Seeing Better by Seeing Less

Doing Krav Maga or Sparring with glasses sucks. They always go askew on my face. They get in the way.

So I was frustrated when I realized my eye doctor sent me the wrong contact prescription and I’d need to wait a week for the correct prescription to arrive. I’d be in glasses for a week.

10 minutes into my first sparring class I took them off. It was distracting having them slide off my face. I’d deal with seeing blurry people.

But then something amazing happened.

I could see strikes coming at my face more easily. I was suddenly able to get out of the way or block strikes like I’d never been able to see or block them before.

Usually, when I’m sparring I keep my eyes focused at the person’s chest and use my peripheral vision to “see” the attacks coming. I watch their shoulders for the tell signs of a strike.

With everything out of focus, I could sense general movement more easily. Dodging and blocking was suddenly easier.

If you can, try to unfocus your eyes while sparring or doing Krav Maga. It might help you see strikes.

How Very Little Krav Maga in January Affected Me

My January focus was to be a professional coach for 20 awesome ruckus-makers (an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world). It required a fair bit of time and decreased my priority to be in the gym.

As the month progressed, I could feel something different happening. I was tired. I was doing all this great work with and for other people, but it was draining.

Then I was handed a major, high-impact project at work. The stress mounted. My grumpiness increased.

“You okay, Kaci?” a co-worker asked. “You seemed so happy earlier this month and now you’ve lost that glow.”

I could feel it too. I didn’t have my usual outlet for breaking the tension. I wasn’t taking care of myself.

My first Krav Maga class back was amazing. I could feel the pent up energy in my limbs slowly releasing with every punch, kick, drill, and combo. By the end of the class I wasn’t even tired. I could have kept going. I wanted to keep going.

The very next day, several people noted how buoyant I seemed.

The major, stressful project at work suddenly seemed like not such a big deal.

When you find something that keeps you level and happy, make room in your schedule to keep it a priority. 

I could have chosen to go Krav Maga once or twice a week, instead of not at all. Lesson learned.

Some Weeks are Harder Than Others: The Christmas Week Saga

I had a hard week the week of Christmas. It was only three days (four classes total), actually, but it was brutal.

Monday – Ground Fighting

Photo courtesy of Sylvain
Ground Fighting Side Mount. Photo courtesy of Sylvain

I recently started taking Ground Fighting classes at my gym. It’s basically Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I was feeling good about this class though. I was getting the techniques.

At the end of the class, Travis leaves enough time so we can either continue working on the new concepts or we can spar (“rolling”).

Drew points at me for sparring and we move off to a side of the room to roll (my first time!).

Drew is about my height, but strong, smart, and fast. You might remember my most favorite class of all time was with Drew as my partner. He’s tough and he never, ever goes easy on me. I knew this would be a challenge.

As this is also only my second Ground Fighting class, I don’t feel confident in my skills. If anything, the more ground work I do the more I realize I never, ever want to end up on the ground. It’s exhausting.

We start. It takes Drew approximately six seconds to get me twisted and in a really uncomfortable position. I try to fight back.

“You’re trying too hard,” he says. “Relax until you see an opening.”

He’s right. I’m straining against him at all times. He keeps moving, his motions fluid, but heavy. I’m already exhausted. He keeps pretzeling me. We’re twisting, angling. My hamstrings are stupid tight and he’s able to roll me around in a ball of folded legs. He lands back on top, pushing his weight into my torso.

I push him away using my arm and he captures it.

“Bad idea,” he says holding it firmly. “This is mine now.”

I curse myself. Lesson learned.

I find an opening. His attention is on keeping my arm trapped. I twist, buck, and roll and I’m on top. I rejoice a little in my tiny victory.

“You’re on top, but I still have your arm.”

He’s right. How to get out? I have no idea. Can I use Krav Maga right now? I don’t know the rules. It’s no excuse. I try to find a non-Krav way out.

He slivers and twists and he’s back on top again.

The bell rings.

Two minutes of fighting, but it feels like 30. I’m wiped out, but I’ve learned so much.

Tuesday

The left side of my head feels bruised. Inside my ear feels bruised. My hair feels bruised. I see no signs of actual bruising, but clearly something exciting has happened to my head. Ground fighting is hard.

Wednesday 5pm – Krav Maga Level 1

Wednesdays have become my hard core day. I do three hours of Krav Maga and one hour of yoga.

My first Krav Maga class is at my work. The class is small with just four of us.

I partner with Leslie, a woman with a thin body type similar to my own. We work on front defensive kicks standing and from the ground. I feel confident in my ability to execute these kicks, but I also have Matt’s voice in my head to get my hips off the ground.

Photo Courtesy of Rosey-OR
Front Defensive Kick from the Ground. Photo courtesy of Rosey-OR

At the end of class, Brandon has us switch partners. I’m on the ground looking up at Nate*, a barrel-chested man. He hovers over me with a kick shield pressed against his chest.

I launch my foot up to meet the pad. He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t move a millimeter.

Okay…

I try again. I kick my foot up and focus on lifting my hips. Nothing. He doesn’t budge.

I grind my teeth into my mouth guard and try to focus. It’s all about timing. I try again. Still nothing.

It’s frustrating. I start to doubt myself and my abilities. Class is over. I smile and accept that it needs work. It’s hard.

6:30pm – Krav Maga Level 3

I drive straight to the gym and make it in time for Mike’s class. Chase and I partner. He’s easily 100 pounds heavier than me in muscle. This will be a hard class.

“Here’s the drill. One of you starts in the full mount. Your job is to stay here,” Mike explains. “For the person mounted, it’s your job to get out of it.” He chuckles to himself with part apology, part amusement, and no regret. “Kaci, I’m sorry.” I highly doubt it.

Photo courtesy of Combat Krav Maga
Full Mount. Photo courtesy of Combat Krav Maga

I lay down. Chase steps over my legs and sits on my stomach.

“Go!” Mike yells.

I buck. Chase barely moves and continues to hit me lightly. I buck again. Nothing.

“Come on, Kaci!” Chase yells at me.

I try to knee him in the small of the back and buck at the same time. He rocks forward, but I’m slow in rolling him over and I have to start over. It’s exhausting. Eventually, I roll him over and land on top, but I think he gives it to me out of pity.

When it’s my turn to be on top, he rolls me over easily.

We’re on to kicks. I struggle and know I need practice. We work on a few variations of spinning side and back kicks.

Chase holds the pad for me. I’m graceless. I can feel how ridiculous my body looks: a newborn deer walking for the first time. Chase laughs at me. He’s not being mean, necessarily, but it still bruises my ego. He offers advice and I try again. Each time we learn a new kick, he laughs. I feel ridiculous. It wears on me to not get the technique immediately.

7:30pm – Krav Maga Level 2

Rachel is teaching. So far, it’s just me.

“I don’t mind a private class with you,” I tell her.

“Yeah! What do you want to work on?”

“Well, I suck at kicks,” I say, thinking about my abysmal show in the last class. “It’d be good to work on those some more.”

She nods, but corrects me. “You don’t suck. You’re working on it.” Ever the instructor to keep me from talking down to myself.

“Right. It’s a challenge I’m working through,” I repeat. She nods approvingly.

Chase pokes his head into the room. “Is it just you, Kaci?”

“Yep!”

“Well, then I’ll stay.”

Cool. Another class with Chase. With kicks. I smile and take a breath. This will be okay.

We put on our shin guards and spar with kicks only. Defending is difficult. Half the time I block incorrectly, but I keep at it. I watch Chase’s body looking for the signs on which kick he’s throwing.

Rachel instructs us to add ungloved upper body strikes. We’re throwing open, relaxed hands careful not to poke out each other’s eyes. I get excited and ramp up the intensity. I never do this on purpose and Chase calls me out. I slow it down and try to focus on the technique.

“Good!” Rachel yells.

Chase lands some good strikes and I get discouraged. My brain is foggy and unfocused. I’m trying to keep my shit together.

Rachel corrects my form and I go back to it.

“Good! Better!”

We move on to static kicks, no sparring. Rachel directs us to do a few advancing kicks on each other and I can’t seem to get it. My brain has shut down. We work on throwing kicks and follow up with additional strikes.

Chase throws a kick, a hand strike combination, and then head butts the pad at my chest. My center of gravity is off from bracing for the other strikes and I go reeling. My feet shuffle backwards across the mat. I’m still on my feet, but I’m quickly losing to gravity.

Fall break! Fall break! Fall break! I scream silently.

And then I land flat on my butt.

I laugh. I’m embarrassed. I didn’t die or get injured, but I also didn’t fall break. I’m mentally and emotionally tired. It’s affecting everything.

Photo courtesy of Paul Brocklehurst
Side Kick. Photo courtesy of Paul Brocklehurst

We do back kicks, advancing back kicks, side kicks, and advancing side kicks.

Rachel corrects my form and I throw a kick.

“Good!”

I kick.

“Good!”

I try to relax and kick, but I’m dispirited and feeling hopeless.

“Good!”

Kick.

“Good!”

It starts to feel insincere. I know logically Rachel is being sincere. I know I’m not likely doing as poorly as I feel on the inside, but the positive words of encouragement wash over my unyielding haze.

She’s being kind. These kicks suck.

“Good!” I grind my teeth.

“Good!” I feel like crying.

“Good!” I keep going.

Class is over and I’m thankful for it. I just want to stretch in peace and go home.

8:30pm – Stretching. (No yoga today.)

Chase stays and talks to me about stretching. I start to stretch like I normally do and he offers advice. After the classes I’ve had I feel sensitive and bruised. His advice comes from a good place and I try to be gracious in asking questions and hearing him out.

9pm

I’m tired and emotional.

As I drive home, I think about my week in the gym.

Drew pretzeling me up like I was moldable clay.

Nate not flinching at my defensive front kicks.

Mike chuckling at the injustice of me fighting Chase from the ground.

Chase laughing at my undeveloped kicks.

Rachel’s kind—but misplaced—words of encouragement.

I start to doubt everything. Maybe Krav Maga wouldn’t work for me. Maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe I can never be good at this. I’m too small. Too weak. Maybe…

Some weeks are hard. Some days are hard. Hell, some minutes are hard. There are lots of people in the world telling me—in their own way—that I’m not good enough. They don’t even mean to, but I internalize it. In some ways, I look for those comments that confirm what I secretly believe: that I’m not good enough, strong enough, or smart enough for any of this.

Confirmation bias meet imposter syndrome.

It’s easy to get discouraged and want to quit. But I can guarantee you one thing: there’s only one way to get better and that’s to keep practicing.

And so I will. I’ll dig deep on the hard days. I’ll find lessons in the misguided comments and how I take them in or keep them out. I’ll rejoice on the days everything seems to click together.

Tomorrow is another day to learn something new.

*Some names have been changed in this post, because it does no one any good to name names.*

Fighting Stance: Messing up the fundamentals

Martial arts and self defense training is an ongoing learning process. You never “win” at Krav Maga. You’ve never mastered all the techniques. There’s always work to be done. I had a funny (and embarrassing) experience with this a few weeks ago.

I was in a small class with Francisco, one of my favorite instructors. We were playing the shoulder touch game—a game where you try to tap your opponent’s shoulders, knees, and head. Kate and I were circling each other shooting our hands out to touch each other on the shoulders when Francisco came over to correct me.

“Kaci! Don’t cross your legs!”

I looked at him, confusion and concern radiating through me. “What?!”

“You’re crossing your legs!” he said, demonstrating how my left front leg would cross in front of my right leg as I moved around Kate. It’s a fundamental no-no.

My face burned.

Your fighting stance is the most basic of all self defense concepts. Your fighting stance is how you stand: how wide your feet are spaced, how they’re staggered, how you hold your hands in the ready, and how you move. It’s the first thing you learn when you come to a Krav Maga class. Everything builds on this fundamental technique.

And here I am—a level three student, four years into my practice—mucking up this simple concept.

How can this happen?

I made the necessary correction and continued circling Kate.

This, along with the my level two test, helped me realize you can always learn something about whatever you’re practicing.

And thank goodness too! Getting my ego bruised is good for me. I still have a lot to learn. I may be confident in my skills, but I’m not perfect.

Have you ever realized you’re messing up something fundamental? How did you handle it? How did it help you become better?

Dear Gym Bro: An Open Letter

Dear gym bro,

Yes, I’m a woman.

Yes, I’m smaller than you.

Yes, some of my strikes aren’t as strong as yours.

True, you’re not likely to face an opponent my size.

But yes, I deserve to be here. I’m smart enough, strong enough, and fast enough to be here.

Yes, I can hold my own.

And no, you won’t be wasting your time if you partner with me (if you’re smart about how you train).

Suck it,

Kaci


In beginning Krav Maga classes, I’ve noticed something in the way some guys approach class.

These are the cocky guys with something to prove.

Other women have reported guys telling them they don’t deserve to be here. That women have no right do this. That they can’t. It was hard for me to imagine. My gym is amazing at filtering out ego.

A few weeks ago, I was in a level 1 class. Our instructor asked us to pair up and I turned to my right. Everyone was already partnered. I turned to the guy on my left. He looked through me to the other side of the room. We were the only two people left. I extended my arm, pointed at him, and with a smile on my face said “Do you have a partner?”

His neck stretched as he strained to look over my head searching for another person.

“Uhhhh…” He looked back over his other shoulder and then behind me again.

My heart sinks.

“No, yeah, I guess we can partner,” he said. His attitude oozed disappointment.

Luckily, I’ve been at my gym a long time. I’m not intimidated by machismo. If anything, it fuels me. The kind of guy who would attack a woman is filled with this same ego.

He had no idea I had all these feelings vibrating through me. Anger. Frustration. Righteousness. I got through the class. I viewed the experience as another way to train. Don’t let him see the raw emotion. Don’t let him feed on it.

Now when we’re in the same class, I look through him. He had an opportunity to learn from me, but he chose to let his ego get in the way. But I learned plenty from him. I learned to focus my energy and emotions into my strikes.

You are no better than me and I deserve to be here.
I have every right to train.

Anyone who makes you feel like you don’t deserve to be here should mean nothing to you too.

Get through the experience. Learn what you can from it, but move on. They aren’t worth it.

Stay safe, but don’t take crap from anyone.

I finally convinced a friend to go to Krav Maga AND come back!

I’ve had a goal to convert as many of my friends to Krav Maga as possible. I haven’t been very successful so far. Most of my friends come to a free first class, say “That was fuuuuuuun!” (where the fun is one octave higher than their normal voice), and then never come back again.

It can be really intense. You’re exhausted in the first 10 minutes. You’re being taught something that feels unnatural—to be aggressive and to hit and kick with no holds barred. But I think it’s so important and so darn fun.

I spend most of my day keeping myself reeled in and this is the one time I can just let it all out. I feel like such a badass.

I convinced my friend, Kate, to try a Krav Maga class. She was already predisposed to like it since she’s done Jiu Jitsu and she’s an avid MMA watcher. I think she liked it!

It was super fun to train with her and watch her throw her first hammer fists and front groin kicks. She improved quickly based on feedback from the instructors. At the end of the night, she seemed happy and exhausted.

I was like a happy puppy. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken so much, so quickly. HOW DO I CONVINCE HER TO KEEP COMING TO KRAV? I’m hopeful she’ll come back!

How do you get your friends to keep coming back?

What to expect at a Level 1 Krav Maga class

I’ve updated this 2008 post by making small refinements and cleaning up some of the writing. You’ll likely be most interested in the video I added. I think does a great job of describing a level one Krav Maga class.


Learning Krav Maga can be a stressful situation to walk into. By learning the general organization of a class, you’ll be more prepared to kick some butt!

Here’s a video of someone trying out Krav Maga in my local gym. (Psst! I was in her first class and you can totally see me in the background!)

Cardio. Everyone spreads out for the beginning cardio workout. This can be virtually anything to get your heart rate up and your body loose, including (but not limited to) jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, burpees, jogging, walking squats, jumping squats, etc.

The intensity of the cardio differs between instructors. If you’re new or out of shape, this could be one of the hardest parts of the class, because it’s all out. 100%.

I’ve also noticed that some cardio is more difficult based on your own personal strengths and weaknesses. (For me, squats were invented specifically for torture purposes, but core strengthening exercises tend to be a little easier.)

Stretch. This is pretty straight-forward and it usually doesn’t involve anything unusual.

Bow in. The only ritual in Krav Maga is to stand in a line and bow into and out of every class. If there are multiple instructors in class, they’ll bow to each other first and then you’ll bow to your instructors.

fitandfearless-krav-maga-2Strikes. Your instructor will demonstrate a strike (punches, kicks, etc.), both slowly and in “real” time. He or she will describe what they’re doing, why they’re doing it that way, and possible application for that strike. Then you and a partner will take turns practicing on punching bags, kick shields, tombstones (punch shields), or focus mitts. Some classes, you may only learn two new strikes and some classes you may learn three or four.

Drill. Once both you and your partner have practiced the technique of the strike, the instructor will direct you to go all out against the pad. These drills are meant to exhaust you. Tip: From my experience, the harder you go during these drills, the less time you’ll spend doing them.

If you will be learning more strikes, the instructor will once again demonstrate the new strike and then you’ll run through another drill with it. Sometimes, instructors will skip individual drills until they’ve taught you all the strikes. Then they’ll run a drill that incorporates them all. No, these drills are not easier.

Self-defense. Now, you’ll learn a defense (chokes, headlocks, etc.) that employs the strikes you’ve just learned. Once again, your instructor will demonstrate the defense slowly and in real time. Depending on the defense, you may practice it “dry” (without a partner) in the mirror. Then you and your partner will slowly walk through the defense together, eventually working up to a faster and more intense speed.

Your instructor will probably emphasize how to safely, but effectively practice these defenses. You want to practice the defense as if you were actually being attacked, but you don’t want to hurt your partner in the process. Here are some tips on how to be a good Krav Maga partner.

Defense drills. In the last few minutes of class, you will practice the defense in a higher stress situation. This includes being attacked when you have your eyes closed, lights off, music blaring, etc.

Bow out. Once the drill is over, your instructor(s) will ask if anyone has any questions and then you will bow out of class. This is exactly like bowing into class.

Again, this is a basic outline of most of the classes I’ve been to. It may differ from the gym you go to, but if it’s a certified Krav Maga gym, it should look pretty similar! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section, so everyone can benefit from them! I’d be particularly interested to see if classes differ at your gym!

Happy kraving!

At this point in my Krav Maga training, I have been to two gyms: one on the west coast and one in the south. If you go to a certified Krav Maga gym, the class should be pretty similar to what I describe here. However, this description is based on my experiences and should be viewed as such.