The level 2 Krav Maga test starts at 8am on October 17, 2015. It’s a bright Saturday morning.
As I drive to the gym, I feel calm. It’s almost eery. No butterflies. Just resolve. I know I can do this, because I’ve done it before during my level 1 test.
I pull into the gym parking lot at 7:40am and walk my five bags of food, water, and equipment into our training room. The night before I cut two cucumbers, half a pound of strawberries, half a bell pepper, two apples, three mandarin oranges, five pieces of ham… I looked at it all and fearing it isn’t enough and cut two more cucumbers.
We line all our stuff up along one wall and laugh at how much we’ve brought. It’s so much for a single day. Part of the test is the ambiguity of how long it will take. It could take six hours. It could take 12. There’s just no way to know until you’re there and you’re at the end.
There are six of us. We walk around the gym talking and laughing. I bounce on my feet.
Matt asks us to line up in front of the room just like any other class. He asks us to bow to our partners. I turn to Jolyn and we smile at each other.
“No matter what happens, we’ll still be friends.” We laugh.
We bow to our instructors. I take in big breaths. I’ll need all the oxygen I can get.
And then it begins.
At my gym, our Krav Maga tests are broken into two sections.
- (Short break)
The review is the time to ask questions, perfect technique, and get worn out. We go through everything that will be on the test. It’s exhausting and that’s kind of the point. They want to test us when we’re wiped out.
We’ll take a short break—usually 5-15 minutes—and then the actual test begins. We’ll execute each technique until the lead instructor has a chance to see everyone perform the attack or defense. Then we’ll move on. No breaks. No rest periods. Operate at 100%, 100% of the time.
We start with a standard warm up. Jogging around the room, lunges, squats, and sit ups. We move into striking combinations with our partners. I hold focus mitts for Jolyn. I call out a number and she strikes with the corresponding combination.
Jab. Cross. Hook. Uppercut.
I’m focused. Alive. I love this.
Then it’s the dreaded fall breaks. I’ve had anxiety about back fall breaks and I’ve spent a lot of time practicing them after class. When Matt yells “fall breaks!” I take a breath. This is it. All my hard work comes to this moment. There’s no time to think about it. “Go!” he yells and I fling myself back and catch execute a fall break. I can do these. I’m determined to do these.
We do six or so back fall breaks and then another six or seven side fall breaks. I don’t think about it too much. My hard work has paid off. I feel good.
We put on our shin pads and work on side and back kicks. I take these slowly. These are strikes I’ve struggled with in the past and I want to make sure I do them correctly. Then we’re off to kick defenses. Jolyn kicks her foot up the center of my body and I deflect with my shin or hand or arm.
We work on 360 and inside defenses. All with full counters—meaning we complete each defense as if to finish the fight. There are no instances where we do just the defense. It’s defend and immediately counter.
There are no clocks in the room and our only sense of time is the activity outside as other trainees go to classes on the hour.
Chris, my awesome, amazing, wonderful husband brings everyone smoothies. By this point, we’ve started losing steam. It’s difficult to get food in between each set and we need the protein to focus. I try really hard to sip water before we start each round, but food is tougher.
We move on to bear hugs. Arms caught with lots of warning. Arms caught with no warning. Arms free.
Choke from the front with a push. Against a wall. Choke from behind with a pull.
Then we do ground work. We’ve been working near-nonstop for four hours and I’m tired. If you’ve ever done ground work, you know how exhausting it is. It sucks to be tired and know you’re about to do something that’s even more exhausting.
There’s also more to ground work than just the physical demand. It’s personal and up close. It’s scary to defend from the ground. It means something has gone terribly wrong and your assailant wants to end this in a way that’s exceptionally bad. It’s not just about taking your wallet. They want to take a part of you. Rape. Your life. For me, ground work is real and laced with emotion.
We roll around on the floor for almost an hour before the review part of the test is over.
Matt gives us 10 minutes to rest before the test begins.
I eat a handful of almonds, some apple and cucumber slices, and suck down some coconut water with chia seeds.
I stretch a little and put my legs up on the wall to give my feet a break.
When Matt calls us back in, I’m tired. In some ways the break itself is the hardest part. If we keep moving, the momentum gives me energy. With the rest, my body starts to shut down. I’d really like a nap.
We do jumping jacks and squats to warm back up. Everything feels more difficult. Like running through mud.
Matt calls out a series of combinations and I hold focus mitts for Jolyn as she works through them. It’s almost exactly like the review.
“Jab, cross, hook, elbow!” he calls. Jolyn strikes the focus mitts until he calls out the next combination.
“Jab, elbow!” She transitions.
“Breathe,” I tell her. “Keep your hands up.” She nods, but says nothing. She’s focused.
When we switch, I can feel myself breaking down. I’m trying to stay focused and calm and execute the combination in front of me. I hear Matt’s voice in my head reminding me to keep my hands at my chin between strikes. The 16-oz boxing gloves are literal weights. My arms feel heavy. A cloud settles over me.
“I can see you’re getting tired, but you’ve got to dig deeper!” Matt calls out to us. “Get it together!”
Breathe. Strike. Breathe. Hands to chin.
Jolyn offers me quiet encouragement.
“Gloves and mitts off!” Matt says from the front. “Fall breaks!”
Fall breaks. I can do these. I’m confident now that I’ve done them in the review ,but I’m tired. They’re sloppy. I focus on trying to execute the technique, but I flounder.
YOU CAN DO THIS. Don’t eff it up now.
I fling myself back and do a fall break. They aren’t as clean as they were before. Side fall breaks have always been fine for me, but I struggle with these too. We do six or seven of back and then six or seven side fall breaks. I breathe. That could have been better.
We put on our shin pads. I want to wear my sneakers so I can protect my feet, but the pads don’t fit well around my shoes. I try to make it work, but my thinking brain isn’t operating well. I look up and realize everyone is waiting on me. I feel flustered. I put them on the way I usually do when I wear shoes, knowing they’ll shift around.
I’m thankful Jolyn goes first with the kicks and kick defenses. It gives me a second to transition after feeling flustered about my shin pads.
Level 2 kicks have been a struggle for me in the past. We don’t do them often in class and I’ve had to work on them outside of class. Before each kick, I take a breath. I don’t have to do a million of these. I just have to convince Matt my technique is there.
Bring your knee up higher, I hear him in my head.
Breathe, I tell myself.
I bring my knee up and strike the pad in Jolyn’s holds. Then with an advance. I take a step and shoot my leg out. They’re fine too. I’ve been working on these. It’s paid off.
Back kicks are hard. I have to remember to keep my knee down otherwise it turns into a weird backward roundhouse kick with zero power. Then we do it with an advance.
I’m okay. I’m going to be okay.
Matt throws us a curve ball.
“Advancing side kick followed by an advancing back kick!” I’ve never combined two advancing kicks together. I stare at him trying to make the kicks work in my head. He repeats it. “Advancing side kick followed by an advancing back kick! Go!”
Breathe. You can do this. Take it slow the first time.
I feel like a newborn fawn. Awkward. I stumble a little. It takes a few tries, but I finally get it. I look up and Matt is watching the group across the room. I worry he hasn’t seen I can do it. I don’t want to fail. I’m so tired. We move on.
I take a drink of water and prepare for chokes. Jolyn chokes me with a push against the wall. I catch myself on my forearms and circle around to throw strikes. We’ve practiced these chokes a lot in class and I feel confident. We’ve done them against brick walls and chainlink fences. The confidence gives me a little energy, but we don’t stay here long.
Matt gets excited. “It’s just ground work and then the final drill, guys!”
Ground work is exhausting. I’m not feeling super energetic about it, but I dig deeper.
We get to it. I lay down on the ground and Jolyn bares down on me with a front choke. I pluck her hands away and buck out of it. I’ve worked with some big guys on ground work and they’ve forced me to work hard. I feel confident in my ground work skills, as long as I can get my hips up when I buck. With these chokes and head locks, the defense is almost the same. Once you’ve got one of them, you’ve basically got them all.
This part of the test is a blur. I don’t remember most of it. What I do remember is trying to defend Jolyn mounted on my back. I lay with my forehead pressed to the mat. I have to pluck Jolyn’s hands away from my neck while simultaneously pulling my legs up underneath my body throwing her over my shoulder. It’s impossible. I just can’t get my hips under my body. I know I’ve failed the technique.
At the end of the ground work, Matt gives us a minute to grab a drink of water while he explains the final drill.
It’s a doozy.
I listen to him describe the plan in detail. He’s so excited.
“This is your favorite part, isn’t it?,” I ask. He smiles like a kid on Christmas.
I blink and take another swig of water. I take a deep breath. This is it.
We go outside and I mount the kick shield. The sun is so bright. I try to take in another breath.
“Ready?! Go! Go! Go!”
I strike the pad on the ground (“ground and pound”) for at least a minute.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
I throw elbows, hammer fists, palm heel strikes, and slam the edge of the bag down on the cement simulating slamming an assailant’s head on the ground.
“Up! Run, run, run!”
I lumber to my feet and start running across the parking lot.
“Hips forward, relax your hands! Keep going! You’re running to help your family. Your friends. You have to get there fast!” Matt chants at us. “Faster! Faster!”
I keep breathing.
We get to the end of the parking lot, turn around, and run back. I’m so tired.
I mount the kick shield and go back to striking. Strike, strike, strike, breathing the whole time.
“Up, up, up! Go!” Matt yells.
I get back to my feet and start running. Matt is running behind us, yelling, overcoming us. I turn around at the edge of the parking lot and run back. I try to find extra energy. There’s nothing. I can’t go faster.
“Your choice. Piggy back, fireman’s carry…Choose however you want to carry your partner and go!”
I jump on Jolyn’s back and she trots across the parking lot.
“You’ve got this. You can do it!” I say into her ear.
When we get to the edge of the parking lot, I dismount off her back and turn around so she can jump on my back.
“Ready?” she asks.
I nod and she jumps on my back. I shuffle as quickly as I can without falling. I’d like this part to be over.
“Good job, Kaci!” Jolyn says over my shoulder. “Keep going!”
We near the doors and Jolyn jumps off my back. I jog to my kick shield and feel grateful to carry my weight only.
We run back inside to the gym room. Sabrina draws the first name and Nick (the lucky first victim) heads back out to run the length of the parking lot. Matt runs behind him. I take big breaths and grab a drink of water. I pace impatiently.
“Here they come!”
Sabrina turns off the lights. Nick runs into the room taking deep breaths and we’re on him. We can attack him with any defense from level 1 or 2. We circle him, hands reaching out to choke, bearhug, or bar arm. Whatever we can do to make it difficult for him for the next few minutes.
Suddenly the lights come on. We do this for each person until it’s my turn.
When they call my name, I dash out of the room. I hear Sabrina call to me “Go, go, go! Matt will catch up.” I believe her. He’s behind me in a hot second.
My feet pound across the pavement. “Faster!” He says. “Hips forward, hands relaxed. Go! Go! Go!” He swats at my back the whole way across the lot and all the way back. “Faster, Kaci! Faster!”
I open the door to the gym and run back into our room. It’s dark and suddenly there are people circling me. They’re everywhere. Their hands reach out for me. Hands wrap around the front of my neck while arms bear hug from behind. It’s mayhem.
I pluck at the hands around my throat throwing a simultaneous kick. I rotate my elbows around my back to disengage the person latched on my back. They loosen and I dash out of the circle and stack my opponents. It’s impossible. There are too many. I defend one at a time.
I rotate and strike out. I dig even deeper and defend against him. He loosens.
Hands keep reaching towards my throat or around my body and I keep defending. I try to get into the best position possible, but otherwise I stop thinking. I’m reacting. There is nothing else.
The lights come on, another name is called out, and the people are gone. The hands don’t reach for me. It’s just me and my breathing. For me, it’s over. Emotions bubble up. I pace around the room. The lights turn off and Millicent runs back into the room. There’s no time for emotions.
She dodges us. I reach for her and wrap my hands around her throat. It’s not about what I can defend now. It’s only about how I can make this experience challenging for everyone else.
When Millicent’s time is over, it’s Ryan’s turn. Ryan is easily 6’2″ and 200+lbs. He’s a beast. When he enters the room, he barrels past everyone. I want to stop him. I want him to be challenged. I want him to be forced to use Krav Maga. Someone grabs him from the front and I work my way behind. I bury my head in the middle of his back and wrap my hands around his front in a firm bear hug. He whips me to the left, but I don’t give up. He whips me the other way and I cling to him. Six seconds, eight seconds, 10 seconds. He can’t get me off his back and he strikes at my hands to get me to release.
There are no rules in Krav Maga. The point is to get away safely.
It’s not an official technique, but it works. My hands release and he rushes away.
After we’ve each taken a turn, Matt asks us to line up so we can bow out.
Sweat pours off us. Our faces are red. We breathe heavily. 7.5 hours. I’d like to cry.
“You did great. You got tired, but you pushed through. I know you each trained outside of regular class for today. It was a fast test, because you each prepared. Congratulations! You all passed.”
Emotions well up.
“Turn to your partner and bow,” Matt instructs. I turn to Jolyn and bow.
“Thank you,” I say with deep sincerity. She smiles widely at me.
We turn back to Matt. He bows to the other instructors and then to us. “Class, kidah!”
I bow. “Kidah.”
Welcome to level 3.