Friday, December 31, 2010

An Empowering System That Transforms Lives by Jacqueline Mendez (JAX)

Krav Maga Worldwide  Logo
In Krav Maga, the letters K and M are both represented in Hebrew on the Krav Maga logo. They are both surrounded by an open circle. Imi Lichtenfeld, the Grand Master of Krav Maga, said of the logo that good things can continue to flow into the system and flawed exercises can flow out. This is why Krav Maga is a system that is open to adding techniques, exercises, and training methods that work and eliminates those that don’t. It’s very dynamic, like the flow of water that travels through a stream leading to a river and flowing out to sea. It is fluid, molding, ever changing and adjusting to its environment as it maneuvers itself around obstacles. It can run slowly or swiftly through small pebbles, make its way around massive rocks or explode down towering waterfalls. Bruce Lee, martial arts philosopher, practitioner, and proponent of discovering self defense techniques that worked, loved encouraging his students to empty their minds to be formless, shapeless - like water. He illustrated the use of water adjusting to its environment through the use of a cup, bottle, and a teacup. When it went into a cup it became a cup. When it was put into a bottle, it became the bottle; when put into a teapot, it became the teapot. It could flow or it could crash. “Be water, my friend,” he encouraged. Krav Maga takes that same approach when it comes to self defense.

To many practitioners, Krav Maga is such a fighting system that adapts and shapes itself as easily as water to provide an effective self defense method. But I truly believe that the logo represents much more than that. It symbolizes a belief system that affects and changes a person’s outlook in life.

Such a person is Herb Abrams, a quiet and somewhat reserved young man who was profoundly affected and transformed by joining Krav Maga Worldwide here in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Abrams reached a point in his life when he wanted to eliminate the things that were no longer working about himself, and he became open to learning a new way to adapt and change to the things that would—a feat not easily accomplished. After all, as humans we become creatures of habit and it’s so much easier to stay with what’s comfortable than go through an unknown and possibly uncomfortable process, but that certainly wasn’t the case for Mr. Herb Abrams.

Herb Abrams Before
306 pounds

A history buff and travel enthusiast, this man has quite a tale to tell. In October 1, 2009, he weighed in at 306 pounds. I had the pleasure of interviewing him and detailing the story of his triumph and the challenges he had to face as he eliminated the things that were no longer working for him in his life:

Me: Tell me a little about yourself.

HA: Well, I’m a history teacher and I love to travel. I’ve visited places like Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, which to me was one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ve always been overweight as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with diabetes, Type 2 at age twenty-one.

Me: What contributed to your weight gain?

HA: I’ve always been heavy. Life wasn’t easy. I was always teased in elementary and middle school was the worst. I tried tennis in high school, but I couldn’t keep up with the athletic, varsity type molds, because of my size. I think I just simply fell into a pattern of accepting that I was always going to be this way until the day I died of some type of heart attack or of something else from my disease. Of course, I lived a very sedentary life, with very poor eating habits. Funny, there was so much I wanted to do, but I was limited to what I could do because of my size.

Me: What made you want to lose weight and do things differently?

HA: I’ve always had a sense of adventure but there was only so much I could do because I was so big. I think the breaking point came when I went to China. I was at my heaviest of 306 pounds. You know in China, you hardly ever see any overweight people. It was pretty embarrassing. Everywhere I went people called me Buddha, took turns rubbing my stomach, some asked to take pictures with me, and the worst part was that I was always holding everybody in my group back because I couldn’t keep up. When I came back to the states, I started questioning why I could accomplish everything else in my life, but always failed when it came to weight loss. It was then that I made a choice to get it done.

Me: How did you do it and what was your regimen like?

HA: It was a very slow process in the beginning, but once I became determined I began to change everything in my diet. I got rid of red meat, fried foods, simple carbs like white bread and potatoes. I measured everything and downsized on my portions. I even took out cheese and mayo. It was hard. I literally felt like a drug addict going through withdrawals the first couple of weeks. I even had to wean myself off the radio and TV. If I so much as heard a commercial about food, I started salivating. It was challenging. I bought lots of gum so I could have something to chew on. Then I set an attainable goal to take three cardio classes a week. I was sore all over after every workout and literally felt like I had to drag myself to my car.

I lost nine pounds the first week, and then I started losing a pound or two a week. There was one moment I will never forget. I was doing a cardio bag class, and my instructor Pete Hardy kept saying that if we could imagine somebody we were angry with, we should hit the bag as hard as we could. I remember being really angry at myself and I punched the daylights out of that bag. It was such a stress reliever to let all that go.

There were also two other instructors who really motivated me: Bridget De la Rosa and Edie Davis. I loved how tough they were because it was so difficult to go through their classes, but they encouraged me to never give up, and I didn’t.

Me: So what are you doing now to stay challenged?

HA: Krav Maga has opened up so many doors. I did a Tower of Americas climb and run. I increased my cardio classes from three times a week to five. I did a 5k run with Bridget (one of STW's instructors), which was a huge milestone because I could never even run a mile. I participated in the Rock-n-Roll marathon, and I completed the Half-Iron Man Triathlon recently, which consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run on October 17th, 2010. I’m currently training for the Full Ironman Triathlon on November 20th, 2011 which is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. Next month I’ll be participating in a fifty mile trail race. Also, I plan to lose enough weight to go skydiving. It’s always been something I always wanted to do.

Me: How has Krav Maga changed your life?

HA: Aside from the weight loss, I could never call myself an athlete. I’m proud to say that Krav Maga made me an endurance athlete. I’ve surrounded myself with a new group of friends who encouraged and supported me, and I’ve decided to teach cycling classes on Tuesday nights from 6:30-7:30 p.m. starting January.

Me: Wow! That’s quite an accomplishment. I spoke to the two instructors who motivated you. Here’s what they had to say about you:

Edie Davis: We call Herb the “Herbinator” because he never quits! It was only last year he said he could only run one mile and today is training for his first Ironman. He has the “can do” and “never give up attitude” that others can learn from. When the training gets tough, he digs deeper and finds the strength and motivation to keep pushing himself. Herb is fearless! He is constantly challenging himself and is an amazing inspiration to anyone developing their own fitness goals. Herb has taught me that the only person stopping you from your goals is yourself.

Bridget de la Rosa: Herb is the reason why I teach. It’s so inspiring to see someone who was so heavy take on such a huge challenge and succeed. I am so proud of him. He inspires me to be a better athlete and instructor.

Me: When I first started doing Krav Maga I was five pounds shy of 200. I would always see you doing the cardio classes, and you liked to be way up at the front. I’d come out of a class feeling beat up and drained. I wanted to give up. All I had to do was look into the room and see you giving it your best. It became impossible for me to give up as well. I figured, if you could do it, I had nothing to complain about. Do you have any idea how many people you have inspired?

HA: No. I never thought myself as inspiring others but I am glad that I have. What Edie said is true. I never give up now. I like the feeling of pushing my body to its limits and succeeding in a new challenge. Also, if you want to change yourself you have to want to do it. Nobody can make you change. It was not easy completing a marathon just as it wasn’t easy starting down the path towards weight loss, but if you want it, you can do it. Now that I am becoming a fitness instructor at Krav Maga I hope that I can help other people as much as Bridget helped me. I hope I can challenge others to succeed like Bridget did for me. I originally did this for myself and my health. It really surprises me when people come up to me and tell me that I inspire them. People I went to school with are shocked when they see me on MySpace. It feels good to know I’ve accomplished this one thing I’ve struggled with for so many years. Krav Maga changed my life.

Herb Abrams Today
194 pounds
Me: Wow, so I have to ask, how much weight have you lost?

HA: Today I weigh in at 194 pounds and my goal is to lose thirty-eight more this year. I know that I can do it.

Me: I’m sure you can to, and I wish you well on your accomplishment!

Mr. Lichtenfeld’s philosophy regarding the Krav Maga logo about the open circle representing the flowing of good things in and the throwing away of those things that no longer work, reminded me that sometimes we go through life, struggling with the obstacles that have a real stronghold on us, which keep us from moving forward. We wonder why we struggle with it so much and nothing ever changes? Krav Maga teaches us that if we remain open to change and we are proactive about exploring and learning what works, there’s nothing we can’t do to accomplish our goals. The only thing holding us back is truly ourselves. Mr. Abrams knew that he couldn’t blame his environment, his past, or even his set of circumstances. He took action. He became a man with a mission to embark on an incredible journey committed to personal growth and positive change. I wish him all my best. I’m confident he will accomplish his goal towards losing those thirty-eight more pounds this year so he can participate in the Full Ironman Triathlon and fulfill that one thing he always wanted to do: go skydiving. The sky is the limit Mr. Abrams, perhaps even more—go for it!

Rothery, M. (Director). (1971, Dec 9). Bruce Lee- The Lost Interview. The Pierre Berton Show.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Krav Maga Rape Defenses that Work with Pete Hardy by Jax

Krav Maga is not as much a martial art with forms, techniques and point fighting as it is a system that was conceived in Israel out of a need to survive in a country where the presence of violence and danger is prevalent. It is one of the few systems that levels the playing field between male and female, which is one of the reasons that its popularity for reality-based self defense is on the rise. Its simple techniques, created to work against the most variations of attacks, increase the chances of survival when faced with the unexpected circumstance of a violent confrontation. I spoke with Pete Hardy, head of Krav Maga Worldwide in San Antonio, Texas, and one of only three to hold a second degree black belt worldwide to offer his expertise and techniques against the most common rape attacks and Krav Maga defenses to use in such a situation.

Based on the seminars you conduct every two months for women, I get the sense that you are an advocate for violence against women by empowering them with the tools they need to survive an attack. Why so?
San Antonio Owner
of Krav Maga Worldwide
Pete Hardy

"There’s nothing worse than the utter helplessness a victim feels after being degraded in the most violent ways. Thoughts such as they must have done something to deserve the attacks, imprison them in their own homes years after the rape occurred because they are afraid it will happen again. I want to ensure that these women have the tools they need to free themselves from the prison of their own minds and Krav Maga can do that for them."

According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, women age 24 and under suffer from the highest rates of rape. One in five women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years. How does Krav Maga help them minimize the risk of becoming a victim?

"Aside from the techniques they learn in the classroom, Krav Maga training focuses on creating situational awareness by increasing their chances of survival such as: walk tall, look up and be aware of your surroundings, always have your keys in your hands, don’t be distracted on your cell phone, and never let anyone into your space by creating an imaginary five foot box around you. Most criminals don’t want to hang out and struggle longer than they have to, so how women carry themselves when they’re walking to their car will determine whether they will become a target."

Your center has grown into the largest center in the nation. What do you attribute to the popularity of reality-based self defense?

"Krav Maga is easy to learn and hang on to... it’s a practical approach to self defense and that's what attracts people to it."

Have you had incidences of women in your center who were attacked and survived because of the skills they learned in Krav Maga?

"Yes, but due to legal issues, I cannot personally disclose what happened, but we have plenty of documentation that it works, not only in civilian life, but with law enforcement as well."

What are the most common rape scenarios?

"There are so many different rape scenarios that a victim can be placed in, but they will most commonly be choked, punched, mounted or in between the legs; which is why it is important for them to learn how to survive the most common rape situations where the victim will find herself having to fight for her life in a laying down position."

Here are the four most common rape attacks and how you can survive them:  
Choke with a mount

Krav Instructors
Bridget De la Rosa
and Roger Lopez by
Sarah Brooke Photography

The attacker is choking you on a mount: With both hands, pluck the attacker’s hands where thumb meets the wrist.

Pop your hips up, lifting one leg up and roll over.

The attacker is now on his back. Make a quick groin strike, stand up, and move away from the attacker.

Choke from behind on a mount
The attacker is mounted on your back with a choke on: In one swift motion slide your forearms as close as you can together towards your knees. This will buck the attacker right off.

Stomp on the groin or the face and run away.

The attacker is kneeling next to you choking you from the side:

In this illustration, the attacker is kneeling on the victim’s right side, so as soon as the attacker applies a choke, use a right-handed palm strike to the sternum or face while plucking and grabbing the attackers hand off your neck with your free hand.

Immediately roll your hips up and tuck your right knee against the attacker’s chest to create more distance. Trap the attacker’s hands with both of your hands and kick the attacker in the face with your free leg in an explosive motion.

The attacker is in between the legs and striking with clenched fists: 
Parry one of the punches and grab the wrist and the arm.

Shrimp off the hip bone and blade the other foot over the shoulder to stomp at the face. Push back and get out.

1 Data compiled by National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved from

*Special thanks to Sarah Brooke Photography for taking such awesome action pics!
Also would like to thank Mr. Pete Hardy, Owner of Krav Maga Worldwide for taking the time out of his busy schedule to give me an interview. Bridget De la Rosa and Roger Lopez, my awesome Krav instructors, thanks so much for volunteering on such short notice, and Sonny Mendez, for helping with the poses.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Healthy Food Choice for People On the Go!

I often hear of pasta used by athletes as a source for fuel, but I get bored with the idea of cooking and eating spaghetti every time I need a boost. Plus, as I've gotten older, the heaviness of beef and sauce gives me enough heartburn to burn a hole right through my esophagus.

Baby sister, Ruby Flores- Boyd
 Recently, I visited my younger sister, who is the picture of perfect health in action. She and her husband own and operate their own chiropractic health center in Brownsville, Texas (Boyd Health and Rehabilitation Centre), and I've always admired their approach to holistic health and healing. She is always inventing ways to eat healthier with the least amount of preservatives by eating more organic, including less fats, and avoiding the unnecessary use of salt by experimenting with herbs and food that will satisfy the palette and provide just enough comfort to soothe the soul. As an athlete in the martial arts of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, full-time mom, business owner, and college student, she knows first-hand that the foods you eat can either make or break your energy source.

Ouch! At a competition for her team with
Galvan's Martial Arts Academy,
Brownsville, TX

Jiu-jitsu Mama
So whether you're a martial artist, mom-on-the-run, person on the go, or simply looking for a healthier way to eat, here is a healthy and easy-to-make recipe adapted and modified from one of her favorite chefs, Giada, that will give you the energy you need to keep going, leave you satisfied and all without the guilt of heavy fats, salts or calories. I’ve lost 30 lbs in the last year, and I’d like to aim for 30 more, but with the holidays right around the corner, and with people shoving high calorie candy and foods down your mouth-- as if we needed to get ready for a winter hibernation-- I worry about increasing or plateau-ing on my goal to drop another 30 pounds; which is why I asked her to help me feature some of her favorite recipes once a month on my Krav Maga Mama Blog. Hope to see you back again next month, for some low-fat holiday treats.  

Sun dried Tomato Penne Pasta  


16 oz whole grain Penne pasta (Barilla brand preferred)

1 (8.5- ounce) jar of sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil

2 garlic cloves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

4 chicken breasts grilled and sliced length wise

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water (prefer a little sea salt) until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid

Lay your boneless chicken breasts flat and cut half-way, lengthwise so that the breast is about 1/4 in thick or pound with mallet. Lightly season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Grill until fully cooked.

Asparagus baked in olive oil
(extra virgin, first cold pressed)
and lightly seasoned with itallian seaoning
and garlicis a healthy vegetable alternative
Meanwhile, blend the sun-dried tomatoes with oil, garlic, salt and pepper (to taste), and basil in a food processor until the tomatoes are finely chopped. Transfer the tomato mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the Parmesan.

Mix the pasta with the pesto and toss to coat, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Season the pasta to taste with salt and pepper, or if you’re watching your sodium intake, exclude the salt. Place sliced and fully cooked grilled chicken on top of pesto. Garnish with two fresh basil leaves (optional)

*Recipe altered from Giada De Laurentiis original recipe

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Beauty of Krav Maga: A Year of Reflection in the Israeli Martial Art and What it Taught Me about Myself

One year ago, I sat at the edge of my bed, staring blankly at the wall in front of me. I turned to the side and looked at myself in the full-length mirror. I sat there unable to move. Shell-shocked is probably a choice of better words, actually. The woman staring back at me was no longer the person I had once been. I know I had a neck somewhere there I told myself, and somewhere down my torso and past the four Michelin tires of fat, I also had waistline. I was five feet, three inches tall, and five pounds shy of two hundred. My upper back hurt; my knees ached; my joints were always burning, and I easily grew tired and out of breath with the simple process of bending over to pick up my newspaper. As I reached over to slip into my sneakers, the muffled and grunting sound a puppy dog makes when he is picked from his stomach came out of my mouth, and it was sufficient for me to say I had had enough! I was sick of the excuses I had made up to convince me that being this unhealthy was okay, like: I had just had a baby (yeah, like four YEARS ago!); I was too busy running a household to go to the gym; my business and writing career consumed most of my time; and my ultimate favorite, this was just my body type and I needed to love who I was.
One year before Krav Maga

Moi, 60 lbs ago, back in high school
I admit that there are some people who are born with a certain girthy body type, or may have thyroid issues, but the harsh reality was that I realized that I needed to take personal responsibility for how unhealthy I allowed myself to get. No one told me to vedge in front of the set and stuff myself with buttered popcorn, chocolates and who knows what else I was scarfing down for the last twenty-three years.  No one put a gun to my head and forced me to get that second or third serving at the all-you-can-eat, deep-fried, artery-clogging buffet. No, enough was enough! I had a full understanding that spoons didn't make me fat: I -got- myself- there.I did this and I was going to find a way to get myself out. Fad diets didn’t work and regular exercise bored me. Then I remembered how slim I was when I was in high school, and it was all due to the fact that I practiced martial arts, which was Tae Kwon Do. I was well aware of my lack of flexibility, so I opted for Krav Maga, an Israeli system with practical, real-life situations in self defense and easy to remember techniques that were simple to use and effective. After trying only one class at San Antonio’s Krav Maga Worldwide center, I knew that my life would never be the same.

Reflecting back on the rigorous training I received in the past year, I can only sum it up to a few words: a challenging and painful process. I remember the feeling of thinking that perhaps I was in over my head after the first week, since I couldn’t lift my legs for days while shrieking in agony or using the words ow… ow… owiee… ooo man , every time I moved. Bengay became my new best friend and bloody knuckles and broken nails replaced a perfectly neat pair of hands. The process was slow and I remember at moments wanting to give up, but every time I came home to my family I was reminded that the road I was on had a far greater purpose than losing weight. Plus, I had help from the brotherhood of instructors at the gym who motivated me and ensured that I got the techniques done right, and for that I would like to pay tribute to those instructors who helped me with this life-changing process.

I’ll start with Instructor Chris Coble who encouraged me to keep going. He related being overweight before he became a member.

Inst Chris Coble

“I was over two hundred pounds and I have the stretch marks to prove it. Krav Maga helped me. Keep going, eat a healthy diet and don’t give up,” he encouraged. “The first three to six months are going to be the most difficult, but you will eventually see results,” he said, so I pressed on and did my best to keep up with the rest of the group, oftentimes being the last one in line during our runs. Which spoke volumes about the lack of endurance I had at the beginning.

Instructor Ray McNiece

The key to endurance in Krav Maga was to strengthen my core, so the process for me to accomplish that was comprehensive. I took advantage of my gym’s classes in cardio bag, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, spinning, strength conditioning with resistance bands and hand weights. In my Krav Maga classes I crunched, levitated one leg forward with hips up in the air, practiced lots of elbows and kicks from the floor, worked on Spider Man push-ups, jumped rope, and got my second wind whenever Instructor Ray McNiece blared his infamous Rocky theme songs
from the sound system. Okay, that’s a bit of a cliché, but it worked. Sometimes, I spent most of my time in Krav Maga with my head up some sweaty man’s armpit, but I learned how to get out of a headlock. I kicked and palm-striked till I dropped and leaped like a frog till my joints burned.

Instr Jesse Quiroga
Instructor Jesse Quiroga, and registered male nurse, suggested I’d drink sports beverages to help replace the potassium I was losing and that kept me from feeling so fatigued after every class. But no amount of sports drinks made me immune from certain classes. I can still remember feeling like my heart was going to rip out of my chest during Instructor Henry Hernandez’ sessions. He loved to practice simulated ATM and home invasion attacks with multiple attackers.

Henry Hernandez
“In here, I teach you to never place yourself in a situation where you are going to find yourself in a fight for your life, but at the same time it’s unrealistic to assume this may never happen, because it might, so preparing to defend yourselves in this position is my priority, so take it seriously when we simulate these scenarios for you,” he would say whenever he noticed people tapping the targets. Instructor Hernandez continued, “If you’re tapping the shield, what is that? You’re just playing pat-a-cake, and you might as well go home. If you’re gonna assume a position to strike, then you better follow-through and deliver. Women especially, you only get a small window of opportunity when fighting against a man twice your size, so go hard and follow through.”

The reality behind what would happen to me if a person twice my size wanted to hurt me really embedded itself into my mind.  So I did as he said, hitting harder, and little by little I began feeling stronger and enduring longer.

I learned quite a few lessons along the way:
1. Don’t eat before class, unless you want to feel like a tick ready to pop.
2. When holding a shield for a man with a big foot, move it a slight distance away from your stomach. Yes, I had an imprint for a week!
3. Eye strikes should be flicked at a forty-five degree angle and never jabbed directly at a shield, unless you plan on not making a fist for a week.
And finally...
4. Don’t try to keep up with a bunch of twenty-year-olds on a single line sprint when you’re on the verge of hitting forty. Trust me. Recovering from ankle sprains and pulled muscles takes much longer.

When it came to technique, I had several instructors that always ensured I did it right. One of the most challenging things for me to do was kick from the floor and rise quickly after falling flat on my back on the mat, not an easy feat to accomplish when most of the weight is placed on your hands. Instructor Arnold Cano made me practice over and over until it looked somewhat decent. My thumb and forefinger ached for days from where I rooted my hand to the floor as I swung one of my back legs into a fighting position, but he stressed the importance of minimizing my time on the ground.

Instructor Arnold Cano
“In Krav Maga, you have to practice street fighting situations where there are no rules. You have to always assume multiple attackers, weapon attacks, and a not-so-friendly ground environment that may be full of gravel or glass. You need to be able to execute your defense as soon as possible and find an exit. You can’t get away from danger if you’re not on your feet.” This, he said, was the premise for emphasizing the importance of teaching students to get up as fast as they could. I have yet to master springing up from the floor in a flash, after all who am I kidding? Being forty doesn't equate to acting like some young Bruce Lee, wanna-be, spring chicken, but at least continuous practice will help reinforce better habits and get rid of the bad ones.

One habit I had to get rid of was one I got from my Tae Kwon do sparring days: the side-fighting stance. “In Krav Maga, we want all of our weapons available. This is why we square off by facing forward with the least distance to travel. Standing sideways is really stealing time away from you and giving the opponent more time to get to you,” said Instructor Jennifer Alvarez, who thankfully, was always on my back about squaring off and fighting forward.

Pete Hardy
“A side-angle stance is a defenders nightmare because you are not flowing with your body’s natural movement,” said first degree black belt and owner of Krav Maga Worldwide, Pete Hardy. “When you stand to the side you’re just begging to end up on the floor.”

These reminders became essential when training with multiple attackers during thirty-second explosive exercises, which sometimes included defending with palm strikes, forward and back punches, elbow strikes, hammer fists, knee strikes, or defenses against chokeholds, the basic techniques a level one student must master before moving on to level two. In Krav Maga defending is not a stationary process. Targets are coming at you from different directions, and you have to keep moving forward. There are two things my instructors emphasized which became a resounding mantra during my training: work on repetitive techniques and be explosive when doing them.

Which brought to mind when Bruce Lee once said—that’s right-- I read Bruce Lee stuff-- I can have layers: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” (The Internet Movie Database: Biography of Bruce Lee, 1990-2010). When I asked owner Pete Hardy what the premise was behind that philosophy of repetitive and explosive training, he said the following: “Based on interviews with prisoners and victims, there is a high likelihood that the attack will be zero to five feet from the victim. Somewhere in reality you allowed the attacker to get within your space. As soon as that occurs, you have to keep engaging him, because the last thing you want to do is to create more of a window of opportunity for the attacker to hurt you, such as with short stabbings coming from the side. The thing that is most unique about Krav Maga is not just the combatives, but the self-defense. If you end up on the ground we want to teach you to quit thinking. Get to your feet and get back your environment by doing what you’ve practiced doing over and over. Krav Maga gives you the skills to find an exit and survive.”

Teaching me to quit thinking was exactly what they did. In April of this year, I put that theory to the test when I tried to place out of level one and into the second level. There are six levels to Krav Maga and when describing the level one test, I would rate it second next to going through labor and giving birth. The rigors of enduring the three-and-a-half hour test drained me and punished my body severely. I received an elbow to the ear during a technique. It felt like the side of my face had hit a brick wall, followed by a high-pitched ring and temporary deafness on one side. It knocked my equilibrium off, and I needed a moment to catch my bearings.

“At least you know that sh** works,” said owner Pete Hardy with his usual resolved intensity when he described to me that that’s what a real knockout felt like. If that’s what it felt like, I hope I never have to find out what it’s really like in an actual situation.

As time lapsed, I felt myself growing more and more exhausted. I was exhaling so much I felt depleted of oxygen and my mind turned into a foggy haze, which is what I can imagine it would be like in a real life-threatening situation when you’re in a choke hold and you can’t breathe. When a choke was applied from the front, side or back, I didn’t have time to think about technique, but my body unexpectedly reacted with hand pluck releases, elbows, palm strikes, and knees. What surprised me the most about the test was how much I had to rely on what Instructor Keith Cardenas always liked to emphasize as “muscle memory.”

Instructor Keith Cardenas
“The beauty of Krav Maga is that even if you don’t know how to fight, you have programmed movements to occur naturally when a fight does happen, because when all rational thought is gone and you’re exhausted, your body will respond to what it has always done—and that means survival,” he said when I asked him to define muscle memory for me. And survive I did, as I passed on to the second level as a student of Krav Maga.

Sometimes women shy away from martial arts because of its male oriented environment, but Krav Maga levels the scales because the defenses that are taught can be used with a person of any size or strength. The days of one-to-one honor fighting are long gone, and today’s assailant comes with multiple attackers, fighting at close range with shanks, knives, and guns. Furthermore, the criminal element loves to prey on lonely women, preferably with children in tow and unsuspecting couples. Therefore, not only is it important for men to learn self-defense, but it is equally important to empower their loved ones with the tools to survival.

Sun Tzu (2008) described in his military treatise, The Art of War, that the supreme art of war was achieved when one could subdue the enemy without fighting, and while Krav Maga certainly falls in line with this philosophy by encouraging students to be aware of their surroundings in order to avoid potentially dangerous situations, working on non-combative posturing and stances to deflect trouble, it also trains you to explode if the need arises as if your life depended on it. Sun Tzu further encourages, “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt” (p.68). Falling like a thunderbolt is one thing that is certainly emphasized in Krav Maga as demonstrated by Instructor Hardy’s approach to training:

“When you’re here, you are in a fight for your life! I can teach you the skills, but if you don’t have the fighting spirit to go at it full force and explode, there is nothing that I can do to help you out in the streets.” That’s a statement I hope carries into my training as I embark on a new journey to the next level with Krav Maga.

Anyone who has endured the rigors of any martial arts program has my respect, and while Tae Kwon Do served its purpose, Krav Maga instilled in me the values of courage, personal responsibility, and endurance. It reminded me of Bruce Lee’s philosophy about limiting ourselves when he said, "If you always put limits on what you can you do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life… There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them…” (Lee & Little, 1998, p.23). The Israeli Art of Krav Maga certainly took me beyond my plateau.

At times, I had to push my body through the painful process of training to go above my limits and make it perform feats beyond what I thought were close to impossible. I pushed myself even harder to work at creating the body and spirit that God made me as opposed to the one I made for myself. I lost thirty pounds in the last year, and I have thirty more to go, but I gained much more than I lost through a new found respect for the art of Krav Maga. It is a discipline that is not just simply about kicking butt and busting skulls. There is a beauty that comes from the pain of enduring it, while at the same time discovering that personal growth happens when we stop blaming our external forces and take matters into our own hands, accepting responsibility for our own actions, and doing something about it. That alone is what it means to survive as a member of the human race. That is what the Israeli Art of Krav Maga taught me.

Compiled by (1990-2010). The Internet Movie Database: Biography of Bruce Lee. Retrieved from

Lee, B & Little J. (1998).The Art of Expressing the Human Body. Boston:Tuttle Publishing.

Tzu, Sun. (2008) The Art of War. New Jersey: Chartwell Books Inc. (Original work written in 6th century B.C.).

Copyright of Jacqueline Mendez 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You Want Me To Kick Him Where?!

“You want me to kick him, where?!”

“Aim for the b***s,” he told me for what seemed like the fifth time.

I looked at the shield and hesitated. “Can’t he raise the shield a little more?” I asked.

“No! It has to be at groin level,” he responded with a grunt.

“Isn’t that cheating?” I questioned once again. I know… I was pushing it… I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth quite often, and I knew I had it coming when he gave me a sour look.

He drew in a deep breath. I could tell he was on his last nerve, and I was officially volunteering to get on it. He leaned in. “Do you think a criminal is interested in scoring for points? You’re small. He thinks you’re weak, and your only defense is to hurt the only thing he’s got between his legs. That’s what’s gonna give you that chance to breathe because he’s got you in his grip.” He drew nearer. I gulped.

“So you have to ask yourself, do you wanna die or do you wanna live? The way you train in here is how you’re going to react out there. So go for the b***s I’m telling you?!" The vein on his temple seemed to come alive, staring at me fiercely, if it had an eye, I would say it would be giving me the STINK eye.

I braced myself and lowered the height of my kick. I felt uncomfortable and a bit apprehensive. And then they told us we were going to do it without the shield. Although my partner was wearing a cup, I shrank back at the thought of going there. Yikes! Is he for real? I asked in an undertone. Our instructor assured us that the cup was there for a reason, so there was no need to fret. I didn’t want to do it. I scanned the room for the nearest exit sign. Perhaps if I tip toed my way out of there, he wouldn’t notice. No dice! I imagined his temple vein coming to life and tipping him off. The drill started; my partner’s hands gripped tightly around my neck. Something inside me exploded, and I burst with a full blown kick to the crotch. Immediately his hands flew off. Woah! This stuff really works, I thought to myself. But instead, the first words that flew out of my mouth were, “I’m sorry!”

“SORRY?!” Yelled the instructor. I grimaced sheepishly and shrank back, wincing. “There’s no SORRIES in Krav Maga!” he said, throwing his hands up in the air, before gripping the roots of his hair as if ready to tear off his scalp.

And then I realized. This was the real thing. I had found a system that leveled the scales between men and women, and like an addict, I was hooked and wanted to learn more.

Have I always been comfortable with this? I haven't gotten completely used to it, yet, but it makes alot of sense. Krav Maga has clearly shown me time and time again that size isn't always advantageous. Women, in particular, have a tendency to feel defenseless because the assumption is that there is nothing they can do against a perpetrator bigger than them, so what’s the point?  Not the case with Krav Maga, and aside from the tremendous health benefits, I have learned some crucial life-saving skills. It is very possible to survive an attack. I see the instructor ladies at my center do it all the time. I personally know female instructors who have had to spar with men three times their size.

One instructor related her experience when when she went to California to get certified: “I told them…hope you all brought your cups, boys, cause I’m using elbows and going for b***s.” Then she continued, “You’re small, their arms are much longer and your reach is much shorter, so remember what I’m telling you, because when it comes down to it, it’s going to be your best defense,” she advised.

See how a simple technique of learning how to kick to the groin, in this case knee to the groin, can bring down an assailant twice your size.
When the choke comes on, the immediate danger is the passageway, so it's important to pluck the assailants hands off. In one fast motion, step to the side and strike the groin as hard and as many times as it takes for the hands to release the choke (see picture demonstration to the right).
The assailant's immediate response will be to lean forward and a swift, hard elbow to the chin is enough to stun him and to give you the opportunity to follow-up with more combatives.
Immediately turn into the assailant and throw a hard knee to the groin area and make your quick escape.

So, points I need to constantly remember when working with people twice my size, which is 99.9% of the time: One, I can’t apologize… and two, it has to be done. I have to go for—well—you know. But maybe I will say I'm sorry to my partners... as long as temple vain is not within ear's distance away. *WINK*

Monday, August 9, 2010

Facing Fear Head On: Self Defense Seminar Empowers Women to Go from Victim to Survivor

Somewhere in this country a woman is walking through an isolated parking lot late at night unaware that watchful eyes are fixated on her, waiting for a moment of weakness to take her down. Suddenly, that someone tackles her from behind and she crashes into the ground. She feels the dead weight of his hips mounted on her back and the blows behind her head are taking a toll on her state of consciousness. In another part of the country a woman walks into the comfort and security of her own apartment, ready for what she thinks is a night of peaceful slumber. After slipping into her nightgown she crawls into bed out of sheer exhaustion and lays in total darkness. Someone rushes toward her and mounts over her hips. Strong hands vicegrip around her neck and she has only seconds to react before that sleep becomes permanent. Sometime just about now, an abusive husband is slapping and beating his defenseless wife. She can only place hands in front of her face to try and cushion the blows. No, I'm not making this up, and this isn't the workings of a fiction writer's overactive and paranoid imagination. Incidences like these happen on a daily basis every minute of every hour. It's easy to disconnect ourselves from the reality of such violence. We all seem to fall for the old personal fable that something like that could never happen to us, but the reality of such a possiblity becomes probable when you come face-to-face with a victim who actually lived it.

I recently assisted a women's only self-defense seminar at the center where I train at San Antonio, Texas, Krav Maga Worldwide. The owner, First Degree Black Belt, Pete Hardy, whom I can best describe as a tough-talking, Full Metal Jacket, Sgt. Hartman type figure, but with a good heart and a soft spot for empowering women, holds these seminars every couple of months. I walked in thinking that I was physically prepared for this, afterall, I write to empower women, and this was just another avenue in which I was contributing to what I love to do. I was wrong!

What I wasn't expecting was the emotional toll it was going to take on me when we ran the self-defense drills: defense from guard position laying down; defense from a mounted position, laying face up with a choke; and defense from a mounted position with a choke laying face down. Assisting with demonstrating the assault defenses went smoothly. We were low in female instructors due to a training they had to attend, so one of the instructors asked me to step up and help. I did so willingly and loved every moment I saw the ladies gain in their confidence when they performed moves that were simple and easy to learn. As part of the last drill, Mr. Hardy gathered the instructors and assistants in the biggest room so the men could suit up in padded gear. I was to be one of my husband's spotters and my job was to ensure that both victim and attacker were safe. As soon as the first round of women came in, the air grew tense. I felt weird but shook it off as a bad case of nerves for my husband who was about to get the beating of his life, over and over (what a trooper!).

Realizing what was happening overwhelmed me. Certain women were reliving violent experiences and the tension was coming from the look of fear in their faces as they stood in front of their attacker, once again, and were asked to FIGHT-- fight for their lives. This moment was not just a simulated drill to them. This was real. My husband's hand on their necks was real, his weight on their bodies, was not just pretend, IT was happening-- all over again. I had to use every ounce I had to keep my cool, suck back the tears, swallow the lump that was forming in my throat. Memories of an experience I had with a family member who attacked me many years ago were triggered and it was tough to handle, but I had to put a brave face for their sake, because this wasn't about me. This was about getting them to free themselves from the prison of their own mind imprinting self-defeating thoughts that told them throughout the years that they were helpless--weak--and that they deserved to get what happened to them. They needed to face that demon and as Mr. Hardy pointed out at the training he gave us the day before: "Help free them from captivity!"

One woman broke down and froze right next to me. I held back tears as one of the counselors from VASA (an organization based in San Antonio that stands for Voices Against Sexual Assault) gathered round and asked, "Were you raped?" She could only nod. I had to think of a happy place, focus on my group and keep going. Another woman came to our group from a counselor who coached her and said, "We're going to do this again, and this time you're gonna fight. You can DO this!" I could only watch as her lips quivered and her closed eyelids twitched, awaiting my husband's chokehold from a standing position. I saw that woman open her eyes and unleash a firestorm on him as she kicked, kneed and battled her way out of my husband's grip. It was amazing to watch what the simple techniques of Krav Maga did to this fearsome lady. Yet, my excitement was bittersweet since it was my husband who was taking a beating.

After it was over, we cheered for her and high-fived. She let out a deep breath of relief. I couldn't have been prouder for her at that moment. I didn't know what she experienced, but I could only imagine that it must've been something violent and tragic, but she faced fear in the face, head-on that day and won. This happened over and over throughout the drills, and when the last one was done, I think I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I felt honored and inspired to have been part of this moment, and thankful, ever so grateful that I found a fighting system that did so much for victims of sexual assault. I think I learned much more from these women than what I was able to teach them about Krav Maga. They showed me that you can look fear in the face and say, "VICTIM, NO MORE!" Surviving is the only option when you're willing to learn the skills you need to defend against an assault. If you have been a victim of such an attack, are you, dear reader, willing to look fear in the face and say, "NO MORE!"? The choice is yours.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who Am I and Why Should You Care?

Welcome to Krav Maga Mama!

My name is Jax, I am a mother, freelance writer, author of my own urban fantasy young adult novel, and practitioner of the self defense system called Krav Maga. Phew! I actually said that all in one sentence. I decided to start my own blog about Krav Maga because, let's face it, I simply couldn't say everything I wanted to say about this wonderful and exciting journey in under 125 characters. I needed to be at liberty to ramble about my progress, challenges, defeats and victories on another platform, hence the blog.

So what is Krav Maga you may wonder? Krav Maga is a fighting system that was developed by the Israeli military in the early 1940's. Its creator, Imi Lichtenfeld, was handpicked by the government to create a practical, highly effective self defense and hand-to-hand combat system for the military such as the Israeli Defense Forces, National Police, and Secret Service. It was based on one's natural reflexes and body mechanics which made it quick and easy to learn by men and women, because it was not dependent on size or strength.

I originally joined this style as a way to lose weight, but soon discovered that Krav Maga became a way of life for me. The challenges I faced every time I went to the gym translated into my daily life, and it helped me respond to any obstacles I faced, dead on, without regrets. My purpose is to inspire and encourage others, especially women, to take charge of their lives and help them release the warrior that remains silently hidden within the depths of their souls. I also hope to amuse and entertain you with stories of my progress and failures, as I embark in unknown territory, living my new life in this paramilitary-like environment.

Thanks for reading and come back soon or subscribe to my blog to get posting notifications!

Love and blessings,
JAX, Author of Heart of the Jaguar
Heart of the Jaguar also on Kindle