‘Lessons with Kerns:
A 4-day Walkabout in the Woods.
by Milo Bradley,
Pro Tour Men’s Coach
Australian Institute of Sport
Davis Cup Transitional Squad
BBuuzzzz’! Smack! Got another one! Long night lying in my improvised tent - put together with some parachute line and plastic. Sleeping on ground with a ‘cover’ and ‘sheet’. ‘BBBuzzz’! Again, Smack! Missed! Very humid, little breeze, virtually no breeze. Temperature has dropped to 25 Celsius. Jet lagged and lying awake, I decide to focus on what I had learned on my first day of private instruction at the Byron Kerns Survival School. I guess it was either review the day or listen to the rhythm of Instructor Kerns' snoring – this guy could sleep in the dark of the woods standing on his head. Ha-ha! Simple decision. I would review. 3 Days without water; 21 days without food; 4 major fears: death, darkness, wild animals, and being alone. 9 reasons why fire was my friend. Well, by this time, I can openly acknowledge I had failed to recognize the value of water. Plus, I was still trying to work-out what I would do if a bear came into my shelter. I continued to make my way through dark and the ‘BBBuzzz’ all night long. I had made my fire earlier that day, yet anyone can light a fire in a bone-dry forest. By end of the second day, Kerns said he’d whip me into a potential crack arsonist, thrashing cyclonic rain of no worries to fire building! Besides, Kerns is snoring and dreaming of how his student is going to find water, much less finding patience to disinfect the water he does find. Finally, Day 2 of the survival evolution.
Kerns continues to toil with me, mentally, like a fish deals with a worm - I was hooked on every word. Kerns simply would hook me, let out some line, then, reel me in, owning every direction he desired to train my mind to the things he desired me to learn. As evening approached, my mind was reeling with a few of his bodaciously basic facts:
1. If you intend to go to conquer any part of the environment, you are going to find yourself on the losing end; enter the wilderness with respect.
2. Key ingredient to building a fire is that kindling is not on the ground, but basically in the trees above you and around you.
3. Find water! Drink water! Map reading, compass work, knot tying, and a myriad of other skills become all very necessary to helping one survive.
This ‘one-on-one’ unique experience of 4 days walking through the wilderness with Kerns included not only expert discussions on how humans can survive in a wilderness environment, but not-so-ordinary and eye-opening discussions on people and life. I chose this individual experience (one-on-one) since it is the quickest way for me to learn first-hand in amongst the stresses, fears, and anxieties where I learn best and can fail with honor and dignity. Kerns certainly allows a person to fail with dignity, bounce back, and discover how to educate oneself with his assistance.
Several days later, on my long flight back to Australia, I started to write notes of my experience; and, I suddenly realized how much extra I had learned. Every minute spent with Kerns had a lesson, story, and experience to be shared. I had notes on some simple tips on everything from dealing with hostage situations to dealing with people’s fears in different life situations. As I progressed through the notes, it was evident that many skills mentally and physically cross-over into the office environment, on the tennis court, traveling, and engaging with even our urban environments. Using wilderness areas and working on survival skills as a ‘medium’ for other environments can only assist our awareness in having experiences that prepare us for high performance environments, not to mention everyday life.
Developing tennis players for my Federation with the intent of, hopefully, someday having the players represent their country in Davis Cup is my overall brief. Travelling 45-48 weeks a year, from the Grand Slams thru some isolated destinations around the world may be living the dream; yet, survival becomes many times my background agenda. Very seldom am I just seeing the sights. Traveling on isolated roads in third world countries happens often with my groups; yet, if something goes wrong, either via flight, bus, car, and/or train, survival skills need to kick in. Just the potential of running out of fuel on an interconnecting road off the Interstate in North America could add stress, particularly if one is in the snow country when a blizzard hits. I came to the Byron Kern Survival School originally as an ‘out of the box’ experience for my professional development; yet, I came away with a lot more.
My athletes have played Davis Cup, Federation Cup, ATP Challenger, ITF Future events, and have won Junior Grand Slams and numerous National Championships, both team and individual. Along with the competitions, I have run boot camp-style experiences in an outdoor environment to toughen-up the athletes physically and mentally. Kerns achieves what I’ve always desired, which I’ve never completely achieved. And he does it in a very simple, professional way. He achieves his success with a student in so many amazing ways - without the student even knowing what is going on. The experience is one worth having. He truly has a gift.
The same survival skills, both mental and physical, are certainly a big part of sport today. Everything from PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) to S.T.O.P (Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan), under pressure, becomes key developmental skills to various parts of an athlete’s career, hence very transferable. Today so many corporations, small businesses, and sporting organizations live and die by the board room and all the latest research; yet, I really wonder if something as simple as survival skills is ever covered, much less thought about for them and their employees. The sports coach, manager, and athlete all need to at least experience the first evolution of survival skills! We all will one day under stress go through an experience where we will need to know what we most likely should do. Kerns will assist you to experience such, so you can walk away and say, “When that moment comes with anything, anytime in life, this is what I will attempt to do....”
I know I am going to walk confidently, everyday, looking at the trees, checking the wind, suddenly hearing Byron’s voice in my ear saying, “Hey Dude! Do you think it is going to rain tonight? Do you think we can find water over that way? Where are we, anyhow?”