Failing at Krav Maga

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Who doesn't want to be fierce?

If you're a young 50kg girl living alone in a foreign city, Krav Maga sounds like a good idea. Sexy in fact. But is it really? Well, I'll let you be the judge of that...

Krav Maga is a self-defence system which consists of a wide combination of techniques sourced from boxing, savate, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, Judo, Jujutsu, wrestling, something called grappling and realistic fighting training. Doesn't that sound like a recipe for Long Island Ice Tea? If you mix in so many potent ingredients, you can be sure the outcome will pack a deadly punch.

And it certainly does. Krav Maga is a martial art (with less "art") known for being effective in real world situation. It's efficient, it's brutal and it will teach you to defend yourself against everything except a machete (I think). If anybody has ever told you that you're the same height as Napoleon Bonaparte (which happens to me more often than I care to admit), then Krav Maga sounds pretty seductive.

How bad can it be?

The beauty of living in Berlin is that there's always a place near you offering whatever weird thing you'd like to try out. So here we are, M. and I, in a poorly lit courtyard looking for the entrance to a conspicuous dojo.

Before hopping into the introductory class, we have to sign a document stating that we will not use the badass skills we're about to learn in any illegal manner. While this piece of paper instantly crushes my aspirations of robbing a bank, it fails to kill our excitement.

So here we go, joining the first class, fears of being the only women dispelled completely. There's 11 of us and other than the male instructor, there's only one middle aged guy who's rather negligible. So... let's get started.

In the first 20 minutes we're told we should react fast and then run away. We learn how to deflect punches coming from various directions. We role play attacking each other in several ways. We take the role play a bit too far...

We're asked to grab our partner by the hair and drag her around a bit. She's instructed to kick us in the balls. We switch. Fun times. The instructor, a mountain of a man, yells at random times. The rest of the time he's a complete sweetheart. These sudden mood swings make me watch my back around him.

For the entire hour, I worry about being kick out for laughing too much. But I can't help it, I have flashes of Mister Miyagi making a young Daniel wash his car for hours. I try to "weg laufen" after each "Hammer Punch" but I pirouette instead. I try to get my organs out of the way by doing the Michael Jackson move, but it's not so effective when you have an internal monologue about sliding to the left or to the right...

We do a round of punches and kicks into a pillow-like protection that our partner is holding. There's no technique behind it, just a give it all you've got attitude. It's fun. When it's my turn to hold the protection, I hold it like a wuss and manage to hit myself in the face with it. At least no one noticed. I'm in a combat class and I hit myself with an inanimate object. The irony doesn't escape me...

The rubber knives amuse me way too much. I go home still wondering about the machete.

Getting serious

And here we are, coming in for the second class. Now that we got the introductory session out of the way, we can learn some serious technique.

But first, getting to class.

The dojo is inside an inner courtyard, snugly encircled by a large fence with two entrances. Four wannabe thugs are standing by the gate doing their shady business, two flanking each side of the entrance. They watch us in that fashion that makes me feel like prey. Passing between them, I think to myself, boy, I really need this training. My bike slips on the stairs. I keep moving, don't look back. They offer me weed. How generous. And here I was, poised to attack...

We enter class in the middle of utter confusion. 30 people are running around, trying to slap each other on the head while simultaneously deflecting the slaps of others. I run around in this chaos laughing the entire time. It's hard not to be amused in this situation. I finally have a reason to be grateful for my Napoleonesc figure, as ducking just became my new favourite deflection strategy.

But this time, things get serious fast. Being the clueless girls is no longer cute, it's embarrassing. There's men all around us wearing the black T-shirts that seem to signify deep knowledge and impressive levels of aggression. When they simulate fights, I wonder if they're actually simulating. So when a buff man twice my size offers to practice with me, I have flash backs of being propelled across a basketball course and I politely decline. When the trainer grabs my wrist to show M. how a move is done, I whisper to myself "please don't crush it."

Towards the end of the class, we're grouped in threes and we're instructed to attack each other in turns. M. and I are paired with a serious girl on the south side of heavy. When it's her turn to attack us, I realize the pro male fighters were not so bad. They would probably hesitate to send us flying. Probably. But this girl doesn't...

In between rounds, we do burpees while the instructor yells his heart out. Burpees, I think to myself, finally something I can do right! I may not be able to throw a punch, but I could do burpees for hours. My cardio advantage goes unnoticed though, as we're soon back to kicking, or rather getting our asses kicked.

In the changing rooms, we notice that all the advanced girls wear protection cups. I find that rather ominous.

Same time next week? Hell yeah!

Third time's a charm

Coming in for the third lesson, I already know what to expect (and that I should stay clear of the brutal blond girl). After two lessons of feeling utterly lost, I'm ready to start putting pieces together and to turn my hands into deadly weapons.

Up until now, M. and I have been following moves by the book, much like learning a badly choreographed dance. We even hum Michael Jackson songs in conjunction with certain combos. We stop mid attack to calculate the next move. I'm ready to reach that state of flow where things just fall into place and I feel like I know what the hell I'm doing. Unfortunately, that state is not yet ready for me.

Slowly however, I get closer to the coveted breakthrough. M. and I are working the "Hey girl, give me your money" scenario, our favourite foreplay for the stabbing. She is coming at me in an aggressive manner, then pushes me back a bit, placing one hand on my shoulder and with the other drives a rubber knife towards my belly. I block M.'s knife hand with my left arm and shift my centre of gravity leftwards, getting my body out of the weapon's path. Still using the motion from the shift, I raise my right arm and put my weight into one fluid punch, aiming for the nose. And then, I don't miss. Dear god, I don't miss. I just hit my friend in the face...

We usually just fake punches and kicks done without protection, stopping just short of contact. This time however, I got carried away. There's panic, remorse and concern running through me. What a bad way to finally get in character. As M. confirm's for the 6th time that she is indeed fine and her nose is far from broken, concern starts to give way to giddy excitement.

Krav Maga. I did it right.

January 2015 Update: In the mean time, I did get resonably good at this. I'm far from being ready to challenge Bruce Lee, but at least half the time I feel like I know what I'm doing.