Archive for June, 2011

Well, here we are three weeks into class training.  I am really enjoying the experience. Although it hasn’t really been that long at all I am starting to feel some positive results of these intense training sessions.   A little tightening here, a little more definition there…. Still such a long way to go, to be sure, but I see enough progress in this short time to give me some satisfaction and pride in my efforts.

I knew what I was in for when I signed up and I am ecstatic with the training I am involved in.  One thing I am coming to realize however, and to be honest this was something that occurred to me after the first few classes, when you take martial arts pain is your friend.  Or, if not friend, your near constant companion at least.  I’m not talking debilitating pain that you can’t keep your mind off of like a recent major surgery but the kind of pain that flares up when you get out of a chair, walk a flight of stairs, pick up your child, or reach for the Advil on the high shelf of the bathroom medicine cabinet.

Traditionally I have always liked post-workout pain as long as it’s within reason. I like waking up the day after a heavy lifting workout — squats, say — and feeling the reassuring ache deep in my thigh muscles that tells me I pushed my limits and justified my trip to the gym.

With all these new aches and pains in my life, I realized that going forward I’d like to post some exercise routines I’m performing in my off-days from Krav Maga in the hopes that some of it might be of use to you.  My exercise philosophy for these routines will be to target areas and specific muscles that cry out to me the most the next day after a workout. Provided that we’re talking about pain that resulted from some routine, common Krav Maga moves and not about a muscle pain that came about by doing something stupid, the theory is that if these muscles hurt so much, they must be in pitiful shape and need attention.  Doing the targeted exercises on these pained muscles and areas (obviously without causing damage or straining them even more) will strengthen them for future use, making them not only stronger but also less vulnerable to debilitating pain the following morning.

For example, this week was my first extended workout punching with the 16 oz. gloves. Although this portion of the workout with the gloves had to have been 10 minutes or less yet it felt like an eternity — especially not being used to it.  Near the end I needed to bend over and hang and sway my arms in an attempt to stretch out the burning muscles and work out the cramps beginning to form in my left Teres Major Muscle. I focused on that in my trip to the gym this morning and made sure to focus on upright chest presses, some chest flies, and overhead presses to target this area.  I fully expect to struggle with those muscles and others as I continue to get back into shape but I feel this kind of body awareness and focused action will serve me well.

Now.  Where’d I put that Advil around here?

Photo by marcobdz via Creative Commons License.

I had a controversial discussion with a Red/Black Belt the other day and I have been pondering it on and off since.  During my stretching routine we struck up a conversation that somehow led to other martial arts styles and how they differ in philosophy from Krav Maga.  This is how it went:

Them: Krav Maga is all about self-defense, not necessarily about “fighting”.

Me: What do you mean?  What’s the difference?

Them: See, most other styles have a strict emphasis on form and katas.  Not to take away from any of these styles but sometimes their philosophy is that martial arts is a sport — competitions, points, trophies won in fights.  Krav Maga, on the other hand, is about self-defense and “making it home safe”.

[Poses in a fighting stance]

This is fighting. [Moves around, does some forms, and bobs and weaves]. This is self-defense [Moves in rapidly for the takedown].

Other styles can be really devastating in their own right but they have a very different mindset from Krav Maga.  Krav Maga is instantaneous and designed to end the situation as quickly as possible with no flair, no trophies, no points, no hesitation.  This is probably why it isn’t in tournaments. It’s designed as a practical street self-defense and not as a sport.

Interesting perspective.  Now, don’t take this too seriously; I am not saying this is the school’s or KMW’s position on the topic — or mine for that matter — but it was an interesting and somewhat controversial thought. I can imagine someone from another style reading this and blowing a gasket (maybe being justified in doing so).  In either case, food for thought.

“Fighting vs. self-defense” turns to be a pretty rich topic with a LOT of legal implications and different facets. For example, another completely different angle to it is thinking about self-defense vs. fighting outside the dojo or ring.  If you are on the street, self-defense is employing your skills when you are the victim of an unprovoked attack.  This is 100% legal. Fighting, on the other hand, is not legal and could be defined by a layman like me as being engaged in a physical altercation with someone as a result of an escalation of a disagreement between two or more parties.  Someone named Shawn Miller on said that in his mind, “Fighting is something done for ego, pride, or honor. Self defence is life protection of you, family and friends. No rules, no care of repercussions.”  Well said.

If you want to read a little more about it do a search on the web and you’ll see many pages that discuss this, like here and here.

Back to the main point made in the post, what do you think?  Agree or disagree?

Motivation from Bruce Lee

Posted: June 23, 2011 in Attitude

I ran across this passage written by a student of Bruce Lee’s who used to train with him.  I believe the original quote is from a book called “The Warrior Within“, a compilation of Bruce Lee’s philosophies written by John Little.  Even if you’ve read this before, do yourself a favor and read it again.

Bruce Lee really had some guts and dedication and this glimpse into his psyche and work ethic is deeply admirable.

Bruce had me up to three miles a day, really at a good pace. We’d run the three miles in twenty-one or twenty-two minutes. Just under eight minutes a mile.

So this morning he said to me “We’re going to go five.”

I said, “Bruce, I can’t go five. I’m a helluva lot older than you are, and I can’t do five.”

He said, “When we get to three, we’ll shift gears and it’s only two more and you’ll do it.”

I said “Okay, hell, I’ll go for it.”

So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile and I’m okay for three or four minutes, and then I really begin to give out. I’m tired, my heart’s pounding, I can’t go any more and so I say to him, “Bruce if I run anymore,” –and we’re still running-”if I run any more I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.”

He said, “Then die.”

It made me so mad that I went the full five miles. Afterward I went to the shower and then I wanted to talk to him about it. I said, you know, “Why did you say that?”

He said, “Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”

Bruce Lee

I wanted to share a fantastic demo that was filmed at the 2010 USMAF. It features the amazing Sensei Roy Elghanayan who is representing the Krav Maga style. Sensei Elghanayan is the awe-inspiring and deadly Krav Maga instructor you probably have seen on the Internet in a wildly popular video, throwing people around like rag dolls to a pretty annoying soundtrack (hint, turn your speakers down).

I liked this video below even more as it was much better footage but also showed the techniques more clearly and from multiple angles.

Thanks for the link, @kravlady

The Importance of Stretching

Posted: June 21, 2011 in Exercise

On the heels of my post last week about my minor knee problems, I wanted to follow up with a post about a subject that oftentimes gets overlooked.  Stretching.

I have seen people all too often wander out onto the mat without so much as a cursory stretch.  I used to be the biggest offender, not in my recent entry into Krav Maga, but in prior exercise situations like my weight-lifting, biking, and running.  It’s too easy to get caught up in the eagerness to get started in the activity and convince yourself that you’ll just start slow and stretch as you get into it.  Naturally this is bull and is not only delusional but also downright dangerous.  Not warming up and stretching can lead to soreness, pulls, and even (ouch!!) tears in muscles if you push it too much.

The Simpsons is Copyright Fox Broadcasting Company

Muscles are amazing things but having been a past victim of many pulls and sore muscles, “forgiving” isn’t a way I’d choose to describe them.  In fact, scanning the students in last night’s class, I’d say 5 – 10% of them had wraps and braces around various injuries, some of them I’d bet caused by pulls or strains due to not stretching properly.

When I started up with Krav Maga earlier this month I made a serious commitment to myself that I would always stretch before hitting the mat.  So far I haven’t broken this commitment and hope I never have to.  The key, I think, is arriving well before the class starts.  Many days I am there half an hour early, making it possible for some quick socializing before ducking into the available dojo for some relaxing stretches.  By the time the class rolls around I am as limber as I’m going to get and feeling good.

Stretching by Bob Anderson

Now, I’m no expert.  Sure, I knew a few decent stretches and also knew not to “bounce” but I was also aware that there’s a wealth of information I wasn’t yet clued into.  To learn some more I purchased a book to help with my routine, Stretching by Bob Anderson.  It’s a really nice book that’s been popular for over 30 years and for a lot of good reasons. It’s formatted and illustrated well (except for that scary face stretching routine which is truly frightening) and its easy to understand descriptions are helpful.  One of the features I like about it is the section of stretches broken out by sport.  And yes, there is a martial arts routine in that section. Another couple that are useful are the morning stretch and office stretch routines.

One thing this book has taught me, and it’s something I suspect would be news to a lot of people, is the importance of stretching after a workout.  That’s right.  When you’re all done working out, panting like a dog in heat, and so tired and sweaty you look like you just fell down the escalator stairs (the one going up, not down) while being pummeled by some world class water balloon fighters.  At this point of your day, it is recommended by the book that you take a minute and stretch it out one last time.  Doing so, the book says, will lead to less soreness and even better flexibility.  As much as I toot my horn about stretching prior to class I have yet to practice the post-workout stretches, I have to admit. Feeling the soreness I do today, after last night’s class, I am thinking I might reconsider.

Whatever book you choose — or even if you don’t choose a book — I’d risk sounding “preachy” and add my voice to the thousands of stretch practitioners and physical trainers: ALWAYS stretch and warm up before your class.  No matter how fit you are you are never immune from these injuries related to not being stretched.

This week I (re)learned that it’s important to listen to your body. I have a bad right knee from a dislocation and MCL tear about 20 years ago. I am fully functional but if I take that for granted my knee will most certainly remind me who’s ultimately in charge in some knee-abusing situations.

This week was such a week and I did some knee-stressing exercises along with the class that I regretted the next day — side planks and a “jump” variation where you keep your feet together then bounce them to the left and right of center while in that plank position. Both are clearly great exercises but are really hard on the knees, particularly the sides of your knees, as the really put the pressure to the sides of your knees. I think I might have been in a worse position than some others given my long legs (I’m 6’4″).

The following day I was a little concerned rolling out of bed and feeling sore, swollen, and weak in that knee. It ended up clearing up after a few days but it served as a great reminder that certain body parts (especially at my age) are less forgiving than others and you have to listen to your body when it tells you something.

From now on I am going to still participate as hard, if not harder, than anyone else but I am also going to be sure to think things through whenever a vulnerable muscle or joint is involved.

If you are reading this and are on the younger side of middle age, guess what?  You’re not completely exempt.  I thought I was that 20 some odd years ago when I popped my knee cap out of joint and tore that ligament.

Train wisely.

I don’t care who you are, it’s never easy being at the bottom of the pecking order.  It can be at work, at school, or at the local book group.  Being the “new guy”, the most junior, the least skilled of the group is never an easy thing.  This is even more evident in a physical, adrenaline-fueled activity such as martial arts.

Day One is tough for so many reasons. You’re nervous, anxious, often confused, out of shape, and completely surrounded by people who know more than you.  This is particularly difficult if you are middle-aged, successful at work, and have a family. Why? Well, you are used to calling the shots in many areas of your life and making rules that are followed. People look up to you and follow your leadership, learn from your experience. This is true at home as well as at the job. A life of hard work, perseverance, and dedication pays off with rewards of seniority and authority.

When joining a new martial arts school as a White Belt, none of this truly matters. You are in a class of people younger and older than you who have more experience and you, for all intents and purposes, know nothing yet. Every move is new, every exercise is a trial, and you spend a fair amount of time trying to stay humble and learn to fit in.  Sir, ma’am, Sensei, Master, bow, etc.  It can be overwhelming.

It’s all good.  In its own way, after all, the school environment mimics the real world in that respect.  Life has many cycles where you start as the Freshman and move up to the Senior, the Big Cheese, the BMOC.  Martial Arts schools are no different.  You start at the bottom and learn all you can, enduring the mild arrogance that can emanate some from folks with higher belts.  You put up with being in the Second Fiddle class in my school’s case (we have a Basic Class for White through Orange and an Advanced Class for Purple through Black), meaning your class might start late if the higher belts’ class is not done doing what they need to do, you step aside respectfully as they all exit the dojo, and you get used to not having a hand extended to you quite as often as you would from your Basic team mates.  To be sure, this kind of hierarchy can creep into a Basic class as well, with slightly more expererienced students (say, 3 – 6 months in) walking a little more puffed out than someone starting their very first class and nearly pissing their pants.  There are also the inevitable students who’ve watched too many action films and fancy themselves the next Bruce Lee, looking all dour and serious.  It’s their time to feel confident and at the top of the pack — and to enjoy it while it lasts because in a few short months they’re back at the bottom once again as they move into the Advanced class and are the shoeshine boy all over again. (more…)

As with all new White Belts, I wonder what my first belt test is going to be like.  There are some decent videos on YouTube but since Krav Maga belt systems vary a bit from school to school, the tests shown in the videos vary a bit from one to the next as well.

Below is one that I watch from time to time to see what techniques I’ve learned and some I haven’t yet.  Apparently the test for his group took 4 hours to complete.  I am assuming that’s everyone in the whole class taking turns getting tested with various aspects since the Black Belt test is supposed to take 8 hours.

Try not to beat yourself up too much over what you didn’t do well or what didn’t go your way in a training session.  Rather, focus on what you did do well and on things that you learned that day.  This helps keep you motivated and encouraged to keep trying.

Here we are.  End of my first week of group classes.  Without getting gushy, I’d have to say it was everything I was hoping for.  It has also made clear to me that I am in far, far worse shape than I had originally thought.

There were a few surprises for me this week, some good and some bad. Let’s start with the bad, shall we?  I really struggled with the back-to-back exercises.  A full hour of nearly non-stop, vigorous, full-contact exercise was something I am not accustomed to and my body wasn’t shy about letting me know that.  My push-ups ended up being really sad, my crunches started well but tapered to pathetic in 10 seconds flat, and even on a “lighter aerobic” day this week I found myself getting a little light-headed at the exertion from our striking lessons (i.e., punching and kicking).  I also had some brain hiccups and sometimes got hung up on my footing.  I know that Krav Maga is not as strict on stances as many other styles but I still am haunted by the ghost of my training some 20-odd years ago in Uechi Ryu, where footing was treated with an utterly insane amount of attention.


Unlike most other martial arts, belts are not universally adopted in Krav Maga.  In fact, in many schools’ belts are not even used!  Instead of belts many schools use grades or groups named Practitioner, Graduate, Expert, and Master. Patches are used by some, belts by others, and nothing at all by some schools.

The school I attend is affiliated with Krav Maga Worldwide (which itself is based on a 5 belt system).  You start out not as a White belt but as a Yellow belt (equivalent to Practitioner), progress to Orange (Practitioner), Green (Practitioner/Graduate), Blue (Graduate), Brown (Graduate), then through 5 degrees of Black (Expert/Master) — if you live that long.

As I understand it, as my school became affiliated with Worldwide, there was some negotiating with the organization to keep the belt system already in place, a system that the school founder and teaches believed very strongly in.  This was agreed to and today the school has 10 belts: White, Yellow, Orange, Purple, Blue, Green, Brown, Red, Red/Black, and Black.  The belts take various amounts of time to achieve depending both of how often you train as well as the belts themselves (i.e., some belts just take longer, such as Black).

Further, my school has two broad classes for adults, a Basic Training group (Practitioners, I presume) as well as an Advanced Training group (Graduates and Experts, though I am not sure where the line is in the belt rankings).  The Basic group contains us newbies and ranges from White belt up through and including Orange belts.  Most of the group is out of shape, sheepishly watching the Advanced students from the sidelines as they confidently strut their advanced stuff and pretend they’re not being watched.

As I understand it (again, at least in my school), it’s customary for a student to be part of the Basic group for about 9 months.  The promotion through each belt in the group includes a stripe on the belt during the last week of each month.  If the student is showing the right progress they get a stripe.  After three stripes, a belt promotion.

Once one is bumped out of Orange into Purple they start all over at the “bottom” as they get promoted into the Advanced class, a place where, in some ways, the “real” training for Black belt begins.

First Lesson, Deconstructed

Posted: June 2, 2011 in Class

As said before, yesterday’s introductory one-on-one lesson went rather smoothly, if I do say so myself (it’s my blog and I can).  I had envisioned a quick sit-down explanation, segueing into a quick lesson, and capped off a presentation of the dreaded COST.  It went pretty much as I thought with no surprises.

First, I was fitted with a T-shirt and long, heavy black pants (Gahh!!  It’s Summer and hot as hell).  Took a few tries to get the right size but in time I found myself waiting to be called in next.

The “quick sitdown” was very quick indeed with a brief conversation of what brought me in.  Turns out I was in there for a lot of the same reasons other students have been: to get back in shape in a more regimented routine as a gym visit just wasn’t cutting the mustard.  I want to lose weight and get off my meds.  Let’s face it, I am overweight and do an awful lot of sitting on my ass 9-5.  I also want to pick up something practical along the way (i.e. self-defense).   (more…)