Why did I start looking into Detroit Urban Survival Training / Dale Brown?
When I first joined tiktok, I was hoping to check out what was going on in the martial arts niche. This was back in 2019, and sad to say, I was underwhelmed. Tik Tok was still not high on the radar of martial arts related content creators, and out of all of the martial arts accounts I had followed, only amateur wrestling seemed to be featuring unique content.
Other combat sports such as MMA and BJJ mostly featured grainy videos and were largely underwhelming. At the time, I also noticed that videos that were getting views were male-female self defense demos. I didn’t think much of it – and tried posting some of my own unique martial arts content. This was quickly rebuffed by the tiktok algo, which promptly proceeded to brand a lot of videos with the following tag:
Fast forward to October 2021. Many martial arts communities were abuzz about an account called Detroit Urban Survival Training (or DUST for short). There, a buff looking African American man, was sharing self defense tips – akin to those I had seen years ago on tiktok and dismissed as “fads”. The difference though, was that DUST was slowly taking over various martial arts feeds. Being dueted to, reacted to, parodied to and remixed. DUST wasn’t just triggering the martial arts community on Tik Tok though. Soon every martial arts community was getting enraged with DUST’s content – regardless of the social media network they preferred.
Who is The Owner Of Detroit Urban Survival Training (aka DUST)?
Now, I’ve done extensive background checks on martial arts “gurus” in the past – so I thought I should check out DUST as well. Right off the bat, a lot of DUST’s video’s aesthetics raise alarms. One can’t help but notice that DUST’s front man (a Mr Dale Brown) is always dressed in a make believe police uniform – and even his car (often used in “car safety” videos) is at best, a homage to police enforcement, and at worst – an attempt to impersonate them.
Brown’s vehicle is equipped with a top bar light, a thinly veiled attempt at mimicking law enforcement, though within the legal bounds. If the top bar light was in either blue or red he would find himself in world of legal trouble. As is though, Michigan permits the use of a top white light. A rather handy visual aide to immediately convey a sense of authority to the random viewer.
Now, on to titles – Detroit Urban Survival’s front man refers to himself as Commander Dale Brown. “Commander” is a rather ambiguous title, and a lay man might easily think Brown has some sort of formal association to the military or law enforecement. While it is common in many “McDojo” situations, for the head “guru” to employ some form of stolen valor angle, it’s not that straight forward in Brown’s case. I haven’t yet been able to disprove that he’s had a military background. The biggest clue about his service, remains an image Brown has posted himself – depicting his young and dapper self below the Airborne School banner.
How Old is Dale Brown? When was DUST started?
My first step in researching Brown has been to figure out how old he is – in order to get an estimate of how much time he’s actually spent at military school. Doing some guesstimation from the public information out there, I’ve come to a conclusion that Dale Brown is currently 52 years old. As for the entity known as DUST though, things are a bit murky. According to his own website – Detroit Threat Management was founded in 1994. Upon further checking, I was able to verify that the incorporation papers for the company were filed in late 1993 – so that appears to check out. At first glance at least.
However in a later article, Brown seems to offer an alternative timeline. According to a mintpressnews interview with Brown from 2015:
“Brown served as a U.S. Army Airborne paratrooper from 1989 to 1991, then moved into private investigation work in Virginia. He began teaching self-defense classes at the YMCA and public parks in 1994…”
This claim is corroborated in another article – Brown was reportedly employed as security at “Mr. B’s Pub” and also did lifeguarding at the YMCA, where he also taught self-defense and swim classes.
I’ve not been able to verify those 2 years of self-admitted military service however, as Brown seems to be skilled at the social media game. These types of military service claims are usually dealt with by checking with military service databases. However Brown seems to have intentionally left out several key details needed for verification in all his social media profiles. Having listened to hours of Commander Dale Brown talking, I can also tell you that he almost never discusses his military experience and mostly talks about the start of his business.
What did Commander Dale Brown Train?
According to his own account, Brown was raised abroad – mostly in Germany. This meant his return to US could have been somewhat of a culture shock. Brown appears to have finished highschool in Germany. From there, he says he moved on to the US Army Airborne Infantry School. The interesting bit about this part of his background, is that this type of a course lasts about 3 weeks. In fact, the wikipedia for United States Army Airborne School outlines what each week of the program is for. For all intents and purposes, Brown appears to have spent under 2 years in the Army. From the Army, he moved on to Virginia where he became a licensed Private Detective – or so he claims. His Linkedin profile paints a confusing picture, where he claims to have become a PI in 1990 – while at the same time, claiming to have been in the Army from 1989 until 1991.
Another consideration is – Jump school is located in Georgia while he claims to have become a PI in Virginia.
Brown claims to be a licensed PI in the Commonwealth of Virginia and that he is maintaining this license. A search through the publicly available records of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services seems to debunk this claim however.
It’s unclear if he had the license at one point and then let it expire – nonetheless, he still claims the license is current on his linkedin page.
Curiously – several crucial years in Brown’s history appear unaccounted for. It’s unclear what Brown was upto between 1990 and late 1993 when he started self defense classes.
And while we’re on topic of self defense classes – his education is eyebrow raising. In spite of having incorporated in December of 1993, Brown claims to have earned these certificates in 1994:
As far as the NRA courses go – he has listed 3 courses on his bio. The “Shotgun” course will set you back 2 days and roughly $200. The “Pistol” course is also 2 days and $200. And the “Home Defense” course, which seems to have been renamed to “Personal Protection in the Home”, also takes 2 days and costs $250 dollars. In short, to match Brown’s certifications, you’d have to be willing to claim a lot of things, spare about a week of your time and $650.
As for the Executive protection institute… EPI seems to be located in Berryville, Virgnia. They have a long history in the business. That being, said their course lasts 7 days and takes 100 plus hours. It totals about $5000 today, and was between 2k and 3k in the 90s. (EPI recently changed ownership so bear that in mind when you look them up)
That brings our total “expertise” spend to about 2 weeks of training and $3650.
By the way – Brown also claims to be certified for the Management of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive threats – but we’ll let you be the judge of that.
What came first – the chicken or the egg?
In Brown’s origin story, it’s unclear if training others predates his exploits as a security threat manager – but I personally feel it doesn’t. Here’s why. On a podcast Brown details moving from Virginia to Detroit. This is presumably after he had completed the bodyguard course in Virginia, and what he refers to as getting a “Private Investigator’s license”. He mentions being low on money and unable to pay his rent. This is something he often shares in his interviews.
“When I started on the East side, I didn’t have any money. I went to the building owners and I said: ‘Listen we need to help families because they’re being killed and robbed in the apartment buildings you own here.’ The building owners were from the suburbs, very wealthy men… They explained to me they don’t want my help, they don’t need my help and they’re not gonna help me because they’re not interested in anything I have to sell. I wasn’t selling anything except safety for the families. They were not interested in safety for the families, so.”
Later Brown went back to them with an altered proposal:
“I went back to the same wealthy people and I said give me 6 months, give me a free apartment because I’m about to get evicted anyway because I don’t have any money so the guy was like ‘Ok, I’ll give you 6 months but I’m putting you out if it doesn’t work and I don’t believe it’s gonna work…’
Brown clarifies he was on his own at the time. It was just him, a rifle and a dog.
There Brown learned a painful lesson about Detroit PD. Even before the World Economic Crisis, the Detroit Police department wasn’t keen on reacting to crime reports. While the Police weren’t thrilled about Dale’s brand of “private policing”, he started to have a lot of support from locals. As Detroit deteriorated thanks to the downward spiral of the automotive industry, Brown stood his ground. In order to scale up his business, he started something called Vipers.
Before DUST, there was Vipers
Brown’s current web page appears to have been registered in November of 2020 – but the youtube channel and facebook page have existed substantially longer. The facebook page is named Detroit Threat Management Center and has existed since 2009. This correlates to the company’s youtube which was founded in 2009 as well. Thanks to Facebook’s troubled history we’re now able to verify that when the page was made it was called Vipers threat management. Vipers threat management operated from a separate url – threatmanagementcenter.com . This url is still live today.
As with everything attached to Mr Dale Brown, Vipers is also an acronym. It stands for Violence Intervention Protective Emergency Response System. And it appears to have elements of a Multilevel Marketing organization at it’s core. For starters it requires VIPERS course takers also “volunteer” without a financial incentive.
Here are some particularly interesting parts of the VIPERS program:
V.I.P.E.R.S. are also required to volunteer to put their lives on the line for those in need and without any financial incentives. The purpose of this level of selflessness is to ensure that we do not train money motivated people; those who are money motivated are susceptible to selling their loyalty to the highest bidder therefore putting their clients at risk.
In addition there’s also this:
Upon graduation from all 25 component certifications V.I.P.E.R.S. are elevated to the status of a certified Threat Management Specialist. All participants are required to be on call to protect those who are in need of escort and protection from immediate danger.
And finally there’s a promise of the American Dream:
Graduates become instructors of Threat Management and facilitate corporations and communities. The starting salary for graduates range from $50,000.00 annually, and after 5 years of deployment $150,000.00+ annually can be expected.
Vipers first brushes with the media seemed to be positive. This was perhaps due to the troubled history of the police department in Detroit.
An article from 2013 by the Independent notes that Detroit was going through a very hard time, with public services near collapse. It also mentions how police response time was an hour and how 40% of street lights did not work. A long time council woman is quoted saying:
“It takes 58 minutes for a police car to come if they accept your call,” she added. “The only calls they accept are if there’s a gun and they believe you’re not lying when you say it. In my middle-income neighborhood, we pay a private security service … Once I was in my house at three o’clock in the afternoon and three young men tried to break in. The first call I made? Threat Management.”
Brown also contributed to the Independent article, explaining that his entire force would stop carrying weapons by the end of that year. He also reiterated parts from the VIPER pledge I mentioned above: “It is an organization that is driven by the mission, not the money. If there was no money, would [we] still do this? Yes, there would just be less of us, less often,” he said.
Brown’s VIPERs would escort people for only 10$ a pop – they were especially keen to help the victims of domestic violence and would help them for free.
Brown’s system of asking for an apartment free of charge in return for neighborhood security seemed like a good deal.
And just as things were picking up in the right direction, a documentary filmmaker moved close to Detroit Threat Management Headquarters. As with most documentary makers that end up moving next to a paramilitary organization, the filmmaker was quickly captivated by the organization, figuratively speaking.
Detroit Threat Management: Two Scenes from Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman on Vimeo.
But in spite of shadowing the organization for about 2 years, the filmmaker opted to focus on the romantic relationships in the team rather than highlighting the para military nature of the organization. Result? Brown became somewhat of a non-threatening caricature. Still Dale Brown has come a long way from charging $15 per person to teach his techniques in the park.
While it’s easy to criticize the martial arts techniques of DUST – it’s hard to deny the impact that these Police wannabe types have had on people’s lives.
Brown’s a very charismatic person, and is very aware of how he comes across to the public, almost too aware. In the bullshido business, a lot of times these self made gurus seem completely unaware. This is a trait Brown doesn’t share with a typical “fake guru” though. He seems to be willing to play into the stereotype, and ham it up for the cameras though always aware enough to make sure his points about policing and life are very relatable.
With the rise of racial tensions in America, Brown stopped supporting the NRA. While it was still there – most of the content Brown was posting on his personal facebook page between 2015 and today seemed to be dedicated to racial justice and reform. However, in another sign that Brown has perfect self awareness, he’s recently cleared the entirety of his feed once he reached peak stardom.
Pre-Famous DUST vs BJJ
While DUST is undoubtedly successful as a training center and as a bodyguard provider, one thing is likely to be unreachable – legitimacy in the world of martial arts.
DUST has now captivated the attention of the broader martial arts community but he has a long history of trying to goad “legit” martial arts, albeit unsuccessfully. For years Brown has been mocking jiujitsu and mixed martial arts as unfit for survival. However thanks to his localized presence and inactive social media, nobody really noticed- until he became a megastar.
Tik Tok Fame Comes – Ironically
In 2020 Brown’s star started to rise on the social media platform Tiktok. Though not in the way one might expect. Tiktok is especially geared toward sucking the user into a rabbit hole of themed content, encouraging you to binge watch video after video centered around a particular piece of music or theme. Brown first joined Tik Tok as any other user, keen to provide engaging self defense content. After a 6 year absence from social media, he focused all his charisma on Tiktok. But alas there he was getting slapped by the same “dangerous” restrictions (that I mentioned in the beginning) that most martial arts creators on Tik Tok face – thereby dwarfing his reach on the platform.
But while Brown’s personal star was dimmed by Tik Tok’s algorithm, his content was unknowingly developing a powerful online hate club. A group of people who couldn’t get enough of his ridiculous videos because … they were simply quite ridiculous to anyone with any kind of real martial arts experience.
And because life loves irony, while Detroit Urban Survival Training the “creator” was getting suppressed on Tik Tok, DUST eventually ended up parodied on cult comedy show Saturday Night Live, as an integral part of tiktok. What gives?
Brown is a social media genius, and while Tik Tok was mercilessly throwing the ban hammer at him, Brown seamlessly shifted focus to Tiktok’s main competitor – youtube shorts.
(This clip has been viewed 130 million times – thanks to the viral nature of self defense niche, and thanks to Dale Brown catering to the algorithm with the ultra smooth video and consistent posting schedule.)
As his self defense “instructional” videos, which often bordered the fine line of parody and serious, rapidly propagated through youtube, he started getting the attention of martial artists all over.
One of the first to duet was one of UFC’s youngest fighters – Chase Hooper:
Here’s how to increase your odds of survivability against an attacker armed with a pistol: pic.twitter.com/EJgd3wQGjU
— Chase Hooper (@chase_hooper) December 3, 2021
The UFC organization was quick to jump on the viral train and repost Hopper’s parody.
What quickly followed was a trend of parodying DUST all across different social media platforms. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and especially Tik Tok.
Other less famous members of the martial arts community couldn’t resist chiming in and shared their thoughts of the Eclectic system said to be created by Dale.
Brown had become a household name of sorts. And then he did something nobody predicted – he made a parody of his own parody. By claiming to be taught by a famous youtuber “Master Ken” who himself parodies fake martial arts “masters”. If anything, this threw the martial arts world into a tail spin – was DUST just a parody all along? Or was this a masterful troll of his haters by a serious martial artist?
DUST Meme Status Achieved
Ths real “history” of DUST has quickly been erased now that Brown’s fame has reached the mainstream and he seeks to cement DUST’s less serious caricature like image. What has followed has been purges of all of Brown’s social media profiles. In the time between the Mater Ken parody and the infamy that has followed- Brown has even launched a profile on Cameo.
Game, set, match. “Fake It Till You Make It” 2021 champion – Commander Dale Brown. Well Played Sir.
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