Monday, January 16, 2017

Moving Meditation, Ice Skating, and Krav Maga

Is moving meditation possible, and how can it benefit a Krav Maga practitioner?

My last post on Krav Maga and Kendo mentioned how I applied some of Master Eyal Yanilov's lessons from his Combat Mindset Class. Yesterday I had another chance to integrate his lessons on meditation and breathing while spending time with members of the First Defense Krav Maga community.

Sunday afternoon we enjoyed a public ice skating event at a nearby rink. We had a mix of experienced and first-time skaters, Krav Maga practitioners and family members.

On a physical note, our first-timer skaters performed brilliantly. In less than an hour they were taking laps around a crowded rink. Although everyone who skates will fall at some point, during this outing none of our first-timers made unexpected contact with the frozen deck! I attribute their success to great attitudes and sound body awareness due to Krav Maga training.

My sisters and I on a home-made rink.
Now, on to the mental side. I grew up in the American state of Massachusetts, a place where the ponds freeze every winter and most kids spend that time skating. Many boys and increasing numbers of girls play ice hockey, and some eventually compete at the highest levels. I was not a particularly good hockey player, but there was always something special about lacing up the skates and stepping onto the ice.

Years later I left Massachusetts and enrolled as a cadet at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado. The pace was grueling and I added to the military and physical pressures by studying for two major and two minor degrees. As a way to mitigate the stress, I tried my first traditional martial art (Shotokan karate). More importantly, I began carving time out of my schedule to ice skate at our college rink. I later started playing pick-up games, and during my senior year I joined an off-campus men's ice hockey league.

Taking a pass during hockey camp.
During the Academy's public skating sessions I first felt the intersection of ice sports and martial arts. (At this point you might ask: "What about fighting in hockey?" I never really fought anyone during a hockey game, although I gave and took contact that caused loose teeth and stitches!) On a more peaceful note, I experienced my first "moving meditation" during open skating, quietly gliding over the ice, seeking to quiet my buzzing mind.

I paid attention to the weight balancing on one skate edge at a time as I over-stepped through each turn. I didn't need to think about the movement. I knew how to skate well enough, without being an expert. Focusing on the sensation -- through steel, plastic, and cloth -- grounded and calmed me.

The sound is what stays with me always, even as I type these words. I reveled in the "click" caused by the last contact of the toe of the skate as I pushed away from the ice, followed by the "scrape" as I returned the leg for another stride. I could synchronize my breathing to that sound, and escape from the stress of my military life -- for an hour, perhaps. It was enough.

Yesterday at our Krav Maga skating event, I had a chance to recreate that moving meditation experience. This time it was augmented by my Krav Maga training. First, thanks to Master Eyal's class, I realized I was actually enjoying a form of meditation while ice skating. I tuned in to the sights, sounds, and feelings I had experienced as a cadet.

Teaching balance during public skating.
Second, I put Krav Maga situational awareness skills to the test, especially while skating backwards or when helping new skaters. Why? Public skating is a very hectic experience. The main flow of traffic proceeds counter-clockwise around the rink, but disruptions are everywhere. Figure skaters occupy two or more of the face-off circles, moving in directions of their choosing while attempting jumps and loops. Kids flop and flounder in every direction. Nervous newbies cling to the wall, or move without being able to stop. Situational awareness, a keystone of Krav Maga, helps more experienced skaters avoid running into all of these challenges,

Third, I realized that although I had not skated in a few years, Krav Maga had kept me in good hockey shape. Our system's integration of high intensity striking drills is exactly what is needed for the short bursts of energy needed by hockey players. Hockey shifts range from 35 to 55 seconds, which corresponds nicely to many Krav Maga drills. I felt good enough skating yesterday that I might dust off my hockey gear and try a pick-up game in the coming weeks.

Shy of playing hockey, I will probably return to the rink to re-engage the moving meditation of simple ice skating. There is plenty of room for me to improve my physical skating skills. I expect the most benefit at the mental level, however. The peace I find through moving meditation is something that, while typing these words, I can connect with in a profound way.

Have you enjoyed a similar moving meditation experience? Has it helped your Krav Maga practice?

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