A Ferndale, Michigan-based company that could mix self-defense with humor has become a viral sensation on Instagram and YouTube.
Dubbed Detroit Urban Survival Training, the business and the tactics taught within it have achieved hits like Saturday Night Live and the National Football League, and been featured by celebrities and social media influencers. Co-owner Dale Brown also spent time teaching Detroit Pistons mascot Hooper how to defend himself.
Brown, 52, of Bloomfield Hills, is the founder of Detroit Urban Survival Training, often referred to as DUST. He co-owns the company, which opened last year, with his wife Mirela Brown, 37. Together they have grown the company’s social media presence to over 232,000 followers on Instagram and 1.27 million subscribers on YouTube.
Many who watched the videos were convinced that the self-defense tactic would not work. It wasn’t until celebrities and influencers visited the company in person that they realized what DUST teaches in dangerous situations.
“I’d say nine out of 10 people we met were sure it wasn’t working,” said Dale Brown, who is also director of operations. “Like it’s either magic or something made up or an internet thing. So when people go back and look at our history and find out that we’re really in Detroit, they say wait, this has to be real. You can’t run around in Detroit and not have real stuff.”
The company focuses its pre-emptive threat management system on three things: Psychology, Law, and Dexterity. The goal is to “achieve safety with the least amount of effort” while learning the laws so as not to get into trouble, be prosecuted, or sued.
“We’re teaching people how to be safe in a safe way,” Brown said. “Specifically, we’re teaching people how to become their own bodyguards – how to keep themselves safe. And it’s psychology, law, and skill in that order. So they can have a legal format to protect themselves, their families and others, and also understand psychologically how to create the most non-violent interaction so that we can achieve the most non-violent outcome through design. Our training system in particular serves to create peace.”
The training includes how to understand someone psychologically by recognizing invasive, aggressive and deceptive behavior. Training also includes how to deflect a knife and gun away from you and back towards the threatening person.
Detroit DUST is the training school. It is part of the larger Detroit Threat Management Center, which has provided bodyguard services and protection since 1994. The company protects victims of domestic violence and stalking for free and hosts a free training class on Fridays for victims and families to learn how to become their own bodyguards.
“We explain how they can protect themselves and the police can also help them,” Brown said. “But ultimately, it’s about empowering people to protect themselves. It is the women and children who have been abused for many years. The training allows them to recover and feel good about the future.”
The company provides 24-hour protection in Detroit neighborhoods such as Palmer Woods, Harbor Town, Sherwood Forest, Detroit Golf Club and Victoria Park, along with 26 buildings in Palmer Park and over 100 homes and businesses that have individual contracts. Individuals can also request roadside assistance or protection for $10 per month or $10 per call.
Go viral overnight
DUST ensures its tactics are fit for common people. But the positive feedback also came with trolls and memes, even leading to a ban on video-based social media platform TikTok. Some influencers created videos showing the company’s tactics that landed them in the sky. The attention brought the company even more followers.
“Our message gets through to people who wouldn’t normally get it because we use humor, too,” Brown said. “Rather than[avoiding]the humor, we’ve embraced it, we embrace it, and we endorse it. So we like to use humor to get people interested in survival. It’s such a serious subject that there’s naturally an aversion to it. So now those who wouldn’t normally even be interested are actually interested.”
The Detroit Pistons invited Brown to a basketball game where he taught the team’s mascot, Hooper, how to defend for a video. Hooper successfully learned the tactic at the end of the video. The self-defense tactic was also seen during the Los Angeles Rams National Football League game when Odell Beckham Jr. demonstrated disarming a threat with a football after a touchdown.
And Brown’s tactics were showcased during that skit on Saturday Night Live, which poked fun at a number of social media moments.
Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’9 also visited the company, where Brown showed him the tactic of disarming someone with a gun. Other celebrities and influencers who took an interest in it included YouTubers Master Ken, Rory and Mal, and Kai Cenat.
The likes of Rory Fox, 20, and Shingirai Muparuri, 21, have traveled to take Brown’s training. Fox, who is from Lansing, watched Royce Da 5’9” practice and he and Muparuri, also from Lansing, decided to join the class on Monday. Fox was initially skeptical about the tactic but now says he’s convinced.
“It’s very easy to subdue someone,” Fox said. “There are many pain centers throughout the body. There are places you wouldn’t even think of.” And Muparuri added: “You should work to prevent violence before it happens.”
Anyone can take the training for $100 per month for open classes or $10 per hour per class, held Mondays and Fridays from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. There are also options for private lessons, workshops and corporate training.
Foundation of the company in Detroit
Brown has lived in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in Michigan and in Germany. His mother was a doctor and an army captain, and his father was a history teacher in Ann Arbor. He joined the US Army and was a paratrooper and private investigator. He served for three years. Then he decided to train as a bodyguard and take martial arts lessons.
Brown founded the Detroit Threat Management Center in 1994, but a fatal incident happened in Detroit that changed his mind about his business plan. In 1995 a woman was attacked and dragged onto the Belle Isle Bridge and in an alleged attempt to escape she jumped or was pushed off the bridge into the water and died, according to news reports.
“That made me want to change,” Brown said. “From then on, my first change was – I didn’t bother with the business anymore. It was important to me that we have to make sure that something like this never happens again.”
Brown continued to provide security at the apartments where he lived and was asked to bring security to several Detroit buildings. He found volunteers to help reduce crime in the neighborhood.
In 26 years, Brown’s company has trained several individuals to assist in both armed and unarmed situations. And since 1998, the company has had a contract to prevent cigarette truck hijackings. He tells everyone to always call the police first, and if someone from the Threat Management Center is around, they’ll be there to help.
Business in Detroit is to be expanded next year.
“Our goal is to have these schools in every city, state and country,” Brown said. “And our goal here is to have these little centers so you have a place in your neighborhood where you can get training to learn psychology, law and survival skills, and also for the police force.”
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