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The Way Of The Scout

Seeing The World In Single Imprint

By Christopher Caile

Editor’s Note: FightingArts.com was invited to interview Tom Brown, Jr. as part of Paramount Picture’s promotion of the film, “The Hunted.” Brown helped inspire the film and worked as a technical on it. A second related article is a review of “The Hunted.”

The meeting for the interview was in a small room in the Essex Hotel in New York City. My first impression of Tom Brown, Jr.: a handsome man with short gray speckled hair, trimmed mustache and well spoken. He has the air of an urban sophisticate. He also moves with confidence and agility. This suggests an athletic past.

Few who meet him casually would guess how unique this man is. Brown is a modern American with Ninjitsu camouflage and survivalist skills. He may just be a prototype for a new generation of action hero.

Just as the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, was inspired in the 1880’s by the phenomenal powers of observation of the real-life physician Dr. Bell, Brown’s skills served as the inspiration for new Paramount Studios film “The Hunted.”

Sitting there, talking with me in a hotel room, I could see a vague disquiet. He is not at home in the city. His fingers play across his knees. He is much more at home in the wilderness with trees and sky as company.

Brown is the protégé of an old Indian scout and tracker. He can sense the wilderness, see and hear the imprint of life and movement all around him. There is an old adage that says, “The real secret of life is seeing what you see.” When Brown first introduces someone to the outdoors he asks them to look closely at the ground because after his training they will never see the ground the same again.

This total perception reminds me of Valentine Michael Smith in the science fiction tale “Stranger In A Strange Land.” An orphaned prodigy of the first manned expedition to Mars, Smith is raised by Martians before being returned to earth. The way he experienced things was by “Groking” – that is, becoming one with them. No less can be said of Brown’s understanding of the wilderness. He has learned to be one with the nature he understands.

It was Brown who served as the first inspiration for “The Hunted.” When William Friedkin, director of such films as “The Exorcist”, “To Live And Die In LA” and “The French Connection,” first met Brown, he was fascinated by the man and his skills. He wanted to make a film about them, but couldn’t figure out a way to portray Brown within a story context. Then Friedkin read a script about a Delta Force style guy who becomes a serial killer. This provided a story line, and Friedkin used Brown as the prototype for Tommy Lee Jones, who portrays L.T. Bonham in the movie.

Part of the plot line is borrowed right out of Brown’s life: the hero Bonham, like Brown, was a former trainer of Navy Seals and Delta Force personnel -- someone who had never killed, but who taught his students how to make their way almost invisibly through enemy territory, how to survive, to track and to return safely. When Friedkin decided to make the movie, he recruited Brown as a consultant. Brown in turn helped create the reality that both Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro portray.

In “The Hunted” Bonham is recruited by the FBI to track and help find a gruesome murderer in the wilds of Oregon – a former military student (Aaron Hallam played by Benicio Del Toro) who has gone off the deep end.

In one of the first scenes, Bonham tracks a wounded wolf across the snowy wilds to remove a snare, and he uses a poultice of a local plant to heal the wound. “Of course, in reality it would have taken two to three weeks to gain the wolf’s confidence,” admitted Brown. In the movie the reality was truncated and used to introduce Bonham both as a protector of wildlife as well as a man with unique tracking skills.

Brown’s skills were developed over decades. His teaching started early. He was brought up in southern New Jersey and loved the woods and outdoors. At the age of seven, Brown was befriended by an 83 year old Apache man named Stalking Wolf, who he called Grandfather. It was someone who would change his life – a real life shaman guide like don Juan Matus, the Mexican Indian teacher who figured in Carlos Castaneda’s book series.

Over the next eleven years Grandfather taught Brown tracking, survival, awareness and other ancient Apache skills. He learned to survive without bringing anything for survival; how to live in harmony with nature; and how to blend in so as not to be seen. He also learned to read various animal trails, runs, beds and feeding areas and how to track and trap them. Grandfather taught that the earth was like an open book that could be read.

“We (Brown and his friend Rick) would be out in the woods collecting wood and suddenly he (Grandfather) would appear out of nowhere and ask us ‘where is the nearest hawk? Where the nearest fox?’ and he expected us to know. He was a town crier in defining things to be aware of – everything.”

Most people have a pinpoint focus, explained Brown. What Grandfather taught him was to have a wide-angle, expanded vision, to develop sound awareness and not to let his senses follow his eyes. “People are great filtering devices,” Brown explains. “They go into a room and if they think green, they will see green. It’s the same with any color. In the wilderness, awareness is focus on things that are warning devices – birds, fluttering of wings, visual signs of disturbances and a host of other almost imperceptible signs.”

Brown eventually founded his own Tracking School near his hometown in southern New Jersey. Brown is also the author of twelve books on wilderness survival and tracking including “The Way Of The Scout”, “The Science And Art Of Tracking” and “The Tracker.” That’s how he makes his living now. He also provides tracking services for military and law enforcement, “but we do that for free.”.

The school offers a variety of wilderness courses attended by people from all over the world. “We have 30 different levels in our school. After the first week you will be able to survive anyplace,” he said. A big part of this training is awareness. “In one of our scout classes we train students by suspending them on a log over water. They are blind folded against an opponent.” In this position students learn to sense where the next blow will come from.

Brown’s skills are phenomenal. He can see footprint in the forest, and from the imprint read the person who made it – if it is man or women, how heavy, if he or she is tired, wounded, or hungry – all signaled by minute and almost imperceptible signs. He can do the same thing indoors. In a room, notes Friedkin, Brown can get down and look at the carpet, and tell you how many people were there, how long ago and other things about them.

These tracking skills are demonstrated in one of the first scenes in the movie, as Bonham (Jones) tracks his former student Hallam (Del Toro) through the wilderness. Here the movie plot bears a loose connection with Brown’s own experience. “It happened years ago,” said Brown, “and I can’t give you a date or where. It was when the government ended its by taking away a bad guy in another country in a desert environment -- in a place neither me nor the government should have been. I got shot in the back, but this was my own fault.”

“There are two worst case tracking scenarios,” Brown noted. “The first is a sniper. As a tracker your attention is on the ground, you move slowly listening to sounds, listening and looking. At the same time the sniper can drop you from a distance.” The second type scenario was depicted in the movie. “You are tracking someone who you trained, who knows your secrets, can counter-track and set traps. We were hoping to get that kind of tension in the movie. In the woods this could have been played to a sinister degree of tension.”

“As a student, Tommy Lee Jones was a great,” noted Brown. “He lives on a ranch and knows the outdoors. Benicio didn’t know much about the outdoors but he was a fast learner. In the scene where he builds a fire (out of what he finds in the woods), he learned this in one hour.” As for his ability to move invisibly through the woods, “he would watch me and then follow that – how to move like a shadow.”

“Moving this way (imperceptibly) is like walking on damp rice paper, so there are not any foot prints. You disturb nothing. Like a fox walks, everything is quieted down. Light feet.” Brown explains that he steps by making contact with the ground lightly, with the outside of the foot and then rolling the foot inward. “Never hit with your heels and roll forward. Instead touch down with the side of the foot, and then roll toward the inside and compress. Then shift your weight.”

“You also move with the terrain,” Brown says, “into the shadows and how they play across the ground. You move with the wind and leaves as part of the symphony of sound and motion – not faster or slower.” This is what is known as moving like a shadow.

Brown’s expertise was also used in the camouflage that Hallam (Del Toro) uses to disguise himself in the wilderness. “All covered in mud, charcoal and ash, his body became a canvas that reflected his surroundings,” said Brown. “This disguise was so good that in the first shoot the camera couldn’t find Hallam (Del Toro), so they had to reduce the camouflage so his character could be seen on film.”

In real life this elusive, Ninja-type skill is what Brown taught to the Delta Forces and Navy Seals – “to move so that an adversary doesn’t even know you are there.” When he “found that they were also becoming much better killers,” a moral dilemma developed for Brown, and he stopped teaching the military. “But after 9/11, I went back,” said Brown.

In the movie Friedkin depicts a similar dilemma for Bonham but portrays it differently. “I think Friedkin found part of him to put into the movie here,” said Brown. “Personally, I try to avoid close combat. I teach getting in and out without being seen. I wanted to contribute to the movie to make it authentic,” said Brown. “As to the level of violence depicted, this did make me wince a bit.”

In the movie, what Brown calls the “Apache-Wolverine fights” were fast and brutal - the brutality shown with blood knives that have tubes running though them so when an actor makes a cut it leaves a blood trail. For his own kids, Brown admitted that he had an edited version of the movie with the Kosovo and the final fight scenes cut out.

An important element in these knife action scenes, that took the proportion of almost an extra, was a very distinctive knife – something that Brown himself had designed as an all around wilderness tool. It is heavy on one end, almost like a mini-axe, that can be thrown, and has a serrated edge that can be used as a saw. There is also a second blade that can be used to pull along a surface to peel. “I wanted to make them available to my friends,” said Brown, “so I contacted friends at TOPS Knife Manufacturing who produced an inexpensive version people could buy. It’s called “Tracker.” We also have a smaller version called the “Scout” and the two lock together. They are worn in a variety of ways.”

In the movie this knife was used by Hallam in the first scene to kill the Serbian commander who ordered the atrocities in Kosovo, to kill hi-tech hunters in Oregon, and is seen again as the weapon fashioned out of rusting steel at the end of the movie. In the final scene Hallam is pitted against Bonham, who has fashioned his own weapon, a crude knife chipped out of flint. “In my Tracking School we teach our students to build this same flint-type knife,” said Brown. “We teach them to survive with nothing.”

Reflecting on the knife used by Harlem in the movie, Brown suggests that it served as a metaphor in the movie. “Hallam (Benicio) hadn’t mastered the self-sufficiency of Bonham (Jones), who could make a knife out of stone. In the end, the simpler and more basic overcame the bigger, stronger and more technical. Tommy Lee’s weapon was also smaller and faster.”

Was he happy with the film? “Well, I will put it this way,” Brown said. “I created the colors of choice for Billy Friedkin (the director), who then designed and painted the picture.”


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About the Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes judo, aikido, diato-ryu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Tracker, survivalist, The Tracker, The Scout, Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, William Friedkin, Stalking Wolf, Delta Force, Navy Seals


Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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