There are many tactical superstars on today’s social media, but few of them have output as interesting and outside the box as Ed Calderon, who runs Ed’s Manifesto (tumblr/Facebook). I recently got the chance to ask him some questions, so here’s my first ever interview…
bringaknife: First of all, who are you? What do you do for a living, and what do you do for fun?
Ed Calderon: My name is Ed Calderon, I’m 33. I was born and raised in the northern border town of Tijuana, Mexico. Spent most of teenage years getting in to trouble and traveling. Lived out of my backpack for a few years trough out Mexico and the US.
After reaching military service age I slowed down and did my time to get my military service card. I was then drafted in to a newly formed police organization that would focus on operations in the border regions of Mexico. My language skills helped and were the main factor behind me being selected for this type of work.
I worked directly with operations groups doing counter-narcotics, anti-abduction and close protection work for some high threat officials.
I got the opportunity to receive specialized training in the fields of counter-abduction, close protection, urban operations and anti-terrorism both in Mexico and in the US. I even got some training in Coronado, CA, by the Department of the Navy ( some of the best instruction I have ever received).
I found myself feeling that I was lacking in specific training related to my own security as far as countering the threat of being abducted or taken by one of the numerous criminal groups operating throughout my area of operations. A rash of abductions of a few of my fellow agents made me seek out options.
SERE type training was the first part of what I researched and I even went to a few courses on the subject matter in the US. The problem I found with these is that they were not at all formulated for my specific environment and it was based around the framework of a foreign agent working his way out of a Non-Permissive Environment.
The realities of the counter-custody material I had to formulate myself had to be more criminal in origin, because part of the problem we face down here is not just organized criminal groups, but corrupt police groups and even some military units. So a lot of the material is very much anti-police custody as well and utilizes a lot of criminal-based methodology taken from case study material and actually interacting with some individuals that live and work in these environments. I have made it a point to train in some of the most dangerous places and I have never closed my self off to learning from sources that others would have avoided.
I have risked a lot to know what I know and its really an ongoing process.
I also looked for proper knife work material and freehand-work to complement my base in Thai Boxing and basic combatives knowledge. Searched far and wide for specific blade work that fitted my needs. Libre Fighting System’s was at the end of that search. I have been with it ever since.
I work for the government for a living. I also do very specialized training at an international level, dealing with counter-custody, weapons work and a very unorthodox freehand curriculum that I teach in conjunction with all the courses I offer.
For fun? I’m a bit of a nerd. Movies and graphic novels are my vice.
bak: Could you give us a rundown of a typical day of yours? What are you doing right now/before answering these questions/after answering them?
EC: I wake up at 5:00 am and listen to world and local news services as I take a bath. Do some Tabata routines.
I’m out the door at 6:00 am and get a quick Local Criminal Incident Report by phone from our communications services.
7:00 am Briefing. Checking weapons, comms and vehicles before we roll out.
We get specific targets as far as people of interest, houses, cars, possible criminal safe houses, and basically act as an immediate response element through the city we are operating in. If it sounds like something bad is going down, we go check if out. We check out a lot of anonymous reports and targets that our intelligence agencies paint for us.
We work till our targets run out. Sometimes for a few days with a few hours of sleep intermingled during the workload. It’s insane at times. Other times is monotonous and boring. Truly, you never know when that call can come in, and you are out in the thick of it.
Basically I work for weeks away from home then get a few days off. Then I’m back out again.
As I started writing this I was sitting on a heliport watching our aerial operation guys doing a check on the helicopter we will be boarding in a few hours.
As I finished writing this I was drinking some awesome espresso, still at the air field.
bak: You are very well-known for your expertise in urban SERE and risk avoidance, what are typical things you do upon arrival at a new place or city, that would be useful for the average traveler?
EC: I don’t think of my self as someone that is related to SERE training. I’m more of an endemic counter-custody specialist. Basically I learned from other sources aside from military specific SERE training ( which I have never received)
When I’m going to travel to an unfamiliar place I usually do a lot of research in advance. Specifically I look for specific criminal groups in the area and their modus operandi. Also look at the police and military personnel in the area and if they can be trusted or not. What weapons they use, uniforms, types of handcuffs, police cars etc.
I also do a superficial political climate scan just to know what the environment is like.
I look for transportation that is trustworthy and try and identify public transportation services that are safe. Also look for emergency’s service centers I can use, veterinary clinics ( in case I have to improvise), places I could arm myself if need be.
I look for hotels or places I can stay that is near a place I can fall back to that is secure like a government buildings and the like. Also try and have a few exit strategies in place air, land and if possible sea.
My best advice to anyone traveling is use your smart phone to constantly tell at least to contacts back home where you are and leave instructions for them in case something happens. Take pictures of anything suspicious, the taxi cab numbers you get in to, hotel room numbers, etc and send these back to your two contacts. This will leave a trail for people to follow in case you get in to trouble.
Be aware of your personal space at all times and trust no one. Keep embassy numbers and routes to it on hand.
bak: Aside from Libre, what are your main influences, what do you study to learn and get better at your art?
EC: I have a base in Thai Boxing and have studied a few other methodologies closely. I have been exposed to very traditional Japanese martial arts that I have worked into the material I teach. I also have been influenced by South African-based knife work and movement by a man named Lloyd De Jongh.
bak: Do you think the skills you teach are worth learning to somebody that hardly ever leaves Western Europe and feels completely safe in his everyday life? If so, why?
EC: Knowing how to incapacitate an individual that’s actively trying to take your life or how to escape illegal custody is something that is part of our worldwide reality now. I’d say it’s a necessity, just like knowing first aid.
This is the world we live in now. Paris has shown us this once more.
bak: The “toys” you post on Facebook and Instagram on a regular basis always make my mouth water, yet you often suggest using tools and weapons that are cheap and easily attainable – do you think the “tactical scene’s” focus on posh equipment can be a problem?
EC: I try and teach people to learn how to use the bare minimum or to make their own tools and weapons first. This gives them a deeper understanding of how things work and they tend to pick up details missed by most people that train just focusing on a ready made knife of some sort.
Learn to work with what is on hand first and when you get to pick your tools you will thrive.
The Devil is in the details, you miss these details when you run before learning to walk.
bak: What would you say is the most important tool in one’s EDC, something you could make your wife, girlfriend or mother carry?
EC: A small non-tactical looking folding knife that can be used both as a tool and weapon if need be. A knife has historically been the number one choice as an anti-rape tool by women throughout different cultures and time.
A small concealable blade in hand will level the playing field if things get close.
bak: What’s, in your eyes, the most important utterly un-tactical skillset? Cooking? Smalltalk? Singing folk songs? Dancing?
EC: Social skills. Knowing how to start a conversation with someone even with language barriers. A pack of cigarettes and a smile goes a long way. Also never be closed off from talking to people of different backgrounds or social status. By this I mean, unsavory types. I make it a point to have friends and contacts troughout the social spectrum.
I have gotten myself out of bad situation more often than not by having a friend in a bad place than with any tool or tactic.
Learn to be open. Don’t judge.
bak: Thanks a lot for your time, is there anything you’d like to tell my readers?
EC: Keep discrete, learn to look with out being seen. Learn to work with the minimum of kit and you will thrive when you get to pick your tools.
Stay safe, stay free. And always be dangerous.