to reach out to Ed and get the ball rolling on getting him to Oklahoma. We exchanged a few messages back and forth in August, 2016 via IG and the stage was set to get on his calendar for 2017. Around the end of September, Ed reached out rather unexpectedly with date availability for a class on November 19th & 20th. It was all I needed to hear. A short six weeks or so later, I was picking him up at Tulsa International for a weekend for which I still didn’t have a full picture of what was going to happen. That lasted about as long as it took to take him shopping for the supplies we’d need that weekend.
What this AAR will be is a brief description of the general anatomy of the coursework Ed presented. It will not be a detailed description. There isn’t that kind of time or space and, frankly, you just have to experience the work to fully appreciate the details anyway. It’s also worth noting that this was NOT a Black Box course. The core elements were there, but the full essence of Black Box is something altogether…different. As Ed described it, Black Box is a laboratory. Again, to know it one must experience it. By the time it was over, a plan was taking shape for doing something next year which I had sworn I would never do: Travel to Mexico.
Since Ed didn’t know any of us, this was billed and presented as the Counter Custody Entry Module. It was a primer of sorts for the anatomy of an abduction, motivations and mindset of the abductor, the abductee experience, endemics or field craft, and escapology techniques. Ever present, and frequently discussed was the mindset necessary to avoid these scenarios, if possible, and to escape them if not. The class was comprised of a total of 16 students of varying backgrounds. We had two nurses, a knife maker, a security officer, a former police officer turned federal firearms instructor, and a couple of martial arts instructors, to give you an idea of the cross section.
We began Day 1 with a safety brief, welcome, introductions, and a brief description of what was in store for us. Immediately, the proactive mindset was discussed as a core component of surviving an abduction. I can’t tell you how many times Ed warned against “going to your happy place” but it was a regular thread throughout the class.
The class opened with a noteworthy conversation on endemics. In the context of Ed’s material, endemics is essentially the study of the unique aspects of the environment in which you will be at a given time. Studying those specifics allows you to make decisions regarding interacting with that environment. Those decisions can both help to avoid and to survive an abduction, especially if you’re fortunate enough to escape custody.
Topics progressed into the abductee experience and what one can generally expect to happen during that process. An important point Ed made is the fallacy of a classic abduction scenario. Details will be specific to your location and its influences. Thus, the focus on endemics. Beyond this, understanding the elements common to most abductions is important, and these were discussed. Again, we were reminded not to allow ourselves to go to that place of comfort in our minds, but to focus on staying and thriving in the moment so that key information is available to us as it manifests. Maintaining the motivation to survive is critical.
We were presented with a variety of empty hands techniques that followed a very natural and nasty progression. It was made clear that what we were about to learn was not for taking someone into custody or that it was benign or soft in any way. No, these were, as Ed put it, to be very specific, raw, and clinical ways of dealing with problems as opportunities presented themselves to do so. Anatomy is a wondrous thing, and the application of pressure and simple biomechanics can garner fantastic results.
The techniques that Ed teaches are taken and presented from the criminal’s perspective. There is tremendous value in this because it allows for deconstruction of the victim’s pre-assault behaviors which may have facilitated the abduction in the first place. There is also the possibility of construction of a ‘back room’ in the practitioner’s mindset where we can store the places we’re willing to go in order to survive; those things we might not otherwise consider until someone presents them to us as potential options. These are the things which can keep us alive when other things might not. To quote Sean Connery’s character in “The Untouchables”, “What are you willing to do now?”
The discussion was, as Ed said it would be, very clinical and direct. An important point to note is that Ed tried to keep the mood light when possible, but serious when it needed to be. He was very quick to point out that certain techniques should not be practiced regularly due to the potential for permanent injury. Again, while some of these techniques are intended to gain simple compliance, most were capable of and specifically intended for maiming. As a tool for escape, the value was immediately recognizable whether you were observing or assisting in their demonstration.
Only after we had gone over the empty hands work did we incorporate the blade. Techniques for holding, concealing, and presenting the blade were presented and practiced. An important aspect of the discussion on weapons was that of improvisation. The logic of improvising pointed vs. edged weapons was also discussed.
Day 1 concluded with distribution of the SEREPick Black Box kits purpose-built for Ed’s courses, a round robin discussion of key takeaways, and a homework assignment. Students were instructed to improvise a weapon under the following constraints: Utilize an item you found/had already (something you didn’t buy for the exercise), make it in under five minutes, and make it capable of penetrating cardboard. We also had a brief discussion on the critical kit components for the Entry Module. Ed asked that the students familiarize with these items overnight.
Day 2 opened with Ed collecting students’ homework. The creativity of the students was fairly impressive. The class rolled into a detailed discussion of various bondage elements and escape tools. Knowing where on the body to wear your escapology tools is just as critical as having and knowing how to use them. This is driven almost entirely by the common elements of abduction scenarios discussed on Day 1. Knowing how and why to prevent their discovery is also important, a point driven home both in the lecture and the immersion exercises. Critical tools were discussed, as well as strategies for their concealment. It was pointed out, by referring back to the portion of the class on the common elements of the abduction process, that certain modern commercial products might not be worth acquiring due to how they are carried or worn. Simple, logical things are often overlooked, but Ed was very thorough in covering these often overlooked and misperceived details. This led to quite a few light bulb moments for many participants, this one included.
Common characteristics of various bondage elements and their applications were discussed. Again, an understanding of the criminal mindset was stressed, especially due to intelligence gathered in the field related to the expansion of knowledge on the part of criminals on the strategies in common practice for defeating those elements. “Know your enemy and know what he knows” is a valuable mantra, indeed. The bad guys can find YouTube videos, too. As with all skills, one has to experience them to fully appreciate and understand them. Every student was first given the opportunity to experience working with keys and shims in various positions in order to defeat handcuffs.
From there we went into the other tools in the SEREPick kits. Doubling back to the concealment discussion, we again addressed techniques for hiding our tools. We went into demonstration of using cordage and tools from the kits to escape certain bondage elements. Again, every student was given the opportunity to experience the elements and defeat them in practice. This is an excellent time to point out one key element to Ed’s teaching method. As real and raw and violent as the combative techniques were, so was the reality of experiencing the bondage elements. This was not a participation trophy class. As often as students were able to succeed at defeating the various bondage elements, so were they unsuccessful. Ed was very realistic about the fact that sometimes you find yourself in a “suck situation”. You might not be able to escape your bonds. Many students were unable to get out of their bonds during both the “cold” exercises and the immersion scenarios. Ed again took this opportunity to point out the importance of staying out of one’s happy place and remaining aware of the circumstances and surroundings of your captivity. Sometimes the best tool available to the abductee is his continued awareness. Ed cited circumstances where both students, and actual abductees, failed to escape from restraints as simple as handcuffs when there was a key within both their line of sight and reach.
After lunch, things got real. We were instructed to spend our lunch break contemplating locations for, and on concealing our tools. When everyone was back, we started working on the scenarios. First, Ed gave a safety brief. He discussed his expectations for how the students were to treat the exercises. He issued a safe word, and set the expectation for its use and the students’ response to hearing it. The class was then broken into 3 groups of 5. One group served as the abductees, while the others were the aggressors. When the abductees were put into the isolation/holding area, Ed asked the abductors to leave the room because he “needed some privacy.” Dorothy was most assuredly in Kansas no more. After a few minutes, students slowly began emerging. Most of them, anyway. This went on for the duration of the afternoon. Elements of discomfort and disorientation were introduced. All students were presented with more than one bondage element to defeat. It was truly a challenging and humbling experience.
Our final debrief was conducted at the conclusion of the third group’s “turn in the barrel”. Lessons learned were discussed. The students were given an opportunity to ask questions and to discuss the material covered. There were several inquiries about future classes. I was happy to hear that Ed was very satisfied with the way the class had gone and was looking forward to training with us again. I have to point out the caliber of students in attendance at this class, as well. All were dedicated to learning and to being good, honest training partners. To a man, they were ready to do whatever work Ed set before us and to give it the full effort required.
It was clear to me from fairly early on that Ed is a professional at his craft. His understanding of the criminal mindset and the skills required to survive abduction encounters is apparent in every aspect of the training. He makes it very clear that many of the things he teaches are based upon things he’s experienced or from things based upon the firsthand accounts of others who have. One of the key drivers of changes to and validations of the material he teaches is feedback from his students after they’ve used the skills in practice. Ed is continually looking for ways to exploit advantages, wherever they might be found, and is quick to give credit where it is legitimately due.
During the Q&A segment of the debrief, I inquired of Ed as to the common headcount percentage of women in his classes. He estimated between 15 and 20%. I then asked about the percentage of women in the abductions he had either worked or studied after the fact. The answer was 30 to 40%. Roughly 200% as many women are abducted as attend the training, in his estimation. Many of those who attend are doing so as a reaction to having experienced an abduction or other violent encounter. If there’s a woman in your life who is hesitant about attending a class like this, keep encouraging them. There was nothing during the class that the average person couldn’t handle. It helps to have a basis of a basic defensive mindset, but it isn’t necessarily required.
As I sat down to begin writing this AAR, my wrists were puffy, cut up and sore, my throat and skull were tender, my shoulders and elbows ached, I was still having sinus issues (don’t ask), and "Careless Whisper" echoed in my mind. No, this was not your regular skills class. I want to tell you all the fun, gory, kinky details but, again, you have to experience it to fully appreciate it. Whether you get to our next class with Ed (and there WILL be more), or travel elsewhere to train with him, you will not regret it. Check out his Facebook and Instagram accounts, give him a follow if you haven’t already, and enjoy the peek behind the curtain.