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?

Our Awesome Private Krav Maga Session (Part 1) – The Great

We’re preparing for our first level one test in two short weeks! Chris and I decided we should take a private lesson with one of the instructors. I could use a little more practice on roundhouse kicks. I’ve never worked out how to do these effectively. Chris really wants to work on knees. We’ve both had partners knock the wind out of us and he wants to refine to get the same effect.

We set up a private lesson on Sunday with F. We’ve had him as an instructor before and we’ve heard he’s really great at making improvements in one-on-one sessions.

Chris and I had some serious highs and lows in this one hour though. I’m breaking this out into two separate posts to give emphasis to each experience individually.

It was awesome! Like many things in life, we went in with an agenda, but F was able to see other, more basic skills we should improve to help us long term. We did a little sparring to warm up and then he had us take turns striking the pad with combinations. We both have issues with our straight punches and still occasionally get badges on our hands. F saw this immediately and was able to help us fine-tune this basic skill.

He showed us how to take the time to line up our straight punches and make sure our knuckles, wrist, forearm, and shoulder are always in alignment. We worked slowly and diligently on punching straight out and retreating our arm straight back.

He was able to identify I rotate my wrist slightly just before impact. It gets everything out of alignment and causes me to swipe across the pad a tiny amount. Sometimes my wrist even collapses and all the power of the punch is lost. This one little thing has been causing my knuckles to get torn up.

We spent a fair bit of time on straight punches. He would watch as we threw a few punches and then stop us to refine a little more.

Sometimes in a session, something will occur to me that seems so obvious once I know it. F taught me I don’t have to go fast when I’m training. I can slow everything down to work on technique and alignment. Seems so obvious, right?

This private lesson was packed with information difficult to get in a classroom with 20 other students. We tweaked other skills too, but refining my straight punch is, by far, one of the biggest ah ha! moments I’ve had.

I’ll post the rest of the experience in a few days after I’ve had a little more time to think about how to describe the rest of the session.

Ready for part two? Read Our Awesome Private Krav Maga Session (Part 2) – The Terrible

Learn defense, but don’t hurt your partner

I missed class on Monday night, so I knew I had to come in tonight, even if I took it easy. Since I’m trying to prepare for the test in December, I’ve gotta step it up.

It seems like there’s a lot to defending a choke from behind. When someone puts their hands around your throat, you have to reach behind your head (hopefully clawing your assailant in the process) and pluck down on the weakest part of their grip. This happens all while stepping to the side. With the force of the pluck behind your swinging hand, you slap their groin, bring your elbow up to hit them in the jaw, and then turn around to face them. Finally, go crazy and let ’em have it!

This defense is really awkward to practice, because you’re taught to throw your hands up behind your head and pluck down in a quick, solid movement. If you’re not careful, you could easily poke out your partner’s eye!

Safety is the most important thing in Krav Maga. Instructors want you to learn defenses to as close of a real life situation as they can present you, but that doesn’t mean you should harm your partner in the process. So, although I worked really hard at it, I’m not sure if I “get it” yet. I’ll have to sleep on it and try practicing on Chris tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll love to hear that…

On the plus side, my back didn’t hurt at all the whole night! We’ll see how it feels tomorrow though!

Putting Krav Maga defenses into perspective

I’m finally getting to know the other diehard, crazy Krav Maga fans in class. When I asked V, a girl I’ve seen a few times if she wanted to team up she said “Sure, but I don’t know how good of a partner I’m gonna be. This will be my third class in a row tonight…” Now that’s intense. I’ve taken two classes in a row before and I was out for two solid days!

Tonight, we worked on front chokes where you defend by plucking with one hand and striking simultaneously with an upward, palm heel strike. At first, I found it hard to break away from the usual double pluck defense, using both hands to pluck the assailant’s hands away while instantaneously delivering a groin kick. If you can just defend with a double handed pluck/groin kick combination, why strike with your upper body? Especially as a woman with a weaker upper body, in comparison to my thighs and legs!

Then I realized this defense is used when you can’t utilize your legs, like when you’re behind a bar, in a car, or when you’re standing on an icy sidewalk and don’t want to compromise your balance. Once I recognized the application, I felt myself finally “get it.”

Understanding situations where I’d use a particular defense is undeniably helpful. I have a pretty active imagination, so when I’m learning a new defense, I try to place myself in a scene where I’d need it.

Sometimes, when I’m at a stoplight or walking down the street, I’ll imagine what I’d do if I was attacked. What if that guy attacked me? Or that guy? It starts to put my training into perspective.

In class, the effect is that my strikes become stronger, my defenses become more intense, and I tire less easily (believe it or not). I also think the defense is more readily filed away under “muscle memory,” instead of short or long term memory!

Knees are a girl’s best friend

Chris and I partnered up together tonight. We generally don’t, because we can always practice together at home, but we thought we’d switch it up.

After the initial warm-ups, we began practicing palm heel strikes. Chris went first… and holy crap! He hits hard. The first left-right combination he threw, I was knocked back at least a foot or two. In fact, I was knocked back several times when he struck the pad. Note to self: don’t make Chris angry enough to hit me (or anyone)! Those broad shoulders of his must really help pack a punch. JEEZ.

I did notice my own palm heel strikes are getting better. It was helpful to have Chris there to encourage me through those final moments of drills. Sometimes I wonder if I can physically go any further and to have someone cheer me on was tremendously helpful. He also made me realize I wasn’t striking through the pad. You could immediately tell the difference in the strength of my strikes when I started rotating my hips and hitting the pad as if I wanted to make impact with his spine.

We moved on to knees to the groin. When I started kneeing Chris in the large kicking pad, we had some… uh… issues. I was kicking through the pad so hard, he was feeling the affects of my strikes on his man parts. I had to adjust my angle and knee more into his thigh than his groin, so I didn’t seriously hurt him. I’ve seen what even a light tap on a guy’s package can do (i.e., lay him out), let alone a full on knee to the groin…

After class, I asked him if he had that problem when other people practiced kneeing him in the groin and he said “Nope! Just you!” Which makes me think I’m doing them correctly.

It also shows the difference in my strengths versus Chris’s strengths. My strengths are in my kicks and knees, his seem to be in his upper body strikes. I imagine this is the same for most men and women just getting into Krav.

And for the record, we’re getting Chris a cup… pronto.

Have fun with Krav Maga and don’t fret about the upcoming test of doom. Otherwise, you’ll end up with bloody knuckles. No really. You will.

(Longest title in the history of all Krav Maga titles, I know…)

I was super pumped about Krav tonight; I usually feel great after class. Tonight was tough on me though. I know for a fact I did 90% or more of my straight punches incorrectly. Here’s how I know:

Both rows of lower knuckles on both hands are scraped and/or bruised to hell and back. Only the index and middle finger knuckles should be sore and bruised. With each combination of punches, I’d see little specks of my skin stick to the bag, my knuckles stinging. Gross.

I asked M what I was doing wrong and he said I’m swiping my straight punches across, as if I’m throwing a hook instead. So I’ll have to watch that. Good technique is just as important (if not more so) than power.

As far as the defense goes, I can’t be sure if I correctly deflected my partner’s punches with my forearm swipes. Once again, I was paired up with a girl who was extremely new. She was having a hard time throwing a real punch at me, but that’s no excuse for my lousy defenses.

So, I’m pretty disappointed in myself… I had entertained the idea of taking the upcoming Level 1 test, but now I’m reconsidering. I can’t even throw a proper straight punch!

Ten bucks says I’m putting too much pressure on myself to test in November and it’s affecting my performance. From now on, I’m taking it one day at a time and focusing on really learning the defenses. It’s good to have a goal, but it doesn’t make sense to pressure myself into bad technique.

At the very least, I’ll go to the workshop before the test to see what I’m missing in my classes. (But I have to admit, I’ll probably take the test anyway just to see where I’m at.)

Aside from all that, I’m taking some advice I’ve recently received and getting hand wraps. ASAP.

Great instructors make a difference

I’m standing outside the gym room, watching an upper level class. M, my instructor, sees me, waves, and then jogs over. “Let me show you how to get up from a ground fight!” he says. (I’d told him last week that I wanted to learn how to get up from the ground properly, but he didn’t have time to demonstrate then.)

I was super psyched he remembered on his own.

The movement feels so unnatural. You have to rotate your hips and swing your leg underneath you in a big arc; it’s like making the letter ‘C’ with your leg. I know I’ll have to work on it more to get it right.

In regular class, we learned 360 defenses—blocking attacks with your forearm. At first, my partner couldn’t figure out how to hold the medium-sized pad to hurl at my head. She’s sort of throwing it at me and I feel like I might be blocking it. M comes over, takes the pad, and shows her how to hold it correctly. He indicates to me he’s going to throw it for real as a demonstration.

He. Nearly. Takes. My. Head. Off. My glasses go completely askew. He stops the class.

Really block these strikes coming at you. Get angry. They’re trying to hit you! And bag holders, let your partner know what it feels like to be seriously hit. Give them all you’ve got!

She starts hurling it at my head at full power. I still don’t think I really get it, but maybe I am. It’s too soon to tell.

I go to one side of the room and everyone else lines up at the other. This is the drill: Each of your classmates run at you, one after the other, with a medium bag, and launches it at your head. You have to block it with your 360 defenses. Ready? Go!

Guys twice my size deliver blows at me.


It’s scary. Intimidating. Intense. But it gets you riled up—adrenaline pumping. This was definitely one of the most fun—and simultaneously—one of the scariest defenses I’ve ever learned.

As I’m getting my stuff together, M asks me if I remember how to get up off the ground correctly. I don’t feel confident. He gets down with me and goes through it a few more times.

That’s how you know you’ve got a great instructor: when they’re willing to go above and beyond to teach you what you need and want to know. I probably stayed an extra 15 minutes after class with M just showing me, Chris, and a few other students extra defenses.

My first class with a male partner

This is my first Sunday class and I feel pretty confident walking in. On Monday, I finished up not feeling like I was going to die from exhaustion.

We do the usual stretch and B, the owner and today’s trainer, tells us to do 20 push-ups and 25 sit-ups. I’m immediately a little anxious. The last time I tried to do the most push-ups I could, I was able to do… oh… ya know… seven. I surprise myself though. I’m pushing my body up and I’m suddenly past 10. Then 15. 20 push-ups? Please. That was almost easy. Almost.

I partner up with H for openhand strikes. I’m excited, because he’s the first guy I’ve worked with so far. He’s at least 2 inches taller and 50lbs heavier than me, but I feel pretty confident about my ability. B pushes us hard. We quickly make our way through straight openhanded strikes, groin kicks, and by the time we get to elbow jabs, I’m ready to pass out. I actually consider stepping out of the room. We must be getting to the end of class. I look at the clock. We’ve only been at this half an hour. It’s only half over.

Oh. My. God. I think I may die.

I look over at H. Sure, he’s tired. We’re all sweaty and exhausted, but he looks ready to start practicing the strike. I get a little boost of energy. Must keep up with the boys…

I’ve never done elbow jabs before and I immediately tell the difference between H’s and my own. He knocks me back a little with each strike. I don’t really think I’m doing them right. I’m stepping and twisting and not getting it. B comes over to help, but I’m so exhausted I can’t make my back leg push off like he’s instructing. I keep at it though. I can’t learn everything perfect the first time.

Now for my favorite part, learning to defend.

New scenario: Someone’s choking you from the side, most likely to either head-butt you (this is popular in Europe) or to drag you off (I’m sure you can fill in the gory details on your own). In this case, you rip your attackers hand away from you in a plucking motion, but keep a good grip on his hand. You don’t want him going anywhere. At the same time, give him a solid hit to the groin with your free hand. Bring your arm up through his arms and elbow him in the face. Give him a “little tickle” (B’s words) of a kick to the groin and then knee the crap out of him. Mmmm… Attacker down.

I practice this with H and he gets a little anxious defending against me. He accidentally clips my jaw once and immediately stops. It doesn’t hurt and I’m all “I’m still attacking, yo!” He finishes the combination and instantly starts to apologize. “I’m not bleeding and nothing’s broken, so keep going!” I tell him. He doesn’t let up any more.

Moral of the today’s Krav story:

  1. B knows how to hand my ass to me on a lovely Sunday morning (I’m so coming back next week),
  2. Guys tend to be great partners, because they motivate me to really work,
  3. I’ve just got to get serious and level them. I may be a girl, but I’m not gonna let up on you any. Give me all you’ve got.