Archive for the ‘Lesson of the Week’ Category

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.

Another action-packed week in class.  This was the first week where I ventured into a morning class — mostly due to a schedule conflict that prevented me from attended that night.  Why does this matter?  Well, unlike the evening classes I am accustomed to, the morning classes have students from White Belt up to and including Black Belts.  Quite an interesting mix.  I partnered with a Red/Black Belt fortunately and during our session together (largely consisting of punching drills with Muay Thai pads) I learned some great tips and was able to watch a far more experienced student from up close without feeling like I was staring.

One thing I learned in that class is that there’s always room for improvement.  Sure, that sounds trite but it really is true.  We lower belt students can sometimes put the more advanced students on a pedestal but training with them reminds you that they’re students just like us.  Sure, they are far more experienced and have a lot more skills under their belts (so to speak) but they can struggle just as much as anyone.  As I was off for a quick water break off the the side I’d see a Black Belt off to my right gasping and gulping water just like me.  As I dropped my arms to the side quickly to shake off a cramp, so too did my partner on occasion when it came to her turn.

It was somewhat surprising to me that many of the talks we get in our evening classes about the basics (i.e., moving the hips into a punch, staying aware of our footwork, breathing, etc.) are repeated to even the more advanced students.  It never hurts to drill these lessons mercilessly into people’s heads so they are second-nature and triggered by reflexes and habit more than thinking.

On another front, this was my first week of sparring as well.  It was enlightening for me in many ways.  Instead of our practicing into the mirror or facing off with a partner and pads I was actually squaring off with another student practicing various moves.  No, it wasn’t full-contact, animal sparring (in fact, I don’t have my gear in yet) but it was different enough to appreciate the difference.

One last lesson I picked up, also in the sparring, was the notion of elbows flaring out.  Sensei pointed out that many of us are likely familiar with the classic “boxing stance” with the elbows in tight and the gloves coming up to protect the face.  He demonstrated the difference in Muay Thai — elbows out and a larger gap between gloves.  The gap is there to invite the opponent to strike between them, making for easier deflection, and the elbows are flared because — unlike boxing — we have to keep in mind knees and kicks.  Elbows being flared are far better positioned to deal with these incoming blows.

Coming up on our next stripe test next week, which should be exciting. I am also now able to have access to Jui Jitsu and a brand-new, dedicated Muay Thai  class.  Like a kid in a candy store, me.  If I only had more time…

This week’s lesson came to me courtesy of trying to be a nice guy.  Oh, this sounds like an enticing lead, doesn’t it?  Well, before your imagination runs too far afoot let me stop you right there.  Nothing really intriguing led me to this; rather, it was simply taking turns pad-holding and driving knees with a partner.

My partner was a young guy I’ve struck up a dojo friendship with over the past month or so.  He’s a good guy but probably weighs half as much as me and is a good foot shorter. Pairing up for the exercise he expressed concern that I’d knock him through the back wall with my knee strikes as he held the pad but I assured him all would work out.

I was up first with my knee drives and my partner held the tombstone pad, expecting the worst.  I drove a couple home and heard some grunts, leading me to tone down the power a tad. A minute or so later we changed sides and he was up. He drove knees into the pads relentlessly. Good power and focus; I was impressed. I was also getting quite a rib workout too, to my chagrin. My feelings weren’t hurt but it was then that I realized — as nothing stood between me and some high-powered knees but a vinyl covered firm foam pad, looking downward as drops of my perspiration were shaken to mat from my damp hair with each successive and violent impact — that there is no mercy in training.

What I learned is that we’re here to train and these exercises are as much for the pad holders benefit as the student performing the technique.  I have to remember to put my all into it because, in most cases, I’m going to get whatever I’m giving when it comes my turn.

Sure you can’t take this to the extreme. There are some notable size differences between students for sure and putting someone on the Pain Train isn’t what I’m talking about here. In fact, one burly student took it upon himself to go full force with a much smaller female student and ended up sending her to her doctor with bruised ribs. What I am talking about, in general, is that there is no more holding back like that in training when it comes to intensity, no more punches being pulled.  This isn’t ballet and we aren’t knitting hats; we’re learning self-defense and the gloves are off.

This week I learned two valuable lessons, which makes up for the last few weeks of not capturing any on the blog.

Lesson 1
My first lesson came midway through a grueling workout, the first since the school’s hiatus last week.  The thought was relayed to us by Sensei as follows:

Imagine your best friend picks you up after class every time to give you a ride home. You go out to your ride and when you get in he starts in with “Why do you do this?  You have no business doing karate!  Look at you — you’re so out of shape!  You can’t even keep up! Check it out; you’re all bruised up!  Those guys are all better than you!  You are hopeless!” and so on. After a while you’d get fed up and say something like, “Hey, man, shut up will you? I thought you were on my side! You’re wrong and you’re pissing me off!  If you aren’t going to be supportive then shut it, you aren’t helping.”

And yet, this is exactly what so many of us tell ourselves in our heads after class. It’s better to focus on what we’ve improved upon and the progress we’re making than beating ourselves up over the negative.

Lesson 2
The second lesson this week was that no altercation ever goes off perfectly and as planned. Sure, you see it in the movies and on TV where the hero pulls off clean moves and TKO’s his opponent but in reality it’s often — rather, almost always — less graceful.  There are missteps, goofs, slips, misses, and only through focus and persistence in the fight will you emerge the ‘winner’.

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.

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.