A business based in Ferndale, Michigan that was able to mix self-defense with humor has become a viral sensation on Instagram and YouTube.
The business, called Detroit Urban Survival Training, and the tactics it teaches reached the likes of “Saturday Night Live” and the National Football League, and were mentioned 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 D.U.S.T. He co-owns the business, which opened last year, with his wife, Mirela Brown, 37. Together, they have grown the business’ 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 tactics wouldn’t work. It wasn’t until celebrities and influencers visited the business in person that they realized what D.U.S.T. teaches could work in dangerous situations.
“I would say nine out of 10 people we were coming across were sure it didn’t work,” said Dale Brown, who also is director of operations. “Like it was either magic or something made up or an internet thing. So when people go back and look at our history and find out we’re really in Detroit, they’re like wait, that must be real. You can’t run around Detroit and not have real stuff.”
The business focuses its Preventative Threat Management System on three things: psychology, law and skill. The goal is to use the “least amount of force to achieve safety,” while learning the laws to avoid getting in trouble, prosecuted or sued.
“We teach people how to create safety safely,” Brown said. “Specifically, we teach people how to become their own bodyguards — how to make themselves safe. And it’s psychology, law and skill in that order. So they can have a legal format to protect themselves, and their families and others, and also understand psychologically how to create the most non-adversarial interaction, so we can create the most nonviolent outcome by design. Specifically our training system is for creating peace.”
The training includes how to understand someone psychologically through recognizing invasive, aggressive and deceptive behavior. The training also includes how to deflect a knife and gun away from you and back to the person making the threat.
Detroit D.U.S.T. is the training school. It is part of the larger Detroit Threat Management Center, which has been providing bodyguard services and protection since 1994. The company protects domestic violence and stalking victims 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 are able to keep themselves safe, and police can help them, as well,” Brown said. “But ultimately, it’s about giving people the empowerment to keep themselves safe. It’s the women and children who were abused for many years. The training is what makes them able to recover and feel good about themselves going forward.”
The company provides 24-hour protection in such Detroit neighborhoods 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 a month or $10 a call.
D.U.S.T. ensures its tactics are for everyday people. But the positive feedback it received also came with trolls and memes, and even resulted in a ban from the video-based social media platform TikTok. A few influencers created videos that showed the company’s tactics landing them in heaven. The attention gained the business even more followers.
“Our message is getting out to people that would normally not get it because we’re using humor, as well,” Brown said. “Instead of us (avoiding) the humor, we’ve accepted it, we embrace it and we advocate it. So we like using humor to get people interested in survival. It’s such a serious subject that there’s an aversion to it naturally. So now those people that would normally not 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 himself for a video. Hooper successfully learned the tactics by the end of the video. The self-defense tactics could also be seen during the Los Angeles Rams National Football League game when Odell Beckham Jr. demonstrated disarming a threat using a football after a touchdown.
And Brown’s tactics were on display during that skit on “Saturday Night Live” that poked fun at a number of social media moments.
Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’9” also visited the company, where Brown showed him the tactics to disarm someone with a gun. Other celebrities and influencers who took an interest include YouTubers Master Ken, Rory and Mal and Kai Cenat.
People like Rory Fox, 20, and Shingirai Muparuri, 21, have traveled to get training by Brown. Fox, who is from Lansing, saw Royce Da 5’9” do the training, and he and Muparuri, also of Lansing, decided to attend the class Monday. Fox was originally skeptical about the tactics, but says now he is a believer.
“It’s very easy to subdue someone,” Fox said. “There’s a lot of pain centers all over the body. There’s places you wouldn’t even think about.” And Muparuri added, “You should work on preventing violence before anything happens.”
Anyone can take the training for $100 a month for open classes or $10 an hour per class, which take place Mondays and Fridays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. There also are options for private lessons, workshops and corporate training.
Starting the business in Detroit
Brown has lived in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in Michigan and in Germany. His mother was a doctor and captain in the Army, and his father was a history teacher in Ann Arbor. He joined the U.S. Army and was a paratrooper and private investigator. He served for three years. He then decided to get bodyguard training and take martial arts classes.
Brown launched the Detroit Threat Management Center in 1994, but a deadly incident took place in Detroit that changed his outlook on his business plan. In 1995, a woman was being attacked and dragged on the Belle Isle bridge, and, in what is believed to be an effort to escape, she jumped or was forced off the bridge into the water and died, according to news reports.
“That was what made me change,” Brown said. “From there, my first change was — I no longer cared about the business. I cared that we needed to make sure that that never happens again.”
Brown went on to provide security for the apartments he was living in, and was asked to bring security guards to several buildings in Detroit. He found volunteers to assist in lowering crimes in neighborhoods.
In 26 years, Brown’s company has trained several people 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 present, they will be there to help.
There are plans to expand the business in Detroit next year.
“Our goal is to get these schools in every city, state and country,” Brown said. “And our goal here is to have these small centers, so you have a place in your neighborhood to go train to learn psychology, law and skill for survival, and for police, too.”
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