Learning jungle survival in Malaysia; Part II

learning jungle survival
Jungle survival is not just about knives and gears. Without the right skill and knowledge, equipment are just things we lug around

Everyone wanting to actively camp and hike should make learning jungle survival in Malaysia a must. In my previous write-up on jungle survival courses in Malaysia, I suggested there are many self-proclaimed jungle survival experts who may not offer the right kind of knowledge and skills to the public. How then can we gauge whether the person or organization is capable or otherwise? Well, there is no set guidelines or standard out there but there are certainly some steps we can take to make a better assessment. They may not be the best but I think at the very least you can narrow down your search and lessen your loss.

Note that these are strictly my personal opinions.

teaching jungle survival
One of the jungle survival trainings I have attended in the past was conducted by ex-army personnel. The things they teach  may be text book derived but if we spend time to ask, they have much to offer. Pic is a demonstration of a type of trap

Everyone should be learning jungle survival in Malaysia from someone with a proven track record of practicing (not necessarily teaching) the art of jungle survival. Jungle survival courses typically teaches basic skills and theories/ knowledge. The skills may include things like knife handling, procuring food, shelter building etc while the theory part may include topics like the physiology of survival, the priorities (air, water, shelter, food), rule of thumbs etc. People from remote indigenous settlements (Orang Asal), specialized military personnel and survival technique practitioners are examples of people whom I would group under the ‘proven track record’ category. These people rely on their culture, training, instincts and daily experience in the jungle to survive. Jungle is their everyday surrounding. They may not consider their skills as ‘survival’ skills but it is what they do on a daily basis that keeps them alive.

jungle survival gear
This indigenous Orang Asal elder I met spends most of his day in the jungle (alone) hunting small animals and collecting jungle produce. His equipment is basic (if not unreliable) by most of our standard today. Yet, he can spend days in the jungle with only what he has if need be

The biggest challenge when it comes to learning jungle survival from this group of people (people with proven track record) has constantly been how well their teaching methods suit the modern city dwellers. More often than not, they don’t even know what they need to teach you. One way to overcome this would be to approach them with questions and a pair of keen eyes. Observe how they approach the jungle and there is a lot to learn from. A good example of a ‘survival technique practitioner’ would be Paul of Jungle Craft. You can tell clearly from his well-researched, tried and tested techniques that Paul doesn’t just learn survival skills…he adapts them. He tries, practice, experiment, modify and adapt knowledge and skills to his own liking. I have walked jungles with many people and so far, Paul is the only person who could stop in the middle of no-where and with a al cheapo parang harvest materials to make fire using a primitive technique (bamboo saw). He knows it well enough he could identify the right materials, harvest and get fire going on first attempt in the middle of a jungle.

jungle survival cooking basics
Knowing how to start fire the primitive way means you have the means to boil water safe for consumption, cook food, give warmth (as well as morale booster) and to keep animals (big and small) away

Does this also mean I approve of ex-serviceman conducting jungle survival courses? Yes, I do. Fact of the matter is they spend a lot of time in the jungle. If you happen to come by a specialist military like the Malaysian commandos, VAT69 or even Paskal, you can be damn sure they know how to survive in the jungle. Not only are their skill and knowledge valuable but their mental and physical strength are assets too. They may not be ideal teachers to civilians but they do have the knowledge. We just need to find a way to bridge the gap of how they can teach civilians.

jungle survival shelter
This jungle shelter was built using only materials scavenged from the jungle. It may look easy to build but there are a lot of work involved and risks too

Check out the content of the survival courses. If learning jungle survival consists of just an hour of navigation (map and compass), an hour of knife handling, an hour of fire making and an hour of lunch in between, chances are your instructor doesn’t know enough to teach you. A good chap I know, Mr Vee used to conduct navigation sessions that takes up an entire day. It involves both theory and practice that will give attendees a good understanding and practice. At the end of the day, the class may be boring but the knowledge gained is priceless. I once attended a ‘survival course’ with a navigation session that lasted less than two hours. Nothing gained I could not get by watching Youtube or doing some reading. To me, a good survival course must have a balance of theory and hands on practice. One needs to really understand and put into practice the knowledge.

Raman jungle survival
Raman is a native Semai who has vast jungle knowledge. He doesn’t refer to the knowledge as ‘survival skills’ but merely things he ‘does every day.

Check up on your instructor and his team of staff. Ask people about the person(s). Stalk him/her on Facebook if need be. Ask Google about his past. Why? Because you are investing your life with them (in a way you are). I always watch out for the following:

  • Gear head type. They are all about gear. The latest knife, cook-set, survival tins, backpacks etc. They rave about new gear all the time and phrases like ‘a must have for jungle survival’ gets thrown around constantly. No doubt that good gear helps but without the right skills, knowledge and attitude, gear would be pretty useless.
  • Past reviews are useful guidelines to determine if the person is good. Read through reviews and watch for important key words like safety, knowledgeable, skillful, useful, learning etc. I have in the past written to random people on Facebooks and forums to asks about their experiences on learning jungle survival skills. You will be surprised with the range of replies you will receive.

It is important for me to reiterate that there are no set/ perfect rules in learning jungle survival skills in Malaysia. The above are merely my thoughts on how we can make a more informed decision when selecting courses and instructors. In the following week, I will write a little bit about the few people I have met in the past (and one quite recently) whom I would gladly learn jungle survival from. They may not be famous but I am confident they do know a thing or two about jungle survival.

Click here for some past articles relevant to Jungle Survival. More on jungle survival in Malaysia Part I and Part III.