|One year before Krav Maga|
|Moi, 60 lbs ago, back in high school|
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|
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.
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|
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.
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|
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (1990-2010). The Internet Movie Database: Biography of Bruce Lee. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000045/bio.
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