I’ve been sitting on this news for months and I’m super excited to finally share it with you!
In May, my husband and I will begin traveling the world indefinitely! We’ve quit our perfectly wonderful jobs. We’ll be leaving our best friends, our family, our city, the best gym in the whole freakin’ world (I’m pretty convinced) to pursue this dream of ours. You can follow along with our food and travel adventures over on our website The Chris and Kaci Show.
What does this mean for Kravazon?
Kravazon will NOT go away. I’ll continue training and writing about it, albeit on the road. If a country or a city doesn’t have Krav Maga, my plan is to train in the martial art of that area. For example, if/when we visit Brazil, I’ll train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Do you have any experience training while traveling? I’d love to hear your experiences! Write ’em in the comments.
Before we get too far away from the moment, I wanted to tell you about something really, really cool that happened to me a few weeks ago
I took a ground fighting class. I was worn out afterwards, but I wanted to stick around for the yoga class an hour later. I ducked into the bag room, put my 16oz boxing gloves on, and stared at the punching bag.
Rotate. Strike. Step. Repeat.
I took my time at the bag thinking through combinations. If my weight is distributed to the right, can I throw a right round kick, I’d ask myself while playing with my strikes and weight distribution. Is it better if I do a right side kick here instead?
A few of the regulars were holding mitts for each other. The mitt holder would call out combinations and the striker would rotate into the fastest, smoothest combinations they could manage. It was background noise to me. I tried not to draw attention to myself or take up space.
It wasn’t their room, but I was self-conscious. I kept my eyes on my bag: hyperfocused on my own breathing, my head movement, my weight distribution.
I stepped out a few times to get some air or just watch the two Krav Maga classes in progress.
Omar pokes his head out of the room, nods to me, and says quietly, “hey, we can stay on one side of the room if you want to keep practicing.”
“Oh, thanks!” I return and keep hitting the bag.
A few minutes later, Ron, the striker at the time, steps over to me. “Do you want us to hold for you?”
I thought for sure I’d heard wrong. “Sorry?”
“We can hold mitts for you, if you’d like. I could use the break,” he says with a laugh.
“Oh, yeah! Sure! That’d be great!”
Omar calls out a simple combination and I focus with all my effort to execute it properly. I fumble some of them and laugh nervously.
“Again,” he calls. We do it over and over until I get it.
“Okay, rest,” he says softly.
I’m grinning like an idiot.
“What?” he asks.
I don’t understand.
“The smile. What’s funny?” he asks.
“Nothing! I just love this so much,” I tell him. He smiles back.
They hold pads for me once more.
30 minutes later I gather my stuff to head to the yoga room. Before I do, I walk back over to them.
“Thank you,” I say. “It means a lot that you’d hold mitts for me.”
“If we’re in here and you want to fold into our routine, just ask. If we’re not doing anything specific we can hold for you.”
It was the nicest, most awesome thing. They never had to do any of that, but they did. It made me feel like a part of the gym, a part of the community. I’m still feeling warm and fuzzy about it. To those guys, a deep and sincere thanks.
This simple act of kindness also reminds me that I can do more to help the folks new to the gym feel more welcome. They’re part of this community. As a higher level student, I have a responsibility to encourage that feeling of belonging.
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.
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.
It feels like a train barrels into me as arms wrap around my torso. Matt is overwhelming.
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!”
The anxiety of your first Krav Maga class. The excitement and fear and anticipation. You think there’s no way to get that feeling back after you’ve been to Krav Maga for awhile.
And then you go to your first level 2 Krav Maga class.
Chris and I spend a few weeks between our level 1 test and first level 2 class to rest, get geared up, and mentally prepare.
We pair up for our first class. This is pretty rare, because Chris’s straight punches are harder than I can hold the pad for these days. I’ll do it, but it sucks. He hits hard.
I’m so excited to learn new techniques, but I’m also feeling fear of the unknown. I have no expectations, because higher level classes have always been a mysterious, semi-clandestine event. No one talks about what happens in those classes. You can watch them from the lobby, but I’ve never spent much time watching.
The Warm Up
Matt asks us to pair up and practice the jab, cross, hook, uppercut combination. I put on my new 16 oz boxing gloves and Chris puts on focus mitts.
We circle each other. Chris calls out a number between one and four and I do the corresponding combination.
“Thoo!” Chris calls through his mouth guard.
Jab, cross, hook, uppercut.
We laugh. It’s hard to remember how Chris should hold the focus mitts and we fumble it a bit.
Jab, cross, hook.
This goes on for two minutes or so. I start to limber up.
We switch and I hold the mitts for Chris. It’s so weird. The warm up is like if you were to take a level 1 class, but drop someone into it half way through. This feels like something we would have done after taking it step-by-step. This is a drill. After many exhausting minutes of working through the steps.
I call the numbers out and here my numbers come out as lisps.
Next, Matt instructs us to both put on our gloves. Now we’re going to spar. Spar! Try to actually hit your partner. Don’t try to take their head off. Fast, but light.
I’ve sparred once before. It made me feel clunky, heavy, stupid. Like a big stumbling oaf.
Chris and I start circling each other. My adrenaline is pumping. I throw my hands out to strike. Chris throws his harms up. His concentration is epic. He easily blocks me and counters with a hook. I get my arms up in just enough time to block. We keep circling.
Strike, block. Strike, strike.
The first time I get hit, I feel a wave of conflicting emotions that last approximately half a second: a surge of pride that he’s able to get a good one in. It’s a solid hit, but it doesn’t really hurt. 16 ounce gloves offer lots of cushion-y padding. Simultaneously, I feel mild, benign panic. It’s a weird soft kind of panic. I’m not in any real danger, but I don’t really want to get hit again no matter how fluffy they are.
Matt calls for us to switch partners and I feel this dark dread in my gut. Oh god. I have to spar people I don’t know now?
I’m immediately surprised. The people I’m sparring are kind, tough, forgiving, encouraging. I’m terrible at it, but I’m using my brain in an exceptionally fun way now. There are real, live, smart people on the other side of my strikes. People who don’t want to get hit and who hit back.
As we throw strikes and defenses, I watch the more advanced trainees. Their eyes are unfocused at the center of my body. Their bodies are almost limp. They don’t look engaged. And then they throw the fastest strikes that get me good on the jaw.
I can feel the basics slip and I struggle to keep it together. I’m like a lanky cartoon character imitating a boxer. My arms feel far from my core. I’m stumbling forward and back. Trying to land something, anything. My eyes close against my will at impact. I’m basically pinwheeling. I have so much to learn.
When Matt calls time, I’m on cloud nine. I couldn’t be more happy in this moment. This is fun. And I can do this any ol’ time I want.
The warm up happens in the first 15-20 minutes of class. It sounds light and easy, but I’m exhausted. My face is red. I’m smiling like an idiot.
Matt starts to explain the defense—an inside defense combined with a simultaneous advancing strike.
Everything slows down. Chris and I practice the defenses and strikes while talking through it. It’s technical and complicated and requires synchronous movement. It’s similar to stuff we’ve already done in level 1, but it’s more difficult to do three things at once, plus all the meticulous things you always have to do to protect yourself. Chin down, arms up to protect your face, proper fighting stance.
Let me say just this one thing about learning a slightly more advanced defense. I go from knowing everything being taught, anticipating the strikes, anticipating the drills, moving at speeds that max me out, pushing aggression… to knowing nothing.
What’s the old saying? The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. I’m officially there.
There are times in the defense when I feel unbearably stupid. My body will not cooperate with my brain.
We move slowly, deliberately.
This is just the first class, but the differences are notable.
There are smart, fast human beings on the other side of your strikes and defenses. You better move.
It’s significantly more technical. There is time to slow everything down and think through it. Talk through it. Figure it out.
Communication with your partner is imperative in a way that it wasn’t in level one. In level 1, you’re striking through a pad. There’s a person on the other side of it, but they’re still (usually) stationary or not striking back. In level 2, you’re both striking. You’re both defending. You have to determine the speed, power, and collective competence.
I’m so happy to be in level 2 classes and I cannot wait to go to the next class!
When our 15-minute rest period is up, we get underway. No dawdling.
Kat leans over me with a kick shield pressed to her chest and I prepare to kick her from my position on the floor. My foot is raised, my hands are positioned protectively near my face, my head is lifted as if I’m in a never-ending crunch. She moves in closer and I arch my hips off the ground and deliver an explosive kick to her solar plexus. The impact launches her a few feet away. I lumber into a standing position by placing my right hand on the ground and swinging my right foot underneath me in an arc. Every time I kick, I can’t imagine getting up off the ground, but I manage to anyway. What if I were to just lie here and nap a little instead? Just don’t quit, they said. That’s the challenge, they said.
Mt walks behind us, clipboard in hand, evaluating my technique. He says nothing, makes a mark on the page, and moves on to the next team. I lie back down and prepare to kick Kat again.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of the test. Compared to the review, it goes by in a blink. I imagine this is what it’s like when someone experiences something traumatic. The human brain protects you by making you forget painful situations.
I feel confident in every technique we do. Once we get started, there’s never a moment I consider the possibility of failure. I’ve trained so long that I’m comfortable with all the attacks and defenses. I think that’s the secret: I know everything on this test backwards and forwards. I could do it with my eyes closed. In most cases, I mean that literally.
The Final Drill
“Okay, guys! Last drill and then you’re done,” Mt calls out to us. When he explains our final drill, I laugh involuntarily.
I’m surrounded by five other test takers. Some of them have pads, others don’t. Mt hands me a plastic stick approximately 2.5 feet long and I place one end on the ground. I lean over to place my forehead on the stick and then shuffle around in a circle with my forehead still glued to the stick. Around and around I go. The whole point is to make me dizzy. Mt grabs me and pulls me around faster.
When he finally calls for the defense to start, I stop moving and lift my upper body so that I’m completely vertical, dropping the stick to the ground. The room is spinning and I feel nauseated. The first person steps into my line of vision with a punch shield at her chest. Raising my hands up to protect my face I step forward to meet her. The room lurches to the right. I step involuntarily to the left to compensate and reach my hand out to steady myself on the pad. I can’t believe this is happening. I laugh a nervous, drunk laugh.
I throw my hands out to punch the bag. Everything is spinning and my stomach drops.
Please don’t throw up. I concentrate on breathing.
Someone wraps their hands around my neck from behind me and I reach up and around to break their contact. When I turn towards them to attack, the room lurches again to the right, but I manage to throw a few palm heel strikes. Someone from the side hits me with a kick shield. I turn towards the attack and latch onto a shoulder, driving my knee into the pad once, twice… (oh god, can I go on?) three times. I feel strong hands wrap around my neck on the side and I pluck, simultaneously sending out an open-handed strike to their groin. I turn in to deliver more attacks. Another pad strikes me in the back and I turn to address this new attacker.
This happens over and over again. They can attack with anything they know and I defend. I’m so tired, but the longer this goes on the less dizzy I feel. It’s the one consolation. I don’t think about attacking. I take on each attacker as they present themselves.
When it’s over and everyone has gone through the drill, I don’t have the energy to be excited. It’s just over.
I head over to my bag, drink some water, and look at Chris. He looks as wiped as I feel.
After a little time, Mt comes back into the training room and announces: “Congratulations! You all passed!” He hands each of us a yellow belt and we gather to take a group photo. This happens in a daze.
Someone brings out a case of Shiner beer. A few trainees grab one and collapse to the ground. I can’t imagine drinking beer right now. I can barely drink water. I keep walking around the room, my mind is still buzzing. If I stop moving, I will never move again.
It occurs to me that maybe I should stretch a little. I listen to a few people chat and laugh and recall the hardest parts of the test. I still can’t believe it’s over. I think I’m in shock. I keep stretching and do a little yoga.
One by one, everyone leaves. Chris and I are are one of the last ones left. I think we’re both too tired to comprehend that we should go home. Or eat a real dinner. Or do anything except stay in this gym that smells like dank sweat.
I’ve passed my level one test. I passed! No one got hurt, I didn’t throw up, and I will likely live to see tomorrow. The whole thing took six hours, by far the shortest Krav Maga test of anyone I’ve spoken to.
“Imagine doing this for another four hours,” I say to Chris. He closes his eyes, shakes his head, and grimaces. That’s exactly how I feel. I can’t imagine doing this for another hour. I’m not even sure I would have lasted another 30 minutes.
What I can say is that taking a single, one hour class will feel like nothing now. A walk in the park. If I can do this, I can do just about anything.
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.
Okay, so I think it’s time I ‘fess up. I won’t be taking the Level 1 test this weekend. You might remember I had planned to take the test back in November, but then it was re-scheduled. In addition, I had a sinus infection and a slight (temporary) back injury.
So here we are. At the beginning of December. The Level 1 test looming over me… And I’ll be outta town.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t have to go away this weekend, but I’m choosing to go see my cousin graduate from boot camp.
True, I could chose to stay home and take the Level 1 test. But I have some good excuses… no really. I do.
It’s really important to me to support my cousin as she makes this big transition in her life. Plus, it gives me a good excuse to see a state I’ve never been to AND see some of my family.
I’m not ready. This should be fairly obvious in my lack of posts about classes lately. I’vebeenstrugglinga little and it’s been hard for me to openly admit. One day I’m feelin’ great and the next I’m not on my A game… I know I’ve been going to Krav for almost six solid months, but I’m not consistent in my defenses. To me, consistency is a true sign of how well I know the material. So, I just need the extra time to really perfect what I’m learning.
And if you promise not to call me a big chicken, I’ll even admit that I’m a teency weency bit scared of the Level 1 test.
Have no fear, I still plan on taking it in a couple of months when I’m more prepared. I’m in this for the fitness, the self-confidence, and the knowledge of how to defend myself. There’s no reason to rush into a day of torture test I’m not prepared for.