“Rift Recon’s Art of Escape was the best urban escape, evasion, and survival course I’ve had since training with the CIA. Improvised lock picks; caching valuables; elements of disguise; and so much more… all capped off by a full-day field exercise, thoughtfully conducted to mimic real-life conditions and inject real adrenal stress. I’m amazed at how much was covered in just three days, and can’t wait to take the intermediate course as soon as soon as it’s ready.”
– Barry Eisler, best-selling American novelist & former CIA agent (photographed on far right)
If one thing can be said about February’s Art of Escape, it’s that as soon as you felt yourself getting complacent, you were knocked completely off your feet. This past month’s training was a totally different animal than it’s predecessor – a bigger, faster, stronger animal – and it had more twists and turns than an amusement park water slide. Get ready, get set, get tactical!
Students began preparing for their Field Training Exercise on Day One, diving headfirst into the material. The curriculum covered topics such as navigation, adaptation, constructing disguises, and social engineering (otherwise known as “getting people to do things for you when you don’t have much to bargain with”). The day wrapped with a feature lesson on getting out of restraints, and boy, did folks get creative! While shimmying, wrestling, sawing, and slicing their way out of handcuffs, duct tape, and zip ties, several students began using elements of their environment to assist in their escape, completely unprompted. Doorknobs, pipes, and the edges of brick walls were all implemented with great success – turns out we had a bunch of natural Houdinis on our hands!
On Day Two, the skills got a little more technical, featuring an emphasis on lockpicking. Like the first Art of Escape, many students found the lockpicking segment exceptionally challenging, but everyone was able to pick at least one of their provided locks. The energy picked up during the second half of the day, when the instructors covered self defense maneuvers and manufacturing weapons on the fly, using a variety of mediums (text, videos, demonstrations, and personal stories) to create a multi-dimensional approach. The air buzzed with electricity as the class let out that evening, with everyone wondering what lay in store for them on Day Three.
Day Three proved to be a grand adventure, catching most of the students off guard with its intensity, commitment to detail, and authenticity. After answering some pre-exercise questions, with adrenaline pumping through their veins, students were cordoned off from the group, interrogated, and given a narrow opportunity to break free and venture into the city. Many participants were from out of town, so the San Francisco terrain was as unfamiliar to them as a foreign country’s, and the list of “missions” to complete throughout their grueling six-hour challenge was daunting. However, they continued to surprise the Rift Recon staff with their resourceful endurance. Students particularly excelled at hiding caches of valuables in strategic vantage points around the city, donning elaborate disguises, social engineering, and teaching others the skills they’d learned only days before. Even with pursuers hot on their tails, bent on deterring them from their missions by any means necessary, all the students made it to their final checkpoint by the predetermined time, and faces glowed as they reveled in their achievements. Another weekend down, another wildly successful Art of Escape on the books! Stay tuned for March’s AOE After Action Report, chock full of even more twists, turns, and triumphs!
Arianna Travaglini is an Executive Assistant at Rift Recon
(Photos by John Cooney)