As of June 1st, I have been training in Krav Maga for 4 years. In some ways it seems like it’s been an eternity, in other ways it seems like I only just started. Some techniques that seemed impossible as a White Belt are second nature and require no conscious thought to perform today. Same goes with many of our exercises. I remember so vividly when I was starting out how hard it was to simply hold a plank. It was common at the end of class for us to be instructed to hold a plank a full minute and there I’d be, trembling and shuddering under the strain to keep it together. I never did end up getting to a full minute in those first several months but, over time, that and so many other things I once thought impossible have opened up to me. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Older’ Category
Tags: belt test, Boot Camp, external validation, learning, starting
I had to get up run in the morning for 2 hours, go to the gym and also get good opponents as sparring partners because I’m a big believer in that how you train is how you will fight; at least when it came to me that’s how it worked.
– Alexis Arguello
Few things can mess up your training than ending up with the wrong partner. A partner is not someone who just holds pads, succumbs to (or administers) the technique of the moment, or someone opposite you who’s waiting their turn. They are an integral part of your training and their importance cannot be overstated.
I’ve had bad partners, good partners, and phenomenal partners. If a partner’s no good you run the risk of being barraged with meaningless/inaccurate critiques, getting slightly (or seriously!) injured, not learning the techniques being focused on that day to the fullest, getting frustrated, or constantly having to readjust yourself (in a bad way) to accommodate your partner’s shortcomings. All of these make for a horrible training session in my book. True, there’s something you can salvage from even these sessions but, having been through a fair share of bad ones, I’d just as soon not have to be in that position if it can at all be avoided. Hey, I’m here to learn and only have 2 or 3 sessions per week to get it right so why not make each minute really count? (more…)
I’m a kid of the 70’s. I remember playing football in New Jersey (one season and I sucked at it) when my parents bought me some stuff to drink after practices and games called Gatorade. It was green, sweet, and came in these clunky glass bottles. It was pretty new to us in that part of the country and I can tell you I loved it. My mother would pour a good amount into a Thermos and I’d be good to go. It only came in Lemon Lime back then but that was enough. I don’t remember much about the games, the play book, or much else about that season on the Ponies (yes, a football team called the Ponies. I don’t get it either) but I do remember that Gatorade all right.
A few years after that time I had moved on to other sports and Gatorade began offering Orange flavor. That blew my mind. You mean I now have TWO flavors?! WOW! And following that, Gatorgum. Boy, that was rough. Not sure if they still make that sour gum but it was pretty awful. Made your mouth water and, I suppose, that was what supported their claim that it quenched your thirst. Okay, sure, if you say so.
Fast forward to the 80’s, 90’s, and beyond and you have every color Gatorade under the sun. G1, G2, and G3. Low calorie, original, you name it. It’s the wonder drink with lots of imitators.
Krav Maga started out in the early part of the last century as a military-style of combat specifically and deliberately suited for everyone capable of walking — young, old, fat, skinny, man, woman, whatever. It made sense and it was essential to the survival of Israel in a time of intense conflict with Palestine. Everyone was necessary to join the battle and no one was turned away — they couldn’t be! It worked and, you know what? Krav Maga came about in these circumstances, designed to be suitable for anyone willing to defend the country and all its people not only in a military sense but also from everyday anti-Semitic violence. That doesn’t mean everyone was fighting with the same effectiveness or fury, certainly athletic men in their prime were “out-damaging” young 80-pound girls. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that everyone needed to join the fight and no one could be turned away if they were in any way capable of defending their country and themselves in a very turbulent and violent time in history. (more…)
I’ve been doing some reflecting over the past several weeks in anticipation of this post. There are so many things I’ve learned over the last 12 months but I wanted to take a shot at writing down the most crucial lessons. Each one of these could be a post unto itself and might end up as one. I just want to at least capture these to provide a recap of the major takeaways.
Bravado at an older age vs. younger age
I recall 25 some-odd years ago when I took martial arts as a teen. After just a few weeks I felt invincible. I walked with such swagger and my confidence at school absolutely went through the roof. I was indestructible. Part of the explanation there lies in the teen mind. Let’s face it, it doesn’t really take too much to bloat a teen boy’s head into thinking he’s Superman.
As I’ve grown older, and I’d like to think wiser, I’ve come to realize that we are all vulnerable. MMA fighters, black belts, weight lifters, macho men, everyone. Everyone is susceptible to smack down given the right conditions, a bad decision, an off day… Take a look at every major fighter. They all go down — no one is perfect.
This extends to the street too. Even if you are heavily trained in the fighting arts and self-defense you are just human. This has stayed with me as an adult, not as a frightened adult but a realistic adult, and applies to my perspective on my training. Yes, of course I’ve increased my self-confidence but it’s always tempered with a pragmatic view of how violence can occur at any time and isn’t always necessarily in your favor.
Injuries can happen at any time, usually when you least expect it
You can make all the necessary precautions, wear all the right equipment, have the perfect attitude and awareness for your safety and still get whacked in the head. I’ve gotten my fair share of injuries this past year — fortunately all minor — and I’d say that pretty much every one of them was completely unexpected. They came from wild partners, slipped gear, a poor grasp of my technique, misjudged distance, slippery mats, you name it.
I still keep my awareness at full strength but realize that this isn’t ballet and try as you might you WILL get hurt. Vigilance keeps it to a minimum and hopefully keeps the extend down as well. (more…)
“You cannot learn anything if you already feel that you know.”
You might have heard it before that you should empty your cup before learning anything new, particularly when it comes to something like martial arts. This means, of course, that you rid yourself of preconceptions (how you think things should be) and start from the beginning, keeping yourself open and receptive to new ideas and teachings. This is such an important concept, I think. Everyone comes into the dojo (particularly guys) with their ideas of how to punch, kick, etc. and can easily fall into the trap of learning these techniques by reshaping or refining their existing notions rather than tearing those ideas down completely and starting from scratch learning these techniques. That is, emptying their cups. To truly develop you need to let go of these old, crude ideas and be willing to be a blank slate, be that empty cup that’s willing to be filled.
I think there’s a danger when someone goes too far with the idea of emptying their cup. These are people who have either emptied their cup willingly or been sort of beaten down into that state of mind. They are now docile students looking to be shown and told everything — step by step — that needs to be performed for a given move or counter attack. They become almost like robots in a way, awaiting the next command to spring into action. I see this pretty often, and not only with junior belts like myself. This is something that just about anyone from beginner to intermediate can fall victim to. I was doing it myself for a while until I realized that it wasn’t doing me any good. (more…)
Tags: external validation
“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.”
One thing I can say about my experiences in Krav Maga so far is that I know my body and its limits pretty well. I like to push myself as far as I can humanly go but am careful about how far I go beyond that. That means shutting out all desire to “keep up” with others all the time or — God forbid — try to show off in class. I am my own yardstick and I stay true to my limits and my progress, always pushing myself to go harder, further, faster but never disrespecting my body’s needs. Hey, this doesn’t mean wussing out during hard drills or avoiding sweat. Absolutely not. It also doesn’t mean being “safe” all the time. There are many times — at least once or twice per training, I’d say — where I have tunnel vision, am steaming like a furnace, and am panting wildly at the end of a drill. When I train, I train as hard as I possibly can and always leave behind a lake of sweat and ghostly sweat footprints on the mat.
That said, all too often in class I’ve noticed people going too far and ending up on the sidelines, dizzy, looking nervous/confused, or even barfing. Yes, the barfing has actually been pretty common and the weird thing is: most every person who I’ve seen in this predicament has been on the “younger side of things”. Say, in their mid-twenties. Why is this? My theory is that the poor soul came into class with something to prove. They are all about external validation. When you’re younger, and in better shape than these old farts around you, you are much more inclined to be the Alpha student, strutting around and trying like hell to run faster, punch harder, and be the overall bigger bad ass. This is all well and good — I really enjoy an enthusiastic partner and will eagerly pair up with this student any ol’ day of the week. What becomes a bummer is when they have to teeter off dizzily partway through class to hold up the far wall, head between the knees. (more…)
The following is a comment I read in the Krav Maga section of Reddit recently. It was posted by one m1foley.
After 5 years, I’ve been through the stages of a Krav practitioner:
- Beginner: “Why are these people wearing groin protectors? Oh. Oh my god…”
- False sense of mastery: “I hope someone tries to mug me in the street!”
- Wisdom: “I’m no idiot. I know some stuff, but will never use it unless my life is in danger. If Stephen Hawking threatens me, I’ll throw him my wallet and run away.”
All too often people get caught up in the aggressiveness of Krav Maga and lose sight of the big picture outlined above. I think it’s understandable and I am guilty of it as much as the next guy. We are pushing ourselves in class in an environment designed for intensity. We are barked at to “GO! GO! GO!” and trained to go full bore. We are always pushing forward, never retreating. We are driving through drills, smashing through our walls. This is pure, adrenaline-fueled intensity.
What I am trying to keep in mind, and I think I have arrived at stage three above, is to keep Krav Maga in context. Out in the real world it is possible that these techniques might be needed, especially if your safety or that of a loved one is threatened. In cases of more minor confrontations, which I would hope would be the vast majority, we should remember that disengaging and retreating are the way to go. In many classes this option isn’t — in my opinion — given much credence. It all comes down to destroying anyone who messes with you, becoming the “second attacker” as it were. This is all well and good I think but there should be some mental judgement going on at the same time. Yes, I need to disable my attacker but above all, I need to get my ass outta here safely ASAP.
There’s a book by Rory Miller called “Facing Violence” that talks about the consequences of street fighting. We can imagine punching, kneeing, and kicking someone into a pulp with our skills and aggressiveness and, if faced in real life, can probably pull it off but there’s a line that can be crossed where self-defense becomes assault. There’s an art of “not-fighting” to be learned that deals with deescalating the situation and avoiding the brawl.
What no one told me when I first started training how often I’d be waking up groaning the morning after a workout. This is especially true for anyone who’s “getting along in years” like I am. I am 42 — not old but certainly not a spring chicken. I train hard and my body reminds me of this after every workout. In a strange, sadistic kind of way I sometimes like it. Within reason, of course. My knee pain I’ve been enduring on and off hasn’t fallen into this category but the other aches and sore spots, in their own kind of way, are not too bad. I’m kind of proud of my pain.
This said, however, pain relief is frequently the order of the day. There are a lot of ways you can tackle pain, internally and externally. Internally would be taking medication like Advil, Tylenol, Motrin, Alleve…that kind of thing. Externally, or topically, would be remedies like Ben-Gay, Tiger Balm, and (my favorite for tendon pain) Penetrex.
Like many other students, I have learned more about sports injuries than I ever wanted to know. I have tendons, muscles, and get injuries I didn’t even know existed. Virtually very week is a new discovery. Patellar, Achilles, and extensor tendons. Injuries like tennis elbow, pulled muscles, shin splints, sprains, fractures, blisters, cuts, abrasions, jumper’s knee, and plantar faciitis. Good times.
Here’s a quick guide of a few preventatives and remedies I’ve found to be helpful over the past 6 months. No, I’m not a doctor, salesperson, or a therapist and I’m not getting any kickback. Of course, your mileage may vary and you should use all these things at your own risk as I don’t offer any guarantees, apologies, or refunds.
Stinger Organic Energy Chews These things are fantastic! Ever try cherry Life Saver gummies? The cherry blossom flavor tastes exactly like ’em. I usually munch a package of these 15 minutes before showtime and it gives me a nice boost. If it’s a particularly intense workout I will often down another package mid-way into the session, along with a LOT of water.
Advil Everyone knows these magic pellets, of course. I have had good luck with it as it’s usually easy on the stomach. I find it does a good job with muscle soreness and also when I feel a headache is coming on. I think it’s more effective than Tylenol, at least for me. By the way, does anyone else think the Advil coating would make a great candy or is it just me?
Tiger Balm This is particularly good for deep muscle aches when I don’t mind stinking like a medicine cabinet. Very effective but smells pretty awful. Has a nice burn but also feels cool as well. A little goes a long way so this tiny jar will last anyone — even a klutz like me who gets hurt a lot — a good amount of time! Has the consistency of ear wax and is a little bit greasy feeling.
Ben Gay Despite having a name that would make Beavis and Butthead proud this stuff works mighty fine. I have only used the Ultra Strength variety and I learned pretty quickly that you don’t want to slather this stuff on indiscriminately. Fools who try are treated to the kind of sensation not unlike that of a fierce chemical burn. One time I imagined I felt blisters appearing and thought I smelled smoke emanating from my back where I smeared it on too generously. Unwise move. If used more carefully this product does a nice job penetrating in and providing a nice amount of relief to strained muscles. Smells kind of medicine-like but not nearly so much as Tiger Balm. Plus it has a Tic Tac, candy-like scent to it that isn’t altogether unpleasant. My niece gave me a hug once after I’d just put some on and said, “You smell nice!”. Not greasy and doesn’t seem to stain clothing that I’ve noticed.
Penetrex As I mentioned above, I am a big fan of this ointment cream. It has a very slight odor, more reminiscent of menthol than anything, goes on non-greasy without any residue. As they say in the product literature, it penetrates the skin to reduce inflammation but it can take multiple applications (sometimes days) to really hit its stride. This latter difference seems to vary from person to person. I felt a difference within hours, especially for tendon strain, my wife has been using it for weeks and still claims that it isn’t effective. The jar is pretty small and you need a fair amount per application. At $20 a jar it can be an expensive remedy if you need to use if often but I think it’s worth it.
ACE bandage multi-purpose wrap This is a good reusable solution for icing sprains and tendon strains. It consists of an elastic bandage with a pouch inside where you tuck the cold gel pack. Usually lasts about 20 – 30 minutes which is good since I usually only try to keep it on an area (like my knee, for instance) for about 15 minutes. So far I’ve been reusing mine, pretty much daily, for about 3 months and it’s holding up pretty well.
There are certainly many other products on the market that can either prevent or treat injuries; these are just a few I deal with on a routine basis. So as long as I train i think it’s a safe bet that these things will be within arm’s reach.
Out of curiosity I recently ran an informal poll on this blog asking folks what they thought was most important of the four:
I didn’t have a ton of responses so I didn’t have a large sample size but of the people who did respond, the last place answer was power. I don’t know if there’s a universal “right answer” but based on my training I would tend to agree with that. The interesting thing about this answer is that most people who do not train in martial arts would probably rank power as top of the list. I imagine this is because people envision trained fighters ending matches with one well-timed killer blow. WHAM-O! Knockout! In reality, fights are hardly ever that decisive or clean. They are brutal, fast, no-holds-barred affairs with no finesse. If I were to rank the factors in order I would think it might be:
I recognize that they are all important and one without some of the others is probably a recipe for failure. What’s aggression without power? What’s technique without aggression? They are all intertwined. But there is a critical balance that needs to be achieved to be successful.
Students come to the school all the time who go through the drills with over-the-top power, at least for their current fitness and skill level. They pay attention to the techniques they are taught and try to hit as hard as they can while applying these techniques in drills. Eventually they believe that, as they progress and get better, speed will naturally follow. This was me too.
One of our top senseis tells us all the time that aggression is king. He’ll ask if we’ve ever seen a brawl in high school where a brawny football player faces off with a highly trained Black Belt in the school halls. The Black Belt squares off and starts to get in form as the football player charges in like a rabid rhino and beats the surprised, overwhelmed Black Belt into a pulp. The lesson is that aggression wins out. The tiny dog can savage the slower, bigger dog with the same principle. Overwhelm the attacker.
When I first started, not too long ago, I was having difficulty trying to figure out what I should be emphasizing. I was in the “Power Camp” and thought all my strikes should be knockouts, regardless of speed. This left me exhausted 30 seconds in on a 3-minute drill, wiped out and often with strained muscles. The instructor would be yelling, “Faster! Faster! More aggressive! Like you mean it!” I thought this meant I just needed to condition more and all would be better. This turned out to be only partly true. While in this phase, I was also wondering how speed fit in. Surely if I got my power up with my better conditioning I could just do it faster. But then, what about technique — where did that fit in? Do they all equal each other. Oh, my head.
This notion of power was put to bed quite effectively when we were enlightened with a simple example. If you have your opponent in a clinch and have the opportunity to land a driving knee to their head, leg cocked back and ready to strike, would you be better served to pull your leg back several more inches to deliver a crushing sledgehammer of a blow or launch your flurry of lightning fast attacks at that moment? The answer was the latter. The thinking here is that the split second of additional time necessary to cock the leg back gives the opponent that much more time to recover — and in many fights that can make a big difference. Knee! Knee! Switch step! Knee!
We should attack like a hive of VERY pissed off bees. The opponent should not know where the next hit is coming from this enraged, psychotic dynamo who, only seconds ago, was the victim. No longer the case, the victim is now the attacker, doling out pain in a barrage of quick, painful blows from seemingly every direction as the former attacker either collapses in a bloody and bruised heap on the ground or runs for their life.
Aggression! Roaring, adrenaline-soaked, raging, furious, break-the-chair-over-the-guy’s-head aggression.
This doesn’t mean that technique is out the window. Of course not. Otherwise we’d just show up at the dojo and flail violently at each other like psychotic patients in the mental ward. It also doesn’t mean that power is out the window. With proper form and execution the power will be there. We certainly learned this with 180 kicks when first starting out. Kicking our tombstone pads, our tendency was to power into the kicks — RRRRAAAHHH! Whop! turned into driving a nearly deadened leg around using mostly our core muscles — RRRRRAAAAAAAHHH! WHAP!!!!!!!! Huge difference. And strangely, a lot less straining to perform.
To some degree or another I struggle every class to find the right balance. I don’t think there’s a universal formula that works for all people or even the same person across all circumstances. I haven’t gotten this all figured out. What I do believe though is that I have to keep these attributes in mind and be aware of how I am applying them.
And in Krav Maga, I’ll try to never forget that to overwhelm any attacker, Aggression is King.
We are told in class often that proper pad holding prevents injury, creates a more realistic target for your partner, and desensitizes the pad holder to blows. I am not going to lecture on proper pad holding. Firstly, I am still quite new to Krav Maga and have no illusions that I am the voice of authority on anything (probably won’t be for another few years). Second, there are other resources you can refer to that have “been there, done that”.
Having been on the receiving end of some poor pad holding I have come close to hyperextending my arm, and more recently, been the victim of The Cheater. We’ve all worked opposite The Cheater. This is someone who tries to cut corners because he feels that what the drill involves isn’t important to everyone’s (or at least his) goals.
In this particular instance we were performing a drill where a pad holder would hold a tombstone and their partner would get them in a clinch and drive them to the other side of the dojo with knees. The pad holder was instructed to resist as much as possible. If they were able to keep their partner from driving them backward — or better yet, could drive the attacker backwards! — they were encouraged to do so. In this case, my partner gave me a wink and said he’d move backwards easily. Too baffled to respond to this idiocy I lined up for the drill and we began. Sure enough, I was practically chasing my pad holding partner across the dojo as he scurried backwards with virtually no resistance.
I was not pleased. I called out repeatedly (but not loudly enough to get the guy in trouble) for more resistance but to no avail. I didn’t show any outward sign of frustration, though in retrospect maybe I should have. As minor as this incident sounds it really had an effect on me and I left class that night feeling cheated. There were a few other shortcuts my partner pulled out during class that I don’t really need to get into but in total I felt like it was almost a wasted training session. I vowed that I would not let that happen again and would also be more diligent about how I held pads and performed in general for my training partner.
We could, by all accounts, end this blog post right now but I have one other related anecdote I want to put out there and it relates to this same drill described above. We had a visiting instructor at our school one day. Big guy. No, HUGE guy. Muscle-bound, hulking frame — you get the idea. Very nice fella, as it turns out, but I wouldn’t want to get on this guy’s bad side. As we were being instructed on the drill I decided as the pad holder that I was going to do my best to not budge. I am a pretty big guy myself — 6′ 4″ and….well, I’m big. As the drill started I dug in. My partner clinched me and began driving the knees. Nothing. I didn’t move an inch. In fact, I began driving him back forcefully as the rest of the class marched their way to the other side of the dojo. Our visiting instructor saw this and came over, saying to my partner, “Alright. Take this guy over here. I got this guy”, jabbing a finger at me.
As I was clinched harder than I knew was possible I was driven to the other side of the dojo by massive sledgehammer blows that had me practically seeing stars. The visiting instructor’s giant forearm was wedged viciously under my jaw and I was alternately slammed by the knees and rammed backwards with his iron arm in my throat. It was epic and I actually did better than I originally feared.
Interestingly, it turns out the guy I was partnered with was holding back, off to the side, quietly simmering since he got called aside. He was probably feeling frustrated and humiliated for getting put on the bench and I could tell in his face that he was determined to do better. As I partnered up with him again he was like a demon possessed and gave a performance that almost rivaled the visiting instructor’s, driving me back — again — with powerful, driving knees and a mad look of determination on his face. Yeah, I was having quite the night.
There are a bunch of lessons I think can be taken from this anecdote and I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. I myself was made aware of how a senior practitioner can belittle someone without even meaning to. I hope to avoid that in the future as I climb the ranks. I also found out that, if I can withstand that punishment from the massively powerful visiting instructor, I can probably handle anyone’s knees in the class as well. Finally, I saw how determination can make all the difference. Comparing my partner’s performance from the first attempt to the second was night and day. When he got his second chance he let go of all inhibitions and gave it his all. I’m here to tell you that it was like a completely different person and I was very impressed by the difference. I always want to train like he did that second go-around and so should you.
At our recent belt ceremony we heard more about what belts mean at our school. The topic of belts is a very touchy one for some and a very engrossing one for others, oftentimes depending on where a person is on the ‘belt continuum’. Observation has led me to believe that more advanced students claim to think less about belts than newer students. Anyhow, what made this talk interesting was that it gave us another way to think of the belt. Many of us who train in martial arts see the belt as a reward and there’s no doubt that it is indeed that. But it is actually something more.
The reason that our school grants so many belts when compared to many other Krav Maga schools is that belts are seen as goals. Our school Master told us that when he first obtained his Black Belt he asked, “What next?”. He had been conditioned over the years to never be satisfied that “that was it”. He has been training in martial arts since the age of 11 and this is one of the most important lessons he has gained from it: to set goals and always look for the next step — how to improve and get to the next level of greatness. It’s his and the school’s philosophy that belts provide those incremental steps to get to your ultimate end goal, the Black Belt and beyond.
One analogy he gave us is the old adage of:
“What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time”.
This is, in his opinion, the way to achieve the long-term goal of Black Belt. And what better way to do it in martial arts than defining belts that are not strung out by many months. One could argue that belts separated by a longer time interval serve the same purpose, I suppose. What is truly the difference between a belt being granted every 3 months vs. every 12 months, right? I think, as a matter of personal preference, that the difference is there and appreciate the smaller increments. Again, to paraphrase, the school Master said if he were to set out to lose 20 pounds in 2 months he wouldn’t make that his only goal. It’s too big and tough to measure progress against and could be frustrating and overwhelming. Instead he would first figure that he’d need to lose 10 pounds a month, which means 2.5 pounds a week. This is how the Black Belt journey is subdivided. Assuming the average student requires 4 to 6.5 years of training to achieve that level of mastery and proficiency, the journey is divided by rough intervals by belts (and some of the belts further divided by stripes).
In the end, the belt to us now looks a little different. Yes, it’s a measure of our experience and time spent training. But now, thanks to that talk, we can now recognize it for something even greater — a tangible goal that we can aspire to attain through hard work and dedication every day we spend in class.