#0003 Phyre Phryday Vlog 01/17/2020
MY FULL RAZOR’S EDGE ARTICLE – 05/2018
Hello Global Tribe Of PhyreKeepers (GTOP),
This week I just got back from doing the most successful Phryction PhyreKeeping Workshop I’ve ever had. I was in Quebec, Canada with the LES PRIMITIFS Tribe/School where >20 participants got not only Coals from new Methods they had never seen before, but one of the participants got his 1st Coal ever! I have to tell you… IT NEVER GETS OLD!!!
The Les Primitifs Tribe also sucessfully got one of the hardest woods commercially available – IPE, from South America, with a Janka Hardness of 3,510!!! What Method did they use? The (TD) Toggle Drill! The photos are spectacular!
After I got back from that wonderful 1st (and whirlwind) trip to Canada, I had some catching up to do and was unable to complete the 3rd Series Video on the (HD) Hand Drill. I made an executive decision and decided to do it Justice and finish it by next Phryction Phryday.
Allow me to present to you: The FULL article I was asked to write up for an anniversary edition of the Tracker School’s RAZOR’s EDGE. The published article didn’t include any of the photos I had with it, so here is the full article:
Hello Everyone, this is Joe Lau, aka “Ninja” Joe, (former Tracker Instructor 1996-7, Senior Instructor 1997-2001, Asst. Office Manager 2001-5)
(Left Photo: Taking a water break…)
and nothing says Greetings! from New Jersey right now like roadsides covered in the Wild Carrot (Daucus Carota) look a-likes Poison Hemlock (Conium Maculatum) mixed with Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis Matronalis) and highways where you wonder if the purple in the trees are Wisteria vines or blooming Paulownia Tomentosa.
(Right Photo: My 15 y/o son (2018), Jake, poses in front of some Poison Hemlock and Dame’s Rocket on Wolverton Rd. on the river by the old Tracker Farm.)
I was asked by the Moes’ to contribute to this Special – Tracker School’s 40th Birthday Commemorative Edition of THE RAZOR’S EDGE and am glad to do so. It’s also my understanding that the other themes of this edition are: “How did you find out about the Tracker School?” & “Building Your Inner Fire.” So, I have mixed all three into one. Since I had made myself an unofficial archiver all those years, so I’ve got a lot of stuff for you…
(Left Photos: My kids, Jake and Alexa (12 y/o) pose with the Tracker’s 20th & 25th Year Anniversary Banners. (Who can guess what they are standing in front of?))
PART 1 – How I found out about the Tracker School.
My childhood wasn’t fun. I was in and out of the hospital with life-threatening asthma attacks since I was 1 ½ y/o. I spent a lot of time in ERs and ICUs. Because of this I had a lot of deep thoughts about life and death. I think this is was the main cause of my attentions toward Nature and Human Nature. I was always the kid looking under logs, wading in creeks and streams, looking up trees and plants, obsessed with camping and fishing.
One day, during my middle school years while in our town library’s Nature section in Piscataway, NJ, I came across THE TRACKER & THE SEARCH (in hardcover). Normally, I just grab my stack of Nature and Martial Art or such books and take them home to read, but, this time, I sat down and started reading THE TRACKER until my mom found me and told me it was time to checkout and go.
(Right Photo: I still have the actual hardcover books from the library. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone.))
Cut to a few years later when I was a high school freshman, a classmate came up to me and said, “Hey, you know that Tom Brown guy you talk about? He has another book out.” Turned out my friend was talking about The Field Guide To Wilderness Survival, which I didn’t know about. (Remember, there were no computers or internet then, so you have to actually go to book stores and libraries to find out things.) As it turned out, that same friend also said as he looked on the last page of the book: “Hey, look. They have a school.” I said, “What?!”
Fast forward a few more years and I find myself pulling into the old Hackettstown Tracker Farm for a Standard Class on August 5th 1985, after I just got my driver’s license. I remember there was about 35 students. The instructors were some folks named Ruth, Rick (not Rick from the Tom’s childhood,) Karl “Bear” Povisils, Ed Lombi (who at the time was maker and co-designer of The Tracker Knife. Later, I would spend a few months assisting Ed Lombi cut out a few Tracker Knife blanks out of the tool steel on his machine shop bandsaw, Bear used to make the leather sheaths for them. I had one of these original models in black once…) “Big” Frank and Karen Sherwood and “Little” Frank was watching over little Tommy the 3rd, and another guy named whose name escapes me at this time. Needless to say, it was a transforming week for me.
Fast forward some more years and I had become one of the “Class Collectors.” I took all the classes I could, whenever I could.
(Left Photo: Some Tracker Newsletters from 1982-3 and a bumper sticker from the Tracker’s Store at the time of my Standard in 1985.)
(Right Photo: For my private collection. I still have all my original books, all 1st editions, some of them autographed, all of them dog-eared and the Wilderness Survival Guide is held together with a rubber band.)
I had started Martial Arts training when I was 11 y/o. Reading these books seemed to ring something true with me about where my Life Path was going. Now, much later, I can better define what I was trying to clarify for myself. In a nutshell, it helped me discover what I needed to be the parent and husband I am today. It’s about finding and maintaining Life Supporting Balance. Today, my usual saying to my kids is: “My job as your father is to keep you from being your own worst enemy.”
It was through those years that I discovered Humanity’s Universal Roles and Duties: 1) The Profiler/The Scout – Information Gatherer and Problem Solver, 2) The Provider/Hunter-Gatherer, 3) The Protector/The Warrior, and 4) The Preserver/The Healer. Before Humanity had settled into these “societies,” before that when Humanity was nomadic and tribal, it was the PARENT that had to be all of these things, all the time. Who were the FIRST to have to be and do these 4 Sacred Roles and Duties? PARENTS.
(Left Photos: During classes I used to use my books as notebooks if we went over things mentioned in the books. (I read with a pen 99% of the time now.))
PART 2 – Recalling Nostalgia for The Tracker School’s 40th Year.
In 1996, the Head Instructor at the time was Richard Cleveland. Also there, was Seth, Hilary and Brian as instructors at the time. Richard asked me to come up to the Tracker Farm in Asbury, NJ, wondering if I might consider coming on as an instructor after having a discussion he had with Tom and Debbie. No need to ask me twice.
This story is legit… As I was driving out the Farm driveway, in broad daylight, a coyote trotted across the open field, crossed the front of my truck looking at me, and then crossed over to the next field.
(Right Photo: (L-R) Me, Brian, Richard, Seth and Hilary.)
After learning all the School chores and duties and newly dividing up the lectures with the instructors back in 1996, as “low guy on the totem pole” I got the lectures that no one wanted. One of these was PRIMITIVE COOKING, “inherited” from Seth and Hilary. At the time, Primitive Cooking was a 45 min talk in the Barn drawn on the markerboard. I had a REALLY difficult time trying to get folks to understand the methods and concepts as evidenced by the incredible number of raised hands and questions. Finally, I decided that it was more important to transmit this info THE WAY I WOULD’VE WANTED IT transmitted to me and that it was my lecture to do with. So, I made it MINE.
(Right Photo: Me, standing at the old Tracker Farm driveway. (Photo taken by my son, Jake.) We still live 3 miles from the old Tracker Farm. I met and know the new renter of the Farm who lives there with his family. He told me back in 2013 that they had a few unexpected visits from former Trackers. This is a private residence now and people should not show up to sightsee. FYI, the outer buildings, including the BARN, have succumbed and fallen in.)
At first, I started off bring in a fish wrapped in clay and cooked in the stove in the house. I brought it out and broke it open and served it in the Barn. I also started heating up rocks in the grill pit (you know, where the big, soot coated box holding the hot water was outside the Barn…) and would drop them into a clear glass coffee urn on the table on the Barn Stage. After seeing that I would have ZERO hands up with questions following these demos, I knew I had to go all the way. The Steam Pit questions were still killing me. Before you knew it, the whole class was outside for 2 hrs on Thursday afternoon having their lunches with something other than Tracker Stew since they got there. Grilled Shrimps, Steaks, Jerky, Fry Bread, Fish (sometimes Seafood!) I went all out. It was a LOT of PREP and work, but totally worth it. Although, on some of those hot August summer afternoons next to those fires for over 2 hrs was killer…
(Right & 3 Below Photos: “Iron Chef Primitive!” Getting ready to show drying meats, next to the Spit Method, Coal and Hot Rock Cooking.)
Later, Mark Tolleffson came on as the Tracker School Chef in charge of the kitchen. It was only natural, I guess when he was transitioned over to some instructor duties that he would start taking on the Primitive Cooking talk. (Truthfully, after doing that for awhile I was glad to pass it on. Plus, what that meant was I get to teach more and different lectures!
(Right Photos: Passing the torch (and the plates.))
In 1997, this was a pretty big year for me. My Sensei’s Dojo hosted our Grandmaster from Japan in New Jersey. I passed my 5th Black Belt test with my Sensei. I had my 1st trip to Japan. Instructors Brian, Richard, Seth and Hilary all left. I was the only person left who knew all the jobs and responsibilities of the whole school! Onboard came interns Ruth Ann Colby (Martin), Brian Richard, Dan Stanchfield, Tom McElroy and our fearless leader Kevin Reeve as Director. I had the honor of being promoted to Senior Instructor.
Now having “senority,” I got to teach some of my favorite subjects, especially Stone Tools and Friction Fire! (To this day, I still say my favorite subjects are Stone Tool making, Friction FireKeeping and Primitive Cooking, because… “I’m a glutton, I love to eat, and I can’t eat without a Fire, and I can’t have a Fire without Stone Tools.”
(Left & Below Photo: Getting ready to enter into a round OBSIDIAN boulder that Instructor Bill McConnell the III and two other students brought back to the California Classes in Boulder Creek near Santa Cruz. Billy holds the Tracker School’s Official Ceremonial Pipe. To Billy left is a solid copper rod used to enter the solid chunk of volcanic glass. One of my MOST favorite memories! If you haven’t seen Billy’s Flintknapping artwork online, you NEED to!)
My all-time favorite was teaching LANCE at the Scout Classes. I miss that so much!
(Right Photo: Going over the Advanced “4 Count.”)
It would be an incredible ride up to 2001! Do you remember “Y2K?” We had classes topping off at 150 students up to the new millennium! Crazy! Then, the horror of 9/11 and the loss of Debbie’s brother as the co-pilot on board one of the United flights at the Twin Towers. When crazy things happened in the outside world during a course and Tom or someone would bring news, it was an odd disconnect from the rest of the world while we were in Nature. We still did our best to trade classes so that each of us were keeping our growth curves up by teaching many different subjects.
One of the greatest lessons I ever learned is the “Coaching Effect.” That’s when the Teacher starts growing and learning further beyond students due to the process of teaching. I explain it like this. By HAVING TO transmit information like a skill to another, one is forced to specifically clarify things for oneself that one kind of “knows,” but because it needs to be communicated across, breakthroughs abound for the transmitter of knowledge.
(Left Photo: I still have my famous totes for some of the lectures I used to go over. Slings and Bolas, Pottery, Bone Tools… Primitive Lighting was always fun. There’s nothing like setting a potato chip on fire! How about an upside down antlered deer skull oil lamp?)
If I were to have to say what I miss the most, it was the honor to be able to transmit to others the things that were important to me as well. I used to sit on those hard, wooden benches too, notebook and tape recorder in hand. I truly felt like I had found my place in the world. Here are some things from that time…
(Right Photo: From the old Tracker Store: 3 hats, a mug, a canvass bag. Also, one of my Tracker jackets, an article copy, an old algorithm diagram of the Courses from 2005. An old True Tracks Newsletter and a small sculpture bust of Tom that some student made.)
(Right Photo: In my personal collection I have EVERY TV program the Tracker was ever on up to 2005. I have our old analog cell phones we used to use. This framed photo picture used to be in the Tracker Farm House.)
(Left Photo: I used to work closely with Dan Hirschberg who was the Tracker School’s Public Relations guy. I still have some of his old files.)
(Right Photo: Some old Newspaper clippings and article copies on Tracker.)
(Left Photo: I have 2 large totes full of just photos from Tracker classes and events. In the foreground is an old photo from the hardcover inside jacket cover of the book THE SEARCH from Tracker Farm House basement rescued from flooding.)
(Left & Below Photos: This is a New Jersey Social Studies middle school textbook from 1987. Inside the textbook is a page on Tom Brown.)
(Right Photo: A pamphlet from Quest which was started by Karl “Bear” Povisils who ran the Vision Quests back and a day. I did my 4 day VQ with one of Bear’s gatherings. A plaque that used to hang at the Tracker Farm House. A left-over roll of Tracker’s 25th Anniversary stickers.)
(Left & Right Photos: Here is a front and back look at a rare copy of an omnibus from 2003 of 3 books in 1.)
(Left Photo: I have the stool that the instructors used to sit on from the stage in the old Barn in Asbury NJ. Since the Tracker School had a policy to not give out anyone’s personal info, after classes students would put together address lists and contact info. The file on the stool are my collection of class student lists from all classes I was at as student and instructor.)
Moving along, I’ll say that the greatest things I got accomplished was being the Director of the Tracker Standards in Japan and Germany, taught exclusively in the native language by native instructors!
(Right Photo: Left, is the 1st page of the German teaching manual of the Standard Course with the handwritten notes by the German Senior Instructor Dani. Right, is a group class photo of the Japanese Standard. Lower Right, is a book recently written by the Japanese Standard Senior Instructor Taku Kawaguchi whose school is called “Wild and Native.” Japan IS my most favorite place to instruct. When I am there (my other home) I co-teach with Taku Kawaguchi. I have since been there and have taught 14 times. I plan to go back next year with the family.)
(Left Photo: A bird’s eye view photo of the Japanese Tracker Standard Course in progress. My wife, Raquel, who was the Tracker Office Manager stands behind the back table.)
(Right Photo: Left, is a children’s story book of the story Grandfather and the Fisherman. Above Middle is THE WAY OF THE SCOUT in Japanese retitled HUNTED (because the loosely based Tracker movie The Hunted was coming out.) Above Right, is the book GRANDFATHER in Japanese. The 2 books below contain stories of Japanese people visiting the Tracker School.)
(Below Photo: Autographs in these 1st editions by Tom.)
I’ll use this as a segway into the 7 Honors of the Scout, which you may or may not know or remember from one of the higher numbered Philosophy courses 20 years ago, but this is my take on it after applying to my life all these years. I use the mnemonic: “If a Scout doesn’t follow the 7 Honors, you will have Primal Guilt,” or Pr.I.M.All Gui.L.T.
“Pr’ is for Prophet.
“I” is for Interpreter.
“M” is for Messenger.
“All” is for All Roles and Duties.
“Gui” is for Guide.
“L” is for Landmark.
“T” is for Teacher.
The Scout (Profiler) is the umbrella Role and Duty over the Provider, Protector and Preserver. One cannot get what one needs to maintain and sustain, to survive and thrive, without Life Supporting Information and Problem Solving and Balancing. One cannot BE the other 3 Roles and Duties without first being the Profiler/Scout. My personal definitions and clarifications of the 7 Honors are:
Of Information and Knowledge –
The Prophet is a Predictor,
The Interpreter is a Bridge,
The Messenger is a Vehicle,
The ALL are the Provider/Protector/Preserver in that the Scout has to BECOME WHAT IS NECESSARY in order to Balance and Support Life.
The Guide is a SignPost,
The Landmark is a Source,
The Teacher is a Transmitter.
So, in 2001, I realized that most of my life was spent learning the skills of the Provider/Hunter-Gatherer and the Protector/Warrior. My path was about to take me where I never would have believed. After having to take mandatory Wilderness EMT training as a Tracker Instructor, I discovered that I was headed toward the Role and Duty of the Healer. At one course I had made the announcement that I was going to be a paramedic. Two guys who were there took me aside and gave me this advise: “You don’t want to be a paramedic. You WANT to be a NURSE.” And, I was like, “WHAT?!” Larry and Walter, were both nurses and they reasonably and rationally explained to me the values of being a nurse. In 2001, I enrolled in the Warren County RN program and started my new role as Asst. Office Manager alongside my wife Raquel who was Office Manager. I had recommended Ruth Ann as the new Senior Instructor. And them 9/11 happened…
(Left Photo: In a Bamboo Garden tended by monks in Japan. If it was an honor to Instructor at the Tracker School on both Coasts domestically, it was a greater honor to be the ambassador to Instruct GLOBALLY.)
PART 3 – Building Your Inner Fire (PHYRE!)
From 2001 to 2005, I went through and completed the RN program. Although I jokingly state that “I wouldn’t wish nursing school on my worst enemy,” it was one of the best things I ever did. I wanted to do one thing and one thing only with nursing: Emergency Nursing. After graduating and passing my tests I was precepted immediately into the local ER! I was rounding out my 4 Roles and Duties fulfilling my Preserver/Healer vocation. In 2005, the Tracker School went through some major changes… One of those changes was the office was moved down to Waretown NJ… Raquel was pregnant with our 2nd child Alexa.
After 6 years in 2 local ERs, I was also an infusion RN and now I’m a home healthcare RN. I have had the same patient for almost 7 years now since 2011.
(Right Photo: Newspaper photo from the late 90’s demonstrating my Inner “Phyre.”)
In August 2010, I felt I needed to focus specifically and become the best I can at ONE THING. As I looked up into the clear New Jersey night sky toward the North Star/Big Dipper, a fireball (a “shooting star” burning up upon entering into the atmosphere from space) streaked across the sky for 3 seconds blinding me for a minute till I got my night vision back. I was going to focus solely on Friction FireKeeping. I see regular shooting stars all the time, but the timing here was what it was. If I was a bettingman, which I’m not, I might have guessed it would have been Stone ToolMaking since years ago I practically needed a “12 Step Program” for that addiction.
Since 2010, I regularly demonstrate EVERY KNOWN Wood Friction FireKeeping Method from around the world in an hour. ALL Variations of: Hand Drill, Mouth Drill, Bow Drill, Pump Drill, Toggle Drill, Fire Plow, Fire Saw, Fire Thong and the Fire Drill of the Gauchos.
I called it the PhyreDojo.com. “Phyre”, by my definition means: A Life Supporting Fire, differentiating it from just any old type of fire with any or no purpose.
(Left Photo: Alexa stands next to her “Alexa Drill”. (When Alexa was really young she was into HELLO KTTY, so her Alexa Drill is completely covered in Hello Kitty Duct Tape.)
The Phyre Dojo Logo: (Right Photo:)
contains what looks like Japanese characters, but are in fact brush stroke characters of each of the Phryction Phyre methods: (from clockwise 1:00) Hand Drill, Mouth Drill, Bow Drill, Pump Drill, Toggle Drill, Phyre Plow, Phyre Saw and Phyre Thong. I call these The 8 Primal Basics.
I created videos on not only every method but multiple variations on each method. But, that wasn’t enough… I had to do them with every material I could find. I had to use denser wood materials. I had to come up with devices and methods that were unique and original.
The PhyreDojo has come to find that there are 22 VARIABLES necessary to know and balance successfully in order to perform the ethical vocation of Phryction PhyreKeeping:
15) Back & Forth/Reciprocation
21) Surface Area
At this point, I want to say that I think there are 2 kinds of Discoveries. There are Discoveries for the Self and there are Discoveries for Humanity. Discoveries for the Self are when there is something that Humans already know but you are now learning. For example, we know of, and can do, Bow Drills. At Tracker School, you Discover What it is and How to do it and Why. Discoveries for Humanity are when there is something that NO ONE has seen, or experienced or knows of, and when it is Discovered, it is Discovery for Humanity.
I like to think that Humanity should know that
- You can get your 4 y/o daughter to make her own Phryction Phyre coal with a device designed around a spring pole lathe.
- You can get a coal from the hardest woods in the world. Osage Orange, Gaboon Ebony, Lignum Vitae, and the hardest wood in the world: Australian Buloke!
- You can get a coal from turning a spindle back and forth ONLY HALFWAY at 180 degrees. It gets better! You can get a coal from turning a spindle back and forth ONLY A QUARTER TURN at 90 degrees! And, with and ASH spindle on an ASH hearth. It’s all on video. I called it the Q’apla Drill.
- You can successfully spin 4 Spindles at once for 4 coals. I called it the Xylo Drill.
- You can do a Fire Saw with ASH on ASH.
- You can do EVERY Phryction Phyre Method from around the world with BAMBOO! Bamboo is my most favorite material of all materials. And, it’s not a plant or tree wood, IT’S A GRASS!
- And much, much more.
(Both Left Photos: 4 y/o Alexa shows off her coal in March of 2010.)
(Right Photo: Holding a spindle made of ASH with a reload plug of Australian Buloke. I did Buloke Spindle on Buloke Hearth. Buloke has a Janka Hardness rating of >5000. Lignum Vitae is 4500.)
There’s nothing like showing people the Phryction Phyre is not a myth. Phryction Phyre is one of the best “gateway drugs” into Nature. It’s one of the main reasons I fell in love with the skills. When I was younger, I tried a few “nature” programs, but I found them to be “boring,” but more importantly, I figured out WHY…
Because of my difficult childhood, as beautiful and fascinating nature was, I found there’s a reason WHY Tracker School grabs you “viscerally.” It’s because of the “3 Natures”: Nature, Mother Nature, Human Nature relationship. I think of Nature as the totality of the Universe. Think COSMOS. Think Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Think Carl Sagan. Then, there the speck of dust within a speck of dust within a speck of dust called Planet Earth. This tiny sphere has a “Goldilocks” environment which allows for LIFE, this is Mother Nature. The majority of NATURE has NOTHING to do with LIFE. And then, there’s Human Nature. Life that has self-awareness of itself.
Tracker gave me the Nature, Mother Nature, Human Nature relationship. Not just, “This is an oak leaf.” At Tracker, you get, “This tree is a for tools, shelter, fire and food. It keeps you alive. You live BECAUSE of this, tree, plant, stone, animal…
Anyway, kids love Friction Fire. My main focus is teaching ALL aspects of Phryction Phyre as a Primitive S.T.E.A.M.! The skills of Friction Fire contains empirical, reproducible, proven evidence based Science, Tech/Tools, Engineering/Building, Art, and Math/Measurements!
(Left Photo: I have made every Friction Fire method with BAMBOO.)
So, here’s some advice: If you are going to introduce it and have them TRY it and you want them to have a SUCCESS. You start with the PUMP DRILL.
(Right Photo: Alexa does the Pump Drill… In front of… the old Tracker School Store Shed! Which is in our backyard!)
(Left Photo: Jake lights up a Pump Drill. Spindle is made of OAK. Fly Wheel is made up of BAMBOO. A copper tube secures a YUCCA Reload Plug which along with the PINE Hearth board, shows success. See Jake light this up on YOUTUBE! (BTW, oak is terrible long term for a Pump Drill spindle. Eventually it will split.))
Also, Search: PHYREDOJO on YouTube.
Then, you move to more challenging methods. The next gateway should be the CRUTCH DRILL. It is a MUCH BETTER, more stable, version of the Bow Drill.
(Right Photo: Jake demos the Crutch Drill.)
Currently the old Tracker School Store has been storing my teaching totes, Phryction Phyre experiments and…
I have basically been out of the Tracker picture up until last year when I met Christopher Harley of Fractal Martial Arts and Ben Sanford of Tribal Edge who were instructing the SCOUT PROTECTOR COURSE in the Primitive Camp. I brought my daughter Alexa down with me that day and we had a great time! One of her favorite and memorable parts of that trip was not only being on the log over the water but she loves the ride in and out of the camp going through those giant puddle holes in our suburban! It was that day I ran into the Moes’ son Kyle and “little” River Brown, who’s not so little anymore.
I remain FaceBook friends with all the old instructors from that time. We are all living our own lives and paths. I have been working nights since I became an RN in 2005. I currently still work 7 nights a week as an RN. I hope you enjoyed this walk down Joe Lau’s Tracker School wanderings. I have to go now, a storm knocked down a cherry tree in my backyard and I have to cut it up for our woodstove…
(Left Photo: You are looking at the old Tracker School Store cubbies that all those T-Shirts used to be sold in! Right now, ALL 39 Cubbies are holding my Hand Drill Plant Stalk collections. Each cubby holds one different type of plant stalk. I have made Phyre from all of these types. All are from New Jersey alone!)
I will finish with my most favorite writing from Tom’s book THE SEARCH:
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A final thought, in my opinion, there is only ONE interpretation of the “Sacred Question WHY?” and that is Sally Field in the cemetery scene of STEEL MAGNOLIAS with her friends asking why her daughter had to die. Stay moral and ethical everyone. Keep Going.
“May everyone around you feel and be safer because you are there.”
“The world will not be this way within the reach of my arm,”
Agent Starling, from the book HANNIBAL, by Thomas Harris (Silence Of The Lambs
Joe Lau, RN