Archive for October, 2011

Searching for My Grunt

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Class, Technique

No matter how nutty, outgoing, or enthusiastic we are, we all have seem to have a hard time when it comes to coming up with and delivering our kiai — our yell, grunt, or shout we make during a strike (kick, punch, knee, etc.). Hiiiiiiiiiyaahhhhh! You’ve heard that if you’ve watched an old time martial arts movie. That’s a kiai. Here’s a good post on how to kiai, if you need more details. What I am wondering about isn’t so much how to kiai but why so few of us in the beginner classes refuse to do it!

Of course, the simple answer is that it’s….well… embarrassing. Nearly everyone starts out at first making not a sound. Complete and utter silence. In fact, a lot of people just starting out don’t even breathe as they should. Eventually most people in class, myself included, will hiss, that is push air out through a partially open mouth. It’s pretty quiet but appears to get at least part of the job of a kiai done — expelling air out forcefully with the strike as it tightens the stomach muscles to enable you to take a blow to the midsection more safely. It also punctuates the move being performed for added effect.

What it doesn’t do, at least in a real combat situation, is scare the shit out of, startle, or confuse the opponent. Not really necessary in the dojo, most of the time, to be sure but this is the place to find your kiai.

What the hell is THAT noise!?

I think there are a lot of kiais to choose from as long as you follow what appears to be the general rules of avoiding hard consonants and minimizing use of the vocal chords as much as possible. There’s a lot of creativity, it seems, that one can bring to the proceedings if they choose. Hell, make it a weekend project! Try to keep the windows closed and, if you are in an apartment, mind the neighbors. Once coming up with something that feels comfortable the next step is introducing it to the training, especially around the other students that you have been training alongside with for several months and never heard you do more than hiss.

As with everything to do with martial arts — go for it! There’s no holding back, especially with Krav Maga, so why should your kiai be an exception? If you’re going to go all out let everyone hear you mean business is my stance.

Oh, and you should hear mine. I’m not proud.

Swearing in a New Language

Posted: October 22, 2011 in Attitude, Technique

American males, of which I am a card-carrying member, are brought up in a culture where we are given Army men as kids, play cops and robbers with toy guns, play fight with one another, and are pretty obsessed with video games, which are oftentimes rife with death and first person shooter smackdowns. Turning on the TV, going to the movies, or going on the Internet, we are further exposed to loads of violence. Testosterone coursing through  our veins and possessing the ability to recite lines from ‘Pulp Fiction’ from memory, we are lulled into a sense that we truly understand violence and can take care of ourselves in a fight. “How hard is it to throw a punch?” we scoff. “I’ve seen ‘Enter the Dragon’ 14 times and listen to Rap music. I’m a BADASS!”

Every human being is capable of fighting.  But one only has to watch an average school fight or two to see that this is not the case.  Street brawls and schoolyard tussles tend to be brief, violent, but also comically frenetic. Face it, we don’t know how to fight (or fight well) and our punches, learned mostly by watching Clint Eastwood or Jason Statham, well….suck. We can pose and practice in the mirror, strut down dark alleyways like we mean business, but do most of us truly know how to handle ourselves in a throwdown? Probably not.

Many of us turn to martial arts. Broadly, I think it’s fair to categorize them, at least for this blog post, as traditional and reality-based self-defense styles. Styles like Karate, Kenpo, Tae Kwon Do, and Judo are in the former category while styles such as Krav Maga and Haganah fall into the latter category. Both are fine ways to go and neither category is inherently better than the other, let me make that perfectly and abundantly clear. It’s all good. [See “My Style Can Beat Up Your Style!” for more on this subject]. What I have been thinking about a lot lately, though, is how quickly any technique can be made part of one’s natural behavior when one finds themselves in a confrontation.

Let’s take learning a foreign language as an example to illustrate my point. It takes a long time to learn a new language. We fumble around with new words and phrases but ultimately become serviceable if we stick to it long enough and give it a lot of practice. Let’s say we move to France and become fully immersed in the culture — we’re surrounded by people speaking French 24 x 7. We go down to the bowling alley with our French friends and during the last frame drop a bowling ball on our big toe, crushing it to a pulp. In this case, as an American who’s been brought up speaking English, what do we say? “SHIT!!!” not “MERDE!!!!”  English is natural and comes easily to us. Our brain is wired this way because that’s how, from birth, we have learned to communicate verbally with others. In this example at the French bowling alley, this immediate need to express our intense dissatisfaction with our toe being crushed by the ball we don’t even have to think about how to curse. The English version of the expletive comes to mind automatically without a conscious thought.

Same is true of self-defense in the martial arts. In my brief exposure to Uechi-ryu some 20 years ago, and seeing my daughter and her fellow students’ experience in Kenpo class, traditional martial arts take a while to feel natural. For the first several months it feels awkward and unnatural for most and in most styles. I remember feeling this way in particular with the stances in Uechi-ryu. A fine, fine style and I mean no disrespect but I really had a hard time imagining falling naturally into the fighting stance if I entered into a confrontation. It just felt weird to me. Still kind of does. If I were to be attacked within the first several months of training I strongly suspected I’d fall back on my “natural” fighting instincts (i.e., flailing around with wild, ineffective punches) rather than the fighting techniques I had recently been exposed to.

What I like so much about Krav Maga is how natural it feels. I have only been training for 4.5 months, 3 – 4 times a week but — even in that short time — I feel like I would feel completely natural employing these techniques in the real world. They make sense and don’t feel awkward to me.

Again, I am not rating one type of style over another style. That’s not my point. Over time, any style will feel natural to the student and would be extremely effective in any combat situation. What I’m saying is that Krav Maga just seems to make that connection so much quicker. By design, it’s meant to be assimilated easily, rapidly, and takes advantage of your natural reactions. Sure, it takes a lot of work, sweat, and time to be truly great at it but the basics ought to come naturally; a student shouldn’t have to think about falling into particular stances and the order of a particular kata flows.

No sane person wishes a confrontation but if I ever find myself in that unfortunate situation I am positive that I’ll be swearing in French.

This past week was the school’s semi-annual Buddy Week where any student could bring in a friend, roommate, co-worker, spouse, or other unsuspecting family member to Krav Maga class for a couple of free training sessions.

It wasn’t a full bore training week, to be sure. Given the presence of many inexperienced people in our midst (and the fact that the school was supposed to be enticing them, not punishing them) we “shifted down” the intensity somewhat throughout the week and focused again on many rudiments that serve as the foundation to the more advanced teachings.

I saw this week’s influx of people as a very different brand of person than incoming White Belts in a lot of ways. White Belts have made the mental commitment to get into Krav Maga and the ballsy move of stepping into class. This is tough for everyone as everything is new and the unexpected is around every corner. The ‘Buddies’ who came in, on the other hand may have been dared to show up, shamed into coming, or were just ducking in for a class or two to see if this martial art from The Debt, Enough, and Channel 25 News was everything it was cracked up to be. They hadn’t, in nearly every case, made that same gigantic mental leap that a new White Belt makes. It wasn’t necessarily a joke to be in class but in some cases, it wasn’t too far from that. There was a fair amount of laughing, some clowning around, and flat-out talking during our drills’ instructions. None of these were remotely cool and anyone with any common sense should have been able to see that.

This week the instructors were in a bit of an odd situation. They couldn’t start barking at the noobs for a couple of reasons. This would have made the sponsor student who brought them in feel like a tool and it probably would have decreased the likelihood that the Buddy would sign up at the end of the week for a one-month trial — ultimately the real goal of the week when it gets right down to it. This left the instructors a bit more permissive than they ordinarily might have been in these situations.


Anyhow, back to the theme. What was the lesson? Well, as I watched the Buddies I could really equate them as People Right Off The Street. Again, as explained above, these weren’t really even White Belts — they were regular people, folks you might encounter in the real world and were the closest approximation to an Average Citizen we would see in school. As such it made it a very interesting exercise to “measure” myself against them. Not in an arrogant kind of “I’m better than you” sort of way but rather in a way that says that this is what I was a little like before thinking about starting up with my training. No, I’m not a superior human compared to the Buddies because of it. I see how these months have shaped me into a more disciplined person though. I don’t whine in class when we do 10 minutes of ab work. I don’t roll my eyes when we don’t get a break. I don’t chatter during class or giggle off to the side with other students. I pay attention, I show respect, and I work my ass off at all times.

I’ve developed a harder, can-do mindset since starting and I’m here to work. Sure I have a very long way to go, a lot of technique to learn, and many bad habits to break. But I can see, as a side-by-side comparison with the Buddies this past week, that I have made tremendous strides in my development and should take a moment to appreciate and reflect on all that this school has brought to my character and physical state since starting this past June.

Weekly Poll for September 25, 2011

Posted: October 1, 2011 in Class, Poll



You’ll notice that this post doesn’t have a survey, just results. That’s because the original survey tool, Polldaddy, now charges for use of its tool. As a result I have moved to Surveymonkey, which you’ll see in use from now on. For older surveys, I have included the results in the original blog post.