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Michael Westen Finishing School (OnPoint Tactical Urban Escape & Evasion)

A little over a week ago, I spent the better part of Saturday morning in handcuffs in the back of an overheated van with a hood over my head being driven to an unknown location. After freeing myself with an improvised lockpick, I found myself on the run, pursued by a wolfpack of professional bounty hunters and experienced trackers who were determined to bring me down, as I fled across Los Angeles on foot to rendezvous with a friendly operative 12 miles away. I had no cell phone, no wallet, and every second I wasted was a second my pursuers would close in on my location.



But I suppose I should start from the beginning.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was in Los Angeles about two weeks ago, taking a class offered by OnPoint Tactical called Urban Escape and Evasion. Urban E & E is an anti-kidnapping class covering everything from how to detect when one is being sized up by hostiles (muggers, kidnappers, etc), how to lose a tail (on foot and driving), how to pick/defeat handcuffs & door locks (disturbingly easily, as it turns out), social engineering, and improvised weapons.

Lead instructor Kevin Reeve taught these survival skills to some of the most elite fighting forces on the planet, including men in the US Navy SEALs, members of the 75th Ranger Regiment and the US Secret Service. In addition, he was also the instructor/consultant to Benecio Del Toro in the movie The Hunted and taught Neil Strauss in his most recent book, Emergency.

Half of the class were full-time military, including two recent graduates from West Point who were about to start Ranger training before being deployed to Afghanistan. The rest were civilians who watch too much "Burn Notice" for our own good (me) or just goofy enough to think that spending Saturday afternoon being chased down by bounty hunters would be the coolest thing ever (uh, also me).

After two days of in-class instruction (including spending most of Friday in handcuffs to learn how to pick cuffs while still IN them - not an easy task), our "final" was a test of all the skills we were taught the two days prior: Saturday morning, we were all "kidnapped" - cuffed, ziptied to the floor of an unmarked white van and driven to a distant location while we were patted down and stripped of useful gear (cell phones, cash, etc) and in a van parked in the middle of nowhere, with vague instructions to find our way back to HQ.

Having anticipated that our pursuers would have our descriptions and use it to find us, I deliberately dressed up in a top layer of a suit coat, turtleneck and jeans with swim trunks and a colorful T-shirt underneath, with the intention of dumping this top layer as soon as I came across a upper-end hotel where I can turn them into their Lost and Found as something that was "found by the hotel's pool" for pickup later to facilitate quickly changing my appearance.

My ruse did indeed throw off our bloodhounds for a bit as we fled across Los Angeles, until we spotted one of our tails and had to scramble to throw him off in a frantic run across alleyways in a suburban residential district prior to our rendezvous with a friendly operative who would give us our next set of instructions.

As the day progressed, the consequences of being on the run with no money (and thus no food) wore on me and I found myself a bit dizzy from the expenditure of energy - at an upscale hotel near our third nav point, I saw a lightly-guarded conference (some sort of professional association meeting for dentists, from the looks of the booths) in which I social-engineered my way in to grab a double handful of h'orderves to keep me fueled up for the balance of our journey.

Our flight ended at our final nav point with us successfully eluding our captors; after we finished all of our assignments and converged near the Santa Monica pier, we were rejoined our instructor, fellow escapees and some of our pursuers as we swapped war stories over cold beers and appetizers (this time, paid for. Hah!).

"My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy, until ... "







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