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.*

My first Level 3 Krav Maga Class (and the Evils of Imposter Syndrome)

My first level 3 class is like the first day of school: I’m nervous, excited, but also feeling dread.

A few of my higher level friends peer pressured encouraged me to go to the Wednesday level 3 class a mere four days after my level 2 test, so here I am.

When I graduated from level 1 in 2014, I was terrified of the level 2 classes. It took me weeks to get up the courage to go. I gave myself all the best excuses. I was resting after my test, I wasn’t feeling well, I should take a level 1 class to get back in the swing of things…

Have you heard of imposter syndrome? It’s the belief that your successes are unwarranted and you don’t think you belong. It’s the little voice in your head that says you’re not smart enough, strong enough, or good enough to be here. You’re a fraud. Somehow, you managed to fake out the people who let you in and any minute they’ll figure it out.

Evil, right?

When I went to my first level 3 class (and my first level 2 class!), I could feel imposter syndrome eating away at my stomach lining.

  • What if I’ve forgotten everything?
  • What if my level 2 skills aren’t good enough to serve me in level 3?
  • What if I hurt my partner?
  • What if my partner thinks I’m shitty at this and is super annoyed they have to partner with a new person?

I hate imposter syndrome.

I walk in just as class starts. Everyone greets me warmly and I immediately feel welcome.

Imposter syndrome does not go away.

I pair up with Jeff, a tall, well-muscled guy with a shaved head. He’s funny, but intimidating. I’ve sparred with him before so he knows me a little and he’s actually one of the people who encouraged me to come to class. I’m scared shitless.

He smiles at me as I put in my mouth guard.

“We’re doing all defenses from level 1 and level 2,” he says. It’s common in higher level classes to do lower level defenses as the warm up.

I nod. Okay, you can do this.

His hands wrap around my throat and I pluck and kick. My combatives feel foreign and sloppy. I’m nervous and it’s affecting my performance. I don’t want to suck at this.

Camille comes into class just as I finish my first defense and she joins our group. I feel immense relief.

We tell Camille what we’re doing, she nods, and I move in to choke her.

Imposter Syndrome is the little voice in your head that says you’re not smart enough, strong enough, or good enough to be here. You’re a fraud. Somehow, you managed to fake out the people who let you in and any minute they’ll figure it out.

It’s funny looking back on this class. At the time, I don’t process these feelings—intimidated by Jeff and his proficiency in Krav Maga, imposter syndrome, my nervousness. It’s uncharacteristic of me to back down from a challenge. In fact, I usually relish in working with guys bigger and stronger than me. It’s the best training. I love learning new techniques and this is the one place where I really have no qualms about saying I don’t know something.

Not today. Today, I feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the whole experience.

Francisco, our instructor, leads us through take downs. As the person being taken down, you have to catch yourself with a fall break. I watch Francisco demonstrate the technique feeling nervous about my first real need to effectively use fall breaks. If I do these poorly, the whole experience will suck for me.

Jeff moves into my legs slowly, dumps me gently on the floor, and I catch myself with a fall break.

Nothing bad happens. I do what I’m supposed to do and it’s all okay.

I let out a tiny breath of relief. It’s my turn to face Camille and take her down using the new techniques. I struggle like anyone who’s never done something struggles. We take turns, attacking and falling.

It’s all okay. It feels almost exactly like a level 2 class. No one questions my right to be here. We move on to the next technique.

 

sprawlI’ve done Krav Maga—cumulatively—for four years and I’ve done a lot of sprawls by myself. As a warm up, a sprawl is a technique where you put your hands on the ground in front of you and push your hips and legs back and down while keeping your face up so you can see your attacker.

This is the first class I learn to sprawl as a defense and it’s exciting to put it to use.

Camille shoots in and tries to wrap her hands around the backs of my knees to take me down to the ground. I throw my hips and feet back into a sprawl and press my hands and torso down into her back. It looks like this Human Weapon episode from The History Channel:

Francisco instructs us to do a series of sprawls, ground work, and take downs that’s hard to explain. It takes me a bit to understand everything he wants us to do and even now I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

Overall the class goes well. I was nervous, but everyone was super nice and told me I did well. And I sort of believe them.

This is something I have to get over.

Krav Maga is a learning experience filled with ambiguous situations and uncomfortable drills, but they make me stronger and smarter.

All these people are my friends. They want to see me learn and excel. I can’t wait to get to another level 3 class!