Saturday, July 25, 2015

Krav Maga Chronicles

Krav Maga…I have been a practitioner of this self defense system off and on for the last five years.  Three years ago, I decided to get more serious about it, and a year and half ago, I decided on an impossible dream—to become a Krav Maga instructor.  I had been helping out at a women’s self defense seminar and had an opportunity to really see Krav Maga make a difference in someone’s life—the experience was life altering—for her, and for me.  I was humbled and exhilarated to be a part of it.

KM logo

I had been toying with the idea of becoming an instructor for awhile, but I was afraid I’d be laughed at if I said anything. After all, I wasn’t terribly fit, I was overweight, and I had some emotional hang ups about some of it.  All I knew was that overall, I loved it.  But after that particular women’s self defense seminar---something shifted---I knew I had to become a Krav Maga instructor, or die trying.

I practically RAN to my very hard-nosed instructor and told him what I wanted to do.  I fully expected him to sneer or laugh and tell me I was not instructor material and probably never would be. I was afraid of how he’d react when I told him what I wanted to do. But I did it, anyway.

He didn’t respond immediately---and I couldn’t read his face, but he finally told me if I was serious, I needed to talk with my chief instructor, the owner of the school.  I was surprised I wasn’t shut down, and felt encouraged—but I also wondered if that was Instructor Hard-Nose’s way of letting me down. Maybe he was passing the buck. I decided he didn’t want to be the one to tell me I was not cut out to be an instructor. 

So, I put off talking to my chief instructor for a couple of weeks.  I had to sit with the idea that what I wanted and what I was capable of might not square up.  I had to sit with the idea that I would be told no, or that I would be laughed at.  But the fire for Krav Maga just kept burning and finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to know if my chief instructor thought I could do it. I told him I wanted to be an instructor.

Actually, to be honest, I was a coward and IM’ed him. I figured being rejected via text would hurt less than being told in person.  I didn’t hear from The Chief for a couple of days---but then, his response:

“I knew you would, sooner or later!!! LOL When are you in next? We can chat!”

“Really?” I thought.  I had no idea if this meant “Well, it’s about time, let’s get going on this!” or “That’s cute, but you’re delusional. I think you need professional help to grasp the sad reality that you’ll never cut it.”

The next time I saw the Chief—he handed me a list of all the instructor testing dates in the United States and Spain for the next year.  He told me to look them over, set a date and come talk to him some more.

I was surprised…no, I was shocked.  I stared at the paper for a good ten minutes before I realized this was basically a green light from THE CHIEF INSTRUCTOR to pursue this crazy dream. 

So, I picked a date and we chatted.  Chief asked me about why I wanted to become an instructor, and what committing to training meant. He asked me if my husband was supportive, and how I would balance my responsibilities while adding instructor training to my already busy life.  Chief was encouraging and enthusiastic. He asked if I believed I could do it. I said yes. He said he believed me and that he believed IN me. On my way out, he congratulated me and said, “This experience will absolutely change your life.”

I began training in earnest---and working on technique and endurance.  Over the next few months, I lost 20 pounds and worked my way up to working out 2.5 hours a day five or six times a week.  Having talked with my other instructors, one who had just recently passed her instructor test, I learned I would need to build up the stamina to work for eight hours a day for a solid week, not to mention know HOW to teach the techniques and teach a class.  It felt overwhelming, but exciting.

It was hard to fit in training and studying between homeschooling my five kids and running my household, and holding down a part time job, but it was happening.  The wheels were on and I had awesome support from my instructors, my husband, my friends, and my kids.  I was feeling good and going strong.


My color coded schedule to keep life and training on track.

And then, of course, adversity struck.  Literally.  It came in the form of a defensive front kick in Krav class one day.  I was knocked onto my back and my head did a little ricochet thing off the floor. It didn’t so much hurt as make me dizzy.  I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get upright again.  Instructor Hard-Nose ordered me to sit out for the rest of class to recover, but as I was always the slowest, fattest person in class, I felt I had to prove I could get back in the game. I argued with Hard-Nose—I think I even threw my mouth guard at him and insisted I could handle it.  I forced myself to keep going in class. It was ugly and I ended up having to sit out the last few minutes of class because the world kept tilting to one side.  After taking it easy for twenty minutes, I convinced myself I felt okay enough to drive home.  Since my neck hurt, I decided to stop in at my chiropractor’s on the way.

He had barely gotten out the words, “What did you do this time?” when it was clear I needed to go to the ER. 

Long story short, I had a moderate concussion, but here’s the funny thing about concussions---you don’t think really well when you have one, and I was convinced there was a bunch of fuss going on for nothing, despite the neck brace and CT scan.  Hard-Nose texted to check in, unaware of my ER visit.  My husband wouldn’t give me my phone so I could text him back.  Finally, while my husband was out filling out paperwork, I sneaked my phone to tell Hard-Nose I was fine and would be back in class in a few days.


“I’m invincible!”

The ER doc was very firm in telling me to take it easy, no books, no screens—basically no brain activity for me for at least three days and possibly up to a week or two, and then I would need another assessment.  I was down the first and second day, because the anti-nausea medicine they gave me knocked me out.  But after that, I was up and trying to do everything I normally do---because I have five kids and how do you have your brain do nothing for three days when you have carpools and teaching and work to do?

Of course, I couldn’t really do any of it—at least not for more than an hour or so at a time—and then I’d get blinding headaches, nausea, and dizziness again. Apparently, I was making myself worse. 

Recovery was S.L.O.W.  Every week, I’d think “I’m going back to class this week!” only to find the world spinning after trying to read to the kids or hearing a loud noise.

It was a bad time—and I was horribly depressed.  Concussions are weird things—I would feel better for a few hours, but then walking up the stairs would make me sick. I couldn’t process and filter noises, so everything seemed loud and overwhelming.  I was easily frustrated and had zero patience for anything.  My mind was fuzzy and it was hard to articulate my thoughts.

Mostly, though, I could do mundane things—I could even drive—at least a little--- each day.  I was upset and angry that I was missing Krav class and felt I was losing ground physically and I had been denied clearance to go back to class.  I went anyway, and sat on the sidelines, watching and occasionally heckling my classmates. It was pathetic. I was itching, aching to be back in class.

Hard-Nose took pity on me.  He’d chat with me between drills and once, I was having a particularly good day, so he let me on the mat to help him demonstrate a technique.  It was low impact for me and felt AWESOME to be DOING something again—but Chief happened to walk in and see me on the mat.  He had told me to keep him updated on my recovery and was surprised to see me on the mat.  He asked if I’d gotten clearance. I hadn’t.  He was upset and chewed me out, ordering me off the mat, telling me I wasn’t allowed back on until I had medical clearance.  I don’t know if Hard-Nose got in trouble for allowing me on the mat that night. I hope not.

It took about a month before I got medical clearance to return to full activity, but it felt like an eternity. I was told to start slowly back into my workouts, but tra-la-la, I didn’t listen. I tried to throw myself back into my full workout routine, but quickly discovered that I still needed a lot of rest. I couldn’t manage even one full class without getting a migraine.  I could barely get through warm ups, and I couldn’t take the impact of getting hit. Even hitting the punching bag would sometimes make my head spin.  My instructors kept on me about paying attention to my body and not pushing too hard too quickly.


Medical clearance! “Return to work!”

Eventually, I quit going to class regularly.  IT was frustrating to feel unable to bounce back, and I was embarrassed by how much ground I’d lost. I missed my target date for my training and test. And then, Hard-Nose got married and and left our school to pursue another career avenue.

Before he left, he tried to talk to me. My class attendance was sporadic and I came with a bad attitude and bad mouth when I showed up.  After a particularly bad night, he cornered me and called me out on both. He added that I was too much of a perfectionist and needed to chill out a little.  He said I was tense and unhappy. I was putting unrealistic pressure on myself.  He wanted me to enjoy Krav and wanted me to get my fire back. He really hammered the perfectionist thing.  I had never considered myself a perfectionist. If anything, I thought I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough!

I was angry and embarrassed and said some antagonizing things because I am a jerk. But the truth was, Hard-Nose was right. And I hated it.  I was even angry that he remained calm and even upbeat while we talked. I think, knowing he was leaving soon, he wanted to end on a good note. He was giving me advice and encouragement, in his tough love kind of way, but I just wanted to be angry. I’m still ashamed of myself about that conversation.

After Hard-Nose left, my attendance remained spotty for awhile. Life got busy and it was easy to have an excuse to not go to class, to not come into the school to train on my own, excuses, excuses, excuses.  And the longer I was away, the easier it was to stay away. Funny how that happens—excuses feed fear and fear feeds excuses.  And while they are busy gorging on each other, getting bigger and meaner and nastier, I felt my health declining and my morale sliding to the floor.

When I WOULD go into class, Chief’s workouts would kick my butt, and not in a good way.  I was so out of shape I was BEHIND square one.  And, the other instructor, a twenty-something woman with the stamina and flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat—well, I just couldn’t keep up with her.  I admire her, and she’s awesome, but I couldn’t help comparing myself with her.  We are totally different—in fact, I think the ONLY things we have in common are that we are both female and we both love Krav. 

When I first began my Krav instructor journey, Chief reminded me more than once not to compare myself with Cirque, because we were completely different in age, experience, stage of life, etc.  Intellectually, I knew that and accepted it, but being in class—man, oh, man---it was hard to accept, but impossible to ignore.  Cirque has been nothing but supportive and awesome with me—my comparisons and hang ups are all in MY head.

I am still, over a year later, not even back up in training to where I was pre-concussion. My new test date feels like it’s looming (November!!!) and I feel so under-prepared. I feel like I’ve backslid terribly and it’s harder to getting back the ground I’ve lost. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m putting unrealistic pressure on myself. Sometimes, I don’t know if I have it in me.  I hear about the training and test from other instructors, I follow some on Facebook, and I think “Who do I think I am to even consider that I can do this?” “What on earth am I thinking?!!!”

Because here’s the other thing.  Krav Maga is violent.  It is about reacting to violence. It is about doing whatever it takes—WHATEVER it takes—to go home safe.  If you are serious about protecting yourself, defending yourself or your loved ones, it is about doing what it takes. And Krav Maga is also about knowing how to deal and muscling through mentally and physically when you do get hurt.

To me, THAT is the scariest part of Krav Maga.  It’s not that I MUST lose more weight to even hope to keep up with the training/test, although I need to do that. It’s not that I MUST really increase my stamina and my speed, although I need to do that, as well. What scares me to death is the thought that I don’t know if I have the guts to stay in the fight and see it through. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, the saying goes. On the flip side, I haven’t yet given up—even though I’ve wanted to, and I’ve contemplated throwing in the towel on this instructor thing many, many times.  I am still training. I’m still in---barely, some days, but I’m still in!

My biggest issue in Krav is staying calm and in control.  Mental toughness. It is easier to succumb to the fear, to the pain.  I’ve done it before.  Even now, I still sometimes freeze up in the face of the high stress and adrenaline dumps that are part of training. This enrages me. I am a mess when things get ugly and I struggle with staying together, or pulling it back together, when I’ve lost control. I HATE this, because I have worked and worked and worked and worked on it.

Embrace the Suck

I’m working on making this my mantra.

If you’re read this far, you’re probably wondering why I stick with Krav Maga, if it produces in me such extreme feelings. It does occasionally get awful for me. Krav brings out the worst, but also the best in me. 

I love Krav Maga because it is so real.  You cannot fake your way through it. You come as you are, and you work with what you’ve got.  There are no short cuts.  It’s the most honest thing I have ever experienced.

Krav Maga was designed to be used by regular people.  It is for everyone. It is adaptable to anyone’s needs and abilities. It is practical, there are no wasted moves. And the more you do it, the better and fitter and better you become.One of my past classmates was confined to a motorized wheelchair—and he was fierce. More than once he pinned my arms with his and nearly ran me over with his chair---he adapted the techniques and used what he had available. It was incredible.

Krav What I think I do

It is a good workout—sometimes too good.  I used to beat myself up (and still sometimes do) for not being able to keep up in class.  It took many weeks before I could make it through a whole class without needing to take a break…of course, I came from a particularly sedentary background, so someone who is more active than I was would probably get up to speed quicker than I did. But it is awesome to look back on my first days in Krav Maga and see how much progress I’ve made (and how quickly it comes back if I’ve been absent for a bit!)

Krav Maga helped me develop more confidence---I know it sounds really weird that I’m saying that NOW, after writing aabout how insecure I feel about instructor training---but when I started getting comfortable with my technical abilities in Krav, and my ability to pick up and learn new things, I found I got more comfortable with myself in general.  I was getting fit, enduring something tough, and learning new stuff all the time---and those successes bred confidence—not to mention, learning how to survive hard scenarios in class made it easier to look at tough things going on in my regular life and think “I can do this. I can get through this.”

I love the camaraderie of my classmates.  It takes a special kind of crazy to look forward to getting choked, punched, or kicked.  There is an intimacy and a trust that develops between the regulars in the classes—real life self-defense is up close and personal—there’s no way to avoid close contact when someone puts you in a headlock or gets within striking range or pins you to the ground. In order to train effectively, you have to put yourself and others in situations that are as realistic as possible.  We create ugly situations in order to train to get out of ugly situations.  In learning how to handle those situations, trust is critical.  It gets kind of gross sometimes…sweat, blood, someone breathing coffee breath right in your face, sweaty hands or arms around your sweaty neck, groin strikes, swearing, grunts, growls, yells…there’s no delicacy here.  And everyone is a good sport (most of the time!)  We’re all there to learn—and we all take turns taking shots at each other, so what you dish out, you have to be willing to receive! Respect is gained and given pretty quickly!

Krav Buddies

Krav Cronies.

I absolutely LOVE it when we get new people in class---especially women.  In just one class, a woman who comes in uncertain, or feeling foolish, or even scared, usually leaves feeling pumped up and more confident, and having learned life saving techniques.  I love partnering with new class members.  It is fun to see someone go from tentatively hitting a bag, to punching the crap out of it.  It is especially humbling and rewarding to participate in a class when someone fearful or abused, downtrodden and defeated, feels, perhaps for the first time, powerful, safe, and hopeful.  I have been witness to this more than once---it is a sacred, profound experience every time. 

This is why I keep with Krav Maga.  This is why I still nurture the dream of becoming a Krav Maga instructor.  This is what I need to remember when I start thinking I’m insane, that it’s impossible, that I’m too old, too fat, too weak, too slow to succeed. I love sharing what I’ve learned and what I’ve gained. I love seeing hope and strength develop in someone who didn’t have it before. Also, I need to remember that Chief believes in me.  He told me, when he handed me the dates for the instructor tests that he wouldn’t have given them to me if he didn’t believe I could do it.  Ultimately, I know I have to go through the testing alone---I have to stand on my own knowledge, strength, and mental toughness to pass the test---but I will only be able to to that if I utilize all the training resources available to me—and that includes remembering my instructor’s belief in me when I feel weak.  Ultimately, I must believe in myself—I know that---but the support of my instructors, family, and friends is crucial, too.  Chief still thinks I can do it—even as I struggle with training—and have one step forward two steps back kinds of days. If he thinks I can do it, I must be able to do it.  I can do it. I will do it.