Monday, March 14, 2016

Going with the Flow

Ip Man (2008)
Tonight at Krav Maga practice I experienced a sensation I hadn't felt in a long time. It happened at the end of class when we were performing what some call a "summary drill." Such drills try to incorporate several elements of the class in one exercise, usually with added complexity or stress. This is often accomplished by involving multiple attackers versus tired students.

The drill we ran tonight was simple but effective. Two students each held focus mitts. The third student squared off versus one of the focus mitt holders. That holder called out combinations for the striker, involving hand, elbow, knee, foot, and other options. At just about any time the striker performed the combination, the other focus mitt holder jumped in. He or she jostled the striker, then called out new combinations. Alternatively the second mitt holder swung at the striker, forcing a defensive reaction. Similarly the first focus mitt holder also swung at the striker, forcing yet another defensive reaction. The two focus mitt holders tried to "stay on" the striker, keeping him or her busy the entire drill.

So what did I feel during the drill? The best word for it is "flow." For me, it's the feeling of executing a technique, in this case defense, without thinking about it. During this drill, I felt "flow" when the focus mitt holders were swinging at me. I was pretty busy striking, and trying to avoid other students doing the same drill (who are moving around in class). I tried to keep an eye on the third mitt holder, as well as the instructor, who could randomly smack me if she chose. Suddenly I caught a swing out of the corner of my eye, and I was repeatedly able to dodge it and counter-attack. I found myself executing a move-parry-trap-move-counter combination we practiced during Friday Fight Night a few days ago.

The first time I remember feeling that exhilaration caused by executing technique without thinking, repeatedly, happened freshman or sophomore year at the Air Force Academy. We all took a "self defense" class. One of the capstone exercises was called "walking the neighborhood." I remember walking into the gym, joining a group of two dozen or more fellow students and instructors. They had been told to interact with me, asking the time, and so on. Several, however, had been told to attack me in various ways. I remember interacting with a few people, then someone asked me the time. When I pretended to check my watch, the opponent grabbed my wrist. I had to free myself and take actions to disable the opponent. While I did that, someone grabbed my shirt from the opposite side, and I had to deal with that person. While that was happening, I remember hearing the sound of a third person running toward me. Suddenly someone jumped on my back, and I executed some kind of judo throw and follow-up technique.

In those moments I remember having no time to think about what I was supposed to do. It just happened so fast, and I was thrilled to have executed all the defenses cleanly. I felt that "flow" from getting the job done as I had been taught. That is the sort of feeling I felt tonight when practicing with the multiple students in our Krav Maga summary drill. I certainly didn't perform at the level of Ip Man versus the ten karatekas, but I thought that scene from the first Ip Man movie captured some of the chaos of facing multiple opponents!

I think the key to this sort of training is the smart use of multiple attackers, plus a certain level of fatigue. When you are free to concentrate on one opponent, and breathe easy, you have more time to think about how to handle attacks. When you can be overwhelmed and surprised, and you are "too tired to think," all that is left could be the muscle memory developed while training.

Is this similar to any of your experiences? How do you cultivate this process in your training?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Is Krav Maga a Martial Art?

I've been studying Krav Maga for two months, so this post represents a beginner's point of view.

I'm a subscriber to the mailing list run by Mr .Eyal Yanilov, head of the Krav Maga organization in which I train. Last week he sent a message titled "Combining Krav Maga with other Martial Arts." It contained the following:

Krav Maga is not a martial art.. it is a reality based self defense system.. there is a huge difference between the two which people often misunderstand. Asking “ which is better “ is asking the wrong question. The correct question is  "what is your goal? and which one is better for achieving that specific goal?"

In addition.. combining the two has advantages and disadvantages which you should be aware of.

Watch my videos below on the difference between Krav Maga and traditional martial arts.. and the pros and cons of combing the two.

I thought this was an interesting perspective, especially since I just listened to episode 41 of the Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio podcast, which asked "Where is the Martial Arts in MMA?" Whistlekick founder Jeremy Lesniak proposed that mixed martial arts should be called "mixed martial combat" instead. A length comment by Erik argued otherwise, claiming there is martial art within MMA.

In this post, I'd like to share my thoughts about Krav Maga. I might address MMA later.

Having studied several traditional martial arts, I definitely see big differences between Krav Maga and, say, Kung Fu or Tae Kwon Do. When studying Tae Kwon Do, for example, there seemed to be three "phases" of training:

1. Techniques, like certain ways of standing, moving, striking, and the like.

2. Forms, which incorporate those techniques, but have a representation, purpose, and motion of their own.

3. Sparring, which in some cases abandons or replaces what students learn in phases 1 and 2. For example, few TKD fighters use the traditional blocks and stances learned in 1 and 2 while sparring. They do execute kicks learned in 1 and 2, however.

Some systems add a fourth, spiritual component, perhaps via meditation. You could even include a fifth element, explicit character development, whereby the instructor dedicates time to sharing stories or thoughts on how to live an honorable life, perhaps through the five tenets of TKD.

Krav Maga, speaking as a beginner, seems to focus more on techniques, fitness, and an exceptional attention to situational awareness, mental attitude, and performance under complicated and stressful self-defense situations.

The latter elements come alive in the drills we run in class, which I enjoy. In no other system have I had to regularly contend against multiple opponents, who try to impede executing techniques as part of the drill. Recently we ran an exercise where I started by striking a bag held by a second person. A third person entered my field of view from the side, pushing me, such that I had to turn to engage him at various ranges. Suddenly a fourth person choked me from behind, or put me in a headlock, from which I had to escape. After freeing myself, I returned to striking the pad held by the second person, and some variation of the multiple attacker scenario continued.

Krav Maga does not have forms, but my school does spar on Friday Fight Nights. We incorporate the essential striking techniques into sparring, but we do not attack the groin, eyes, or other vital areas as one might encounter in normal Krav Maga techniques. In that respect, sparring is more about learning timing, distance, and tactical awareness through engaging a live opponent in a controlled setting.

Does any of this matter? I think the answer appears in Mr. Yanilov's email, where he wrote:

Asking “which is better“ is asking the wrong question. The correct question is  "what is your goal? and which one is better for achieving that specific goal?"

My goals when joining my Krav Maga program included:

1. Becoming part of school with quality instructors, both in terms of skill and character.

2. Challenging myself physically, in a fitness setting, but more importantly, challenging myself mentally, by learning martial arts techniques.

3. Reconnecting with a lost part of myself, and with a global community who uses martial training as a means to improve themselves and thereby improve the world.

My Krav Maga program at First Defense meets all three goals.

What do you think?