Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Girly Conundrum




In Krav Maga there is a lot of hitting. Well, not just hitting, also kicking, elbowing, kneeing and (at G level and up) headbutting. Krav is brutal, direct and efficient. To hell with “honour your aggressor”, the message of Krav is “if you can’t escape an opponent, hurt them until you can”.

I like Krav because, for skinny, non-fighters like me it’s a breath of fresh air after all those ponsey martial arts that promise to teach you how to do a complicated move that will gain you a belt for being able to demonstrate it but has as much use in real life as a condom in a nunnery.

But I digress.

Last week I received an email with an application form for the UK Channel 4 programme “SAS: WHO DARES WINS”. This is a show where about 40 guys are put through a condensed version of special forces training until only a handful remain. Series 3 had two guys win it and it looks to be a right sod from the start. I found out that I’m nearly 3 years over the maximum age limit so can’t apply (44 years 364 days by 25th September 2018, if you’d like to know). 

Once my disappointment abated I re-read the email and saw the following line:
“All roles in the military are now opening up to women. So for the FIRST TIME, SAS: Who Dares Wins will now be accepting applications from EVERYONE who meets the selection criteria”.

This was interesting because it is an ongoing debate that I have with people that women would need to have different roles in Special Forces than guys, mainly due to size and strength and stamina issues but also due to the training needing to deal with overriding the protective instinct that most men have towards women.

To elaborate.

When I was growing up, one of the few things that would make my father lose his shit was if I hit a girl. He was born 4 years prior to World War 2 and was “old school” in his view on who could hit who. Me and my brother both got severely told off and threatened with a smack on the ONE occasion that either of us ever hit a girl without provocation. He was also pragmatic though and pointed out that if a girl started the fight, then hitting back would be meaningless as most people would believe a girl over a boy. 

Years later when I attended university in the north of England in the early 90s, I remember the amount of times we would see a man and a woman we didn’t know arguing, and stand and watch them in case he hit her. On some occasions the woman would be slapping, punching and/ or kicking the guy and we would watch in case he hit her BACK. My mate was a cop and one time in a nightclub his missus went off on one and began slapping him repeatedly in the face in front of everyone. He didn’t retaliate but the bouncers came over, saw what was happening and then walked off again without intervening.

Another time I was waiting for a bus with a friend in Manchester and a couple began having a tiff. She slapped him repeatedly but all he did was restrain her by holding her wrists each time. A group of drunk, opinionated students then rounded the corner and took it upon themselves to assume that she was a victim of abuse. Me and my pal walked over to fill in the blanks and one woman had her arm around the (by now crying) female’s shoulders saying “Come over here with me love, you don’t have to let a man treat you like that”. At no point did the lady claim her boyf/ husband had hit her, she was too busy crying, but they took it as gospel that it had to have happened and ignored all attempts me and my mate made to convince them otherwise.

When I began Krav Maga in Rome in 2010 I was crap at fighting and the hang ups of youth still haunted me. During sparring I’d see guys tap female opponents on the top of the head with their gloves, as if the face was an area forbidden to anyone who wished to call himself a real man. I made a conscious decision to override my previous programming and not patronise a female opponent. I hit equally as hard to women as I did to guys (and remember I’m skinny so the effect wasn’t like The Viper vs. The Mountain from Game of Thrones). This still bugged me as potentially wrong and I could see my father over my shoulder saying “If you ever hit a girl I will hit you SO hard!” My fears were put to rest though, just before I left the club when one of the ladies in the class said to me “I like sparring with you because you don’t hold back, most guys do”.

All fine and dandy.

Then I got to the UK and my confidence increased and while I still had psychological hang ups about fighting I would try to give as good as I got within certain common sense parameters (e.g. you wouldn’t whale on a 17 year old P1). The whole point of sparring was to fight safely and at gradings Jon Bullock (head of KMG UK) would say “You fight to the level of your partner. If I see ANYONE hitting too hard I will fail them on the spot”. 

That lurking voice of my Dad slowly got fainter and fainter and then one day in sparring I was with a woman who had a reputation as a badass. I didn’t go harder on her than the guys in the class (after all, sparring’s not my forte) but I didn’t hold back either. Even though we were fully kitted up in helmets, chest plates, forearm & shin pads (and the requisite groin protection), she eventually dropped her guard, stood with her hands by her sides and said “Fucker! Stop it!” Confused, I spoke to the instructor briefly after who said it was possibly ego due to getting hit and I later saw her talking to him as well. The incident was never brought up again but I found out on the grapevine that she was none too impressed with how hard I’d hit her and a male friend of hers took it as an example of me being an arsehole. Someone who didn’t like fighting but would hit a woman.

And there lies the conundrum. By holding back (which I’ve seen a LOT of people do) a man is patronising a woman. By going EQUALLY as hard as he would on a guy of the same ability, he is potentially perceived as a dick.

I know women in the G levels of Krav who could kick my ass without a second thought. However I know others who I still feel uncomfortable fighting simply because they are women.

In SAS: Who Dares Wins series 3 they had the contestants fight each other. It was boxing only, with 16oz gloves, gum shields and head protection and the instructions “You will not guard, you will not retreat. You hit only to the head. You don’t stop until we tell you to”. Whoever volunteered first got to choose a partner and everyone tried to pick a bloke of the same-ish height and weight, or as close to it as possible. It will be interesting to see series 4 and if they retain this aspect of the show. Seeing men and women knocking 7 bells out of each other would be one indication that we are now accepting of an equality based on your willingness to do something, not on pre-conceived ideas about how people should behave.

In Rome there are gangs of gypsy girls that travel around the underground train network, stealing from tourists. The reason they are all little girls between the ages of about 10 and 13 is simple. Most people don’t like aggression. Most men don’t like hitting women and hardly ANYONE would ever consider hitting a child. The one time I saw them I told them to fuck off (in Italian) and the reaction was shock. They are employed by shrewd and cold people who know that 95% of the time no one will dare stand up to them, let alone touch them due to their status as both children and girls. A guy who caught one of them stealing his wallet, simply lifted her up by her collar and pulled the handle on the train. The cop who attended said “You can’t touch her and you can’t pull the handle for THAT!” Turned out the cop was lying as you CAN detain anyone you catch like this BUT it’s a nightmare of paperwork so the cops won’t usually touch it with a bargepole.

One thing that I have always found funny is when guys go too easy on a female opponent (and I don’t mean “fighting to the ability of your partner” but being a condescending shite) and then get their asses handed to them on a plate. Conversely, a friend of mine is ex army, a dad to two girls aged 16 and 8, and during his P3 grading was partnered with a woman who carried on punching him in the face after the examiners had called a halt. She was sitting on his chest at the time and, after the third time she punched him, he headbutted her in the face and busted her nose. He wasn’t judged for this as he was responding reasonably to excess and unjustified use of force but, when he told me this story, there was still that little voice in the back of my head going “He hit a girly. He’s horrid!”

During a pressure drill a few years back I had my eyes closed, felt the tap on my shoulder and when I opened my eyes saw a 15 year old female practitioner coming at me with a plastic knife. I swatted her hand away, moved off line in the appropriate body defence and then went to kick her in the groin…only to see she wasn’t wearing any protection. I managed to ease off the force of the kick but still made contact. After a very short pause I went “Are you OK?” She nodded. “Seriously, wear a sodding box. I need therapy now!” Being a man (and also a teacher, to kids her age) it was beyond traumatising for me to boot a teenage girl in the vagina. I would have felt guilty but LESS guilty had it been a 15 year old boy.  

So the Girly Conundrum is something that I find still exists in many aspects. Usually it’s the guy’s perceptions of what he thinks he should do that cause this. However, you can and do see women being aggressive as hell in YouTube videos and then acting like a frail, vulnerable female when a guy retaliates. My favourite example of this was Nicola Fischer who at riots in London a few years ago, assaulted a police officer by throwing liquid in his face (after being told twice to back off by said officer who she was screaming and yelling obscenities at). He hit her ONCE with his baton  on the leg after she assaulted him and she got £10,000 of Max Clifford for her ‘story’ where she was, in quiet, subdued tones, showing the cameras the nasty bruise on her leg where the nasty policeman had hit her. The icing on the cake was when she said “That policeman could have asked me politely to move, or even picked me up and moved me”. The cop was charged with assault but acquitted at trial. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that nobody would have cared if the person was called Nicholas Fischer.

As we move into an age where gender (or even transgender) integration is more and more the norm I’d like to feel comfortable when sparring with ANYBODY. And let’s not forget that embarrassment that arises when the warm up includes the “try and pinch the T-shirt” drill. I usually say “I’ll tap your shoulder” and do that unless given permission to go for the front. During GIC 2 in Melbourne, I was partnered with the one and only female candidate and had to hold her in a grip that required putting my hands over her chest. I adjusted my grip to avoid this and the examiner  saw this, came over and said “She needs to learn as well as you, hold her properly please”. After he’d gone again the woman assured me “You’re not holding my breasts, you’re above them, it’s OK”.

Nobody had ever told me to behave like this, and the higher you go in Krav the less of this type of reluctant, embarrassed faffing about you will witness. G level and E level Krav fighters know they have to play on an even field. However…there is a whole load of societal programming that leads me to feel uncomfortable in situations like this. The little voices telling me that hitting girlies is wrong or that a technique involving contact with breasts is best avoided. And let’s not forget the utter horror of the first time we kick a woman between the legs (even if she has a box on).

The Girly Conundrum. I intend to conquer this before my next grading. And I hope my partner is a woman.



Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Cycling Undies





As I’ve got older I’ve managed to pin down and identify many of the hang ups that existed in my life and sometimes even move past them. Most negative crap that we grow up with comes from incidents in childhood after all. Fighting, talking to girls, loneliness, fear of isolation & betrayal are all things that happened to me when I was little and I’ve more or less comes to terms with them and have now evolved past their control.

However….

Something I had always put down to a flinch response based on extensive bullying at school, turned out to be something very different. Far from being a psychological hang up my constant physical trepidation in nearly all situations stemmed from one thing.

The wrong underwear.

To elaborate….

Living on the coast of Rome (2 miles from Fiumicino airport in fact) I have found public transport to be a pain the arse so I invested in a bicycle. I cycle to and from work and on the weekends I can sometimes clock up 50 miles in a day. I approached a friend of mine for advice on how to keep healthy while biking and he listed the following things as essential.
1). Tubeless tyres.
2). A saddle with holes in it.
3). Padded cycling undies or cycling shorts.

I couldn’t afford the first two (the tyres mean that unless you cycle over a running chainsaw you won’t get a flat, the saddle means your arse and man bits get ventilated) and asked him if he really thought the shorts were necessary. After a pause he replied “Errr…how come you’re cycling 50-ish miles in a day and you don’t already know this?!”

I had noticed some discomfort with cycling but had adapted my micro postures in the seat to be as comfortable as possible. For some reason I never got saddle sore and never needed nappy cream after a long ride. My mate said “You’re telling me you’ve been cycling that far and you never considered this?”

So, I went up to the local Decathlon sports shop and spent €8.99 on a pair of cycling undies. After washing them and letting them dry (echoes of my grandmother warning me that “some dirty tramp might have had his tassle in that!” when the subject of second hand clothes came up) I put them on and went for a spin. 

Lo and behold. A much more comfortable and pleasant ride than ever before.

Reason?

I have very large testicles. I’m not boasting it’s just a fact.

The undies were so comfy that I wore them for the rest of the day and I realised about five hours in to having a foam lined crotch, that I was feeling a lot more secure and less vulnerable. On a sub conscious level I felt “safe”.

I realised today that the constant tentativeness I felt in daily life was through having to always be aware of not banging my junk on anything or sitting down and squashing one of my nuts. I had been this way for so long that I had ceased to think about it and it had become part of my muscle memory. Along with how to wash my hands, tie my shoelaces or even ride the bike. Things that we do without thinking because we’ve done them so often that they are just “stuff” we do. 

I never felt this way in Krav Maga training because, as anyone who’s trained more than once knows, the first time you get kicked in the bollocks/ fanny when you are unprotected is the very last time you forget your groin guard. My daily life however was full of “keeping safe” without even knowing I was doing it. Distance, positioning, even walking up a flight of stairs. Fact I was able to balance my balls on a mountain bike saddle for over 500 miles of riding without sustaining any type of injury or pain is truly a marvel.

I’ve also started becoming quite flexible through daily yoga and the revelation that my inability to kick high came from being tight in the legs was apparently obvious to everyone except me. 

Overall the simplest things are usually the ones that help us to see the flaws in life. By buying a pair of padded boxers for less than ten Euros I finally got not only a smoother and less stressful ride on my Leopard 500 but I also feel a lot more confident in public, solely due to having an adequately protected scrotum.

Sometimes what holds you back is right in you face.

Or not, in this case.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The CBT





In the UK, if you wish to ride a motorcycle, you must receive a day’s instruction with an approved school on the finer nuances of controlling a bike. This is NOT the test for the licence, no, no. This is training on how to learn.

To explain.

Years ago, those wanting to buzz around on a Yamaha would simply buy a 125cc model, bung L plates on it, strap on a helmet and off they went. Problem was that, without a rudimentary knowledge of how the bike worked, a lot of accidents (many fatal) occurred. 

So…to solve the issue of motorcyclist pizzas littering the highways of the country, the government introduced a thing called CBT or Compulsory Basic Training.

It’s a course of about 6 to 7 hours, with approved motorcycle instructors, learning how to brake, use the gears, apply the clutch and ride with a basic level of proficiency when on the roads. It reduces your chances of making stupid mistakes and teaches you the fundamental things and the more subtle ones such as a “lifesaver glance” or “counter steering”.

I did this course in August 2016 with a school based at a civilian airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon. The 60-something instructor named Bob was top notch, reassuring and friendly and took us through the day with basics, a theory test and finally a trip out with him to Stratford for a couple of hours. We had radios with earpieces and every so often you’d hear Bob say “Lance, turn your indicator off” or “Gerry, move away from the white lines please”.

Despite having what are known as Grandfather Rights on my car licence, meaning I can drive a bike up to 50cc without CBT or a test AND I can drive a shit load of vehicles that you now have to be tested separately for, I thought the day’s training was fully worthwhile and took away a LOT of my nervousness about using a motorbike when I went backpacking a short time later.

The certificate is valid for 2 years, meaning that in August of this year I will need to retest if I want to ride a bike again. But…and this is the crucial point once more. This only allows me to ride with Learner plates on the machine. I would still need to, at some point within the 2 year window, take both a theory test and a practical one, to prove that I am road worthy and competent using motorcycles from 125 to 600+ cc.

Only then would I be granted the coveted ‘A’ licence for a motorcycle, meaning I could ride Harley’s, Honda’s, and Yamaha’s to my heart’s content.

Which brings me to…

I haven’t touched any training with KMG since I failed the final test for the General Instructors’s Course last July in Melbourne. This isn’t out of a desire to sulk or say “fuck you”, but only down to the fact that I live 16 miles from the nearest club, in an area with limited public transport and I only have a bicycle to get around on. I still fully intend to graduate and gain the black, instructor’s T-shirt but for the time being I am not involved in that world. It’s been recommended to me by a national KMG chief instructor that I repeat at least part 2 (or 2 and 3 depending on location) again before retrying for the final assessment, even though the form I signed after failing had “no retest or resit required” which meant that I had, in theory, only to retake my G1 grading again. Skill fade will be a serious issue, especially with 9 months living a life bereft of Krav. The only way I can train is to watch the videos of P1 to G1 techniques with Eyal Yanilov that break down the various moves required for the techniques. This will give me some knowledge as a foundation for when I go back. It does not however help my teaching skills (but I’m an English teacher as a main job so my daily work will help with that). I recently asked an E5 level instructor what he thought about me using the videos as a basic tool to try and keep my skills fresh. He replied that while it would help, it wouldn’t be enough and I needed to get back into training before trying for the GIC again

What I realised after this conversation is that at this level (wannabe instructor) I need to not only learn, but have a basic knowledge to enable me to learn, a CBT of Krav Maga to build upon. It won’t be enough to learn how to perform a forwards roll or a overhead stick defence, I will also have to be able to teach those moves. The CBT would be watching the videos and copying them so that, when I finally return for the 12 days of GIC 2, I will be able to build upon what I know, and be able to break them down so I can instruct others on how to do them.

CBT for motorcyclists was designed to give a basic proficiency so that the core skills could then flourish under a learning process. The same thing exists with Krav Maga. I want, very much, to become in instructor but I need to keep a foundation at all times of the rudimentary knowledge so that I can come back and learn again on the higher aspects. 

Learning how to learn. Or in this case, learning to learn to teach.