The day of the Krav Maga level 1 test, I wake up feeling excited and nervous. The test doesn’t start until 1pm, so I have time to eat a solid breakfast of rolled oats soaked overnight, topped with mango and toasted walnuts. I also make a high protein smoothie with almond butter, berries, almond milk, flax seeds, and chia seeds. It’s hard to eat, because I’m so nervous. I’m going to be glad I had these calories later.
Chris and I take turns anxiously checking (and then re-checking) the gear in our bag—an extra shirt, water (4 bottles!), mouth guard, hand towels. I put on my favorite work out clothes: a black skull t-shirt and my grey stretchy work out shorts.
We arrive at the gym 25 minutes early so we don’t have to rush. I lay out all our gear and drink a little more water. I clip my finger nails. I pace nervously in the room, the butterflies in my stomach driving me to keep moving.
What am I afraid of?
By this point in my Krav Maga experience, I’ve spoken with other level one graduates. Testing times range wildly. Some report 12-hour level one tests. Others describe eight or ten hour tests. There’s just no way to know.
I hear the same advice emphatically repeated: Whatever you do, don’t give up.
It’s practically half the test. Just keep going.
My biggest fears are what you might expect. What if I don’t or can’t finish?
What if I hurt someone else? After the painful experience of knocking out Chris’s tooth in a private lesson, I’m nervous I’ll get caught up in the moment and hurt someone. I’ve been thinking about this a lot.
What if I get tired and sloppy and my hands become mangled meat half way through the first hour? I’d be so screwed.
What if I lose steam half way through the day because I haven’t eaten? What if I eat and my stomach becomes upset? I’m especially cranky and lethargic when I don’t eat. Eating before a single Krav Maga class is difficult for me. It never occurred to me before this week to practice eating food before and during a regular class to become accustomed. I’m regretting this oversight. It’s an unknown, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
Here’s what I do know: the test will take a long time. It will be painful. I will be tired, but I will not give up. I will not injure my partner and I will not be injured. I will pass this test.
I set these intentions for the day and I silently repeat them like a mantra as I pace.
Finding my training partner
Most of the class arrives at the gym 15 minutes before the start time. I don’t have a partner lined up and I’m feeling anxious about it. Chris has planned to test with a friend. I recognize some of the folks in the room, but I’m surprised by how many people I don’t know. I ask a group of three ladies (two I recognize) if they have partners and the one I don’t recognize says she’ll be my partner. I have a testing partner!
Kat is in her mid-to-late 30s. She’s easily 4 inches shorter than me and a little heavier, but she seems feisty. We talk for a few minutes to get to know each other. She’s been training for about a year. We have exact opposite training schedules, which explains why I’ve never seen her before. We’re both ready to kick some butt.
The warm up and review
Mt, my favorite instructor, leads the review and grades our test. We’ll spend the first part of the day reviewing the techniques from level one. The time this takes depends on us and our proficiency. This will take the most time, because there’s a lot to cover. The review is the time to ask questions or get clarity. Once the test starts, we can’t ask for help. We’re on our own. The test itself will take approximately two hours, he tells us.
We start by jogging around the room, playing the shoulder tap game, and shadow boxing to warm up. Mt leads us through a thorough stretch. As soon as we start moving, I feel calm.
Then, it’s like any normal class. Any normal class that just. won’t. end. Mt explains each technique and then we practice it with our partners. We do everything. Straight punches, palm heel strikes, hammer fists, knees, front groin kicks, roundhouse kicks, chokes from the front, side, back, chokes with a push… the list goes on.
Since everyone is already experienced in most of these techniques, Mt is able to put combinations together to move the review along. We practice an advancing strike, a set of punch combinations, and a receding strike all in one drill.
I move my feet in quickly as I strike the pad, deliver a fast jab-cross and turn the third jab into a receding strike. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
After the first hour or so, I force myself to eat a bite of a granola bar and drink a slug of coconut water. Every half hour or so, I eat a bite of something from my bag. It doesn’t even matter what it is, but I only have time to eat a bite before it’s time to get back to work.
In regular classes, I usually go all in, but today I try to pace myself. My arms become heavy. My breathing is labored. But there are no breaks. When Mt calls time, Kat passes the pad over and I hold it tight to my chest as she throws her attacks. In the beginning, the pad is a friend protecting me from pain. Within a few hours it’s a heavy boulder to be dropped to the floor at the end of each round, quickly discarded as I race for my water bottle.
While Mt explains the next phase of our review, I let my arms dangle at my sides. I’m willing them to become lighter and to gain more energy.
Kat and I focus on our technique and not on producing the most reps. When Mt moves in our direction to evaluate our aptitude, we add power and speed, but try our hardest to conserve our energy otherwise. It feels a little like cheating, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I’m wrung out, exhausted, and sore.
The review goes on forever and after the first hour I stop looking at the clock. It doesn’t even matter. Time is no longer important, because there’s no expected end time. The only thing that matters is getting through the current drill or combination.
A moment of exhausted zen
At some point, my active, think-y brain powers down. I’m aware of my movement. I can tell I’m doing the techniques correctly, but my active brain has nothing to do with that. There is no internal dialogue. I’m just moving, striking, blocking, attacking. I’m moving from muscle memory. I’ve reached my moment of exhausted zen.
Time goes by and we come to the end of the review.
Mt gives us our first and only 15-minute break. We eat, drink water, change our sweat soaked shirts. I’m afraid to sit down; I might never get back up. The room is humming with excitement and final preparation. If everything goes well, we only have 2 hours left of this madness.
I take another swig of water as I consider this and I feel a small burst of energy.