Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Preparing For The October Belt Test

If you're planning to take the Level 1 or 2 belt test on October 8, now is the time to prepare.  One of the most practical steps you can take is to make use the book Complete Krav Maga by John Whitman and Darren Levine.  

When you signed up to take classes you probably received a little white booklet that lists all the techniques in each level, plus other information.  If you didn't receive a white booklet, ask at the front desk.  We were out of them for a while, but I've seen some new ones floating around lately.  Anyway...the problem I had with the white booklet when I was preparing for my first belt test was that I couldn't remember the names of the techniques.  I could do them, I just didn't know what they were called, so just reading a list of names meant little to me.

So I bought Complete Krav Maga & solved my woes.  And I still use it within an inch of it's life.  Here's a current pic of my book.

Every technique for each level through brown belt is covered, along with step by step photos.  Use the book (or the white booklet, if you prefer) to make sure you've practiced each technique you'll be tested on.  Once I've been taught a technique in class I put a little check mark on the page.  Once I'd practiced the technique with my trainer in my weekly private lesson I'd put his initial on the page.  So if I had both a check and an "H", I knew I'd done the movement at least twice.  As the test drew near, if there were no symbols on a technique, it was time to get busy.  

In no way do I mean to imply that practicing something only twice means it has been mastered & you're ready to test it.  But if you're leafing through the book as you prepare & see no symbols, ask your instructor to cover it, and/or practice it in your private lessons.  That way there'll be no surprises in the test. There are certain techniques, particularly in level 1, that we cover like crazy (cough, cough...palm heels & groin strikes...cough, cough).  These are the go-to go-crazy moves we want you to have mastered in case of a real attack, & that takes a lot of repetitions.  Unfortunately, if you're only able to train a couple of times a week, that can mean you miss out completely on some of the techniques you'll be tested on.  Use your booklet or Complete KM to make sure you've trained all the moves at your level, and don't hesitate to ask us to cover something in class.  

Before you test

Between now and the day of the test you need to get an instructor to sign a Permission to Test form.  Ask the instructor you've worked with the most, as they need to know you're ready.  If we sign your permission form & you fail, it makes us look bad.  So if I don't teach you regularly, I won't sign your form.  Please do this & sign up & pay for the big day at least a week before the October 8 test date.  If not enough people sign up, the test will be postponed.  It's a major buzzkill to expect to participate in the test the next day, be nervous the night before & walk in to sign up & find out either that you're not eligible to test because you didn't get your slip signed or the test has been cancelled.

The day of the test

There will be a "seminar" that anyone can attend.  Every technique from stance and movement through the end will be taught & practiced.  The seminar is actually the longest part of the day, and is required for all testers.  Afterward there will be a short lunch break - don't eat too much or you'll just throw it up later!  If, after the seminar the instructor feels that you won't pass, you will be asked/told to not test.  Ask any questions you have at the seminar, during the exam no questions will be answered.  Bring more water & sports drinks than you think you need, along with some protein bars, fruit, shotz bloks, or whatever you need to keep you going for a full day of hard training.  You can bring a small cooler if you like your drinks cold.  

Any questions?  Shoot me a line or grab one of us in the lobby, we're happy to help.  Good luck & train hard!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wheelchair Manifesto

A couple of times I've had the pleasure of having a person in a wheelchair show up to try out a Krav class. I love this. Thinking about how to put someone at an uncommon disadvantage in the best possible position to survive an attack and get home safe gets my brain juices flowing in the right direction.

In both cases the person was worried about "holding back" the rest of the class. I'm going to say it out loud: stop it. You have as much right to train as anybody, and we have a spot for you on the mat right there with everybody else. Almost every student comes to us with some sort of disadvantage to training, some are just more visible than others. Every student who sticks it out improves and grows stronger. Every single one.

Take a look at what you can do if you give yourself the chance here. Andy Campbell and the others are not special and they don't have superpowers. They just kept showing up to train.

Here are some things you can do to put yourself in the best possible position for success:

*address the issue of strength. Someone who wants to dominate or harm another chooses their victim because they think they're weak. Some people will assume that because of the chair. Surprise them by being strong.

First, grip strength. Unless the person in the chair has a neurological or muscular condition that causes weakness, he or she will probably have better than average grip strength (assuming they regularly manually manipulate the chair). Make it better. If you need to grab someone & get them close enough to keep punching them with your other hand, you want to be strong enough to do that. Get one of those squeezy things & squeeze it. A lot. Engage the pinky. CrossFit coach Jeremy Ross tells me the pinky is an important & frequently overlooked component of grip strength.

Second, arm & shoulder strength. There are loads of dumbell and barbell excercises you can do at the gym (overhead press, bench press, face pulls, pull ups, etc.) Also do exercises that manipulate your own body weight, because that's what you'll be doing if you get dumped out of the chair & have to fight from there. If you can't do pushups yet, start facedown on the ground. Get up to your elbows as explosively and quickly as you can. From your elbows, get up to your hands. Again, do it with as much power and speed as you've got. Keep it up until you can explode from being face down onto a high pushup position. Now, start cranking out pushups.

Do combat crawls on various surfaces. If you've only done them on the mat, the parking lot is going to be quite a surprise.

Pull yourself up from a downed position using various rails or bars. Get creative. At the same time you'll get strong.

Figure out the best method to get quickly back into the chair from various positions & hone that skill. It's super important.

***Occasionally do all these things without taking the time to use your hands to rearrange your legs so they lay straight. In a crisis you won't have time to make sure everything is all perfectly lined up. Training from whatever position you land in will give you a tremendous mental and physical advantage when you need to put your skills to work for real.

When you come to class, try to have some sort of locking mechanism on your wheels that will prevent you from rolling backward when you punch. But if you don't have it yet don't wait to come until that's in place. We can back you up to a wall to give you some stability, but you will eventually need to be able to stabilize yourself in an outside environment. You will also need to strap your feet down so they don't drop onto the floor & trip up your movement. However, the straps should have a breakaway component so you can separate yourself from the chair if you get dumped. I have an idea about how to do this, but I suspect the wheelchair community already has a better plan in place that I just don't know about.

Now let's train!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

About Getting Hit In The Face Really Hard

In seven years of training, first in Karate & then in Krav Maga, I've only been hit really hard in in the face three times, and all were accidents.

The first time was during a drill and a big ol' Texas linebacker thought his friend was his "attacker". He didn't know that his friend & I had exchanged places & where the friend's tombstone pad had been, my face now was. That big ol' boy whipped around & BOOM punched me right in the mouth. Thank God he was wearing those little fingerless MMA gloves. I always expected to go down if I took a hit like that, but instead I just wordlessly turned around and marched straight into the ladies room to count my teeth. They were all there, the only weirdness was a big swollen black spot on my bottom lip, so I just marched back onto the mat & finished the drill. I was shaking so hard I was useless, but quitters never win, etc. My neck was completely stiff & sore for 3 days, which was the only fallout.

The second time was during Phase B. Long story short, I missed a punch defense & my partner was going very hard and not wearing gloves. When he punched me I saw a weird simultaneous flash of light and flash of blackness, then turned into an angry 3 year old. I clenched my fists & stiffened my arms at my sides & marched back & forth, stomping. I was trembling so hard my jaw was chattering (standard operating procedure for me under an adrenaline surge). But here's the thing. After my intial flash of anger (not at my partner, just a surge of general anger) I looked at the instructor, AJ Draven, who wore a look of complete boredom. He was peeking at me discreetly from the corner of his eye, pretending to ignore me. This is how I knew I was okay. I've always been grateful to AJ for handling it that way. So I stomped over to my partner, put up my dukes & said, "Go". Here is the result:
Yes, my lips are also split.

And now for something completely different. This past weekend I attended an instructor training with John Whitman. During a pause in my training I stepped completely off the mat & was standing in the lobby looking out the window. A guy in the class, about 6'3" & 225 lbs., delivered a powerful inside slap kick (I didn't know there was such a thing as a powerful inside slap kick!) to a padholder who wasn't paying attention, and the pad flew out of his hand. I happened to turn around at that moment and saw this giant black thing right in front of my face. It looked like a giant asteroid hurtling toward earth in an old sci-fi movie. BOOM! Right in the money-maker! My head flew back hard, sending my weight over my heels ,and in slow motion I sank to the ground onto my behind. Yes, I went down! I don't like it, but facts is facts. Here you can see the road rash.

And here's the thing: there was no flash of anger, no adrenaline surge, no uncontrollable shaking. I just instantly turned into a zombie. The guys were surrounding me yelling, "OHMYGODAREYOUOKAY?" and I had no idea, so I just sat there in a haze until John walked over and barked, "She's fine, get back to work!" And you know what? I WAS fine. But if he'd said, "OMG, call 911!", I would not have been fine. My stupor left me in a highly suggestible state, which is disturbing, because I like to believe I am someone who thinks for herself. As the science teacher in the group put it, "A six pound pad traveling at at about 40 miles per hour. That's a lot of velocity!" But John said I was fine and I believed him, so I walked onto the mat and got back to work.

The take-home lesson: the difference between being focused and at least aware that you're in a situation where you should protect yourself, and being totally taken by surprise (as in a sucker punch) can mean the difference between going home safe and going home in a bag. Had I been on the street & taken a hard sucker punch to the face and then lots of follow-up punches and kicks, could I have snapped out of my zombie-like state and defended myself? I used to think I could, but now I'm not so sure. I'll tell you one thing - I'm damn well going to work on it.

What can I do - what can YOU do - to prepare yourself for such a scenario? First, you can accept that it is possible that it can happen to you. I was surprised and embarassed by the fact that it took several seconds to snap out of it. Second, when you catch yourself hesitating in class during a self-defense technique, GO. Just fight. If you do the "wrong" defense and counterattack, you will still reap more benefit than if you allow yourself to stand there trying to remember what you were supposed to do. Third, when you're out in the world, pay attention to your surroundings. If I hadn't been off in la-la land thinking about when it would rain, I believe I would have recovered faster. Focus on aggression and shortening the freeze every time you're in class. I will, too.