Ask Better Questions + Discreet Steps = Profit (Sort of)

I recently read two great articles that combined to reframe some of the morale and progress issues I’ve been having in (and out of) the gym lately.

The first article you should read is You Probably Know to Ask Yourself, “What Do I Want?” Here’s a Way Better Question by Mark Manson. Manson posits that asking what you want from life is an unhelpful question. It won’t get you anywhere. A better one is “What are you willing to struggle against?”.

“How do you choose to suffer?” Mason asks in a different way. He tells a great story about his dream of becoming a famous musician.

“I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love not with the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way.”

Here's a great example of me struggling with a difficult technique.
Here’s a great example of me struggling with a difficult technique.

In Krav Maga, are the bruises and long hours in the gym worth it to have the knowledge and skill to defend myself? To be in great shape? To build my confidence and feel powerful and capable? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. The end result is super important to me, but the learning process is the fun part. Improving or learning a new technique, struggling to get it, and then seeing it click into place… now that’s fun.

Even my worst nights at the gym aren’t enough to make me stop. The bruises, scrapes, long hours, and frustrations are the parts I’m willing to struggle through.

The second article you should go read is Here’s the Strategy Elite Athletes Follow to Perform at the Highest Level by Ryan Holiday. I’m not an elite athlete and the article isn’t even really about the best athletes in the world. It’s about the hard problems we want to work on but are too afraid to tackle.

You get out of [crappy positions] by addressing and eliminating each part of that position through small, deliberate action—not by trying (and failing) to push it away with superhuman strength.

One step at a time, my friend.

This reframing can relieve the anxiety of seeking overnight success in any pursuit. That business idea you wanted to launch. The book you wanted to write. The quilt you wanted to finish. Those might sound impossible when you start the work. The trick is to take it one task at a time.

Today, I will sit down and I will write a word. That will turn into a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page.

Success happens through small, purposeful steps. One tiny success after another.

How often do we assume that change is impossible because it’s too big?

All these issues are solvable. Each would collapse beneath the process. We’ve just wrongly assumed that it has to happen all at once, and we give up at the thought of it. We are A-to-Z thinkers, fretting about A, obsessing over Z, yet forgetting all about B through Y.

I have to trust that the process of tackling one issue at a time will get me where I want to go. Keep my eye on the goal, but recognize there are a million mini actions required before I get there.

Okay, so what does this all mean?

  1. You have to decide what matters to you enough to suffer through the unpleasant parts of the process.
  2. And then take it one problem and one small success at a time. Overnight successes are always backed by lots of small, discreet steps.

In other words show up, because the process is worth it, right?

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.


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.


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?”


“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.


I kick.


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




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.


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.*

New! Adding Ground Fighting / Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to My Training

I’ve started branching out from Krav Maga in a major way.

Krav Maga borrows the most effective techniques for street fighting and self defense from different martial arts. A lot of the ground work comes from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).

Ottawa BJJ Open 2012. Photo Courtesy of Sylvain
Ottawa BJJ Open 2012. (Not me!) Photo Courtesy of Sylvain

I recently add a Ground Fighting (basically BJJ) class to my practice as a way to focus on some of the ground techniques I’ve learned in Krav Maga. This comes as an obvious next step as I become aware of some of my weaknesses.

The classes have been a little slower than I’m used to. I think our instructor, Travis, has been slowing it down and breaking the techniques into understandable chunks for us new people.

Concepts that have been reinforced in the few classes I’ve taken so far:

  1. Fighting from the ground is exhausting. It’s the most exhausting thing I’ve done so far.
  2. It’s a terrible position to fight from against bigger, stronger opponents. Weight classes (in mixed martial arts) exist for a reason.
  3. Ground work is a big gaping whole in my training.

Krav Maga is a dirty, get-it-done kind of system. It’s not pretty, but it makes you ruthless when it comes to your safety. I’m excited to add the focus of BJJ—a more technical and structured system—into my training. More soon!

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?

How I Use Krav Maga to Ease My Restless Leg Syndrome

I have Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a disorder that makes me feel the urge to move my legs. I only feel these symptoms while I’m trying to go to sleep at night. My legs twitch, kick, and thrash (much to Chris’s amusement and annoyance).

It never hurts, but it is irritating. It feels like I have too much energy in my legs and I need to let it out by moving. The less I exercise, the twitchier I feel.

The symptoms eased a few years ago while I was training for a half marathon, but never completely went away. It wasn’t until I started taking Krav Maga that my Restless Leg Syndrome symptoms almost completely disappeared. In fact, if I take a break from Krav Maga the symptoms return. In some ways, I use RLS as a gauge for when I’ve been away from the gym too long.

I mention this, because I gain more from Krav Maga than just being in shape and feeling confident in myself. This is one of those peripherals in Krav Maga that’s important to my overall happiness. It gives me peace. Emotional, mental, and physical peace.

Do you have Restless Leg Syndrome? How do you manage it?

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Will I get hurt in Krav Maga?

Bruised wrist

Bruises and scrapes on my wrist from krav magaWon’t I get hurt in Krav Maga? I hear it all the time.

Like any sport, martial art, or self defense system, injury is possible in Krav Maga. I come home with bruises and scrapes on my hands, arms, hips, and knees regularly. When you practice something this physical and real, it’s inevitable. It’s part of the training.

Honestly, the bruises and scrapes don’t bother me. These minor injuries tell me where I need to improve my technique. They also condition my body. I find a little pride in these bumps and bruises too (and I know I’m not alone in this).

Occasionally, people are injured in other, more serious ways: pulled muscles, fractures, and sprains. It’s like any sport. If you practice safely (start slow, communicate with your partner, and wear a mouth guard, cup, and other protective equipment), you’re not likely to suffer much more than bruises and scrapes.

I’d like to ask you a question though:

Would you trade receiving scrapes and bruises in a safe, learning environment for the knowledge and skill to defend yourself?

To walk to your car at night without fear. To gain confidence in yourself (in life, not just in self defense). To get in shape?

For me, I find that trade acceptable.