Skip to main content

Indigenous Water Survival by Mark Hatmaker


Human beings have an intimate relationship with H2O.

65% of our bodyweight is water.

The salinity of human blood is remarkably similar to the salinity of the ocean.

The human animal possesses the Mammalian Dive Reflex which can be triggered by merely plunging your face into a sink of chilly water. Once the face is submerged, signals travel along the trigeminal and vagus nerves to the central nervous system spawning a lowering of the metabolic rate. The pulse slows and blood rushes to where it may be needed most-the heart and brain.

The mammalian dive reflex is responsible for our ability to hold our breath and swim readily in our infant stage.

We flock to beaches, rivers, lakes, pools, recreational waters of all kinds to relax, refresh, and to, well, recreate.

The vast majority of human societies sprang up along shorelines, in fact, a quick look at the globe shows that even with the ability to open a tap and get water practically anywhere you live, the vast majority of humanity still clusters around and along waterways.

Indigenous cultures the world over have had rituals, games, “training” regimens that centered around aquatic ability.

The ancient Hellenes, a fishing culture, record numerous impressive feats of necessity in and under the water.

There are more than a few Viking accounts that refer to water-training specific to battle, among them stealth swimmers, who remained submerged for lengths of time to bore holes in hulls.

[An upcoming post on “Viking Sprints” will test a bit of grit.]

Numerous river tribes, including those in the North and South Eastern United States and Pacific Northwest valued water prowess and encouraged lengthy and arduous swimming to make better hunters and warriors and better aid one’s survival if one must use a river or lake for escape.

The present day Ama of Japan and the Moken of the Mergui Archipelago are but two of the extant cultures that still place a high value on aquatic ability. They are noted for their agile free-diving and remarkable hunting dexterity underwater.

[See HackingVisual Acuity the Sea Gypsy Way in this blog for more on the Moken.]

The indigenous accounts go beyond mere “Let’s make sure the youngsters can swim.” We find accounts of demanding breath-holds, long-swims up and down stream while manipulating loads. Shooting rapids without canoe, kayak, or bullboat as rites of passage or simply to have a good time.

In cultures where water is scarce we still find reports of long runs and crawls through the rivers and streams that do exist—miles and miles of fast-paced struggles against knee-deep water.

Other cultures where water is even more scarce, such as with the Apache of the Southwest, still find creative ways to make water a part of arduous training.

[See “ApacheRunning” in this blog for one such training approach.]

The early emphasis on interacting with water was with an eye on survival first, just as with today, making sure that one could swim. But once that was accomplished it went further, the individual was inured to additional water-stressors of unusual kinds. What would be called in today’s SEAL Training parlance “drown-proofing.”

Necessity initially drove humans to exceptional water ability—fishing, shore-foraging, diving for food and resources; fun kept them there. War and/or escape created additional aquatic necessity.

A century ago finding someone who could not at least swim was practically unheard of. Today over half of Americans self-report being unable to swim at all. Of those who can, they self-report they can’t swim the full-length of a pool. The definition of swimming has downgraded to brief comfortability in the deep-end.

Today, outside of the Ama and Moken and such cultures, most of our survival swimmers are found in modern warrior correlates such as the aforementioned SEALs. Let’s allow a lengthy excerpt from Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm to give us a taste of the difference between being able to splash around in the shallow end of the pool and being able to engage with the water with a vengeance.

All of the armed forces have some version of the pararescue jumper, but the Air National Guard jumpers—and their Air Force equivalents [Parachute Jumpers, aka PJs]—are the only ones with an ongoing peacetime mission. …It takes eighteen months of full-time training to become a PJ… During the first three months of training, candidates are weeded out through sheer, raw abuse. The dropout rate is often over ninety percent. In one drill, the team swims their normal 4,000-yard workout, and then the instructor tosses his whistle into the pool. Ten guys fight for it, and whoever manages to blow it at the surface gets to leave the pool. His workout is over for the day. The instructor throws the whistle in again, and the nine remaining guys fight for it. This goes on until there’s only one man left, and he’s kicked out of PJ school. In a variation called “water harassment,” two swimmers share a snorkel while instructors basically try to drown them. If either man breaks the surface and takes a breath, he’s out of school. “There were times we cried,” admits one PJ. But “they’ve got to thin the ranks somehow.”

“After pretraining, as it’s called, the survivors enter a period known as “the pipeline”—scuba school, jump school, freefall school, dunker-training school, survival school. The PJs learn how to parachute, climb mountains, survive in deserts, resist enemy interrogation, evade pursuit, navigate underwater at night. The schools are ruthless in their quest to weed people out; in dunker training, for example, the candidates are strapped into a simulated helicopter and plunged underwater. If they manage to escape, they’re plunged in upside-down. If they still manage to escape, they’re plunged in upside-down and blindfolded. The guys who escape that get to be PJs; the rest are rescued by divers waiting by the sides of the pool.”

Many of the above-mentioned drills mirror ideas and approaches found in indigenous cultures with a modern spin. But what is key to observe is the idea that simply being able to swim isn’t enough.

The ability to perform under extraordinary circumstances becomes the norm for PJs, and if we look to the Ama and the Moken and the numerous other accounts it is and was the norm for this species.

If we are reading these words and we take survival and self-protection seriously, hell, if we take being a human animal seriously, one that evolved around and still huddles around water, the ability to swim, at least for recreational pleasure, or to save yourself or a loved one is the better part of wisdom.

And, if one spouts words of being a high-speed/low-drag warrior a bit more might be asked of our water skills.

Much of the human legacy began around and in the water. Many of us have retreated from that legacy.

 [In the Spring & Summer months we will present several Aquatic Drills that emulate Indigenous Aquatic Training. RAW Subscribers see the additional post in the private forum  "What It Feels Like to Drown" which drives home the need for water-survival skills.]
For information on joining the RAW Subscription service.

Comments

  1. Thank for providing the useful information. It will help to improve my knowledge. Thank you for sharing this useful information.
    Financial Consultants in Hyderabad | Finance Companies in Hyderabad | Financial Advisors in Hyderabad | Best Financial Advisors in Hyderabad

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Warrior Awareness Drills by Mark Hatmaker

THE Primary Factor in self-protection/self-defense is situational awareness. Keeping in mind that crime is, more often than not, a product of opportunity, if we take steps to reduce opportunity to as close to nil as we can manage we have gone a long way to rendering our physical tactical training needless [that’s a good thing.]
Yes, having defensive tactical skills in the back-pocket is a great ace to carry day-to-day but all the more useful to saving your life or the lives of loved ones is a honed awareness, a ready alertness to what is occurring around you every single day.
Here’s the problem, maintaining such awareness is a Tough job with a capital T as most of our daily lives are safe and mundane [also a good thing] and this very safety allows us to backslide in good awareness practices. Without daily danger-stressors we easily fall into default comfort mode.
A useful practice to return awareness/alertness to the fore is to gamify your awareness, that is, to use a series of specific…

Awareness Drill: The Top-Down Scan by Mark Hatmaker

American Indians, scouts, and indigenous trackers the world over have been observed to survey terrain/territory in the following manner.
A scan of the sky overhead, then towards the horizon, and then finally moving slowly towards the ground.
The reason being that outdoors, what is overhead-the clouds, flying birds, monkeys in trees, the perched jaguar—these overhead conditions change more rapidly than what is at ground level.
It has been observed by sociologists that Western man whether on a hike outdoors or in an urban environment seldom looks up from the ground or above eye-level. [I would wager that today, he seldom looks up from his phone.]
For the next week I suggest, whether indoors or out, we adopt this native tracker habit. As you step into each new environment [or familiar ones for that matter] scan from the top down.
I find that this grounds me in the awareness mindset. For example, I step into my local Wal-Mart [or an unfamiliar box store while travelling] starting at the top, t…

Resistance is Never Futile by Mark Hatmaker

Should you always fight back? Yes. “But what if…”


Over the course of many years teaching survival-based strategies and tactics the above-exchange has taken place more than a few times. The “but what if…” question is usually posed by well-meaning individuals who haven’t quite grasped the seriousness of physical violence. These are people whose own humanity, whose sense of civility is so strong that they are caught vacillating between fight or flight decisions. It is a shame that these good qualities can sometimes stand in the way of grasping the essential facts of just how dire the threat can be.


The “but what if…” is usually followed by any number of justifications or pie-in-the-sky hopeful mitigations. These “but what if…” objections are based on unfounded trust and an incorrect grasp of probability. The first objection, unfounded trust, is usually based on the following scenario.


Predator: Do what I say and I won’t hurt you.


Or, some other such promise to the victim.


Now, these sorts of …