Friday, April 8, 2016

Thoughts on My First Krav Maga Test

Mr Nick Masi Offers Post-Test Feedback
Last week I tested for the first rank in the Krav Maga Global system, called Practitioner 1 or P1. I'll admit I was nervous. Most of the seven other students with me were nervous too, based on the vibe of our pre-test discussions!

I'd like to share a few thoughts on the experience. I'd also like to thank one of our instructors, Pat, for asking me after tonight's Friday Fight Night "How's the blog doing?"

I promised myself I would capture these thoughts before any more time elapsed!

I'm no stranger to possibly stressful situations. I've spoken to audiences numbering in the hundreds. I've testified to Congress ten times. I've appeared on television programs, and even sat with Wolf Blitzer in his "Situation Room" as he practiced saying my last name, Ron Burgundy-style: "Bate-lik... Bate-lik..."

I think of speaking, testifying, and broadcast as "cerebral" exercises, however. In some ways they are academic performances, or mental theater. If I make a mistake, it's likely few people will notice. I might freeze, but I have techniques to make it look like I am just thinking really deep, important thoughts. Over the last 20 years, I've learned to perform on a speaking stage, and think quickly enough to at least keep up with whatever challenges I might face.

Martial arts testing is different. It's a combination of mind, body, and even spirit. If you are not in sync, prepared, and ready to execute, the results will be painfully obvious, in visual and temporal ways. When you freeze, your body literally stops, when it should be moving. The result could be a smack in the head delivered by your testing partner, or at least a questioning look from the examiner.

Beyond freezing, you might just execute the wrong technique. I'll admit to doing that during my P1 test. About one hour in, we were performing a multiple-attacker drill. Person 1 is striking a pad held by person 2. Person 3 applies a choke. Person 4 attempts a strike. I had just been person 3 prior to assuming my turn as person 1. When person 3 applied a choke to me, I didn't execute a release. Instead, I first choked him back! I instantly realized my mistake -- partly based on the look in person 3's eyes -- and executed the release. (Let's hope there's no demotion for writing about one's failures during testing.) I made other errors too, but the test went well overall.

Despite the stress of the situation, I felt I was prepared. I credit my instructors, the defined and written curriculum they provide, and the supplemental materials available for subscription and study. Before the test, and especially when travelling the two weeks prior, I repeatedly watched and studied the videos published by our system's head instructor at These videos, although not free, gave me a chance to review what we had covered during classroom instruction, at my own speed. Videos are certainly not a replacement for classroom training, but in this case they let me review the entirety of the P1 requirements in an easily digestible format.

The Old Guy Who Passed, with Mr Nick Masi
The test lasted about 90 minutes, and thankfully we all passed. Our examiner was the head of First Defense Krav Maga, Mr Nick Masi, where I train. The picture at the top of this post shows one of my favorite parts of the test -- post-exam feedback. Mr Masi reviewed each element of the curriculum as demonstrated in the test, and offered suggestions for improvement. I wish I had been able to capture these with a notebook! At this point in my training, there are so many aspects which need work that it can make one's head spin.

If I had to sum up my thoughts on the test, I would share this with you: I enjoyed the experience, and I was glad I had accomplished a goal I had set for myself. The last time I tested for a martial arts promotion occurred over 15 years ago, in February 2001. I was studying American Kenpo in San Antonio, Texas at that time, and had just left the Air Force days earlier. I tested with a broken wrist, although at the time I did not know it was broken. I passed but I remember the joint locks being exceptionally difficult. Only when I visited the doctor several weeks later did I learn I had broken my wrist before the test and that it was healing on its own, without being set. While I enjoyed the Kenpo school, I found the experience unnerving!

P1 was more than a promotion for me, but it's definitely not about the rank. (Krav Maga is probably the least rank-conscious system I have ever encountered. We wear tiny rank patches on our pants, for heaven's sake. This fits my interests perfectly.) Rather, this test showed me that it was possible to get off the couch and get something physical -- not just mental -- accomplished. Sure, I had been lifting weights for several years, but no external pressure ever tested my commitment to fitness and learning. The P1 test required me to execute, or flounder, in a way that could not be hidden, from others or myself. For that reason, I was glad to have the experience, and perform at the level I needed to pass.

What are your thoughts on testing in the martial arts?