Thursday, March 15, 2012

Meet my Krav Brothers

Starting back row from left to right:
Ralph Kirchner, John Cameron,
Charles Dean, Charles Garza, David Becerra, Jose Labault,
Ernesto de los Santos, John Gahan and Instructors
Jennifer Alvarez and Arnold Cano
I wrote a piece for STW Krav Maga, and for this month, I wanted to post a sneak peek at the unedited, alternate version of it before it goes to press this Friday. It's one I did on the group I started with when I first joined Krav Maga. I talk about them all the time and it's time I introduced you to my Krav brothers. They've inspired me to continue to level up in Krav Maga as they recently passed their level 4 test. I'm very proud of their accomplishment and here's their story: 

What does it take to keep going despite moments of excruciating pain and discomfort? It takes heart, and there are some people who have plenty of it. Take for instance Japan’s Shun Fujimoto. In 1976, he captivated the attention of the world in the summer Olympic Games when he landed a perfect triple somersault twist dismount from the rings, only to gain the most coveted gold medal in the men’s gymnastics competition.  The most astounding part to all this was that he achieved this near flawless landing on a broken right knee. “The pain shot through me like a knife… it brought tears to my eyes,” he declared, “but now I have the gold medal and the pain is gone.”  This willingness to pay the price is what gave him the courage in the face of excruciating pain.

I was reminded of this event recently after interviewing a few of my Krav brothers who passed their level 4 test this past February, earning a very difficult to attain blue coin in Krav Maga. I've had the privilege of getting to know quite a few of them, and one thing that I have observed is that they seem to display a very gladiatorial spirit when it comes to their training, but not for the reasons you my think.

First let’s take a look into the world of the ancient gladiator. Gladiator contests originated as funeral games called munera because they were considered duties that were paid to the dead ancestors, but they eventually made its way to the public arena staged by politicians and emperors.

The gladiator ranks consisted of slaves, captured fugitives, criminals, and prisoners of war. However, by the fall of the Roman Empire, half of all gladiators joined voluntarily. These volunteers were known as the auctorati, aristocrats who had lost their wealth, while some risked their legal and social standing as well as their lives by fighting in this arena, just simply to inspire admiration and popular acclaim.

Gladiatorial training followed a strict, training regimen, whereupon they were taught to fight in a series of phases.  Once in the public arena, it was often a fight to the death, mercy or punishment dependent on the thumbs up or down of the Roman emperor.

Very similarly, and although I may be overstating and overdramatizing things a bit, cause in reality there is no fight to the death here at the center where I train, but we do have our very own modern day gladiators. These guys had to undergo a very strict regimen of constant training, 26 weeks to be exact, not to mention that they had to withstand the various injuries they got throughout the course of this program in preparation for this exam. And of course, their passing on to the next stage was very dependent on the approval or disapproval of our very own Emperor, 2nd degree black belt, Pete Hardy.

It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that, it’s the will to prepare to win that matters~Paul Bear Bryant (college football coach with 323 victories,  including 6 national championships, 13 southeastern conference titles)

Just taking a simple look at the skills they must acquire and master is enough to make the average person want to cringe and take a pass. I personally think that learning and mastering those techniques would be like having your own personal Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Steven Segal, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Borne Ultimatum goody bag on your side. They always seemed to know exactly how to disarm an aggressor with such perfect technique and ease.Impressive! However, learning and mastering those skills takes alot of work and effort. In the book, Complete Krav Maga by Darren Levine and John Whitman, it states, “We consider Blue Belt… to be the first advanced belt in our system. At this level, your training moves beyond basic fighting skills and self-defense—you now learn to defend against threats and attacks with weapons such as guns and sticks, and you are introduced to the principles of defenses against a knife. In addition, since a blue belt practitioner should have solid, practical experience in fighting, fighting becomes a significant factor during the Blue Belt test.” Fighting definitely played a large role in the success of this test, and it didn’t come without its share of casualties.

Never, NEver, NEVer, EVER give up~ Winston Churchill

 “I think everyone had some type of injury of one sort or another throughout the training,” remarked Level 4 Instructor Jennifer Alvarez.   One of the members, CK, got hurt when he took a stick to the forehead. Ouch!
CK and Jose Labault

“At least I know I can get hit on the head with a stick and I didn’t get fazed,” CK laughed. “My wife on the other hand, didn’t think it was so funny when I had to get stitches, though,” he said with an almost shameful grin.  “Pete said just dab it, put pressure on it and keep going. But I was more concerned about getting the floor dirty,” he continued. 

Two members messed up their ankles and one in particular took a more serious blow to his knee.

John Cameron
“I messed up my knee due to a previous injury I had in soccer when I broke my fibula in 2005 and it healed crooked,” said John Cameron. “I was practicing for the review and did a spinning slapstick when I felt a very sharp pain. I remember taking three ice baths a day to get the swelling down and it took the pain away for a little while.”

John hopped around one leg during the test (I can sympathize, for it wasn't too long ago, I was hopping around one leg myself, click here to read that story), and after he had it examined, he found he had snapped his ACL, tore his meniscus and experienced another bone crack that they had to break again because of his previous injury.

When I asked him why he felt he had to go through with the test despite injuring himself during the review, he remarked with a humble tone, “I put in five months of training, and in addition to training at the gym, I put in about two hours a day at home, so I wasn’t about to back down now. I’m a huge believer in giving everything 100% or nothing at all. Sure, I‘ll have to be away for six months now, and I’ll be in a cast for about three, and it’s a bummer because this place is such a big part of my life; it’s made me a better person, taught me discipline and humility cause there will always be a person better than you, but I didn’t mind.”

That’s a sign of a person with a winning attitude.  He was willing to pay the price, practice hard, and was determined to have a whatever it takes attitude to get the job done. Way to go!

Instructor Arnold Cano with
student Ernesto de los Santos

Instructor Jennifer Alvarez with student
Ernesto de los Santos

Expert 1, Level 4 Instructors, Arnold Cano who spearheaded the program, and Jennifer Alvarez, are both extremely proud of the group’s accomplishment. “It was an honor working with these guys…” said Arnold Cano “…and to all the guys who got hurt and stuck to it, I feel proud they did so well.”  Jennifer Alvarez agreed. “These guys were receptive to instruction. They had a no- quit attitude, were thirsty to learn and they want to keep learning,” she said.

Students John Gahan and Charles Garza

Aside from the intense training regimen, and assistance from their instructors, these men supported themselves throughout. “It was physically and mentally stressful,” said Charles Garza. “The circle of life, alone, was very intense…” (Circle of life consists of fending off one combatant after another, non-stop) “… but the thing I found most amazing was the support that I got not only from the instructors, who were just simply amazing by the way, but from watching a group that came from such diverse backgrounds band together to help each other succeed. It was a moment in my life that I will capture in time forever… [and] aside from the camaraderie, I got to experience everyone’s skill.

This skill set didn’t go without notice. Second degree black belt and owner of STW, Pete Hardy, said, “I was really pleased with the proficiency and the quality of the handgun work that they did.” If anyone knows Pete Hardy, that compliment alone is golden and speaks volumes about the effort, hard work, and heart these guys put into this program.

Every man dies, but not every man truly lives ~ Mel Gibson, Braveheart

There are people who are content living peaceful, quiet lives, never leaving a mark or even a blip on the radar screen of life. They leave this earth unscathed, unchanged, and unaware that they had abilities that needed to be tapped, and if opened, it would unravel their truest potential. Then there are those who take the call to challenge themselves, explore what is deep within them to help them discover what drives them. They push themselves beyond the limits of what is comfortable, average, or tolerable to help them unleash a part of themselves they didn’t know they had burning within them. It's not easy, I know. With the mounds of responsibilities and stressors of life I have resting on my shoulders, sometimes, I want to give up, and I ask myself, "What the heck am I doing volunteering to get the crap beaten out of me?!" But I see that they have this yearning, this fire that drives them and the stress that they undergo with this type of intense training prepares them to tackle the outside world with ease. These are the guys whose loyalty knows no bounds. It takes an extreme amount of perseverance and self-discipline to stick to this type of program, testing out of levels one, two, three, and then four just to get to this point. That type of level of commitment is admirable to say the least.

Contrary to the ancient gladiators of old, these modern day warriors don’t do it for the praise and the accolades. It’s intrinsic. I should know. I’ve dealt with most of them and their sense of humility astounds me. As Blue Belt student Mr. John Cameron said, [this] taught me discipline and humility cause [no matter how good you think you are] there will always be a person better than you.” David Berrocal stated that the more classes he took, the fewer problems he had from the outside world because he learned the skills of situational awareness in order to avoid them.

But the comment that I found most inspiring came from this one brother who underwent the most significant changes throughout his journey with Krav Maga:

“I remember when I passed the level one test, I walked into my first upper level class. I thought I was so impressive having passed that challenge, and now I was going to start training with the big boys. I had to do some sparring and most of the guys in that class had had previous training in martial arts and boxing, and I had none. I was still quite a bit overweight, slower on my feet and unskilled. We started going several rounds and the guys were—just—WAILNG on me so hard and pounding on me that I began to feel a total sense of defeat,” he nodded his head with disappointment. “One moment, I got punched with a right hook so hard, I spun around and landed flat on my a$@. My mouthpiece flew across the room. I could hear the instructor yelling at me, telling me that I only had seconds to get up, and if I didn’t, he was gonna let my partner beat me on the floor. I got up and did the best I could. When it was over, and everyone else had left the room, I leaned up against the wall and slid down to the floor. I was gassed, angry and completely disappointed in myself. I felt so humiliated and defeated, and I think the beating that was harder to deal with was the one I was giving to my own state of mind. I almost gave up that day. I questioned whether I had learned anything at all, because I had just gotten the complete crap beaten out of me. If I could think back to the moment and day where I almost quit, I think that would’ve been it, but something inside me told me that if I was gonna fail at something, it wasn’t gonna be this, and now here I am. The level tests are never easy, but I think back to that day, and I’m able to press forward.”

THAT type of motivation certainly doesn’t come from a need to win the praise and admiration of a crowd of spectators, it comes from deep rooted courage and heart that allows you to do the things you fear the most, but as John Wayne would say, “You saddle up anyway.” It's a valuable lesson for me. I have to saddle up, get back up on that horse, keep riding till dusk and wait for the next day full of sunshine. Sometimes, all I get is sandstorms and annoying little tumbleweeds that iritate the crap out of me, sidetrack, and distract me. Sigh! But, yes,  I have to remember to saddle up anyways, endure whatever pain comes my way and keep going. Not an easy thing to do, but a challenge that I'm willing to undertake.

Congratulations, guys! I'm truly and sincerely proud of all of you. Your hard work and dedication paid off, and you have the scratches, bruises, broken noses, messed up ankles, ripped tendons, and bad knees to prove it. 

Peace, Love and Blessings, Always