Sunday, 15 November 2015

The No Ledge

Not entirely about Krav Maga and was originally on my other blog LANCE COWBOY but has relevance with regard to Krav, common sense and situational awareness.

WARNING: Contains words ruder than "groin".


Recently some rather effective yet wonderfully simple postings have appeared on social media demonstrating what sexual consent actually means. One or two go further still and demonstrate what rape actually is.

Twist is that they don't feature any mention of sex or violence but instead focus on everyday events that we might get involved with. The most popular involves offering someone a cup of tea and the various ways that scenario could end up, with a simple "yes", a definite "no" and people changing their minds once the tea has been made.

As effective as these ads actually are, one thing they don't address is the subject of common sense in the face of peril.

I went to sixth form college and later university in the late 80s and early 90s. In this era you had angry young men and wofems who wanted to put the world to rights. Armed with their A Level + educations, grasp of advanced vocabulary and size 6 Doctor Marten boots, they stormed the corridors of students' unions across the UK eradicating misogyny. Gone would be the concept of a woman "asking for it". Forever consigned to the patriarchal pile of garbage would be the idea that a woman who was raped or sexually attacked had somehow misled, enticed or seduced her rapist. A disgusting trait in previous decades was the ability of defence counsel in cases of both rape and child sexual abuse, to accuse a victim via cross examination of having somehow consented to what happened. Bad enough for a woman over 18. Horrendous for a child.

So...the laws adapted and changed, and the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer pushed forward ideas that were picked up on and had a huge effect on society. Two books popular in the 1970s were The Female Eunuch by Greer and The Women's Room by Marilyn French. My own mother read the Women's Room and didn't speak to my father for a week. Not that he was a bad husband, was sexist or mistreated her but because he was a man and this book had opened her eyes to the atrocities committed by menkind over endless aeons.

Kind of pathetic really.

Over years the rights of women slowly realigned to match those of men. From the suffragette movement to the rise of radical feminism all the way through to a woman trying to sue a pub for sexual discrimination because the barman said a Yorkie bar "isn't for girls"...everything tried to take on an even keel and become fairer.

Most important on this list of changes to the world of the communal sauna, was the concept of consent. When I was at Uni a lad I knew pulled and took home a female Physics student wearing a "No Means No" T-shirt. He was a hero for about a week for what we perceived was the equivalent of trying to shag a porcupine that had dipped its quills in cobra venom.

No most definitely did mean NO. None of that sexist "no means maybe" crap. No blaming of clothing (or lack of). Everything was now down to the man. He had to make certain that he received a "Yes", preferably in the presence of the woman's lawyer with the Pope and the Dalai Lama as witnesses. A "No" was to be obeyed and never ignored. The "No" was the 11th commandment that Moses had brought down from Mount Ararat and accidentally dropped before he got to the people. No meant not only "no" but also "I'll cut your fucking dick off".

This is in itself a great idea. However, it needs backing up with a little thing called Common Sense, a small portion of Awareness of Environment and last of all a helping of Perspective.

An example I can give from personal experience is the night on holiday in Greece when I got off with an attractive blonde French woman in a taverna. We were both drunk and snogging passionately at the bar. I also got my hand up her tight fitting, little black dress and had a good old fiddle (something I wouldn't have done sober and an event which apparently traumatised a friend of mine, who was there at the time, so much that he went home. (Quote: "Right in front everyone, she even had her leg up on the bar to make it easier for you!!!!") We walked home and had a repeat performance on the bridge near our respective hotels. She then decided she wanted to call it a night and go home...alone. I tried to persuade her but ultimately accepted that she'd changed her mind and mooched off back to my digs, with a huge erection and the utterance of "SHIT!!!" the only epitaph to my unrequited lust. Back of my mind for the next couple of days was the paranoia that I'd done something to piss her off, that I was too drunk and that maybe she thought I was a minger. I saw her again a week later and asked her why. She said that she'd taken it as far as she wanted to and that was enough.

Great. My adherence to my education in the rights of consent had meant that while I went home a little insecure and horny, she went home safely having decided where the line was drawn. We are still pals to this day and I saw her again this summer and we did a road trip with another friend (the guy who was traumatised by our performance in the taverna). We laugh and joke about the whole thing now and it's simply another story to tell when we get together.

However....both the witness who went home traumatised AND a couple of her female friends have told her that what she did that night was naive and somewhat stupid. Looking at it objectively she kissed a guy she'd only met an hour before and let him grope her in public. She then walked home alone with him down dark, badly paved lanes (the place we were in regards street lighting as an optional extra) where she repeated the kissing and groping. She THEN decided she'd had enough, turned her back on the guy and walked away.

Now I was simply disappointed and needed to go home and knock one out. However, while focussing on "what consent really is" the current system doesn't try to stress the importance of taking care of yourself. You will hear many tales from the police, warning people of going to certain areas or avoiding parks at night. But you WON'T hear stories of caution that advise against wearing a short skirt and no knickers while out clubbing and then getting off with someone who you decide you only want to kiss. This would send the Angry Young Wofems into paroxysms of rage, as it would appear to suggest that it was somehow the lady's fault if the bloke went too far.

I have every right to walk unmolested down any street or through any park in the UK at ANY time of night without being attacked or abused. Reality is that there are some places you simply don't go to as not even cops will attend calls there unless they are double crewed and at least one has a stun gun. A story that always makes me smile was of a black belt in Karate who walked through a notoriously violent park one night, believing that his badassery in martial arts would protect him like Captain America's shield. Within 5 minutes he got stabbed with a syringe full of blood by a mugger. His right to walk through that park and his right to feel safe. Common sense would be to walk the long way round and avoid the park completely. It wasn't his fault that the horrible cunt stabbed him, it was the horrible cunt's fault. But this could all have been avoided if he hadn't decided to do something he could have just avoided.

But I digress...

Not all people are "nice". Not all people have seen videos talking about how consent is like a cup of tea. Fewer still have had formal education in what amounts to withdrawal of consent. Focussing only on what consent is and isn't while removing all responsibility for placing yourself in potential danger in the first place is cretinous. Any man (or woman) determined to get what they want, will regard a partner crossing certain lines as consent in itself. Then through lust, malice, misinterpretation or simply not giving a shit, the situation gets bad. Fact the assailant may later face criminal sanctions won't help matters if a rape occurred

Something I saw recently that made me angry was "Rape Proof Underwear". This innovative breakthrough from a clueless bint across the pond, assures wearers that the knickers CANNOT be cut off or removed without the co-operation of the wearer. Line that had me spraying coffee and biscuits over the laptop monitor was "Ideal for a first date." Err...if you even THOUGHT about wearing that to a date, maybe the dude isn't boyfriend material?!! This ridiculous idea also fails to take into consideration that rapes are rarely due to sex alone. A woman wearing penis proof panties would be unlikely to put herself willingly in a situation where a bloke would get to see them. This suggests that they are great only for rohypnol or an unexpected assault. Doesn't take into account the violence that would possibly be inflicted by a). A would-be rapist who decided to just beat up the woman now he can't fuck her or b). The damage to flesh that would occur by someone trying to cut or even forcibly remove the Anne Summers equivalent of a panic room.

In the Israeli self defence system (NOT a martial art) of Krav Maga the instructors will ALWAYS tell you that the safest option in ANY confrontation is to either avoid it completely or walk/ run away. One thing that resonated was when my instructor said: "You can't win against a knife. If they want your money, your watch, your car keys then give them over. If they want more than that, then these skills may help you."

So Krav Maga doesn't say "Go out and kick some ass, you are now free to roam around doing knife, stick and gun disarms to your heart's content (and don't forget the groin strike)"...what Krav is is a pragmatic form of self defence that teaches common sense and leaving your ego by the door.

What I would like to see is both "This Is Consent" training and also a dosage of "This Is Potentially Unsafe" to back it up. A 15 year old making out with his or her boyfriend? You don't want to go all the way, then be aware of what situations may make it difficult for you to back up a "no" with something other than saying "no" again. A woman walking home alone with a guy she's just met, snogging passionately and a bit of downstairs insideys? Don't veer more than 20 yards off a populated area where there are people. Think a threesome is good fun? Great, make certain you absolutely trust the other two people involved.

A former girfriend got into bed with me after the second date and while "stuff happened" I didn't even attempt to have full sex with her as she'd already told me earlier that evening that she didn't want to go all the way. I thought nothing of this until days later when she said, "I don't think you know how much that meant to me. You didn't try just because I'd said no. Had you fucked me I wouldn't have regarded it as rape because I had put myself in that position with you." I replied that while I'd wanted to, her expressed intention to NOT fuck me meant that I felt obliged to respect what she'd said. I also added that it was fairly eye opening that she regarded it as 100% her own responsibility for being naked in bed with me while making out.

Bad people roam the Earth as do good people. The rules and lessons on consent apply the same way laws do. An armed robber doesn't think about getting caught as he or she is focussing solely on getting the job done. A distraction burglar targeting vulnerable, old people doesn't care that they are wrecking lives and stealing items of priceless sentimental value, they only think about the haul. Yet in these cases a bank will install security measures and train staff on how to react should such an event occur. Police constantly tell the elderly to secure their valuables and keep a chain on the door.

Now maybe we can see something along the lines of, "This is consent....but this, this and THIS are where it may be difficult for you to withdraw or deny consent."

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Kraving

While recovering from my knee operation I have spent a great deal of time laying on the sofa catching up on TV shows like Gotham and Burn Notice. I've also read a few books and managed to tidy up the flat. Hell, if really bored I might even wrap my protesting, spitting cat up in a towel and clip her claws. I managed to get the final, final draft of my latest book WALK IN PIECES: Diary of a KravMaga Practitioner done and dusted and published for all to buy as a Xmas gift. my fitness levels slide and my belly starts to push against my belt like the last person trying to get on to the rush hour Tube train....I miss Krav Maga training and the feeling of, as my normally wankish Headmaster used to put it, getting "out of breath".

It's only when something's gone that you realise what you had. This sounds cheesy but the problem is that you need a new perspective in order to look back and go "hmm, yeah, I deffo miss that!"

Training that is as cardio based as Krav Maga (twenty minutes warm up...MINIMUM including a shit load of stretching) will push fitness levels to their best limits and something I miss above all else is feeling that I always had energy, even when I didn't.

Getting up in the morning to a job I didn't like very much I would nevertheless rise about 90 minutes before work started, have a leisurely breakfast and catch up on some news, my emails or Facebook. I'd get to work with time to spare (only a few minutes mind) and have enough energy to face something I did only to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Now that I'm signed off sick, I feel sluggish and despondent until about 10am when I reluctantly heave my carcass off the mattress and downstairs for a cup of coffee and a wash. It can take my brain up to half an hour to get going, like a grizzly coming out of hibernation. I force myself out for a walk with my knee wrapped up in a sports brace and hobble around town, feeling like Victor Meldrew at every red light or queue I come across.

No longer do I come home like I did after Krav, with my T-shirt stuck to my back, my face beetroot red and craving the biggest pepperoni pizza on Domino's menu. Now I come home feeling like I could possibly be doing more. Then I turn a little too quickly or catch my foot on something...and that twinge of newly stitched flesh kicks in and the swearing starts. In front of the TV I once again find myself, with the "other" knee brace fresh out the fridge. This one's full of water and gently soothes my aching and irritating knee from the new ACL and where they scraped out the gristle to make up for 14 years of grinding bone on bone.

Last week I spoke to the consultant surgeon, the very chap who had in fact drilled holes in my knee and repaired what was wrong in there. We'd met once before but as I was spark out on an operating table I have no memory of this encounter. He specifically told me that it will be next Spring before I can train again and October 2016 before I can grade. A woman in my club has just taken P3 and I had joked with her that maybe we'll be partners when I retest for P5.

She was P1 when I was P4.

Looks like that's one time I tempted fate when I shouldn't have.

So as my days stretch into weeks and slowly, ever so slowly into months and I keep to my convalescent plan and try to avoid getting a gut so large that it restricts a vertical view of my toes...I miss training at Krav Maga and I miss helping out with the kiddy Krav class on Mondays with Russell's JSKM.

I need to be patient and wait this out. Going back early would possibly fuck my knee up for the rest of my life. Once fully fit I can jump into my groin guard and pound the floor with the rest. For now, I just need to catch up on seasons 1 to 5 of The Walking Dead and maybe buy some more coffee beans.

The Kraving can be tolerated, but it's always gonna be there. Until I go back.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

KMM Pre-grading & Grading- P1 to P5

26th September and 3rd October 2015
Stratford upon Avon High School, UK

In the build up to the latest set of gradings KMM ran our usual pre-grading seminar. All the sweat and joy of a real grading and the Krav equivalent of a dress rehearsal. Instructors Al Natrins (G2) and Russell Brotherston (G5) who also work with kids at Junior Safe Krav Maga, had organised the whole thing, with Al leading the seminar on the day.

For the first time there was to be a grading in our neck of the woods. Usually the gradings are held down south (Bristol and London) and one in Cumbria. After double bookings at a grading in Birmingham in 2013 on two separate occasions, KMG UK had not used the venue again. Bartosz, the chief instructor of KMM had arranged for it in Stratford upon Avon, at our usual training ground at the High school. Good news for most of us that wanted to grade. Well, except me who was walking on crutches after a operation to repair the ACL in my left knee. Determined to remain 'in the spirit of things' I arranged to write this review of both events which would also enable me to get some intel on training and watch my peers grade for P5 on the big day.

At the pre grading was a familiar face. Peter Santha had trained at Leamington Spa with me about two years ago but I hadn't seen him in ages. He had now rejoined the Worcester branch with Al, and was training for P1. He said "I'm feeling good, pretty excited. I'm hopeful for the day itself."

I also spoke to Karl Dann who trains at Coventry and was prepping for P2. He told me "Looking forward to it. Been doing it for nine months, twice a week so yeah."

The seminar started with the usual warm ups and then the students split off into their relevant levels. As always, the main bunch were going for P1 and Darren Patrick from Leamington was the only P5 candidate in the room. Normally the P1 gradings are held in house and separately to the P2 to P5 exams. This time however, the venue was KMM's own, so the events were able to be run simultaneously.

As the students got stuck into their various drills and techniques, it was clear that some were nervous and most were determined to get it right. Al was walking round with a clipboard marking notes and giving feedback. Due to being on crutches I couldn't get too "up close and personal" so sat at the side watching. It was inspiring to see the level of effort people were giving and later on during a quick water break, I spoke to Al directly.

"It's going well so far. Everyone's looking at the level they should be, with some corrections here and there. For next week, people can judge you kindly or not so kindly. We shall see."

Grading Day

Felt a bit sheepish as I arrived at Stratford High School at 9.30am to find no one even remotely Kravvy there. Once I burned all my paranoid delusions over why (prime theory being that they had told ME it was here, and told everyone else the real venue) I rang Russell. Turned out the grading was midday and I'd got it wrong. Oops! Nipped home for a cup of coffee and then came back, reassured by the sight of Bartosz's KMM van parked right outside the training hall.

Most of the guys stood at the sides of the hall were from Krav Maga Midlands but there were a few others dotted about from other clubs including Total Krav Maga and Krav Maga South Wales. Everyone seemed nervous and I managed to grab a few words. P3 candidate Ewa seemed composed and calm and said to me "I'm feeling realistic. I know what I'm capable of and I'm going to give it my best".

Her club mate Goz said, "Ready to switch the aggression mode on. I give it everything I've got. I'm with Ewa who's my grading partner extraordinaire, so we'll help each other and do what we can."

Rich Coulthard from Krav Maga South Wales was there for P3 and said "I'm a bit nervous with the adrenaline, just want to get on with it. Feel confident with the instruction I've had but always a few nerves before you start." 

There was also Edmund Sobszak in the hall, a G3 instructor from Nick Maison's Total Krav Maga, there for his own students going for P4.

Text messages were coming in from people who hadn't got to the venue yet. There had been a bad accident on one of the major arterial roads leading into Stratford and a few candidates were stuck. Fortunately, whatever it was was cleared quite quickly as the students arrived flustered but only slightly later than the scheduled start time and we had yet to get things moving.

Once Jon Bullock, the head of Krav Maga Global UK and Alan Dennis an E1 instructor arrived, the students began to register. As they queued up I spoke to Rhiannon Williams, a P1 student from the Worcester club who was there with her friend Ellen Vogel to offer support to their club mates. They trained with Al Natrins who had also come to fly the flag. She said "It's going to be quite interesting I think. It's going to be good to actually see it happen, the P1. Last time we graded in July we were in the thick of it so it will be good to see the P1 and also what the P2 will be like."

Ellen said "Be good to get an outsider's perspective and see what's coming up in the gradings."

Once everyone had registered they sat in a huddle in front of the examiners. Jon Bullock addressed them and asked who was nervous. After establishing that ALL were nervous and getting a ripple of laughter, he established a few truths about the grading. He asked if Krav Maga was the ultimate system and after a pause added "No, of course not. Does it give you a fighting chance? Yes." He then said something that I could personally relate to, having failed P5 last March. "The higher people go the more they focus on stuff only from their own level. By P5 you're out of luck if that's what you do."

He went on to say that the primary concern in the grading was to keep your partner safe and that if he saw anyone going too hard during the sparring he would fail them on the spot. The secondary concern was to pass the exam. Bartosz then repeated that the most important thing was not to injure each other and then the warm up began. After getting everyone good and sweaty they split into their various levels with P1 at the far end and 2 to 5 at the other. There were only three candidates for P5, all KMM students with four going for P4, two from Total Krav Maga. Once everyone was lined up Bartosz reminded the P1s to keep the positions they were in now as they needed to remember where they were standing as they marked the score sheets. On bigger gradings your place will be noted with number that you are issued with that you pin to the back of your T-shirt. On smaller gradings they rely on numbers and A and B (sometimes C if there's a group of 3).

People got stuck in pretty quickly and as the day progressed you could see the guts and determination on everyone's faces. P1 by its nature is not the gruel fest that P4 and 5 are, but the students were still giving it 100%. As I moved up the lines it was fascinating to see all the levels like this, something I'd glimpsed briefly at the P&G weekend last December but not with such an uninterrupted view. There's a certain change in facial expression that you can see as you move from P1 to P5. The determination and grit are always there but when you reach the summit of the practitioner grades, you have a certain steel in your eyes because you know JUST how hard your grading is going to be.

P1 were being overseen by Russell and Bartosz while P2 and P3 had Alan Dennis. Alan called them into a huddle on a few occasions and explained what was lacking in a technique that he felt needed correction. Jon Bullock had the P4s and 5s and all seemed to be giving it a good show, despite the obvious tiredness that was creeping up on them like vapour on a bathroom mirror.

Me, Ellen and Rhiannon stepped out for coffees and when we got back the P1s and 2s were setting out mats for forwards and backwards rolls. This has always been a bone of contention for me as it took me a while to crack them properly. By the time of P4 you are required to learn "forwards to backwards" which sounds OK until you find out you can't stop or stand up between them. Thankfully, all the candidates had the rolls more or less down properly. An addition thrown in by Alan Dennis on P2 had the students rolling, then being immediately attacked by whoever was behind them. This was a novel twist as it meant you had to keep sharp and act on instinct for the most part.

Finally the P2s and 3s finished and shortly after the P1s made their way to the side. All were sweating and red faced but looking like they'd enjoyed it. I spoke to Dan Robinson from KMM who'd just completed P2. He said "I'm feeling strong but it was very tough, we'll see how I get on".

I spoke again to Ewa who said "I'm absolutely and utterly shattered. Should be OK. Never say never".

Goz wearily told me, "I feel exhausted, challenged mentally. To be honest I'm not at all very confident at this moment but what will be will be".

While Ps 1 to 3 took a well deserved rest and had something to eat and drink, the P4s and 5s were gearing up for the sparring. Having lost a piece of a tooth on my P4 grading and about two litres of sweat on the P5 one, I was well aware of what the guys were about to face. Alan Dennis oversaw them and as there was an odd number he had them in pairs fighting, with a 'rogue element' roaming the floor and randomly picking on one person in an existing couple. Whoever they attacked would then have to break off and become the new rogue element. They went at it for about six rounds before Alan called them to a huddle, briefed them on what they'd seen and then said. "You all OK? Good, because you've got one more round to go". They went at it again, everyone giving it their full commitment and then had to face the joys of two against one. The whole point of this is to see if you can remain focussed despite the utter exhaustion you are experiencing. Adrenaline and pride were the only things that kept me going last time in March and it was clear just how much some of the fighters were now hurting as they drew up reserves of energy to finish what they'd started.

Finally the fighting was done but the grading wasn't over. Alan got them all into push up position and after conferring with Jon Bullock they got the P4s to do forty push up while P5 had the added bonus of going up to 50. They moved on to burpies and sit ups before finally the end was in sight and they finished.

After a quick wipe down and gulping some water the students split back up into their requisite grades and sat on the floor around the examiners who'd tested them. Bartosz and Russell got down and demonstrated a few techniques that people had found hard and as I moved further up the hall, Alan and Jon were doing the same. Jon used Al Natrins as a partner to demonstrate what he thought needed work while telling the students their grades. Most had passed but not all and Jon gave constructive feedback to those who hadn't made it. I was surprised when he said "If you tell me now that you disagree with me and that you believe you've done enough to pass then I will sign your certificate and give you your patch but do you want that?" The offer was declined and it made it clear that commitment is one thing but an open mind and an acceptance of criticism are also fundamental. I can't deny that I'd have been tempted to take the offer but ultimately, as Jon said to my grading group way back when I took P3, "From this point it's no longer about collecting patches."

As people moved back to get a fresh T-shirt or chat to family and friends things began to wind down. Everyone lined up for a final photo and the awarding of certificates while the steam slowly evaporated from the sports hall windows.

Once again a fantastic day, bonus for me being that I got to see it from the point of view of a spectator to get some hints for March 2016 when I'm fit to grade once more.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Junior Safe Krav Maga (JSKM) Grading

27th September 2015 
Stratford upon Avon High School, UK

I help out at JSKM on Mondays with Russell and it's always loads of fun. An hour or so, playing games and teaching little kids from ages 5 to 10 the finer points of how to avoid being grabbed, hit or picked up along with striking work. Great for me and great for them.

The kids had wanted to have a grading for quite a while and Russell agreed a couple of month ago that it would go ahead in late September, getting the holidays out the way and meaning as many children as wanted to could attend. Last year there were about 10 students but with the class numbers having risen considerably (with classes in Leamington, Stratford and now Redditch) it was clear that attendance would be high.

I had a knee operation in early September meaning I would be out of all sports related activities for at least four months. Annoyed at being unable to attend to help out with the actual grading, it was good to be healed up enough so I could watch and support the students, especially the ones I teach in Leamington with Russ.

The grading was 10am to 3pm and when I got there at about quarter to ten, the sports hall was busy with parents and little kids milling about. Russell and newly qualified Kids Insructor Al Natrins were there and organising everything. Helping out were my equivalents from Stratford and Redditch, Graham Matthews and Jason Tipping, along with Russell's girlfriend Jane Bracey. The children looked hyper keen, running around and climbing on the wall bars. I saw quite a few familiar faces plus a few more I hadn't seen before as they attended one of the other two venues for training.

At 10am Russell and the others got the children into a big group and explained how the day was going to unfold. There were three levels. Young, Junior and Teen with the teenagers off to one side and the main group of students on the mats in the middle of the room. Russell and Al would be assessing and grading them with Graham, Jason and Jane helping out. Once the initial 'Kida!' was out the way they got warmed up with some games. The instructors were chasing them round the mats with foam covered mallets or 'boppers' and the kids had to avoid them. Once they were good and sweaty, they moved on to specific techniques and were kicking and punching the strike shields with gleeful abandon. Most were clearly having the time of their lives, working hard while grinning from ear to ear. I chatted to Tanith and Dave Swain whose daughter Evie was up for her second JSKM grading, having achieved the grade of Young 1 at last year's event. They said she'd been super excited about the whole thing and we could see her getting stuck in to the techniques she was required to demonstrate. 

The Teens groups had just three students, one of which is Graham Matthews' daughter. The difference between them and the other kids was very clear. They were just a couple of notches below adult Krav Maga in terms of what they were required to do. Proper kicking and punching drills were being performed and assessed and Russell turned up in protective gear at one point as a 'sparring' partner. He said that they were to hit two focus mitts that he was holding, in a two minute pressure drill BUT if they dropped their guard at any point he would try to strike them in the head with one of his hands. They also had to perform other pressure drills involving kicking & punching strike shields plus being on the ground and trying to stand up while the others attempted to prevent them doing so.

As time moved on the students were getting tired. Having graded myself, I know how gruelling these things can be and the fact that it was not as intense as a 'grown up' exam did not make it any less daunting for the kids. After another five minute break the children moved on to forward rolls onto crash mats (and going over a crouching instructor) and then into the final pressure drill. The children got around a crash mat each and three other students held strike shields. They then had two minutes to punch and kick the shields. The twist was that behind them was one of the instructors wearing a helmet and groin guard who would occasionally try and pick them up or grab them. The child was required to kick out and struggle to get free, then carry on hitting and kicking the shields until their time was up.

The little girl from this story was initially involved in the drill, holding pads for the others but got scared very quickly. She had already sat out the 'boppers' warm up at the beginning and was adamant she didn't want to have a go when it came to her turn. I work with her on the Monday classes in Leamington Spa and know just how easily she can become scared. Me and Al Natrins had a little chat with her and eventually persuaded her to join in with me and her mother holding the pads. She really tried hard and me and her mum were very proud that she finished the whole thing.

Finally it was over and the kids ran to their parents for some snacks and a drink while Russell and Al compared notes. All the kids looked tired but happy and were nervously waiting for the awards to be given out. After a short time Russell called them into the middle and got them to line up according to level. One thing I picked up on was the pride in the faces of the three students in the Teens level. They were allowed to stand while the others knelt and were clearly very proud to be achieving what was effectively only one step down from an adult Krav grade. I remember how this felt as a child, to be privileged enough to be considered a senior member of an organisation, both at school and in the Cubs and Scouts and I hope these kids go on to have a lot of success in Krav Maga in later life.

The awards were read out, with Young going up first. Russell gave the certificates while Al handed them the patches and gave the students a high five (in 'adult' Krav gradings, we shake hands). All the kids looked super pleased and finally a photo was taken before the babble of voices could be heard as coats were pulled on and little voices could be heard, excitedly telling their parents everything they'd just done.

A little 6 year old lad from the Leamington class ran up to me beaming, with his patch and certificate to ask "Can I 'ave my picture taken wiv you?" Very touched by the gesture I got a few photos with him and also some of the other students before we all headed off home.

Very enjoyable to see just how much fun these kids had and how a grading that last year had only 10 participants had now jumped to over 20. Every child should learn self defence and Krav Maga offers common sense tactics and approaches to the real world we face every day.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

For Once It Went Right

A story to warm the cockles of your heart. Told to me by my friend yesterday about her 12 year old  nephew Alan.

Alan was on his way to school with a mate when he stopped to wait for another friend. A group of 14 year old boys from their school then stopped in front of them and one said to Alan "What the fuck are you looking at?"

Alan replied "I'm not looking at you mate, I'm just waiting for my friend."

The lad again demanded to know "What the fuck" Alan was looking at while his own mates were loudly encouraging him to punch Alan....which he did.

Instead of hitting back, Alan simply held up his hands, palms out in a placating gesure and said "Look mate, I'm not going to fight you I'm just waiting for my mate."

The lad punched him again and this time Alan said "I warn you, I do kickboxing, if you hit me again I'll hit you back."

The boy hit Alan a third time and Alan responded with one punch which broke the other boy's jaw.

Alan's mother got a phone call from the school, demanding that she come in immediately. When she arrived the bully's mother was already there and began screaming at her, saying she was going to get Alan arrested for 'beating up' her son and how Alan was an 'animal'.

After speaking to both Alan and a teacher, his mother got a full picture of what had happened. Reemerging she was met with the same screeching woman and shut her up by shouting back "HE LEARNED KICKBOXING FROM ME. IF YOU DON'T SHUT UP I'LL MAKE YOU SHUT UP!" 

After some semblance of calm was achieved, the lad was found to be falsely claiming that Alan had attacked him in an unprovoked assault and had his mates backing him up. Alan's mother then pointed out the black eye and other bruises on Alan's face and questioned how he could have 'beaten up' the other lad if, as all witnesses said, he'd only thrown one punch.

The school wanted to put Alan in detention for 2 weeks but his mother denied it, saying the other boy was two years older; that Alan had only hit him once; and that as it had happened outside of school it was technically a matter for the police who she would go to if they didn't drop it. To ensure he wasn't put in detention she also collected him from school every afternoon.

Eventually, after looking into the matter properly the school found that the other lad had indeed started it and suspended him for 2 weeks. To really sweeten the deal, they waited until he'd got discharged from hospital and THEN activated the suspension meaning it couldn't run concurrently.

Go Alan.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Coby Persin Reprints The Death Card

Or: How a 21 year old Internet prankster achieved in a 6 minute You Tube video what the police, social services and schools haven't been able to do in decades.

Yesterday I saw this video.

In it a young man named Coby Persin, who up until that point I had never heard of, sets himself up as an Internet predator. He created a false Facebook account and pretended to be a 15 year old boy named Jason. He used false photos and contacted young girls and after a few days of text based conversations (and in one case a phone call) he arranged to meet them privately. The first girl in a park. The second at her house. The third in his car. Twist was however...that the girls' parents were with him when he met them. Each and every parent was furious and upset with their daughters. Initially scoffing at the idea that their kids would fall for Coby's false persona, their fear and fury at what could have happened is evident when the bemused little girls,(the youngest 12, the oldest 14) are on the receiving end of verbal lashings from mum and dad, who are in complete and utter disbelief at what they'd just witnessed, I.e. Their kids trusting 100% in a "boy" they'd never met to the point where they would go and meet him behind the backs of their protectors. To make matters worse, the video makes it crystal clear that each of the girls knew it was wrong. The first waits until her dad leaves the house. The second until she believes her father is sleeping and the third until her parents are supposedly out on a "date night".

I was born in 1970. Back then we had badass TV commercials about not going off with strangers. About not throwing fireworks. About not playing with matches. And about looking both ways before crossing the road. These ads were unsettling, unpleasant and tapped into a very primal childhood fear of death. Their fundamental message was "Do this horrible thing and you will die. Or if you don't die you'll never see your Mummy and Daddy again." The commercials pulled no punches and were the TV equivalent of my headmistress at Primary school. Pragmatic, focussed, direct and straight talking (and she was a nun).
Charlie the cat would meow his way through infomercials about not going off with men you didn't know (personally I never saw the attraction of puppies so that one wouldn't have worked anyway but I got the point).

Tufty and later the Green Cross Code Man (played by Darth Vader no less) would instruct us on how to cross the road. Simultaneously, other ads would show the unspeakable misery of losing a loved one to a car accident. Not to mention little kids running out from behind ice cream vans without looking where they were going.

The scariest one I ever saw kept me awake for 3 nights to the point where my exasperated mother shouted "THAT'S IT! YOU'RE NOT WATCHING ANY MORE TELLY AGAIN EVER!!!" every time I ran down the stairs after bed time in tears in my Noddy pyjamas, screaming with fear. It was called 'The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water' and in it a hooded and robed figure watches impassively as children stupidly playing near water too dangerous to swim in, fell in and drowned. The voice was done by legendary horror actor Donald Pleasance and as I lay belly down on the floor, my face two feet from the TV, I turned to my father and with wide eyes asked "Daddy, who's that man?" Ever the realist my father looked up from his newspaper and cheerfully replied, "Oh, that's the children drowner".

Thing is...I NEVER went near anything other than a swimming pool without adult supervision again until I was about 12 or 13.

TV for children was a riot in the 1970s. My favouritest telly show was the anarchic and wonderful Tiswas, every Saturday morning from 10 o'clock we would be entertained by a very young Chris Tarrant, Sally James and Lenny Henry (not forgetting Spit the Dog). The Phantom Flan Flinger would pie his way through the studio guests (sometimes with his wife Flandarella) and the whole thing was laughter and fun.

However...every time Guy Fawkes night rolled by on November 5th, Tiswas's presenters would temporarily switch from their tomfoolery and become stone faced, warning all us kids of the perils of throwing bangers, returning to a Catherine Wheel once lit and above all not picking up a sparkler by the wrong end.

Construction sites and farms were amusement parks for adventurous kids. If you ever had the misfortune to attend a school showing of Apaches, you NEVER horsed around on a farm again (as far as I know this is the only film to feature the on screen drowning of a small a vat of pig manure).

At school we would be read stories that focussed on the fun and magical elements of life. We would sit cross legged on the floor while the teacher read us a story before final prayers and Home Time. And every now and then we'd get one that scared us into not doing something. I still vividly recall the weeping kittens from The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches, who cried just a little too late to save Harriet from burning to death after she played with fire. I was 6 when Mrs Clayton read F2 that one.

Lectures from our parents would focus on the dire, dire consequences of going off with people we didn't know, or alternatively of simply ignoring what they told us to do. My mother's favourite story to get my to finish my Cornflakes was of a little boy who didn't eat his breakfast, went out in the snow....and died.

Over the years and decades, we have lost this mentality. Showing children the Death Card is now deemed to be excessive, traumatising and even bullying.

Which brings me back to Coby Persin.

In an era where we are meant to "reason with and educate" our children into following rules that will keep them alive, no one believes that, with the right amount of patient understanding and reasoning, their little Jonathan or Julia will ever do something stupid (unless of course they are led astray by someone else's brats). In an age of mass communication and instant access to knowledge, people want to think that everything is just hunky dory.

I'm an assistant instructor at a junior Krav Maga class for little children. They are aged between 5 and 11 and we teach them how to defend themselves against being picked up, grabbed or pulled by an adult. One game involves them in teams, trying to run past us, while we stand there in helmets, groin guards and shin pads trying to stop them. Above all we let these children know that if an adult does or tries to do something to them that they don't like then they are to create as much noise as they can and get the hell out of there. They are taught also that struggling, yelling and inflicting pain on a grown up will give them an edge and an advantage. A 6 year old will NEVER win a fight with an adult...but they can make themselves enough of a nuisance that the adult will put them down and leave them alone.

Coby's video is badass on so many levels, not least of all for the maturity he shows in making it when he only graduated High school 3 or 4 years ago. Criticisms I've read levelled at this film (some from friends of mine from the link I shared on Facebook, in the comments section) are that this is sensationalist and the parents plus Coby are merely humiliating these girls for money and publicity. They argue that shaming them in this way is counter productive as it means the girls will be traumatised.

I disagree.

Experiencing what they did and having their parents there to tell them at the time just how fucking stupid they were is EXACTLY what they needed. Something I've not seen anyone flag up yet, is that the parents would never have revealed themselves if their daughters hadn't gone as far as they did. If Mikaela had walked away in the park when Coby stood up and introduced himself, her father wouldn't have burst out from behind a rock shouting at her. If Julie hadn't opened the front door, then her dad wouldn't have been hugging her as she cried while he reminded her that her mother was dead and he couldn't lose Julie too. And if Jenna hadn't got into the van with Coby late at night (read that to yourself again slowly) then her folks wouldn't have burst forward wearing balaclavas pretending to be kidnappers while Coby grabbed her arm.

This video showed a very scary and sobering story of just how gullible some people can be, particularly kids. Especially kids who think they are in control of their worlds because they are so adept at using social media. A world that is blind and deaf to those who wish to make it so.

Coby , I salute you.